Story: Liz Ohanesian
Photos: Shannon Cottrell
Zoetica Ebb is woman of many talents. Her art has appeared in galleries across Los Angeles. She’s contributed illustrations to projects like Occupy Comics. Her writing and photography has appeared in publications like ChinaShop. Ebb also co-founded the influential magazine Coilhouse and founded the popular personal style blog, Biorequiem. She’s an artist with a discerning sense of style and a keen eye for emerging cultural movements. Now she’s joining forces with New York event planner Shien Lee, whose party Dances of Vice helped usher in a new wave of high-concept, after dark entertainment, for the adventure of a lifetime. They’re on a mission to explore Beijing’s youth-centric, art-heavy subcultures for a series of video travel guides, called The Secret Guide to Alternative Beijing. In order for that to happen, they need to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter by August 23.
Ebb and Lee have been talking about traveling to China together for a few years. After Lee visited Shanghai recently, they began to make plans. Initially, they thought they would head to Shanghai, but more and more people were pointing out Beijing’s eclectic style and arts scenes. They shifted focus, did more research and their idea, initially to document the trip through blog posts, grew into a full-fledged online travel guide. “We realized that this project was bigger than the two of us and we were going to need some help,” says Ebb. So, they enlisted a few other creative people to help out with the journey. Filmmaker Daniel Frei will be overseeing the video footage. Writer and artist Robert Campoy will design the website. Director Daniel Garcia will be on hand as a photographer. Ebb, who along with Lee will be handling the reporting, will also have her camera on hand. They’ll keep tabs on the city’s fashion, art gallery scene and nightlife. “The idea is to show what is happening in Beijing now,” says Ebb.
Ebb herself is an avid traveler. When we met up for coffee in Silver Lake, she had just returned from a short jaunt around California. She accompanied her husband, writer Ales Kot, on a tour in support of his new comic book, Wild Children, which, coincidentally began at Meltdown Comics. In the midst of that, she turned up at San Diego Comic-Con’s Occupy Comics panel, where she sat next to V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd. (“[Sitting next to Lloyd] made me extremely nervous for five minutes, then I pulled myself together,” she says.) Ebb and the rest of the Secret Guide team are set to fly out to China next month.
“Traveling is my passion,” says Ebb. She has ventured to Japan, armed with an amazing set of travel tips supplied by people who responded to an online poll she created. Last year, she spent time in Yantaló, Peru, teaching art and painting a mural at an elementary school as part of her project, D4RT, for which she raised funds through Kickstarter. “Falling asleep to this boom of cicadas and tree frogs and then waking up with it still being there, you get this sense of this living, breathing Nature with a capital N,” she says. “It could consume you if you let it.”
When Ebb graduated from high school, she backpacked across Europe with a friend. This wasn’t her first time on the continent. She actually lived in Moscow as a child and traveled with her parents to France several times. This, however, was her first adult European trek and so she brought along a guidebook called Weird Europe. It was one of those travel guides that showcases the spots that tourists don’t usually see. Thanks to the book, she found the Museum Vrolik in the Netherlands with its massive collection of congenital malformations and a club in Berlin where each floor was dedicated to a different style of music. It was the trip to Europe that most people don’t do and it left a deep impression on Ebb. “I would love to be able to bring a similar experience to someone going to China,” she says.
The Secret Guide is more than a compendium of notes on Beijing’s subcultures. It’s intended to be an interactive travel experience. Anyone who pledges at least $10 has access to a private blog documenting the journey. As the pledge amount increases, so does the access to the trip. High-level donors get producer credits and even producer privileges, including the chance to join the team in Beijing and co-create a segment of the Secret Guide. “It’s the perfect thing to do for Kickstarter,” says Ebb. “Everyone who contributes is essentially a producer on a very small level. It makes sense to involve the audience as much as we can.”
The Secret Guide team has already spent four months at work on the project. At the same time, Ebb has been deeply involved in her own artwork. After contributing two “alien flora” paintings to the recent L.A. group art show “Conjoined II,” she began work on a full series of imaginative plant life rendered in the style of old-fashioned botanical drawings. “I’m using hand-breaking, carpal tunnel–inducing techniques like stippling and hatching, but I’m really enjoying it,” she says.
As a sort of respite from her other, more intense projects, Ebb also launched Gibson Girls, a small series of black and white illustrations based on characters in William Gibson’s books. She already completed Molly Millions, from Neuromancer, and Cayce Pollard, of Pattern Recognition. The day before our interview, she began work on a portrait-style piece based on Idoru character Chia Pet McKenzie.
Ebb isn’t just someone who knows how to find cool things. She’s the special kind of person who can create as well as curate, in other words, she’s exactly who you want to report back on travels through the art world of another country. Ebb and her friends haven’t even left yet and they’ve already turned up a bunch of places they want you to see with them. “The stuff that we’ve been coming across is so unexpected and wonderful and creative and fresh that I can’t wait to share it with everyone,” she says. “Hopefully, we’ll get to do that.”
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