November 25, 2013 · Print This Article
“Who owns the internet?”
Josh Baer - Baer Fax
Forrest Nash - Contemporary Art Daily
Paddy Johnson - Art F City
Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie - Bad at Sports
August 2, 2013 · Print This Article
Today Richard had the good fortune to e-mail interview friend, former colleague, mischief maker, and all around giant of consciousness Colleen Becker.
Colleen Becker is an American writer and academic living in London. Her published work spans fiction and non-fiction genres, including flash fiction, academic articles, journalism, art reviews, and essays, and she has read at numerous venues including Princeton University, the Tate Modern, and Foyles Bookshop. She holds PhD, MPhil and MA degrees from Columbia University and a MA from NYU, and she is a 2013-14 Visiting Fellow at the University of London, School of Advanced Studies, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies. She has text based artwork included in an exhibition at the Anatomy Museum, King’s College London. “Translation Games”Curated by Ricarda Vidal (KCL) and Jenny Chamarette (QM) which runs from 31st July to 2nd August 2013
Richard Holland: Colleen Becker, welcome to Bad at Sports!
Colleen Becker: Thanks! I’m so happy to participate in this interview!
RH: You are currently, among a vast number of other titles and pursuits, a visiting fellow at the University of London, School of Advanced Studies, Institute for Germanic and Romance Studies. What are your researching?
CB: I’m doing a post-doctoral fellowship within IGRS’s Centre for Cultural Memory. Broadly speaking, my area of research is the cultural history of German nationalism. My project is titled: “The Art of Becoming a Nation: Turn-of-the-Century German Visual Culture,” and if you’re still reading, I will be examining and positioning artifacts of visual culture as manifestations of identity that memorialize understandings of the self in relation to others, from the individual act of depicting one’s own or another’s milieu to the collective feat of representing an entire community in both political and visual terms.
RH: What are “Translation Games”?
CB: “Translation Games” is the brainchild of curators Ricarda Vidal (King’s College, London) and Jenny Chamarette (Queen Mary, London), who were interested in exploring the concept of translation through various textual, auditory, and visual media. They hired me to write a flash fiction piece of 250 words, with a conventional narrative structure (beginning, middle, end). My story “What We Made” formed the basis for a game of “Chinese Whispers” (“Telephone” in American English), in which only a couple of the artists or foreign language translators received the original text while all of the others worked off of received “translations.” Interestingly, the first textile designer who read my work was dyslexic and misread the story before passing it along to the other textile artists—so, even the original version was “lost in translation.”
RH: The Anatomy Museum, sounds dirty, what is the Anatomy museum and is it a contemporary art venue, or is in more like the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago which is *not* and art venue but has the occasional show to be quirky?
CB: I have a soft spot in my heart for the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. During my most memorable visit, a swarm of flies hovered menacingly over the vitrine of Pompeian gynecological instruments.
The Anatomy Museum is part of King’s College, which is Ricarda’s affiliated institution. It has a creepily fascinating Victorian history as an anatomy theatre, but it’s not a contemporary art space per se.
So the project takes language, in this particular case a short story that you have written, and through the process of translation and retranslation the text evolves into a new form, is that a fair summary of the core idea? Yes.
RH: Are you familiar with Alvin Lucier’s “I am sitting in a room”? Lucier made a recording himself narrating a text, and then playing the recording back into the room, re-recorded it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated over and over again. All volumes of space have characteristic resonant frequencies, the repeated recording and re-recording eventually acts to, in essence, filter out the language and what is left is a set of frequencies emphasized as they resonate in the room. Finally the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself like a signature. This project seems like the language version of Lucier’s piece. If you were to translate and retranslate over and over, do you eventually end up with the resonant frequency of the translator or of the text itself, common tonal elements that could not be lost in translation?
CB: Thank you for the enormously flattering comparison! In addition to the physical works of art, the story and its translations also have been performed a number of times. At a workshop in early July, for example, Ricarda and Jenny grouped artists and translators together and we read the text all at once, or in orchestrated sections, and the result was a living Tower of Babel. There is a certain musical quality, and rhythm, to each group reading, which is possibly best experienced by viewing the video of the performance. “What We Made” was translated into several different languages, and then retranslated back into English, which changed the length of the text in each instance. So when the translated versions were read out loud at the same time as the original version, the distinctions between them were quite noticeable.
RH: In addition to the linguistic part of the project, the text is re (and re-re- and re-re-re- etc.) interpreted through varieties of art media as well. I wonder how the 27th re-re to the 27th iteration of the work will relate to the original text.
CB: Curiously, the common elements you described in the previous question were more obvious in the works of art. Even though artists were working from received translations, rather than the original text, we noticed that they all seemed to convey a similar mood, attitude, or tone, also found within the story.
RH: You have had an impressively diverse and fascinating career as an author, a critic and an academic. Over the course of this career have you found that, to speak in clichés, your ideas are at times lost in translation, and somehow fail to make the leap from what we assume to be a common symbolic language (text)utilized to convey ideas to each other? In the face of, for example, an English fluent reader missing the point of an English language text, when your work has been translated in to other languages it must be a source of concern that your ideas are additional steps away from the original meaning and stand a reduced risk of reaching the target audience in pure form.
CB: It’s a challenge for any writer, working in any genre or format, to precisely convey their ideas to their audience. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens at the intersection of intention and reception; there’s a bit of alchemy, in my view. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but I doubt there’s any such thing as pure or unmediated communication. On the other hand, I’m a thorough editor and unflinching critic of my own writing.
RH: Is the answer then to sit everyone down and explain your ideas specifically? I suppose that assumes a world where the person listening is *actually* listening and not checking twitter on their phone.
CB: It’s the writer’s responsibility to connect the dots, but also to communicate in terms that are appropriate for the intended audience. When you publish something, you don’t know how it’s going to be received and there’s no accounting for other peoples’ attentiveness, or lack thereof. But I think the best writers are able to hold their readers’ attention for the duration of their engagement with the work.
RH: How did you become involved with this project?
CB: Ricarda remembered me from the Shortness at Tate Modern conference, which she organized along with Irini Marinaki and Konstantinos Stefanis. She approached me about writing a text for Translation Games.
RH: You were a participant in the “[V]ery short conference and a very long dinner” called SHORTNESS AT TATE MODERN, along with DJ Spooky, Jonathan Allen, Matthew Steven Carlos, Steven Connor and others. You spoke under the auspices of being a “flash fiction writer”. I like the idea of short conferences and long dinners. What is flash fiction and what was the focus of the conference?
CB: Flash fiction is a story written in 1,000 words or less. The most famous example is Ernest Hemmingway’s “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” which is the entire narrative. I’m fascinated by the way in which subtext provides as much, or even more, of the story to the reader. More so than other genres, flash fiction operates at the interface between the writer and the reader.
Shortness At Tate Modern had two components: conference papers presented in an auditorium and a long dinner in an upstairs room that was interrupted by various performances, demonstrations and interventions. That’s where I read my short story “B&I,” which is set in Chicago. I was pretty nervous about presenting to an audience that included DJ Spooky, since I’m an admirer of his and I had taught his work to undergraduates at Barnard the previous year.
RH: You recently did a reading at Foyles Bookshopin London, the write up of which referenced you are working on your second screenplay. Aren’t the 8 degrees, lovely family, multiple book projects, art projects and being a Huffington Post correspondent enough? Screenplays? I recently completed my work on Angry Birds Star Wars (admittedly playing it not developing it, but it was hard work to defeat Darth Pig). Now, c’mon, you are just embarrassing the rest of us. What is your most recent screenplay about? We have a huge Hollywood studio exec. fan base.
CB: I wrote a feature-length screenplay a couple of years ago, marketed it, and stirred up enough interest to motivate me to write another one. At the moment, I’m writing a contained location action-thriller.
Usually, I work on fiction and non-fiction projects in tandem, exploring concepts and narratives through different genres. Some things that work in fiction just don’t pan out in non-fiction and vice-versa. Lots of projects remain unfinished, or are discarded along the way but that doesn’t bother me since I usually manage to recycle ideas. I’m easily bored, and it’s easier for me to accomplish tasks when I’m slightly distracted so I tend to toggle back and forth between projects. When I lose my focus with one thing, I go to the other, and then back again.
And, yeah, I wake up every morning and think to myself: How can I make Richard Holland feel like less of a person today?
RH: Very popular choice, there is a support group out there, I think they give out grants.
CB: Something to look forward to! Some of what you’re responding to is my effort, as a former full-time mom, to find some means of engaging myself intellectually while remaining present for my children. When you’re pushing a kid on a swing for forty minutes straight, it’s useful to occupy your mind with thoughts of something other than pushing a swing. A story or an article that’s already been threshed out in your mind comes much quicker to the page.
RH: What are you working on currently?
CB: I’m focused on the academic work described above, speaking at the GSA conference this fall, and putting together a seminar at IGRS for next spring titled “Emotional Response in Historical Practice: Methodological Approaches to Representing Collective Experience.” I’m also publishing an article about Aby Warburg, historiography, and metaphors of German national identity in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Art Historiography. Through “What We Made,” an independent publisher approached me about writing long-format fiction and so in my spare time I’m also rewriting a novel I had roughed out a few years ago in addition to working on the screenplay.
RH: Thank you for joining us! We need to get together for an audio interview the next time we end up in relatively the same city. Thanks!!
CB: It was my pleasure! These were great questions!
RH: I’ll pass along the compliment to my writing staff.
by Richard Holland
I went to law school and pursued my MA/MFA at the same time. From the academic institution/professorial perspective I suspect this made me a first class pain-in-the-ass. Pity my art professors. I hear they have all recovered well, although I don’t know how much treatment or scotch it took.
Both BAS NYC chief Amanda Browder and I were lucky to work with three professors in particular (Michelle Grabner was at UW at the time, and was a shining beacon of smarts) who were exceedingly smart, kind, and when necessary not going to put up with any of my pushy-lawyery bullshit.
This was refreshing as I found a number of professors who weren’t particularly interested in dialoging about their ideas, exploring the theory and practice of where the field is going, and embracing the intellectual joy in the complexity in contemporary art.
Aristotle (Aris) Georidiades and his wife Gail Simpson are clearly two of my favorite people; I admire their work ethic, commitment to educating artist as they begin their careers, I enjoy their work, and appreciate(d) their mentorship. They truly were the highlights of my MFA experience and are great assets to the University of Wisconsin art department. Fanboy gushing aside I know and enjoy their work. Aris has a solo show at Carl Hammer and will be present at the reception this Friday (Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 Wells Street in Chicago this Friday April 19th from 5:30-8:00). This show looks like an evolution and maybe a departure from the work I’ve seen in the past and I am looking forward to seeing the show. Upon reading the press release, I wanted to ask some questions, emailed Aris and he kindly agreed to do an interview.
RH: You new show is focused more on the idea of re-use and repurposing than your prior work, which also has used lots of materials that are construction type, non-precious materials. How does using “found” materials fit into this work? What do you mean by re-purposed sculpture? Are you reusing old work?
AG: Most of the work for this show is made of materials that I have collected that are generally related to buildings built prior to the 1960s. I also continue to use objects that might be considered obsolete or on the verge of being obsolete. I think that by using these materials and objects in my sculpture, notions of our current condition are brought to mind. Of course there are some typical motivations underlying this work. Typical in that I am a “maker” who appreciates materials and I notice the way the world around us is made. Materials and the methods of manipulating the materials can and should carry and covey meaning. Visual artists know this don’t they?
I should also add that I continue to believe in the power of objects. As an artist I find it very challenging to try to create compelling objects in a world filled with objects whether we call them art or not. I am not really repurposing old work although at times I do reuse materials from an old piece.
RH: You are one of the few artists I know who have pursued a career in doing public sculpture in your work as “Actual Size Artwork” with Gail Simpson, and also have pursued their own gallery career. How does that work in terms of ideas, do you have a set of Actual Size ideas and a set of ideas for your own practice? Both bodies of work have similar senses of humor.
AG: The gallery work and the work I do with Actual Size are usually pretty separate, although I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. They have different goals. Actual Size developed organically with Gail Simpson since we were partners working in shared studio space etc. That collaboration allows us to create primarily large scale temporary and permanent public artworks. The permanent projects usually are commission pieces that I consider more like design-build projects. There are a lot of factors that we take into consideration during the entire process, not the least of which is that it is going to exist in the public domain. Many artists can’t or won’t deal with many of the issues involved. We actually enjoy much of the work especially dealing a wide range of professionals outside of the art world. The whole thing ultimately makes me feel much more a part of our economy. The temporary projects on the other hand do allow for more flexibility and freedom of “artistic” expression” than do the permanent projects. It is inevitable that some of what each of us does in the studio carries over into the public works. I would say certain shared values, a sense of humor and other formal considerations.
RH: You are a professor at the University of Wisconsin, you run a public art company, and you make your own work, that is three full time jobs? How do you manage to do all three?
AG: Frankly, I don’t think I do a great job managing all three jobs. Fortunately the work of Actual Size Artworks is shared with my wife Gail Simpson.
RH: You are based out of Madison Wisconsin, which is one of the countries major public research institutions, but does not necessarily have the links to the “contemporary art world” whatever that means, you obviously have a gallery career and a collector base, how have you managed to promote your work outside of one of the major centers of art commerce? Has that had an effect on how you promote your work?
AG: Yes, living outside of a major urban area is really difficult for visual artists to maintain any kind of career. I would not be in this area if it were not for this great job that allows me a certain degree of freedom to pursue a career as a visual artist.
I am terrible at promoting my work, especially when juggling different career aspects. In general I believe artists need to do a lot of things to maintain and build a practice. Certainly there are a number of artists that have developed a collector base or some type of funding source that allows them to focus solely on the artwork they want to do, when they want to do it. A long time ago I heard a comment by an internationally known artist giving a talk at SAIC say that she knew of no successful artists in New York that did not have a trust fund. She was completely serious. I am not part of that, for better or worse. New York is still the center of the art world but most people who have been in the art business for any length of time know that there are good artists all over the place. Obviously there isn’t a system to support them so major urban areas become the places where artists can be noticed. Of course in the past couple decades the concentration of power and markets in the art world has become even more concentrated in fewer and fewer places.
I can see that this could turn into a rant and I would rather discuss this in person some time. But…
Just as a side note since I think you might be interested in knowing that Wisconsin’s senator Ron Johnson, soon after being elected, was quoted as saying that he did not understand why they teach the Humanities in higher education. I also understand that the governor of Florida is talking about raising tuition on students studying humanities since they do not contribute to the economy. These are really tough battles to fight, don’t you think?
RH: Can you tell us about some of your public art projects people can see.
AG: The only permanent piece we have up in Chicago at the moment is at Maxwell Street Market. It is the signage that acts as a backdrop between the Market and the highway The signs are references to the long history of the melting pot of cultures that have driven the market over the years. We also have a temporary sculpture still on view at Morton Arboretum.
RH: What projects do you have on the horizon?
AG: We are currently under consideration for a couple of public art projects at the moment, in Chicago and out west. We are almost always on the lookout for interesting opportunities for projects to do.
RH: Thank you for taking my questions
AG: My pleasure!
by Richard Holland
If law school resulted in no other tangible change to my life/personality it truly cast in stone my craving for escapist entertainment. I’ve seen crime scene pictures galore, I’ve done legal aid work, I work with BAS, I’ve seen enough horror. I like my entertainment light and happy, more or less. Also, I am a complete sucker for magical realism, I admit it, I’m out of the closet, you wanna make something of it. Any of you who got excited about Harry Potter, I dare you to scoff.
I saw this movie, shortly after it’s release on the airplane back from Paris. The friend we were visiting there, Adam Jolles (now the Chair of Art History at Florida State University), between spats with his dramatic, angry and lovely French girlfriend, raved about how much he enjoyed the movie and I must see it. So when I saw it available as an option on the flight, I figured why not.
What ensued was as over the top charming a movie as one could endure without slipping into diabetic shock. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written by Jeunet with Guillaume Laurant, I had seen Jeunet’s work before with the unique films Delicatessen and City of Lost Children (far darker films, but completely enjoyable, they are definitely on the “Brazil” pile).
The film’s protagonist is Amelie (Audrey Tautou doing an excellent personification of every straight art-boy’s dream girl) a shy, introverted waitress in Paris. Her simple life is set into upheaval by her fateful discovery of a treasure trove hidden in her apartment by a boy many years ago. After secretly returning the box to the now middle-aged man and unexpectedly changing his life, she has an epiphany and dedicates herself to elaborate attempts to aid others by giving fate a nudge (not all positive, she tortures a cruel grocer in a masterful way). At the same time she stumbles upon and finds her perfect match in a man who collects discarded photos from photo booths in Paris, who is just as much an odd-duck as she is. Wacky misadventures, misunderstandings, and tangents worthy of a Shakespeare comedy ensue.
If that wasn’t enough the Yann Tiersen soundtrack is amazing.
It is cute, yes, sappy, probably, but if you are feeling like the world is a dark evil place, no one gives a shit, everyone hates you, etc. this film can’t help but generating some happy feelings.
Is the banality of your world getting to you? Does the rote day-to-day sameness make you long for some sort of mental Horace Greeley telling you to “Go west young man”(or woman)? Did three hours go missing on Saturday night? Well, have I got a show for you. If you happen to be in a market that carries it, Coast to Coast AM will bring back those X-files feelings of fear and giddiness you have forgotten. A nightly radio program that offers the opportunity to consider that the world is more complicated, magical and/or insidious than you had imagined! If you are awake, from 1am to 5am EST each night you can learn about topics as diverse as: Brain & Imagination/ UFO Updates, Our Alien Ancestry, Preparedness & Human Trafficking, Demonic Harassment & Open Lines, Near Death Experiences, Planet X (the secret planet in our solar system), and so much more. It is a magical realism meets paranoid dream come true.
Originally started by the legendary broadcaster Art Bell in 1978 as a political talk show (as West Coast AM) and evolving in 1995 to a show that covered the fringes of society, the mysteries, the unknown, the conspiracies, and fielding calls from the people wearing aluminum foil hats. Art has retired several times, seemingly for good and the host duties have moved to a team of professional broadcasters. Having produced a weekly show for the last 8 years, I cannot image the challenge of generating content for a program that runs daily. I have interviewed many people both as part of Bad at Sports and as an attorney, having done so I have a great deal of respect for people who do so professionally. While most people are perfectly nice and you can parse out their story, you don’t believe everyone, you don’t like some of them, and you worry that a few might follow you to the subway afterwards. I am impressed by how, regardless of the message and worldview of the guests the host treat each guest seriously and with respect. The guests range from professionals with vetted pedigrees, to people who likely chart fairly deep in the mental illness continuum, and each is taken seriously.
Most importantly, what if it is true? What if the Greys are secret breeding with us because their DNA has become damaged from cosmic radiation suffered in space travel, and need to build their army for the coming war with the Browns? What if the fluoride in the water is a Chinese plot? What if there is a way for a gifted medium to tap into the Akashic records (an interdimensional library that has recorded in text every single moment of everone’s lives)? What colorful world it would be.
It is great escapist entertainment. And they just might be right. Check it out.