Updated: Nov 22, 2020
By Jared Pappas-Kelley
Zak Ferguson’s work is mental in an unsettling and best possible sense of the word. He is a self-professed experimental writer (I am an experimentalist!) and you can see how he approaches each aleatory novel or book with its own rules, lucidity, and structures as with this new series of “interiors” that are underway. The logic of Ferguson’s work is one of expansion and collapse, putting forward a thread only to subtlety fold in or snap under, yet felt in body and under skin. Some books are pulpy in their page turning and others are a task, but one never doubts there is something at stake or a very real risk, taking place in their execution.
I spoke with Zak about his new books Interiors for ? and the next instalment Interiors for ? Mark ii, as well roaming through burnt or torn down buildings in the UK, the legacy of underground or zine culture, vaporwave, discussing both his autism and awakening as a writer and an opening up of a literary world, as well as the launch of his recent publishing venture Sweat Drenched Press.
Jared Pappas-Kelley: I stumbled across your newest writing project Interiors for ? and wasn’t really aware of the concept or idea about it. Can you talk a bit about this project and the thinking behind it?
Zak Ferguson: Interiors for ? began as a whole other endeavour. To take images for a project. Maybe THE SYSTEM COMPENDIUM, or something else, so after and during photographing, I had this image percolating, not so much an image, an idea, that BURNED INTO THAT IDEA, where I needed to name a folder, to create one, where to place these images, to pick from… like a goodie-box of images to use in experiments and to apply to certain pieces I am working on. Then this philosophy and appreciation for interiors, spaces, my relationship with the meta-physics, meta-contextual-textural-integrated notion—warped and took me over, wholly.
I needed a name, so I titled the folder Interiors for ? (because that had been percolating inside my mind as I was taking the photos too) and then this whole other plane of contemplation opened, already spurred and accessed by having initially started upon this path of productivity—but it was mapping itself out, avenues no longer blockaded, veering, swerving, it fucking exploded, where subconsciously (which is perhaps the be all end all to my making of this current book, who knows, maybe there is more to interiors than interiors could or should be) the images I had taken were taking on different resonances, that were of the husk of a recently burned down hotel, in Eastbourne… all of a sudden, evolved, were dislocated from this thing called reality, took on a new meaning, relating to my art, relating to my procession of creativity.
The whole thing (the hotel) had fallen into itself, and only the outside, the walls, façade, the frontier, the foundations, the walls, the sides, it was wholly aesthetically and physically there in its exterior standings, its own physically embodied thing—which were remaining, but there was something supernal about it too.
That was the only remaining structure, of any relation or design to what it stood tall as before…way before this awful accident occurred and brought it, in so many ways to its fucking grandiose knees; but something else was layered over it. A veil? A sense? An aura? Left. Void. Dusty. Sooty. Smoky. Burnt. Melted. Textured that much more beautifully with nothing inside and the textures, the desolation, the haunting harrowing images it obtains, in frames, of itself, it was moving, shifting, alternating, growing a wholly new form—the opening of potentials, but maybe not in any inter-relationship with myself and this mundane boring as hell antiquated hotel, but it was in its destruction; that of which you can execute, obtain, frame by a camera lens. Its hard to explain. As I am still writing and mid-way experimenting with these notions, ideas, and visual executions on Interiors for ? Mark ii the next instalment.
There is so much going on, but mostly people are always there to capture it, on their iphonies, androids, i-tabber-things, for the story, to be part of it without any real association bar passing it or being nearby when it was occurring. So, they had the proof behind their boastings of, “I was there! I saw it all!—always, if not mostly to say they were there, to extend upon this already happened event, captured, ionised, adding to the amassing archive known as Realities-History.
For me it was and still is about the spaces, the new being of this fucking burnt down building, and in segments, framed by its falling down, its eventual disintegration—the boring parts turned into anarchy-parts, beautiful-parts turned into textural-parts.
Jared Pappas-Kelley: Thinking of your approach and ideas about this burnt out hotel and your writing about it reminds me of something that was going on up in the Northeast of the UK where there was this whole neighbourhood in the city centre that was historically rather poor or working class and the council decided to tear it all down for redevelopment and pushed the residents out to make way for…new parking…but in the process they pulled down all of these rows of terrace houses and what was left was all these interior spaces suddenly put on display with like a hundred years of wallpaper or like the decorations for a baby’s room forty years ago, but all just on display and the spaces turned inside out. There was an artist around here documenting the process. But sorry, let’s get back to your process.
Ferguson: I wasn’t aware of this. That is strange, but I am at least in good company alongside somebody keeping track of it using this movement, this decision, as crass, ill-judged, ugly as it is, and also fuck all those people involved in that, for a fucking car park? Those spaces were literally crafted for, actual, literal, intentional spaces, for people to park? When those spaces, those structures, could have been revived, to house, fill up those interiors, for people to have homes.
Oh man, that pisses me right off. Maybe, the comfort in this is, at least for someone like me, is that someone is documenting this, but looking at it as something else, I love the image of these homes, used to be filled with life, drama, social happening’s and now just empty husks, where phantoms still reside, residuals of events long lost in the past… the place turned inside out, emotionally, meta-physically, it is art in of itself, of its own making, by the making of events, but more so by somebody giving the whole thing—whether as an ideal, example, as an event it is being reborn as something else, as far away from what it actually stands testament to and what unfolded… a new interior, a new meaning, instead of the reality of the fucking whole execution of that nasty manoeuvre, on what I assume is the Northeast’s council behalf. My process? Is much akin to that of which, I have assigned to this person, this artist you’ve mentioned, or I see the purity and power in what he or she is doing by studying, occupying it, maybe not habituating there, but allowing it room to expand and become something that more special. A social commentary, an example of societal flaws… So much is open for interpretation. My process is very much me, my life with Autism.
With interiors for ? I captured textures, that excited myself, but there was that swaying vacuity, of it being all interior as of now, empty, a whole other place bestowed upon its head. Brighton and Eastbourne are very similar, siblings, that they are sea-side towns. Eastbourne is mundane, from afar, yes, it is boring, but live their long enough, so much seedy shit is going on under its surface it’s hard not to be affected by it. Brighton wears that crime, grime, slutty-butty-fish-and-shits-and-silvered-blades-baggy-tracksuit-truth on its sleeve. It is what it is. It is almost cocky and satisfied in its devolving place in history and respect. London by Sea, but with a few bohemian fellows on the fringes taking the piss out of it.
So, having taken these images, in Eastbourne, with that notion of boredom, a place for people to come to die, to live out the rest of their days in nursing homes or retirement apartments, that there is an ugliness, but in it, a mystique, and esoteric beauty exists, where vague swirling potentialities and meanings and resonances exist. Translated and transcribe. Altered. Emboldened. I created a folder on my laptop, which is a void in of itself, a space to become occupied, much like our brains, much like our hearts. To put my images into. To extract from, to impose upon another VOID. Another space.
I love taking images of things, that to me are pure texture, pure material, and it can be easily angled, altered and formatted in a certain way, thus it offered and always offers a whole new plethora of meanings.
Jared Pappas-Kelley: This exploration of these spaces and a sort of walking contemplation, or collecting of these fragments in a folder is interesting. Location and place also seems to be important with how you work—both with you being autistic and a sort of navigating with that, but also I know you live in Brighton and that is important to who you are and maybe talk a bit about what Brighton, UK “means” for those not in the UK or familiar? But also this process you were examining in Eastborne.
Ferguson: It is important, it is a collection of emotion and my rifling through them. Coming to terms with certain motions of mood, intent, angers, aches, reminders of the remainders of what has happened to myself, what I felt in a specific day or time; like wraiths of memory, not of events, or specific moments that rattled my diaphragm, but rattled me mentally. Brighton is an ugly place. But beautiful in its ugliness. My own mind. My own thoughts, whether intrusive or imaginatively exacerbated are what I trail after and most of this is within the general East Sussex area, such as Eastbourne is, and Brighton also is a place for me where I was my most innocent, and vulnerable, and I am as vulnerable as ever being back here, but hardened by age and my awful emotional turmoil’s; contained within Eastbourne. I mention in Interiors for ?—how Eastbourne now, as a large space, environment for a lot of hurt, being re-written by my new and extremely loving, powerful relationship with Laura, my girlfriend. Brighton as well is a place of hurt, but I love it because it is a place of familial ties, and a place of my birth, it is my home.
Also I wish for it to take on this aura and fashion I dream for it, but I highly doubt it will, that or I am so much under this rock, sighting stuff from the narrow slit and the space afforded, my vantage is pretty slim… as I do live under a rock, and what is happening within Brighton, my wants, imaginings of what may be great for it, are happening; but I am seeing only so little, but I have experienced so much from being here. I love the place. I love walking. I love surveying, because of the characters that are inhabiting it.
The structures, the system’s in place, the place is dying, starving, of creativity. And because it is my old familiar, my comfort, even as it devolves, grows ugly, cluttered, filled with a whole variety of assholes, misguided souls, junkies, scum-bums, and awful excuses for human breathe, it is all aesthetical, it is all pure in its being what it is. Brighton.
My process behind this project, is sectored so far in Eastbourne, as I am based there more frequently due to my partner living there, but the next two Interiors for ? marks iii and iv are going to be photos captured on my traipsing through Brighton.
But, yes, Eastbourne was there for the taking and I started experiencing a renewed appreciation, an almost re-routed appreciation, born from my differed vantage and positing now, compared to in the past.
It was almost a contemplation, exploded on out, built upon a need to fill in space, to contemplate spaces, which have always intrigued me on an aesthetical storytelling level, as of the page, which is my canvas, or the Microsoft Word plane of white-glaring-light—to play, experiment and just experience something truly metaphysical.
An interior, a frame, that needs filling. A reflection upon a reflection, completely rerouting certain cerebral cables, connectors, and pathways, that my autistic mind is getting confused, enticed, aroused, and excited by. Enabling. Perpetuating. Amassing. Adding to. And I think it comes from my non-neuro-typicality that enables me to create the things and create in the vein that I do. It is about looking at the world and capturing the vista of an autistic brain, its negatives, positives, in a fashioned, purposeful way.
Pappas-Kelley: So, what are your plans for it and what is it about exactly?
Ferguson: I am planning on releasing four Interior books, from here on at the end of every week; whether it may be later, may be sooner, I have no clue…but I am enjoying myself, because it is testing my skills as an artist, meta-physically, with pathways of contemplation and reflection and also my inter-relationship with image-mockery, image-manipulation, my need to explore, embrace, extend, engorge my overall intentions, but in newer, for me, far more innovative and puzzle-piece-experimental ways. That and my intention is to build on this work, because it has evolved, taken upon itself a whole new meaning. It is the first official release from my press, and it is an itch that needs to be scratched. To test. To push. To prove to myself.
What is it, exactly? I don’t fucking know, and I love that energy, it’s almost a synergy and cyclical thing that is issued forth from the ripples coming off my other works, inside, outside of me, there is something cosmic happening here… that vagueness is the intent, the interior-filler, maybe? No, that is bullshit, that vagueness is there for you to allow yourself to associate thought, pathways of contemplation and renumeration that you may never have experienced or accessed or knew was there for or within you. Though I have explained it in great-detail, and of the place, where it came from, what it means—that isn’t its’ be all end all.
As it continues to evolve, I do not know where it is going, and I am extremely satiated by that reality. My reality. Which is through my writing. My processing and break downs of it.
Pappas-Kelley: I was talking the other day about all this and about how it reminds me a bit of the glory days of zines and zine making, but sort of like the next evolution of that sort of process. I grew up in places like Olympia and Seattle where a lot of that was going on and sort of in the air. What do you think of this?
Ferguson: That is very fucking cool. I have never been part of any zine, or publication where it appears in a magazine, or is circulated in a cool underground DIY way. I think that this can be bettered, considering how things are going, on a commercial, and sadly capitalist level, by the accessibility of POD platforms… if used well, but then as I think about this I get agitated and the semi—the reality dawns, and that is—that it takes something away from what makes zines, well… zines…they’re printed, stapled, clustered, with art-not approved but shoved in because they need as much content as they could scurry together, collage, prose-poetry, rants, terrible advertisements for local businesses, where the time is nearly running out on the publication date they had set for themselves and told a fair few mates (greasy haired, mascara clad, with a few terribly ill-thought out self-applied tattoos)—who are willingly standing on the street corner from the “press” contemplating the jump from curb to road, waiting for their dirty prose magazine, purchased to see their own work featured, or that might have that artsy kid in class room 10-A showing off her tits, which is her usual fashion when on the college premises.
Pappas-Kelley: You mention this idea of underground, which makes me think of Baudrillard, where he says: “You must create your underground, because now there’s no more underground, no more avant-garde, no more marginality. You can create your personal underground, your own black hole…” What do you think of that, but then let’s continue with what you were saying about zines?
Ferguson: Yes, we all must make our own underground, because there really is no avant-garde, no more room, or spaces allowed for the people with the real rushing of blood keeping the actual heart of these creative movements alive any longer. But, we can, and by people creating zines, or chapbooks, or macro pamphlets, this is reaffirming this reality, this place, that will never die, oh I so fucking hope it doesn’t, and telling those whose whole supposed positioning with these supposed wants to be DIY and so underground is truly all faux and disingenuous.
But if it can be attenuated and captured in some minor way, that intent and well-intended motion is more than what most presses try to express and sell themselves off as.
Nothing will live up to the underground nature of pamphlets, and the only person I know of successfully doing this, using the POD platform is Christopher Nosnibor at Clinicality Press. I love Christopher as a publisher, reviewer, and writer himself, of whom, his non-fiction really shaped my want to start writing and are not as veined into experimental fiction, but perhaps spreading experimental non-fiction. A great guy and somebody I feel is fast becoming a good friend.
Even though I may have been part of faux-literary-movements, all online, and only in existence in word, boasting and the social media platforms it always lives and ultimately dies by—that tries to capture that punk-rock-underground aesthetic, and in all honestly, in its failure, it makes it known, that you just cannot capture that type of thing, without experiencing it; so, no, I have never been part of it.
I have never been meaningful or associated or minor to its reality of being in existent out there as a creator or contributor.
And in a way, if this is like related to it, where that kind of stuff was born from and continues and this can be seen as an evolution of that, but a bit more glossy, and less ink-stained and stapled together-way, but in a way its intent, it’s rarity of intention is a wee indirect connective tissue, a cosmic union, I think that is fucking cool. I really like that. Again, it is something that I want to try creating myself.
Pappas-Kelley: You talk a bit about this idea of these little communities that exist online or these faux-literary-movements. That makes me think of some of the early intentions of vaporwave in music and its decentralised locale (online), the first entirely online music genre. Scott Beauchamp proposed that "vaporwave was the first musical genre to live its entire life from birth to death completely online". So what is this shift?
Ferguson: Things are so gentrified, but its evolved beyond its originally assigned and processed meaning, the process of renovating and improving housing or district, yadder, yadder, yadder, its about labels, about being this thing, IN NAME, but not in execution, and with this motion of application it is just a knock-off. Being this thing, so people gravitate, towards it. To try adding to it, but if it’s not truly the encapsulation to begin with, it’s just assigning its own fizzle/burn out.
They need to label it as this, to justify its existence whereas it is anything but that thing they so wish, or believe it is, whilst warping the purity and real appeal behind people of whom live to make zines, pamphlets, edging in because they think they can earn a place there, but for all the wrong fucking reasons… and doing bad by the overall aesthetic, style, and cultural relevance and place, of what it originally stands out as, whether an underground publishing house, or zines, or pamphlets or macro books DIY crafted novels.
Am I making sense? It is all Trojan-Horse Syndrome, with these small communities, acting like gatekeepers, overlords, when they are the reason there is unease in their sector of the literary world.
Pappas-Kelley: I sort of think, what would’ve happened back then if we’d had access to this sort of production with zines or for those projects? This print on demand where something has an immediacy and distribution that we only dreamed of and it makes me think of what might be done with something like this and where we go with it as a platform? But as you’ve said there’s now this desire for the physicality of the printed object as well or the sort of irony if we want to think about vaporwave as an example again—all of this digital music that was produced and released online is now being re-released on vinyl, the sort of uber-analogue holy grail. But this POD is kind of brilliant in its potential?
Ferguson: Oh, it is brilliant. Really brilliant. For creative endeavours, to circulate art that usually, in the past one needed to be approved of and then made to wait. The platform of POD has given freedom to people of great intentions, to get other artists, other experimentalists, innovators together and out there, to have their work out in the open, without a committee board judging it, editing it, breaking it down, and stating it is this, labelling it as that. I do not know of what platforms they use, but publication houses like Inside the Castle, headed by the genius John Trefrey, Dostoyevsky Wannabe by Richard Brammer and Victoria Brown, are doing things in literature that I wish to achieve. For the art. For the artist. For the love of making and creating books and content.
Though POD encourages a lot of amateurism, and bad books, by some people of whom shouldn’t write, there is no stopping that and nor should those people be stopped. POD is a great place to create careers, but also a great freedom to make presses, and through that and the books, fuck yeah, POD is a masterful ingenious and necessary platform and maybe a future scape where the best of artists end up creating—because you can either learn, grow from it, or be stuck in the same old rut from the beginning.
You can put out there whatever the fuck you want as an artist. But, it needs to be learned, not taught, it needs to be felt out, it needs to have a person with a mind to think outside the box, or those who think inside the box are dictated by the rules of Amazon, marketing on FB, like we have recently spoke about, which is an echo chamber, and are lost.
I feel this currently. I feel rather isolated, not listened or recognised, and not out of a narcissistic manner, but out of the meaning of what does it mean for writers, experimentalists, is there a place for us? Not in the big leagues or on the ASDA shelves where the big dollars and royalty payments hit your bank account and pockets. That ain’t a reality unless you find success in certain circles, or you are trapped in this chamber. This space.
That cosmetic-ism I hate, but we all suffer it, existential unease, self-loathing, and a feeling of not being appreciated, or seen—and it is emotionally exhausting. That thought process, those feelings—it rules ego and soul sometimes instead of being secluded of the writers-id and those rarefied moments of extrapolation and mapping of potential; and then I realise, POD offers me the reality of, my work is there, open and readied for whomever wants to seek it out or stumble across it.
Pappas-Kelley: You mentioned it in passing a bit above, but maybe you could mention your ideas about experimentalism or experimentalists briefly? What is its significance or what might it entail?
Ferguson: Being me. I feel everything I have spoken about, is the encapsulation of what it means to be an experimentalist, such as my methods, my attitudes, also when paired with the reality of having autism.