By Tassoula E. Kokkoris
This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.
As I entered ARCANE Space in Venice, California, barefoot to preserve the pristine white floor, I was immediately drawn in by its simplicity. Instead of a busy display with title cards and distracting noise, I was invited to experience the art on my terms, bearing witness to the works in basic frames; the artist’s statement the sole narrative.
Exploring the room, I imagined I was a hitchhiker on this journey, taking a trip through the America many never see. Grainy images of desert sands and empty roads suddenly felt as if they were in motion. I could almost hear the wind howling as I traveled deeper into the imagery. These landscapes were no longer places from the past, but vibrant signs of life — a bus arriving at its destination; clouds moving rapidly across the sky; a Joshua tree, standing healthy and proud.
This current exhibit, The Joshua Tree: Photographs by The Edge, focuses primarily on the countryside the guitarist captured while on the original tour in the ’80s, and the scenery feels just as timeless as the music. U2 fans will delight in a special section toward the back of the installation, which features single images of each band member.
The curator of the exhibit, who also happens to be the co-owner of ARCANE Space — and the wife of the artist — Morleigh Steinberg, was kind enough to walk me through the collection and provide additional insight. Her energy can only be described as infectious; her spirit kind and ethereal. She’s the type of artist who is so excited about the art, she makes you want to go home and pick up a paintbrush, even if you’re not a painter.
That passion, coupled with the complementary creativity of her co-owner, singer Frally Hynes (who joined us mid-interview), makes it easy to realize why the positive atmosphere in ARCANE is so palpable.
TK: Most U2 fans know you primarily as a choreographer and dancer. What inspired you to open ARCANE Space?
MS: I wanted to have a manageable place to present more visual types of work; not just theatrical. To not have to wait on other people to display the work; to give artists a chance to present in a space that’s not a gallery.
TK: The debut exhibit was a series of photos you personally took; this one is also photography — are you open to other exploring other mediums in the space?
MS: Of course! I’ve thought about doing a sound installation where people could experience that. There’s a graffiti artist I’d like to show — I’d also love to do something interactive, something digital with iPads and be able to bring in a more broad mix of work.
TK: Who’s idea was it to display The Edge’s photographs?
MS: It was his idea to do the book [that’s featured in The Joshua Tree 7LP Super Deluxe Box Set] and I asked him if we could display the images, since they were his photos.
TK: And fast!
MS: Yes! It wouldn’t have made sense to wait — we had to do this at the end of the [Joshua Tree 2017] tour for the connection to still be there.
TK: Going back to the time of the original Joshua Tree tour, there are various articles that say you knew U2 back then, but some say you didn’t. We know you were in the “With Or Without You” video, so was that the first encounter? What’s the true timeline of your history with them?
MS: We didn’t shoot the video together. I filmed with Matt Mahurin separately from the band; they filmed with Meiert Avis. But I did meet them at that time, so I knew them back then.
TK: But you didn’t choreograph for them until Zoo TV?
MS: Right — that was the first time I worked with them directly.
TK: Do you have a favorite photograph in this exhibit?
MS: [Points to one of the darker photos] Maybe this one? It changes every day. [Walks across room and points to nighttime image] I also love this one.
TK: So, you like the moody stuff? [Laughing]
MS: [Smiling] I guess. Really, I like it all!
TK: A few years back, your husband had a Twitter account, @360FromTheEdge, where he tweeted photos very regularly from the 360 tour. Is there any chance of him resurrecting that?
MS: The band does still post to Twitter and Instagram.
TK: But that’s sporadic and it’s all of them. Edge was really consistent when he was doing his own. You could feel his sense of humor coming through. I was hoping he’d maybe return to that at some point.
MS: He’s just so busy. I’m sure that’s why he doesn’t post more.
TK: Remembering that Twitter account, with the exception of brief captions, it was 100% photography. And now I’m standing in an exhibit of his works. Is The Edge really just a frustrated photographer who’s made a life as a musician?
MS: He’s just good at everything! He can do anything. He’s come to dance class with me and he’s a great dancer. He’s got the Tom Jones Welsh moves!
Frally and I laugh at this point with raised eyebrows.
MS: [Also laughing] Seriously, he can dance! But he does have a great eye for photography and he enjoys it.
TK: This exhibit is only on display for another week; what happens to the prints afterward?
MS: Well, some of them have sold, so they’ll go to their new owners, but I have considered touring the collection — perhaps New York and London?
TK: You mentioned this is just a selection of photos you curated, so we can assume there are more?
MS: Yes, there are several more and I’ve thought about that as well. Making a new exhibit from a different group of the images. Also, these [points to installation] are digital prints made from the original 35mm negatives. I have wondered about showing the actual photos, but they’re so old and delicate.
TK: For those who may not be able to visit the space or afford an actual print, is there another way they can experience the Joshua Tree art?
MS: Well, there’s the book that’s being sold on U2.com as part of the deluxe set and we’ll also produce an 8×8 book specifically of images from this exhibit. That will be available here in the space and online on Dec. 14.
TK: It should be noted the prints aren’t being sold for profit. How did you select the charity that receives the proceeds?
MS: When we decided to do this, Edge said, “I want the money to go to a local charity. To help children.” We knew of the GO campaign here in L.A. because he’d previously worked with them, so we decided on that.
TK: So, what’s next for ARCANE Space?
MS: After this exhibit we’ll have a pop-up shop where we’ll sell prints for the holidays, so a few of the images here will still be up. We’re also looking to do shows with Andrew McPherson, Atiba Jefferson and others.
TK: Do you have a dream artist you’d like to feature?
MS: They’re all dream artists! All of them.
TK: Would you consider featuring anything political in the space?
MS: Of course!
TK: Will there be any other exhibitors that U2 fans would get excited about?
MS: I’d love to get Gavin [Friday] in here.
TK: We’d love that too! What about Bono?
MS: Bono’s drawings are fantastic. His Peter and the Wolf illustrations were great. He’d be wonderful too. We have so many possibilities, I’m just excited for all of them.
TK: I so appreciate you making time for me today. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. On a closing note — who inspires you?
MS: Creative, like-minded people. And productive people. People with their eyes open.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2017.
The Joshua Tree: Photographs by The Edge runs through December 17 at ARCANE Space, which is located at 324 Sunset Avenue in Venice, California. Admission is free. You can follow the space on Instagram as well.
Author’s note: A representative from the GO Campaign was in the space while I visited; she shared stories about the Recycled Orchestra, which The Edge has worked with — check them out. The way they build their own instruments reminded me of the first electric guitar The Edge’s brother Dik built when they were becoming musicians.