It occurred to me, after knowing sculptor Cameron Crawford for a while, that I thought of him first as a writer, not least of which because his conversations always sounded as if they should be recorded on paper – his language as if read.
I saw Cameron read at MoMa PS1 one Sunday through three microphones, each microphone alternating according to written voice. On the base of each microphone was stuck a numbered piece of tape. Afterwards, I heard Cameron describe his hobby of lighting certain perfumes on fire, the retelling of which I met with him to record, along with the rest of this interview.
Cameron: I’ve mentioned to you before that I decided that smelling perfume was my hobby. Sometimes I end up with things I don’t like that I thought I would like, or that I thought would be interesting and it turns out that they’re just gross. So the one I’ve been (lighting on fire) the most lately is Flowerbomb by Victor and Rolf, which is a terrible perfume.
Erin: Why is it terrible, is it too sweet?
Cameron: It is too sweet. I thought it was going to be at least interesting. You think – before I knew about how perfumes get made, I thought that an interesting designer would have to have an interesting perfume – you assume that something by Victor and Rolf would at least be more challenging than something by Tommy Hilfiger. At least be more aggressive or more contrarian. Sadly, this is just not the case. Thierry Mugler’s Angel does not smell like the clothes look.
Erin: It is much more whimsical than the clothes.
Cameron: Yeah, and it’s much more cleavagey and in a way, it’s much more like Guess.
Cameron: Yeah, kind of, but also so cheesy, that it almost seems like high fashion –
Erin: Because it’s campy?
Cameron: It is campy and it’s not androgynous and there’s a lot more candy that isn’t made out of chrome and stainless steel and patent leather than you would expect to see in a Thierry Mugler perfume. On the other hand, Flowerbomb by Victor and Rolf, which is basically a sad sad clone of Angel, smells like weird gummy candy and a very very fake fake flower, like how flowers smell, the way that green apple jolly ranchers taste like green apples. Flower bomb is just bomb. It gets good if you light it on fire. Or at least tolerable if you light it on fire.
Erin: Because it subdues the smell?
Cameron: And it adds the smoky burn smell, the smell of the match and the sulfur of the match. Matches have the smoke smell, but also the chemical burning smell that makes the inside of your nose hurt, if you light a match right underneath your nose, that is both a smell and a physical sensation. A reaction that is – that seems like poison.
Plane, Movie, Cold with repeated measurement (iron, steel, mint dental floss, gold paint, glue, plastic), 58.5 x 140 x 46.5 inches, 2013. Image by Andres Ramirez, courtesy Laurel Gitlen Gallery, from the exhibition of “Every Act a Repetition” organized by Christopher Aque.
Cameron: Do you like verbs, adjectives or nouns better?
Erin: Nouns are my favorite. I almost never describe an action.
Cameron: Mine too. My favorite things are nouns ending in -ing. They are also verbs. I like running as a thing that one can do, as a noun, much more than as a verb, as something that one does.
Erin: Because it’s hypothetical?
Cameron: Because it’s context dependent. My interest is in subjects, in commitments, much more than in actions. It’s the circumstance that becomes interesting, not just the pure act. It’s the difference between do do do do and am am am am, as in, I am. The am is always more interesting than the doing doing doing doing.
Erin: Is there a physical way to be verbose? Your writing is plain, but you’re wordy, so you’re overflowing but in a plainness.
Cameron: Yeah, I think my sculptures are texts. They start out from diagrams. The materials are nouns and adjectives, or nouns with adjectives. The way the sculpture’s put together is the verb and then it’s a sculpture by magic. That’s how I make sculpture.
Aerows, temporary tattoo, 8.5 x 14 inches, 2014.
Erin: How does the diagram begin?
Cameron: To make a diagram, you have to figure out all of the relationships, and it might be that my writing is me trying to figure out the relationships. I had to make this piece of writing in order to make those diagrams in order to understand the sculpture I was trying to make.
Erin: The diagram is the first thing.
Cameron: Well, it should be unless I can’t figure it out. Then the writing becomes the first thing. Trying to describe the diagram that doesn’t exist yet. Trying to describe a diagram but each time ending up with a narrative that’s set up like a diagram.
Erin: A diagram is like a plan – it boils things down. There is a decisiveness to making a diagram. Though, is your writing decisive? Or indecisive? On one hand, your delivery seems decisive to me. You write fast and forcefully, just as when you read out loud – and the way you talk in life. On the other hand, the lines come across as indecisive, or contrarian, as good as indecisive.
Cameron: The most decisive they are is when they’re revising their previous statements. Is that right?
Erin: In your piece, Replace Vacation With, you keep replacing one thing with another thing. Seemingly, there is nothing desired except replacement.
Cameron: In that piece, the desire is vacation, which is to say, a certain vision of love. Let’s say I have a child, and I love the child, and the child’s name is Cameron Jr., and so nothing else is as important to me as Cameron Jr. is. No matter where Cameron Jr. is, I have an extraordinarily shallow depth of field where everything is out of focus on either side of Cameron Jr., and I just see Cameron Jr. I’m interested in that narrowing of vision. Like what it is when you get old and your peripheral vision disappears and narrows. I’m interested in something that can only be understood by what it isn’t.
Erin: Is being in love like being on vacation?
Cameron: The hope of a vacation, if it was a good vacation, would be a gap in the circle of my life – making my year into a pacman face – and that kind of evacuation of all reasonably understood experience, or that kind of void-making out of the cycle seems like an important idea to me, as I’m actually bad at taking vacations.
Erin: But it’s the same as being in love?
Cameron: I guess you would say it’s kind of like creating an exception within this otherwise constant circular motion. I try to figure it as a wound. And that cut within that circular motion is a point where the surface divides and is both inside and outside.
Erin: But if you’re in love all the time, then it’s the vacation all the time, so it’s the new surface.
Cameron: Even if you’re in love all the time, you’re not doing love all the time, sometimes you’re going to the bathroom, sometimes you’re at work – love doesn’t really work unless it’s a verb. I would say that it’s actually a Dr. Phil thing. Love is the verb. Love is the only action. Love is never a state of being, and it’s basically like a way of articulating all the time. You always have to be making this wound in your life.
Erin: You mean an opening, you always have to be making an opening.
Cameron: I keep using wound, because I want a bodily metaphor, and for men at least, not for women but just for men, there are no bodily openings that aren’t just about destruction – except for wounds. I’m gonna go with that.
Erin: The mouth.
Cameron: The mouth?
Cameron: That’s not really an opening though. Things can’t really fall into your ear. I mean things can fall into your eye too.
Erin: That’s right. That’s another opening.
Cameron: I don’t know if the eye’s really an opening.
Erin: It’s not an obvious opening, but it’s something where – it’s a trap, something can be trapped and circulated inside your body.
Cameron: That’s true of your skin too. Just as sand could fall in my ear, knives could fall in my hand.
Page 12 from Replace Vacation With, poster version.
Erin: I wrote two statements – I was going to ask you to describe two things. I wrote “describe an obscene circumstance and describe an at ease circumstance”, because when I read your writing, I feel like I am reading all of the options of what could be obscene as a way to find what is at ease.
Cameron: An obscene circumstance. Does obscene have a personal meaning or is it a social meaning?
Erin: I think it only has a personal meaning. I mean, yes there is a social meaning, but – let me look through your writing for a circumstance that you describe as obscene. For example, crumbs. Crumbs in your lap.
Cameron: No, not obscene for me.
Erin: So in that case, what would be?
Cameron: There are two obscene things in “What if the dead are exactly like the living, only more benighted”. The piece doesn’t have a title yet, but that’s what I’ll call it. The setting for that – for this piece of writing is a table-tipping session which is a kind of séance, where you sit with a medium around a table and many people rest their hands on top of the table, and then the medium goes around the table, and if it was my turn, would say “Is there anybody for Cameron? Once for yes, twice for no.” And then the table would either tip towards me or away from me once or twice, and that would be like the spirit going through the medium tipping the table once for yes, twice for no.
Erin: But the other people are tipping the table?
Cameron: No, well, I mean the medium is doing it. It’s like a ouija board. “No one knows why it’s moving,” but there’s totally a person moving it –
Erin: But you’re all playing along?
Cameron: There’s no reason to assume it’s real or fake really except that it’s more interesting if you don’t care whether it’s real or fake. Whether the medium is an excellent con person or whether the medium is excellent at channeling the dead in some sort of way, that seems like a meaningless distinction to me. Let’s just say the table tips.
Erin: And that’s just like being religious.
Cameron: Yeah, or a fortune cookie or a horoscope. And in love. It’s more interesting to commit than to wander around equivocating. You never get interesting problems unless you commit, right?
Erin: That’s wrong.
Cameron: That’s wrong? Otherwise, everything happens around you. If you commit, then you actually happen to other things and other things happen to you.
Erin: So would you say that it is obscene to have no commitments?
Cameron: I would say that worse than having no commitments is having to commit to something that is truly awful. I think it’s certainly more interesting than having no commitments and so maybe there’s a redemptive aspect because of that, but I think it’s much more traumatic, because there’s no possibility of trauma without commitments. And so there are two traumatic things in this writing that are worse. Two things sort of worse than being dead. In this setting, the table-tipping – which is not the subject, but which is the setting – the dead person that comes through and then embraces is a molester and a pedarist, a child molester. So that’s obscene, especially because it’s a four-legged piece of furniture that is slumped in your lap.
Erin: Though the feeling of a table in your lap is actually a comforting feeling.
Cameron: Unless it’s a child molester table. But it’s not a table at that point. If you’re buying into it. And then the other obscene thing is this line, “There was a problem with the pregnancy, the baby didn’t make it. I can’t talk about it.” The line is from After Tiller, a documentary about late-term abortion, where a couple finds out their fetus has this incredibly rare birth defect, where its bones are not forming, and if it’s carried to term, all of its bones will break in the birth canal. They want a child, but they feel they can only morally abort this pregnancy, and so they ask the doctor what they should tell family members, and the doctor says, “Tell them that there’s a problem with the pregnancy, which is true. Tell them the baby didn’t make it, which is true, and tell them that you are not ready to talk about it, which is true. And that’s all they ever need to know.” There was no non-traumatic way of making a choice between two traumas. Those traumas are probably equal, but the mind balks so much at the equal sign – an equal symbol seems utterly abhorrent. To assume that things are equal seems abhorrent, because it’s non-commitment, because it’s death, because it’s a lack of choices. And so the equal symbol always seems illogical, that things could ever be commensurate. The equal sign is obscene.
Erin: What is an at-ease circumstance then?
Cameron: Oh, making pleasurable choices. Choosing one good thing over another good thing is immensely satisfying. Preferring Angel to Flowerbomb.
Two individually but identically titled objects, installed in the Whitney Biennial: making water storage revolution making water storage revolution, both 2012, both poplar, paste wax, plaster wood filler, pencil on oil on canvas, oil on string, oil on organza, primed brass, primed steel, graphite and felt-tip pen on muslin, hardware, and hair. (left) 4.75 x 15 x 1 feet, (right) 4.75 x 2.5 x 1.5 feet.