We talked to Joshua to see what they thought about time, respites, and self-reflection in regard to their series Idle Cosmopolitan, which we re-released on April 6, 2018. We love this work because it appears in exact way that the viewer is expecting in which to view it. If the viewer is expecting an airy work, it appears airy. If they are expecting it to condense, it will become too dense to parse. If you’re expecting a critique of queer life, it appears as such. A celebration? The apparition confirms your suspicions. In this way, we feel that it can function in truly ambivalence--to truly be of two minds at once.
In the series there’s a reference to there being many different worlds that are existing other than just the queer world and the ‘regular world’, and even a mention of a queer heaven. Is there a queer hell in the reality of Idle Cosmopolitan? What would that look like? Did you have a vision for queer heaven while creating the series?
I think queer hell is sort of an oxymoron, at least in terms of what this project aims to do. But I admit that queer heaven is much more ambivalent to me than it seems. I also think there is some ambivalence in this series over the terminology and taxonomy of The First World, The Queer World, and Queer Heaven. Are they the same? Where is Troy, really? They don't seem to care, and so we never fully understand where they are in any given moment. The characters don't so much occupy space as float through it. Space and thus time become sort of unhinged for Troy and the spirits around them. Troy never commits so we can't either as viewers. At least not in a way that traditional fantasy work asks us to. Traditional fantasy asks us to learn a history, lore, or geography. This work sort of tears that certainty from the viewer. Queer heaven is maybe something entirely different from a queer world. I think the world Anoxea and the spirits is almost an Alice-in-Wonderland space where things aren't quite right. But we never fully know who to trust. Even after making this, I'm not sure I do. It's very cosmic and murky. Like water.
The romance aspect to the series is something i think about for a few days every time i watch it all the way through. not much is ever revealed about Dan, besides that he has a meeting to go to, and that he’s kind of an asshole and isn’t really presented as a good or loving partner. Then in the queer world the love interest, Anoxea, inhabits this energy that’s just blase. Its all very dispassionate to an extent, the romance in Idle. Initially the queer world and ‘regular world’ would seem as foils to each other, especially in the romances that exist within them, but they’re not. What were your ideas in creating the romantic landscape in Idle? Are Anoxea and Dan intended to mirror each other ? What does this say about romantic desire?
I'm glad the romance of Troy and Dan comes across as well as it does. It definitely is the driving force despite the fact Dan is only in two episodes. I think Anoxea is a sort of counter to Dan, Anoxea is flashy and exciting in a sort blase way. But paradoxically, Anoxea is the "perfect" boy, he was made for Troy and that's clearly something Troy has no concept of. Troy seems nervous, scared, even but definitely ready to believe this narrative of true love and forever and ever- a typical heaven narrative. But Troy also chose this instead of taking a test, so we can't valorize or condescend Troy's choice, it's just not a heroic choice. The idea of dispassion seems central to why the Queer World is not so heavenly after all. No one seems all that enraptured with life, they seem enigmatic or bored or too cool. Maybe some of that is mirroring a queer culture that's become so mainstream and some if it is that there is no queer heaven. At least not for me, but certainly not for Troy. Romance seems to be sort of shifted like cards in a playing deck. There's no hot-pop-music-melodrama love affair for Troy, it's either a loser who doesn't care or someone who was made for them- which seems robotic and prescriptive. But Troy's ready to buy into that. Who isnt'? I think romantic desire and longing are always sort of tragic. They aren't the same thing as mutual love and affection that are built. Eros, desire, longing- they're all sort of ways we try and revive ourselves into living. I'm still trying to untangle what is healthy and what is not. What is realistic and what is not. We want what we can't have. We also deserve more than something dispasionate.
There’s not a lot of artifice in this work, in terms of cinematography or theatricality, and the characters are questioning and reveling in their identity and desires--what were you considering in terms of the relationships between characters, viewers, and the spaces they inhabit?
The idea that spaces we inhabit on a daily basis are actual mystical, powerful, even holy is something I think a lot about. Through the work of Haruki Murakami, David Lynch, Annie Dillard, and others. Where are we really? What does the space we inhabit do to us, for us, or against us? Nature seems a powerful space to encounter that mystery. The hum of the universe. But the urban can offer that too. I think, also, that I don't have a lot of use for artifice in my work because so much of what I'm thinking through is a little antitheatrical and is so autobiographical. It seems more powerful to lay bare the nature of my work, my life, and what I have. This isn't exactly Brechtian, but it does have to do with DIY production and selfhood and vulnerability. I also think, if the space you live in has something rich to offer, offer it back.
Mm. Yeah--there’s a lot of introspection in this work, it reminds me a lot of the Narcissus myth--examining identity by looking inward through some other medium, or through others--what are your ideas about introspection in the webseries?
Whoa. That's a good one. Narcissus is always near to me. I once made a short about him, lol. I think that the Narcissus myth has become so gendered- where men are not allowed to value outer selves and women are supposed to but not too much. Where does that leave me? Where do I see myself in Narcissus? I think my own practice is so intricately linked to introspection and emotion that I have a hard time separating it. But this work is only slightly autobiographical and a lot of it is about a person who takes short cuts. Short cuts emotionally, spiritually, physically, and so on. The introspection is just not there. I don't see Troy as having any self epiphanies. In fact, they only experience forced epiphanies from other spirits like the Forest Nymphs or the Blue Thing. The Blue Thing, which I've mostly interpreted as a positive force, could very well be a negative one. I don't know if Troy has self-knowledge. They're sort of Carrie Bradshaw on steroids without the innerward looking, which is ironic since they are a relationship columnist too. I think I wanted to explore what it would be like to just have things happen to you. And they do just happen to Troy. Everyone seems so sure of themself in this webseries, except Troy.
Time moves so strangely in this series-- they’re fast episodes, the theme music repeats, and then the action is sort of slow, what are your thoughts in terms of time/pace in this work?
I made this webseries short very consciously. Like flash poems or little songs. I think I wanted to make something digestible and full. I was thinking a lot about Frankie Cosmos/Mitski/and the ways albums function. I think, of course, time feels accelerated because of technology. I also think I've thought I'm a slow filmmaker in terms of pacing- but this work is more meandering than slow. My friend Pat Stefaniak wrote on this work, about how meandering is a sort of queer practice. I thought that spoke very well to where I'm at with pacing art right now. I think time seems fast, but the reality is it is slow. The world has always been very slow. We could spend years in the forest if we wanted to, but few of us do. So we run. I'm trying to rest more, but I am definitely someone who makes slow work quickly.