Exclusive: Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell
September 7th, 2011 by Robin Grearson
Molly Crabapple checked in to a hotel room in a secret location this week and started covering the walls with her drawings. By the time she checks out five days later, she will have covered nearly 300 square feet of wall space with her renderings of fish, a giraffe, a treehouse or two, octopus girls, and even portraits of friends who have stopped by to visit. At the midway point of her exploration into creative and physical endurance, she seems slightly manic and says jokingly, “I only have breakdowns at night.”
These five days are Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell, a dream project for her whose funding came via a Kickstarter page. Molly told me that the concept she wanted to fulfill was the idea of drawing in a public square, where observers could watch, as though she were in a fishbowl. And she has achieved this, virtually. Molly’s 745 Kickstarter supporters track her progress, mentally and artistically; they request certain animals or characters; they even complain to her about her choice of music, via a Livestream feed which is open for a few hours each day. The Internet is such a critical part of the project, Week in Hell is a virtual public-art installation. Ironically, though, the Manhattan hotel where she’s staying has no idea what she’s up to.
I visited the secret location on Day 3. Molly has gone through at least three dozen black markers and seems to have covered more than half of the suite. My hunch said she’s ahead of schedule, but she asks me to sit down next to her to ask my questions so that she can continue to draw and talk to her Livestream audience at the same time. The Internet is commending her change of playlist. On Day 2, she’d been playing “three French songs and my friend Kim [Boekbinder’s] album all day,” and they rebelled. Also, the Internet wants more platypus. “Platypus?! I put three fucking platypuses into this thing already,” she argues. One of her friends who is visiting jokes, “Platypus are the new octopus.”
Everyone in the room laughs, the Internet laughs, and the mood is light. But Molly keeps quickly moving from left to right on her Doom Wall, the 20-foot-long section of the hotel suite’s living room. She’s marking broad strokes in pencil on 2-by-7-foot sheets of Canson paper, then turning the marks into characters and scenes with Dick Blick markers–while continuing to choose music, answer my questions, video-chat with her Livestream audience, and talk to photographer Steve Prue, her assistant Melissa, and her friends. At the moment she seems to me a multitasking marvel, but there is a tension to her swift movements, and sitting next to her I start to feel a little nervous energy myself.
After a while, Molly decides to go into the bedroom and work on a new drawing by the window. Her friends follow, keeping the Internet in the loop. Carrying the laptop in front of him like an infant in its baby Bjorn, Molly’s friend Dennis narrates for the Livestream audience, “We’re going on a magical journey to the other room!”
And he’s right: there is a magical feeling, despite the miserable rainy-day world outside today. Friends are crowded into the tiny bedroom, surrounded by Molly’s characters. On those pages, as in the room, the girls outnumber the boys, and as everyone watches Molly standing barefoot on a mahogany sideboard to draw near the ceiling, there is giggling. A lot of giggling. Someone brings cupcakes. Champagne opens. Girls lounge on the bed. There is more giggling. Steve Prue is taking pictures for a Week in Hell book, a photo-essay about the project that was possible in part because the $4,500 Kickstarter project received more than $25,000 in donations. Another photographer has set up a time-lapse camera for a video that will be released after the project is completed.
Molly takes a break from drawing on the wall to draw on our friend, Katelan Foisy, an artist (rather, artist-model-writer-tarot reader-publisher-and-so-on) who is no stranger to permanent marker. (In one of Katelan’s ongoing projects, Lie & Indite, photographers capture poet Mike Lala writing poetry directly onto the beautiful Katelan.) Molly tells Livestream, “Internet, there are cute girls everywhere doing things.”
This project is an exploration of endurance–in creativity and physical endurance. But when I arrived I’d asked Molly if she thought this was “social-media-art” (if there is such a thing). Throughout the week, updates are posted to her Tumblr, her Facebook page, her Twitter, and of course her Livestream audience (that feed is accessible exclusively to backers). But she didn’t seem to think so. “When I do an art project, it includes social media, because that’s how we communicate. But I consider it an art project.”
There is no doubt, however, that social media is changing the way artists make art and the way they conceive their projects. Supporters who donated just $20 will receive cuts from Molly’s Week in Hell drawings: tangible 4×6-inch abstract pieces of an experience in which they were participant, curator and witness. Since prices for her original works typically start at $800, it’s easy to see how the project became quickly over-funded.
Despite her undeniable accomplishment in art-per-hour/by the square foot, I imagine Molly’s Week in Hell has already been more dream than nightmare for her. When it was time for me to leave the magical world, Molly even gave me a gift– sponsor Urban Decay provided free stuff for Week in Hell visitors. It seemed appropriate to get a picture of myself with Molly and Katelan and the Internet. “Oh, Internet, we even got you at the skinny angle!,” Molly told her collaborators.
Note: Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell received support from sponsors Canson, Dick Blick, and Urban Decay.