In our 11th issue dedicated to the mysterious melodies of Exotica and its pop culture cousin Tiki, I had the pleasure of interviewing America tiki godfather Sven A Kirsten. The LA based urban archeologist spearheaded the second wave tiki revival in the 1990s and literally wrote the book of Tiki (and several more since).
I had so much fun chatting to him that I couldn't fit it all in the magazine so read on to find out more about Kirsten's own tiki collection and his passion for Polynesian pop.
I moved to California in 1982, and down to LA in 82 and started attending the American Film Institute as a student and I lived in the Hollywood Hills and I just lived up avenue from the original Don the Beachcomber ( legendary proto-tiki bar) – it was still there. I remember driving by it a lot but I didn't go inside (sheepish laugh) I didn't know what it was, I wish I could have gone into it then and I wouldn't have missed the opportunity but it's these experiences of loss that made me more inspired to find out everything.
Pretty soon after I started really getting into it, I had friends that were into the lougne revival of the early 90s listening to lounge music and stuff. It just worked along those lines that people would tell me there's this guy who is also into tiki- you should meet him! I met people like Jeff (Beachbum) Berry and Mark Ryden very early on in the 1990s and we all shared our passion for the tiki remanents that we could find and collect. So this small group formed and I held these tiki symposiums one a month at one of our places and I would do this little slide lecture about a place or a certain style.
Then in 1994 I met Otto Von Stronheim and he had this idea about creating a fanzine called Tiki News and he saw that I had done all this research already so I became the editor of Tiki News and we started putting out the fan zine on a bi-monthly basis. It was just like any other fan zine that you could find at record stores and pretty soon we realised that in other cities across the United States, a sub culture was forming.
A museum- that's a good way to describe it. I don't have my own home tiki bar like a lot of my friends have- well there was just no room for it. I did have the big tahini Witco bar- it was at my show in Paris stacked with tiki mugs and collectables so there's not one space spare on anywhere on the wall or in a shelf in my house. If I get something new, something else has to be stored away.
My place is just a wooden shack from 1918 (pictured above) when the area was just a vacation spot for people from Hollywood to come and have cottages here. It's not too big but it's FULL of tiki- including the bathroom. There are 40 functioning lamps hanging on my porch and in my house.
I started collecting early when the stuff was not only affordable but a lot of it just isn't around anymore or you just can't find it.
Tiki toilet paper holder!
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE IN THE COLLECTION?
There's this one mosaic in Tiki Modern that depicts these Easter Island heads. It came as a kitset in the 1950s and 60s. It's a home hobby mosaic – for fun, it's really big and really wide- several feet. 1950S mosaics are such a modernist aesthetic and then to have it used for this tiki scene- it's the perfect mix of modernism and primitive art. Then there's the tiki I collected from the tiki amusement park during one of the most expeditions of the 1990s that I took.
My next book project is on the Aloha shirt – especially the non palm tree, hula girl ones- the ones that have abstract modernist patterns and tiki idol pattens. Shaheen is one of the greatest modernists. It's a subjct that has been dealt with quite a bit and there are a few books out there already but they're all this flowery hawaiiana stuff, I prefer the other stuff much better.