Andy Warhol's superstar:
In conversation with Bibbe Hansen
Prior joining the Silver Factory, and becoming one of the Warhol’s Superstars (she was fourteen at the time), Bibbe was already a force of her own. She worked as a child actress in theater, and she appeared in her father’s experimental art performances (her father was a Fluxus artist – Al Hansen). She made a movie with Jonas Mekas, and she was in a band – The Whippets, together with Jack Kerouac’s daughter Janet. Bibbe and Andy first met just one day after she was released from a youth prison. Her jail life became the subject of one of Warhol’s films. Bibbe, today, is I believe, not much different from Warhol’s Bibbe. She is more untroubled and toned down, yes, but her stamina and life energy are still running wild. The day I sat down with her, she was preparing for a visit from an impending houseguest. The guest, later on proved to be just as special as she is – Bibbe was waiting for Lydia Lunch.
Bibbe, let’s begin at the beginning. How did you and Andy first meet?
I was fourteen, I was a teenager. Troublemaker! Always getting into scrapes. At one point I spent a few months locked up in a notorious South Bronx youth prison called Spofford Street Youth House. After some months I was released and sent to live with my father, Al Hansen. The next day was a Saturday and my father and I went uptown to tour all the galleries on Madison Avenue. In the New York art world back then, it was the Saturday afternoon custom. Castelli Gallery was the last one on the list and after that everyone congregated at a restaurant on East 78th and Madison called Starks.
When my dad and I got to Starks at the big back table was a group of art world people my father knew: Roy Lichtenstein, Ivan Karp, Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga, Chuck Wein. They invited Al and me, to join them. Roy Lichtenstein kindly invited us to eat something. We ordered burgers. After months of prison food I was quite happy with that hamburger though the general conversation was dull to me — art guy talk.
Then suddenly I looked up to see Andy Warhol peering intently over the table at me. Leaning forward he asked: “And you? What do you do?” Before I could answer my father announced proudly: “I just sprung her from jail!”
Andy was thrilled.
“Oh, jail! How exciting! Please tell us about jail!”
I obliged and shared some of my jail stories. Andy was delighted. He and Chuck said in the same breath “We have to make a movie about that!”
“Will you come to the Factory and make a movie about jail with us?“ Andy asked.
“Sure!” I said. “When do you want me to come?”
“Monday?” he asked.
I said sure.
“She can’t come on Monday,” my father explained. “She has to go to school! If she doesn’t go to school, they will send her back to jail”
Andy clapped his hands delighted “Oh yes, she has to go to school, we don’t want her to go back to jail.”
It was then decided I would come after school on that following Monday–which is what I did. We didn’t shoot Prison that day, but I did make my first screen test. That is where it started.
What was your experience of the Factory?
In the daytime the Factory was always a workplace. I remember art being made, silk-screening being done. There were meetings with gallerists and collectors. Movies were being planned, and made; photo shoots, interviews. In and around these, music might be played, people would drop in and out. For me the Factory was a respite. A place to get away for a few hours from the rough chaos of the downtown street scene I was caught up in.
What kind of music was mostly playing in the Factory?
Motown and Opera — Martha & the Vandellas and Maria Callas.
Back then, what was a typical day at the Factory with Andy like?
One came in and caught the tone of whatever was happening and responded accordingly. If there was a meeting or work going on, one was respectful of that. In that case I chatted quietly in some out of the way part of the factory with whomever was hanging around. In another Factory mood, Billy Name would play records–if it was Motown some of us might dance. One might be drafted into doing a chore like tagging along with Gerard to pick up a new silkscreen from the little shop that made them for Andy. Then back at the Factory, watching the process being done and Andy making corrections and adjustments until he was satisfied.
Midday we might go out to lunch at a nearby diner that made great double-bacon BLTs and hamburgers. Andy or Gerard almost always bought me lunch when I showed up. It might have been the most food I got in those times.
As the afternoon went on we would start to make plans for the evening. Edie would begin the long process of putting on her makeup, which might take hours and cause us all to become hungry and impatient but when she was done, she was fabulous and off everyone went.
But how did one get in the Factory? How did one get to hang out with you guys?
Every social group has an initiation, and I’ve always thought of the screen test as ours. How did the subject handle sitting without instruction for the specified time in front of the camera? Did the person fidget, wilt, seem uncertain or apprehensive? Or were they capable of living and being in the frame of that moment with an easy Zen cool? Quite a few people who got to make a screen test for Andy didn’t end up spending any time there. The camera doesn’t lie about who you are.
For me, the Silver Factory on East 45th Street will always be a reflection of the people that inhabited her. Drag queens and queers, children, street hustlers and rough trade, dropouts and runaways, drug dealers and psychiatric basket-cases. We were all outsider insiders at the Factory.
How soon did one get the information that he/she passed the test?
It wasn’t like getting a report card. Things just progressed or they didn’t.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about the Factory?
That all people did there was party. In the entire time the Silver Factory existed there were only two formal parties held there. It was called the Factory, because that is where the work got done–it wasn’t called The Party.
How long were you in the Factory?
I was at the Factory approximately at the same time that Edie Sedgwick was. I came a little bit later than her and stayed a bit longer, around year and a half
Were you friends with her?
We have all known someone like her, that fabulous person who glowed from within and radiated light wherever they went. Edie was one of those beautiful and rare creatures. We bonded over makeup and drugs. Black black eyeliner and mascara was the rage back then. We agreed that the best eyeliner was by Yardley. I stole one from a department store and gave it to Edie as a gift.
I believe Edie’s time with Warhol was some of the happiest of her life. She got to realize some of her fondest dreams and became immortal in the process.
Some blame Andy for Edie’s addictions and her death. Her family had a terrible history of misery and wrecked lives; two of Edie’s brothers were suicides. She was only with Andy for a year but she was a Sedgwick all her life.
What are some other things about Andy or the Factory that you think people get wrong?
I am always amused to read or hear people talk about what a degenerate place the Factory was – I think these people must have come from somewhat sheltered bourgeois backgrounds. There were drugs there certainly, but there were drugs everywhere in NYC at that time.
Another is that Andy was neglectful or unhelpful regarding the problems of the people he worked with. There is a need in groups to elect someone the daddy who is then the fall guy for everyone’s general life dissatisfaction. I never thought that Andy should be responsible for solving our problems – I don’t think he was any more equipped to do that than he was to deal with his own.
Were you aware at that time that this thing that you were then a part of, would become something so big?
I was acutely aware even back then that we were living in remarkable times and that this was a marvelous period like none that had ever happened before. You can’t imagine the extraordinary optimism and how it felt to be young and alive at that time.
In New York City during that great social experiment known as the 60’s, people and practices came together as never before and the energy generated was dynamic.
Meanwhile, the Beatles had just started in the UK, and The Rolling Stones. Robin Page was getting ready to teach the Who about smashing instruments, while in Germany the first Fluxus concerts had already taken place in Wiesbaden and in Austria the Vienna Actionists were rolling. We felt like we were at the forefront and height of this rush towards this fabulous newest most wonderfully astonishing modern life.
We had conquered so much with science, made so much progress with medicine and with all manner of modern inventions. The civil rights and social justice battles were being hard fought and some won. It wasn’t perfect, but we felt great progress was being made.
Unfortunately today, here in the United States, it seems all that progress we were so proud of, is being trampled underfoot and cast away. The voices of hate and authoritarianism are gaining force and drowning out those who champion reason, fairness and social justice. Tyranny seems hell-bent on turning out the lights of civilization and plunging us into darkness.
Actually, back then, many of the original Fluxus artists found a haven in Europe, particularly in Germany. My own father lived and worked in Germany for many years. He founded a school of art–the Ultimate Academy–in Koln and died there in 1995.
What is your favorite thing that Andy has ever said to you?
He gave me so much more by example than just words. Andy gave me invaluable lessons about art and living that affected me profoundly and have stayed with me always.
Did you ever consider him as a father figure?
Not as a father figure really but I think he set a wonderful example as a human being. He wasn’t racist, or sexist, or ageist. Andy never counted anybody out for any superficial reasons, and that is something I think that people don’t realize about him.
Here he was, a world famous artist, at the center of the art world, and at a point where most people are trying to insulate themselves from the hoi polloi. Instead Andy would turn to a 14 year old child and say, „Come on up to the Factory; I want to make a movie with you.“
That was the magic of Andy.
He was remarkably inclusive. Though I was a kid, I never felt excluded from anything that was going on when I was with Andy. Inclusive and generous is how I always think of him.
Generous? I have always heard that Andy was cheap?
Andy had an uncanny way to give each of us what we most needed though it might have been something we can each only see in retrospect.
Teenager Stephen Shore got complete access to photograph at the Factory. David Dalton has talked about the advice Andy gave him as a teen which got him his first serious job. He gave Billy Name a camera which became Billy’s defining art. I am personally grateful to Andy on so many counts. For the calm quiet respite. For the lessons in art process and work ethic. For the vote of confidence, to collaborate with a 14-year old me, it meant a lot then as well as now. And, God, yes! For all the hamburgers and BLTs.
But many people say Andy didn’t pay anything?
Back then we were not paid anywhere. No one was paid to be in a movie for Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas or Bill Vehr. Nor to perform at Judson Church or Cafe Cino. And we were not paid at the Factory. It wouldn’t even occur to us then to think in such terms.
Taylor Mead, Jack Smith, Mario Montez, Freddie Herko, Billy Name, Bob Heide, Ronald Tavel, Ondine — these people were already quite active in New York City’s avant-garde arts community. Directors, playwrights, performers, designers, dancers — Warhol collaborated with these artists — his contemporaries.
Understand back then, working in film was financially beyond our dreams. The cost of the camera, the negative film, developing costs, work print and editing and then a finished duplicate? We were barely able to pay our rent and buy drugs.
Later on with Morrissey, it seems the films transitioned into more of a typically exploitative Hollywood model. But during my time at the Silver Factory, we felt fortunate to collaborate with Andy and have the opportunity to work in such an expensive medium. We lived to serve the work. Just to have access to a theater, a stage or a camera, lights and film – that was a gift and allowed us to do our art.
What do you think Andy would be doing today? What would he think about the changes in media?
Just look at reality TV, social media– Andy practically invented that. He would be having a ball! He would be so thrilled with Twitter and Instagram. He would be doing digital art and making movies in Second Life. He would be podcasting and video blogging. He’d be marvelous!
Do you ever worry about time?
No, time worries about me!
Do you think of Andy often?
Every 15 minutes.
When was the last time you visited Andy’s grave?
I have never been. I have a picture of his grave; I’ve been thinking of making an art piece with it.
Interview was first published in our March print issue, 2017 get it here.
Interview: Katja Horvat
Photos: Bob Adelman, courtesy of the artist
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