Liz Zito

Alum, Liz Zito featured in the New York Times

Turning the Perverse Nature of ‘The Bachelor’ Into Art

By AMANDA HESS AUGUST 2, 2017

Love “The Bachelor” but hate yourself? Duck into SleepCenter’s cramped Chinatown basement art space on Wednesday for “Here for the Right Reasons,” an endearingly scrappy one-night show where artists will try to process the disquieting implications of their “Bachelor” fandom.

“I think in a healthy society, ‘The Bachelor’ would be illegal,” Artie Niederhoffer, a curator of the show, writes in an artist’s statement penciled on one of the gallery’s walls. She adds: “Gotta get my fix while society’s still sick.”

Ms. Niederhoffer, a freelance writer, and Janie Korn, an illustrator, both 29, started watching the show in 2012. At first, it was a joke. Then, it wasn’t. Their group texts with a mutual friend became consumed with “Bachelor” relationship analysis and speculation about behind-the-scenes producer manipulation. They found themselves drawn to the toxic hetero spectacle in the same way that some women read murder books to subconsciously deal with anxieties about violence. “It brought together this sisterhood,” Ms. Korn said.

These days, it’s easy to recognize “The Bachelor” franchise — the 13th season of “The Bachelorette,” featuring the series’ first black lead, is currently careering toward its inevitable rush-proposal ending — as a vacuous project complicit in various crimes against humanity. (Among them: the subjugation of women; the exploitation of the mentally ill; the perpetuation of racial stereotyping; and the advancement of corporate synergy.) But it’s even easier to blow two to three hours a week watching it.

“We want to examine why people like us watch the show,” Ms. Niederhoffer said. “The things they put the women through are horrible, at times. It’s kind of nice to watch, in a perverse way.”

In “Here for the Right Reasons,” more than a dozen New York artist-fans exorcise their own “Bachelor” issues. The video artist Liz Zito slips into the persona of an obsessed fan, painting the erstwhile bachelor Nick Viall as a merman on a seashell-lined canvas, then trying to sell the portrait to Mr. Viall over Instagram for $10,000. Her direct message to Mr. Viall, displayed alongside the piece, investigates the show’s aggressive rebranding of the Wisconsin software salesman into America’s most enduring eligible bachelor. (Mr. Viall has starred in four seasons of the franchise, including “Bachelor in Paradise,” appearing increasingly beefy in each iteration.)

“It projects a majestic aesthetic, which falls in line with your television persona,” Ms. Zito writes in her sales pitch, adding, “I’m not a weird psycho fan, I’m just a really good artist.” He does not respond.

The artist Mur performs his song “I Should Not Watch the Bachelor” at “Here for the Right Reasons.”

The artist Mur performs his song “I Should Not Watch the Bachelor” at “Here for the Right Reasons.”

The artists and curators Janie Korn and Artie Niederhoffer’s “Rose Installation,” featuring the “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, on display at “Here for the Right Reasons.”

The artists and curators Janie Korn and Artie Niederhoffer’s “Rose Installation,” featuring the “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, on display at “Here for the Right Reasons.”

Please click here for the full New York Times article 

Liz Zito with Laura Parnes

© Liz Zito 

© Liz Zito 

“I’ve performed and created characters based on diary entries. Courtney from Wolf’s Canyon originated from being nostalgic for teen horror shows. I wanted to become the opposite what I am now.”

Liz Zito

The following are excerpts of a conversation between Laura Parnes and Liz Zito.

Laura Parnes: Courtney is a cliché of the teenage film and you seem to play around a lot with clichés. Is there a parody that goes on when you’re riffing on these popular references to adolescence?

LZ: I still relate to shows that are aimed at teenage girls–taking a closer look at what is presented to them–and it’s definitely a reflection of what has formed the person I am today. But I get frustrated when people think Courtney is an alter ego or has something to do with me. I’ve had a lot of conversations about how similar Courtney and [Nick Aliciati’s] Darlene are, but we have completely different relationships with our characters. People really like Courtney (I don’t like her) and want me to dress up like her and be this thing.

LP: I’m curious how you developed and wrote your projects, specifically Wolf’s Canyon.

LZ: I come up with a basic story line just so it’s not insane [laughs]–wait a second, it is insane–but, a beginning and an ending, so it’s almost followable. And I like working with non-performers, without set lines in the script, who can be lost and not exactly know what’s going on. I don’t really know what’s going on! If someone in the cast or crew has a better idea, I want to do the better idea–the funnier thing–and to allow for interpretation.

LP: However you set up the situation, you’re also in it, so you’re kind of pushing or controlling the direction of the scene in quite a few ways.

LZ: When I’m in the scene it makes people more comfortable but when I’m off camera I’ve had to prompt what is going on. I will feed lines if people don’t like improvising. Even in bad acting I’m surprised when it's a great performance. The performance is authentic in a different way. I feel like every character, at the end of the day, has taken a drug and they don’t remember what happened the day before or previous episode. Everyday is a blank slate. I’ve never asked anyone if working with me in this way is fun; I think it is. People keep coming back.

LP: I really didn't realize it’s mostly improv. The way people perform, they already embodying those different adolescent shows they’ve already seen. It feels like the lines are going through them.

© Liz Zito

© Liz Zito

LZ: It helps when their names are directly from the shows. If we’re talking to Mr. Fitz, the teacher from Pretty Little Liars, and it’s your friend Stephan performing, it feels like you’re talking to that television show character. Plus Stephan is a really good actor.

LP: And that mirrors playing out ideas of childhood, of acting out shows and scenarios, which took up quite a bit of time for some of us when we were kids. It seems your process, in terms of refining things, happens much more in the editing room, which is sort of different from when I’ve worked with animation where there’s not a lot of leeway in editing afterward.

LZ: I don’t know if it’s a result of an improvising comedy background, but editing is one of my favorite parts of the process. A joke doesn’t always necessarily work until I edit the piece together. And that’s the exciting thing. I also like the episodic. It leaves people wanting more–I don’t know if I’m going to give it to them–but it allows me to take a break while having material to come back to and re-edit. There’s a great gym scene that has yet to be released.

LP: I’ll waste so much time if I’m shooting extra stuff. For some projects I’ve controlled the script beforehand and pretty settled into what I wanted. But [for funding] I was constantly getting notes and rewriting. Those notes were based on what other people were telling me. So I let go of all of that and decided I could make it on bare bones. By turning it into an animation I could go back to all these crazy things I’d put in before that I didn’t think I could realize in film. It was a really freeing moment for me to give up the process of trying to get the financial backing you need to get for a feature film.

LZ: How do you know when something’s finished, like Tour Without End? Is it every going to end?

LP: It’s never going to end! No, I envision it being six hours. I recently went to Houston and did a show. It happened that one of my characters was in Houston and I shot another scene there at Sean’s Hair Salon. It’s an ongoing process but I’m sure something will tell me “you've got to stop.” I do have a lot of fun shooting it. It’s totally guerilla style. Whatever happens happens. There’s a rush of like me saying [to the actor], “now go in to that hotel and book a room” and “if they say this, don’t respond” and “don’t leave until it’s absolutely necessary.” We have a lot of fun doing that and everyone’s into it. It would be really different if they were like “I'm really uncomfortable” but they’re like “yeah, where can we go next?” We’ll get tired at some point. And since it’s about process, how long can my characters take working on this. I’m sure that will inform part of it but then there will be a deadline of the show where I just have to get it together.

LZ: One of the most exciting things for me is coming up with an idea–when the light bulb goes off. It sounds really dumb to say I don’t like performing, because I do it all the time, but I find it really difficult and exhausting. Sitting in front of the camera and having these rules for myself. I find it satisfying when it’s done and I know I have the right take. It’s like “whew, I don’t have to do that again.” It’s weird, but maybe it’s the high I get after a performance. And knowing that if I get a good take it’s exciting. That’s it; I don't have to do this anymore. Torcher!

Now I’m in the process of writing a film where I’m not in it at all. I’m taking a step back to trust other people to be the characters I’ve developed. I want to have control in a different way, to focus on other things I wasn’t able to when I was the performer. I’m at the point where I’m kind of a little sick of watching myself on the screen. I want to think about other things, like writing the story and developing the characters. Even for Wolf’s Canyon I’m talking to someone else about playing Courtney in the future. With the absurdity of the project I can allow someone else to step in.



 

       Wolf's Canyon   Liz Zito      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     I am an observer of people and personalities and have always been interested in what faces have to say and the stories they tell. Shortly after college came a vocation in vaudeville, which led to documenting my acts and thus began my career in video and performance art. Through characters I mimic come the stories about lives that parallel
my experience. 
 Wolf’s Canyon is an episodic “television show” based on the pop TV culture of my youth, including Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and the recent teen-girl phenomenon, Pretty Little Liars. By taking their tropes and archetypal characters, I created a female-driven comedy series based upon the absurdities of the daily life of an orphaned 16-year- old girl who moves across the country to live with her uncle in a haunted town. Though similar to stories that have been told before, my version is absurd, abstract, and comedic, as it addresses the pressures that society places on women to hate themselves, their bodies, and each other. It is quasi-formulaic art and
comedic commentary designed to reach a community that is looking to laugh, as it critically revolutionizes how we digest female stories on television. It is aimed specifically toward young women whose window to the world is the screen in front of them. 
     

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Much of my prior work was performed solo and addressed aging. Those ideas took root as I transitioned into my thirties and became obsessed with the inevitability of growing old, and an inability to predict the future. As a way to break from the obsession, I developed the character Courtney, a ditsy stereotype teenager. She was a welcome relief, helping me take a break from analyzing Liz Zito. It was easy to make
Courtney the victim of trauma, loss, and loneliness. She is bullied at school, although she seems not to be completely bothered by this, as her general attitude is quite superficial. As a character, she opens the door to absurd happenings that surround her in the town Wolf’s Canyon.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     Directly inspired by Twin Peaks, I wanted to create a community in the
Northwest that is home to a variety of unique and bizarre eccentrics. While the story of Wolf’s Canyon focuses on Courtney’s adventures, it is equally about its history and people. As the plot unfolds, so does the depth of our dimwitted Courtney. The outcome is a balance between good and evil in human nature and society. While previous acts of performing and filming myself were part of a meditative, creative process, and provided an intimate mood, for Wolf’s Canyon I wanted to have the opposite feeling. So I imagined a very large ensemble cast. Part of the development included asking colleagues what type of archetypal high school horror/drama character they would most relate to. Acquiring an improvised dialogue helped the relationships along as I chose untrained actors, to relate to and be inspired by characters. Their performance energy also added to the chaos of the aesthetics.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     The film contains much appropriated footage. It is mostly shot with a green screen and the inserted backgrounds come from image and video searches. These appropriated environments, mixed with handheld filming, aids in creating a bizarre reality that only exists in the town of Wolf’s Canyon. A major artistic influence for this work is Mike Kelley, specifically in his stories based on found photographs: Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstructions. Usually these images are of archetypal characters performing in low-budget, theatrical productions. The videos he makes from these photographs are placed in individual sculptural installations, which are often from the set of his films. The general feeling of these films is oddly reminiscent of a cultural past. His celebration of pop culture comes from a type of loathing of the mainstream world. I am making a mockery of similar television shows, which stems from indulging in it, and is thus a romantic relationship of sorts. Though I may not agree with the content, I can’t get enough of it. Where Kelley uses material from his past, the team of Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch are infatuated with the present and creates hyper, neo-reality videos in which characters frantically communicate with each other using Internet slang as dialogue. The characters are carefully painted and decorated, ranging in tone from extreme florescence to washed-out white. They are placed in immersive installation rooms and visually blend into their environments, which aid in the storytelling. There is a connection between Wolf’s Canyon and the Trecartin’s work, which he states is influenced by the Disney Channel and MTV.  While making Wolf’s Canyon, I thought about George Kuchar, particularly
Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967). I connect to his view of the world and his techniques of storytelling in a time-based medium that unites the viewer to his vision. The film creates the sensations of Kuchar’s struggle with religion and sexuality, as well as feelings of romance, and the absurdity of family relationships and expectations. His storylines and enthusiasm for film paved the way for filmmakers to experiment with ideas of what storytelling can be.      

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


     In addition to Twin Peaks, other shows that have inspired Wolf’s Canyon
include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pretty Little Liars. Buffy is a show that I watched growing up, in which the protagonist is a high school girl who had to save the world over and over. Less supernatural, Pretty Little Liars deals with female teenagers who have too much life and death responsibility; and each is keeping a secret, much like Buffy. I find it undeniable that these shows have incredible success in pop culture and great agency in influencing maturing young minds. I continue to research why this genre has become of interest to so many women through an exploration of abjection in feminist, philosophical theory. In Wolf’s Canyon, Courtney is symbolic of a certain element of societal repulsion. She remains oblivious to her shortcomings and continues forward with minimal introspection. While other characters seem to evolve, she remains a product of circumstance. Ultimately,
Courtney represents an amalgamation of everything society has warned young women against and she embodies the paradox in what contemporary expects of young women.

Wolf's Canyon by Liz Zito

I am an observer of people and personalities and have always been interested in what faces have to say and the stories they tell. Shortly after college came a vocation in vaudeville, which led to documenting my acts and thus began my career in video and performance art. Through characters I mimic come the stories about lives that parallel
my experience.