Below is an extract from an interview I did in relation to the I like it here, Don't you? show at Avalanche!. The interview appeared in Fresh Bread, a Calgary-based publication edited by Nate McLeod.
Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice.
I work two days a week, as a cleaner, on the weekends. Then I have the rest of the time in the studio and the decisions are mostly about what to do with my day – how to fill time. I don’t want to make art to fill time, so I start with cleaning things – objects, the floor and things begin to happen. I start reading books or people start calling, and then I get hungry and make an elaborate meal and then I need to find places where to nap or where to spend the night.
I’m always interested in how everything in the world is already connected and how things have the potential to arrange themselves if given the chance and space. I think the art part comes from these decisions on what to do with the hours in a day. How to spend time. It’s a kind of decision making that everyone goes through, and it’s not something that only an artist has to think about, but an artist is put in the position of questioning one’s lifestyle more than most people.
Taking an entire afternoon and drinking coffee and staring outside the window is as productive as making something. I’m always surprised by how I end up with a lot of work, and it’s like it happens when I look the other way. Sculpture has a way of sneaking up on me. And then I have to find space for these objects – sometimes I hide them, or move them somewhere so that I can catch up with the cleaning part. I’m drawn to how I don’t make decisions for myself anymore and how I become less able to make a decision; how things become complex by and from themselves. The challenging part of course, is that the world works differently and as an artist, you constantly have to find ways to take care of yourself. Maybe being in the studio is taking care of yourself, more so than it is about making something.
Where did you study? What kind of an influence has this had on your practice?
I studied at the Alberta College of Art & Design. I was there for 7 years. It was more like being in a state of retreat for 7 years. The challenge was to come out of retreat and then to find that state of being in the world again, after school was over. Going to ACAD helped me recognize ways to be confident, even if I don’t have a concept. Lately, I’ve been imagining that being a thinker is perhaps about not having concepts.
What have you been doing since graduating?
I’ve practiced ways to make up my own imaginary classroom. The streets make up the classroom. I find new teachers everyday – in homeless people, or in my mother, or in artists that have patience with me, or in people I meet at the gym, so it’s like school never ended. Lately I’ve been using the Knox United Church as a kind of private classroom. It’s open from 9AM to 4PM and I’m the only person that ever hangs around there so I have the whole church to myself. There’s an older man that cleans the place that noticed me, but he’s accepted me there and now gives me apples. There’s also a dressing room on the one side of the altar and it’s like my office. I’ve tried to read some of the books in that room because I’ve been thinking a lot about St. Francis and his relationship to poverty after encountering a video by Andrea Buttner who handed out cameras to nuns in a monastery so they can videotape themselves working on various craft projects. The nuns think of their crafts as little works.
My sculptures are little works too because I don’t want them to have weight – which is why I find the idea of selling them for $50 appealing. It’s enough to buy some smokes and a few art magazines, and then I can go to church and read. I think Annie Pootoogook is doing little works too. She was selling her drawings for $20 while living on the streets in Ottawa. And then Wednesday Lupypciw, through her relationship with various forms of labor, and with Calgary, is also making little works. I find it interesting how Wednesday is making up her own imaginary MFA program. Noel Begin and his relationship to the documentation of other’s work is also another interesting form of little work, in Calgary. I think the main development in my practice after school, was to realize that Calgary is an interesting place and that there are other artists working in a similar place that I am, and that I can learn from them.
What struggles do you face in your practice? Do you have any insecurities while making your work?
The vision I have for my practice is religious and magical, in the way that I want to inhabit a world in which one can simply make one’s work for purposes beyond career. The challenge is to navigate through situations where the expectation is that you are doing it as a career. I try to avoid situations where art is played – and I’m drawn to artists and circumstances that are real because I believe in art. I think that showing at AVALANCHE! was real, in the way that it too, is about creating a perfect world. I was reading this interview with Bruce Nauman a few days ago, on the train, and he referred to art as being serious because it can be, and it is, the difference between life and death – that kind of precarious form of excellence is what I’m drawn to, and perhaps guided by.
Do you find yourself attracted to work that is unlike yours, or work that is very similar?
I think I am drawn to the things that touch me, and I learn as much from the arrangements that homeless people leave behind, as when I’m in a gallery. Of course, there is more critical content you have to sift through in an art space, but I find it more interesting to encounter art and the everyday, in a way that is not competitive, so that I can be in a position to receive something in return. I never see things in terms of bad, or different or similar because everything in the world already has something to offer, and the best part is to be surprised by it; that way learning never stops and it doesn’t become about being smart or something like that.
Bjork said somewhere that she wants to be stupid and I think that is the best attitude to learning things. The being smart part can be a weird obstacle. Maybe being stupid gives permission to being good, or to wanting to get better, and then being stupid lets you get away with things – like sleeping in one of those dark rooms, in a gallery, where videos are projected. I did that with the recent David Hoffos show. Sleeping in his installation, allowed me to be there for hours and I learned so many secrets about his work that otherwise one would never be able to notice. I also heard a lot of weird conversations in the dark. Later on, at his talk, Hoffos complained about how everyone usually shoves their face against the glass and then their surroundings slip unnoticed, and my approach to encountering his work was exactly in reverse of the way the situation was delivered because that’s what felt natural, as a viewer, to do – to subvert the darkness. It wasn’t a critical decision, but it became critical. That’s what happens during the night, when I need to find places where to sleep; the darkness is subverted and things offer themselves. I think Hoffos’ work is about that space in many ways – more so than the illusionary part, or the craft of the illusion; it’s real. That’s also what I find problematic about work that rests too much on illusion or made-up concepts – that it’s not real; and then it has this superficial weight as if art is not real.
Who are some other artists whose work you are interested in, or who have influenced your practice?
The other day I was back at ACAD, and pretended I was a student. I tagged along with a class that was touring the current faculty show at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery. Tia Halliday was talking about her latest painting, which is very good. It reminded me of a photograph of this ghost I found in a penthouse where I slept last summer. The way she talked about what she was doing was interesting because it felt real, like she dreams about painting. At one point she recognized me, and I had to camouflage myself further in the background.
Don Kottman was sitting in a chair listening and asking questions. It was like being inside a church with all that faith in art. Even though talking about painting feels foreign to me today, Don is the first person that taught me about having a language and a logic in relation to what I do. He has a very specific way of looking and sensing the world that seems to always use means that are already there, and being around that in school influenced me. I think what he does is magical and maybe unnoticed. It’s also very contemporary, because the will to create art isn’t the first thing you see. Eventually, I took that sense of vocabulary and logic I learned from Don to the street, and then began to recognize other language forms and systems that I could learn from. I think it’s interesting to think relationally in a connected way that comes from the everyday and not from reading the latest art magazines.
Isa Genzken for example, measures the reality of her sculptures in relation to the reality of sky-scrapers. I’m hoping that one day I can understand reality on that level where excellence is about a way of being in the world. Reading of course, is important – especially when books find you. I like it when someone gives me a reading list because that way they’ve made the decision for me on what to read next, and it usually relates to what I’m thinking at the time. That’s how I got into reading Virginia Woolf. I found her published journal in a house, and she has become a mentor since. I imagine her disappearing in a crowd just to learn things.
What music do you listen to while working in the studio, if any?
I found a suitcase full of CD’s that someone made, in the garbage a few weeks ago, so I’m currently sifting through them all, as a kind of sonic chore. It’s like a time capsule from 10 years ago, when you could still find CD’s and people were into burning CD’s from the library. Then I watch the Young & the Restless – everyday. The Banff Center has a really good podcast channel on I-tunes now.
Oh yeah – and satellite radio is interesting too. I found a station on there that I think British Airways uses on board, so it’s like you’re on a flight. My car picks up this channel from the airport too – it has a button called “weather band” on the dash and it sounds like ghosts are talking about the weather. Maybe all cars have it, I’m not sure, but it feels like an art project.