I've used the model of a radio interview conducted by Terry Gross because I like the way questions and responses can be edited (control freak). This was the first time I had interviewed anyone, and the recording showed that I suck at asking succinct, eloquent questions. I've been interviewed live and by email in the past and have always preferred the chance to think about my replies before blurting them out. I'm curious about how much editing was done to the chat between Dan Graham and Kim Gordon because it felt relaxed and casual. They have known each other for years, and the ease of an old friendship is evident here. I hope to develop long friendships with Chris and Kevin. I loved talking with them because they make compelling work and have interesting things to say about it.
The three of us met together, with one person being interviewed by the other two. Some of the questions here are mine, while others were asked by Chris or Kevin. I kept them all in here because it was a natural conversation that let questions arise as responses were given.
This assignment made me see that I'm timid about asking questions. I always want to know a person's backstory and to have some insight into their motivations, but I realized that I try to puzzle that out for myself. You mean to tell me I only had to ask?
Here they are . . .
What path led you to art? The materials you use are so broad, and it seems like those interests would come from childhood. Were you a creative child?
I grew up in a family of 4 kids, and i was the youngest for 5 years. I was quiet and very non-confrontational, and was always playing and tinkering. My uncle had this really elaborate train set, and it was so fascinating to see this little world he built in this dingy, musty basement. I'm interested in that tinkering nature.
The work we have seen of yours has this rough quality. Is that aesthetic a kind of through-line, or has it evolved?
I've always had a problem with this process of refinement and this process of perfecting something and fine tuning it to the pinnacle. I don't see much value in that.
You use seemingly gentle elements, yet that innocence is slyly upended by subtle interventions, where songbirds become regulated automatons, disembodied cat paws reach out under doors, and you are exposing the wires and the process. How did you come to marry the simple innocent elements with subversion or the unexpected?
I always have this idea that theres more that meets the eye, and that's that tool of observation. Not just that an object hits your eye and you recognize it; it's a dialogue, an inner dialogue you have. Maybe you use that object as a jumping off point, but then the way I manipulate and work with different materials and expose the wires is a way of me revealing how I'm trying to deal with certain things I'm dealing with in the work.
It seems like your work comes from asking "what if?"
I try not to pin it down too much. i like to think of those aspects as metaphor in my work, but I want to keep it open ended. There might be several metaphors, and I try not to get stuck on one.
Have you had conflicts in class about your choices to keep things rough and your resistance to pinning things down? You trust your instincts. Does that cause you trouble in class?
I leave so much of that unresolved, but I find I enjoy that. There is that sense of discovery but once you discover something then you have this new understanding of it. Sometimes it's that moment before that. Once you educate yourself in something you lose that awe that you had previously. Some would say that's the natural development and you need to find more things that interest you.
That's that pre-intellectual response, that instant you see and feel it before your brain has caught up and tried to make sense of something.
How do you recreate that moment? How do you present it? The hardest thing is that I'm trying to recreate my own representation of that moment.
The marks you made on thermal receipt paper were playful and experimental. How does discovery inform your work?
It's a process of trying to find those little snippets of discovery and being aware of little nuances, but also it comes from a practice. Organically letting these situations of discovery happen but then actively pursuing them is troublesome.
The importance of craft and the mark of the hand, your hand, is readily evident in your work. I see that you can deftly handle all kinds of materials, so what would you do if you had an idea that required a process or material that you had no experience with? Would you shelve the idea, learn how to do it yourself, or would you find someone who could fabricate that component for you? How important is it for you to make everything?
At this point its important for me to do everything - it would be very hard to give that up. I love to learn those new techniques, and that's one part of the work - me discovering, and i need to have those personal experiences to recreate them.
I also wonder how collaboration might figure in your work. What sort of new territories would you be open to exploring? It seems like its against your nature. I don't want to read that into you . . .
I've always had it in my head but I'm a control freak. I would love to collaborate with somebody. I'd like to think that I could work well with people. It's hard because of that whole passive personality.
What big, crazy idea do you have lurking in the back of your mind that you wish you were brave enough to tackle? Is there an idea that is still a bit overwhelming, or do things happen more organically in the moment?
The things I focus on are the more lighthearted and playful. Maybe there are some more things that have a more serious overtone, or dark overtone or more purely intellectual. Theres this piece by Felix Gonzales Torres, 2 clocks, titled "Perfect Lovers". He synchs them in perfect time, and over time they drift apart. I bought 2 shitty clocks and they arein my living room
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I've been into podcasts and stories, listening to the Moth, Radiolab, and This American Life.
Are you easily distracted?
I try to distract myself when I'm reading. If I'm doing something I'm totally enveloped in, my mind is actively searching for other things to distract myself.
How old were you when you first became aware of art?
It first occurred to me that someone has to make movies for me to watch them at around 12 or 13. I was aware of narrative way before any concept of what fine art is.
What films were you attracted to when you were younger?
I was really in the mainstream when I was a kid. I have this really distinct memory of being a little kid and my parents were watching back to the future and I remember seeing when the DeLorean comes out of the back of the truck and having this sort of visceral experience that someone was creating this experience for me. It's been this continual unfolding for me. It wasn't really until after college when I lived in Paris for a year, thats where all the hard core experimental stuff was going on. I wanted to know more about what was going on there.
So what was going on in Paris that made you uncomfortable, or made you unsure?
Paris has this really small, scruffy experimental film culture. Maybe that's the experience that should have been my formative experience. A lot of what I saw there wasn't comfortable for me because a lot of what I saw there wasn't enjoyable to watch, and I don't think that my goal is to make stuff that's difficult.
I hope you don't feel guilt about holding on to the angle of entertainment. Why can't something be enjoyable? Some of the most simple things in our lives cut to universal truths, and why can't that be a part of what we do?
I'm not rejecting that per se, but its a little bit hard for me to figure out where I fit in because I do still value and am still making more traditional stuff and I'm also interested in something completely different.
You already have an impressive résumé that includes grants, directing, editing, feature length films, and commercial video. The decision to commit the next 3 years to school tells me you were looking for something more. What made you decide to attend grad school, and what do you hope to gain?
I was making stuff and it was kind of fitting into my life just fine. I would go work a bunch and then I would have a project I would want to do, and I would either just pay for it myself because I was doing alright financially with video work or I would apply for grants. I was having some decent luck the last few years, but I didn't have a sense of continuity to it. I felt like I was kind of making it up as I went along. I would make something and share it with a few people here and send it to film festivals and then it would go on my web site and the I would make something else. I think I was really curious about what a bigger working structure would look like in terms of my work and thinking about everyone else's work, and thinking about the conversation, the dialogue about these forms as they are evolving. I wanted to be a part of the dialogue. I felt isolated but I wanted to know what other people were making and talk to them. It was less about inclusion or belonging and more about contributing. I also feel I have a lot to learn and there is a limit to what I can teach myself.
I see that you have been mentoring teens. How did you get involved with that?
I was making independent films in Minneapolis and was frustrated with it, and then I went away to Paris and hung out with these experimental film people, and that was cool but I felt like I didn't really enjoy being there but I learned from that experience. And then I came back and fell into a documentary project about this mentoring organization. They were into rites of passage experiences as a way for teen boys to make the transition into young adulthood. Film is a lot about archetypes. In a way it's less about individuals and more about archetypal roles. The reason a movie like the Matrix or Lord of the Rings is so popular is that its this hero's journey quest in this very basic stripped down form. This mentoring program tapped into this very basic hero's journey.
Its like what we were talking about - the entertainment purpose of mainstream film takes us on this journey and that's why its so effective, and that's what they are trying to access in your work. My goal is the synthesis between these three years, figuring out how all these things fit together.
Which film do you wish you had made yourself?
I think if I could be anyone I might choose Terrence Malick because the stuff he gets to make is so gorgeous, and his way of approaching it is so amazing. His films are beautiful and he doesn't try to control everything. There is all this room for moments to evolve.
Your recent work with 16mm relies on chance and the release of control. How do you manage to successfully move back and forth between that process and the commercial video work? Which side is more cathartic, because I can see how either could be.
I think there's something holistic in having both. They are both satisfying in different ways. I think the rigor of commercial work has trained me, but then I get to be really loose and invite more chaos. Those two poles create this great space in between where everything can occupy a different space.