BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s reputation preceded her. S/he founded the legendary band Throbbing Gristle and has a deep association with magic including the dark arts and arcana of the occult. S/he is a living example of a cut-up and has a fierce intelligence. I must admit to being a little uneasy, and not about which fork to use. Instead of hostility I found a very sweet, sympathetic, engaged, and engaging person and artist. Magic can be very disarming and evolution continues apace.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Katrín Sigurdardóttir is a New York–based Icelandic artist whose sculptures and installations explore entanglements of body, perception, and memory. I first met Sigurdardóttir in January of 1998, shortly after I arrived in Iceland on a Fulbright grant. I remember sitting on the floor of the artist’s Reykjavík flat as she opened a small wooden case and began removing shallow wood boxes, each containing a miniature landscape. Just when I thought she was finished, another landscape would emerge. The nested landscapes—17 in all—reproduced public parks in cities where she’d lived (including San Francisco, New York City, and Reykjavík). Sigurdardóttir’s work—with its conflation of home and public space—sparked a conversation, ongoing still, about sculpture and experiences of place.
A painter colleague, Fabian Marcaccio, uses a phrase to describe a certain kind of artist. He says that they are “long runners.” Stanley Whitney is a long runner.
Speaking with Enrique Vila-Matas is like peering into an endless labyrinth in which all forks lead to literature. A labyrinth where we might encounter dazzling literary innovators such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Georges Perec, Apollinaire, Kafka, von Horváth, Melville (and his obstinate Bartleby), and Hemingway. We read Vila-Matas’s works—20 novels and several collections of short stories and essays—to be carried away by the adventures, both made up and real, of these writers and their fictional characters. Inevitably we become entangled in the extravagant web of digressions of men who always fail at the things of this world but whose singular visions shine through in the writing. Vila-Matas leads us to revelations that can only be found in literature.
I first met Rachel Kushner in Toronto McCarren airport in, I think, 2007. We were both there for the International Festival of Authors (IFOA). I’d just spent several hours in US immigration detention (the asshole border guard had opined that I “didn’t deserve” my visa) and I was heartily pissed off at missing a flight to New York. Rachel allowed me to rant at her for at least ten minutes, before heading off to catch her own plane to LA. Since then, I’ve gradually become aware that, not only is she a good listener, but our preoccupations as writers coincide in many ways—we share interests in art, politics, and using the novel to get a sort of multidisciplinary purchase on the world that other kinds of writing don’t allow. I was happy to have the opportunity to talk about some of this with her on Skype, on the occasion of the release of The Flamethrowers, her latest novel.
In the 1970s, American universities and art schools began to include filmmaking in their curricula. Generally, the charismatic teachers they hired to conduct such courses were a generation of avant-garde filmmakers. They were mostly brilliant autodidacts (such as Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, George Landow a.k.a. Owen Land, Hollis Frampton, Lawrence Jordan, and Ernie Gehr), or, if they had formal educations, they had taught themselves cinema (Robert Breer, Larry Gotheim, Paul Sharits, and Tony Conrad were examples of this).
I was in Buenos Aires in July of 2012 and kept losing my handle on the place. What’s down is up, summer is winter, and vice versa. (As my de facto Jim Fletcher exclaimed, “It’s just like Borges!”) You’re in Latin America at times; at others, in New York City. If you squint at certain cityscapes, you would swear you were in Brussels or Vienna. We like to mash people and places into what we want them to be when, in fact, things are what they are.
Stan Allen has been an active and vocal force in architecture over the past 25 years. As the former dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton, the principal of Stan Allen Architect, and the author of numerous books and articles (among them the essay “From Object to Field: Field Conditions in Architecture and Urbanism,” to which we refer repeatedly in this conversation), his impact has been felt from the realms of practice to the academic world. In the “Field Conditions” text, he articulates new ways in which “difference” can be accommodated in compositional strategies that do not resort to figural, typological, or iconic variations and he unearths a series of aggregative strategies that demonstrate the wide range of spatial, formal, and material possibilities immanent in the systemic logics of the field itself.
As in music, one thing leads to another. A long time ago I received an email from someone I didn’t know. New York–based guitarist and writer Alan Licht had become aware of my films and music and wanted to meet to talk about my work. He proposed visiting me in Toronto, where I live. We had a very interesting meeting in which I learned a few things about him, and I guess the same thing happened to him about me. We talked about improvisation. Alan mentioned a Japanese musician based in New York with whom he was performing occasionally. Alan described this musician’s approach and suggested that we all try playing together. This is how Aki Onda first came to my attention.
In the 1970s there was a little record shop in Claremont, California, where Christopher Deeton grew up, that somehow included in its stock a steady supply of LPs by new German bands. (The shop eventually evolved into the Rhino Records label.) At a time when few Americans were listening to German experiments in drone-based electronic music, Deeton became obsessed with the early recordings of bands such as Can, Neu!, and Kraftwerk. This was long before technology made nearly every type of cultural production, past and present, available in a few clicks of a computer mouse. Back then, it was a matter of patient searching and blind luck; you sought out the things you needed, but you were also shaped by the things you stumbled upon.
When asked about the triangles that populate his work, Halsey Rodman mentions, among other inspirations, the light beam of a flashlight in a cartoon—Inspector Clouseau projecting yellow triangles across flat blackness. Ah, I say, anticipating to be presented next with the sought-for object in a yellow circle. But in Rodman’s work, things are intriguingly more complicated, and I come to realize that Clouseau here is performed by Jacques Lacan. This inspector inverts the flashlight’s beam, and with it the triangle of Cartesian optical geometry, to capture himself as a subject constituted by visual relations—one who is implicated in the world and never just a spectator, especially when it comes to acts of looking.
I spend much of my writing time seeking the horizon line. I know that there is no such line but I see the line when I look up from small blocks of text and squint at the sea. To write prose poems is to resist the horizon line— to seek thick thin straight curved broken wavy lines among crumpled pages. I work with little ink in my pen and hardly make a mark.
A Book Beginning What and Ending Away
Twenty chapters of poetry compose Clark Coolidge’s Gesamtkunstwerk, the division between each a shoddy dam allowing themes to spill back and forth—geology, Zukofsky, Dalí. A bind that keeps its flow. Coolidge, a poet associated with movements from the New York School to Language poetry to the San Francisco Renaissance, began A Book in the ’70s, when he would perform the inchoate project during marathon readings in San Francisco.
She had existed in the back burner of my consciousness for decades as the mythical artist’s artist through badly reproduced, barely decipherable black-and-white photographs on newsprint in last century’s Polish art history textbooks: Szapocznikow, the maker of decadently delicious yet ironic and abject breast desserts who survived extermination camps yet not the cancer that prematurely claimed her life.