We met as strangers in the lobby of a nice hotel. I’m not talking about some kind of sleazy casual encounter from craigslist. No, I’m setting the stage for the following interview with a singular individual, an independent curator who operates under the moniker Post Brothers.
Post Brothers is one person, an unassuming, dare-I-say, ’hip’ looking young man who would not look out of place puffing a giant spliff at the Vansterdam Cafe or pogo-ing up and down at a Wu-Tang show. But beneath his misleading white-Rasta exterior, Post Brothers is an acute intellectual, a conceptual powerhouse with a mind full of well-formed ruminations on the nature of art and information. And he applies this frothy intellect to his global curatorial practice freely—the exact reason I wanted to do this interview.
Post Brothers, 2012.
During a recent visit to Vancouver for the Institutions by Artists conference where he was a presenter, I managed to sit down with Post Brothers. When my editor contacted him, Post Brothers said he would only do the interview if it took place in an elevator. I declined for several reasons, but offered the compromise that we begin our chat in an elevator, on the way up to the 42nd floor of the Empire Landmark Hotel, where there is a revolving restaurant named Cloud 9. There in the cocktail lounge, with a 360◦ view of twinkling Vancouver by night, we recorded this interview…
Decoy Magazine: So you seem to have a thing for elevators. You work in an abandoned one in Oakland. You wanted to do this entire interview in an elevator, but I have a cold and didn’t want to spend two hours contaminating people with my germs, so we compromised and started our talk here. What’s your deal with elevators?
Post Brothers: Well I’ve had this elevator for about a year now and it’s been a very uplifting place to work. Everyday I go to the elevator and it’s kind of a monastic place. But also, for an independent curator, someone who’s trying to convey certain ideas, working in a vehicle of conveyance is important. It’s a self-defined kind of system that can then move and produce in other kinds of ways. There’s this guy, I think, in Slovakia, in a Soviet town that was producing a huge amount of shoes and he was the CEO of the shoe company and he had his office made as the elevator in the middle of this building. So, the boss would go to meetings with you on your level. I like this kind of thinking about a specific zone of transport that can go from one place to another and relate to different things over time.
Did you have a thing for elevators before this office?
It’s a joke because I’m pretty long-winded with my writing so it was always about trying to do an elevator pitch and being able to be more succinct. I haven’t fully mastered the art of the elevator pitch but I am listening to elevator music…
Kind of by osmosis?
Yeah. It’s lifting my spirits. It’s a good way of elevating a practice or bringing a practice down to a certain level.
You go by the moniker of Post Brothers even though you’re just one dude, so why?
First, it’s an acknowledgment of my brother, of being an identical twin. And I’m the second twin so it’s also about being a kind of echo or a copy from the very outset.
So you’re kind of like an ersatz person?
Yeah I would say so. A reverberation in some sense. We’re really close.
The Post Brothers
You’ve probably heard a lot of weird twin stories, have you ever heard one like this…? I knew somebody with an uncle who was just a normal guy and in his fifties he had headaches and nosebleeds and they x-rayed him and he had a brain tumour. When they removed it, there was an eyeball and some teeth.
Oh my god. He had a brother in the brain. Oh I love that! That’s horrifying and amazing. That’s the joke about twinness as well. It’s not just two of you, which makes you aware of your you-ness being constituted by all the people around you. The way you get together is not just two is one; it is a million different voices.
Is it because people recognize you as not singular?
No no no. That’s what the Post Brothers is also making a joke out of. We had friends that didn’t want to figure out which one we were and they would just call us “Post” as a catchall. Post is already a fake name. My grandpa made it up; he changed his name in the fifties. His name was Israel Posinov and he was from Central Asia/ Eurasia. My grandpa had multiple names. He had taken on fake names throughout his life. “Post” was a very sly kind of thing. Post means after the fact. Post is also to transmit certain information, to provide a support.
You’re flying it like a flag.
It’s also a joke on being after… like a singular plural is the way I think of it. The Post Brothers is also after some sort of paternal organization.
It’s a highly significant word in art too.
I’m also trying to get editors to understand it means “late”, you know. Like a delayed response. It’s a joke also on art history.
...I think the relationship between an artist and a curator is also a socio-sexual relationship in terms of a communicating and sharing certain interests and having a kind of radical difference and sameness. They way you collaborate with anybody is an economy of intimacy and distance. That also is part of my thinking as well. Whatever I do operates this way. But yeah, I don’t get laid that much...
Do you get strange reactions or expectations? I’m talking more about the “brothers.”
Yeah. There are a lot of people who think that it’s two or they’re not sure if there are also other collaborators. I collaborate with a lot of different people and they’re never really sure if those people are Post Brothers as well. At one point it was gonna be conceived as a club. Post Brothers really does refer to the collaboration in general in terms of production; of always having this collective, detached entity that could signify not just a singular production but just anything. Any sort of working with people. I’ve had a couple friends talk to me about becoming Post Brothers.
And they could put out stuff with your name on it that you didn’t approve.
Which would actually be totally fine in a lot of ways. I would like to franchise it out.
Franchise your name?
Yeah, it’s a fake name anyways.
But it is your legal last name.
You are a curator. You even have an MFA in Curatorial Practice.
An MA actually.
What’s the difference between and MFA and MA?
It means that I wrote a longer thesis.
And you get one less letter.
Can you describe the life and work of a curator as opposed to an artist? What are the differences?
I did this program in curatorial practice that was certainly thinking through exhibitions and the history of exhibitions. My program in particular had lots of practical components to it but generally it was more like the theory of exhibitions and thinking about the construction of exhibitions and the language of exhibitions as opposed to the language of art… thinking about how different objects relate to the politics or discursive frameworks and the politics of display. I was already interested in the organization of information. I think the difference between a curator and an artist is minimal. Since I’m independent and I have no affiliations, I operate more as an artist with a daily practice and getting invited to different exhibitions as an artist but working curatorially even when I’m not doing the exhibition. I just did a show in the San Francisco Pavilion for the Shanghai Biennial. I was there last week showing a video that was a lecture that I’ve given a number of times that I would normally consider to operate more as an art practice. It’s a long project that I’ve done different writings about and I’ve had different people perform the lecture or versions of the lecture remotely and I’ve also given the lecture in Vienna and San Francisco and I intend to do it in New York and in the Netherlands.
Other people gave your lecture?
Yeah. I just kind of farm it out and they can manipulate it the way that they want to. I do these lectures that are certainly more artist-oriented than putting on an exhibition. But it is a form of display and exhibition because it’s contextualizing information spatially and temporally.
What does contextualized information look like?
It depends. Especially in these lectures where it’s like a PowerPoint presentation, think about old art history classes were they would put a simple juxtaposition and put two slides up and you talk about them forever.
Was there a formative experience or person who made you want to be a curator?
Yeah. There were a number of curators that really got interesting. A lot of it was artists operating as curators. When I was at Emily Carr, it was Babak Golkar, who’s an artist, Iranian and Canadian, who produces quite interesting work. He had curated a show that I thought was really strong. A student show that really made me rethink what the curatorial gesture was. At the time I was also really into Marcel Broodthaers and even Aby Warburg. Some of these kind strange anthropological collectors who would contextualize their information in a really specific way.
By contextualize you mean, give it a theme?
Someone like Aby Warburg, he would create these kind of alternative libraries, rather than follow certain academic hierarchies, he would create his own relationships between them often with all these different kind of images that being placed in proximity to each other, were able to create relationships that weren’t necessarily based on constrained taxonomies. I think that stuff is really interesting.
What’s a constrained taxonomy?
These very rigid disciplinary genres and distinctions. Moving through and creating other relationships between things that are not based on some sort of unifying presence. Or like maybe a unifying premise that is able to bring in things that would otherwise not be coming together – discordant things that can be building and creating constellations, essentially. I think that’s what a curator and art historians and artists in general operate by creating constellations between things…
…offering new associations.
I think that nowadays in relationship to information, it’s more a matter of an asterism. Asterism is like a non-canonical astrology. It’s like seeing a collection of stars and saying, “that’s a constellation” but it’s not.
And that’s a good thing?
Well seeing order in chaos…
By non-canonical you mean only grouping unfamous things together. But getting stuff from far out.
Like creating relationships between these things that are maybe not following rigid, already-expected structures.
Like serving kimchi with a ham sandwich.
Yeah. Why the fuck not? And I think that’s really important. I had a teacher once in curatorial practice and he was talking about that, for every exhibition, there should be a black dog in the exhibition. He was Larry Rinder who runs the Berkeley Art Museum now, and he had worked for the Whitney and I would characterize his work as being very illustrative and looks at different topics by building a theme and giving all these different examples that would expand and contrast and contest those themes.
Sounds like fun.
Exactly. And I think that’s the point of curating in a lot of ways. But he was always talking about having a black dog in your show, something that shouldn’t be there, and like a parasite in the system that creates another system that opens the system or closes the system. It’s a dissonant note. It’s like an awkward minor 7th; it’s like a form of jazz. I went to San Francisco after I left Canada and there just happened to be all these major names in curating at the time. Jens Hoffman, Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Larry Rinder, Kate Fowle, Magali Arriola, it was just lots of activity. Not all of them are there anymore and most of them aren’t but it was the right time. I was pretty different than most of my class in terms of when they looked at cultural administrators and curators or organizers, they looked at their power positions and ways of operating and were like, “I want that job.” Coming from a hyper-critical school like Emily Carr, mine was more of a “know the enemy” and trying to learn this very specific kind of language that really is a meta-language, of being able to describe and articulate and a contesting which you couldn’t otherwise do.
You came to town for the Institutions by Artists conference.
How was it?
I enjoyed it a lot.
What can you tell me about it?
In the first few days, I was quite nervous. It was put together by the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres and ARCA which is the Artist Run Centres Association and Fillip. It was really the brainchild of Kristina Lee Podesva and Lorna Brown. Kristina and I’ve become good friends with and she created this thing with a set of questions around what is the legacy and history of institutions created by artists and also whatever kind of internal politics and forms of production.
A self-created legacy?
There were people from all over the world. There were lots of artists and art historians, lots of curators and administrators who were speaking about their institutions’ projects and how they produce in general and how they relate and their treatises…arguing a bunch. It was really good.
Was it productive?
I’d say so. I think a lot of people created connections and in a lot of ways it created a way for people to self-articulate in terms of when these presenters would butt up against someone who is radically close and radically different in their practices or agendas. And either having to define or re-define what they’re doing and I think that that was really useful. There was a lot of interesting historical and anecdotal stuff that was talked about and theoretical groundings and a lot of people giving opinions and being like, “what the fuck are we doing?” The funniest was the final debate on the question, “should artists professionalize?” The side that was professional had all prepared statements and the other side didn’t.
So it was pretty exemplary of the whole situation right there.
My response was to show up a little bit late. (Laughter). It was quite interesting. I felt pretty good about the presentation I did (with Chris Fitzpatrick) just because it was a text that was written for Fillip 15.
Yeah. Parasitical inhabitations in contemporary art.
You’re happy with it. Why?
Well, we redacted the text, which is also a good way of telling people that this is just portions of the text. Ours is apparently the longest text that they’ve published. It drives me insane because I had it two or three times that size and it was way better! While we were cutting it up, I was aware of certain editing that needed to be done. It lost some of its nuance in its publication. The way that we did it, we were just giving a teaser and being pretty open about the way we were doing it. I felt pretty good about our presentation because, in the questions and the panel discussion, lots of people were asking questions through the parasite and using certain questions that we brought up in the text as a way of framing their questions of other people’s practices. That was exciting.
I read some of it and I found it dry and hard to get through. I came away from it feeling like it itself was a parasite devouring my time. Was that on purpose?
Oh yeah, of course. Over-interpretation is a form of practice that I’ve used a number of times and it can be quite useful in a Wikipedia world where we become aware of how all these things can interconnect. The overdoing it produces forms of knowledge where you become aware that it catalyzes all this stuff.
Who is aware?
The reader. Or you become aware of the interconnectedness or arbitrariness or ramifications of information.
Sounds like kind of Relativist.
No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a politics of information where there’s so much information that it’s really charting certain routes through that kind of information.
In the text itself or in life?
Just in general. If you look at the footnotes, that’s where we dropped a lot of the really crazy shit. Which may or may not have appeared in the final text. The footnote is a form of parasitism as well. Or this paratext that defers this kind of safe one-to-one relationship of information.
A lot of artists have had fun with footnotes. Nabokov and “Pale Fire.”
I did a footnotes thing for a friend’s project where he had me write the footnotes for his article and I wrote five times more than the article itself.
David Foster Wallace. He was big on footnotes.
Totally. And John Barth. Like, half his book would be footnotes. That was always funny.
Ahhh…it’s well researched, you know. Marx had some beautiful footnotes.
Yeah. He would have these weird diatribes and that’s where a lot of his poetry would happen.
Which is kind of what you’re saying. A lot of the “crazy shit” that you guys dropped came out in the footnotes. Almost like it’s the back alley.
Exactly. And that’s the strategy of the parasite. It’s taking a certain system and finding the places where the system drops off.
It’s good old-fashioned subversion.
Yeah. Or détournement.
I want to talk about some of your other works that I read about. I read that you held an exhibit in the dark.
How did that work?
It was called Exercises in Seeing and it was actually the third variation on a theme that some friends of mine, Valentinas Klimasauskas and Jonas Zakaitis, who run this space Tulips and Roses, which is now in Brussels but they both had created this exhibition that wasn’t an exhibition, it was an inhibition and they did these kinds of tests of exhibitions in the dark and created these certain kinds of terms. While I was out in Lithuania, we had talked about me doing a San Francisco version.
Was it the kind of thing where people could just see shadows or forms and shapes?
Yeah, I mean there was no light. Well, there were two pieces that produced some forms of light.
How did people stop from walking into stuff?
There was ambient light. Not a lot.
It wasn’t pitch black?
There were no lights on but it was pretty close to pitch black. Luckily, there was a street light across the street but the window was covered so we had no light from that so it was just a little doorway.
Kind of sounds like these restaurants that are popping up that are staffed by blind people. Have you heard about these?
There’s one in Montréal and they just opened one here. It’s a completely dark restaurant and you go there and all the servers are blind people.
Oh I love that.
And they train for months to get to know every inch in the restaurant. And you eat your food in the dark. I have a slight problem with eating something I can’t see but I’ve done crazier things.
That’s the same kind of mentality. Creating a synesthetic experience by reducing the visual. It’s a Duchampian manoeuvre. It’s non-retinal art. Like a radical negativity that allows you to read..
…through negative space.
Exactly. With my show, it was totally independent and was at a place called Queen’s Nails Projects, which is an independent art space. I kind of went overboard and I invited all these artists I was really excited about. Some people that I knew and some people that I just admired and started communicating with them about the project. There were a bunch of projects that were made for the exhibition and then there were objects that gained another meaning by being put in the dark. So I invited all these artists from all over the place.
How was the response?
It was good. It was weird. In San Francisco, there was not as much of a critical response. It was a one night only show in the dark and I had this guy, David Buuck, who is a poet and an artist in many ways, who often does these tours, write about the works without having ever seen any of the works.
How did he know what to write about?
I told him a bit about the works as they were at the time.
Did he read his writings while people walked around?
Yeah. We created an audio guide that you could download and was given out. What’s funny is that that’s the only documentation of the exhibition, a description of the exhibition by somebody who didn’t even see it. Even the people who saw it didn’t even see it. There were lots of very interesting projects.
The whole thing sounds very sensual.
Yeah. It was a certain sarcastic relationship to visibility in general. There was also a critical move in relation to the history of Conceptual art. It’s a pretty good example of the way that I like to think about curating, which is employing the logic from the very outset of some sort of game that sets the conditions of it. So, every decision along the way has to be following the logic of that exhibition or that kind of idea.
So very stringent parameters…but in a very strange way.
Or just reading it from that point. I did another show about a year before that that was a Civil War re-enactment drag show. That was really where I learned about this kind of thinking about the logics of the space and the forms of articulation that are necessary for these spaces and how they can be broken.
Was it a certain battle?
It was the story of this guy Richard Zarvona who was from Maryland and he had gone to Europe and fought with the Garibaldi and all these characters but he came back to Maryland and became a zouave or a confederate. Zouaves were these pseudo-Algerian, orientalist military units that would exist all through the Civil War on both sides. They would wear fez and pantaloons and a lot of it was them mimicking a certain ideal of a Berber soldier or of a Garibaldi liberation…
Sounds very flamboyant.
Very much. So this guy was an orientalist in a sense that he was always doing this border-crossing in the sense that he became a confederate when Maryland was a Union state. It was at the line between north and south. So he dressed in drag in Maryland as a French lady and snuck on to a boat with all these helpers.
That sounds like “Total Recall.”
And then he takes over the boat and they became confederate heroes.
Where did you find that story? Were you looking for it or were you just reading…?
I was just looking for weird stuff that had happened in Maryland and trying to contextualize different things. At the time I had read a John Barth book, The Sot-Weed Factor, which was about Maryland. I read that entire book in a couple weeks and it was super big.
Turleen. Still from “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words: Border Crossing in the Old Line State” 2009. Photograph by Brandon Olsen.
Have you ever been to Maryland?
No. It was the assignment; it was part of Jens Hoffman’s Americana series. Each student had to pick out of a hat a state in the union and I ended up with Maryland and it was like, fuck, I’ve never been there and I don’t know anything about Maryland. One of the only things I knew was John Waters’s Divine out of Baltimore. When I found the story, it was the perfect way for me to create this kind of language about some sort of border-crossing legacy in Maryland. I had read all these things that were saying it’s a weird mixture between the south and the north and culturally.
John Waters is a treasure. Did you ever hear him talk about cigarettes? When he was a kid, he said that, when you were sick, your mother would give you a bowl of chicken soup and a carton of Kools because they thought menthols were good for you.
This place is pretty distracting. We both lived here for years and it never came up. I heard of people going on a date here or something and I just never really thought to check it out. It’s very peaceful up here and it’s classier than I expected. Maybe if the lights came on it would be a little tacky. I looked at your presentation on Portable Holes, just the notes that were online, and it seemed like an absurdist joke. Was it?
It’s definitely coming from a pataphysical relationship. Alfred Jarry who was a pseudo-Surrealist proposed the concept of pataphysics and kinds of imaginary solutions. He particularly employs it in this certain character Ubu Roi, King Ubu. It’s weird…it’s like this gaseous loaded king. I’ve done a lot of things around a crypto-museology, thinking about the imaginary and speculative, false or real or formless characterizations of certain phenomena. The portable hole came out of this discussion with the artist, Gintaras Didziapetris, a Lithuanian artist who was working on a project, it was a magazine that had relationships with giving and taking and I was using the idea of the portable hole from cartoons to relate to that.
Oh I know the portable hole!
It’s this object that is both material and immaterial, this thing that also subtracts. In a lot of ways it is a metaphor for very specific forms of aesthetic practice, especially since it collapses time and space and even disrupts the logic of even the cartoon world. It’s a way for me to apply the cartoon world to the real world and, in a way, those borders are not as distinct as we might like to think.
The way my thinking went on it was to spend so much time on something that’s completely absurd is a touch nihilistic. Was that on purpose?
Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s the presentation I did with hours and hours of lecturing and it is everything falling into a hole. It’s a comical relationship to nihilism.
Are you a nihilist?
Nah. It depends on how you think of nihilism.
How do you think of nihilism?
Of course I think of someone like Nietzsche or a Hegelian negative dialectic kind of concept. I have a friend who introduced me to the Kyoto school of nihilism that was a number of these guys who are writing about religion and nihilism.
Is it more of like a Zen kind of thing?
Yeah. Like Buddhist. Nishitani is a good example where he talks about nothingness as actually being a kind of radical potential for everything and reading through Heidegger, redistributing these forms of negativity is actually everything and nothing, a radical potential. The portable hole definitely deals with that but it’s a joke.
Sounds like you’re trying to brighten up nihilism.
In a sense. Or deploy it in a certain way. Why is it that it does appear in cartoons? Applying that to real world structures, including politics and economics in particular.
There are definitely some portable holes in economics.
Certainly. And it’s all a matter of this fictional universe and this absurdist world of capitalism for instance. That is certainly part of the motivation to de-territorialize and de-centre a kind of thinking around naturalized forms of power and distribution and coming at it through another kind of economy, through another logic.
To simplify, would you say that you’re just trying to get people to see things a different way?
Yeah. And also to demonstrate and employ a form of interpretation and criticism that is radically associative that allows for it be contradictory. The portable hole is a contradictory object and also a way to be able to deal with those kinds of divides.
Do you think people need a little more contradiction in their lives?
No. I think it’s about making them aware of the contradictions in their lives! And maybe to think about a way to deploy those contradictions.
Deploy them where?
As a form of resistance. Aesthetic as much as political or revolutionary. Most of my practice and interests are really in ideological critique and deconstructing profane material that is often treated as naturalized or absurd or too common to treat in this way.
What’s too common?
Like, say the portable hole, in terms of cartoons.
People take it for granted.
Yeah and you lose a relationship to it.
The most recent portable hole I’ve seen was in Roger Rabbit.
I’ve used that and there’s been some cartoon portable holes used since then. And there’s a video game called Portal that is essentially a game of portable holes.
I’ve heard of that.
It’s been interesting to see how gamers contextualize it and it does follow some lines of thought that come out of some hole-y dialogue. For some reason, I got really into writing about holes for few years. A lot of that came out of thinking around Earthworks.
Is there something sexual going on in there?
I wonder about that. It’s not like a Sartre hole in the self that you’re trying to fill or a need to penetrate those holes but it’s more a matter of dealing with lapses in knowledge or lapses in space.
Roger Rabbit and Portable Holes.
Something that it reminded me of, and this is a little crass, but when I lived in South Korea a Korean guy and I were chatting and we realized that we had both slept with the same girl and he said that that meant we were hole brothers.
That’s great. That’s beautiful. I had this whole part of the early version of this text that uses a real Feminist critique and deploys a way of thinking about the portable hole as some sort of misogynist fantasy and being able to penetrate anything.
A pocket pussy…
Yeah. Or like a glory hole or something and all of a sudden you have this space where interactions can happen that otherwise wouldn’t. Or your relationship with this person is based on your going through the similar threshold.
That’s a really nice way to put it.
Like walking through the same door.
And just to offset my misogynistic tones to that statement about ‘hole brothers’, she was a teacher. She was a knowledgeable teacher.
It’s a form of pedagogy or constellations, a point where things interconnect.
How, if at all, is your practice formed or influenced by your sexuality?
It certainly is. I identify as bisexual and so the moving between different subjectivities is quite important.
I can see that theme.
And the research involved with doing the drag show was also a social research and being part of but also separated from that community.
Did you dress in drag for that project?
No, I didn’t because we had other drag performers that really do it. That was the whole point of that as well, is that I learned that I needed to speak through the logic of how those shows happen anyways. I would go out to these parties and at first I had a script and I wanted these drag performers to perform it and then I realized that’s not how they operate. They curate artists and put on these shows that involve inviting different performers to riff and determine the theme and develop it and propose their own inversion of it. So, that’s what I did for this show. I realized I don’t need to tell these people what to do, I just need to treat them like artists, like anybody else.
They must have had a script though.
No. I told them all about the story and gave them some research and images. And they developed it and some were closer than others in the same way that exhibitions operate. Really they took the main themes and played with them. I think the relationship between an artist and a curator is also a socio-sexual relationship in terms of a communicating and sharing certain interests and having a kind of radical difference and sameness. They way you collaborate with anybody is an economy of intimacy and distance. That also is part of my thinking as well. Whatever I do operates this way. But yeah, I don’t get laid that much.
It’s not propelling you. Have you ever heard the saying that the bed is the poor man’s opera?
Ah, that’s beautiful. I like that! Then you think of someone like Tracey Emin and the role of her bed as being not the poor man’s opera.
Does she film herself in situations?
No. She had a bed that was soiled.
And that was her pee?
Is she British?
Yeah, one of the YBA.
I heard about it. It even got to me. I’m like the most backwater art appreciator. I’ve got a ten-year lag time, which I like. Since we’re talking about the artist, I read your piece in Nero about Frank Chu. He seemed to me more like a schizophrenic than an outsider artist. Do you know him personally?
Yeah. He takes medication and certainly has different social issues but I think people underrate him and degrade the work that he does as being just the work of a crazy man who had these paranoid delusions.
And you think it’s more?
To credit what you’re saying, he does remind me of guys like Henry Darger. Do you know who Mark Hogancamp is? There is a great documentary called Marwencol. You heard about that?
I’m actually from the same town outside of Poughkeepsie and he was an alcoholic and he got the shit beat out of him at a bar, to the point where he was brain damaged and when he healed from that, he started getting all these GI Joe figures and he created this imaginary town called Marwencol. And he had this whole world and he photographed it and there was a time travel chair.
There was just a show about his work in Berlin.
Or even Wesley Willis. I bought a piece of original artwork off him for forty bucks. And he’s gone now. I sent it to a friend.
He’s amazing. I would say that Frank Chu is a little different than those guys.
Well, he’s fully aware of his role as an artist and is not trying to hide his practice. He’s a professional protester and movie star, a TV star.
But in other galaxies.
And you take that at face value?
I think his position and his practice are very reflective of a certain hyper-mediated world and the consequence of a world that is constantly surveilled, and that images of people and media figures are constantly reproduced and reiterated over and over again. For him, even when he engages with the media, and he knows every cameraman and every news reporter in the Bay Area. He knows them by name and they know him. When he interacts with people who are a part of this conspiracy, he’s often talked about multiples of them. Like, he’s met Bill Clintons. The constant persistence of these characters and of these actual figures become the same but different.
So when he met Bill Clinton in ’93, it’s a different Bill Clinton than he met in 2002?
Has he met multiples of you?
No. He met my brother I guess. I’m the multiple. I’m not as close to Frank as this artist, Floris Schönfeld. The plan was to do a re-enactment of one of the episodes of The Richest Family, which is the television show that his intergalactic family was a part of, a reality TV show. But what they realized while working together was that Frank had never actually seen the show. He was an actor but he never saw how it got cut or how it was oriented or anything. So instead, for the Shanghai Biennial, they did this project where they went down to Universal Studios, which was also part of the conspiracy of his intergalactic thing that he was never paid for. Just the bringing of him into another context was also a work in and of itself but also a form of materializing his experience and practice.
It’s almost like reverse engineering it into reality.
No no. It’s very real for him and for many people. There are ways of interpreting all of what he says that you could actually very much apply it to the way that media operates.
It dovetails with the actual behaviour.
Of course, what he was experiencing 20 years ago is still reverberating out into the galaxy at this point. There’s a way to demean him, but he has created this hyper-obsessive serial practice that is at once hyper-social, hyper-internal and completely self aware while still speaking its own language. He literally speaks his own language. Every week, he picks up the newspapers and he reads them and he begins to hear and notice different resonances between what he is seeing on the page and communications that are happening through these different allies of his who helped him be aware of the situation that he’s in. Every week, he calls in a sign guy and has them produce a sign for him. Every week, it’s the same system. He has refined the system over years and that was part of the Nero thing as well. Chris Fitzpatrick is still trying to do a proper retrospective of all his signs.
Where are they? In a warehouse?
They’re all over the place. He sold them as an artist before. It’s not like we were just going around looking for this guy that we can exploit.
Frank Chu at protest
Does he make a living off of it?
Yeah. He gets social services but generally he sells some of his signs. He communicates. He gets certain forms of sponsorship. There’s Laughing Squid and this gallery space called 111 Minna; they both sponsored him. The other side of his sign is an ad. He’s everywhere. These signs are part of an intricate system. We did this hardcore semiotic breakdown of his signs and decided not to fully publish it. The plan is also to decipher the kind of language he uses. I think he is doing a form of serial poetry that is ground-breaking; a succinct description of certain relationships to language.
It’s like Concrete Poetry.
Exactly. And it’s poetry deployed everyday! Everyday, he takes these signs and he goes out and puts this stuff in the world, like, he’ll go out to other protests. So, in a world of signs, like a labour movement…he’s counting the world and he’s doing it amazingly.
Counting the world?
Yeah, that’s what the numbers are. It’s the syndication of his television show. It’s moved from 12 galaxies to tetragillion galaxies.
Is that a real number?
No. He’s been creating certain forms of scale that are yet to be reached. You think about when we were kids, what google meant then.
There’s googolplex. That’s 10,000 zeros.
Exactly. It’s expansion.
Now it’s commonplace.
The plan is to do a retrospective of him and to also get him represented by a gallery and to get him continuously supported. He’s more productive than many poets and many painters and many performance artists. Everyday he is out and every week he produces a new sign.
Is it quantity or quality?
No. It’s quality. It’s a serial practice that is based off the repetitive or ritual, it’s normative. It’s his profession.
You’re saying he doesn’t do anything else.
Yeah. He should have been getting paid for this TV show.
Who would pay him? In Earth dollars?
It depends. Someone’s gotta pay him.
If he got shipped a gazillion galactic credits, how would he use them on Earth?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure if anyone’s asked him those questions.
I’m sure he’s thought about it at night when he goes to sleep. Well, this relates: Do you believe in truth?
I believe in lies. I believe in the existence of lies.
Wouldn’t you have to believe in truth to believe in lies?
I haven’t found the truth yet.
Is there any truth in the work that you curate?
I think so. I think there’s an earnestness with certain projects.
But you haven’t found the truth yet?
In terms of truthfulness, because a lot of stuff that I’ve done is based on lying, but sometimes projects and ideas need to be realized and sometimes they just need to be referenced. A perfect example is a friend’s project that we did for a show, SC13, in an antique mall. A friend of mine, Brandon Walls Olsen, had over and over talked about the idea of creating a ball that would be mirrored on the inside and nobody could figure out how you would do that and we talked to all these glassblowers…
A ball that was mirrored on the inside?
Yeah. And they said, “You could just fake it. You could just cover the ball and say that it’s mirrored on the inside.” But this was one of those projects that it was necessary that it actually had to be done. So, we found an artist who was also a glassblower who truly understood the project and engineered a way to coat a glass ball on its interior.
Yeah. He proved it to us while producing it but in the final form of the object, it’s lacquered.
You couldn’t see it.
It’s a very selfish object. It just looks at itself. You can’t be party to it, but the fact that we actually did it.
Is there just one?
There are five actually.
Where are they? They seem like crystal skulls.
There’s one in Vancouver and there’s one in Lithuania right now.
Ten tetrazillion years from now, another race, if they dug this up, they’d probably have a good time trying to figure out why you would make this thing. Which I think is the same reason why Damien Hirst did that crystal diamond skull.
I could see that.
He’s creating an artefact for another generation, for another species to puzzle over. That’s his conceit.
Maybe that is the more positive way of reading that kind of project. That we’re building an anthropology or an archaeology of the future.
Yeah. A midden. Exactly. Do you know Michael Heizer? He was one of the earth artists and he’s done some major kind of stuff. This is what’s crazy. His parents were very famous archaeologists and anthropologists and they had studied Mayan ruins. They were the experts and they had really made that popular in the 20th century in Anglo-American studies.
That would be a hard act to follow.
But he has been working on this project in the middle of Nevada called, City. He’s been working on it for like, thirty years. When a reporter tried to talk to him, he shot at them and told them to get the fuck off and within the next few years, that project will be remembered. And that’s his whole thing; he doesn’t give a shit about what we think about it. He’s thinking about deep time.
Have you ever seen the concrete tree in the Utah salt flats?
No! But I’ve heard about this.
My parents lived in Salt Lake City and they loved to gamble so we always drove two hours to the border town.
Yeah and we always passed the concrete tree. The bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki were launched from Wendover. So, there was some conjecture that the millionaire who put the concrete tree up in the salt flats was a turncoat and was actually installing surveillance equipment.
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I’ve been out there a few times because the Center for Land Use Interpretation is at Wendover, so my class went out there and it’s fucking crazy, man.
We just used to go to the hotel. My parents gambled, we ate the buffet, and we played video games in the arcade. I remember watching Ghostbusters 2 in a trailer.
I’ve written an article about Ghostbusters 2. The best movie ever. It’s set in an art museum. It’s absolutely perfect.
A painting comes alive.
Yeah. It was made in 1989, which was the fall of Communism. I’ve done a number of different projects about Ghostbusters, specifically Ghostbusters 2. That piece was in ArtSlant. I did another version of it that was more about Ghostbusters 1, about this artist, Ernst Carnavale, who had these weird studio shots of Ghostbusters 1 being filmed in New York. Yeah very weird.
So like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in the distance or something?
More like all the camera equipment and stuff.
Can you give me an example of bad art? What do you hate? Tell me about the art that pisses you off.
There’s a lot of art that pisses me off.
Give me a couple examples.
You talked about the Damien Hirst thing and that kind of decadence is absolutely disgusting but the idea is absolutely gorgeous. It was one of things that never should have been made but needed to be made. I would say bad art…like in San Francisco there are lots of different art scenes that exist which can be very productive but say Juxtapoz Magazine is there and I have a lot respect for a lot of illustration and a lot of graffiti and I think a lot of that stuff has value. I want a coloured world. I want a world that is illustrated and designed in these crazy and conflicting ways.
Are you saying that you’re sick of graffiti?
No no no. Very much not. What I’m saying is that I think that a lot of work that is not critical and is not self-aware of its form of manufacturing and its form of address is just fucking lame. I want lots of illustration out there but I don’t consider a lot of that stuff art in the same sense. And it’s not a form of taste. I just believe that art needs to be critical and self-reflexive and reflexive of its historical and social space that it operates in. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be aware of the history of art. It just has to give a shit.
Can you give me an example of something that doesn’t? Like a Frank Kozik drawing of two devil women eating each other out?
Yeah. Certainly. One of my pet peeves is store-bought canvases. I think that that for many painters, it just shows that they’re not thinking about the thingness of the painting. They have no consideration for how it, as an object, is operating. It’s shallow. I think that there are lots of artists that will use the store-bought canvas in an interesting way. So I think that that’s useful.
Let me offer a counterpoint…so if you think that Dali had done a painting on a store-bought canvas, it would change
I mean store-bought canvases as in mechanically reproduced canvases that are there. That wouldn’t mean a lot to me. It’s more a matter of being aware of the support and not just thinking about the surface. It’s a big issue that artists need to think about the ideological and physical support.
There’s an artist here, I’m not going to name any names, but I went to his studio and we were talking about maybe doing a feature article or something and he showed me his recent work and he built a canvas and then covered it in plaster an kind of punched some holes in it and that was it. Frankly, I was so underwhelmed that I couldn’t hide it. It was apparent. And then he became enraged. He was so hurt. That was his big work. And those weren’t store-bought.
For instance, I have a friend who had a show where he would shotgun beers that would shoot paint. He would place beers at the corners of canvases and would shotgun the beers and it would shoot the paint mixed with beer across the canvas.
He wasn’t drinking it…so basically splatter painting.
Yeah, it was Action Painting. In the same way that he was limiting it to a specific kind of gesture, the results of that gesture were not nearly as interesting as the gesture itself. I think the banality of the trace of that gesture can be quite useful. His stuff looked like crap but really funny crap. I think that can be very productive. I think that he was speaking in a language of gesture. In a lot of ways, it didn’t matter what the physical outcroppings of that were.
Dustin Kelly, Red Sunset, 2010. Acrylic, beer on canvas, 43.75 x 59.5 in.
The work doesn’t matter anymore.
The painting hardly matters. No.
Is that new?
It’s been like that for a long time?
For like 50 years. If you think about Action Painting, the history of it and Harold Rosenberg who wrote a lot about Action Painting…
Was Pollock an Action Painter?
Yes. Exactly. For him, it was only about the aesthetic gesture as a revolutionary act.
It sounds like more of a gymnastics class. You need to get out more and make some Action Painting.
We could make gymnastics classes a lot more productive if they all had paint all over them. If you had a paintbrush while you were doing it, you’d be getting paint every which way. And aesthetic acts would not just be limited to the body, but your trace would be all over the place. It’s about activity in that context. Lots of early Conceptualists were taking the gesture and really integrating it into their daily life and thinking about how the gesture operates. So pissing in the snow becomes a radical gesture.
You mean documenting it or doing it?
Just doing it.
Well, everyone pisses in the snow…in Alaska.
It’s a form of territorialisation.
Or a form of relief.
Michel Serres who wrote the book, The Parasite, talks about the origin of private property is that someone takes a shit and says, “This is mine!” We believe you, you can keep it.
I was gonna ask you when you were talking about the mirrored ball, there was a dude who canned his own shit. Remember that guy?
Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit, 1961.
Yeah. Piero Manzoni. The thing about that piece is that those have actually exploded. It’s been verified that his poop was in there. Manzoni was really important to me at one point. When I was here, there would be some openings where you could be sure that lots of these more historical Vancouver characters and artists and curators would show up. At one point, thinking about Piero Manzoni, I thought it would be great to get them to fill up balloons and to get their breath and tie it up and let the breath self-deflate.
It would be really cheap too.
Yeah. But then you’d have to carry these balloons all night. That was the only thing that stopped me.
Did you do it?
That’s a good segue to my next question. How do the art scenes in Oakland and Vancouver compare?
Very different. The Bay Area is certainly larger but like I said before, it’s a radical mix of different scenes and all types of different conceptions of art. Lots of public money goes to Burning Man, which is a damn shame. Those guys are just artists one week a year.
Everyone’s down on Burning Man.
Well, at least in San Francisco, those people live it every day. It’s not as much of a…
Yeah but is a waste of fucking resources. The difference is that Vancouver has a long history of self-organized initiatives in terms of radical practices and there’s a lot more support for it. There’s public money here…it takes a while and it takes a lot of bullshitting but an artist-run centre can be developed in a place like this in order to get public money. In the States, it’s almost impossible. San Francisco has a little bit more than some other cities but even there they have very restrained forms of public support. Our version of Western Front, it closed while I was there and working for them as an intern. That was a damn shame. You know, 40 years of support of really interesting practices…
Down the tubes?
…just gone. San Francisco is missing that but there’s certainly more of a connection to L.A. and New York and the American commercial art world.
It’s weird, there are a bazillion galleries in San Francisco but I don’t know who they’re selling to or if they’re selling at all. I look at these galleries, with a few exceptions and I would say they don’t do anything for their artists.
Do they do vanity projects?
Yeah. If they’re selling at all, it just disappears. Here, there’s almost no commercial market but massive amounts of public support and a critical eye. Artists here, they read. The artists I know in San Francisco are in their Masters programs and they’re complaining about reading. And they have two years to read a lot, like, ”here’s your chance.” You’re paying to read a lot so don’t complain that you have to do fucking work. Vancouver’s also more international, very actively. San Francisco is very into itself, just as Vancouver is, but Vancouver is in a process of historicizing itself as a way of creating a relationship to the rest of the world, while San Francisco’s way of historicizing itself is just to remind their neighbours that they’re there. It just doesn’t work in the same way. The forms of production and the way it is displayed and produced is not as critical as Vancouver. Not at all.
I’m surprised. Good words about Vancouver!
But we’re so lucky in San Francisco that we have these major research institutions. We’ve got all these really smart people, but in terms of the art scene, we have these different pockets where interesting work is happening but it’s quite limited. Like Vancouver, there are lots of people waiting in line. What’s funny is that, coming back to Vancouver, I see a lot of the people that I went to school with finally getting attention. It took them five to eight years to finally get that attention. They had to work it hard in this town and not go anywhere like Berlin…
I noticed that in New York, it seemed like it was a big line up. Queue up! Get in line for fame. What is the most interesting art or artists right now, to you?
That’s a big question.
What’s blowing your mind, if anything?
There are lots of people who are blowing my mind right now.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva. They’re out of Lisbon. They’re these Portuguese kids that are doing interesting films that are very connected to a maybe anachronistic thinking about cinema and early cinema magic and special effects. They use it in a way to also deploy these materialist thinkings through objects and things.
So they’re filmmakers.
Yeah. And they do these bizarre films.
Where did you see them?
I’ve seen them in San Francisco a few times. My old collaborator who runs this art space in Antwerp called Objectif, Chris Fitzpatrick, is the director there. He’s doing a big solo show of theirs and doing a big project for them. I think it opens next month. We both agree that whenever we meet someone from Portugal, it always comes up that everybody agrees they are the most exciting stuff around. I’m all over the place. A lot of what I’m engaged by is a relationship to people like Raimundas Malasauskas, who’s a curator and artist and writer and general weird character and he’s produced a lot and made a lot of good connections. He works with all types of interesting kinds of artists. There are a lot of people articulating a form of conceptual practice. I worked a lot with this Danish artist, Nina Beier and Simon Dybbroe Møller who is her partner-partner. Both of them are really interesting conceptual artists who really think from the very outset in terms of the process and production of what they’re doing. I did this project at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco with Nina, it was me and Chris and Julio Cesar Morales. It was all a show that was images of documentation of the previous show that she had done. So, it was all skewed images of her past works a month or two before in London. It was such an organic wonderful kind of practice. I’ve worked with her a number of times. There’s lots of interesting people. There’s a bunch of Lithuanians who are really engaging. They have a form of conceptual art that can enrage some but be absolutely profound to others.
The minimal amount of physical information that’s given that can do something quite thoughtful. You could go on forever about these weird Lithuanians.
Why are they making so much art?
They have a long literary history. Fluxus was Jurgis Maciunas and Fluxus was going to be a Lithuanian ex-pat magazine in its original conception. It became all this other stuff… and I think a lot of it came from lots of development in terms of arts funding in the ‘90s that created all these contemporary art institutions who then went out and hired all these writers and curators, philosophers, artists, to run them. When people are around a really exciting weird practice, they just absorb it. At the contemporary art centre in Vilnius, the director is really enabling lots of really young curators to do adventurous projects that make almost no sense. And to the rest of the world, it makes even less sense!
Is there public money there for it?
Yeah, quite a bit. They were the European center for culture. Their money is diminishing but it left its mark.
They get like 10 years of it and then it moves on.
Right now, a lot of that money is going to Central Asia. In terms of good work, there’s also Adriana Lara, this Mexican artist. Fucking amazing! She did one of my favourite exhibitions in the last year or so and I did some writing for her because she publishes this magazine called Pazmaker.
Is that a play on pacemaker? I like it.
Everything she does is hilarious.
What is your fantasy exhibit?
Oh man. Did you ever see Elmgreen & Dragset, their Drama Queens? It’s a duo. They did a theatre piece that then became a movie trailer and it’s kind of funny. It’s all these famous artworks having this argument about how people read them, how they read themselves and how they interact with each other. Jeff Koontz’ bunny and the Brillo Box and Brancusi and all these other objects are all arguing with each other. It creates a parliament of objects. My fantasy exhibition would be an exhibition like a party between art objects that are interacting and disagreeing in certain ways. I think of this guy who I’ve used a number of times in talks,Roger Zelazny, a science fiction writer and he wrote a short story called The Museum Piece. It was about a sculptor who couldn’t get his work shown and was starving. He was doing yoga to control his body and at one point he decides to sneak into a museum and become a Greco-Roman sculpture. While there, he realizes that he’s not the only one who’s a living person masquerading as a sculpture. All the other statues are art historians who dejected themselves from the world to become the things they admire. I like thinking around the personality of objects and their internal conversation. Marx, when he’s talking about commodity fetishism, when objects move from use value to exchange value, they accrue this inner relation that is outside of human control. All of a sudden they are commodities speaking to other commodities. There is some sort of leveling or equivalence of the field as this thing can be exchanged for this thing and now they are part of the same language. My fantasy exhibition would have this parliament of objects, with an interaction of things.
Elmgreen & Dragset. “Drama Queens” 2007
A parliament denotes a certain order.
Maybe a chaotic amalgamation. Some sort of zone where there’s interaction and argumentation that can be very productive. That would be my fantasy art exhibition, where the objects are not just speaking to each other but fighting with each other, learning from each other. Developing and changing by their interaction.
Destroying each other perhaps.
Yeah. Eating each other. Nietzsche talks about his ideal reader as a cow because the cow ruminates, chews something up and spits it out and chews it up again and moves it from one stomach and spits it out and chews his cud and thinks about it, gestates it and then expels it and then re-ingests it. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking around a curatorial project, an exhibition for ruminating, something you could continuously digest and regurgitate, and something that could be deployed and then re-taken in. It would be something you would absorb and then reject.
It sounds like a new process of intimacy with the works.
There are lots of these kinds of projects like Ben Kinmont with these kinds of exhibitions in your mouth where it’s just a nice meal with an artful menu. I just imagine the Nietzschean cow version of that, where you would eat the food and regurgitate it out or poop it out and eat it up again
It’s Roman. It’s just another night in the vomitorium
Taking it in and then getting rid of it and then taking it in again.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a bunch of writing, a catalogue essay for a group called Mahony, an Austrian artist collective and mostly about the work in general. For a long time, they were doing a humorous take on psycho-geography, when you think about travel, with these beautiful and stupid gestures towards corresponding different times and spaces, and what happens when things are carried or transported from one place to another. I’m doing another essay about a San Francisco artist named Jerome Reyes and he’s done a project around the X Men. Apparently the X Men, a few years ago, moved to San Francisco.
Is there a perfect wine and cheese combination that you serve at openings?
I don’t know if I’ve perfected a combination. Like a good Pinot Noir with a blue cheese. I like gjetost a lot. It’s a Scandinavian cheese. It’s really nutty. A gjetost with an aperitif like Dubonnet.
mmmm. Did you serve wine and cheese at your exhibition in the dark?
No. Only beer. Free beer. I understand that a lot of artist-run centres need to make their money in in-kind donations and using that to generate some kind of revenue but I very much believe that if you want people to come to your show, get them drunk and feed them a little bit.
You owe them that?
I think so. For shows that I’ve done, I’ve borrowed money so that I could get the party drunk because it’s a host thing.
That’s the curator in you speaking I think.
No artist has ever bought me drinks.
Fuck that. They don’t understand.
Curators are the hosts.
You’ve got to understand the types of exchanges that are happening. If you want people to be somewhere and go to your thing, you’ve got to give them good reasons to.
Hey man, we’re doing you a favour by being here too and you get public money and if you get in-kind donation, we should all just have a good time. In San Francisco, they have to have free booze. If you try to charge at an opening, they’ll complain a lot.
If somebody was going to jump out of a cake at your surprise birthday party, who would it be and what would they do?
That’s insane! There’s a bunch of people that I’d have coming out of that cake. Marx coming out of that cake, he’d start explaining the material conditions of the labour that it took to produce the wheat that then created the ideological ground that made it so the cake could manifest. Or Sun Ra. You’d be waiting there thinking that someone would jump out of the cake and then two minutes later he would pop out. And you’d be like, “Goddamn, that’s just like him, two minutes late.”
He was always two minutes late? Did it have to do with light traveling?
It’s just the anticipating his coming down at shows and they’re waiting for him.