On The Cusp

Bay Area native and writer Shona Sanzgiri is bringing a taste of New York to San Jose this weekend with a pop up shop at Black and Brown Vintage on Saturday, March 22 from 5-8pm. The event will showcase goods from artists, fashion designers, photographers, and more. Sanzgiri is the man behind the website On The Cusp, “a cultural exchange of art, words, & ideas organized by artists, writers, & thinkers.”

Who is behind the website? Are you working alone? And how did the-cusp.com begin? 

 The website is my doing—the design, features, writing, and interviews are done by me, and the photos are taken by Micaela Go.

Both Micaela and I have experience working in tech and publishing, and it seemed like a very logical fit. She has an excellent eye while being completely unassuming. It’s hugely relieving to work with someone so visually literate and ambitious, but more interested in using her powers of observation to naturally intuit the task at hand.

The Cusp began as a Tumblr blog in 2008. I was employed in a series of mind-numbing office jobs. On my break, I posted images & blog entries. It’s become a cliché of the platform, but Tumblr was the first place for artists to hold a “conversation”—visually and intellectually. Whereas most blogs were static, Tumblr was designed to foster forward motion—not disposability, per se. It truly is a kind of “scroll.”

It’s no mistake that it comes off very self-serving. On The Cusp is framed around my particular sensibilities, but the platform enables me to communicate the genuine belief that I am neither “special” nor “smart”—maybe just prescient. My interests are definitely ecumenical, and the blog reflects a commensurate curiosity. But I’m less interested in asking questions than I am in locating recognizable patterns.

Recently I left a company rife with political drama and felt, strangely, liberated. I had a healthy savings, low expenditures, and the support of my fiancée. I made a silent decision to be even more selfish and do exactly what I want with my time. So I enrolled in classes—neurolinguistics, qualitative research, and computer programming—and started asking more questions of my more “creative” friends and noticed a prevailing theme—they “loved” what they did, but they were still entrapped by financial concerns.

I love writing and will always be a “writer” at my core, but perhaps I can do learn more by, as the writer Chris Kraus has said, avoiding the “circumscribed and predictable” and accruing new experiences which might inform my work in the future.

On The Cusp is not so much a “creative group” (what is that but a highfalutin marketing firm?), but an editorial agency interested in what the filmmaker Wim Wenders has called “the logic of images”—the psychology of communication.

How do you decide what merchandise you’ll sell in your online shop? 

Almost everything that’s being offered at the shop communicates an idea that goes beyond the material claims of their product. I know that’s what all brands like to say. But our ideas are different—art should be useful & accessible.

There’s a premium placed on organic products because they speak to something in the maker-consumer relationship. I’m all for supporting farmers in developing countries. I’m more interested, however, in supporting artists in their development. We have enough single-origin coffee. 

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Can you explain why you think that separating high and low culture is a “marketing ploy?” 

The most enduring art—the “Mona Lisa,” for example—is about mystery. I think if we knew why she was smiling, we wouldn’t be so interested in the painting. Furthermore not many people smiled in portraits. It was radical for the time.

But actually, it wasn’t. Culture has always been celebrated fro the middle. People in 18th-century Europe might have been wearing powdered wigs, but they didn’t bathe or brush their teeth. In Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” a group of Italian aristocrats go on a picnic that quickly evolves into an orgy that would shock today’s society. Someone like Ernest Hemingway wasn’t a literary savant as much as he was a troubled animal.

What I mean is that the most interesting or “successful” aspects of culture knowingly embody the diversity and contradictory nature of the human experience. High-fashion frequently makes use of pornography to communicate luxury ideals. A “respected” artist like Damien Hirst sells multimillion dollar skulls to the one percent. Karl Lagerfeld has his own branded Diet Coke. Kanye West marries Kim Kardashian. All of this is accepted because it’s fundamentally human to be looking toward the heavens with your feet steeped in shit.

You mentioned you’re also working on a bi-coastal literary review that’s going to be based out of San Jose. Can you tell me more about it? What do you think about the literary scene in San Jose? 

Two years ago I was interviewed for The Hairpin about a disastrous trip to India. An editor from Yale University Press, Daniel Lee, sent me an email. He was going through his own rough patch and connected with my experience. And he was starting a literary review called The Ragged Review with established contributors from places like The New Yorker and Texas Monthly. He asked if I’d be willing to contribute as a writer and editor. What started as a satellite office for that review has turned into my own thing.

I was also often humbled by the quality of writing being done by my classmates. There was this guy who looked like a complete meathead who wrote the most sparkling poetry. I realized the mistake in judging people based on their appearance—the “literary-type” does not adhere to a uniform.

Anyway, I know plenty of talented writers in the Bay Area—Mike Hugeunor from the band Shinobu and I have been acquaintances for years. He was suspiciously polite in the same way that I can be. I wondered if that was a mask for misanthropy. It was.

I discovered that we were both diehard fanatics of Celine’s “Death On The Installment Plan,” for example. And I started listening more closely to his lyrics. His tastes in music were even literary. Through him and others, I found there were lots of budding writers who had no means to be published. That wasn’t a “problem” as much as it was a means to an end. New York is full of “salons” and walled gardens. The internet and MFA programs around the country are turning that dynamic upside down. If ours is a time in which writing is “dying,” then that means there will be a proliferation of people dedicated to doing it. They don’t live in expensive cities like New York or San Francisco. They livewhere they can afford to, and San Jose is just such a place. It’s up to those of us with the requisite access and experience to encourage them to continue.

Will there be more events like the one at Black and Brown this weekend? If so, what else can we expect from you?

Yes, but I haven’t decided. I’m really interested in bringing the internet to life, to exaggerate the similarities between the supposedly artificial and real. There’s no other way to say this, but I want to create an “experience.” We go to art openings for the work, sure, but we go mostly for the free booze and people-watching. That’s true of a lot of places. I just want there to be a more central point of connection.

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Interview by Flora Moreno de Thompson

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