For those who are not familiar Duel Diagnoses is a multidisciplinary art collaboration consisting of Lifeafterdeath (Dave Navarro) and PADHiA (unfukyourself) which focuses on shining a light on mental health awareness (#traumakids). If you would like to know more about Lifeafterdeath, click here for our interview a few years back. For now, let’s start by getting to know a little bit about you PADHiA. So how did you two end up making art together?
(P) Well I actually grew up in New York but I moved to LA about 10 years ago. I was planning to work in film as a 3D character modeler and get a “real” job and have a “normal” life. At that time I had this secret blog that was kind of about depression and PTSD, but told through a more helpful lens. Instead of it being this damning shameful illness, I would write about it and explained it more as an operating system that kind of creates a contraction around your life energy that you can heal from, and actually go on in ways that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I was actually at this time really ashamed of the blog and it was under a moniker (@unfukyourself), but it started getting a lot of traction. I was getting really amazing feedback. It was wild, the blog and stickers I made for it ended up going completely viral for years.
While this was all going on and being in LA, I started seeing all the street art kind of had that moment of like WOW, what if I wasn’t so ashamed of this? What if I went in the opposite direction and took all of these messages and things I have been trying to help people understand and feel better about, and kind of like blew them up large and starting to putting that on the street. So sometimes when you get an idea and it makes you just feel alive in your cells and you have to go in that direction. That’s kind of what happened.
A few years later I met Dave because he had also started doing street art and was making his way around the circle and everyone was telling me, “oh, you should reach out to him. He’s really cool. You guys would be friends”. But I felt like I wanted to just see if it happens organically. You know, I’m not going to like jam myself into his private life… like an art rapist. I was pasting up pieces that said “love me anyways” and we both really connected over that phrase and it turned into a really beautiful friendship and also creative partnership.
So that was the beginning of Duel Diagnosis? Can you briefly discuss the project? Because it’s not just art, or clothing, or instillations, it’s an actual movement?
(D) Yes, it’s an apparel line, it’s a fine art, it’s installations and street art, but it’s more of a movement overall, wherein we celebrate our uniqueness and we celebrate individuality, and even embrace some of the things we may find challenging in our lives and embrace them in a way that we can flip the script on them and make those things assets by simply not tying ourselves to the idea of shame for the things that make us different, but instead to look at those things through that lens as things that make us unique and individual, and we extend that invitation to anybody that that resonates with.
I saw stills and videos of the show you did in LA on your social media, and your work in the Punk Rock and Paintbrushes show in NYC and there were so many people that are so happy to have someone or something to talk about this stuff with in general, and not in a weird back alley kind of way, but instead an open frank discussion of being positive. There were a lot of people there that went alone who were extremely happy to be there with fellow people that were like-minded and you could tell that they put on their coolest outfits that might be considered “strange” to some, but at the galleries you can see and feel a unique comfort for everyone to be themselves at these events. Was this what you were consciously going for?
(D) We weren’t really going for anything. The show that you saw in New York was kind of a paired down version of what we presented in LA, because obviously we weren’t able to get the big installation of the cuckoo clock or the car record sculpture out there. But we shipped out the best pieces possible. But, we aren’t going for anything other than to help others feel like they have their own cool kids club that they are a member of for maybe the first time in their lives. There’s no criteria for membership to our movement, if it resonates with you and you want to join us even just to help spread the message, you’re welcome to join no strings attached. If you look on our website, we have our manifesto, which I implore you to look at because it really outlines our mission. We consider everyone who is part of the movement our family as people with maybe some emotional challenges or maybe they have mental health issues, maybe they just feel like outsiders, maybe they just don’t feel a part of anything. We all know what that feels like, you know? So it’s really not targeted at one specific area, although we do operate under the umbrella of overall mental health but anybody who relates in any fashion is welcome. So really it’s an open door policy as to anybody who wants to be a part of our weird little world.
And this manifesto began when you started doing street art together?
(D) We actually began with the apparel. We were doing street art independently and then yeah, we started doing some designs together. Originally, I think we were just looking to make some stuff for ourselves but then when we fell in love with the idea of capturing the essence of self-care style and sharing it with the world. You know you have to be out in the world and functioning, but you just feel like being in a cocoon. So we started to explore how can we articulate this? So we came up with these two characters, and we thought what a phenomenal tool to tell stories and have them go on adventures and sort of just articulate some of the weird and sometimes scary or shameful feelings of being human, right? There’s so many things that I love about the project, but these characters in particular because I’ve always anytime I’ve watched TV shows and movies and books I have read, I felt so disconnected from those worlds, no matter what it was, I didn’t have those types of friendships or families or experiences or those types of feelings. So I think that’s the case in most media, especially social media casting a very narrowly filtered view of what it means to be human. And we’re just breaking that wide open and saying, oh, actually it really feels like this a lot of the times, and that’s okay. We understand that. And it’s amazing to me, even just on our Instagram, some of the things that I’m seeing, people being able to put into words that they are saying they didn’t really have a word for before, but they found the word since kind of looking at our art and stuff and that helps people just connect and heal.
That makes sense. I’m assuming that you have been referring to the two characters in suits that look like HR Puff and Stuff on a gloomy day?
(D) Yes! “Upper Case I” and “Lower case i”. Uppercase I has big antennas and lowercase i is in the box and uppercase I pulls lowercase i around on a rope attached to the box that has wheels on it. And those costumes, those outfits kind of represent that guarded shell that we can put ourselves in to keep the fearful scary elements of life at a distance. I can speak for myself and maybe for you too, but for my myself, I’ve been wearing a costume for many, many years, whether it was hiding behind the entertainer or hiding behind a very conscious version of myself to present, to hide the other versions of myself that I don’t want people to know about. I’ve spent a lot of time especially being in the public eye and being under that kind of a microscope is intimidating and challenging and creates vulnerability.
So I, for a lot of years had a lot of protective armor on. And so these little characters found each other and recognized that they were both within their armor. And one of the things that I love that they did together was they so obviously have been labeled with a diagnosis. They have been pathologized by whomever. And what they’ve done is they’ve met each other recognized in each other the same kinds of feelings. And they’ve taken the archaic tools of psychiatry, such as the Rorschach test and flip the script and took this tool that used to put someone away for life. And they recreate them in color and created their own friends to be part of their own world. So they took something that is labeling and potentially negative and shaming and turn it into a tool to create beauty for themselves and in a weird way that that’s a very nice metaphor for what we’re talking about in terms of whatever it is that we have find as the element that’s challenging.
If we can embrace that, accept it and work through it, we can find beauty on the other side of it. It’s been really fun to watch these characters evolve and grow because in a strange way, I don’t think either one of us said that, “oh, here’s an idea. They should do this”. All of these things have naturally flowed and come out just through us being together and in the same room and talking, and I would say more importantly listening. Because many times she will say something and I’ll go, “oh my God, write that down!” Or I’ll say something and she’d be like, “write that down!!” Like just through sharing. That’s where our ideas come from and how they evolve. I do believe that on some level the ideas and the way that we create comes from a source to us rather than from us, it comes from the connectivity that we have and being connected to that ultimate source.
So where do you want to take duel diagnosis next? Is it going to be more installations, more art, or stop motion maybe?.
(P) We really want to create some sort of fantastical spectacle, just go really big. Some amazing installations that are entertaining, but also provide some pretty provocative catharsis. And really get more into the fine arts side of things as well.
(D) We want to up the installation game. We really enjoy doing street art and we enjoy doing installations and galleries, but we also want to do installations in the street or anywhere. We want to do them out in the desert. We want to do them in the gallery. We wanted to do them in big experiential showcased venues that have multiple installations for people to experience. And what better way to invite someone into the totality of our world than to invite them into an installation which is its own unique room, we run our own audio, we run our own video. We really craft an experience that’s a little strange, it’s a little different, and hopefully provocative. So I definitely know that we would like to get deeper into that because we had such a great time doing it for the Julien’s show with Billy Morrison, Blek Le Rat, Risk, Plastic Jesus, Estevan Oriol, Wrdsmth and Meg Zany and a bunch of other amazing people. We never dreamed that we would be in the same room showing with so many legends and talented people…we were so honored to be in that room.
So tell me a little bit about this cuckoo clock installation because I heard it stole the show!
(P) It was as big as we could fit in the space, which ended up being I think about 15 feet or so. We designed it and worked in partnership with Linda strawberry who’s an amazing set designer and her team. We wanted to create something different, we didn’t want to do a literal translation of a cuckoo clock, but kind of deconstructed and make it abstract. And so you’d walk in and you would lose a sense of regular space and time. You didn’t know what scale of anything was. You didn’t know exactly where you were and it had this beautiful chandelier down the center with all these massive gears that had kind of exploded out of the clock. And you walked in through the face, which was the half of the dial… it was really cool!
(D) Also, one of the things if you think about trauma in the body, they call that a broken timekeeper. In addition, I don’t know if you can see right there, right over there. there’s two cuckoo clocks on my wall. So I collect them, I’ve been collecting them since the 1990’s because to me when I was a child and watching cartoons that was the first symbol that I understood as being “crazy”. Like something would happen in a cartoon and you’d hear the cuckoo clock and the, you know, oh, that’s crazy signal and a signifier, but we kind of deconstructed what’s going on with an actual cuckoo clock, which is that you have this little bird that’s trapped inside this box that can’t fly out because it’s tethered by all these complications inside and held down by these weights. And that’s why the birds gone insane and can’t reach his full potential because he’s locked into complication, much like the human psyche can do and prevent human beings from fulfilling their potential. So until the bird drops the weight, that’s what pulls the chain down to keep the gears turning. Without this the bird can’t go anywhere. And so we kind of felt like it was the perfect symbol of not only the broken timekeeper in terms of trauma, but almost what’s happening within a clock itself and the little bird and why the bird would be considered crazy. It’s because he can’t fly out of there!
And also the beauty of that is in the tinkering world and watchmaking and clock making gears and wires and Springs are considered complications. That’s the term they use. So = when you have a watch that has four or five different times zones or a stopwatch, or the date, the day of the week etc. The more there is on the face, the more complicated they say the watch is. And as we know, human beings have complications. And so it was just kind of a beautiful, once again it fell together as if we had thought of it. We don’t know where it all came from, just from talking to each other.
As I said, the clock thing has been something that I’ve been kind of fascinated with in the nineties. I had like maybe 20 or 25 of them. And they were all set to different times and they all have different sounds. So if you want to experience crazy… at my place you’re going to go crazy. A jarring jolting cuckoo every seven to twenty minutes throughout a 24 hour a day will make you lose your mind. And I used to do that in my house. And in fact, when I had company and I wanted to clear out the company, cause I used to throw parties that would go for days. Like for weeks at a time, I would turn on all the clocks and it would just drive people crazy. And one by one, they would slowly just start dissipating because I couldn’t just ask people to leave. I was too in my head, you know? So I used it, used it as a motivator.
We actually bonded over our love of Rolex’s the first time we met. Is that where your love of Rolex and the Daytona comes from? I remember it being one of your favorites?
(D) No, oddly enough, I think that that it’s a totally different origin. I love my watches though! My watch fanaticism comes from years of coveting watches growing up and always hearing about these really fine handmade pieces that are on your wrist. I always just was fascinated with them and you know, it’s like shoes for a lot of people. But a Rolex It’s my thing. You know what I mean? It’s like my Rolex are my Louboutins!
Even crazier especially if you really get into the spiritual realm of things, it’s really fun to think about an object that has been worked on that meticulously with that much precision and accuracy to measure something that literally doesn’t exist. You know what I mean? It’s crazy! In the cosmic sense, there is no time. It’s something that we invented to somehow keep track of our lives, but it actually ends up making us go crazy, too!
I would personally love to see you two produce your own stopwatch or cuckoo clock or something of that nature.
(D) Thats a great idea! But funny enough not so long ago I literally took a cuckoo clock off the wall and strapped it on my wrist, but it was comically massive and cumbersome! PADHiA asked me what time it was and I just looked down and I said, “Time for crazy!”
This actually becoming a piece that we did that actually wasn’t in the show that you went to in NYC because it was too big to get out there, but one of the large pieces we did for the recent shows is a cuckoo clock that we’ve made into a Rorschach inkblot test that are two halves on the same block. This is a cuckoo clock that we’ve split in two which also looked like a cuckoo bird face. We flipped!.
(P) Again this materialized as a complete surprise. We would just messing around and see what happen. If we made a Rorschach out of a cuckoo clock and it made this amazing face with two halves, which was also looked like a bird. It was great!
Speaking of the Rorschach inkblot’s I absolutely loved the ones you had in the Punk Rock & Paint Brushes showing NYC. Where they based on existing Rorschach inkblot’s or created from scratch? How did you come up with the color scheme for those?
(P) Oh, the color ones we made from different inks, on different sheets and Photoshop them together into characters.
(D) The Rorschach the colored ones? Yeah. Like the actual story of what happened? I can tell you the lineage of that, as I said, we don’t sit and think of things they happen naturally. So we did a short film for I & i where they would be sitting around making Rorschach. So they would be hung all around them. They’re in their little environment, but we said, oh, let’s do color ones. Because the ones that everybody knows are black and white and those appear kind of ominous and dark and have like a theologizing element to them. So let’s flip the script on that and do them in color. And then we would notice that one kind of looks like eyes, oh, this one kind of looks like legs and a torso. What if we… and then we started putting them together as individual color Rorschach pieces.
(P) I think most of them are actually three separate Rorschach’s put together stacked and put together.
(D) Yeah. So the blue one was its own, green and the yellow, they were their own. And we kind of pieced them together. Like this just kind of turned out like an arm. These looked like eyes. Yeah. And so we just kind of went with that flow.
(P) We didn’t control it at all to say “Oh, let’s make a face, or arms, or anything”. It’s just, we weren’t even thinking to make characters, they just came from seeing the shapes.
(D) So they actually informed us of what they want it to be.
(P) Haha, that’s totally true!
(D) We used layers of resin and added inks to create a multi-layered two dimensional effect with movement. And there’s an air of unpredictability that comes with that process, which is the thing that makes our Rorschach’s asymmetrical. And the whole idea of Rorschach’s is symmetry. They stimulate the left and right side of the brain, but ours are not symmetrical. Therefore they are their own entities.
They are really fascinating pieces that look stunning in person. I can’t wait to see more of them in the future. But as usual we have had too much fun chatting and I know both of you have other engagements scheduled so as always thank you so much for chatting and I hope we can do the next one in person on the east coast! Any last thoughts or projects coming up we should be looking out for in the meantime?
(D) Well we will be showing some pieces at a festival here in LA September 10th, called Beachlife Festival and Jane’s addiction is actually playing as well. So it would be a big day for me. My art outlet and my music outlet will be in the same festival, which is a huge thing. And then in October on the 23rd, we’re going to participate in an oddities convention where people come in with all kinds of just weird oddities and everything from skeletal remains to Curio boxes, to jewelry, to whatever it is. And we’re gonna participate in that. We’re excited about that because we, as much as we love hanging in shows and the fine art side of things but we’re fortunate because we’re not limited to one environment that we can participate in. And again, and again, with the oddities clientele and the people that are into that world, that world tends to be a little different than mainstream society. And we are definitely a perfect fit for that.
(P) The only thing at our booth should be just you and me sitting in a chairs with you wearing a cuckoo clock on your left arm. Nothing else we just show up and sit there under a glass dome.
(D) With a little handle on top to lift up the glass dome from a wood base on the bottom. Or we put I & i sitting in the seats so that they’re in the front. We could be the oddities in the back. The observers would be staring at them and that’s fine because they’ve got their protective suits on.
All Photo’s & Text (unless otherwise noted) Copyright 2021 Matthew A. Eller. Follow me on Instagram @elleresqphoto