Adam Interviews Liam Gillick by Phone – 10/24/06
Phone rings; picks up on the 3rd
Machine: Hi. You’ve reached Liam Gillick and Sarah Morris. Please leave a message after the tone. Thank you. (beep)
Adam: Hi Liam. It’s Adam. Um, just calling you…
Liam: Hi, hi.
Adam: Hi Liam.
Liam: How you doin’?
Adam: Very good. Is this an okay time to talk now?
Liam: Yep, yep.
Adam: I mean, I know it was okay with you last time, but…
Liam: …invaded… (can’t understand)
Adam: Oh, we, we might get invaded too. Wh…who’s is going to invade you?
Liam: Oh, I don’t know. Uh, shortass…
Liam: …I call him.
Adam: Shorty. (laughs) I think shortass is pretty good, yeah. Oh, okay. Well, that’s fine. We can include Orson in the conversation.
Adam: Excellent. So um, did you get my questions?
Liam: …lock myself in the bedroom. So um, yeah.
Adam: Okay, so I can um, shall I start by asking you. Uh, try to pretend this is spontaneous.
Liam: Yes, exactly. Do you have your recorder?
Adam: Uh, yeah, actually I think we’re… Are we recording? We’ve got a, we’ve got a… Yep, we’re recording.
Adam: Um, should actually… Should I put this on… I’m just going to talk to you. Uh, we had to get a, we had to get an analog phone to make this work because digital phones apparently don’t record so easily.
Liam: Huh. Inter…
Adam: But uh, why don’t we uh, just start? Um, so for your exhibition at The Lab…
Liam: Uh huh.
Adam: Um, you’re not creating a work of art in advance for us to display, but your process is more open-ended. Can you tell us um, how this work that you’re going to create, um, will actually be created?
Liam: Yeah. Well, you know, in the past I’ve often tried to avoid the issue of uh merely presenting (clunking sound)… in a gallery or a museum space. Um, and uh, I’ve often used the, the… Can you hear me?
Adam: Oh, I can hear you…
Liam: …I hear strange noises.
Adam: Yeah, that’s been happening…I was tried to put you on speaker phone…
Adam: …but that doesn’t work.
Liam: Okay. So um, you know, I’m not quite as ex… You know, there are artists like uh Dominque Gonzalez-Forester who often claim that the exhibition is the only moment when they’re really working; it’s the actual moment when all ideas get decided and worked out, and anything happened before is not actually a creative moment at all. So, so the work gets done during the exhibition. I’m not quite that extreme, but I do, I do and I have done in the past use uh the opportunity to show, especially in a public space there’s a possibility to not have everything closed off when you get there.
I mean, there is an argument for bringing stuff that’s been made for somewhere else, or things that have been created elsewhere to a space to show people. But there’s also an argument to use a public space as a place to test some ideas and start them off, rather than finish them off.
But we will have a basic framework that’s there. We’re not starting from scratch. We will, we will have text, we’ll have various structures, we’ll have a…architecture. We’ll have something that’s there. Um, we’ll have this kind of base level, like a kind of default level that like on the computer when the program goes back to a default level, we’ll have something there. Like when you overly program your phone, when you have to kind of reset it and it goes straight back to, you know, all the original settings that came from the factory. We’ll have something there.
But, you know, th…the, the creative process will be in addition to that and it’s very contingent on my presence; it’s very contingent on how much, wh...what we come up with, what we decide. But it doesn’t, it, it’s about uh – a lot of it’s not, not predecided, it’s not predetermined. I’m trying to find out something as much as anyone else, you see. Th…that’s the key.
Adam: Can I just ask you to um, first start off by um, sort of walking us through very concretely what your process is. First there’s the sort of designing of an architecture that you’re doing at home, uh, that you’re doing in your studio. Um, and then where do you go from there?
Liam: Well, you know, I, I tend to try to keep a number of different channels of ideas going simultaneously. So when I’m working I’m usually trying to do more than one thing at once. So uh, I, I suffer from delusion and distraction in equal measure.
Liam: …the delusion that I can address certain things in the, th…that maybe artists don’t traditionally have cultural permission to address. And secondly I’m distracted ‘cause I’m a suburban person; I come from a suburban background. So the combination of the two means that I’m usually best working when I’m flipping between different ideas and projects at the same time.
So today I was thinking about what we’re doing in, at, at the Lab; but I was also thinking about what could be on the cover of the, the free underground map that they give out in London, ‘cause they asked me to think about a design for it. And I’m also reading. And I’m also checking the text. And I’m also uh, just doing some speculative plans for something.
And I’m flipping between these different activities. So in a way the project in, in the Lab, if it works, should mo…should quite a…will quite accurately reflect my uh working practice, because it will be the process of flicking between various activities, one of marking a space, uh, reorganizing one’s trajectory through a space or the way you move through a space, and also a number of activities – research, presentation, thinking, um, hanging around, uh, being stuck. But also uh, creating something all simultaneously. And that, that very much um, uh, reflects the way I might work normally.
The, the, the key thing is the fact of being around, ‘cause being around will mean that it will be harder for me to go, to get too distracted. I mean, there’ll be, there’ll be a kind of focus on what we’re doing there and then. And, as I’ve gotten older, there have been less opportunities to do that because generally, um, people need to have things too tied down. So I…
Adam: So y…
Liam: …the idea of, of, of making use of this term “The Lab” as, as a, as a potentially real term, like I sometimes am a bit bloody minded about things. If someone says they want me to talk about boredom. They might not really mean it, but I’ll actually do it. So… (Adam chuckles)… um, you know, I’m really trying to take on board some of the, not, not the complete one, but one or two of the uh guiding principles of The Lab as a place, if you see what I mean.
Adam: Sure. Um, and it seems also to me that um, what you’re doing is relevant to the fact that it’s um in Belmar. Is that right?
Liam: Yeah, yeah, to a certain extent, or; I mean, I’m very interested in, you know, in the past I worked on a number sites, the McNamara Project that I did in the early 90s about the former Secretary of Defense under Kennedy who I knew nothing about at the time. And also projects about uh Rasma Darwin ?? when he was Charles Darwin’s older brother, which …?? were attempts to look at what you could call the, the, the, the decentered person or the decentered or the secondary person.
And I’m very interested in, in, I know it sounds almost like a cliché nowadays to say it, but these transitions for these undefined areas, or these kind of uh strange social spaces that are created to, to um, improve or alter an, an existing area. And also places in transition. The literal – if you look like we did at the, at the map, Google map to look at where, where, where, where we are…where the space is in comparison to the mountains and the plain and uh, the landscape. This for me is a perfect kind of visual um, metaphor for the way, the, the space I like to operate in, which is not necessarily…
I’m not always necessarily comfortable right in the center of action. I want to be somewhere where people are still working things out, where there isn’t a consensus yet about success or failure or how to behave or how to proceed.
So the project very much reflects my interest in an environment like uh Belmar which is, to a certain extent has a, has a history, but also is in…undergoing a process of uh reimagining itself, or re, reimaging itself. I don’t think that process is complete yet, so, so if there’s some way we can um, uh, create a sort of uh, a flickering, like the lights flickering in a way psychologically, in terms of what kind of art production might be made in this kind of new environment, then, then that’s what I’m trying to do.
Um, you know, it’s not a dead show. It’s not a dead show with things coming from somewhere. It’s a place where, where we’re trying to find somewhere the gap, the tiny gap in-between uh presentation and production. You know, like where, where, where the key, the key to the show is the idea of production rather than consumption, if you see what I mean. Like if you could say that it’s not about coming to a space to consume some images. It’s about going somewhere to, to, to stand alongside someone who’s producing something. That would be the key for me.
And I, and I think a lot of these questions, these don’t necessarily; I’m not making a project about Belmar at all, but it’s about attitude and it’s about how can you operate in this kind of environment. That for me is very interesting and it’s what I grew up with. I grew up in a, in a basically in a suburb, and I grew up with the idea of the arts… the space that was a kind of uh, it’s, it’s… it was a place you could be that wasn’t quite being in the center of London at one of the official, big institutions. But nor was it just a free-for-all. It was a kind of guided, um, free zone, if you see what I mean, so something with, a place with an agenda, but not where everything’s all sorted out. You just see uh, a repeat of what you’ve been told is supposed to be good or bad.
Adam: Um, it’s sort of like the Queens of London probably.
Liam: Yes… (chuckles)
Adam: Well anyway, uh, I like the idea of, of um, some, the place between the city, you know, with all of its sophistication, and nature, um, where everything is open-ended. I like that play… Belmar… in-between the city and the mountain is the laboratory.
Liam: Well, but you notice if you go too far out into rich suburbs, you get um, a kind of, a, a, an indulgent audience that actually takes over the art space and turns it into somewhere that um, that is purely a reflection of their own value system. So you get that in Britain too. So once you get too far out into a kind of leafy suburb, really leafy suburb, art spaces don’t (clears throat) become equally not dead, but they become equally defined in the way that truly centered um place becomes defined, unless it’s a subcultural place or something.
Whereas this idea of like an inner suburb that’s in the process of transition, or a process of reinvention, is very interesting for me, ‘cause it’s the place where in a way you can potentially have um, a lot of, there are a lot of questions (phone in background), but there are also a lot of possibilities to um, operate there, you know, I think… very well examined.
We’ve looked at the great, the urban and the subcultural within the urban. We’ve also looked at the idea of like the beautiful, elegant place that’s out of town. But this idea of somewhere that’s in this kind of transition zone I’m interested in.
Adam: Uh huh. I mean, I mean, your interest, your work is very much about that relationship between physical structure and um economic and social realities, isn’t it?
Liam: Uh huh. Yeah.
Adam: I mean, um, can you talk about how um, how this project might fit into that?
Liam: Well this, to a certain extent this, this project has quite a lot of straightforward qualities because I’m really trying to examine two key areas. One is the, the legacy of the (background phone ringing) um, a kind of maybe it’s culturally specific to the US to a certain extent, the legacy of the story, the individual story, the, the um, the uh, unpretentious, straightforward story of someone, and, and it’s something I noticed when…first come to the States is that thing when you’re in a bar or a café or somewhere, people ask you where you’re from.
Liam: You know, in England, at worst they just ask you where you went to school.
Adam: (little chuckle)
Liam: …it’s not really a useful question. But this thing of people wanting to tell, tell each other where they’re from or, or, and then discuss differences and similarities and so on based on that initial question I always found a much more productive thing to talk about than like what the weather’s like or something like that. And um, you know, in this case I’m looking both at this, this side of things, which was your original challenge in a way, having looked at my work and thought well, you seem to think you’re addressing this and that, these non spaces and these kind of ideas. Well, what about the people? The people who occupy um, the, these kind of uh undefined roles that you’re talking about?
So we looked originally at all these, this material from like uh, spoken word, um, oral histories in a way. And this, you know, initially there was the idea that we could use that and use some kind of touring documentary picture of, of all the different contradictory stories in a way. But I wanted to do was, in the end, I realized that maybe it’s better to combine that with something else that interests me too, which is the legacy of like organized um, organized story telling, or like uh, politicized story telling if you like.
And I wanted to look back at a period that’s very romanticized, the sort of uh, French post ’68 moment when we’re told that the poetics of politics were really in a refined state. And maybe combine the two. Try and set up a structure where we could look at both. We could look at both how, how people approached in the early 70s in France a kind of collective strategy for telling stories about how, how, what work is like, what it feels like to function in a, within a large corporation and so on. And, and also what it’s like to be an individual in those situations, and compare that and contrast it to um (hear child’s voice in background), the uh… Oh great (obviously to child)…good.
And compare and contrast that to this, um, history of like the, the individual story, which, in America, which is very resonant from, from literature, popular literature, you know, to uh, to just TV. I mean, you see it all the time. It’s like a classic um, component of American professional ?? TV. So I wanted to combine the two somehow. That, that’s the idea.
Adam: Let me ask you. What do you think the relevance of that, the film you’re talking about is…Weekend a Sochaux. What is the relevance um, today? Not in a simple sense, but um, why do you think that film would be interesting for a product for you right now?
Liam: Well, on one level I think purely as a visual thing it’s interesting, the way people look, the way they behave, the way it looks very old-fashioned. It’s only the early 70s/’74. But if you compare the film of a French factory and a French environment, working, producing something, in ’74, it looks like uh, uh, the 1930s in America – people are riding around on bikes, on little mopeds and sort of everything’s grey and dark and industrial. It’s got nothing to do with our image of the smiling General Motors worker in 1974 with a, with a big car and a nice house and uh, you know, not too grand, but a kind of nice house in the suburbs and a barbeque in the garden. It’s a completely different image.
And of course, you know, at that period, um, you know, the relative income or wages of uh, of an American worker were probably much higher proportionally than that of a French industrial worker, and that standard of living and lifestyle were different. But that, that also makes it incredibly fascinating, a bit like if you look through an old National Geographic and you look at the advert for a Chevy Nova or something; there’s something strangely compelling about the way a car advert contains a lot of aspirations of the society; you see a lot through um, the cars that society produces and what they look like and how they feel, and how they’re promoted in advertising.
And I think so on one level people would just potentially find it very fascinating. Um, it also brings up certain issues that are very pertinent about immigration, multi-culturalism and so on, you know. One of the people in the film, uh, North African. And now of course we know 30 years later that these, these are the parents of the people who are now genuinely pissed off in France and are not sure how to behave. But these are also questions that have uh been profound issues in places like Detroit or other industrial centers in the US, about questions of class and race and identity.
So I think there’s a way to look at it both as a, as an amusing, interesting, fascinating historical document that’s not been seen very much, that’s about questions of style and behavior and so on. But also is a very political, um, record of something that may be hard to relate to. But I’m not trying to just show people back what they already know. You see what I mean?
Adam: Uh huh… sure.
Liam: I can’t… I think… I’m trying to also bring up something that I don’t completely understand, and that’s why we’ll have this element of the project which involve the possibility to fu…the exhibition to try and recreate one of the themes from the film. And I think this will be a very interesting and amusing and uh, productive, uh, thing within the, within the show.
Adam: Is there um… I couldn’t imagine a more foreign context. I mean, uh, I mean, but that’s precisely what might be interesting about it.
Adam: I mean even the fact that the center of this, at the center of this film is this factory, um, and um, today in western, modernized countries, the way that people work is so different.
Liam: Uh huh.
Adam: There’s, um, that we, virtually I don’t know how many people who would see this film in, you know, in Lakewood, Colorado actually work in a factory.
Liam: Yeah, exactly. And, but you know, the, this is one of… you know, I’m very interested also in, in like the, the um, the ghosts of the uh, uh of the uh, structural ghosts that exist in, in Belmar of this, you know, when you look at these old images of the big shopping mall and so on. It, it, it’s, it’s got very similar qualities to a factory if you look at it from a distance. It’s got a lot of cars parked outside, it’s got a number of sheds, a number of structures, and a rather over-reaching sort of image to try and attract people in and attract people out.
So in a way I’m, I’m, I’m trying to um, do some sort of conjuring trick where you have to, you have to for a second imagine the shopping mall is a factory instead of a shopping mall, and you have to imagine yourself in the role of the uh, in the role of the, the, the person going, working in that environment, trying to tell a story about how it functions, but without using a straightforward, didactic, personalized way.
The premise on collective ways to tell stories, and I think this is a very interesting, a very interesting difference, cultural difference, but it’s also something that um, I find potentially very interesting. You know, this idea that maybe through this project we’ll be able to find ways to tell, to tell stories collectively in another way by… Instead of… I mean, forget for a second the content of the film, right, but look at it structurally. What you have is maybe five or six scenes from the film where a number of people together act something out in order to tell a story. This is very interesting. So it’s not just a talking head, or it’s not just a sequence of images of someone telling their story. They actually try and find a way to act out things, like act out how you, how you get talked ?? to work; act out um, how people get encouraged to, to do something or think something. And it’s these structural components of the project that I think hopefully will resonate in the end, more than maybe the idea of a straightforward contradiction, you know, like from uh, Colorado or something.
‘Cause I also don’t underestimate people’s ability to read what’s going on. I mean, I’m trying not to bring them things they already know, but I’m also not so arrogant that I imagine no one’s ever thought about it before. And people travel and people think and they, they have ideas and they also have a sense of them as a progressive history. And I’m just trying to um, use some of that myself to, you know, in a detailed form with a, with a focus to try and look at some of the assumptions that we have about how stories are communicated.
Adam: You know, you talked about um, that, that one moment in the film where the guy gets up on that stage and rallies the people, um, to follow him. Why is that scene so attractive to you?
Liam: It’s attractive to me because it’s so foreign to what, what I could call like the, the world of soft marketing or soft coercion in a way that we experience today, where most signs of uh… People have become very sophisticated at making you not feel as if you’re being sold something or sold down the river, or forced to do something you don’t want, if you’re within a certain demographic profile and a certain economic situation. Of course at either end of the system, uh, people know exactly what’s going on ‘cause they’re either the victim or the, or the um, or the opposite, you know, the, the…
Adam: The, the victim of what or the opposite?
Liam: Well, I, you know, either opposite, you’ve either got the person that’s doing, is, is cleaning the toilets or is um, deciding whether people get toilets or not. But I’m not looking at that, those extremes. I’m looking more at the, the um… hang on a second.
Liam: (hear child) Hang on. Sorry. In a minute. Um… Hang on. I’m just heading back into another room. I’ve been found out.
Adam: Oh no.
Liam: Um, yeah, you know, what, what I’m saying is that, that, that about that scene in the film, right, what you have is something that’s in a way rather clear in the sense that it’s almost like a pastiche of the idea of like a rolluprollup kind of thing, and the person doing the rollup rollup represents a kind of for the country sort of idea of why you should work and produce cars.
Adam: …I’m embarrassed. What’s a rollup rollup?
Liam: Rollup rollup, like gather around everybody…
Liam: …we’re gonna like have a show, like a sort of a, a, what would they call them – a barker.
Adam: A barker? Okay, yeah.
Liam: You know, at the carnival or something.
Adam: Yeah. Carney.
Liam: Representing the state and power and so it’s a very kind of corny idea. In a situation that we live in as a post modern sophistication where people are aware they’re being sold something and don’t care, or they, they, they look for the unique thing, or they look for that special…defens…you know, that people have a sophisticated ability to consume. Such an image seems kind of laughable, laughably straightforward. But it’s also an image of a bunch of like friendshipees ?? and communists sort of mucking around and mocking the system by exaggerating, exaggerating what it, what it, what it represents.
And I, I’m very interested in this uh, these contradictions between what you could call um, the, the romantic nationalist, um, gingoistic uh image of, that, that they get for the cross politically sometimes here; in comparison with the super sophisticated daily life of people that live in the country… it’s these kind of contradictions that I’m quite interested in. And that scene seems to have a degree of mockery in it that’s quite ludicrous but I find quite entertaining and maybe has certain parallels.
Or the idea of calling a, you know, calling a bucket a bucket might be actually quite useful things to do nowadays. You know, this idea of a direct mocking of the system rather than an attempt to rationalize it or to psychoanalyze the system, or to overly analyze. (phone ringing) You know, we live in a culture of excessive analysis. Maybe sometimes things just need open mockery. And I think it might be amusing and entertaining for people to tr…try out being the role of the hairy French agitator in 1974 mocking the system. This could be an interesting thing.
Very easy for us to say okay, let’s look at the situation at Ford Motor Company or the uh service industry that, that dominates nowadays, people’s daily lives or this and that. But, but it’s also interesting to put yourself into the role of another person for a while, and like the way these people put themselves into the factory to try and make a difference or, or view, image a different system or, or try and intervene in a, in a different system. I quite like the idea of putting ourselves in the role of those people.
We’re not playing at factory workers. We’re playing at the idea of the people who analyzed the idea of being factory workers 30 years ago. Do you see… in a way. It’s a very complicated, nuanced thing to do.
Adam: Um, so, if your French is really bad though, like mine is, um, then it sort of looks like an example of the great public speech, you know, the kind of Marc Anthony or the great, you know, great philosopher standing up in the polis or um… Can you… do you want that reading as well?
Liam: Yeah, to a certain extent. And, and it’s got to be, you know, it’s uh, it’s um, you know, I was listening to WBRU at the weekend which is the bo…Brown, I think Brown University radio station which expanded like old rock radio station. And they have ads for joining the National Guard which are done in the style that would supposedly appeal to like a young, young, independent music-listening person, what’s you’re about. And they’re the same thing – it’s about people see me as a soldier and they see me, they can see my pride and they can see the way I stand is different from my friends now, in that I’ve seen action and I’ve seen, I’ve seen things other people haven’t seen. It’s a very, it’s a very accepted; you know, he speaks with a voice of a kind of slightly solemn uh teenage kid, and it’s sandwiched in-between uh, you know, contemporary music. But it’s…
We’re, we’re, we live in a, in a, in a culture of speeches in a way and uh, um, I’m very interested to see in, in a sophisticated, suburban environment, in a, in a…
Adam: I wouldn’t go that far.
Adam: I wouldn’t got that far. (chuckle)
Liam: Whatever you… you know what I mean. But um, you know, where, where people know how to buy things and sell things and buy, you know, move around and make judgments about stuff, it’s interesting to, to, to look at this question of the speech in comparison to the confessional. And we live in a cult…you know, the Doctor Phil culture of the confessional. Well, and we’re subjected to speeches. Well I’m, I’m interested in trying to play with that idea of who’s confessing and who, who gets to make the speeches and who gets to confess. And, and this is interesting to me.
Adam: And who does get um, who does get to confess?
Liam: Everyone else gets to confess while they’re subjected to more and more speeches.
Adam: But where, and you’re confessing where, like in… to your therapist or…
Liam: No. The speeches get made by, by, by um, you know, they, it’s a, it’s a kind of… you know, the idea of a call to arms or a call to uh, to, to a kind of patriotic uh dignity, um, is, is a, it’s not sophisticated. You know, I’m not saying that a confession or speech is uh unsophisticated; I think it can be very good. It might just be more useful to hear it from some of the people… Maybe it’d be interesting to reverse, reverse some of the um who’s making the speeches and who’s confessing. Do you see wh…
Liam: This could be interesting. I think it doesn’t do anyone; it’s very useful to have a culture, a self-obsessed culture of confession when um, in the midst of lots of speech making because, of course, it’s uh, it’s very handy.
Adam: Say more about this culture of confession.
Liam: Uh huh.
Adam: Like um, where do you see the culture of confession around you in America today?
Liam: Um, well, I mean clearly you see it on TV, it’s very much something, which is also it can be very useful. I’m not completely against it. And you see it in the way that people try to understand their behaviors and understand good and bad and why they do things, why they hurt each other. I’m not, I’m not entirely against the culture of, of confession and analysis. I think it can be very useful. But if it’s only that, lacks any kind of moments of uh, of um, possessing uh the uh, the dynamic, if you like, the, the, the precise, the precise voice, then it becomes a problem. Do you see what I mean?
Adam: Uh huh.
Liam: Like if everyone is lulled into a confessive, uh confessive – I don’t know if you can even say that – uh, mode, then they, they’re lacking… uh, if every problem could also be your problem it might be partly your fault. I mean, you have this double problem. A culture of confession creates both a total lack of uh responsibility ‘cause it’s, it’s a way of complicating psychological and it wasn’t my fault, you know, they made me do it or something, or I was out of control. A bit like Mel Gibson, you know, the classic Mel Gibson thing, that it sort of wasn’t him, it was the alcohol speaking… troubled soul, rather than just a kind a racist thought. (Adam is interjecting “uh huhs”)
These things are very, very complicated. I’m not saying the show will uh address all these things at all, quite far from it, but these are the things I’m thinking about… see what I mean… they’re what I’m thinking about.
Adam: Sure. Can I ask you um, uh, it’s a theoretical question? Your work has been associated with this idea of relational esthetics. Um, how do you feel about that association?
Liam: Well I feel that it’s definitely, it’s a specific set of ideas from a specific time about ten years ago that isn’t necessarily always relevant, but I do think that it does, it was an attempt to try and acknowledge that the viewer is implicated or involved in, in the, in, in art in a way that’s not just as simple as the idea of interactivity.
And that book by Nicolas Bourriaud was written at a time when there was a lot of confusion about whether or not uh there was a new model of art that was about interactivity, that, where the viewer comes, interacts and leaves in a very direct way – pulls a handle, jumps on a stage, does something. And he tried to complicate that idea because he, he saw this level of interactivity, you know, spaces suddenly being used to produce flags instead of going to look at something, or people putting on performances. You know, all, in…inviting you to take part in a kind of maison femme. And he tried to kind of put a nuance on that and tried to understand what the details of that were.
The problem is it’s been taken up as, as a kind of soft political, um, issue by people who are maybe well read and coming certainly from an Anglo-Saxon perspective where they felt that it wasn’t rigorous enough as a theory, like it sounds sort of very nice but it makes assumptions a bit like uh people say about Habermas, that people are essentially good or they’ll behave in their best interests, or, but it’s, it’s, it may be a theory that’s uh too color-blind, too class-blind, it’s not nuanced enough. Um.
And then these are all valid criticisms, but I think the, the book and the ideas were not, they were definitely in response to something rather than setting out a manifesto. And the problem is there hasn’t been much follow-up, uh. You know, the book and those ideas retrospectively start to look like they were a manifesto or an instruction manual for a group of artists, but they weren’t. He was responding to what was already being made and trying to uh, understand something about it and of course, subsequently things have moved on. We have a very different art environment.
But I still think it’s a useful text. But maybe it’s… his weak spot was writing about artists, what they actually do. So it’s a much better book if you kind of skim the bits about the artists and just read some of the other ideas.
Adam: Huh. Um, so describing um, aspects of similarity between your work and some of those concepts, I mean it sounds to me like in some context you’re also very interested in um, a relationship with the visitor as being essential to the work.
Liam: Yeah, I am, but it’s not the idea of a visitor as a kind of uh material, ‘cause it works like, like any other art material. Um, I’m quite interested in, in, in the idea of the distracted viewer, someone who’s not engaged and disengaged, and partly because my work I think is about ideology as much as it’s about um, actually showing you something. It’s a much, it’s very much about ideology, how ideology is constructed. So it doesn’t presuppose an activated viewer.
And in fact it doesn’t, you know, I’m perfectly happy for people to come to the, come to the lab and see that they have the possibility to stand on this thing and recreate the speech from this old film and choose not to, and, and no one actually bothers doing it. I’m perfectly happy. It’s not, it doesn’t complete the work for them to be there and do that. I’m, I’m happy for someone to come and visit, look around and leave. I’ve made plenty of new entry and exit points through the space by chopping up what has been there in the previous show. So hopefully I’m trying to make kind of undirected experience to the, to the viewer.
So um, you know, but we’ll, we’ll see and I’m hoping that um, that we’ll have a degree of like word of mouth, which I know sounds weird. But it’s not weird when you’re talking about music or theatre or politics, so why should it be weird about art? You know, there’s a lot of ways people write about art as this kind of distant, um, peculiar thing. But I think that if we get working for a week with people that then tell other people that then tell other people, we’ll create something that is quite um, we’ll see, you know.
Some people might start… We might get; what you can end up with is a kind of excessive engagement, or an excess of people trying to engage. And if so, then I might have to kind of scale it back and remind people that it’s actually not about, it’s not a pantomime in that way, meaning the British idea of pantomime where, you know, it’s like a, a, a big floor show. So we’ll see; we’ll see how it develops.
Adam: Interesting. Um, I’m interested really in your thoughts about your role as an artist, um, alongside uh other roles like your ro…being intellectual, being a writer, being an art critic. What do you see as the relationship between them? Do you make strong distinctions or do you not?
Liam: Um, not necessarily. I mean, originally a lot of the ways I would try and work out what to do were th…said through the writing, so if I was writing about, I thought I liked John Baledssari and I wasn’t sure, you know, and I, I seem to be attracted to the work; well, writing about was a way of finding out. And sometimes of course I found out I didn’t like certain things about what people did or artists I thought I was interested in, ‘cause I definitely have this, this feeling about writing being using a different part of the brain than uh trying to think about forms or situations or, you know, social situations.
So I’m not, the writing’s never a direct construction for the physical work in a space, or the physical manifestation as an idea. Um, it’s always in parallel to it; it’s never resolved. And of course a lot of the writing I’ve done has, should be viewed as art ‘cause it is integral to the work; it’s the books I’ve written and so on that are actually artwork, but just $7.99 and you can carry them in your pocket.
And um, you know, the other writing is something that I do as a, it’s like anyone… I have interest, I’m interested in trying to understand how things become significant and how things uh, how we understand what an artist does. So in that case I have become, I’m often much closer to the role of the interested viewer, you know, the person who is interested in art but, but not necessarily doing it.
So these, these, these things are not um… you know, obviously these things are in a space of fluid motion. But writing’s very important to me. If I don’t do it for, for six months, if I haven’t written anything or tried to think about another artist’s work in any way for say six months, my brain starts to go uh gooey. Not good. I need to do it in order to keep understanding how to function.
Adam: And so it sounds to me though that like you don’t set like strong definitions as to what part of you is the artist and what part of you is the critic. You, it’s kind of more a part of your ongoing process of exploration, the way you’re talking. It sounds, the way you’re talking about writing is similar to the way you’re talking about having this aspects of this exhibition be open-ended.
Liam: Yeah, but you have to work much harder. If you say to… say you did want to be thought of as a critic as much as anything else, you actually have to work much harder at making that happen than you do work at the id… then you have to work at the idea of being an artist. Um, I mean that’s assuming that you’re already in an art context of course and, and you’re already doing things.
And that’s because um, if you’re a functioning artist with galleries and working and showing and so on, there’s a lot more soft pressure tk…to be an artist, to be artists than there are to be a critic. Of course at certain points earlier on, a lot of galleries I work with have been much happier if I didn’t then suddenly appear writing a critical review of someone in a magazine the next month. It’s very complicated.
And ironically, you know, while of course I understand it’s hard for a lot of people to find a way to function as an artist, I’m not demeaning that, it’s actually much harder after time to sustain this critical side. That’s the bit that takes work because a lot of people uh have a vested interest in you being an artist and anything that you do that complicates that in a potentially negative way can be very confusing for them.
So, yeah, so, that’s the way, that’s the way I view it really. And of course I often write about people I’m in close proximity to, so um, you know, this is also part of it. It’s not being done in isolation. It’s done in parallel with a group of people that I’m, I’m, you know, they might also write about me, or they might also be interested in what I’m doing.
Liam: I’m bit… Sarah has to leave…
Adam: Sure, okay, that’s fine.
Liam: …so I need to uh…
Adam: …wrap it up. Any last words for the people of Colorado?
Liam: (chuckles) Uh yeah. Um. Good question.
Adam: That’s right…
Liam: What happened to, you know, what was the last year that Perjot ?? cars were distributed in the United States? That’s my question.
Adam: Question. Okay.
Liam: …rather than looking it up… No but um, yeah, I don’t know. I mean the thing is that uh, you know, I have to work when I’m there, and that’s the thing. And, and this will be the key to the show…
Liam: …the degree to which we can find a way to work and talk and uh, be there. And the idea of success and failure of the show is not, is not determined yet. So we’ll find out and, and I don’t think that would work if that’s the way it’s always done. But I think that in this case, it’s a good opportunity to um, to enter into uh, a bit more of a, of a dialogue, you know…
Adam: Sounds great.
Liam: …normal in most exhibitions.
Adam: Great. And then let’s um, let’s talk uh sometime soon about um, bringing people out here for that.
Liam: Okay. Let’s speak later or tomorrow when I’m not being, uh, having to get…
Adam: Sure, sure. Sounds great.
Adam: Bye Liam.
Adam: Okay, thanks.