Photo of Amanda Charchian by Emma Kathan
Amanda Charchian is a highly talented sculptor, photographer, painter and musician who was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA.
Interview by Emma Kathan.
City: Los Angeles
I met with Amanda at her studio where she was working on a crystal sculpture commissioned piece. We began talking about her family background…
My family moved to the U.S. from Iran. They left Iran in 1979 because it was becoming the Islamic Republic, and my family was Jewish; Iran was generally becoming less free than it had been, and they didn’t want their children to grow up in that environment. My brother and sister were born in Iran, and when they moved here my sister asked my mom to have another kid for her to play with, and she had me. I believe in intention, and my sister has always been more like my mother and my mother is more like my grandmother in terms of how close we are and what roles we play in each other’s lives. They didn’t think that I was going to turn out okay because my mom was very ill, and it wasn’t safe for her to have a child. I think most of the Persian community who lives here in exile has some kind of PTSD, and it manifests in different ways. I think my mother’s illness was caused by stress. I believe that in addition to various addictions and illnesses, this PTSD manifests in a pursuit of material wealth as a comforting coping mechanism.
Amanda is working on a commissioned piece while we talk.
WHO IS THIS PIECE FOR?
It’s for a friend of mine who saw the “Yes” piece at a show and he wanted one that said “SOFUN.” He said that it came to him when he went on a river canoe trip and took psychedelics. He saw a Gaspar Noé hall appear with flashing lights, he entered it, and inside it said, ‘SO FUN SO FUN SO FUN’ all over—and so it became his mantra. I normally wouldn’t take a commission if the words didn’t resonate with me, like if it were something negative. But I’m into positive affirmations and he is really awesome!
DO YOU DO THE WELDINGS ON YOUR SCULPTURES?
I have a partner, Julia Montgomery (www.julia-montgomery.com/) who does the welding. She is amazing, and we have our own weird communication style that we have developed over the years. I draw up the rough plans, and cut and bend the metal and she welds it and then I string the crystals on with a few interns. We all work together well. I try to keep my studio a really calm and meditative place. A lot of energy enters the crystals so we have to be clear channels when we work on them.
DID YOU GO TO ART SCHOOL?
Yeah, I went to this very strange and progressive high school called the Renaissance Academy, which was for the weird and arty kids in Pacific Palisades. There I took both studio art classes and music classes. There was a point when I was trying to choose between being a musician and being an artist, but decided to be an artist. I have since realized that I didn’t have to choose, and now I do both—still way more art than music. Then I went to Santa Monica College instead of doing my senior year of high school and did a year of art and philosophy; I thought about being a philosophy major, but decided against it and went to Otis College of Art and Design for four years. Then, I applied to the fine art program at UCLA and was accepted, but I just never went. And now I’m considering whether I should go back to school and get my Masters of Fine Arts. School is a really great experience and I am grateful to have gone; it gave me the discipline and confidence to do what I do now.
WHAT DID YOU LIKE THE BEST ABOUT GOING TO ART SCHOOL?
The thing I liked best was being around other artists, and the critical and challenging conversations you can have with other creative people. The discourse is still something that I crave and miss immensely. That is the main reason I am considering going to graduate school.
WHAT DID YOU DISLIKE ABOUT GOING TO ART SCHOOL?
Most of my teachers came from the 1970′s CalArts conceptual art world, so they had us deconstruct everything we did in terms of the material being the message. So if I used marble it had to be about social class, ancient sculpture, heaviness, etc. There was this idea that there’s nothing in the work that couldn’t relate to why you made it. Intuition was never enough of a reason.
IT TAKES SOME OF THE MAGIC OUT OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS, DOESN’T IT?
It takes all of it out. I have spent the last few years since art school reconstructing that deconstruction. Now, I am more comfortable doing things based on intuition and not because of a grand conceptual idea, though that is still very much present. Now, the spiritual implications have a louder voice in the conversation than the materiality. At the same time when I need to write about my work, I really know what to say because saying, ‘I just wanted to,’ isn’t the answer people want to hear. And there is always more behind your work than you know is there when you’re creating it. A lot of my early work was about the pharmaceutical industry and this sort of alienation that I was experiencing. So a lot of my work did reflect how we were alienated as a society, and how I was made to believe that the drugs were going to help me. Ultimately, I realized that it was just a product of a capitalist culture that wanted to sell me something that’s an easy temporary cure. After reading about class-based alienation from Marx, socio-political alienation from Rousseau and Lacan, alienation from our animalistic instincts from Freud, etc., I eventually was led to Hegel and agreed with his theory that we’re alienated because we’re separated from God, and that was it.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST AND WORST QUALITY?
We both talked about astrology a bit; we are both Cancer’s with our Mercury in Cancer and Venus in Gemini, so we talked about the Venus in Gemini for awhile. The way that it’s hard to love just one person at a time, but how it can also be challenging to be a “free lover” because you never want to hurt anybody, but also don’t want to sacrifice your freedom for someone else.
I THINK WOMEN ARE NATURALLY FREE AND WANT TO BE OPEN AND SEXUAL BUT IT’S STILL FROWNED UPON BY SOCIETY. I SEE WOMEN AS ALWAYS MULTI-TASKING AND ALWAYS MULTI-LOVING. A MOTHER, FOR INSTANCE, CAN HAVE SEVERAL CHILDREN BUT STILL LOVE THEM ALL EQUALLY. IT SEEMS THAT WE JUST HAVE THAT NATURAL CAPACITY TO LOVE AND CARE FOR MANY THINGS.
I agree, and I think especially Cancer women. My friend, who is also a Cancer woman, and I have this same conversation a lot about how people don’t understand the multi-dimensionality of our hearts, that we can love many people and it isn’t less in any capacity; but I don’t think a lot of people can understand that. And maybe that with the Venus in Gemini, wanting to know what’s out there to test all the waters.
DO YOU HAVE RECURRING DREAMS THAT YOU REMEMBER?
There’s a place I visit often in dreams. It’s outdoors, and from the surface just looks like a patch of dirt, but underneath the ground there’s a compound with all of these nicely decorated underground caves. There’s a specific community of my dream friends who live there, and certain dramas happen with these people. It’s like a continuing story, or series; there’s a lot of action. It’s the most I’ve ever been able to feel myself existing in other dimensions at the same time in a non-tripping kind of way. I just understand that there is some other parallel life happening, and it sort of puts things into perspective for me.
HAVE YOU HAD GLIMPSES OF THESE OTHER REALITIES OR DIMENSIONS IN WAKING LIFE?
Yeah. I’ve been exploring different types of meditation and breath work since I’ve been abstaining from drugs, and one thing that my boyfriend and I started doing was researching how to have the psychedelic experience without taking drugs. There’s a method called Holotropic Breathwork which was developed by a man named Stanislav Grof; he was one of the first LSD psychotherapists. He was trying to develop something more sustainable than an acid trip, so he developed this rapid-breathing style, similar to Kundalini breath-of-fire, and after doing this breath work for awhile you are in another state of consciousness. I did a workshop with him that lasted a week in Joshua Tree a couple of years ago.
One of my experiences I remember was that I took on the consciousness of another being, an insect. My vision became kaleidoscopic and I saw everything fractalized. People in the room said I was buzzing, foaming at the mouth, and contorting for over an hour. The best way for me to describe that experience is to say that my consciousness was singular and I was a being with a pure focus. I had no agenda; I was just existing in this fractilized world, and it was breathing me into the pulse of the universe. All I was doing was buzzing. It was an interesting thing for me, because I am someone who can experience a lot of levels of reality at once, but in this experience there was a single unified experience of consciousness and every one of my movements was completely part of that.
Another time I had a rebirthing experience, which is common with this breath work. I was trying with bull strength to get out of the womb. I was physically pushing against a wall in the room and a bunch of men were holding me back but I couldn’t get out. I was a C-section baby, so I attribute the experience to that. Then, right after it, all I wanted was to held, like a baby. And I was, by a sweet Texan man named Tav. For that moment gave me the best cradling I have ever had until I met Amma. (But, that is a whole other story.) So it was a very intense but also beautiful experience.
HOW LONG DO YOU DO THE BREATH?
WOW, THAT SEEMS LONG. DO PEOPLE PASS OUT FROM IT?
No, I’ve never seen that happen. It’s very safe, and there are people there to watch over you like there should be in any psychedelic practice.
But overall there really is a feeling of being reborn: you sort of regress into this infant state that’s purely of your own doing, and there’s no come down like when a drug wears off.
There’s this awesome philosopher name Lynn McTaggart, who talks a lot about how children for the first five years are just in what Rupert Sheldrake called the Morphogenetic Field, and she just calls ‘The Field.’ They don’t come into the world of logic and reason until they start school, so in those early years children experience things in an intuitive and immediate way; and I think it just takes you back to that state. I was in a room for instance filled with about 200 people from around the world, and you would see grown women screaming like babies and old men holding each other. The air was so primal.
I’m not against taking hallucinogens, it just feels like I don’t need to again. Somehow, doing it on your own is more soulful. I also started doing insight mediation where you are very aware of your thoughts and label them until they go away. So the combination of this breath work and the insight meditation have really helped me.
LIFE IN L.A.:
When I go to other countries, it seems like there’s a real need for spiritual communities. I don’t find communities as interested in the occult, or magic, or just places that have a general openness to different ways of living as there are in L.A.; that’s one thing I really love about L.A. It’s also where I feel most inspired. It’s definitely my favorite city in the world.
CREATIVITY AND THE REASON FOR ART:
For me, the creative process is the most supernatural thing there is. We’re getting these ideas from who knows where and we’re making them for whatever reason, we don’t know. The otherworldly part of creation is the part I trust the most: the experience of not knowing where the ideas come from, but trusting the intuition that created them—that’s good enough.
For instance, the first sculpture I ever made came in a flash in my mind and I thought to myself, ‘I can never make a woman’s form out of crystals that hangs from the ceiling.’ I had never made a sculpture in my life. Then, I was talking with my teacher and she said, ‘Sure you can make that,’ and so I did. The family who bought that piece told me that as a family, they spend less time watching television now. They placed it where it gets a lot of sunlight, and so all of the crystals reflect rainbows everywhere, and that as a family, they sit together, watch it, and talk. That made me feel like, ‘Oh, this isn’t just superficial; this isn’t just artistic masturbation. This is something that can actually affect people positively.’
It’s such a great feeling, because there are so many days where I’m dealing with problems about the way the Earth and the way everything existing on it is being treated, and I feel like I should be doing more to help animals, to help the Earth, etc. It’s hard to validate that your art is worth making when you’re faced with all of the real problems in the world. But then, I have these reminders that it does bring people joy and does bring them together, and that is something worth doing. I get amazing letters from people (it feels pompous to call them fans) but these sweet young girls tell me that seeing my work gives them confidence to be free women and to express themselves; this inspires me to keep going. People tell me that my work inspires them to make art and to go beyond the world they know and into the unknown. That is all I can ask for, to perpetuate mystery and freedom.