Welcome to Junior High

Tired of the art world’s same “sad, white dude narrative,” Faye Orlove decided to create a narrative of her own by opening Junior High in Hollywood and transforming her Tumblr fantasies into IRL. 

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While living in Boston, Faye Orlove was working for renowned venue, The Middle East, and noticed that women were never on the regular roster of performers. When she got her chance to book a show she booked band friends, Slutever, Potty Mouth, Tomboy and Hilly Eye–an all female lineup–and the show sold out. Taking that as a sign, she moved to Los Angeles and opened Junior High, an art gallery and safe space for marginalized groups that hosts everything from show openings and workshops, to movie screenings and interactive art installations. We took a visit to Junior High and chatted with Faye about the importance of safe spaces for self-expression, her views on the L.A. art scene, and her upcoming show, Best Friends Forever.

What prompted you to start Junior High?
I get this question a lot, and I never really know what to say. It’s like when you just decide you’re hungry one moment and you weren’t just before. It became this thing that was all I could think about, and every day that passed that I didn’t do anything about it made me think, “This feeling is never going to go away, so just do it.” I feel like when it comes to having feelings like this, a lot of times friends are going to be like, “Oh, don’t do that,” or like, “Don’t quit your job without a new one.” It really was a fortuitous moment though because the more I talked to people about it, the more they were like “Yeah! You should definitely do that,” or, “If anyone could do that it’d be you,” and I just thought, “Okay, there’s literally no reason to not do this besides fear,” which is still an everyday thing.

How did you find the space?
I live right across the street, so I walked by this spot a lot. When I reached out to the realtor she knew who I was, I think from Instagram, and she was so cool about everything. She represented me as much as she did the landlord, who is also really cool and into the arts. I saw a bunch of different spaces that could have worked, but I figured having a landlord and a realtor who understand what I’m trying to accomplish was a good reason to stop the search. It would be dope to have a million spaces like this in L.A.

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How do you decide what workshops to host?
The idea of this space is that it’s community run, so pretty much everything gets pitched to me and I filter requests. Everything except the very first event and the upcoming Best Friends Forever art show (this Friday!) has been pitched to me by someone else. As long as the idea fosters a safe environment and is led by a woman or a non-binary person, a person of color, and as long as it adds to the complexity of the feminist narrative, then I’m down. I wish I had a ton of money so I could book everything that gets sent my way, but I have to say no sometimes to maintain a balance between what will have the greatest turnout and the weirdest, most niche things.

You said that you considered the art created by your peers to be the most important you’ve seen. Why is that?
A lot of art and art history is centered on cis, white men and their narratives–and that’s totally cool. There’s a lot of Monet I really like, there’s a lot of Picasso I can learn from, and I really do like Andy Warhol. I don’t mean to dismiss those voices; but as a young, queer girl living in Los Angeles I want to see artwork that reflects my narrative or that reflects the things I’m going through or not going through. I want to see artwork from people who are trans, people who are non-binary, people who are immigrants–I’m tired of seeing the same work that reflects the narrative of a sad, white dude.

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What is it about the “art world” that makes it so male saturated and inaccessible?
I think it’s just this inherent belief that the work men produce is more valuable and that their opinions and voices are just the end-all be-all of what is truth. I think it’s the reason we’ve never had a female president ever, I think it’s the reason that there’s all this police violence, and it’s literally the reason so many black people are being killed on the streets–because we don’t hear their narrative. We’re literally negating their humanity by  not offering them a space to express themselves. In that way, it’s not just a bummer that so much art is dude driven, but I think it’s actually dangerous.

It seems like more and more junior and high schools are getting rid of their arts programs. What do you think are the negative consequences of that? What positive effects do you think art classes provide for kids?
As a former young girl I can vouch for the importance of having a space to express yourself safely–it’s the literal key to happiness. When you’re going through puberty and trying to figure out your identity, gender and sexuality–and all these other things that are thrust at you–I think the only way to really thrive is to try a bunch of new stuff. In my opinion, part of the reason people try to keep women out of the work force is because they think we don’t have “adequate training,” so I want to equip girls with the tools to do literally anything, especially in the arts, be it sculpture, painting, curating, or being DJs.  I think the key to confidence is being prepared, so it’s cool to provide a space where people can just  learn new things and make mistakes.

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What’s the importance of artist-run spaces?
In a way, I find my act of curation my own form of social justice. When you’re showing artwork and poetry, you’re kind of endorsing it, so I’m lucky to have a space where I can endorse the things I find important. I like the idea of a female-run space and not necessarily an artist-run space, just a place where the things that interest me get to thrive (and the things that don’t interest me can be for those “slow culture” dudes). It’s also really important to me to offer a space for people who normally don’t get a space to talk.

How is art changing from being a commodity-driven network to a community-driven one?
The Internet. I’ve had people come in here and say that Junior High looks like Tumblr. At first I didn’t know what to think about that, but now I think it’s amazing because Tumblr has saved lives. I don’t use it anymore, but I remember back in high school and college, being able to find someone who was also into the same Korean anime that I was into and finding that there were a million other people who like this weird shit–I would have never met anyone like that in my own circle. The Internet is the most amazing source for finding your community, so I hope that Junior High can be the IRL of Tumblr where people can have these different interests and pitch ideas, host a workshop, screen a movie, and meet other similar people. Since art has traditionally been viewed as a commodity, it’s been about purchasing as much of it as you can. But now that art can be for anyone, especially us people with no money and full time jobs, it’s not about owning things; it’s about experiencing things and meeting people with whom you can relate.

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Do you have any favorite artists at the moment?
Oh, yes! This girl Adria Mercuri does the most amazing portraits and sketches. I found her on Instagram, and she drew the most amazing sketch of Winona and Christian Slater from Heathers. I also love the work of Aleia Murawski and Alex Wallbaum–they submitted one of their pieces for the Best Friends Forever show, titled “Long Distance Phone Call,” it’s their interpretation of a BFF relationship, and I’m in love.

What’s the Best Friends Forever show about?
Best Friends Forever is the first art show I’m curating, and it’s all about intimacy in platonic friendships. Throughout my whole life, friendships have been the most vital thing to my being, so the whole show is advocating for intimacy: sharing bedsheets, making out when you’re drunk if you wanted to, or sharing secrets in bathroom stalls. For the first time in my life I have a boyfriend, and prior to this, I was so against it. I don’t like the word “boyfriend.” I don’t like the possessive nature of it, I don’t like the idea of someone saying “just friends” like it’s a bad thing. It’s such an honor to be someone’s friend because it’s not chemical, it’s not that weird adrenaline rush where you’re like, “I NEED to be around this person.” You choose for your own personal, selfish reasons to have this person in your life. That’s much more beautiful to me than dating someone. The show is meant to honor that idea. There’s a lot of different stuff: photos, sketches, paintings, I’m working on a digital illustration of Mt. Rushmore but with the heads of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag– best friends through history and best friends who are no longer best friends because I find that to be super interesting as well.

The opening reception for Best Friends Forever is this Friday, October 7th, at 7 PM. Be sure to stop by!

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Or to visit Junior High at your leisure, you can find it at 5656 Hollywood Blvd.

Photos by Angela Arnett