On the surface, we know this of Ethan H Minsker: he is a man, and founding member of the Antagonist Art Movement – a project borne out of the sort of punk DIY ethos that was given a new lease of life through the 1980s hardcore scenes, most notably in Washington, D.C. We know that he is an accomplished, published novelist, artist and film-maker. We know all this. Through Simon Harsent’s evocative portraits and the words of Ethan himself, we hope to find out more. Why? Because art needs people like Ethan to flourish… That’s why.
In his own words
For most artists, life means a solitary existence. But there is power in building a community of like-minded individuals. The Antagonist Art Movement is a social art movement. It's the connections and friendships developed over our art projects that give us strength, and the network that allows us to tap into a larger pool of opportunity. Our art movement looks to promote and create new and challenging forms of art. The Antagonist provokes others to action. We create venues that work as laboratories, allowing artists to experiment and show their work. We provide mentoring and help develop the artists we choose to work with. We're open to all forms and all styles of art, but in general there is a consistent theme of what we call ‘Brat Art’. It is something akin to the aesthetics and elements that make up punk rock. And it’s an essential element in antagonizing. We hope to affect the viewer.
I am dyslexic and, as a teenager, felt alienated from my peer group. I found solace in Washington, D.C.’s ’80s punk scene. The Dischord bands’ music and art inspired me to create my own fanzine. At first it covered the punk and hardcore music scenes on the East Coast. Mostly Washington and New York City. Over the years, with the help of friends, we added writing and art. Those elements took over and it became Psycho Moto Zine and focused mostly on the arts. Eventually, the readers wanted more and so did we. The idea to add books, films and art events formed over years. We referenced concepts of Nietzsche, Dadaism, Warhol's Factory, nihilism, the Beat Generation, and early punk rock to come up with our own theories on art. We started adding a philosophy section to the ’zine and, over time, that became the manifesto of our group… and the Antagonist Movement was born.
I first moved to New York City in 1988 and began working in bars in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There was a constant flow of struggling artists, musicians, actors and writers who had all moved to the city chasing their dreams, but found themselves enslaved in a day job just to cover the high rents. And the NYC art market was closed off to unknown artists who couldn't generate the income to cover the expenses associated in running a gallery. Sergio Vega (Quicksand, The Deftones), Anders Olson (a painter) and I worked a Thursday night shift in a bar that had an empty room. We began hosting one-night art slams featuring four to ten artists every Thursday night accompanied by live music. The nights were successful and we expanded them to include a Sunday night open mic at another bar, then a Tuesday night public-access show that featured interviews with the artists, bands and writers, and then a Monday night music show. We put on film festivals and produced films, books and curated art shows in galleries. Our numbers grew and we began to do shows in other countries. By the time our back-room gallery closed in 2011, we had shown more than 3,000 artists and jump-started many careers. Today we focus on curating shows and creating films and books. We are selective in choosing the people we work with. Since a number of our projects require traveling together as a group, we insist that the personalities can cooperate. We vet an artist through smaller projects, like our fanzine and group shows before we invite them to do an overseas event. The Dolls of Lisbon, for example, is both a film and art project in which we showcase the talents of unknown artists from around the world. I hand-made 100 blank canvas dolls and shipped them to artists so they could add their own ideas to them. Those dolls were part of an event during Pop Up Lisboa in 2010. The film employs a mix of stop-motion animation, interviews and studio visits, and has a sound track featuring a collection of the best bands we work with. We’re not interested in the stories of the rich and already famous. We want the viewer to share in an experience closer to their own situation. This is consistent in the movies that precede the Dolls of Lisbon, such as Anything Boys Can Do, The Soft Hustle or This Is Berlin Not New York. For me, personally, the Antagonists have made it possible to publish my books. Rich Boy Cries For Momma, which is about growing up dyslexic in Washington, D.C. and becoming involved in the punk scene, and Barstool Prophets, about New York nightlife in the Lower East Side, are both completed, full-length novels. Editors from the fanzine and artists from the one-night shows contributed to each novel. It wouldn’t be possible for me to do these without their assistance. Each project is like buying a lottery ticket where you are betting on your own ability. Each project moves the group to a new level and opens up new opportunities for everyone involved.
Whether it's a book, a fanzine, or a film, we strive to make a unique piece of art that embodies the integrity and commitment of the movement. The funds received from selling a book, film, T-shirt or whatever, goes directly back to making new art projects, but most of our content is free. We hope we are telling a new story, showing you something different and inspiring others to do the same. Each project acts as community outreach, saying, “Look what we have done! Go do better!” In the near future we will be putting out my third book about the creation of the Antagonist Movement, and a new film covering the events of the Antagonists during 2013, including an art project in Ecuador. We created a movement for you. Engage with it. And if you are a group of artists in a far-off land who likes what we do, contact us!