Well, I finally made it to Documenta. Good lord this sucker is big. I’m almost sort of scratching the surface of the surface. With a very frazzled toothpick.
One of my favorite things so far is Paul Chan‘s Wht Is Wht? Why the Why? How delicious to sit inside his room of book covers and mountains. Meandering through the rich constellation of relationships created within the installation, I was several times reminded of this interview we did a few years ago in The Brooklyn Rail. I wanted to reread it, to see again some of the topics that came up (Michael Bay being the best, and tennis). This was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had interviewing anyone. The link to the Rail page never, ever works, so here it is below in its really entire entirety:
ARTSEEN: INTERVIEW: Paul Chan with Claudia La Rocco
Paul Chan, an artist who, on the occasion of the publication of his book Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: a field guide (Creative Time Books) and the premiere of the Godot archive at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (June 30, 2010–September 12, 2011), spends a hot afternoon talking to….
Claudia La Rocco, a writer, who grew up in the sticks in Maine and so read a lot of science fiction, bad science fiction, like the kind with the covers with the horses with the big eyes.
Setting: A studio in Brooklyn
Claudia: My fear as always is that it won’t record. It’s recording it says, but I never believe it.
[Recorder rustling, as though being handled.]
Paul: Should I take a look? [Recorder rustling around loudly.]
Claudia: It looks like it’s recording.
Paul: It’s really fancy looking.
Paul: It kind of looks, I mean…. Is this recording? [Recorder being handled.]
Claudia: It’s recording. It says its recording—
Paul: Funny, it looks like a gynecological tool….
Claudia: Do you ever get tired of being smart? I was reading one of your interviews—
Paul: [Chuckling, not so smartly.]
Claudia: It might have been in October.
Claudia: And it occurred to me that either you picked me because you’re tired of people asking you about Adorno or because you’ve seriously overestimated my intellectual interests.
Paul: The life of the mind on the page is different than the life of the mind in person. Know what I mean?
Claudia: I know.
Paul: So you create this sort of ideal dialogue through editing, and it may have no purchase on what we consider reality.
Claudia: I can already tell this is one of those interviews where we’re not going to get anywhere.
Paul: When did you start reading science fiction?
Claudia: I read Watership Down when I was in—I’m not sure that actually counts as science fiction, but it’s sort of a fluid category for me—but I read Watership Down in fourth grade. And then I stayed with science fiction/fantasy/allegory pretty much through high school. I went to a pretty rough rural public school.
Paul: That sounds about right. You read to escape. To make time go in another way.
Claudia: I think now I read to get back to something; maybe just a reverse escape, to get toward something, a space in my head that I find my life increasingly works against me getting to.
Paul: Which is what?
Claudia: [Sigh.] Space to create,
Claudia: Space to think, space to float that sort of—space where you are a little bit bored, a little bit restless and dreamy.
Paul: You know, Claudia, I read that New Jersey just legalized medicinal marijuana.
Paul: When I was growing up, the comic book that really helped me escape was The Question.
Claudia: I don’t know it.
Paul: It was published by DC Comics in the late 80’s, about a man who had no face. His mask was a piece of hi-tech elastic material that made him look like he had no features, no eyes, no mouth. Faceless.
Claudia: And, if you took off the rubber mask…
Paul: He had a face underneath.
Claudia: Oh, so it wasn’t like [Italo] Calvino’s Nonexistent Knight?
Paul: No, no. It was only a mask. And he would fight crime as this faceless crusader. But he was no good at it. He was learning on the job, trying to do right but always ending up doing wrong, which made him very self-reflective about what he was doing and why.
Claudia: When you were a kid were you thinking about it on that sophisticated level?
Paul: I didn’t have to, because it was in the comic. Questions about what it means to have power, be someone, about what one can be accountable for and pleased by, were all part of the storyline. And that made it more exciting in a weird way, because what The Question did was take the tropes of the superhero genre and pervert it, make it strangely philosophical. And at the end of each issue, they would recommend a book to read.
Claudia: Oh, that’s great. What were the sources?
Paul: Aristotle, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Schopenhauer.
Claudia: And would you ever look at the sources?
Paul: Everyone who read the comics did. Because we were in our private Maine, and we were looking for something above and beyond what we were getting, either in the streets hanging out, or in school.
Claudia: And how old were you?
Paul: Sixth or seventh grade.
Claudia: Public school?
Paul: Hardcore public school.
Paul: Godot happened in November ’07. Then I disappeared for a couple of months. Because, I had to.
Claudia: You disappeared from whom?
Paul: Me. The project took an arm and a leg and I had to grow them back.
Claudia: Have they?
Paul: Hard to say. But, in any case, I disappeared for a bit, and in the meantime, I shipped stuff I had made in New Orleans for the performances back to New York. Some props, some drawings, documents. [Distant car-horn, quietly.] Then around February ’08, my gallery was documenting the props in the gallery, and Kathy Halbreich from MoMA happened to see them and asked what they were. She knew about Godot but didn’t see it. In any case, one thing led to another, Klaus Biesenbach got involved, and the next thing I knew MoMA wanted the props for its collection. So I made them a deal. They had to take everything, which meant what I called the archive: all the paperwork, the drawings, the photos, the ephemera I collected. I wanted MoMA to catalogue, scan, and document everything. Godot is as much an experiment in organizing, as it was a play. And so, I thought, everything should be saved and people should have full access to them.
Claudia: I’m usually pretty ambivalent about how the institutional art world chooses to preserve/ present performance. They’re such different cultures.
Paul: Yeah. And different motivations for doing it.
Claudia: And the motivations change. It’s so interesting to see the Abramović retrospective and to see how she used to be really adamant about work being in its time and of its time. And then…
Paul: Time goes on.
Claudia: Time goes on and you get older and maybe it’s not such a bad idea if the work hangs around. Sometimes just seeing the trappings makes me…I get really sad.
Paul: Here’s a funny way, I think, of talking about it: You’ve seen celebrities who age well and those who don’t. Those who don’t, don’t because their faces are frozen in time, through Botox, because they believe they are only fully alive if the past is fully present. I think in a way, the sadness that comes from seeing that kind of documentation may come from the work wanting you to feel as if it is fully present, as if no time has passed. Whereas, I think there are other ways to do it.
Claudia: I would agree. I like the way that somebody like Joan Jonas has just done different iterations of work. That seems a lot more elegant. She lets the work age, to keep your metaphor.
Paul: Right, right. You sort of have to.
Claudia: Or, you have to be very clear about what it is.
Paul: No. I have to respectfully disagree.
Claudia: You can disrespectfully disagree, too.
Paul: Maybe later.
Claudia: So, you don’t think you have to be clear, you just have to be smart.
Paul: I think you have to be open.
Paul: To the potential of change.
Claudia: Yes, but by clarity, I mean just the idea of what is it that we are putting into this room, into this box. How does it relate and how can it never replicate what that thing was that happened in time and space? It so often seems to me that performance gets stuck on a wall with a pin through it like a butterfly. [Loud car-horn outside.] It’s right there, but it’s not there.
Paul: That connects to the art of the curation. More philosophically, it connects to how we imagine artifacts of the past can inform us now.
Claudia: Some hardliners think there should never be documentation of live work, that it’s totally inappropriate. [A microphone jostling obscures the conversation.] I see that at certain times but I’m always ambivalent about it.
Paul: Yeah ‘cause there is no right way to do it; it all seems wrong.
Claudia: I don’t know that I’d say it all feels wrong. I’ve seen re-creations that haven’t seemed wrong.
Paul: I meant documentation. I don’t know that re-creation is considered documentation.
Claudia: Let the record show he’s making a very skeptical “that’s not correct” face. [Someone shifts.] Um. No, you’re right they’re different things and I’m trying to mash them together. But there’s a relationship.
Paul: There is a relationship.
Claudia: The problem with documentation is it’s all these inanimate things dumbly following along in the wake of the action. The letter of the law, not the spirit.
Paul: [A plethora of loud honking horns are heard.] Tell me if this is similar to what you just said: [clears throat] there’s a whole tradition in contemporary art where different forms of social engagement, from parties to meetings to protests, are organized in order to manufacture documentation that then become works in exhibitions. And these works are really impoverished, because the engagement has no substance to it beyond the fact that it was staged to merely be documented. It’s some of the most boring work you’ll ever see.
Claudia: Yes. It’s dead on arrival.
Paul: Yeah. And maybe this is what I was getting at when I was saying that there are certain characteristics that make a human being human. One of them is unpredictability. The reason those works feel dead on arrival is because we know what we’re going to get in the documentation. The parameters are already pre-established—what we’ll get out of the interchange.
Claudia: You want to not know where you are going.
Paul: Yes. There’s no reason why cadmium red should be unpredictable; if it is unpredictable it’s probably not very good cadmium red. But with this entanglement of people, performance and documentation in work, the really unstable element is people. But a person’s essential unpredictability is precisely what is being suppressed within the entanglement of the documentation and performance. These works want people’s lives but not their potential liveliness.
Claudia: For the Abramović show they should have chosen to just attack that, right? I haven’t been interested in the work she’s done in recent years; but what I love about her early work is its lawlessness and her really playing with being in control by being the object and taking responsibility for not being in control.
Paul: Did you write that in her guest book at MoMA?
Paul: Next time. Her-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha [loud nasal inhale].
Claudia: [Loud nasal inhale then a long pause after a glass is put down close to the mic with a jingly wobble.] What’s your first memory of landing in America?
Paul: [Pause.] What do I remember? I remember we were stuck. We flew from Hong Kong to San Francisco en route to Iowa. And we were stuck in San Francisco for two days, but I didn’t know why. That’s what I remember. I remember how bright it was. The quality of the light was different. Brittle. I remember watching TV. I remember thinking how similar it was to Hong Kong TV except it was in English.
Have you been to Hong Kong?
Claudia: No. I spent one month on the mainland.
Paul: What were you doing?
Claudia: Wandering around, eating a lot. Ah, street food huts. [Smacks lips.] That was one of the best months of eating of my life.
Paul: We’re going to leave that in right?
Claudia: Haheha, hah. That’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve said.
Paul: Claudia…Haha, hahaha. You want that whiskey now?
Claudia: Hehha. Yeah.
[Footsteps across what sounds like concrete or dusty linoleum.]
Claudia: On the rocks please.
Paul: [A cup is placed on a counter.] Let me see if I have any rocks. [More footsteps, then a fridge door opening.] Oh, lucky you!
Paul: [Inaudible mutterings as glasses clink and a bottle cap is unscrewed.]
Claudia: I spent about 45 minutes at the Guggenheim the other day.
Claudia: Herr-herr. I know. “Whoa,” is the only suitable response. Just watching people watch your work, 6th Light [2007, digital video projection, silent, 14 min].
Paul: [Liquid being poured and a bottle hitting the table.] What did they do?
[Footsteps. One glass intentionally hits another.]
Claudia: Thanks, cheers. It depended where it was in the loop, how present the work was. It varied from this heavy middle-aged guy who walked around the barely-there outline then threw up his hands in disgust and kept going, to these teenage girls, who looked like they were maybe [a heavy glass hits the table] from the suburbs, who did a little dance in front of the projection, which was beautiful because it was really creepy. They looked more like stuff that should be cast away than anything that was in the piece itself. Some people just stood and watched, then read the wall text.
Paul: It was a nice space, I was happy with that space.
Claudia: Mm-hmm, you lucked out.
Paul: It’s true. Projector was on. They didn’t misspell my name.
Claudia: Do people misspell your name often?
Paul: You’d be surprised. Chin. Chang. Giamatti.
Claudia: Hm-hm-hm-hah-hah-hah. Do they get the Paul right?
Paul: If you’re named after an apostle they never get it wrong.
Paul: I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t met more people in art who play tennis.
Paul: In art school some students got together to form a hockey team, but they only played 14-year-olds. They couldn’t qualify for anything else.
Claudia: Boys or girls, the 14-year-olds?
Paul: Mixed. Hm-he-heh. I grew up playing tennis. There were these concrete courts with chain link fences.
[A truck accelerates in the distance.]
Claudia: That’s how I grew up playing.
Paul: It wasn’t even painted.
Claudia: And you would play till the balls were deader than dead.
Paul: I would play with these two brothers and this one other guy who introduced me to Guns ‘n Roses. Every day for two summers we played.
Claudia: Guns ‘n Roses, chain link fence. Sounds like a good childhood.
Paul: Good enough. That was the first time I could use my body because I was so sick in Hong Kong. In Omaha I got my body back or at least I trusted it enough to do things beyond just breathing. That was a real joy.
I remember one time in high school I was helping coach the girl’s tennis team and one of the players hit the ball and it hit a bird flying through her court. We all had to stop practice because everyone was crying.
Claudia: Instant death!
Claudia: What kind of bird?
Paul: A sparrow? It’s once in a lifetime. She hit a forehand, the ball was flying through the air and just hit the bird and the bird [pluph]. It was unbelievable.
Claudia: So I guess that would’ve been a let.
Paul: It would be a let. That’s true. I never thought that way about it.
Claudia: It’s interesting that everybody who interviews you tries to get you to talk about why politics and art have to be different. Your separation of the two bugs people.
Paul: Yeah. What do you think bugs them?
Paul: Does it bug you?
Claudia: No. It seems pretty clear to me why the two would be separate. Especially as you said you don’t like working with people.
Paul: Haha, yeah.
Claudia: Not that the two have to be separate, but it’s interesting that people interviewing you are aggressive about it. I’m guessing because it’s not separate for them and because they think that somehow [microphone movement obscures speech] that’s your responsibility.
Paul: As an…
Claudia: As an artist who’s also a politically active person. Somehow, you’re not fulfilling this responsibility, this expectation.
Claudia: It also fits into a certain type of art; a certain idea about art fitting into the armature that’s being built around it.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. It’s hard work
Claudia: Hard work.
Paul: Or, how else do you say it? It’s [really long pause] I mean, there are so many ways to say it.
Claudia: If there were a thought bubble above your head right now, it would be, “Fuck, dot-dot-dot.”
Paul: That’s not true. Hahahaha. Um, here’s one thing I can say: I empathize with the question. But I think they’re really asking something else. And that something else is a question for me, as well. And perhaps for anyone who believes that what they make will resonate beyond who they are.
Paul: Because the feeling, in reality, of what we call progress seems to be out of our hands. And that art, if we believe in art, is the closest thing that we can do with our hands. Metaphorically speaking.
Paul: If we can somehow make our hands make things that can connect to this sense of progress, then perhaps we can recapture that sense of, for lack of a better phrase, agency. That we have some sort of control in the direction of our lives. That we don’t feel like we’re being dragged in the wake of something we have no control over.
But on the other hand, what is interesting is how pleasurable and fulfilling it can be, being dragged along, not having complete control over the course of our lives. It makes us feel whole and purposeful somehow, and in a way that makes us less than human.
[A seagull flies by the window. Long pause.]
I don’t know if this example works completely, but for the sake of argument: we could say right now that the most expressive and energetic political movement in the United States is the Tea Party.
Paul: What it has in common with other movements is the feeling that people will give themselves wholeheartedly to it, in its grassroots organizing, its ability dictate its own terms, for itself and others. That’s what a movement is, really: A set of promises and themes and ideas that compel people to form a social whole. And this feeling of merging, this communal fusion, both fulfills them in a way that only belonging to something or someone can, and also makes them in the same instant strangely, and ironically, not fully human. Which is to say, of not having the full potential of being unpredictable.
It’s an intense feeling, belonging. It’s ecstatic. Dangerously so.
Claudia: But then there’s the resistance. What is that beautiful Auden poem, “Law like Love?” He talks about the crowd—in the transcript it will say that I just remembered this effortlessly— and “always the soft idiot softly me.”
[Speech obscured by recorder noises, moving around, then glasses, liquid poured.]
Paul: America, we love the crowds. Little more?
Claudia: I’m ok.
Paul: For now.
Claudia: What was it like getting caught up in the energy of the crowd in New Orleans? That’s something that performance has that other forms of art don’t as immediately.
Claudia: And you can at once give into the energy of the crowd, or you can resist it. Or go back and forth.
[Telephone rings loudly.]
Claudia: Do you have to get it?
Paul: I’m gonna let it ring. [Loud ringing.] We tried to resist it. To a certain degree.
Claudia: Who’s we?
Paul: The project. The structure of the performances. Part of what I think made Godot work in New Orleans was its essential alienness. As much as we let New Orleans seep into what we were doing, it still felt like an alien ship landed. It couldn’t fully belong to that place and it was the tension between the fact that it’s there and the truth that it doesn’t belong there that made it interesting, made it more than what we thought it could be.
Claudia: I think that tension exists in most really great site-specific work. With something like your Godot, the stakes would be pretty high. To retain that tension.
Paul: To do it any other way would be a disservice to everyone: Beckett, the city, the people we were working with. Especially Beckett. Because really, when a good Beckett play lands, you’re on Mars.
Claudia: It’s destabilizing.
Paul: That was his genius, right? He shaped the feeling of estrangement in daily life into radically new forms. Handsome, too. I recently saw the portrait Cartier-Bresson took of him. The shock of the white hair, the thin bird-like face, those piercing eyes. He aged well.
Claudia: No Botox.
Paul: Am I private? Some things I’m very happy to talk about and some things I’ll never talk about.
Claudia: My guess is that you have a very developed public persona, that you’re very clear about what is for public consumption.
Paul: I do make a distinction between what is for me and what is for others, that’s true.
Claudia: We’re not going to talk about your “Juvey” record, huh?
Paul: Be happy to. No one’s ever asked that.
Claudia: You have one?
Paul: I do.
Claudia: We’ll get back to Beckett, he’ll still be there.
Paul: Starts with shoplifting.
Claudia: What’d you steal, gum?
Paul: An Asthma inhaler.
Claudia: In Hong Kong?
Paul: No, Omaha. It’s been downhill from there. Hahaha.
Claudia: Corner store?
Paul: A big pharmacy. I actually broke it open and used it right there.
Claudia: And did you try the, I-was-gonna-pay-I-just-was-desperate line?
Paul: I put it in my pocket and tried to walk out. I said I had money in my car.
Claudia: Did you do the “[Cough, cough] I feel weak”?
Paul: You know what, I didn’t. I was so proud of being able to breathe again that I didn’t do that. Ha-hah-haha.
Claudia: Plus, it’s harder for boys. Any girl who gets pulled over by a cop, the waterworks are the first thing you pull out.
Paul: Does that work?
Paul: Has that happened?
Paul: It’s important, I think, going through the criminal justice system. I don’t mean that in a flip way. I’m not saying I want people to get arrested. I only mean that, once you do, you really get a sense of how things, in a way, work. Rightly and wrongly.
Claudia: Was your sentencing just?
Paul: I pled no contest. I remember getting dressed up for court. I wore a green checkered suit jacket that I bought at a salvation army that was way too big. I looked like a clown.
Claudia: What was your hair like back then?
Paul: It looked healthy and alive, just like now.
Claudia: And, you’re wearing green now, also.
Paul: What are you implying?
Claudia: Were your parents disappointed?
Paul: Let’s just say, that was the first in a long line of disappointments.
Claudia: You broke them in easy.
Paul: I just told them, you know, this is the first time, but not the last time, you should just be aware of that.
Claudia: It’s a drag to be a public persona.
Paul: Is that true?
Claudia: I find it is. Most of the time [said at the same time as…]
Paul: What’s draggy about it?
Claudia: Well, a lot of things Paul. Pretty much everything [finishes her words laughing].
Paul: Hahaaha, ha. Ohha.
Claudia: [Someone is readjusting themselves in a leather chair, you can hear glass tapping another one, things are shuffling around for a moment.] You have to act a bit like an adult. The other day I was at a really bad show, and I was mouthing off—
Paul: Dance or what? [He is eating what sounds like nuts. Maybe pebbles.]
Paul: You were mouthing off after the show?
Paul: [Wheezy laugh.]
Claudia: Just sort of rolling my eyes, and the guy next to me was like, “Shh, crshh, people are looking.”
Paul: Claudia, honestly, that just sounds like learning, [chuckles] to me.
Claudia: That sounds like learning? You mean like kindergarten learning? Like this is how you act in public learning?
Paul: Hahahaha maybeee.
Claudia: You’re telling me that you don’t ever feel like going through some god-awful gallery show or museum show and just being ridiculous about it?
Paul: I guess the answer is no. I’ve seen ridiculous things, but…
Claudia: Art doesn’t even have to be ridiculous but you might feel at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, while walking up the rotunda of the Guggenheim, you might feel the need to be ridiculous.
Claudia: If people know who you are –
Claudia: – there might be repercussions for your being ridiculous.
Claudia: Nobody knows who you are, there are no repercussions.
Paul: That’s true.
Claudia: This might be a complicated way of saying that I am sometimes socially awkward.
Paul: You ever read TMZ online? It’s 24-hour coverage of Lindsay Lohan right now.
Claudia: She’s an alcoholic, right?
Paul: Yes, and an actor. She’s supposed to be at a court hearing in L.A. but she didn’t show. Um, and, this is not to say that I think about her often, but apparently I think about her enough to talk about her on tape. In any case she’s living in a kind of media fishbowl, with her every move being photographed and recorded. And I imagine it must really take a toll emotionally, psychically.
On the other hand, I think this strangely gets back to what you said about Marina, about the entanglement of vulnerability and power.
Paul: That in a weird way, the more one is exposed and vulnerable today, the more one’s sense of power and identity grows.
[A long pause, filled with sounds of passing traffic.]
Paul: I’m gonna crack the window open.
[Someone takes big gulps of a drink, and then a glass is put down on a table.]
Claudia: We haven’t talked much about art.
Paul: You want some more?
[A bottle opens, followed by the glugging sounds of Paul refilling their glasses, and recapping the bottle.]
Paul: You wanna cut it with water? No? How ‘bout more ice?
[Ice cubes drop in a glass.]
[A tap on the mic.]
[More clinks, liquid is poured.]
Paul: This is a nice Friday. [A loud truck passes by.]
Claudia: What are you gonna do after I get out of your hair?
Paul: Take a nap.
Claudia: In the studio?
Claudia: Where do you live?
Paul: Twenty minutes away.
Claudia: That’s nice.
Paul: I went to dinner last night, so I’d like to stay home and read tonight, and then I have to [takes a deep breath] go to a garden party tomorrow. It sounds actually kind of nice.
Claudia: ‘I have to go,’ he says, in this labored voice. [Paul laughs.] ‘I have to go to a garden party. There’ll be grass.’
Paul: Ah I hope–
Claudia: –‘and kids running around barefoot.’
Paul: I hope the intern, as he or she is transcribing this, will put this in italics, to show everyone how sarcastic Claudia is, in this section of the conversation.
[A glass is put down. Paul keeps chuckling.]
Claudia: What are you gonna read?
Paul: The Iliad
Claudia: That’s what you’re reading?!
Paul: I’ve never read it.
Claudia: For pleasure, or for… more nefarious purposes?
Paul: To write a screenplay, to sell to Michael Bay? Hehehe.
Claudia: Michael Bay, oh my god.
Paul: You should do a conversation with Michael Bay.
Claudia: I don’t know who would walk away from that feeling worse, me or Michael.
[More pouring, putting down the bottle.]
Paul: His earlier movies are pretty good. The Rock, with Sean Connery, and Nicolas Cage.
Claudia: That was when they all had escaped from–
Paul: They broke back in to Alcatraz.
Claudia: Why did they break back in? I think I saw that.
Paul: Because Ed Harris, as a rogue marine or military person, had um, taken over Alcatraz.
Paul: And was aiming missiles armed with chemical weapons –
Claudia: That’s right.
Paul: – at San Francisco.
Claudia: Yea, Nick Cage and Michael Bay were made for each other, right? The universe just dreamed them up for each other. I mean late Nick Cage.
Paul: That’s true.
Claudia: Did he have long hair in that one?
Paul: I still hold out the hope that someday you’ll have a conversation with Michael Bay in the Brooklyn Rail.
Claudia: Paul Chan sits down with Michael Bay.
Paul: I don’t wanna do it. It should be Phong, and David Levi-Strauss.
Claudia: My god.
Paul: The whole editorial board. Should sit down with Michael Bay. Call it The Day of Reckoning.
Claudia: Do you think at this point in the transcript the interns [laughing] fall asleep?
[Intern: Absolutely not, this is great.]
Claudia: I would imagine there will be very little overlap between the people who saw Godot in New Orleans and the people who will see the show at MoMA.
Paul: Mm-hmm, yeah. One of the other deals I made with MoMA was that I would make the audio guides for the Godot archive. They agreed, so I went back to New Orleans for a couple days last year, and recorded ambient sounds around the city and people trying to remember different things they’ve seen from the archive.
Paul: And I think that was my stab at situating the stuff in the show so that they are both present and absent at the same time, because, the people you hear speaking on the audio guides are trying to remember what you’re potentially looking at right in front of you, like [sweeping sound] that sign, up there.
Claudia: And that was the sign that was put up—
Paul: Around New Orleans, yeah.
Claudia: And it just read “A country road, a tree, evening.”
[Glasses clinking, liquid pouring.]
Claudia: One way to think of a show like this is as a form of criticism. [Muffled, sweeping sounds.] I don’t mean that you’re critiquing what happened, but that you’re making something new in relationship to a past event, and a rich mix of memories. Which is the way I like to think about criticism. I hate that idea of criticism as the rough draft of history.
Paul: Who says that?
Claudia: Really irritating people.
Claudia: It’s said a lot about performance criticism.
Claudia: Um, but that always seems really inappropriate to me, and it seems that it is elevating criticism to a place it shouldn’t be. And not letting it be what it wants to be.
Paul: Mm. Which is what?
Claudia: It’s own thing.
Paul: Right. And maybe the thing that connects what you’re saying to what I’m saying is that we want life to live beyond something.
Paul: What happened?
Claudia: Someone just splashed whiskey on my face.
Claudia: What do you think of audio guides [a glass is set down] in museums?
Paul: I love them. It’s another opportunity to make a mockery of authority.
Claudia: Is that the authority of the museum? Of the artist?
Claudia: Everyone. Of the individual, I suppose, most of all. Right?
Claudia: I think.
Paul: Audio guides are set up so that you have another instance of getting someone else to tell you what you are looking at, and [thump].
Claudia: It makes me itchy to watch people walking around and stopping; they’ll consult the thing and they’ll stop for as long as it’s going and then they’ll go to the next one that has the earphone symbol.
Paul: Well, I think it’s not a way to experience. It’s a way to know the work but it’s not a way to experience it.
Claudia: I don’t think it’s a way to know the work. It’s the difference between information and knowledge.
Paul: Well yeah, I think that would be your way of saying what I said.
Claudia: I don’t think so; I think that was my way of disagreeing.
Paul: Hmm. Really? I guess I disagree. When I said knowing it’s closer to the spirit of what you said is information.
Claudia: Okay. I can live with that Paul.
Paul: They want to get at the bottom of things. Right? But the point isn’t to get to the bottom of things.
Claudia: I don’t think it is to get to the bottom of things at all; I think it’s more to check off. Like, “Okay we’re in New York, and we’re going to see the Guggenheim, and we can check it off ‘cause we’ve done the audio tour.”
Paul: No. I would disrespectfully disagree.
Claudia: That’s an awfully respectful disrespectful disagreement. You didn’t even raise your voice.
Paul: I’m a cold fury kind of person.
Paul: There weren’t any plans to record Godot. Philosophically, no matter how well we did it, the recording would never be it. Then the question is: does it only disappear? and that’s what we have to grapple with now.
Claudia: That’s a deeply human problem.
Paul: Yeah; with performance you have to deal with an actual body and time, and we have no way to measure time except with other humans.
Claudia: What do you think of the philosophy of somebody like Tino Sehgal who is adamant about not allowing documentation; I mean does that make sense to you or is it just good marketing?
Paul: Hahaha. [Continues to laugh in a high register.] Did you ask him?
Paul: I think it’s valiant and untenable.
Claudia: If somebody wanted to record Godot and put it up on YouTube would that upset you? Would you try to take it down or would it be a part of it?
Paul: It would not upset me and if we did it right that’s what ought to happen. I think it’s a mark of its afterlife.
Claudia: As I understand it your decision not to make an official Godot recording was to avoid trying to exert some form of control in determining how it lived on. But if some 25-year-old in the audience decided “Oh wow, this is so cool, I’m going to record this,” that would be its natural life, so that would be lovely?
Paul: I wouldn’t say it’s lovely. I’d say it’s what it means to live today.
Claudia: But that’s lovely, right? Because the absence of that is to not live.
Paul: I think I would have to disrespectfully agree with you. I agree.
Claudia: Oh we’ve gotten to that point.
[Very loud reversing truck signal blares. A car alarm begins behind the noise of the truck.]
Paul: It’s interesting there is so much focus on performance right now.
Claudia: That the art world is so focused on it?
Paul: That a certain segment of contemporary art sees performance as the undiscovered territory that’s increasingly being discovered and territorialized. A larger question for me is what it brings out, which is what it means to be in the presence of an actual human being. I think that’s a real question. It’s a question that people will increasingly ask themselves. What does it mean to be present in front of an actual someone else as opposed to something else? [Police siren blares off to the distance.]
[Very long pause populated by a number of noises produced through fidgeting.]
Paul: How you doing?
Claudia: I’m okay. How you doing?
Paul: Pretty good.
Claudia: Is this everything you hoped it would be?
Claudia: It’s too bad I don’t have video because your face is doing all these amazing things right now.
Paul: [While breaking into laughter.] Like what?
Claudia: It’s screwing itself up in all these interesting ways. The sum of which I am interpreting as: “Oh this is tedious and do I even want to deal with this and how do I sort of go around this because I don’t even want to get started.”
Paul: This is the contortion of real thinking. [Flutters lips seemingly at a loss for words.]
Claudia: So another way of saying what I just said is that perhaps the artifice of the theater is something that is more familiar to me and is more in line with the world I construct around myself, the world as I would like it to be. Something about Tino Sehgal assaults my sense of how I allow interactions to work. I’m not sure I believe that way of thinking about it.
Paul: Okay but let’s take that as step one. Step two, which is my question, would be: I assume you’ve been exposed to more performance and theater-based projects than you care to remember that want to break that wall between audience and stage. They want to dissolve the differences between what art is and what life is. Right?
Paul: It’s the same with Sehgal, or at the least, very similar, right?
Claudia: That’s true, I’m probably overly familiar with it. And I’m contemptuous of it, maybe.
Paul: And so maybe what you’ve seen in theater and performance projects where they use certain devices to try to break that wall down you see being used in a difference context, and this irks you.
Claudia: Yes, that’s true, I would agree.
Paul: Yep. Yeah, ah wow, look at that. We’ve really come to a [Claudia cuts him off.]
Claudia: It’s a repackaging. Oh there goes the face again. I see it as marketing.
Paul: [Begins making discontented groans.]
Claudia: I should have stopped after I agreed with you.
Paul: No, this is another six hours now. I hope that’s a 60-gig recorder.
Claudia: Sorry interns.
Paul: That may be true, but it may not be the truth.
Claudia: Is a statement like that specifically calibrated to be irritating or is that just a happy byproduct?
Paul: Would it help to say that it irritates me as much as it irritates you?
Claudia: Yes. It helps a great deal.
[A moment of silence. A glass is picked up and then placed back on the table. Some crunching].
Claudia: You think Michael Bay went to the Tino Sehgal show?
Claudia: Do you think Michael Bay has read The Iliad?
Paul: [Laughing harder.] I’m gonna say yes.
Claudia: It’s a lot of gore…
Paul: It’s all blood.
Claudia: It’s six o’clock.
Paul: We’ve been talking for four hours!??
Paul: I think we know the spirit of this conversation already. It’s going to be diversions and ha-ha-ha and it’s going to go on for 7,000 words.
Claudia: This is so much longer than 7,000 words.
Paul: Well, we’ll edit it for rhythm and timing, but really, essentially, it’s ha-ha-ha and Michael Bay, hah-hah-ha-hah-ha-hah. And Marina and Tino.
[Really long pause.]
[The phone rings loudly.]
[Answering machine: Hey Paul, are you there? Hello? Are you there?]