Alanna Heiss: The Definitive Interview Part 3
In Articles | Interviews31 May 2012
KR: Do you believe that our post-9/11 world and current economic downturn favor more experimental approaches to artmaking?
AH: I think two things are true in the last ten years. The collapse of the lingering idea that the US is invincible made people decide that they wanted to put their money into something very tactile and real. This meant that a lot of collecting went up right away after 9/11. The rich not only got richer, but they made many artists rich, and the economic upturn of the art world was phenomenal not just because of September 11 but because, in general, people were more interested in the global reality of art than they were in anything else that was going on because in a puff of smoke it could disappear whereas art, my goodness, that could last years. So a lot of artists got very rich in the last fifteen years, and they’re even richer now and there was little experimental work being made because it was the first time you could actually go into art as a career. People are proud to say that their children are artists now because they’re going to make a much better living than anyone but an investment banker. However, at the same time, there emerged a true underground for the first time that I’ve seen since the seventies. What the technical world has given young artists of this time is a cheap way to actually deliver things without manufacturing or having to run expensive galleries, so most young artists are exploring their own kinds of virtual galleries and virtual realities. Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment is that you have to have a good IT person to do it. So it’s back again to the experts, no longer the people like me who are the curators, the accompanists who are trained to run museums and do these things. Now you need people who have graduated with a degree in computer science and you hope that they are radical enough that they want to help bring your ideas to fruition.
DKR: Do you feel as though you’ve come full circle in pushing virtual boundaries of sound and new media today like you changed people’s vision of what an exhibition could be in the seventies?
AH: The question is a happy one because for me there’s a happy answer. I don’t know when I’ve been happier! Although I would have liked to stay at P.S.1 another year, just because there were some specific shows that I was involved with and wanted them to materialize there, I was always anticipating future life at P.S.1 without me. So the actual exit for me was not a problem but the timing of the exit was because I had to cancel several big shows. Having left P.S.1, I had the opportunity to do any one of a number of things and I really looked at a lot of them and thought about coming back to the Clocktower, because it was a circle, and it was kind of funny to do all this and come back to exactly my same office. So, perversely and ironically, I set up my office in the same place with the same stuff, of course it’s dressed up, and the bookcases have books on them, they don’t have only technical equipment. The technical equipment is in the radio sound system. All the rooms I had worked with in the eighties – the Clocktower was around, it just wasn’t very prominent. Being back here and close to very young people has been so exciting. P.S.1 was wonderful, but it was so huge and I got very engaged with meetings happening all over the world, and I stopped seeing as many artists as I used to see. In the beginning, the building’s size helped me see more artists, but by the end of my tenure at P.S.1, I was more separated from artists because of it. I could just run in and run around the whole place and put a lot of shows up and then run away again and go to Istanbul where all my friends are now, as we talk, they’re all in Istanbul, but I’m here and I don’t mind being here because what’s happening here is so much fun. It sounds like a person who’s on Zoloft, which I’m not, but we’re trying new things. Last year I was completely involved in taking chances on something that had a lot of potential: Radio Theater. I wanted to try to integrate some of the actors who are all here in New York (I didn’t know about them until radio) with some of the interesting writing going on, and do radio theater. We started out with a couple of very good projects, but they didn’t develop to be as weird as I thought. It was more like readings. By the way, there are only five people here working, so you can’t run a whole theater company.
One of the projects we did was by a director, Peter McCabe, who was writing a piece about Stanford White and his death, and since he was the man who designed the Clocktower with McKim and Mead, it’s very funny to view The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing around here. That was interesting and fun and it was theater. And actors don’t care what space they’re in because they’re always in rehearsal spaces. They’re not like visual artists and collectors. I learned a lot about actors last year. We would put an ad in for no money (by ad I mean a notice up to be in a play for no money) and we would have dozens of people here getting through the court security people downstairs. They’d just get right through it – they’re actors! Right? They’d get to the thirteenth floor, they’d come down here to this room and wait and rehearse and audition and leave and they would not even notice that anything was odd. I think that’s pretty odd!
The most exciting thing that I’m looking at is the presence of live bands. I’ve noticed that when we had bands, real live rock and roll bands here on occasion (which we’ve had because they’re doing performances here at the Clocktower), the interaction of a rock and roll band in the middle of a fine art operation like this is extremely healthy. I think this is because of the anti-intellectualization that the band represents. They represent a kind of gross stupidity that’s adopted, even if it’s not real and is a kind of position and style, “We’re a rock and roll band.” Meanwhile, deep in their hearts, of course, and I know this from spending forty years with rock bands and friends, they want to be seen as artists. Scratch a rocker, find an artist. So what we’re starting is a studio which will have the facilities and ability to be a recording studio, and we will invite a band to be here when they’re not on tour, and they can rehearse and play for a couple of weeks. It will be very destructive of course to everybody else because it’s a lot of noise. This has already been seen from experiments we’ve done – including bands such as Japanther and a small punk rock band, the So So Glos. It’s just humbling what happens. You can’t hear anything and they’re always wandering up and down the halls and opening doors, saying, “Hey! Who’s there now? It’s a break time for us!” It’s a completely different way of working. So I want to do this over the course of a year. I want to have nine different bands come in and we may go as far, perhaps, as a Jazz percussion band.
I originally wanted Justin Lowe and his collaborator Jonah Freeman to do it, who make all those extraordinary environments that I’m sure you’ve seen, the strange meth complexes. They did a big show at Jeffrey Deitch’s before he left a couple years ago that was phenomenal. Justin, who’ an artist I like to work with, was going to do a recreation of Lee Scratch Perry’s studio at the Clocktower. Lee Scratch Perry, who is alive and lives in Switzerland, is supported by a wonderful woman who married him and who believes in aliens in outer space, and believes that he is an alien. That’s very convenient because Lee Scratch Perry is out of his mind. He would have been killed or in an institution if he wasn’t in Switzerland living the life of the truly insane. He’s a Jamaican who recorded in his crazy studio all of the important Jamaican music in Kingston and did it with analog equipment. When he started truly going mad, he started writing on the walls of the studio and writing more and it became this very intense, very deep collaged place, and by that time all musicians would go down to do this, even the Stones.
They wanted to see it because it was a famous studio. They would flip out when they’d see the written material visualization that Lee Scratch Perry had engaged himself in doing in the recording studio. Then, in an act of insanity, he burned down the studio, nearly killing a number of people who were in the studio and were his sound recording people and then he went into his house and sat. He would be resurrected and taken on tour to various places. He was in New York supposedly a few months ago, but I don’t think he turned up. He usually doesn’t turn up because he can’t get through customs anywhere. The last time I saw him three years ago, and I think this is something he does a lot, he was covered with a cape made entirely of small mirrors strung together and he has the Rasta hair.
So we thought we’d recreate the Lee Scratch Perry studio here. We thought that would be an ode to him. It wouldn’t entirely be a reproduction, but it would give sort of the right vibe to the space. It just turned out to be insanely expensive to get this analog equipment! I spent all last year going around asking recording studio people and rockers if they would donate their analog equipment and initially they would say, “Oh yes, you can have everything you want!” and then when we got down to picking it up they’d say, “Oh no, we’ve decided…” because they found out that there’s this fetishization of sound now that has to do with analog equipment.
We were going to use analog because we couldn’t have anything else. We couldn’t imagine getting the equipment, but by the end of the project, which didn’t happen among other reasons because we didn’t receive an expected grant, we would have had non-working analog equipment and would have had to fake with the real digital equipment hidden. That was no problem for our project because it was an art project, not a sound project, but now we’re just back down to rock studios. We may have to move our offices or something, but you’ve got to stop thinking and start listening. Max Neuhaus named his not-for-profit organization EAR and he was always fooling around with H/EAR. One of his first conceptual pieces was called Listen. He would take people on long tours and they would have to listen to everything, and because he came out of the percussion world of the sixties, it was important to hear. He liked very soft tiny sounds, and of course I love bass. Anyway listen and learn!
Writing Credits: Daniel Rothbart is an artist and writer. A former Fulbright Scholar, Rothbart is the author of Jewish Metaphysics As Generative Principle in American Art (Ulisse e Calipso) and The Phoenix (Ulisse e Calipso). His work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Orsini Foundation in Milan and numerous public and private collections.
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