#136: Asher Penn
Sex Magazine Founder Asher Penn drops in to tell us about His Canon Powershot G7, Nymphet Alumni Podcast, His Favorite Eugene Kotlyarenko Films, and more.
Cool people like cool things, which is why we asked cool person Asher Penn to share some recommendations on Perfectly Imperfect.
Asher Penn is the Vancouver-based founder and editor of Sex Magazine. If thoughtful interviews of interesting people such as John Wilson, Abel Ferrera, Dylan Brady & Laura Les of 100 Gecs, Anna Khachiyan, Paul Schrader, Eckhaus Latta, Petra Cortright, Eli Keszler, Honor Levy, and plenty of others, sound interesting to you— this is your mag. Seriously, if you like Perfectly Imperfect but wish the profiles were more in-depth (and the people were even cooler…) check out Sex Mag. Asher has great taste and lucky for us, he’s here to tell us what he’s been into.
Without further ado
Asher Penn (instagram)
I was born in Australia, but grew up in Canada - and throughout my childhood and teens was often gifted for my birthday and holidays clothing from this Australian surfwear brand called Mambo. Unlike the popular skate brands of the time that’s primary function seemed to help teenagers to fit in (Stussy, Fuct, Alien Workshop Etc.) Mambo was truly fucking weird in its a commitment to an almost grotesque aesthetic; loud, cartoonish Hawaiian prints, thickly hand-painted graphics, and random slogans like “Spiritual Adventureware” and “Life Impregnates Art”; their most famous graphic is of a dog farting a musical note; there’s a photo of Robin Williams wearing their giant silk flame shirt during his Flubber era. Looking back, I still find it hard to believe that throughout the 90s a gigantic island of people who were enthusiastically wearing this esoteric stuff - but that hasn’t stopped me from late-night scrolling sessions on Grailed and adding items to my wishlist.
Nymphet Alumni are a podcast devoted to analyzing the niche mainstream - cultural touchstones that didn’t necessarily die but instead morphed, rebranded, and shapeshifted into obsolescence, alongside contemporary trends that are almost too pervasive to identify. Sometimes these are brands (American Apparel, Oh Mighty), or platforms (Rookie, Tumblr), or social phenomena (Tik Tok Physiognomy, Nepotism Babies). Just because these subjects are massive in scale doesn’t make them easy to talk about, as the topics are so recent and fleeting that to subject them to thoughtful critical analysis feels too early or too late or just plain pointless- and maybe that’s the point. Listening to Alexi, Biz, and Sam’s compassionate and highly personal insights it’s clear that the ephemeral doesn’t arrive from - or exit into - the void.
On a recent trip to Paris a friend invited me to an after-party at a place called Silencio aka “David Lynch’s Nightclub.” I got there early, and descending the 6 flights of black carpeted stairs that’s only signage read “no phone use or photographs” became increasingly aware I was entering something special - the carpeting continued into what felt like a sound-proofed underground bunker where every detail - the lighting to the furniture, to the bar, the bathrooms mirrors - was considered which such deep precision that I felt transported into Lynch’s vision in a way that none of his films, writing or music ever has. I stood at the bar drinking an uncannily delicious coca-cola from the bottle in dumbfounded awe. This was not a movie set... it was the real thing. I later read that Lynch’s goal was to "induce and sustain a specific state of alertness and openness to the unknown.” Mission accomplished. I can say with conviction that no interior space that was designed with intention has ever made me *feel* the way Silencio does.
🎬 0’s & 1’s (2011) / We Are (2021)
Eugene Kotlyarenko’s debut film 0’s & 1’s is still my favorite - and it’s heartwarming to know that it’s only been a decade after its premiere at a tiny Brooklyn theater that it’s finally getting the big screen screenings that it truly deserves. The simple story of a guy retracing his steps trying to find his lost computer - Slacker meets Dude Where’s My Car for the first generation of terminally online. But it’s the film’s relentless art direction that truly sets it apart - a multicam extravaganza framed within dozens of custom interfaces that rival both Hackers and The Net in channeling and elevating the aesthetics of the moment with painstakingly detailed easter eggs to be found on every fleeting frame.
I’d also like to give a shout-out to We Are, my second favorite film by Eugene. Self-released almost a year ago, We Are is a continuation of his romantic comedies about breakups A Wonderful Cloud (2015) and Wobble Palace (2018) starring hapless losers mired in technological detritus - in this case, the employee of a pathetic virtual reality arcade. But unlike its predecessors We Are is Eugene’s most casual film to date, made with a whimsical looseness echoed in the character Stick’s XL tourist t-shirts and the soft soothing pace of his fidget spinner. It’s a funny movie, but it’s also sad… when Eugene breaks the 4th wall and slates a scene with Dasha, there is a self-accepting effortlessness that really feels like letting go. We Are is just a movie and that’s all it needs to be.
From what I can tell, artist Jeffrey Scudder is the only post-internet artist to figure out Tik-Tok, with his Whistelgraph project recently hitting 2 Million followers. Whistlegraphs are tiny songs that are performed through drawing, where the sonic and visual gestures synch up poetically - kind of like a haiku that you animate in real-time - that for the past two years have been performed in videos by Scudder alongside artists Camille Klein and Alex Freundlich. Pioneers in their own experimental artform, Whistlegraph seems to be channeling a lot of things at the same time - If I were to free-associate I’d say it feels spiritually connected to Brendan Fowler and Odwalla88 and Tori Kudo, but also Josh Smith and David O’Reilly and Susan Cianciolo - not that any of their devoted fans would know or care about that stuff. Their audience is predominantly between the ages of 8-17, and the most comprehensive interview with Whistlegraph to date was done by a 13-year-old superfan named Perry. Watching Perry perform “Butterfly Cosplayer” with glee makes me wonder if the current iteration of Whistlegraph is just the beginning and that the most exciting manifestations of this art form will be found in generations to come.
🍌 No Frills
They say that the best design is no design, and I can’t think of a better example than No Frills, a low-cost supermarket chain in Canada that since the late ’70s has been easily recognized for its iconic simple in-house branding. Operating on the premise that making graphic design decisions is a major unnecessary expense No Frills follows a strict style guide of Pantone Yellow C combined with large bold Helvetica Neue 75 for all its interiors and packaging: pickles, dark chocolate, hummus, evaporated milk, olive oil all get the same point-blank treatment. The closest I’ve ever seen to this aesthetic is on that TV show Lost where all the food comes from The Dharma Initiative. Walking down their aisles can feel dystopian and autistic but also timelessly chic - a ridiculous marketing concept leaned into with a commitment that I hope they never abandon.
📷 Canon Powershot G7
When I was in art school I studied photo and found it really frustrating that the most successful photographers had all chosen a camera for themselves that they worked with almost all the time: for Ryan McGinley & Terry Richardson it was the Yashika T4, for Juergen Teller it was the Contax G2, Wolfgang Tillmans used a Leica with a 35mm lens. Something about this felt disingenuous and try as I might I could never find my version of that thing. It hasn’t been since I abandoned and rediscovered photography that I found that my first point-and-shoot digital camera - the 2005 Canon Powershot G7 - is mine. I adore this freaking thing and shoot all my portraits with it. You can get them usually for $50 on eBay, the flash is powerful, and it has a fantastic zoom. There’s also a really nice video feature that can handle low light and somehow translates colors in a way that feels “straight from the tube” - I’ve already shot a short film on it and want to make more videos with it soon.
I met Jon and Allie briefly at the Los Angeles Sex Magazine launch. They introduced themselves and volunteered to trade me copies of their respective debut novels, which they signed. I was happy to find that both their books were awesome and completely different and that the connective tissue between them seemed to be a love of writing and each other that made me want to become friends with them both.
Talking to Delicious Tacos about Jon Lindsey’s Body High, he described it as the ultimate Al-Anon book ; the story of a protagonist, Leland that is perversely attracted to and desperately wants to save the self-destructive people in his life - his dead mother and step sister - as a way of avoid any sane behavior… And Leland’s unmanageability is psychotically inspired, as a legendarily fucked up series of situations of his own making unfold in front of him.
By contrast, Allie Rowbottom’s Jello Girls is a relatively traditional memoir, where the family's history is directly intertwined to the economics of processed food, and the intergenerational curse it propels both in the mind and body. Given that the food in question is a pioneer in artificial nourishment the themes of cancer and eating disorders are uncannily poignant, especially as Rowbottom’s voice channels the dark irony of Karen Carpenter in her prose.
🎥 The Cinematheque
When I was in my early 20s I worked at a video store called Limelight - the kind of place that had every Takashi Miike movie ever (including his children’s movies) but kept their lights on by stocking 5 copies of Pride and Prejudice. After that, I was lucky enough to get a K********a invite which allowed me to torrent deep cuts by Olivier Assayas, and prized .mp4s of Cameron Jamie’s movies. Maybe I just didn’t like leaving the house but I don’t think that 2005 - 2015 were great years to be going to the theater anyway. When I moved back to Vancouver I didn’t know many people so my sister suggested I volunteer at The Cinematheque, and it’s become one of my favorite places in the city. It’s basically got a lot of the same programming as The Metrograph minus a lot of the annoying pretensions of arthouse theaters that are… annoying. The Cinematheque even went through a redesign and it looks even better than it did before which never happens. Volunteers get to see whatever for free so sometimes I find myself there 4 times a week. Some of the most memorable screenings include Maborosi, The White Sheik, Even Dwarves Started Small, Caught By Night, Gun Crazy, and Out Of The Blue.
🤡 Facebook Sober
RIP to this absolute GOAT of a sobriety meme account. I think I stopped drinking around the time that sobriety memes were in their second wave - 12-step inside jokes that were ideally harrowing, embarrassing, and hopeful in their shared hopelessness - and while Brutal Recovery, Fucking Sober, and Dumbsoberbitch are great, no account could perform these lacerations with the expertise of a surgeon as @facebooksober. Like an elephant balancing itself on a dime, facebook sober managed to capture the divine paradox’s inherent to recovery with such aesthetic grace and poetry I was 100% convinced that the person behind the account was a hot girl (it was a dude, lol). Whatever. Hot Newcomers Are Forever.
Issue #12 is sold out, but you can buy #11 and some merch here.
Check out Asher Penn’s website to see what else he’s up to.
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