Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Modern Romance

Written by Nick Weist
Julia Weist is a Brooklyn-based artist, and Nick Weist is her Brooklyn-based brother. Julia recently published her first book, a pseudo-autobiographical romance novel entitled, Sexy Librarian. The protagonist is a disillusioned artist named Audrey who flees New York and tries to find her emotional center in Minnesota—similar to Julia’s own experience of leaving her home city for a residency in Rochester, MN in the summer of 2005. Many of the romances described in the book were modeled on Julia’s own life experiences, (such as a flirtation with a professional lumberjack), while some trysts were pure fiction (she has never dated a brain surgeon!). The plot parallels Julia’s art practice in that it also investigates the relationship between sex and information science.
Julia Weist is a Brooklyn-based artist, and Nick Weist is her Brooklyn-based brother. Julia recently published her first book, a pseudo-autobiographical romance novel entitled, Sexy Librarian. The protagonist is a disillusioned artist named Audrey who flees New York and tries to find her emotional center in Minnesota—similar to Julia’s own experience of leaving her home city for a residency in Rochester, MN in the summer of 2005. Many of the romances described in the book were modeled on Julia’s own life experiences, (such as a flirtation with a professional lumberjack), while some trysts were pure fiction (she has never dated a brain surgeon!). The plot parallels Julia’s art practice in that it also investigates the relationship between sex and information science.

The novel was originally written as a proposal that she hoped would be rejected by major publishers, continuing another facet of her practice: the exploration of the failure of information once it becomes outdated or irrelevant, and deaccessioned library material. When Ellen Lupton, Curator of Contemporary Design at the Cooper-Hewitt, saw the rejection letters (which Julia exhibited as sculptures at her thesis show at Cooper Union), she offered to publish an expanded version as a full-length book. It was released in January, and is available on Amazon. Julia recently held a solo show at the Kantor/Feuer window in New York.

Nick: So, in your book you describe how Audrey’s grandma gives her a mani-pedi and lingerie shopping spree for Christmas, right after she had come from a shoot modeling for Playgirl Magazine. Ironically Playgirl had given her a mani-pedi and lingerie in exchange for the shoot. Did grandma really give you that? I feel like she just gives me books. Not that I'm complaining....

Julia: Yes, the women in our family [do] buy me a lot of lingerie! Being the eldest granddaughter in a matriarchy of unapologetically sexual, sophisticated ladies comes with a lot of perks. Mom and grandma were so excited about this project; I feel like they told everyone they knew about it. Even grandma's doorman winks at me now. I would like to point out that she also gave you skin tight jeans from Sweden that Christmas, and we're agnostic.

Nick: I still wear those jeans everywhere. So, here's the thing about your book that should have been my first question: It's not really a book is it? It's more like a sculpture. A sexy sculpture.

Julia: Indeed, my romance novel is a sculpture. I stuffed some personal anecdotes into the narrative structure of the paperback novels I found chucked from public libraries. The result was a really awful manuscript that I sent to mainstream publishing houses who dully rejected it. The letters they sent me were included in a show I was working on about how institutions manage information, and how public knowledge assumes physical mass in small library buildings and therefore can never represent all the information in the universe. Ellen saw the show and told me to finish the manuscript and let her publish it. I said hell no, I don't want people asking me about the clap all the time.

Nick: Another point where your life and work intersected!

Julia: We are not going to discuss STDs in this interview. I eventually said yes to Ellen’s book deal because there was so much potential for getting deeper into my ideas. I did this by investigating all the obstacles a little story is faced with, and figuring out how to get over or around them with sexy sculptures.

Nick: So, what sort of obstacles have you run into since publishing the book? I mean, potential libel suits brought by ex-lovers alone could ruin you.

Julia: I was worried about the whole defamation thing, and as a result tried to involve my dudes in the writing process as much as possible. Also, I came up with ridiculous character names to hide the identities of all my ex-boyfriends. Roman Steel? Rexford Richter?

Nick: At one point, Seth, a fellow artist and a member of collective, The Bruce High Quality Foundation (who is not in the book), gave you some excellent recommendations for names that sounded more real, but were as different from your dudes' real names. Is there a reason you didn't use them? Like does the theatricality of their fakeness appeal to you?

Julia: But I used a lot of his suggestions! At some point, the pseudonym question came up and Seth had ten alternate names ready for all of the guys in the book who were our mutual friends. It was as if he had been waiting for someone to write the first memoir.

I find theatricality really productive. The joy and humor of making this book had to come through via exaggeration; cynicism was so inappropriate in this context. There is something undeniably optimistic about getting laid that much!

Nick: The story opens with the main character feeling oppressed by the sheer volume of sexual interactions she had had in a relatively short period of time. The rest is the story of her working through those feelings and their ramifications.

Julia: True. My protagonist was working to be open enough to let someone inside her. In more than just one way. And somehow, exploring those issues in fiction has made it easier for me to allow myself to feel vulnerable in real life.

Remember when we ran into Mathew recently? I totally surprised myself by whispering into his ear without thinking, "I've fallen for your friend like a tree in the forest." It was a funny thing to say because I’ve been making sculptures about wood [Julia's show at the Kantor/Feuer window included handmade lumber.] and writing love stories. That comment made me think about the old cliché of a falling tree in an empty forest. I think if no one is around to hear it, romance doesn’t make a sound. Romance is for two or more. That’s why I like the public library—it’s a love story that anyone can be a part of.

*Please join Julia Weist & friends on June 5th from 6 to 8 pm at Sara Meltzer Gallery for In Conclusion, which marks the finale of Julia’s effort to track the successes and failures of her experimental romance novel, Sexy Librarian, since its release in January.

Participants in the event will read rejections, statistics, correspondence, and reviews related to the book, further enriching the narrative of its conception and publication. The evening will culminate in an announcement of whether or not the novel was added to the collection of the New York Public Library.

Sponsored by the New York Metropolitan Chapter of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NY) www.arlisny.org
 
Photos courtesy of Nick and Julia Weist 

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