Skeletendo: Spooky Art Games for October

October 20, 2014 · Print This Article

Happy (mid) October! Even though I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween (my childhood costumes rotated between lawyer, businessman, and French businessman, all of which were just me wearing a suit that was too big plus or minus my mom’s beret) I’m a sucker for a good chill, either in the form of a terrible/great horror movie or spooky game. I have a hard time hacking the super-scary-atmospheric stuff though—whenever I get too freaked out in a movie I can kind of stare into a corner and watch via peripheral vision but if I do that in a game I end up getting mauled by a zombie and then I just have to start over. In any case, I come bearing gifts of free indie horror delights and then some.


Magenta Skeleton isn’t so much horror as it is ambient exploration (which I might be a huge fan of), but it is at times both beautiful and unsettling. The way in which you (a magenta skeleton) appear on a shore facing another (magenta skeleton) holding a torch; the small boat in the background, a dismantled bridge of some sort. It heftily implies some sort of two-skeleton invasion, but in practice it’s about exploring a texture, as lo-fi rain falls down the slopes of a mountainous island and your electric-purple skele-legs carry you into the neon future. There’s no violence or real interaction, just this weird flash-fiction/prose-poem of an environment, and you are on it. (I recommend climbing up the hilly area to the left of the bridge.)

Michael Lutz recently released a new game made with Twine called the uncle who works for Nintendo, which is campfire-story-good. It’s based off that sort of childhood legend or falsehood: the friend who claims to have a family member who works in a high-powered job at a cool company. In elementary school, I knew a kid who reached compulsive liar status by claiming he was constantly winning Nintendo-based sweepstakes, and that he was soon to receive unlimited N64 controllers, in any color that he wanted, for the rest of his life.


In any case, you’re sleeping over at a friend’s house for the night. His uncle works at Nintendo, maybe. As you make your way through the night, a fantastic use of sound and warped memory narrative create a really unsettling space that still kind of freaks me out, but not in a chainsaw murderer way, more like a clown standing in the middle of an intersection at night but really far away kind of way. The danger isn’t imminent, but it’s still pretty weird. This isn’t to make light, however: there are some trigger warnings attached. Lutz prefaces it as “a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation” especially w/r/t children, so be warned.

This led me to discovering an older game of Lutz’s: my father’s long, long legs. While Nintendo was branching and filled with a certain modern terror, Legs is a pretty straight-forward narrative that relies on some really lovely scripting later on the story to give the player a sort of flashlight that they must use to discover text. Again, this one’s unsettling without the jumps, a kind of slow burn that I just can’t resist. I hope you’ll find it to be similarly attractive, but if not, maybe we can freak each other out later by saying some weird stuff into a mirror in the dark.


Lastly, a sort of bonus. Emily Carroll is an artist who has for a long time been making some of my favorite comics. The reason I bring her up is that Lutz cites her as an inspiration (particularly the work she did on The Yahwg, a game which bears her beautiful art) and the atmospheres created by Lutz and Carroll are very much siblings. My favorite work of Carroll’s is definitely His Face all Red, but you can’t go wrong with Out of Skin or Margot’s Room. They’re all very carefully constructed and formatted for maximum dread, and the latter relies on a prefacing poem to guide the reader to click on specific parts of what appears to be a gruesome scene, not unlike a point and click game.

In any case, I hope you enjoy. I’m really pumped to see more and more of these sorts of experiments that toy with both structure and texture, as well as the idea of “play.” In some cases, I’m not sure play is even the right verb anymore, but for now, it’s as close as it feels like we can get as we talk about “games.” This isn’t to say they’re not games. I just think they might transcend the label, and that’s a really awesome feeling. In any case, grab some cider, turn off the lights, put on some headphones, and get spooked.

No more visionary art

October 17, 2014 · Print This Article

Over the last eight or ten months, I have been taking advantage of the opportunity this space provides by interviewing people whose work I admire or whose organizations I am curious about. I have not had an explicit plan or frame for these interviews: for their structure, for the people I talked to, etc. I have been interviewing people who I like, people whose work I like, people who work for organizations I am interested in—often all three at once. Nonetheless, we often ended up talking about the same things: art’s supportive position in a brutally dehumanizing financial system, and the arbitrary nature of validating art as art.

It should not be surprising that art occupies a supportive position in today’s neoliberal market—art, particularly “fine” art, has always been made for or by those in power. The art market is sustained by financiers, venture capitalists, CEOs, etc. Art is either produced directly for this market or produced in some imagined resistance to it. Those who produce art or who engage in local or global art worlds are, by and large—including myself—born into some kind of wealth and afforded some kind of privilege. As Renzo Martens put it in my conversation with him, “half of the world’s population that never has a fucking cappuccino while thinking about one’s own ideas because they’re just working in mines and cleaning bedrooms and god knows what.” To be an artist or even an art enthusiast, you must be able to afford to work unpaid jobs, buy cappuccinos, and so on. This has always been true. Bach wrote for the Austrian royal court, Koons makes sculpture for the ultra-rich. The difference is negligible. When I talked to Keith J Varadi about my nagging suspicion that punk simply serves as the appropriate entropy for sustaining late capitalism, he mentioned awareness of one’s own position in the world as a key part of what, for him, defines punk. When you buy a used car and convert it to bio-diesel, he mentioned, you are still participating in the larger, exploitative economy: either mass deforestation due to the planting of GMO biodiesel corn or the international industrial-scale production and distribution of vegetable oil. When  you become a freegan, you are still taking and using things that were likely made in horrific labor environments (most things are) or that were distributed along an international freight network, which itself is outrageously polluting and violent. Whether or not you pay for your shrimp is arbitrary: it has already been farmed in Laos or Thailand using slave labor and shipped in an airplane halfway across the world.

We make art, we think about art, we recognize the existence of art because we are rich, because we can afford to be interested in something, because we are not so exhausted from working in a mine or cleaning shit and vomit in a hotel or zigzagging across four part-time jobs that all we can do is pass out. Again, this has always been true. It is not interesting. What might actually be interesting is the validation of art: what makes art art. I have asked almost everyone I’ve interviewed what makes art art, and have received a surprisingly similar array of answers.  When I interviewed Adam Overton in Januray, he recalled a quote by Allan Kaprow: “what if I were to think art was just paying attention?” Overton replaced think with believe: “what if I were to believe art was just paying attention?” It reminded me of a feeling I have regarding Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art,” namely that there appears to be no reason why the Van Gogh he is looking at gets to be art and not the hat or the rifle. Although Heidegger spends the whole essay explaining why the Van Gogh is art and the hat/rifle are not, the explanation does not actually have to do with qualities inherent to the work of art; rather, the idea is that what art does that other things do not do—the artness of art—is make the viewer aware of her own consciousness. For Heidegger, the shoes of the peasant girl in the Van Gogh (was it it even a Van Gogh? my books are in limbo, I have nothing to reference), caused him to realize that his opinion of peasantry, which he had never considered, was man-made, and that it existed in contradistinction to some kind of deeper truth about peasantry or humanity, that, further, truths in general exist in relation to some kind of deeper Truth, and that this Truth is neither moral nor singular—it is not explicit—but operates in a relation to other truths the way umami operates in relation to other tastes. In any case, there is no reason why the hat or the rifle couldn’t also be art, had Heidegger had a different sort of day or lived in a different sort of era. There is no reason why anything is or is not art, except for what we believe and how that thing—or experience, aural space, whatever—operates in relation to what we believe.

Similarly, when I sat down with Aandrea Stang, formerly of the MOCA, where she coordinated, among other things, a massive re-happening of much of Alan Kaprow’s work and Engagement Party, a four-year series of socially- or otherwise publicly-engaged work. She now runs OxyArts, an arts programming initiative at Occidental College, also in LA. I talked to her shorty after We Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust, conceived by Finishing School with Nadia Afghani and Matt Fisher, had been installed in front of the school’s auditorium. WWSYFHD is a full-scale mockup of a Predator drone, covered in adobe in a simultaneously familial and antagonistic gesture over the course of three days by the artists and a smattering of the general public—the artists’ friends, some students, some people who happened to be there. I was curious a number of things: about the horizontal organizing structure of Engagement Party, which I knew nothing about and which seemed—and still seems—to be to be as exciting an artwork as any that happened as part of the series; about the drone; about what the hell OxyArts was supposed to be. Mostly I was curious about what drew Aandrea to this kind of work. “I like experiences that force one to consider the aesthetics of one’s situation,” she said. “Donald Judds could be Donald Judds, but in a different set of circumstances they could be ductwork.” Again, the aesthetics of one’s situation, as she succinctly put it, have to do not with inherent qualities but with validating systems, and encountering the former often includes recognizing the latter. A Donald Judd is a Donald Judd because it is a Donald Judd, and for no other reason. If it were not a Donald Judd it would be ductwork, or a box.

This is not a judgment. When I interviewed Conrad Freiburg—artist, musician, carpenter, man of the hour—he brought up the saying “art is as serious as your life.” Is your life serious right now? Will it be serious in five minutes, when you go to the vending machine? One’s life becomes serious because one decides to get serious or because something happens that one recognizes that something is serious. Seriousness is performed; so is art. We wondered—I still wonder, actually, and probably Conrad does, too, although we haven’t talked since he went to Ohio and I went to Mexico—if practicing not giving a fuck would be a way to catch oneself getting serious and have a chance to decide whether things were actually serious or not.

Maybe what is exciting or useful about art, if there is anything exciting or useful about art at all, is its ability to give a chance to decide if things are actually serious or not. Maybe looking at a Donald Judd makes us wonder why this piece of ductwork is art while that piece of ductwork is not, and maybe in our wondering we will wonder who or what decides that art is art and what their motivations might be. In March, after failing or forgetting to interview somebody in February, I met Renzo Martens at a cafe. I think Renzo thought I wanted to talk about Enjoy Poverty, because everybody does, but I actually wanted to talk to him about the Institute for Human Activities, a venture that rides some kind of line between being incredibly straightforward and incredibly surreal. The previous summer had seen the first summer of the IHA, an arts residency and “gentrification program” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had ended in the surprisingly violent suppression and removal of the Institute by a Canadian palm oil interest. Thinking of Adam, maybe, and myself, certainly, I asked Renzo if he considered the Institute art, and whether it mattered if the Institute was art or not. He answered, emphatically, yes, that it mattered that it was art because he likes art, because art is the rare form of expression that shows—or can show—its “suspending apparatus,” as Martens put it, that this dome above your head that you know is not a dome is not magic, but trompe l’oeil, a technique that is known and can be used, a machine for making a flat ceiling a dome or a wall an apple tree. For Martens, the Institute is an opportunity to be the machine, so to speak:

I told you the problem if I’m a critical artist and I do it from my studio in Brooklyn, for example, so if I don’t take into account the bigger economic structures, my work is just going to be a little thing in a machine, and it won’t reflect the machine itself, other than symbolically, and even that symbolic reflection will function in that machine, right? What I need to do is own the machine. That’s the level of abstraction we need to work on in order to generate knowledge about art and the machine. That’s why we can’t be an artist, we can’t be a curator, we have to be an institution, but even more than that, we need to be the economic forces that are derived from that institution.

That is to say, Martens is hoping that, by sincerely an unabashedly using the language and mechanisms of the larger economic system—in this case, the kind of art NGO that has been popping up all of the world in the last five or ten years—he can gain access to and leverage within that system and redirect some of the money that usually just circles around the system towards, for instance, paying exploited Congolese palm oil workers to do something besides work in a fucked up palm oil plantation. This is surely what the Canadian firm that pushed the IHA out of its original position was literally in arms over.

Lane Relyea has written extensively about artists becoming institutions and the economic forces derived from these institutions. The everyday, hailed as a sort of quotidian utopia by art discourse for the past century, is not so everyday at all. The everyday is structured, often dictated, by abstract forms of control: from implicit understandings and unspoken agreements of how to act in a given space to a labor system that reduces human life to automated workforce management. In Your Everyday Art World, Relyea picks apart institutions, artists, and artists who have become institutions to highlight the webs of finance and control that support them and point out that, regardless of whether or not an artist or institution or artist-institution hails itself as resistant or revolutionary, the artist/institution/artist-institution still operates in full support of and fully supported by the market it rails against. In our interview, I tried very hard to get Relyea to make a judgment about this. Is it bad that art is naive? Yes, Lane said, it is. But it is more than judging this or that painting or this or that social practice intervention, Relyea, pointed out, it is that

the artworld imaginary right now sees artists making work not in society but in things that are more local and performative, more temporally local as well as spatially local—cliques, friends, hangouts—in the zone of everyday life, which relieves people of having to think of high and low, or about privilege and elitism. Which, in parallel, feeds the romanticizing that happens in social practice with the déclassé, with these pockets of dispossession that artists will come in and somehow alleviate or enlighten.

Naive “radical” art blocks our ability to see the very things it is supposedly railing against. This is why it sells so well, why it is so well-supported by the global art world. This is, as Relyea put it, “an impoverishment,” a diminishing of the potential of art. If art has the potential to allow us a chance to recognize our options, as I would like to believe, then the legions of naive revolutionaries flying across the globe to make it to the next Creative Time Summit are drastically, violently reducing that potential. This is not to say that these people are bad people or that they are intentionally making bad art, although there are certainly assholes and bad art everywhere, but rather that the artworld imaginary is just that—imaginary—and should be recognized as such.

My last two interviews, conducted after I arrived in Mexico City, have elaborated on that point. As both Carla Herrera-Prats and Arturo Ortiz Struck pointed out, very nearly every single Mexican president—and most of the people that form the government of Mexico—come from wealthy families and have received graduate degrees from Ivy League schools in the US. These presidents, and their governments, apply the economic wet dreams of the neoliberal free market to an actual country—Mexico—with disastrous results. This is not necessarily because they are bad people, although some of them certainly are; it is because they are living in a reality that is abstracted from actual life in Mexico. For Herrera-Prats, this highlights that education is currency, that proof that one has attended a recognized institution increases one’s market value, and that, as such, the American Graduate Degree is one of the United States’s most powerful economic and ideological exports. For Ortiz Struck, the implementation of an economic strategy in Mexico that has very little to do with actual life in Mexico has resulted in a series of very real, very terrible structures being built for people who don’t exist, structures that ignore or obstruct human life.

In general, it is clear in Mexico that human life is not in the interest of the market, the government, or the narcotics cartels that the government colludes with. It is clear that recent reforms and public works are ploys to encourage further foreign investment which will likely never be enforced or built; it is clear that the government is ineffective and unaware—Ortiz Struck described the men and women of the government as not necessarily bad or evil people, just people who had no idea what was going on; it is clear that the police are corrupt, violent, and dangerous; it is clear that those born into poverty here will very lead lives of crushing that they will never be able to escape from. The clarity is refreshing. In the United States, as in Mexico, the government is ineffectual, the police are violent, and those born into poverty will never be able to escape poverty. The United States just has a better story, a better imaginary, a dream.

If you read about social practice or read about Silicon Valley, if you read the news or watch television, you will hear quite a bit about how you are part of some story: maybe your story, maybe the story. You will also hear about a game that you might be in, a game that is changing, because of this or that artist or because of this or that app. When you pick up your next bottle of Coca-Cola, your name or your friend’s name will be on the side of the bottle; when you request your next Über, you’ll be “evolving the way the world moves.” Indeed, Über’s corporate language is enlightening:

Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber’s rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.

The language of Über, and increasingly the language of corporate marketing worldwide, matches the language of the contemporary artist statement. This is the language of meta-narratives, stories that have already begun sometime close to now and proceed into an ill-defined or permanently deferred future. By buying a Coca-Cola or buying the work of Theaster Gates, you are participating, changing, progressing, innovating, remembering, making, thinking, transgressing, transforming, evolving, -ing, -ing, -ing. You are a visionary, Coca-Cola is a visionary, you are a visionary for choosing to be part of the community of visionary persons who drink Coca-Cola. What such visionary projects do is enforce the idea that this or that imaginary is truethat it operates absolutely and without relation to any internal or external circumstances. In so doing, they impoverish or obstruct our ability to see, to recognize ourselves as participating in this or that system, that or the other imaginary.

These interviews have clarified something for me: I am against visionary art. What I like about art, what makes art worthwhile for me, is the opportunity it can afford to see myself, to hear myself, to catch myself or others. Visionary art makes it difficult to see, to hear, to catch myself or others; it sucks me into a story that I may not be able to get myself out of, a story that operates in total indifference to me, my particularity, what I think or believe or feel. As I’ve mentioned several times before, what struck me most about reading through the materials that eventually made it into the second edition of What We Want is Free was that, while almost all of the projects included had artist statements—meta-narratives—very few had descriptions of what actually happened: who came, what their names were, how they felt, what they wanted, how their face creased when they smiled or frowned. They operate and validate themselves using the same mechanism that Über or Cisco Systems uses to operate and validate themselves. Art must cease using this mechanism. Art is art because it says it is, and it must stop saying that it is visionary. If art is to be useful, if it is to have any effect on the calamitous state of the world, if it is to alter, in a real way, a city or a moment, it must stop being visionary. No more visionary art.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (10/17-10/19)

October 17, 2014 · Print This Article

1. If They Mated at The Honey Hole


Curated by Zachary Harvey with work by Annie Bielski, Jonathan Chacon, Nicole Cherry, Ryan Travis Christian, Autumn Elizabeth Clark, Travis Fish, Daniel Greenberg, David Leggett, Dave Lloyd, Esau McGhee, Genna Moss, Dylan Rabe, Josh Ramirez, Kevin Stuart and Scott Wolniak.

The Honey Hole is located at 1656 S. Throop St. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

2. An Internet of Things that Go Bump in the Night at TRITRIANGLE


Work by Carl Diehl.

TRITRIANGLE is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. Fl. 3. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

3. General Objects at Ballroom Projects

Picture 1

Work by Joseph Grigely, Jeff Prokash, Kyle Nilan, Betany Porter, Elliott Mickleburgh, Jameson Doody, Arièle Dionne-Krosnick and Didier Morelli.

Ballroom Projects is located at 3012 S. Archer Ave. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. 40,075 at Born Nude


Work by Micah Schippa.

Born Nude is located at 1711 S. Halsted St. #2. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.

5. SPEECH! SPEECH!! SPEECH!!! at Roots & Culture


Work by Latham Zearfoss.

Roots & Culture is located at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. Performance Sunday, 7:30pm.


October 14, 2014 · Print This Article

New New Art and Event Space Opens in Logan Square

With or without a physical locale, Green Lantern Press has been a force in the Chicago art scene since Caroline Picard started to open up her loft space in Wicker Park to public exhibitions and events in 2005. GLP is responsible for the release of more than 30 titles, including Lise Haller Baggesen’s “Mothernism,” an experimental epistolary novel on motherhood which has enjoyed a sweepingly positive reception since it’s summer release. After a brief stint in France, the prolific Picard is back with a new space on the formerly derelict stretch of Milwaukee Avenue near Fullerton that now is home to, amongst other things, a luxury juice bar. Picard’s space stands out, with glorious accordion front doors that open onto Milwaukee Ave, gender neutral bathrooms with a shower (for residents only!), and a polished wood floor so shiny it’s a little hard to look at.

Jesse Malmed and his box of ideas, jokes and sentiments at the opening of Sector 2337.

Officially opening on October 16th, Sector 2337 started out strong with a soft opening last Thursday, October 9th, with performances by Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed, co-curated by Lin Hixon and Matthew Goulish’s Every house has a door. Martiel’s performance really took to heart the title of the overarching exhibition, “The New [New] Corpse”. A full house witness Martiel’s “corpses” draped in American flags across the pristine gallery floor. After a brief intermission, Malmed’s animated spoken word performance was a singular meditation on the future, technology, jokes of scale, good (including bad) ideas, inspiration and (I think) art. Afterwards, everyone shared a toast and crazy loving vibes with Sector 2337’s proprietors Devin King and Picard.

Hixon and Goulish introducing the performances and the new venue.

A well attended event with strong work? This wasn’t even the official opening! The group show, “The New [New] Corpse”, features an impressive rooster that includes Benjamin L. Aman & Marion Auburtin, Joseph Grigely, Young Joon Kwak, Jason Lazarus, Carlos Martiel, Heather Mekkelson, Aay Preston-Myint, Rachel Niffenegger, Xaviera Simmons, Shane Ward, and Shoshanna Weinberger and will open this Thursday, October 16th from 6-9PM. Sector 2337 is also hosting Jane Jerardi as their November Studio Resident.

Don’t miss it. The New [New] Corpse. Sector 2337. 2337 N Milwaukee Ave (duh!). Thursday, October 16th from 6-9PM.


  • Time: We never have enough of it, so why are artists always rubbing it into our faces? Although there is something a little bit lovely and poetic about sinking a timepiece into a wall or styrofoam column.
  • Detail of Sabina Ott’s clock column in her [so much more than an] exhibition “here and there pink melon joy” on view at the Chicago Cultural Center through January 4th of 2015.

    Work by Daniel Arsham at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago at Rosemont. On view indefinitely?
  • Beyonce, always. If you’re not interested in the photos of the Queen B shutting down The Louvre that’s cool, we don’t have to be friends. Maybe you have one of these other responses?
  • In the future everything will be chrome, is apparently what Gavin Brown’s son told Rirkrit Tiravanija when the globe trotting art star ended up playing the part of babysitter in rose-colored glasses. He probably isn’t too far off, I heard more than a few students and professors coveting the Zebra aluminum lunch boxes used by the artist for his lunches at the Sullivan center as part of Mary Jane Jacob’s exhibition “A Lived Practice”. According to the artist, the metal containers are nostalgic items, used by his grandmother for her restaurant business in his native Thailand.
  • Groups of lucky students grabbing Tiravanija’s lunchboxes.

    Tiravanija discussing the impetus behind his lunch project with student groups from across Chicago.
  • Meg Leary, the performer, the opera singer, the myth, the legend. Leary has been on a back to back streak performing at the Whistler and Berlin in the span of a week. The artist presented the work of a formative influence, Karen Finley, at the most recent Crimson Glow on the 6th anniversary of the Whistler (can you say delicious and cheap cocktails?). In homage to the controversial performer, Leary prepared waffles and yams for the audience’s consumption while regaling the crowd with odd tales of Leary’s time in NYC with Finley. Leary then brought us all the way back to Miami Basel last Thursday when she performed at Gravy, a new monthly dance party at Berlin sponsored by our friend at LVL3. Leary brought the house down, belting out pop hits like “Call me maybe” that had the crowd chanting “one more song” long after the performer left the stage. All we can say is, we want more!
  • Leary serving waffles during her presentation of Karen Finley at Crimson Glow.

    Full regalia for Gravy at Berlin. Photo by Jono Pivovar.

    Roth’s Complaint: Author sues artist in absurd plot line straight out of his own novels.

    In 2012, Bryan Zanisnik was served a cease and desist letter from the firm that represents well-known author Philip Roth. Both artists share a love of Americana, baseball, and New Jersey (of all things). Unfortunately, the humor of Zanisnik’s silent re-performance of Roth’s The Great American Novel, was lost on the aging author.

    In the aftermath of Zanisnik’s run-in with Roth’s lawyers the artist hasn’t let up, making work that is even more focused on the Roth, his paranoia and the intersection of their shared interests. In his exhibition, The Passenger, closing this Saturday at Aspect/Ratio in the West Loop, Zanisnik weaves the real life Roth and his works deeper into his production.

    Work by Bryan Zanisnik on view at Aspect/Ratio.

    The first two pieces you see when you enter the exhibition are diptychs featuring needle points, one of Roth himself and another featuring the cover of his best seller, Portnoy’s Complaint. Each embroidery is paired with a photograph of a characteristic assemblage by the artist, each additionally refers back to Roth, with physical copies of his books placed amongst the still lives. In a way, it seems like Zanisnik has written Roth into the narrative of his own work. Baseball cards are excavated from the gallery walls, and the symbols of the over saturation of American capitalism ring out as true here as in Roth’s American Pastoral.

    Cease and desist that, Roth! The Passenger is on view through October 18th at Aspect/ Ratio, 119 N Peoria, Unit 3D. Catch this gem before the only place you can see Zanisnik’s compellingly narrative obsessive compulsion is in New York museums.

    Interview with Cameron Crawford

    October 10, 2014 · Print This Article

    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.

    Erin: Cheesy?

    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?

    Erin: Ear?

    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.