Dirty Bros. Quality Productions collective makes art happen
Each individual has their own artistic interests and technical skills; however, the group shares certain sensibilities, and they find it highly beneficial to collaborate on each other’s projects, give each other feedback, and coalesce together as a singular unit — like a family.
The Dirty Bros. started in 2005, when founders Chris Sandon and Jason Lee Starin teamed up to curate Giant, a large multimedia exhibition and music event at the 555 Gallery in Detroit, which featured “everyone from outsider artists that I knew when I lived in Chicago to professors at the U of M, all together in the same show,” Sandon explains. An impressed exhibition visitor asked, “What are you guys?” he remembers. “Jason off-handedly said, yeah, we’re the Dirty Brothers,” which he later admitted was a European electronic band, according to Sandon. With a little creative titling to avoid any kind of infringement, the name Dirty Bros. Quality Productions was born.
Sandon explains that he likes the idea of Dirty Brothers because “I always wanted brothers to work on stuff with. I think guys working on stuff together has its own charm to it. It also had this idea of working hard. We’re all kinda of blue collar guys who also work in art and aren’t afraid to get dirty. It also has this sort of locker-room humor that we all share.”
Aside from its founders, the Dirty Bros. consists of several more core “family members” who have been involved in the group for some time. Members include current Neutral Zone faculty member Trevor Stone, who is best-known for creating animal costumes and creatures frequently used in public performance pieces; graphic designer, musician, and web programmer Dan Blades; Patrick Elkins, a writer, performance artist, puppeteer, and musician; and videographer Brad Perkins. The Dirty Bros. also include several sisters, as well as other collaborators who are a bit more behind the scenes.
“Everybody contributes whatever is needed to the specific project on hand,” says Perkins.
“We always have something going on. We’re always working on art, we’re always making something, so we always have something to present,” says Blades.
According to Stone, “It is so easy to connect, get projects done, and think through ideas on a personal level. Everyone shares ideas, suggestions for other people’s projects, and lets other people give input on their own projects,” which he describes as “a collaborative shaping of ideas.”
Aside from the benefits of having other people at hand to share ideas with, the group also shares artistic sensibilities. “In particular, one thing that seems to characterize the Dirty Brothers is that there is a balance between being serious and humorous,” says Stone. Playing around with serious ideas in silly, absurd, and spectacular manner comes through in many of the group’s collaborative projects, as well as works of art and music created by its individual participants.
For instance, the group’s well-traveled Anal-Oral Issues Kitty, one of Stone’s brainchildren, was a large puppet of a cat — larger than your average sedan. During public performances in the Ypsi-Ann Arbor area, Chicago, and New York, the cat routinely spit out hair balls and pooped as it wandered around. Although a little gross, the cat elicited a very upbeat, playful response from the public. Children and adults were intrigued by the work — running around, picking up the hair ball or the poop, stuffing it back into the cat, and so on.
Anal-Oral Issues Kitty in the 2008 FestiFools Parade:
The Dirty Bros. have also done similar public interventions, including a chicken with a velcro head that gets repeatedly chopped off by an accompanying butcher, people in animal costumes playing a variety of sports, and other spontaneous happenings. “These things are juvenile, and that makes it OK to laugh at,” says Sandon. “I think it automatically takes it from being invasive and pretentious to totally fine, especially if you take something that is everyday,” he says.
“There’s something silly about an enormous pooping, hair-ball-coughing cat walking down the road, however, these works have a more serious affect on people as well,” says Stone. “On a serious notes — on the forefront of my mind a lot of the time is that life is just a temporary event. It’s all these slipping moments. Quality of life is dependent on these slipping moments. We all have these quick, flash-in-the-pan experiences of each other and of life. So, the question is, can we make it fun for each other, can we make people feel connected during this time?” says Stone.
The group finds it important to document their projects, performances, and events with video, especially because many of them are momentary. Videographer Brad Perkins explains that his video documentation of Dirty Bros. events, as well as the music videos they have created can be characterized as having a “run and gun style,” that is “spontaneous,” while also “reflecting the Dirty Brother’s style” in a conscious, deliberate way that happens while he is shooting film and editing the videos, according to Perkins.
Dirty Bros. recently took up residence at Spur Studios, an incubator for visual artists and musicians located in downtown Ypsilanti that was started by VGKids. Sandon sees the new space as a potential “headquarters” for the group.
The move to Spur, as well as a greater degree of organization and business planning in recent times, hints at the Dirty Bros.' evolution over the years. Although not a typical “business,” the group is more than haphazard collaboration — towing the line “in between the two,” according to Sandon.
“In this past year, we’ve been taking an approach that’s a little more professional, while still keeping the fun aspect,” says Sandon. From working on music videos, to discussing new business plans, to providing consulting and advice to other artists, filmmakers, and musicians, the Dirty Bros. are gaining momentum as an established collaborative of experts.
However, at the same time, they remain an organic, “free flowing” group, says Blades.
“It’s evolved really naturally,” says Sandon. The more experience, expertise, and exposure the group acquires, “the more people come to us as a resource,” whether they have a question about video technology, audio recording, or whatever it is, he explains.
Recent and upcoming projects from the Dirty Bros. include creating music videos for Charlie Slick, Spliced at the Dreamland Theater, which Blades describes as “a collective recording of noise,” and a holiday puppet show that Sandon is currently writing that is “something between 2001, Aliens, Rosemary’s Baby, and Fantasia — with puppets, live action, and video that mixes with it,” he explains. Stone also reports that they will most likely be out and about during Halloween doing some kind of public performance.
Watch the video for Charlie Slick's "Cooking the Books":
Jennifer Eberbach is a free-lance writer who covers art for AnnArbor.com.