October 18th, 2010 - Conversation between Loris Greaud and Matthew Day Jackson - Moderated by Allen Ruppersberg
Allen Ruppersberg: I’m the moderator, so it is my job to start, is that correct? When the idea was proposed to talk about generations, the first thing that occurred to me, among a number of facts that occurred to me, was the difference between now and when I started. I was in school in the mid-sixties. Just to get the chronology right, I’m the same age as Keith Richards, if everybody knows what that means. The difference between what it was like to go to art school and become an artist at that point and what it must be like to begin now, to me is like trying to imagine what Atlantis was like. There is such a difference. There is so much space in between that the only kind of experience or clue that I have is that I did teach for a while, off and on, so I have some knowledge of how art schools operate and what art schools have become.
The other thing that I started thinking about was just some facts about how the time is different now. When I was going to school in the mid ’60s and becoming an artist—I had my first serious show in 1969—American art had begun to be shown in Europe in the mid ’50s. There is only really a ten-year-plus difference there between American art becoming public and me going to school. Then the second fact is that all of the influences and the art that was being invented at that point was only at most ten years away from me learning about it, or me being an artist. Now, for your generation going to school and learning about the same things that I did (and I can see the influences in your work) there is about forty years difference. That is an enormous amount of change. I was within ten years of the work of Alan Kaprow and all the people who influenced me and the Europeans that we were learning about: Manzoni and Klein and so forth.Tthere wasn’t much of a time gap, and now there is an enormous time gap. One of the questions that occurred to me is how that makes a difference, because I see the difference and I know it by experience. I don’t know how you approach that: when you are in school and becoming an artist and your references and influences are so much more distant than they were for me.
Loris Gréaud: I think there are many things that could be said from that. The first thing is that the gap you mentioned of, say, about forty years, is something of a double-bind. In terms of art school, the unlearning process is quite important, but when you started being an art student, you said there were ten years of reference. Now we have more than that, and on the one hand, we have this great perspective of great artists, thanks to your generation of conceptual art; yet at the time you were starting your work and working, the art world did not talk about conceptual art. It wasn’t named. This is very important, because I believe that conceptual art stopped being conceptual art at the very moment we named it. It is just like punk. When we named the punk movement, it was dead. I have been through this learning process as well, and, of course, what I am interested in is the way it is named for now. People always try to define things. I think , trying to blur boundaries is another important statement of your work, as well as trying to blur the position of the artist and the viewer. I think it is an important and great paradox that we are in this field of knowledge in which we want to blur everything, but at the same time we are trying to define and to name a movement. I think that now we have this mature perspective that we have these chains of doing things, yet without any complex. I think it is a major difference. I’m not trying to enter into the history for now, but just to comment on the art school issue.
Matthew Day Jackson: For me, art school was just a thing to rebel against. The other thing to take into consideration is that when I was in school, the artists who taught in the institution were tenure track professionals. The sort of safety net that the tenure track professors had supporting them in the institution prevented them from actually interfacing with the world around them. I know this sounds mean, but most of the professors I was working represented things I knew I never wanted to be. What the institution did was to cast me out into the world of stacking produce and picking up garbage and doing things that I needed to do. I knew that I never wanted to teach, particularly in the United States. I think this is really a big problem—that the role of the university or institution is a dystopia. It is a place to run away from, which makes me deeply sad, because the boundaries of the university could create a kind of amazing laboratory wall to protect the young person from the pressures of the outside so they could flail about to learn.
I do believe that in New York, among the friends and artists that I know now, there has been a reshaping of form in how art is made and thought about. Your generation, from ’68 to ’72, made some of the most important art works of the last century. We look back to this and we do not want necessarily to recreate the form but to get to the chutzpah, to the essence of it. I think that in my generation there has been a real push to really rethink this.
The thing that has created the difference between the generations is primarily technological, in the sense that information and images are readily available. In fact, there is a total onslaught. You don’t even have to turn the button on any longer. The reference, the remake, the quotation in art as it is now is a very, very different thing. When I was much, much younger, getting the opportunity to work with artists like Rauschenberg, Richard Serra, Claes Oldenberg, and others, showed me there was something about the essence of the work, or the essence of the time that the invention happened to create that work, that never really went away. I remember when I first met Rauschenberg for the first time, I expected him to be thirty-five years old.
But art school was kind of a humdrum experience. I knew that was not the place for innovation. It was kind of like a coffin. I don’t know if that speaks to a difference of experience.
Allen Ruppersberg: One difference is that Rauschenberg was thirty-five when I met him! It was as if you were in the same ball game. I think one of the differences is, and perhaps you’ll confirm this: when we were starting to make what we make and there was no term for conceptual art (and I think you’re right—when things get named, they change. When rock and roll became rock, rock and roll was over)…
Loris Gréaud: It is the vampire effect. As soon as you get light on something, it just disappears.
Allen Ruppersberg: Conceptual art is also somewhat similar. There was a period of maybe five years when it was not named, but it was what you were thinking. It was the last modernist movement in the fact that it was an international movement. Maybe you can’t have things that are named any more. You have appropriation art and you have post appropriation art. You have post post post post conceptual art, and so forth.
Loris Gréaud: But it exists. We are talking nowadays about post conceptual and neo pop art and all these kinds of things, which are a bit scary.
Allen Ruppersberg: When I was starting, there were rules. I agree that you have to unlearn everything you learned in art school. That was probably as true in my case as it is in yours. We did not have the images, the information, but what you were reacting against was abstract expressionism and a kind of formal history. Of course, that’s all broken down, and now you have everything available. I think that makes a huge difference also.
Matthew Day Jackson: The thing that I’ve noticed is that in my life span—I’m thirty-six years old—when I first started at university, it was analog. All my class papers were handwritten; I didn’t use the Internet until after graduate school, which is embarrassing! The way in which the images were delivered to me were probably very much the same way—in the library, in the book, in Seattle, Washington, where art doesn’t really even happen. If it does, it does with tiny quotations around it, like here’s your Warhol’s Silver; if you are lucky, you see a really good Mark Tobey painting.
Allen Ruppersberg: It is very small, yes.
Matthew Day Jackson: I identify with what you are saying. I always make the joke that three thousand years from now, archaeologists will find the skeletons of our generation and they won’t even know where we were from. Our fingers will look kind of worn because we actually used our hands, but our craniums will be smaller than the next generation, who had small hands and giant craniums. We were kind of a missing link. But you said a vampire effect, which is that to shed light on something is to kill it.
Loris Gréaud: Yes. It is quite cool to say that in a symposium!
Matthew Day Jackson: In terms of quotation, when you quote something and bring it back as a form of art, you breathe a certain lifelessness into it. Once you’ve named something, you’ve killed it, but the thing that you have named doesn’t stop working, it’s just that naming it creates a kind of zombie, mindless wandering about.
Loris Gréaud: I think that today there is no interest in—and this is a huge change, I think—there is no need for traceability, no need to have knowledge of the origin to understand things and also the world. Let’s take what you were talking about: the access to the images. Nowadays, I have the feeling that we are living in a kind of flat world, with a kind of completely horizontal reflection on things. What I am trying to say is that because of what you’ve done (Allen Ruppersberg), we are now free to be completely de-complex about the tools that we are using. For instance, you talked about rules, and I am trying to avoid any kind of rules, which I think is easier nowadays. The horizontalization of thought, though, I think we can link it to the way we build up our culture of images through Google. of the new technology—which is not just new technology, it is a whole new world—creates this kind of culture of the surface. You Google something, you have immediate access to the thing you are looking for, but only on the surface. I think this is a big change in terms of knowledge and reflection.
Allen Ruppersberg: I think you are right. It also expands the world enormously. If you compare the size of the art world when I was beginning, it was this big (gestures with thumb pressed to forefinger). The scale of the art world in the last ten years has grown enormously. That’s why I say it is like trying to talk about Atlantis, because the scale is so big, you can’t even know it all, whereas before, you could know it all, or you could know the majority of it. It’s mixed much more now, and it’s just bigger.
Matthew Day Jackson: We were talking about the horizontality of everything—images, forms, and ideas. People talk about how one thing leads to another—this thing leads to this thing to this thing. That’s not the way it works. As events happen, they get subsumed into the mass. The mass continues to push forward, and it subsumes the next thing and all the things that happen around it, so one thing does not lead to another. It leads to this mass, which is maybe the horizontal line you were talking about. At the same time, the images quoted, the forms used, the words said, and the ideas expressed are built upon an ancient structure of ideas and forms. I wonder if instead of being horizontal, maybe it is just a perfect flat plain in front of us. Maybe it is a matter of semantics, but to me, there is this: I think the hopefulness in an Albert Bierstadt or the wry comedy of a Bruce Altman are talking about the same thing, but are built upon an ancient structure. I’m hoping that maybe when people look at art they are not just looking at the immediacy of it but understand where it comes from, that it does have origins. I think that’s something I fight against in New York.
Loris Gréaud: From my point of view, I have a huge suspicion about this idea of origin. It leads me to another thought—lots of thoughts—about things that have changed. We also need to consider the gap in between works. A work of art might now be understood as unplayed notes. The space between two works could be the work itself, and some works could be composed only with lines and trajectories. For example, the chain of thought and myth and history is as important as the work itself in your works. For example, what you did in ’69, when I was minus ten years old, and with Al’s Grand Hotel were really important things. You introduced the idea of the porosity of art and art trying to infiltrate the real. In ’69 this was really, really important. The thing is, nowadays, today, in the world I am living in, there is no distinction between reality and theatricality. Fake and real are on the same surface. That’s why I was talking about this horizontality, at least on the surface.
Allen Ruppersberg: The search for the space in between is something that I completely agree with and think is probably very similar between our eras. Things here and there might be different, but the space in between is what you look for, and I continue to look for integration into some kind of reality that is in between. Of course, you never want to make art, so that kind of boundary between art and reality, where you have to work in between so that you can make something that reflects both, is just part of the artist’s practice. The information is enormously different, for instance, now when attitudes become form. The show in 1969—and that was probably full of historical ideas—was equivalent to the Armory show in New York at the turn of the century in terms of its importance and its continuing influence. I was in that show. I didn’t go there, but I received the catalog in the mail. Every artist wanted to look at that catalog, because you could see the pictures of what people were doing. They had heard about this show, and that catalog got passed around and around like it was a Bible. Now we know everything that everybody does pretty quickly, but that kind of very specific information is so different. That’s a key point in just looking and seeing to educate yourself as an artist. You can see everything in all the galleries around the world.
Loris Gréaud: We were talking about the Internet, but there are many other subjects that changed everything, including the behavior of the world. Of course, the Internet giving immediate access to knowledge and the image has had a huge effect, but quantum mechanics and quantum physics are changing absolutely everything about what we know so far. To take an example of how things have changed, I am asking myself if it important to read (sorry, could not catch the name) when Sollinger is producing ubiquity in reality. There is no more distinction between fiction and reality. I am not even sure if there is an in between. I think it is completely entangled now. We should all start working on reality and theatricality, fake and real, as if they are one and the same.
Matthew Day Jackson: But you’re not eliminating the authentic experience? Is the suggestion that the difference between fake or virtual experience and actual in-the-flesh experience are one and the same thing?
Loris Gréaud: I think so.
Matthew Day Jackson: Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think to some degree that may be nihilistic. I think human experience the record of our experience are incredibly important things. There’s a big difference between science and technology.
Loris Gréaud: Yes.
Matthew Day Jackson: Science is when our brains move forward into the horizon; technology is the thing that stands behind that puts science to use and changes our actual human movements: the way that we get information, move through the world, and talk to each other. For me, there is still quite a large gap between what is real and what is fake, for lack of better terms.
Loris Gréaud: I was not trying to make a statement, and it is not something I am happy with, but my experience is that sometimes things on TV are more real than reality. For example, sometimes you can experience travel from Paris to New York from your couch in the same way you can experience it in reality. With all the advertising surrounding you and the fact that such travel is a designed experience, it is kind of the same whether you live it or see it.
Allen Ruppersberg: One of my experiences of living in Europe in the late ’90s was that when I went back to New York, the pace was so fast. I was in Switzerland, and that is a little bit of a different story, but nevertheless, I was traveling constantly through Europe, and the of pace of media and that whole world took a while to catch up again in New York, because it moved so fast. The difference between reality and what’s on television and what’s on the street and what’s in the magazines becomes this incredible overload, which only gets worse. The blurring there is extreme. There has been a gradual acceleration. My original questions about fiction and reality come from literature, and when it is applied to my own actual experience, pretty soon fiction becomes reality and reality becomes fiction and you don’t now anymore. It seems writing fiction is kind of impossible in a way. I am not a fiction writer, but it applies to all kinds of arts: how you integrate those things. If you haven’t followed right along and you were dropped into this world, I can’t imagine how one would cope with it. It’s like music: you follow it or it loses you, and you followart, or it loses you. They are parallel worlds in a way.
Matthew Day Jackson: That could also be applied to learning about history as well. As I get older, the more that I learn, the more that I un-know the things that I was taught as a young person. That sort of reality becomes ambiguous. I mean, granted it is always an impossibility to give a true historical account—Thucydides kind of proved that for us. Looking backwards, the difference between real and unreal is very grey. I think I can understand what you are saying in terms of thinking about history.
Loris Gréaud: I was not trying to avoid or to deal with looking backward. Of course, we need history, and we need to know everything, but I have some doubts about traceability and coming to the origin of something. I am not sure. I have some doubt that it is really important.
Allen Ruppersberg: Also, as things speed up and there is more and more to take in, then historical distance becomes harder to acknowledge or even to know about. The things that kids don’t know about now is just astounding. Is it because things are so fast and there’s so much more? Is there so much more art history to know now than there was before, and so many more artists making it, and the information on all of it,that we run out of mental room? Is that why some things don’t get known about anymore? I don’t know. I have no idea.
Loris Gréaud: I think it is going to get worse. Our generation grew up with the craziest things. We are living now in a completely exponential, non-stop world. Even with all the technology that we mentioned before, you can’t embrace all that is going on. There is too much. We have been raised with the immediacy of technology, with the reborn of drugs like LSD, and other synthetic drugs. I think this is quite important also: the acceleration of acceleration.
Allen Ruppersberg: What do you mean “reborn LSD”? What does that mean?
Matthew Day Jackson: It means that the kind of pot that you were smoking in 1968 and the kind of pot that we are smoking now, as well as mushrooms and LSD have also been turned up exponentially in potency—financially, as well!
Loris Gréaud: Reborn, rejecting LSD at some point was changing lots of things. [This remark was unclear, and the videotape seemed to skip a bit here.]
Matthew Day Jackson: About relearning about ancient things like Hiawaska and the many other mind-altering substances, I am reminded that I always tell other artists that I wanted to start a grants program for people to buy mushrooms or to start lobbying so that they were legal, because I thought they were an extremely important thing for artists to do. For five or ten thousand years, shamans have been using these kinds of tools to access a different plane of reality, and I think that is what we are doing: accessing a different plane of reality. I’m not saying that vision becomes reality, but it is a different window, and I think that when artists are allowed to let themselves see through a window that they had no kind of control over, all of your experiences come to the forefront. Sometimes we need these things to step out. A lot of times making an art work is an attempt to step out of reality. It is really that place in between that you were talking about—doing the work and stepping out. Then you are just recording that experience.
Loris Gréaud: That’s perfect. I constantly change my opinion on this, and I think it is also that paradox and negation are important in the creative process. I have been trying to avoid a lot of the romantic aspects of the artist, but for the past three days I have a completely new view—that may change at the end of this discussion!—but the way I see things right now, when we are talking about the behavior of the artist, he or she must be able to accept any kind of obsession with open arms, the best kind of obsession and the worst kind, which is quite tough to do. It is unusual for me to say that, because it is the romantic aspect of the artist. Still, in five minutes, I may change my mind.
Matthew Day Jackson: That happens a lot. I was at a dinner the other night—I don’t go to art dinners very much—but someone said, “Artists are all full of bullshit.” I said, “Aren’t you a lawyer?” and he said, “Yeah, but that’s my job.” And I thought that was interesting, because I have noticed that I can be working toward something very hard for several years, maybe longer, and then all of a sudden you can throw it all away immediately. I think that is one of the beautiful things about art, and I think it is kind of expected of us to a certain degree. To flush it all down the tubes, to throw everything away, is a radical experience.
Loris Gréaud: About I would love to expand on that. There are several layers, so I will try to make a quick ellipse of the thing. The fact of even being named artist and art is quite painful. That is the thing we are talking about: blurring boundaries and learning and all these things. I am not sure I wanted to be called an artist. I have lots of doubts about artists and art in general. The great thing that we have is this blurred position to the world, which is an extremely undefined position. Yet it leads us to do a different kind of thing and to have a different kind of view. By naming such people artists and what they do art just kills the thing.
Allen Ruppersberg: I never used to like to admit that I was an artist, particularly in those kinds of situations where somebody is something and they say, “Well, what are you?” I say, “Well, I don’t do anything.”
Matthew Day Jackson: I would always say I make things.
Allen Ruppersberg: I wouldn’t even say that. I think that is part of my occupation—that I don’t really do anything, and that allows me to do what I do. That always stopped the conversation at that time, and I found it very effective, because those kinds of conversations go nowhere. The idea of what an artist is—you can’t say what that is, anyway. As you say, your idea of what you are as an artist one day is one thing, and the next day it could be something else.
Loris Gréaud: The best thing, from my point of view, is surfing on slippery roads and sometimes not knowing what I am doing. For example, my parents, whom I love, gave me some perspective. A year ago, I had a very intense week where I was making fireworks, and then traveling and doing something else in New York on a screen, and then going to Miami to work with a little monkey! Each day I was talking with my mother, and at some point she told me, “I really have no idea what you are doing.”
Matthew Day Jackson: “Neither do I!”
Loris Gréaud: I thought that was perfect.
Allen Ruppersberg: I think that’s a positive thing: “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s okay, just do it.”
Matthew Day Jackson: Just as long as the monkey was not hurt.
Loris Gréaud: It was not hurt. This learning and being lost could be understood as a strategy. To make an ellipse, you can’t stop and define someone who doesn’t know where he is going, so I guess the next step is just to get completely lost. That could be an answer.
Allen Ruppersberg: I think an artist gets lost all the time.
Matthew Day Jackson: You were talking about a slippery road. As an artist, you are constantly trying to disprove yourself, or unlearn things that you’ve learned so that you never get comfortable. Comfort is proof that the devil exists—it is the thing that makes you stagnant, and you don’t challenge yourself anymore. I think it can become a very slippery emotional/psychological road, which goes back to why I think everyone should take mushrooms to show that you’re back in the real. (To Allen Ruppersberg): Just out of curiosity, how many times have you just thrown everything away? Cleared the studio and disappeared for a year?
Allen Ruppersberg: Many, many, many times. I would really have to think about it to know how many times. I am extremely restless, and I live in many places, and I move all the time, so that changes things, and I like that. I think it is part of the process for me: that constant redoing and wanting to have new lives. I’m running out of time to have them all, but that’s always a goal.
Matthew Day Jackson: It’s not a fear of death; it’s just being present.
Loris Gréaud: Surfing.
Matthew Day Jackson: I think about it as a skateboard trick or shooting a basketball. When it’s not going in, but you shoot anyway. Did you ever skateboard?
Loris Gréaud: Yeah.
Matthew Day Jackson: It’s like that. You know as soon as you fall, you are never going to land, but you do it anyway.
Loris Gréaud: That’s a good image.
Matthew Day Jackson: (Gesturing to Allen Ruppersberg) I was just curious.
Loris Gréaud: One of the words was to disappear for a year or for two years.
Allen Ruppersberg: Well, it’s kind of an ongoing idea. I don’t know exactly how it manifested itself. I don’t remember. But it is definitely something I’ve thought about and tried to do, but as with the technological world, it gets harder and harder to do those things.
Loris Gréaud: Maybe we cannot.
Matthew Day Jackson: It’s like the man behind the curtain. Artists aren’t supposed to sit on stage. They make art because they don’t want you to know who they are or what they look like or anything about them, so it is always a very interesting dilemma. I actually sometimes enjoy not being present, not being in front of your art work and seeing people go by.
Allen Ruppersberg: The last thing you want to do is to let them know you’re the artist!
Matthew Day Jackson: Yes, because then you are not really doing it.
Allen Ruppersberg: I think maybe it is time to move on.