Artists In Their Own Words: Jules Bentley
Who: Jules Bentley
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: His front porch: Jules on a chaise lounge, me on a porch swing, and Emmett (the big orange cat) lounging wherever he wants.
Q: What’s the most common escape route you currently plan or that you planned as a kid?
A: Lately, to learn Kurdish and join The Lions of Rojava. That’s something I think about often when my bank account is empty or people won’t sleep with me. That’s my go-to. I think, ‘None of this will matter once I join the Lions of Rojava!'
That’s a relatively recent escape route. Some friends and I were fixing up a car, and someone had looked at The Lions of Rojava website and said, ‘There’s a call-out for people to come from all over the world and join this anarchist federated operation fighting ISIS and the Turkish government.’
One problem is that I have a silly sense of humor, and I’m not certain that people fighting for their tribal homelands will enjoy my sense of humor. The plane ticket would be really expensive, too. I’d have to borrow money to get there. So the lack of funds in my bank account--one of the impetuses for me wanting to go--creates an obstacle.
It’s a question of if I have the ovaries to actually do it, to put my middle- class corpus where my mouth is. Trying to learn Kurdish is a good challenge. It keeps my mind alive.
Q: What’s the most unsocial dish to bring to a potluck?
A: One of the ways I passively-aggressively cope with a communal kitchen is to buy these huge bloody cuts of fatty meat that scare my first-world housemates. They won’t touch them. That said, when you cook those cuts they’re delicious.
And I don’t want to be cruel to my friends who have dietary restrictions. Let’s just say, though, that there are some baked goods--efforts in baked goods--that really challenge the conventions of deliciousness. Food is complicated, so I get that. Trying to bake around dietary restrictions is not something that everyone has mastered. Although, good vegan baking is way more around now. For a while, it wasn’t clear if it was possible.
Q: What human experience do you think can’t be captured in writing/art?
A: Part of what attracted me to New Orleans is that it offers a lot of those experiences. I’d say there are two big ones for me. The first one sounds a little trite, but it’s that transcendent moment in a second line. You’re surrounded by people, there’s the music, the revelry. It’s a religious experience for me. This communal ecstasy. Good art and good music can point to that, but it really can’t be captured.
Neither can death. This is why death is such a bottomlessly fascinating topic. It’s the great mystery we all get to solve sooner or later.
Things that are really intense--death, suffering, joy, etc.--trip the same circuits for me. Maybe I don’t have a large enough emotional vocabulary. It seems like any extreme experience is not necessarily so unlike another extreme experience--it takes you out of yourself, and at the same time centers you relative to the larger universe.
That said, I do think that a big part of the second line is that communal ecstasy.
Using heroin or a 50-mile bike ride is isolated-transcendence, but in a second line you have friends, relatives, strangers, and you’re all building something together. People coming together in the streets is a form of power--one of the only forms of power--that I’m interested in.
Q: What’s the best flyer you’ve ever seen?
A: Man, that’s tough. There have been some really beautiful multi-colored screen prints where I can’t believe people just staple them to a telephone pole. So much beauty and work went into those.
One flyer that sticks out in my mind was from May Day a few years ago, the time NOPD shot and killed Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen. It was a drawing of a black man sitting in a car outside a Burger King. There are police behind him, and it’s all very overcast, and it said, ‘When your only choices are prison or death, that’s capitalism.’ That really stayed with me. It used current events and talked about a reality in a way that wasn’t exploitative. It used a very specific example to make a larger point, and it hit you right in the guts.
Q: What was your favorite place to read as a kid?
A: Just about anywhere, because it was my escape. Reading was my way out of my life.
I always loved libraries. My mother was a librarian, and a lot of my happiest hours as a child were spent wandering the stacks at libraries, pulling pull books out, looking at them, and reading them. The library is also a space where people come together outside commerce to read, and-- not to harp on the subject of community--that’s nice.
In terms of books I most came back to, the upper stacks of the local University library had a whole bunch of European porn comics from the 70s that were super influential in my psychosexual development. Those made a strong impression on me as a kid-- and this was in a very conservative part of the country. Libraries have always been liberatory places. Libraries stood up against the Patriot Act. I even think about Medieval monks preserving classical manuscripts when that was unfashionable. Libraries have historically been a refuge for dangerous ideas.
Jules Bentley's newest zine nonservi.am is now available around town. He also helped organize The 14th Annual New Orleans Bookfair, which is on Saturday, December 12, at Clouet Gardens with panels taking place at Tigermen Den. The New Orleans Bookfair begins at 11 AM and runs until around 6 PM. To find out more about The New Orleans Bookfair, visit their website and check out their Facebook page.
Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.