Back to Junior High: An Interview with Faye Orlove

Faye Orlove is a 25 year old artist based in Los Angeles, California. This June, she opened up an art space there called Junior High. Junior High is many things, an art gallery, a live music venue, a comedy theater, a store, a place for workshops and protests. Above all, it is space dedicated to its community and supporting the art of those usually oppressed and unheard. I interviewed Faye, the founder and my boss, as we walked through West Hollywood to buy fresh flowers for Junior High. On the way, we discussed the Middle East Upstairs, expression of female sexuality, #BLM, turning down boys, collaborative booking, the color pink and Patti Smith. Edited for clarity.

Why did you start Junior High?
Well, I wanted to. It was something I wanted to do for a long time. I was at a crossroads where I could have got[ten] a full-time job, or traveled for a while, or do this really scary thing I’ve always wanted to do. So I just decided to go for it. And so far it's panned out, it's been great, but who knows? It scares me every month if I’ll make rent.

Since opening day Junior High has had a lot of different events. Can you sum up the different kinds of art and activities you have been hosting?
Yeah, well, primarily I just want everything to serve the women of Los Angeles. I am a fan of art in pretty much every medium, so I try to book stuff that’s really diverse, but all of which features women like, in their element. It’s really fun because I get so many emails from boys who want to play shows and it's so fun to say no to them! I just say, “Sorry, I don't book boys” and they always write back and say, “well, okay, let me know if that changes.”

Oh my god.
Like it’s just a phase I’m going through or something… it’s really funny.

Aside from hosting mostly women, how would you describe the space and what makes it unique?
Well I think what makes it unique is that I really want other people to be involved; like I want other people to book the content. I haven’t booked a single music event myself, it's always people reaching out to me that want their bands to play, every art show has been pitched to me by the community or by different collectives of girls. And I'm like, “that’s so cool!” I think that's what makes it really special, because I really don't want it to just be MY space-- I want to include everyone so that it is other people’s voices as well.

Are there any spaces similar to Junior High that inspired how you wanted to run it?
Oh my gosh yeah! I’ve been very inspired by The Silent Barn in Brooklyn where a lot of my friends live. It works like a booking collective, as opposed to one person whose tastes just kind of influence the whole vibe of the space. A lot of very different voices come together to make sure the content is really inclusive. Also, it was really cool to see Sunday Los Angeles when it was a physical space. It kind of was like a wake up call to me that things with my aesthetic can exist in the physical world, not just online. It was crazy walking in there and being like, “oh my god this is what my bedroom looks like, this is what my Instagram looks like.” Getting to know those girls was amazing and very inspiring. Other spaces that really influenced me are The Smell and UCB, both venues in LA, that are making sure all content is 5 dollars. It's good to know that it's always the standard rate, it's really affordable, and the money goes to the artists.

Do you think Junior High has been embraced by those spaces and the art community in LA?
It's 50/50. I’ve made so many new friends by running the space and gotten help from so many people which is crazy! And I do feel very welcome, but there definitely are some people who feel like I stole a concept, or maybe am using feminism to profit. That’s just kind of crazy to me, because Junior High is an actual registered non-profit, and I haven’t seen a dime of money since I started. The aesthetic of the space is very “in” right now. Some people coming in are like “oh you just stole this from so-and-so”; like, ‘they were doing it first” and I'm like, you can't really do pink first. But, whatever, I do feel very welcome and included. The space is very good for the community and it's been good for me, so hopefully we can all work together.

Do you think a place like Junior High would ever work in a city like Boston?
Oh my god, yeah! Like, I think about moving back to Boston all the time and opening a space. I feel like a space like Junior High can exist anywhere as long as it's open to hearing advice and suggestions of things to book from the community it's in. You can't just like, plant yourself, hoping to not interact with the space you're inhabiting-- with that [mindset] I'm not sure how anything can be successful-- but man yeah, I love Boston so much. I wanna go back! Maybe one day, if I'm like super successful, I could have two Junior Highs.

Yeah, I could help run the other one!
Oh my god, you're going to regret saying that.

I also was wondering if your own personal experience influenced how you run shows?
Yeah, in Boston, I used to work at the Middle East, booking shows at the Upstairs Room. It was an amazing job, and [an] amazing opportunity. I just worked door there for a while and then they started letting me book content. The first show I booked was four all-girl bands and it sold out, so they were like “OH, she knows what she’s doing,” and I was like, “it's not that hard to find bands that people are into that are also just girls,” so that definitely helped me to realize there is a market for female-fronted content, and female-driven work.

In your mission statement, it says that (paraphrasing), “Junior High aims to promote the artistic pursuits of marginalized voices.” Who specifically are the marginalized voices that you are talking about?
I think that it varies. I think that in Los Angeles and in the art scene I think it's definitely women, I think it's definitely folks of color, I think it's definitely youths. I think that art is generally attributed to like a straight/white/older male. Those are the people who are recognized for their artistic talents, and therefore those types of audiences flock to it. But I think that [with] art, the whole point is meant to create relatable content, make the human experience relatable and share it with other people. And I'm not going to relate to what an old dude is feeling-- I'm just not. So I want to hear stories and narratives from girls, from voices of the oppressed, and from younger people. No more boys!

Can you talk about the Black Lives Matter solidarity meetup you did organized with Colleen Baisa, Zoe Lawrence and American Apparel?
For sure! Well, first I think it’s like, really difficult to feel like there’s something to do, like there’s a way you can help the situation. Especially as a white girl. But I think that’s kind of like my/your own privilege talking. So I figured I should host [an] event, see who would come. Gettting American Apparel involved was great; we screenprinted a bunch of their t-shirts. At first it was mostly like, white people who showed up, and we had a really interesting discussion specifically as a white community, like, how to help, how to step up and to use our privilege to help our community. And then a bunch more people came, like people of all backgrounds and identities, and we just had a lot of open discussions. We also wrote letters to our California state representatives and Los Angeles representatives about police brutality, police accountability and gun control laws. All that info is still up on the Junior High website if other people wanna like, write letters to representatives! It's so easy to find your own city’s reps. But if you live in like, Boston, it's really easy to Google who your state and neighborhood representatives are. I think it's kind of part of a sense of privilege to feel defeated, where[as] people of color are not afforded the kind of situation to feel helpless, and I think it's important for people to do something. Whether it's like, raising money, or writing one letter, I don't know, like people are dying in our cities, you can't not do something.

That was a great idea-- you had-- to host it. You also hosted two art shows, like First Kiss and Eat Me, that focused on the expression of female sexuality. Why are these types of shows important?
I think there are a lot of aspects of femininity or womanhood that go either unnoticed, unrecognized, or stigmatized, and I definitely think sexuality is one of them. I think it's cool to address these facets of womanhood through a woman's own gaze, as opposed to like, men sexualizing women, because that is in art constantly--- that's not the point. These shows-- though I will say were both pitched to me by separate people, so they weren't my idea-- but I think that speaks even more to the idea that like, these values or concepts speak to a lot of women, and a lot of female-identifying folks want to create artwork around these themes because it's [been] very [silent] up until this past resurgence of feminism.

Since a lot of the art here has pop-culture influences, including your own art, and the art of Grace Miceli, what do you think about the relationship between pop culture and art? Currently or of all time?
I think all art is a commentary on culture, whether it be on personal culture or pop culture. Personally, I just love pop culture. Like, I love kind of garbage content and mainstream media that kind of everyone talks about. But I think that, I feel like I say this a bunch, but I think that you can be really into pop culture and kind of lowest common denominator stuff while still maintaining your own like radical ideologies. Like, you can look at the Kardashians and understand that there are some problematic things about these girls, but also recognize that they are also like pioneering businesswomen and incredibly loyal sisters and like self-confident and body positive. I think that there are two sides to most icons, and it's easy to negate stuff that you think is trashy and not find any inherent value in pop culture but that doesn’t really interest [you]. I guess that Andy Warhol is like the main artist that I think of who made me realize that like, pop culture and commentaries on pop culture are as much art as a self-portrait.

That reminds me! I was going to ask you if you could have any artist dead or alive shown in here who would you want?
Patti Smith. I would want her to do a musical performance and show her photography and then just do like a talk and like, have a room [where] I could go to to just cry for a minute, and then maybe I’d go home with her, and then we’d live together for awhile.

She’s still alive! She could come here!
I know but like, does she know I exist? NO! She’s too busy and cool… In terms of like, artwork, I really would love to have Frida Kahlo be here and do a show and talk about her self-portraiture... I think her body of work perfectly embodies the spirit of the space. Like self-love, but also like a lot of outside sources putting her down constantly and not fitting into a mold, but just overall, in terms of spirit I would just die if Patti Smith came here. I also really want Willow Smith to book a show here. Like she could perform musically but also like, I think she would put on an incredible art show with a lot of cool, young, people of color artists.

Or I would love to hear her talk as well.
Yeah! And I mean, I know she knows about the space, I just want her to come in!

Do you have any advice to young artists who feel marginalized?
Yeah, my advice is kind of like the same thing I tell myself and I tell my little sister all the time, because she always says she's bored and it drives me crazy. I hate when people are like, “I’m bored, I have nothing to do,” because I think the way that like, movies and books and shit are written really makes it seem like opportunities are going to like show up at your door. Like, I don’t know, there’s so many movies where like, a hot guy moves in next door, [or] you see a sign for “TALENT SHOW: REWARD $2000” or something. Like these things appear, and sure that happens, but like, where are the movies of people like working really really hard for the things that they want? It bugs me when people have ambitions but don't do anything about it. People who say I want to be a writer but don't write, people who say I want to be an artist but aren’t practicing painting or drawing or whatever it is they want to do. Like, when people ask me like, how I came to open the space or how I got to work with really cool artists on music videos… I mean like, I just worked really, really hard, and I'm not modest about it. I work incredibly hard. I don’t think I’ve said the phrase “I’m bored” since I was like, 6 years old. My advice is that if there is something that you want to do to practice it, and do it all the time, and do it for free a lot, until you get good enough or well-known enough to get paid for it. And maybe that's not “the best” advice because artists doing things for free is also an issue, but you’ve gotta practice and you’ve gotta make a portfolio and you’ve gotta make yourself known. I don't know if it’s good but that is my advice, to Nike, to Just Do It.

text: allie miller
visual: cara robbins, junior high, faye orlove
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