Abby Portner


I am texting Abby right now to let her know that writing this intro is nearly impossible for me. I think a lot of us “visual thinking types” struggle to communicate through words. We express ourselves and show our feeling by creating imagery or artwork.  Abby is one of the most prolific people I know at expressing herself through artwork. She has retained a child like curiosity in her surroundings from past to present that seems to infinitely inspire her. Her views and interpretations are innocent and sometimes wonderfully bizarre. I can honestly say she is one of the most original people I know. She works in all mediums and somehow the end product always looks authentically like Abby. She has the most honest and naturally ambitious ways of achieving major life goals from stage design to creating music videos. The first time I met Abby we were totally hung over and trying to act like adults while sipping over-priced hipster brewed coffee in Silverlake. We talked about our love for Jim Henson and Walt Disney; 2 years later she was designing a puppet that would ultimately be constructed by the Henson Creature Shop. I find so much inspiration in that story and Abby’s creative ambition. I know there will be much more to come as Abby continues her constant and some times chaotic pursuit of artistic expression. – Joe Castrucci

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Interview by Su Young Choi / Photos by Sam Muller

For people who are unfamiliar with you can you give us an introduction? Where are you from originally? Where do you reside now? What do you do? What kind of coffee do you drink? 
I’m Abby or Abigail Portner; people never know what to call me with work stuff so I’m both. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. I lived in NYC for 14 years, then moved to LA to not be so dark anymore. I make things that usually have something to do with music and slightly split personality style since I feel like I often change hats one day to the next. I build sculptural things mostly for bands at the moment. I also do tons of video work. Directing, editing, content creation for tours and run live video touring. I also do graphics as well mostly for skating except some work I did for Dane Reynolds. I have worked for Alien Workshop, Habitat and Altamont. Long explanation! I like coffee not a coffee snob like a lot of people but touring takes any of that out of you. The best coffee I have had was in Brazil and it had chocolate and mint in it.

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How did this Coachella installation come about?
I worked for FYF festival in Downtown LA last year. Golden Voice runs both of those these festivals. I did the same kind of work for FYF sculptural design work to make the site prettier. Everyone was stoked on how it looked so they asked me to do something at Coachella.

What was your concept behind it? How long is the snake and where was it placed at Coachella? 
I came up with a bunch of different ideas and they wanted it all to be fencing related. So I came up with an idea of how to make fencing into a sculpture so I chose to make a snake. I wanted it to seem Palm Springs and deserty at the same time. So it was supposed to be a tiki style rattle snake because there is so much tiki themed things in the desert. The whole tiki idea is always weird and cool to me. I think in the end the snake was 500ft. of hand painted bamboo fencing. The head and the tail were made of 300ft. of snow fencing built up and painted. They put the fencing around the “Silent Disco” at the festival, which is a giant geodesic dome that had DJ’s playing. The entrance was the head the exit was the tail.  The dome itself is open and beautiful so it looked sweet around it.

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Can you talk us through the process of building, layout, and painting? How much material did you have to use? How long did it take? 
It took about a week. The last couple days were close to all-nighters. The first couple days were figuring out my bearings and how to do it. I used bamboo fencing, snow fencing and paint, besides nails and that kind of thing. I had about 5 people helping me for three days and then I did the rest on my own. The structures were crazy since it was all fencing. We had to figure out how to build it really strong so drunk kids didn’t destroy it in a day. I had made drawings of the structures before hand. The head and tail were about 10 ft. tall in the end. I laid out fencing all over the field and taped off a vaguely loose pattern to follow which was actually the most confusing and time consuming for me haha. Then I painted all the fencing I forget how many panels it was in the end…maybe 22? I had to rush to the store the day before the gates opened because the fencing crew made the actually fencing longer then the measurements I had given them. I also made the fence crew put up the barrier fence all wavy so it looked more like a snake. The amount of painting was insane!!

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That’s along time to be in the desert working outside everyday. Did you have any lucid dreams? How was the lifestyle during the building process?
Man it was intense! There was a learning curve for me for sure and was tagged “new girl”. I also figured out it’s really hard to live in the desert climate full time. It’s so harsh on your body. I got super tanned and burned my lips so bad that by the end they were bleeding. Haha. All in all it was great though. I slept in a tent in the “art camping” area where the entire group of artist stayed that work on the site for visuals. It’s the closest I will come to going to Burning Man. I basically never left the Coachella site for over a week. You sleep on a polo field with horses behind you with a million other dudes. It started out way mellower and the more people came to work the more it turned into party zone which is hard when you are working in the sun for 16 hours a day. It was really surreal to be honest. Working out in the desert at sunset when there is not many other people around is amazing! Being in a space where you don’t know that many people, everything is new and you’re out of your comfort zone is cool. It makes you think a lot. With touring you’re used to being around people all the time traveling in a pack like a school of fish trying to conquer something. This was the polar opposite for me but good for me to do!

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When the opening day came what did you do to celebrate? 
I think I left the grounds, got coffee since I had been up for two days straight and went to a hotel where friends were staying. Swam in the pool and fell asleep outside haha not so exciting.

You also did visuals at Coachella for Girl Talk. You’ve always done visual for the Animal Collective shows. Is it as fun as it looks making those visuals and brings them to life in a live performance? 
No I just helped out some friends at Coachella with Girl Talk! Someone else did the visuals. They had inflatables and changeovers and festivals are hard with production so I just helped their crew out. I love doing visuals for Animal Collective. Best job ever, never feels like a job. I really enjoy designing the sets and seeing them as drawings and then making them come to life really big and in front of thousands of people. Really exciting and never gets old. I also really love video mapping and running live video every show is different. It is really long days and crazy amount of work and no sleep but well worth it.

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Did you get to check out any acts? Anyone in particular stand out?
Yes I checked out a bunch. I liked OutKast production wise the second weekend. Really amazing visually, sonically too but there video and lighting was killer. Great show! I liked Lorde, her performance was sweet and I liked seeing Lana Del Rey be a totally tripper on stage. I feel like festivals are so hard to watch music sometimes so overwhelming.

You’ve travelled the Globe and probably been to almost every major festival. What has been your most memorable festival and why?
Hmm my favorite festival is Primavera Sound in Barcelona. It’s always a really good line up and you’re on the beach. Most memorable would be being punched in the face by a random stranger at Field Day in London last summer at like noon. Really crazy, I have never been punched before and I was walking out in general admission trying to find the merchandise table since I had designed specific t-shirts for that festival. A kid ran by me tried to hit his friend and hit me instead and knocked me out haha. My teeth went threw my bottom lip and I had blood dripping down my face unknowingly while I tried to find the rest of the AC crew. You get lots of sweet looks when you’re a girl walking around a festival cupping blood from your face. It ended up fine and I went to the medical tent and still ran the show that night and now at least I can say I have been punched in the face.

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What have you got lined up for the summer? 
Working on FYF again doing festival design, so that will take up most of my summer. More building and painting!
I’m Directing a new music video at the moment for someone else other then AC that I don’t know if I can say so I won’t, but stoked on that haha. Joe Castrucci and Jason Hernandez are going to shoot it for me so it’s kind of full circle instead of me working in skating there working in music.
Hopefully I will get to do some fun summer stuff too!

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