Sitting on a busy street in Koreatown is Chewing Foil gallery, an art space that brings immersive audio-visual experiences to open-minded audiences. Inside, rows of televisions stacked on top of each other à la Nam June Paik take over one side of the 4,500 square foot space, neon and LED light fixtures illuminate the walls in one room, while other random objects like a small janitor truck, Greek columns and tables for a DJ setup populate the expansive room.
The gallery is the performance wing of Chewing Foil, a multi-disciplinary group of artists and musicians who organize events, release music through their own cassette tape label, and collaborate on art and music projects together. Composed of Corbin Clarke (who goes by his musical moniker Corbo), Kevin Lowry (Trinidad Chad), Blake Broderick (Gator), Paul Rosas (Paul Plastic) and Corwyn Ponce (Baja Ajax).
The Chewing Foil crew live and work together in a building a couple of blocks away from their gallery, and despite their differing aesthetics and mediums— from creating ambient music to circuit bending— they connect through their shared desire to take the visual art experience to the next level, by challenging the audience’s passivity in art consumption and making it open to participation.
“I think with us all as artists a lot of it is just trying to introduce ourselves into that conversation and try to get people a little more interested in these non-uniform ways of delivering and receiving content as well as like saying, ‘Hey, I want to go out and do something for the night, do we go to the movies or to a show or to the bar?’” Broderick says. “But there’s this other option that doesn’t have a one word name besides Chewing Foil gallery and there’s all these weird things to do, sometimes it might be more music, sometimes it might be dancers and some other things.”
“People really like at the shows the fact that we’re not just entertaining them with music, we’re trying to experiment and explore uncharted territories with them and together where they go, ‘oh this is some trippy shit,” says Clarke.
As a collective, Chewing Foil grew organically, first as Clarke and Rosas collaborated on a music video. “I wanted to do stuff where the music wasn’t the main thing, I wanted something where the video was done to the music or the music done to the video,” Clarke explains. The rest of the group had already been friends with each other in the Bay area, and in banding together and buying a warehouse together they’ve been busy making and producing their own work, both collectively and individually.
Music plays a vital part in almost everyone’s background, from the beat scene to the festival and party scene, leading to what Clarke explains as feeling disgusted with popular music today. Lowry adds, “I just wanted to remove myself from [festival culture] and start to carve out my own style and it was very influenced by vintage ‘90s and early 2000s, just the influence of that time and the aesthetic choices and the different styles that were popularized in that time.”
Lowry paints breathtaking photorealistic paintings of bad computer graphics and renders, ironically creating something so beautiful out of something deemed categorically ugly. Vaporwave also plays a huge part in his art aesthetic, as well as the genre’s penchant for classical Greek art, like sculptures and architecture. He’s also planning to unleash a performance of his comedic character Trinidad Chad, a terrible trust fund DJ who plays ridiculous DJ sets (which will be pre-made by Clarke and Ponce) composed of songs by Creed, Nickelback, bad dubstep, airhorn samples and other painful sounds. The point of the character is to add humor to an art show and break up the seriousness with a funny intervention to let people know they can loosen up and laugh.
As Paul Plastic, Rosas creates digital CGI renders and produces his own videos, which look like tripped out images of melting rooms. Not surprisingly, drugs have a huge part in his creative inspiration, but so does poetry, and Rosas explains that he uses digital render videos as a way to express himself, even if a lot of his thoughts are subconscious and he doesn’t figure out what they mean until later. “I’m always influenced by that mysterious part of creation, where these ideas come from, like why are they coming here. I look at myself as the vessel for these things to coming into existence, because they want to come alive and they’re here.” Rosas directed Corbo’s video for his song “If You Only Knew,” which you can see below.
Clarke, who hails from Irvine, was previously one third of the group Bür Gür until launching on his own to make music as Corbo. He admits he wasn’t really into vaporware at first, but as his fellow Chewing Foil cohorts were, he decided to experiment with the genre, which led to the making of his own vaporwave album. “It taught me a lot about doing music, and the genre is really open to a lot of experimentation,” says Clarke. “Or its not so much a genre but a jumping off point to me.”
Broderick, from Santa Cruz, studied engineering in college while he messed around with analog televisions and would often thrift and shop on eBay for old televisions, VHS tapes and other abandoned video sources. Broderick collects and curates old video samples as projects them, and manipulates visual and audio content on the fly during Chewing Foil gallery shows, during which audiences are intrigued, disgusted or amused— whatever they feel, Broderick uses their reactions as inspiration to lead into the next visual, so that it becomes an interactive back and forth between artist and audience. Broderick also creates animation for videos, like for Chewing Foil member Baja Ajax’s song, “Scuba.”
Ponce, a.k.a. Baja Ajax, has a wide skill set that includes painting in a similar vein than Lowry, and producing his own vaporwave music. His album, released via cassette tape on the Chewing Foil label, has art produced by Paul Plastic. All in all, the group’s diverse interests are united in their desire to not be pigeonholed to one thing, their mutual distaste for current popular music and their collective sense of irony— irony in the way that they accept things that are deemed in bad taste. “We’re ironically unaccepting of things people are more likely to accept, but more accepting of things people are more likely to not accept, so it creates this space where some people feel we’re super exclusive but in fact we’re trying to include all these other things,” says Broderick.
From the use of visual nostalgia of archaic VHS tape footage, glitches and VHS film grain, as well as older computer graphics and render animation, that rings true. But their earnest use and pursuit of the stranger, weirder aspects across the landscape of analog and digital media make Chewing Foil one of the most interesting art-and-music-and-more groups to come out in a while. In the future, Clarke says he’d like the gallery to spawn multiple satellite galleries around the country and to make Chewing Foil a full music and event production company, and even bring more bespoke music and food tasting events, too. But for now, their gallery events and musical output are what people can look forward to the most, as well as the occasional trippy video.
The Chewing Foil collective will be doing visuals at Desert Daze next month, but coming up this Saturday, Corbo will be hosting a listening party of his latest tape release, Love & Productivity, which will be out this Tuesday. Playing alongside touring groups Eyeliner from New Zealand and Limousine, the event will have interactive circuit bending visuals, installations, visual projections, music and merch for sale and general weirdness. Peep the Facebook event page for full details, and give a like to the general Chewing Foil Facebook page for future updates.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.