[Editors note: IMG MGMT is an annual image-based artist essay series. Today's invited artist is Peter Sutherland. Sutherland is a NYC based artist. Born in Colorado in 1976, his work employs some of the techniques of traditional documentary photography to capture the hidden beauty of ordinary objects and everyday situations. He recently curated a benefit show entitled smokebath.com and has shown his work at target gallery in Tokyo and ATM and Mountain Fold Gallery in NYC]
Maybe everyone has a set of memories that repeatedly comes to mind. At least once a day I think of the Wu Tang logo, usually in its original color (yellow). I relate several moments and experiences in my life to the Wu Tang Clan, and each can create an intense feeling of bewilderment, joy or even spiritual awakening. For me the WuTang symbol is as iconic as the cross, the ganga leaf, or the neon gradient.
I’ve always enjoyed the concept of the Clan–there are many members adding to the group’s core, each bring something unique. Having been personally affected by a series of Wu related experiences over the years, I’ve come to wonder what their effect might be. For this reason, I’ve created an account of those occurrences mostly without attempting to locate significance within individual events. My hope, is that,these memories and experiences will impart the power of the WU.
1993 - ENTERING THE WU TANG
My earliest memories of the Wu Tang are visual. I was 16 years old, standing in my neighbor’s driveway in Colorado Springs when I first saw their group portrait. The way the group of them lurched forward made them seem like real outlaws.It seemed closer to a raw punk music photo if you think of how glitzy hip-hop has become. To be honest, my brother and I ignored listening to the record right away because it got so much hype. My brother Andrew and I also did this with the Biggie record because it was so popular. Just as I had no idea of the impact Biggie would have, I did not begin to understand the importance of the Wu Tang in my life until much later.
1995- RED WU RECORD
In ’95 I went to school at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado. Often referred to as Fort Leisure or even Fort Loser, the small liberal arts college was situated in a tiny small mountain town. An hour Down the road lay Pagosa Springs, CO., an isolated village that hosted only a few restaurants and reeked of sulpher. Pagosa is also close to the legendary Wolf Creek Ski Resort, a mystical place that gets more snow than almost anywhere in the state.
I wanted to be a battle DJ so I got a beat up pair of Teqniques for $400 from a friend who was too spoiled to appreciate them. I holed-up and practiced scratching for hours. During this time I was introduced to “Hooker”, a kid from Pagosa who could DJ, skateboard, and snowboard better than anyone I could think of. We quickly became friends. Everything he did was so advanced and he seemed completely detached from his small town environment. I thought it was sad he was so isolated and that he should live in a big city like LA, but I soon met a lot of other small town rippers who I have a lot of respect for. That changed my perspective.
Hooker had an amazing collection of records and taught me about scratching. He owned all of the Invisible Scratch Pickles “how to” videos and probably could have been one of those guys. One day he pulled out a white sleeve with a bright red record inside; a Wu-tang Record from 95 that was recorded in London. I thought the object itself was so dope that I felt a bit disoriented and confused by it.
1996-SKATERS ON TOUR AND THE WU TATTOO
When I was still in college I rented a massive Victorian house in the center of town with six friends. One of my roommates told me we’d have guests. “Yeah, a couple pro skaters are going to stay with us.” This was my first time hanging out with skaters on tour.
In 1986 Tony Hawk skated in a demo at a mall parking lot, and it was probably about 1990 when Matt Hensley came to my town. Hensley asked my ten yearold brother Andrew to hold his sweaty elbow pad (which he had painted yellow with spray paint,) while he took a rest from skating. Andrew was of course completely stoked. This memory sticks because seeing really good skaters and spray painted elbow pads was an early exposure to art for me. Like art, skateboarding is about style, creativity and expression and I was just starting to understand its vocabulary.
Staying at my house were Bill W,Richard A, Jason M, and some other pro skaters. Within a few hours they were on my roof wasted, throwing full 40 oz bottles into the street. Later that night they dragged someone’s mountain bike behind their tour van with a rope and smashed it up. This went on for a few days. While they were giving a demo in town, Bill got completely hammered during the session and started to focus on grilling burgers instead of skating. At one point he took off his shoes, gave them to a little kid, and then skated up to a quarter pipe and did a hand plant wearing only his socks. I was totally impressed with his ability to connect sequences of ridiculous events, all involving himself.
That night the skaters partied hard. Richard gave me a Nike headband, and Jason took a girl who was staying with us to my room. Bill got really hammered and hooked up with one of the only “ravers” in Durango. His lifestyle was totally out of control and he seemed resigned to it. I remember him saying, “Fuck it, I already got AIDS”, and then laughing hysterically. I’m sure he didn’t actually have it but it was telling of his reckless attitude. He ended up passed out on our couch with his pants down. Some of the other skaters put mustard on his face and used the vacuum cleaner to suck his wang. Amazing.
After some time Bill came to. He sat in our living room bumping the new Nas record at full volume. I looked into his eyes, which were red and emotionless. He was twisted. “This night is not over!” he declared. Bill was always the last man standing and from what I’d seen and that night was no exception. Randomly, I looked down and noticed Bill had the Wu Tang W tattooed on his fore arm. He told me he got the tattoo because his last name started with a W, but I saw it more as a “mark of the beast“. I was suspicious of it — it was as though the tattoo somehow controlled him.
1997-HUCKING OFF THE WU
For a short time in the late 90s I wanted to be a professional snowboarder. I lived in Breckenridge at the time, which anecdotally, became the first city in America to “legalize it”. I knew my goals were unrealistic because while I could ride OK, I definitely couldn’t rip like you needed to be a real pro. My roommate Chad was really serious, and got the Transworld Magazine’s Snowboarder of the year award a few years later.
I was very into riding parks (man made jumps) and Breckenridge had a famous one. Snowboarders have special descriptive names for all of the obstacles like Gapzilla (a huge gap jump) and the Slayer Log (Copper Mountain, CO). The biggest tabletop jump in the park was called “THE WU TANG”, because it was so badass. (To the left of it there was a smaller jump called “THE PU TANG”). The WU was a big jump at the time and all sorts of pros would huck off of it.
In 97 if you were a girl and could do 360s you could turn pro, which meant being flown around the world to snowboard. Sarah, a cute blond girl from California, could do just this. With no regard for her own safety, she frequently threw herself off of the WU TANG. She literally bounced herself silly on the landings, but I thought she was hot and I liked to see her trying to throw down.
I worked at a hotel as a phone operator, and was often reprimanded for answering the phone with little or no enthusiasm in my voice. I was always tired from shredding all day. It was high season and Valentine’s day was coming up, so one day when I was listening to the radio at work, I responded to a call-in that would feed V-day dedications to the local news paper. I made one to Sarah that read:
“Roses are red
violets are blue,
It turns me on to see you huck off the Wu.”
By the time it was published I think she was already dating my friend Kendall. I was of course ridiculed for such a stupid poem, but I think that was the desired effect. Mountain towns get boring and everyone needs attention. At that point I was beginning to feel the Wu’s reach into many aspects of my life and the lives of those around me.
1998- WARNINGS OF THE POWER OF THE WU TANG
In 1998 I moved to NYC. I had three or four roommates in the East Village, no friends and no direction. I loved the city though, and felt like just being there was expanding my experiences, so I decided to stay.
One day, while I was on the South East corner of Union Square park — the Virgin Mega Store was being built then —I saw a guy wearing a trench coat standing on the side walk. ”You do not want to fuck with the WuTang, those brothas, are no joke!” he yelled. “You can’t fuck with these niggas! Don’t even fuckin’ try it!” He continued to recycle these versus about how bad ass the WuTang is and how they will mess you up if you step to them. It was like he was in a trance, the harsh sun hitting his face as he rambled on about the Wu to anyone who would listen. I wondered if he knew any of the members of the Clan — it was rumored that there were 240 actual Wu people at one point. In any event, his hypnotic state told me the Wu had touched him in a very spiritual way — so much so that he resorted to spreading the word about their power.
1999 or 2000- ACTUAL CONTACT WITH A MEMBER OF THE CLAN
I was a “filmer” for a short period of time in New York. I was shooting skateboarding, and had saved up enough money to buy “the death lens”, a fancy fish eye adapter for a digital video camera that made skateboard videos look amazing. I was lucky enough to film with some skaters that ended up blowing up, like Anthony Popalardo and Brian Wenning. When a friend of mine said he needed some skate footage for a music video, I got some tapes together and went to an edit suite in the West Village. I got to the studio and saw a music video editor and The GZA, a clan member, sitting there! When I made eye contact with GZA all I could think about was listening to WuTang loud on a car stereo in high school. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say. The video they made [embedded above] is definitely a step down from anything he’d done before (the Liquid Swords record was awesome), but I was still grateful to be involved. Plus they paid me $250. The only other rapper I’ve met is Cam Ron.I was filming him behind the scenes on a video shoot and he pulled a gun on me just to scare me and crack up his homies.
This sucked for everyone.I read an article somewhere that ODB would often give little kids in his old projects $100 bills so they could buy Jordans… So good.
This is an ODB verse from the song RAW HIDE, that reminded me of Bill(?)
z who said they got stacks, cause I don’t give a fuck
[inhales] I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood
Or bustin your fuckin face, some blood!!
I’m goin out my FUCKIN mind!!
Everytime I get around devils [breathing hard]
Let me calm down, you niggaz better start runnin
Cause I’m comin, I’m dope like fuckin heroin
Wu-Tang Bloodkin, a goblin, who come tough like lambskin
Imagine, gettin shot up with Ol Dirty insulin [sucks air]
You bound to catch AIDS or somethin
Not sayin I got it, but nigga if I got it you got it!!
Method man, another member of the Clan, stars in season 2 of The WIRE. I was consumed emotionally, creatively and spiritually by this show while it was on, so it seemed fitting that a member of Wu would be included. In my opinion, the Wire created revolutionary character development; much of the roles cast people in very transitional points in their lives, and since the series spans over five seasons I was much more invested in the characters.If you’ve never seen the show this won’t make any sense to you, but when the street dealer Bodie is killed by the police i was sad for about 3 days, and I felt the same when Michael kills his friend Snoop. It was like watching kids kill each other. Method Man gives a strong performance in the show, mainly in season 2 Method Man as “Cheese.” I saw the name “Cheese” as an homage to the song C.R.E.A.M. because they are similar sounding and related words. This was another important step in the history of the Clan and it’s members.
2010-The TAO of Wu/ THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE RZA
RZA runs the Clan like a church, and as I read his autobiography I could feel his leadership and energy. He writes about Supreme Mathematics, the 12 Jewels, The Nation of Gods and Earths, and surviving in the streets of NYC as a youth. This is the quote that I really got excited about:
“For instance, they say Martin Luther King Jr. was a fornicator. Does it matter? Do you believe in the messenger or his message? I believe in the message. That’s why when I read certain books or see certain films, I skip over the names: Forget who said it if it’s truth.” — The Tao of Wu, pg 32-33
I like the idea of being receptive to ideas and materials no matter where they come from. The Wu has come to me in different forms — music, skateboarding, snowboarding, television — their presence is much larger than themselves. RZA’s is a powerful message — perhaps the most poignant thus far.
Get in touch if you want a bleached Wu Tang T (or make your own).
- Peter Sutherland