This past June, San Francisco-bred artist Joshua Short came to Memphis to build a pirate radio station, a task that he describes as combining his two favorite things, "self-defense/reliance" and "sticking it to the man." Short built the radio station — a mix between a mock-up bomb shelter and truck topper — in the back of Crosstown's Amurica photo studio. When he wasn't living inside the station ("I was this kind of weird hobo living in this weird sculpture"), he welcomed local bands in for interviews and concerts.
This month, Short was back in town to complete a mural, also at Amurica. We sat down to talk about his past work, which includes fake plane crashes, off-the-wall installation work, and an ongoing fixation with cars, dinosaurs, and Cold War ephemera. Short, a tall man in his early 40s, had just finished pasting some final pieces of cut paper ("garbage") to a radial wall of quilted colors. We talked about gender, punk, politics, and Memphis.
Flyer: Do you consider your art to be political?
Joshua Short: I used to be more overtly political. San Francisco has always been kind of a political town, especially for artists. In the early 2000s, street art and doing things in the service of anti-gentrification, and, at the time, anti-war was a huge part of the conversation that artists were having. You'd associate with the movements you aligned yourself with — whether it was being queer or a part of an anti-war movement or a pro-Chicano movement. That's the school I came from, but at some point, I sort of hit my end with being that overt.
My art was really reactionary for a long time, and then I kind of got to a point where I was like "I don't know why I am doing this, actually. Why do I care about this? Is this my fight?" During grad school, I sort of unravelled a lot of that.
I'm a Cold-War kid. I came from this fear. This fear-mongering about there being a great enemy out there. Destruction was imminent. Nuclear war was gonna happen. The other thing was that I had a rough upbringing. I was abused. My mom was abused, and I was raised by a single mom. I had a slew of men in my life, and none of them were good father figures. So I gravitated toward martial arts growing up. There were a couple things that led to that. One was this fear I had, like "Oh, fuck, I gotta learn how to take care of myself. I've gotta defend myself." The other side of that was trying to find a masculine identity that worked for me.
Do you see similarities in your martial arts practice and your art practice?
It is definitely there. I think being a good artist is about discipline, but it is also about endurance. There is a quote that I really enjoy that talks about misery and malcontent and suffering on all human beings, you know? Is this the world we live in? Endurance. The fact that you can endure and you can survive is a true expression of what it means to be human. Being able to get up and take care of yourself and not be dependent on other people or let yourself become dependent on other people.
What about your more recent installation work, your 3-D drawing with string and assembled parts.
I started off drawing, because those were my influences. My friends were all super drawers. We were interested in comics and horror movies and junk like that; underground culture. I do draw a lot, and it is a tool in my tool box. Maybe sometimes things need to be drawings straight up, and sometimes they don't. I am more interested in making art that does something, that has a life beyond its objectness.
What brought you to Memphis?
I've been in San Francisco too long. I get all mad when I am there and I don't even know why anymore. Coming to Memphis has been really great, because I've just felt so loved here. I'm in this place in my life where I want to build a little bat cave. Memphis feels like the kind of place where you can do that.