By Eric Follows
Native Detroiters, artists, and self-professed psychonauts (a common term for the psychedelic explorer. Think astronauts, but inner space instead of outer space,) the creative duo collectively known as Armageddon Beachparty is a collaborative project between married partners, Aubrey and Elena Smyth. Known also as MOTU and KOZMA, even their pseudonyms are a reference to the influences drawn from exploring altered states of consciousness. His, an acronym taken from the 80s animated series He-Man (Master Of The Universe,) and hers, an abbreviated form of Cosmonaut. The short-form signatures hint at the dual nature of identity (anonymity and notoriety) found in graffiti culture’s tagging, and the pop-surrealist style of their artwork is filled with vibrant colors, bold lines, and a fascinating look into a unique world all of their own making.
In their recently opened store-front and event space found in Midtown, they discussed the role that the psychedelic experience has played in their creative process, as well as in their daily lives. On a subject that has been socially taboo for decades, they candidly discussed the positive attributes of a culture that is finding recent revitalization.
Eric: The creative process seem like an abstract concept for many people. We often use the word “creative” to describe something that surprises or impresses us, but from the perspective of someone who is professionally creative, what does it mean to you?
Elena: Our creativity involves a ton of experimentation and communication, letting loose and letting yourself flow, exploring variety and potential. I think abstraction of thought is one of the greatest gifts an artist can have. To be able to think outside the box.
Eric: So is that more about transcending boundaries and limitations, or venturing into the unknown?
Aubrey: A little bit of both. Maybe a little more on the venturing into the unknown, trying to constantly push our capabilities and to grow creatively. The most fun for us is the really complex technical side of things. Each piece is like one big puzzle you’re trying to figure out. Unraveling those pieces and seeing how they fit together causes little things to click in your head that you may not have figured out before, and you take these new things and apply them in the future.
Elena: We may start off with a fully fleshed out idea, sometimes its just a base idea. Through our process we figure it out as we go, and are continuously adding.
Eric: Then what is the psychedelic experience, and how has it related to your creative endeavors?
Aubrey: We utilize psychedelics in two ways. Either for creative purposes or for spiritual purposes. And for us only ever in the comfort of our own home, or out in nature. When we’re at home, it’s more introspective, dissecting and deconstructing the world in our heads, being able to dissect the images and symbology that our subconscious brings forth. Whereas for spiritual purposes, out in nature, it’s about allowing yourself to be a sponge and soak it all up and take down the experiences afterwords.
Elena: It’s more about exploration and adventure. Interacting with everything around you.
Eric: So the creative process and the psychedelic experience might be two sides of the same coin? Something you can do simultaneously, or distinctly separate, depending on the circumstances?
Aubrey: Sometimes you may not necessarily be intending the creative experience, but its so ingrained in our natural being it’s hard to separate ourselves from it.
Elena: It comes to the surface because its a natural part of how our minds work.
Eric: Your work is visually psychedelic in nature. Unapologetically so. But that’s not the case for all psychedelic explorers. In the tech industry for example, this conversation is becoming more and more public, with developers micro-dosing LSD or Psilocybin, corporate Ayahuasca retreats, VCs making yearly Burning Man pilgrimages, but the application of that inspiration is still conventional in the end. The psychedelic experience for many of them is just a brief departure, but their work demonstrates a return to material application. The product of your creative work seems to intentionally represent that point of departure as a subject in itself. What inspired you to express that specifically?
Elena: That’s another thing that just happens naturally. Because we’ve both enjoyed such a plethora of psychedelic experiences together, and with us having always been artists since we were kids, it’s just a natural step.
Aubrey: Taking your experiences and influences and poring into your work is just a very natural thing.
Elena: Our experiences with psychedelics have been some of the most impactful things that have ever happened to us in our lives, and because psychedelics immediately take you to the world of the subconscious, that is essentially where your mind tends to travel, it makes for a very fluid source of inspiration.
But I think that the work we create is distinctly different from a lot of what you see come from the psychedelic community, because we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves only into what most regard as the “festival world” of psychedelic art. We aren’t just working with the stereotypical imagery, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we like to explore beyond all of that. Occasionally we tie some of those things into it, but we don’t let those overrule our work. That’s why experimentation always comes into play, because we like to explore different ways of communicating the information that has been given to us.
Some of the more traditional types of imagery, those are the sorts of things people are accustomed to seeing within their psychedelic experiences, but once you’ve seen those sorts of things, you have to go further than that. You have to go beyond the veil. You have to explore and dissect those things. It’s not just about that initial image and those initial pieces of information you’re being given, it’s about the bigger picture. The larger spectrum of information, and what can be distilled from it. Or what can be learned. The possibilities and potential for creation is infinite.
Aubrey: It’s all limited by your imagination.
Eric: How much of the psychedelic experience do you feel your work is able to capture or communicate, and how much is beyond your (or anyone’s) ability to fully grasp?
Elena: I would say a relatively small portion of it is captured in our work. Not for lack of trying, of course, but there’s just so much to a psychedelic experience. There’s so much to just the experience of existence overall, and we would be fools to try to translate or communicate ALL of it into any one singular piece.
Aubrey: The more we create and the more we do, the time that passes, we get a little bit closer and closer towards conveying the information that is in our heads. I feel like that’s one of the things that starts off most people, most artists, at a young age is seeing these wild and crazy things within your head, but don’t exist in the real world.
Elena: And wanting to make them real.
Aubrey: And as you get older you realize its not just these images, but also the information and context associated with them, and being able to translate that into a visual form. There’s always this disconnect between brain and hand, but you keep trying and every piece you do you get a little bit closer and a little bit closer, and then you hit a point where you become comfortable with the fact that what your creating is never going to be exactly what you envisioned.
Elena: But the pieces that we’re creating, the depictions of certain characters and scenes that we’re creating, are actually turning out better than we imagined. We’re starting to impress ourselves, so I think that’s a good thing.
Aubrey: It’s also a very naturally ingrained part of the process now, even without psychedelics. We still have those experiences to draw upon.
Elena: And we’re not TRYING to make our work psychedelic. It just is. Because we ooze it. We can’t help it. [laughing]
Armageddon Beachparty Store and Lounge
1517 Putnam St.
Detroit MI, 48208