in conversation with S.
Berlin, October 2016
A: My first night in Berlin, I went to this weird performance art thing at Hamburger Bahnhof —it’s this old train station gallery filled with fog and there’s someone with this double headed fake razor putting shaving cream on their face and dragging it across their eyeball. I went and was like “what the fuck is this?” I don’t know if I can make a comment on if that was great art or not, but it was interesting and gave me ideas.
Even the idea of being a multi-disciplinary artist, I’m starting to get the sense that people are really into it or people think you're mediocre in a lot of things. And I feel that way about other artists too sometimes. You know it’s like, I’m going to skim the fucking cream off each one of these things, but my own instinct is to do that though!
Now that I’m in Berlin I want to make masks and do something that has to do with dance and movement and the body. And then pull that into the poetry, music, film stuff.
S: You might as well! I mean this is creating your own system of language!
A: Yeah, which I feel like that’s what you’re doing, that’s why it’s so exciting.
S: Yeah, as an artist, why would you only play with a couple of ingredients?
A: I mean I feel like the attitude, which I somewhat understand, is that you don’t want to just do that forever and than have no depth. And there’s something to be said for…
S: mastering a skill?
A: Yeah, it’s like, if I never made another film, I’m not satisfied with the film shit I’ve done. And I think there are a lot of people who say like “oh I’ve made a few animations, and I made a thing where I was collaging sound footage and I made one live action thing that I filmed in five minutes..” You know what I mean? There are people who do that. It’s like, “the longest I’ve spent on any film is like two weeks” and then they're like “I’m a film maker”.
S: Yeah and I romanticize the idea of spending a year, maybe more, on a project, and putting everything into it. But the project combines a whole lot of different things.
A: Yeah, you asked me what I’m working on and that’s kind of what I’m trying to do as well.
S: Can you explain poetry film to me?
A: No, but I can try! Have you seen Lemonade?
S: No I haven’t. I mean I’ve heard tracks from it, but haven’t seen the actual full piece.
A: Yeah I saw it and was like, this is poetry film! It’s not as as amazing as I thought it would be, I thought it would be little more coherent. But it’s worth seeing.
Anyway, I’m going to the Haus für Poesie Berlin a couple times and meeting with Thomas who is the artistic directer of the Zebra Poetry Festival that’s happening in a couple weeks.
S: Is that the one you’re involved in?
A: Yeah. I’m going to go and one of my films was selected for it. Thomas is a genius, he’s so brilliant, knowledgeable, and I want to talk about it more with him, but he was making the distinction between what he was calling Poetry Clips, which I had never heard before, it’s a German way of thinking about it. But like Poetry Clips are some form—maybe more artistic or less—of s camera on you, the writer, and you read your poem. I have a video, the supermarket one, have you seen it?
S: Yeah, the one that starts out in the rain?
A: Yeah. I feel like that’s a poetry clip. It’s a creative setup but ultimately, I’m reading my poem.
S: Reciting your poem in an environment.
A: Yeah, I mean if I was reading my poem at a podium in a monotone, that would not qualify as a Poetry Clip. That’s just documentation. And then there’s Film Poem, which would be like an artsy film with filmic elements and filmic choices, it would feel poetic. And then a Poetry Film is centering the poem, as apposed to a Film Poem where it’s a film that feels poetic. And the tradition of Poetry Film is way longer than I thought. Man Ray made poetry films. There’s something from 1905 that’s a Christmas Poetry Film.
S: Wow, I’ve just recently heard Poetry Film, so I thought it was this really contemporary genre!
A: I think of it as a new budding genre. There aren’t rules, but usually you have the poem, a voice-over of the poem, and then you’re seeing a series of clips, images. Ideally, there’s a score. In Lemonade there’s some ambient shit while she’s reading the poems. It’s a “visual album”. Usually for a Poetry Film to be good, it’s not just a film that happens to have a poem being read over it, or a poem that happens to have images. It’s these too mediums working together to create a new thing.
It’s so hilariously simple right, but innovation is so fucking hard. It’s so hard to do something interesting. It’s just like one thing times another thing.
S: Yeah, it’s such a simple concept. Poetry plus film. Or sculpture plus food.
A: Sensory deprivation plus concept of a restaurant.
S: You can mash these things together all day but it’s really about the actual labor of actually creating something that can illustrate the potential of those overlaps.
A: That’s very true. That’s a funny thing generally, as artists, it’s the labor itself that’s impressive. It’s really easy to have ideas and than not make anything.
You said you had weird feeling about the word “artist” though?
S: Well it’s just a personal thing, using the word “artist” to describe myself. and I guess I don’t feel as strongly about it now as I did maybe a year ago. At the time, the title just felt so incredibly restricting. I was just out of grad school and had this great studio but I felt like I wasn’t making good work just because I was really confused with what I was making. And the artists around me fell so tightly into the definition of “fine artist”—they were all great painters and sculptors. I felt like referring to myself as an “artist” defined what I do so specifically in a way that wasn't helpful. And so I started thinking of myself as just a “creative person”. And that slight variation made all the difference, psychologically. And I don’t think I was doing anything differently with my work really. But I don’t know, I think knowing what to call yourself and what not to call yourself to yourself is really important. I mean, if someones asked me if I was an artist, I’d say yes, because I feel that label isn’t a problem for them. But for myself, it became a problem.
A: And you’re not not an artist. Yeah, I get that completely.
S: Do you feel like there was a time when you felt restricted by your genre?
A: Well, I started out, when I was young—it’s nice when your young and when I didn’t understand there could be some label on your identity as associated with any sort of creative activity—I was writing poems. My experience as an artist is just: writing poems forever, I was getting into photography in high school. Since 6th grade, music has always been really really important to me. And I always wanted to make music. I had (still have) this snobby pretentious older brother who bullied me and told me my taste in music was garbage and I definitely couldn’t start writing my own songs. I mean, he’s actually a really brilliant guitarist. But I didn’t start writing my own music until 2011 when I was in New Zealand and I was really sad and I had a guitar, and I was like, can I do this? And it just poured out of me and I was like, I guess i can!
And it’s the same thing with film. I remember in high school, being like fuck, movies are so legitimate, because you can put anything into a movie, right? You can put poetry, music, storytelling in a movie, you can put still images, incorporating photography—that’s where everything can kind of come together.
And the more separate disciplines I become interested in, the more natural it becomes to find ways to merge them. And I don’t think I was ever like: I’m a poet, I can’t possibly write music! You want to find things that you’re not sure, does this really have a label yet?
S: What are you working on this year?
A: I guess I want to make music/some dancing sort of thing/some kind of film. Maybe it’s some sort of Poetry Film thing. Maybe text is emerging. I keep imagining this shape. This is what I try to do all the time: everything is equal weight and effecting everything else, it’s somewhat of a feedback loop. And than it settles into a final arrangement, you know. Like, I’m writing and editing text based on what the music and the dance are starting to look like, and then the song is changing because it seems like the dance requires this and that, and now the dance is changing because the poem needs this word—there’s no hierarchy. And you end up with this final thing made up of all these little things.
S: Yeah, they’re all eating each other.
S: Parasitic genres.
A: That’s the perfect way to put it.