Saturday, January 12, 2008

Interview with Alan Sonfist, John K. Grande


Considered a pioneer of public art that celebrates our links to the land, to permaculture, Alan Sonfist is an artist who has sought to bridge the great gap between humanity and nature by making us aware of the ancient, historic and contemporary nature, geology, landforms and living species that are part of "living history". With a reawakening of public awareness of environmental issues and of a need to regenerate our living planet Sonfist brings a much needed awareness of nature's parallel and often unrecorded history and present in contemporary life and art. As early as 1965 Sonfist advocated the building of monuments dedicated to the history of unpolluted air, and suggested the migration of animals should be reported as public events.

Alan Sonfist, "Time Landscape of New York City", outdoor installation, 1965- present.
In an essay published in 1968 titled Natural Phenomena as Public Monuments, Sonfist emancipated public art from focussing exclusively on human history stating: "As in war monuments that record the life and death of soldiers, the life and death of natural phenomena such as rivers, springs, and natural outcroppings need to be remembered. Public art can be a reminder that the city was once a forest or a marsh." Alan Sonfist continues to advocate, in his urban and rural artworks, projects that heighten our awareness of the historical geology or terrain of a place, earth cores become a symbol of the deeper history or geology of the land. His art emphasizes the layered and complex intertwining of human and natural history. He has bequeathed his body as an artwork to the Museum of Modern Art. Its decay is seen as an ongoing part of the natural life cycle process.

Sonfist's art has been exhibited internationally at Dokumenta VI (1977), Tickon in Denmark (1993), and in shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1975), the Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. (1978), the Los Angeles County Museum (1985), the Osaka World's Fair (1988), Santa Fe Contemporary Art Center (1990), the Museum of Natural History in Dallas, Texas (1994). Best known for his Natural/Cultural Landscape Commissions which began in 1965 with Time Landscape in Greenwich Village, and include Pool of Virgin Earth, Lewiston, N.Y. (1973), Hemlock Forest, Bronx, N.Y. (1978), Ten Acre Project, Wave Hill, N.Y. (1979), Geological Timeline, Duisburg, Germany (1986), the Rising Earth Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. (1990), Natural/Cultural Landscape, Trento, Italy (1993), a 7-mile Sculpture Nature Trail in La Quinta, California (1998), as well as Natural/Cultural Landscapes created for the Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa in Florida (1995) and Aachen, Germany (1999). Sonfist is currently working on a three and a half-mile sculptural nature walk in LaQuinta, California, an Environmental Island outside of Berlin, and The Great Bay Fountain for architect Richard Meier in Islip N.Y..

JG: From the mid-1960s you established a name as one of the first environmental artists who, unlike land artists Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson, did not emphasize a minimalist aesthetic in the creation of artworks and monuments. What do you feel brought you to environmental art?

AS: My art began in the street fires of the South Bronx, late 1950�s, when I was a child. Gangs and packs of wild dogs were roaming the streets where I was growing up. The neighborhood was a landscape of concrete, no trees. The Bronx River divided the two major gangs, and the river protected a primal forest. It was my sanctuary as a child. The human violence didn�t enter the forest - it was my magical cathedral. I would skip school to spend every moment I could in this forest and replenish my energy, my life. The forest became my life, and my art.

JG: When you first turned your attention to art making, what inspiration did you draw from the art world? Were there certain artists or teachers who drew you in the direction you wanted or was it self-learning?

AS: It was self-directed. I have always been tuned to collecting and gathering fragments of the forest. Labelling it as "art" or "not art" was never an issue. It was more the uniqueness of these elements that attracted me. Even when I went to school in the mid-west, later, I brought with me some of the seedlings of my Bronx forest after it was destroyed by an intentional fire.

JG: As early as 1965 you produced a work called Time Landscape� involving actual living growth in art. Indigenous animals were reintroduced into an urban setting.

AS: The reconstructed forest was a way of going back into my childhood forest in New York as it would have been, initiated in Greenwich Village. I transplanted living tree species such as beech, oak and maple and over 200 different plant species native to New York, selected from a pre-Colonial contact period in New York. These are still there on site. Besides experiencing the indigenous trees of New York City, Time Landscape� allowed me to experience and interact with foxes, deer, snakes, eagles and this was part of my experience.

JG: "Interactive" is a word that has been appropriated by many artists who are simply working with images on a screen. When you worked on the nature theater as early as 1971, the interactions were real involving nature and sound orchestration in the forest.

AS: The "Nature Theater" idea was to construct a physical fragment of a forest (I have done several including one at Goethe University) and then allowing the nature itself to be the sound, for instance, as opposed to constructing noises of a forest. And allowing the animals themselves to become the performers - the migration of the birds becomes a special event.

JG: And animals for you have souls just like we do?

AS: Exactly. Trees do too. They definitely do communicate with each other and they also communicate with humans if they are willing to listen.

JG: And your photo work is related to this and various other projects. I know your photographic works have inspired other artists. How are they presented in galleries?

AS: I showed photographs in my early exhibits in the 1970s. The photos are more observations of nature, trying to understand how we see and relate to the environment. My first art dealer didn�t; even want to exhibit my photographs because he did not consider them art. Now, there are several artists who have creating works similar to these early photographs. Each photographic event is an exploration of human interaction with nature. For instance, From the Earth to the Sky� and Sky to the Earth� , is more about walks through the forest and how we see the forest, how the movement of the landscape shifts as we relate to it and the light quality. Examining nature�s interaction with urban life was a radical concept at the time.

JG: In a way, every environment is unique. We talk about bio-regionalism and the global culture, for instance. The irony is that quite often there is this idea that elsewhere is exotic and where we live is not. New York City vegetation is actually as exotic as South American.

Alan Sonfist, "Time Landscape of New York City", (detail) outdoor installation, 1965- present.
AS: Exactly. It is always easy for one to look at another environment and say that is special. The clich� goes the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, instead of looking at one's own environment. I have always been concerned about the particular location I am working with, because each is unique and has fascinating vegetation to be discovered. The forest I witnessed as a child ended up being bulldozed and set in concrete. That was the end of my forest, and the beginning of my art.

JG: The idea of the continuity of time has almost been erased in this culture. Yet there is this ever present physical continuity between the various elements in the environments that surround us. We are not often aware of this. By presenting nature as a presence in your work you are allowing us to see how integration of our culture with nature will become one the keys to development in the 21st century in technology, science and the arts. Technologists will have to develop new forms of transport, products which use less and renewable resources, which emphasize a cyclical resource system rather than an exploitative, one-way non-renewable system. Your work is less that of an ideologist than that of a bio-historian who works with the culture/nature cross-over.

AS: Bio-history, as in the Circles of Time� is the layering of nature in time. Each area of the project represents an unique event in the continuum of Tuscan History. We look at each fragment of time and begin to realize this layering is a continuum. It's not one fixed moment. The photographs I take, for instance, emphasize that it is not an absolute. Within this continuum one can select out different unique events. The Tuscan landscape had been so radically changed over the centuries that the original forest�s history had been virtually erased.

JG: Isn't that one of the problems with parks and nature sites in many cities? Planners bring in so many foreign plant and tree species that are not native to the land in an effort to make their parks and public places exotic. In Oslo, Norway, interestingly, the tree and shrub species replicate the nature that surrounds the city of Oslo. You see large fir trees, nesting places for birds, that mirror the natural landscape of the region in Oslo. There is a kind of relief in that idea that the nature of the city reaffirms the landscape which surrounds the city.

AS: One of the earlier artworks I created for the New York City Parks Department was a landscape with natural flowers and artificial flowers. This was for the first Earth Day at Union Square Park in 1970. The question was which is real and which is artificial. My project in the Mojave Desert is similar to what you mentioned. Most landscapes there use plants taken from lush environments that need continuous watering, such as a grass lawn. One of the issues that came up when I said I was only going to introduce indigenous plants in this desert environment was that some of the local people said, "That's ugly! How could anyone respond to that!" When I started to select out and go back into the historical plants native to the region, people were shocked and amazed how beautiful the spectrum of flowers. There was such a diversity that it became a visual laboratory of understanding of the environment.

JG: Undoubtedly, the work stimulated thought and controversy as well as providing a cathartic living environment for the people who live there. Your Rock Monument of Manhattan (1975-2000) recently exhibited at the Dorsky Gallery (2000) in New York in a group environmental show involves cross-section samples, what we do not see; the hidden landscape the geology under New York City.

AS: These samples were taken from the underlying strata of New York City geology. Over the years, I have created similar artworks throughout the world, but predominantly in Europe and North America. They are cylindrical cross-sections of the Earth, now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. I have been commissioned to do similar projects, such as the one for the opening of the Ludwig Museum in Koln.

JG: This idea that there is a permanent culture that exists underneath the man-made culture or environment is an interesting one. It undoubtedly will persist for much of this new millennium and plays an important role in providing us with a sense of permacultural geological time. Understanding this permacultural context can help us to design our urban environments with a sensitivity to the brief history of our civilization vis-a-vis natural history.

AS: Exactly. A key to our understanding of the environment we live in is literally locked into the rock formations under our cities and the evolution of our solar system above us.

JG: I was going to ask you about the less well known crystal works you did in the 1960s and 1970s. These growing crystal projects seem to be fascinating.

AS: I created a series of what I would call Micro-Macro Landscapes. The crystal structures were to illustrate the fact that within everything there are the micro-structures of an element. From a practical point of view, by taking elements that are very unstable, I was able to put them in a vacuum and allow them to inter-exchange so that they transformed from dense solids back to this crystalline form. When exhibited, the viewer could see this interaction occurring within the structures, themselves.

JG: The effect was always constant. You could actually see it occurring?

AS: It was continuous. Again, it was occurring in relationship to the environment. If the sun was hitting the structure it would heat it up and therefore it would create more pressure inside. Therefore the crystals would dissipate and then, as they cooled, they would condense onto the surface. At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1977), I created a window for them which was on display for many years. The window itself would move as the sun moved during the daytime. It would gravitate to the movement of light. This is something that occurs in the natural world, and yet many people have never seen it. My intention was to integrate these things directly into the path of human interaction.

JG: Your Heat Paintings from the late 1960s again involve the volatility of internal structures. As the metal transforms, the alloys change color.

AS: The Heat Paintings parallel the crystalline pieces, so you see the internal molecular structure of the metal.

JG: Heat circles transform the alloy into color variations. The physics of nature actually transforms the artworks, kind of like Andy Goldsworthy's pigment and snow drawings...

AS: This is a real time event. The artwork allows you to see the composition of the material. I created a series of different artworks, decoding the process of the materials.

JG: Your series of micro-macro landscapes titled Elements Selection� from the 1960s to the early 70�s, are structural changes that are part of a natural physical cycle. This natural entropy became a reading of the environment. Did you select the elements that would cause these changes or was it left up to nature to decide the course of these works?

AS: I unrolled the canvas, and as the process began, I selected the elements as exactly as they existed. The canvas was then left in the natural surroundings, so that the twigs and leaves that were selected as well as the canvas would go back to its natural state in nature. I also created a series of paintings, where I selected a series of slices of the earth such as fall leaves, which was titled, Leaves Frozen in Time. These artworks have ended up in numerous museum collections.

JG: The Pool of Virgin Earth created in the early seventies at the Lewiston Art Park, in upstate New York regenerated a section of what was, and still is, a chemical wasteland...

AS: The area was a toxic waste dump for several years before it was given over as an art park. The area was a desert of toxicity. Through the consultation of specialist, I was determined to create a pool of virgin earth that would show the rebirth of the toxic dump. The pool was so successful that eventually they used my method to create the entire site.

JG: The plants would help purify this area of earth?

AS: Yes. The plants were selected to help heal the earth.

JG: Natural/Cultural Landscape created for the Curtis-Hixon Park in Tampa, Florida in 1995 is a more recent cross-over work. I know you have created many commissions through out the world concerning the natural evolution of the land, as you said in your early writings that was published in 1969, that with in Landmark cities that you plan to create "Landmark Nature Monuments." Do you feel your more recent Natural Cultural Landscape project involves a compromise in working with landscape or city architects?

AS: No, all my public projects involve the community. I always have public meetings to discuss my ideas. I invite the local artist as well as architects and landscape architects. They became part of the process of creating the artwork.

JG: Why were four classical columns integrated into your Natural/Cultural Landscape in Tampa, Florida? It seems curious as you are often working with natural, as opposed to human history.

AS: The columns correspond to the human history of the site. The first Europeans there were Spanish, and they built colonnade buildings. The columns represent the human past and were planted with plants that represent the natural history from early human intervention to contemporary landscape.

Alan Sonfist, "Circles of Time", aach ring represents the narrative natural and cultural history of Tuscany, 3 acres, Villa Celle, Tuscany, Italy 1989.
JG: What sort of species of plants and what kind of configuration did you finally arrive at for this living landscape work?

AS: All the plants in the site represented different historical events from human to natural history and how they both intersect. The pathway represents these intersections.

JG: So did it become a kind of community exchange, a point of encounter and learning for the local citizens?

AS: Yes. I think when one involves the community there is a kind of inter exchange of ideas. The park becomes the community. For me that is what determines the ultimate success of a public sculptures. When I create private commissions I am responding to the corporate structure.

JG: There is always this problem of designers moving into an area where they don't know the history of a community. They will place the benches in the wrong place; people don't walk in that area or whatever. Involving a community helps to create a kind of ensouling or consecration of a place.

AS: Exactly. Everything from the seating areas to the walkways will all correspond to community needs.

JG: So the process was quite democratic.

AS: It was democratic, and from my point of view as an artist, it was almost like a palette. In other words, I had a palette maybe several hundred images that could be utilized for the project and had to select out which ones would be most effectively integrated into the project, visually and culturally.

JG: And these pathways you designed going through the grassy landscape are non-linear in shape-like motifs.

AS: The pathways were designed to correspond to the natural history from the ice age to the present.

JG: A kind of histology, a history of nature and culture brought into a living dynamic. There is a patchwork design to it, using colored brickwork and slabs, various grass species and walkways. It becomes a nature/culture quilt that references various eras and epochs.

AS: A quilt where each section is interconnected by its own uniqueness in history. Seen from the air, the leaf structures in the pathways are most evident. If you knew the leaves you would know that each leaf represents a different time frame within the ecology of that region. The pathways are a 21st century view of the land not a typical landscape concept that parks are being created at this time. Walking through the park, the entrance becomes an echo of our understanding of the history of the community. The park progresses to the water where we see a reflection of the ice age.

JG: When you exhibited at Documenta VI in Kassel, Germany (1977) you created a series of photographic essays which were like a composite of a forest, with relics of a forest underneath the photographs. Can you tell me about this.

AS: The photographs became the forest. Each photographic artwork exposed multi layers of the forest. Through each one of these artworks, one viewed a special moment within the forest. Some of the more significant artworks of the 1970�s is where I created 180 and 360 degree "Gene Banks", with real time fragments of the forest.

JG: We are the Gods of our own consumption and we are now eating ourselves. There is also this confusion between technology and experimental science. The two are fusing. You are getting an involvement of new technologies with experimental science. Sometimes the blurring of these two disciplines means there is a further manipulation of science. The technologies are forming the processes whereby the scientists are working. In other words the lenses, the ways that science is evolving are technologically controlled which may not allow more creative solutions to be arrived at. In other words we may not be seeing as much as we think when we involve ourselves in pure science.

AS: There are two levels of reality, we want to create an alternative fuels but the same time we are also consumers of fossil fuel. Through my art, we have to understand our relationship to our community, our world and our universe.

JG: Which would be much better for the environment and for us.

AS: Exactly.

Writer and art critic John Grande's interviews, reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in numerous publications and books. This interview is an excerpt from Art Nature Dialogues: Interviews with Environmental Artists ( by John K. Grande (

above copied from:

In His Own Words: An interview with Augusto Boal, Douglas L. Paterson and Mark Weinberg

(An edited version of this interview originally appeared in High Performance #72, Summer 1996.)

The following interview was conducted with Augusto Boal in Omaha, Nebraska during his residency there from March 18-26 and the Second Annual Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conference, March 21-23, 1996. Boal conducted three workshops (two Introduction to Forum Theatre workshops and one two-day Rainbow of Desire workshop), delivered a keynote address, and "jokered" two Forum Theatre performances, one with conference participants and another with Omaha residents concerned with a recent incident of police violence. The questioners and editors were Douglas Paterson and Mark Weinberg.

Q: We'd like to set a context for some analytical questions about Theatre of the Oppressed (TO). Your approach to theatre, it seems, offers one of the most profound critiques of at least the Western approach to drama. And while you certainly don't throw it all out, while you don't say "don't do plays" (You've done Iphigenia just recently[1]), you do critique the Western performance structure as being fundamentally coercive. To summarize: in the beginning of Theatre of the Oppressed[2] you write that it divides a people into those few who do and those many who watch and that this becomes a model for the ruling structure where there are few in power who do, and many who watch, the action of history. And that through the process of Aristotelian catharsis[3] people watch something, are concerned for the well-being and stability of the state, and then are persuaded through some kind of purging not to do anything, to accept things as they are and not to take action.

We have been intrigued by how, at least in the United States, people in established critical circles have not come after you. We would think there would be a ground-swell of resistance, because by taking on the Aristotelian structure you are critiquing one of the fundamental grounds of the way western theatre is practiced. Has there been, do you think, much of a critique, a real critique, of TO and your work in Europe anywhere? And if there hasn't been, why not?

Augusto Boal
Boal: Well look, it is the critique by silence. I remember Doug participated in the International Rio Festival of TO. We had 12 groups come from abroad. This is absolutely unusual. I don't remember ever having seen in Rio a festival with 12 foreign groups. We had 12 Brazilian TO groups and we had 12 dance or folklore Brazilian groups, too. So we had 36 groups that present themselves and it was absolutely ignored by the press. The press criticized by silence. They say, that's not theatre; if the spectator also uses theatre, then theatre no longer exists for them.

Then all the work that I do in Rio.[4] Now we have 19 groups all over Rio. Never comes a notice in the press to say we are going to have a festival. Sometimes we have festival in the park and not one critique appears.

Now recently in Paris we started a new theatre. It's a building, a new building, a theatre. We did Iphigenia which is a Greek play. But in the second part we had Forum Theatre in which a spectator would become spectactor[5] and we had very, very few critics that came. It's not that we want them to come and say "Oh, how wonderful" and applaud, but they come and say whatever. They rarely, when they know it is TO, they rarely come so there is a criticism by silence. By not acknowledging the existence of something which is there.

And then I would say another thing: the books that have been written about TO. In this country there's written one called Playing Boal.[6] In Germany, about five were published about TO and psychodrama TO and the school. In Holland they also published two or three. They are publishing books on TO all over the world. But all these books are by practitioners, people who do it and then they tell their experience, which I find is wonderful, but not a single book tried to analyze what's happening with TO in the world. So the critics, the professional critics, they don't see what's happening; they don't want to see what's happening. All those books, they're books by the people that practice like myself, so they relate to that experience like I relate to my experience.

But, I think that things are growing and then one thing that's going to be very important that's going to happen probably next year in July. TO was born when we had to leave the theatre: the newspaper theatre in the beginning, invisible theatre[7], the Forum Theatre. But I received an invitation, which I think we are going to try to make because it is extremely important, by Cecily Berry. She invited me to go to Stratford with the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company to work on Hamlet, using the Rainbow of Desire "cop in the head"[8] techniques. So this I am sure all critics have to see because it is TO coming back to the theatre, to Stratford where Shakespeare was and to his own play Hamlet. I believe that this is inevitably going to be acknowledged. But up to now I would say that they prefer not to notice what's happening.

Q: I think one of the really important things that needs to happen to expand the practice is a rigorous, critical examination of the process. As you're saying, it needs that, as part of the dialogue. So, as a way of beginning that, we've put together some questions that we'd like to pose to you.

The first question is about stereotyping. Making stereotypes on the stage. Perhaps in the structures of Forum Theatre, maybe cop in the head and Rainbow of Desire as well, it's easy to use stereotypes. And there may not be a clear mechanism for interrogating those stereotypes so as to compare reality to what is used in the theatre. So we are invited in TO to represent our antagonist, our oppressor, or those who aligned with us, in either/or ways, the good guys and the bad guys. Is there a way to really negotiate in discussion between stereotypes and what is more probably a complex reality? How do we get away from using stereotypes as a way of thinking about issues?

Boal: I think that in the Forum Theatre or in the techniques of Rainbow of Desire, we can start by stereotype, but the theatrical discussion will go as far as the participants are capable of going. There is not a recipe to make people see more deeply than the stereotype. But there is a method which you can start with a stereotype and then you go deeper. The presentation of the model, inevitably it is a stereotype. For instance, yesterday we were doing that presentation there at the church, and then the presentation of the scene, it was a stereotype. People who are playing dominos or cards or drinking beer, and someone comes and says you have to mobilize yourself, get out of here and let's do a manifest and participate. Particularly I was impressed by the boy who said, "Why should I? The more I read about, the more I know about how things are happening in this country, the more I think there is no solution." And then I felt some people that are inactive, they're not inactive because they are like that. It's because you have so much information by the media, by the press, by the television, by friends, that it's horrible what's happening, but that's the way it is. There's some sort of fatality that makes people accept it, people who are not fatalists, they become fatalists. I was very much impressed. That's not a stereotype. A stereotype is to show someone, "Oh no. I don't care about that." The person who says "I don't care about that" in reality cares about that, but is discouraged, is afraid. So I believe that stereotype is a part of the picture but depending on the people gathered to discuss the theme, the problem, we can go beyond stereotype.

I don't accept stereotype as "OK, we should not talk about stereotype." We can. Stories that we know of, normally they happen so that most of the time when we present the model [it] is more or less stereotyped. But the important thing is the process. How can we go from something we stereotype that everyone knows, `Yes it is like that,' and try to get knowledge through the intervention of spectators? And [to find out] who are the spectators; [why they] desire to come in.

So I'm not afraid about stereotype. I'm afraid about bad quality. When you present something which is not a stereotype but is something of bad quality, then you present some situation that is absolutely not true. This I think can not lead to any discovery, `empowerment' as people here use it, if it is false. But the stereotype is not necessarily false; it's a general framework in which things happen. So I like to say that the theatre itself, the play, the process itself, guarantees nothing. It's the people who use it that guarantee. We develop techniques, but the important thing is who is going to use that technique and how strong is the desire to find something by the people. If you have a strong desire, if you have not given up and you still believe, things can be changed.

Q: In other words, it is from the stereotype that the spectactors and audience learn about the situation. They really have to discover what it is, about what they've done, that might be a stereotype. It's up to them to discover that, rather than for you as Joker or an academic or a critic to point that out from the start. That needs to be discovered by the group.

Boal: By the theatrical process. And sometimes what happens happens because there's a stereotyped model, or it's a stereotyped story, but sometimes it's a stereotyped character. I always remember when they talk about stereotype a discovery from the work I did in Chile. It was with someone who was fighting against Pinochet, was known to be almost a hero among the workers in the fight against Pinochet, who had been tortured to hell. But when he made the play about his own family, he discovered that in his own family he was behaving like Pinochet towards his wife and towards his children, especially the daughters. So he discovered he had a stereotyped behavior of father. He was not being a father that was fighting Pinochet that had such a wife and such daughters and sons. He was not behaving like himself. Every time comes someone who wants to date one of his daughters his reaction was not of the person who's fighting tyranny. His behavior was tyrannical behavior. "You had to be back at this hour, you had to do this, you had to do that." He reproduced in his home a stereotyped behavior of fathers having to protect their daughters and having to impose upon their wives a certain form of behavior of work and all that.

So the stereotype sometimes is a situation. Like yesterday, it was a stereotype situation. People play and someone says "Don't play. Come and do something." It was stereotyped also that people come and say "You have to do something to culpablize, to make people feel guilty." That's a stereotype. We see that in many circumstance. And sometimes it's also a stereotype that you offer nothing pleasurable instead of the game that they are playing. And then it's "You have the duty to do this." And people sometimes are tired of only having to do their duty. They want to have also their pleasure. And yesterday, I thought some interventions that you had done, you and other people that were there, stressed also not the joy but the dynamics of acting. It's not only because you are guilty if you don't do that, it's because it's a pleasure to fight against injustice. There's a pleasure in it. So the stereotype sometimes is the situation and sometimes it's the character. And if we are not stereotyped ourselves as spectactors, we are going to use those stereotypes to understand better what the stereotype hides in persons. Because the stereotype is to repeat the same thing and not creatively. And the idea of the forum is to break, to destroy stereotypes by discovering what's behind the stereotype. Because sometimes the stereotype also gives comfort to people. It's a way of saying "OK, be like that and that's OK. No one's going to bother you."

Q: In a sense, the structure itself, the process, contains reflective elements that allow us to participate in not just action, but reflective moments on the action.

Boal: The very process of intervening, spect-intervening. When you see for instance plays about men and women at home, most of the time the models that come out of this are stereotypes: the men reading the newspaper, looking at television, drinking beer; the woman talking on the phone, taking care of the baby, making food. This is a stereotype, but a stereotype that exists in real life. I don't know in this country, but in my country, yes. It is very used to have this kind of repetitive behavior.

I remember once it was a very nice play; it was about a girl who got pregnant and then the situation was that the play started with the mother receiving the father, who came back from work, and the first thing the father did was to take off his shoes and the mother picked up his shoes and brought him his slippers and then went to put on the table, and then later came the daughter and then she revealed that she was pregnant. And the big issue was that she was pregnant and she needed to be helped by the parents and the whole family. And what the group wanted to discuss was how can a girl fight that oppression. But what the group was not aware of was the stereotyped relation between the husband who takes off his shoes and the woman who brings the slippers. Then one day I remember when the play started, the people, the actors went very fast in the beginning just to go to the central point. And someone said, "No stop. Go back to the beginning. The central point for me is not the discussion with the girl. The central point for me is the woman who is so subservient with bringing the slippers and he throws the shoes wherever he wants, and she brings the beer and he sits down. There is the central problem, not later. Later is a consequence of this." So the discussion concentrated more on the husband and wife, father and the mother. The people who had built it, they build it the way it is normally: the stereotype of the husband, the stereotype of the woman.

The stereotype is a mask also. The stereotype is not only in literature when they say the son is a "ball of fire" or something like that. You are using a stereotype, a literary stereotype. But when you put two characters in a scene, you are doing a dramatic stereotype. A dramatic stereotype sometimes is the ritual. And then what do we want? Do we want to fight against the rituals? Profane rituals of daily life? Because those profane rituals, they impose masks on us. And then we behave not creatively, but according to the mask that we have. I am a teacher. I am a husband. I am a father. I am this, I am that. And I'm not myself. I'm lots of masks that I put on. So a stereotype in literature, sometimes it's bad literature. It is that you are saying things that are obvious. Those are stereotypes. Bad images or worn-out images. But in theatre, Forum Theatre, stereotypes sometimes are the mechanism of ritualizations. And that's good to destroy it.

Q: If I am making an image or if I'm involved in Forum Theatre, someone could say that it's too easy for me to separate my own personal experience from the social context to which it belongs. I make my image of oppression only from my point of view. And the criticism might be made, then, that I can believe my image somehow is true in the larger sense because it's true for me. Does the spectator audience reconnect the individual to the social?

Boal: It depends also on what is the structure. For instance you have the structure of the worker that is going to talk to the boss because he needs more pay or better conditions of work. So all the other workers that belong to the same factory, the same [work] place, they are going to identify the situation and there is not doubt for them that they are oppressed. And then they are going to fight against the boss because the boss wants more profits and gives less conditions of good work, of comfortable work, of human work. But in those cases it is very clear to someone you are going to make a strike. It's very easy.

But the complication begins when the relation between one and the other one cannot fall in well established categories. For instance, all relations, men and women, emotional relations, sometimes both of them feel oppressed by the other ones. And then I can present a play in which I feel I am oppressed by the woman, and then by doing the play in forum, I can discover that maybe I am oppressor more than I am oppressed. Not only in forum. The other day we did the screen image[9] and one of the boys at the end, he was really very moved. He said, "Look, I was showing how I was oppressed and I was surprised that everyone took the position of the other one. And then finally I understood that maybe I am oppressor of the other one and that's why the other one oppressed me." Sometimes the situation is not socially very clear, very concrete and [yet is] very stereotyped, very ritualized. And it is also the question of feeling, the question of emotion, then it is very difficult to say who is oppressing who, because the other one can be oppressed too. So that's why those techniques were developed in which you don't really try to find the oppressor or the oppressed, but you try to understand the situation between one person and another one.

Q: Let's say that you were asked by a group of factory owners to do a TO scenario in which they see the owners have a certain obligation to their stockholders, to their families to live at a certain level of wealth—I'm obviously bating you here—to their whole circle to be able to gain a certain level of profit. They want some wage concessions from the labor union and if they don't get them they'll be less competitive and have fewer profits. They might have to close the doors and layoff the workers. So they ask you to come in and show in a play why they are the oppressed, and the workers are oppressing them.

Boal: There is one thing that is very important in theatre; it is that whatever form it is, it presents images of reality to be transformed or to be perpetuated. When you present an image of a reality, you choose a view point, a place from where you are going to see those images. Like a photographer. The playwriter or the men or women doing theatre, they have to choose where are they. What are their positions. For instance, yesterday we were talking with people that had been abused by the police. Maybe the police have their own problems at home in which they can feel oppression. Maybe the people at home have other oppressions elsewhere. But you have to take the image of reality and say where do I stand? Because theatre is moral, TO or not. When we show images of reality, we show images that we see, and in the process of transformation, that we want. My allegiance, my support goes, for instance in the case of yesterday, with the Mexican man that was beaten without any reason. We can say that the police, they are frightened because they can be shot. We know that they have their own problems, but in that particular case it was the police who beat someone who had done nothing, maybe had done just one gesture that was misinterpreted as an aggression, and then was cruelly beaten. So I have no doubt to side with that man. It's a moral choice.

So in the case that you said, it was almost the whole reality, the whole society that you put there. You have the manager, you have the people who are working in the office, you have the workers, you have the family, you have the whole society. But you have to say, "Where do I stand? What's my moral choice?" And then you choose. Many times I have worked with bank employees in Brazil, and we know that bank employees internally they have also fights because some of them want to be the manager, the chief manager, and the strike sometimes goes against a promotion. So sometimes the manager or the one who wants to be a better manager, they are against the strike. So, in any case when you present an image of reality, you present people and those people are sort of fighting, are in a contradiction. So you have to take a stand, and then this stand is moral. And of course I side with those that I consider really to be oppressed, like the Mexicans, like the Latinos here, like the workers. In Brazil I'm going to side of course with Brazilian people; I'm not going to side with the rich ones who feel oppressed also because poverty exists, because they create poverty so I can never side with them.

Q: Then you might welcome people from the ruling circles, the wealthy circles, who wanted to represent their issues from their point of view and present themselves as oppressed. You'd like to be in the audience.

Boal: Yes, but I don't believe that the oppressors [would do that]. Like for instance in the case of Brazil, very clearly there is moment now in which the middle class is disappearing and many people are siding with the population and many people believe that if we are a society, all of us are entitled at a minimum to be part of that society. If we can talk about society, we have to say all the society members are entitled to live. They are entitled to have a place where to live, a place where to work, to have health, to have education, to have transportation, to have a minimum. So a few people can have the maximum but all people have to have the minimum. What's happening in Brazil now and perhaps a country like this one, is that we are not considering society as a whole. We are considering society as only those who possess and the other ones we don't care about. So those who possess, they are not going to make an image of the reality because a microcosm becomes a macrocosm and then we are going to see [that] their images in which they appear to be the oppressed, are microcosms. In the macrocosms they are going to see they are oppressing the rest of the population.

Q: You would invite them into the public arena and say, `Yes, show us your images and we would like to use that as a point of debate?'

Boal: That would be nice. It would have been nice yesterday if the police had come and the police should show images of how they see the Mexicans and the Mexicans show images. It would be nice if we could establish a dialogue which has become, but is not necessarily, antagonistic—the conflict between police and population. In this country now, it's enough that you are Mexican, that you are the enemy of the policeman. It's enough that you are black, that you are an enemy of the policeman. So if they come, if the ones that are oppressors feel they are oppressed, if they show their images we do the zoom. Like if you see this problem, let's make the zoom back. Instead of just seeing the micro, see the macro, see the whole society. Then the real truth appears.

Q: This next question has to do with universalizing. How do we go from the micro to the macro in a way that is true? Is it possible that the techniques of TO limit possibilities, so that the theatrical representations of realities and ideal outcomes become similar from situation to situation? The techniques of image or rainbow might be leading us to a narrow range of possibilities that are, in effect, constructed in advance by the very techniques themselves. The very representation is perhaps predicted. When you read back from these results, if you go backwards then from a narrow range of results, the protagonists and outcomes constructed by the spectactors seem similar the world over. We end up universalizing the particular when it may be the techniques that make for a predictable outcome and process.

Boal: I believe that when you have a forum, for instance, there are many, many alternatives that are predictable, and are stereotypes. Replacements[10] are also stereotyped. For instance, the idea of you go alone there or you go with other people. That's predictable that after one moment or another, some spectactor will say, "Oh, I'm not going alone there. I'm going to take other people with me." That's predictable and it happens very often. But the fact that it's predictable does not mean that it's not true, that it does not reveal that most of the time we try to solve our own problems alone. And then if it's predictable that's still good that someone is going to say that we can go together, not go alone.

Augusto Boal teaching at Omaha conference.
At the same time, what I believe is the most important effect of Forum Theatre is not the solutions that it can find at the end, but the process of thinking. Because what I believe is that in the normal theatre, there is a paralysis, the spectator paralyzes his power of action and he is suffering the empathy of the character and for some time he's only answering, he is only doing what the actor does; only feeling what the actor feels, the character feels. And what is important for me is not exactly the solution that we found, [but] the process of criticizing, observing and trying to find solutions. Even if we don't find any solution at the end of Forum Theatre, I say, "OK, it's good. We did not find that solution, but we looked for it." And sometimes I think if you find a predictable solution at the end, it's not as good as if you don't find any, but you have been thinking about it. What changes is the attitude of the spectator of not being only consumer but someone who questions.

I like very much the game I have been using lately about the leader, the designated leader in which you have to find out who is the leader, and in reality there is no leader. And then the people find out I gave a wrong instruction, and I was deceiving them. I like very much that because I want them to have confidence in me but not blind confidence. And so this game says whatever I say, don't take it absolutely. Analyze, think if what I'm saying is good or not, if you agree or not. And then I think that TO as a whole should always be that. Always think "is that true? Do you agree?" It's to provoke thoughts and to provoke actions and to provoke invention. Whatever we invent, whatever thoughts we have, whatever actions we take, the most important is to have this as a [starting point] to be dynamized and not to be like the character of yesterday who said "the more I read about that, the more I see that I am powerless. I don't want to do anything. I'm going to do dominos:" and TO says the opposite. You can do lots of other things. What? Let's try to find out. We don't bring the message. We bring the methods not the message.

Q: But do we get too easily into a hero/villain dualism, a "Marxist melodrama"[11] of sorts, which will vilify one side and heroize another side. Essentialize one as good and trivialize the other side. Like in the forum we did at the conference. As we watched that, we thought this would perhaps happen but it doesn't happen often. The problem is more complex than this and it's too bad that we have to show such a narrow teacher and such a narrow dean.[12] Granted we made that piece in 20 minutes, but is there a tendency to make melodramas of the good and the bad. Don't we need more richness?

Boal: I think that of course it would depend on the conditions, like you said 20 minutes for preparation, or on the people who are doing it. You go deeper or not. For instance in what I have just tried to do in Paris, it's a very nice experience I believe which goes away from the extreme sympathy occasion. When we did Iphigenia by Euripides, we did not make a commonplace story, but an archetypal story, not a stereotype story, but an archetypal story. Archetypal and stereotypedóit's not the same. The stereotyped is when you are talking from the external point of view only from the results of the appearance. And archetypal is when you are looking from the audience on all things, and then you see a play in which people are fighting for power, but a power that should be recognized by the audience, not all the power. I have the power to kill the other one, but I have the power to make the other ones believe I can kill them so I don't have to kill them to have the power recognized. And that's very different from the animals. The lion has the power to kill if he kills, but has not the power to kill if he does not kill.

And then it was a moment in civilization in which human beings were trying to have acknowledged power without exerting that power. To be the king without necessarily to go around killing people, but to be recognized as king, to be recognized as each one as what you are. And then it is a play to be recognized as the priest. To be recognized as each one in his own post. And then what we did, we made an archetypal play in which we see that whoever takes power loses power, which means Agamemnon in the play takes the power as a king. When he becomes the king, he loses the power of father. So he has to sacrifice Iphigenia. So the mechanism is if I take the power, I lose my power. This is something that was in the beginning of this civilization in Greece.

And something that's fascinating. I want to have the power. For instance, I was reading about the Oscars the other day and then there's some actors that have the power of being handsome actors playing handsome characters. And they lost the power to be artists. Now they have to play that character. They have millions of dollars they receive, they are recognized all over as being able of playing that kind of character, so they have to stick to that. They got the power of stardom, but they lost the power of artist because if they want to be really artist and do another experience that has nothing to do with the mechanics in which they are involved, they cannot. So, to take the power sometime makes us lose the power.

So what we did was that we made this archetypal play in which the woman has to define herself in relation to a man and not in relation to herself. She has to be the daughter of her father and accept to be killed or to be the wife of Achilles. And if she says "No. I don't want to marry you and I don't want to be killed" then her father is not the king, so she's not the princess: she loses her identity. So this idea of "Who am I? Where am I?" Those archetypal things in the play, archetypal values in the play, archetypal desires, the fighting between the desire and will. I desire it but my will tells me no. And then Agamemnon all of the time he desires to save his daughter but his will says you have to kill her. And sometimes he fights against his own desire and this I think is an archetypal play, a Greek tragedy.

And then we made plays of today and they are perhaps stereotypes of those older plays. Here is a father who violates his daughter and this is happening very often. Now in France, in the beginning they would not talk about that. Then they start talking about that, but they say this happens in the countryside and now they are saying that it happens even in Paris. The rape of the daughter by the father. And we made it more or less stereotyped that story. And another story more or less stereotyped of the handicapped that provokes some trouble because people go on vacation; then to take a handicapped person with you provokes problems. So it's more or less stereotyped, but we have an archetype of those mechanisms, how they work on an archetypal level. And then you can show the stereotype situation that happens over and over again in France. And then you ask the audience, knowing that this drive to be the chief, the king, the father exists and manifests itself more or less, "What can you do to avoid those consequences here and now in France? What can you do about violating girls, about incest? What can you do about that if you are a witness of that?" So we try to find solutions to fight against it, and in this case, I believe we go far beyond the immediate appearance of things. But of course if we have 20 minutes...

Q: So to a certain extent the very stereotyping that is the result of drawing some clear divisions is important to generate a dialogue. Perhaps making things very layered and complex leads us to examine only subtle differences, minimal differences.

Boal: I think we can do Forum Theatre with all kinds of situations, all kinds of relationships and all that, but of course, not make it black/white. Make it Ibsen and Chekhov. It's easier to make an Ibsen than a Chekhov. For instance, take Dr. Stockman in the Enemy of the People. I think there are some things that would be very nice to see in Forum. How can we make it Forum?

Uncle Vania is much more difficult to do in Forum, to replace Uncle Vania and show what would you have done because it's more a character play and the other one is more a situation play. And Forum is more suitable for situations. And when you have character, you can do also Forum, but that's more for Rainbow of Desire, that's more cop in the head screen image.

Q: What is your response to the theatre that we have on Broadway and in our universities and in our regional theatres here in the United States and certainly down in Rio—the performance of standard plays? You're not against that, I know, but is it your sense that we need a whole companion area of theatre that is community-based interactive? Not scrap one in favor of the other, but broaden?

Boal: That's what I think. I think that for instance in France, people are much used to have teachers of theatre in schools but they teach only Moliere, Racine, Marivaux, Corneille. They reproduce inside the school the same plays that they see outside of the school. And I think that it should be the opposite. The school should learn the language of the theatre, not finished production, but the language. And TO is the language of the theatre and not necessarily the final product. And I think that it's good for everyone. For instance, the Schauspielhaus in Germany, sometimes they produce theatre like they produce sausage. Every year they have to do a German classic, they have to do a boulevard, they have to do I don't know what. And then every year it's the same. It's repetitive. If they could also have a place in which they would do Forum, I am sure that it would revitalize the theatre that they do. I am sure that if we are going to do Hamlet with Rainbow of Desire techniques, I think it's going to revitalize also their acting in Shakespeare, when they do Shakespeare in the normal way. It makes acting more vital. So what I think we should not do is to exclude the learning of the language and go to the final production. That's what's being done now.

I have been told that Omaha is one of the more violent cities in the country. Dialogue between the people here would only help to understand why it is so violent and how can you not stop violence, because you cannot stop violence, but [you can] make it less than what it exists. I'm quite sure that social TO can be important not only statically showing another form of doing theatre, but using this other form of doing theatre to make life more bearable. For instance like in Brazil now, sometimes it's unbearable. It's unbearable to know that the porter of your building went out and was shot because someone want to shoot somebody else. [This happened] to my porter a few days ago. And then the man justified himself, the killer, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry because I really did not want to kill him, I want to kill the other one." It was acceptable because the other one was a poor man that was lying down in front of the store. So in a city like that, it's very hard to live. But if you make dialogue through theatre, through Forum Theatre, a visible theatreóI think that we cannot solve big political problems and big social problems. If there is hunger, if there is unemployment, violence is inevitable. Because it's very hard for a human being to say, "Yes. I accept not to eat, or I accept not to work, or I accept to live in miserable conditions." It's very hard. Some of them do and some of them rebel. So if you don't take political action to make poor people be less poor, miserable people be only poor and not miserable, if those actions are not taken, violence is inevitable. But, sometimes violence is much beyond the inevitable violence, and this theatre can help.

Q: We've talked this week about hope in the face of violence. In Brazil, in the United States, around the world, the free market is becoming the only moral order. In the face of all this is your theatre which implies a kind of future, a kind of hope. Do you have hope?

Boal: Yes. I think there are some words that they should always be connected, because if not it can become only religious words and not socially workable words. One is hope. Because what hope should we have if not the hope of our desire? And what desire should we have if not the desire to change our society toward something that can be better for all of us. So sometimes I hear people talking about hope. I see very much in Brazil, miserable people [told] "you have to hope." And I say why should they hope if they know that if they don't fight, if they don't have the desire to fight, nothing is going to happen. To have the hope, blind hope that one day something is going to happen. To have the blind hope that someday God's going to help you. The blind hope I think is even worse than no hope.

But what I do believe in hope is when you have a strong desire. If I believe that here, the people here, they have the strong desire to end or to make less the extraordinary racial violence that exists, then people have the right to have hope. I think that to have hope is a right that we have if we have desire. If we don't have desire, we don't have the right to have hope.

And which desire can you have? Desire here in Omaha. The desire to be richer than Mr. Warren Buffet. That's a desire, infantile desire. You cannot have that; that's not a legitimate desire. But desire that no one in Omaha should die because it's too cold, or should die because they are hungry, or die because there are gangs that shoot one another. This desire is legitimate. And we would develop that desire and then we have the right to have hope. Hope is a right, it's not something you should have by all means. If your desire is active, then you have the right to have hope. But to stay at home and say, "I hope that this is going to happen"óto have hope that you are going to win in the lottery, that's not legitimate that hope. To have the hope that the government is going to do all good things for the people, that's not legitimate.

Q: So in one sense the lottery is a metaphor for the corrupt hope that the privileged leave the poor with. You get a million to one chance. That's your hope. It's a passive hope.

Boal: It's a passive hope; it's a hope that goes against you because you play. You know that you have one chance in one million so you know you are not going to get anything. But it's very curious to illustrate that in Brazil they started a [game] in which you would buy the ticket and then you'd scratch the ticket and immediately you'd see if you had won something or not. And it did not work; still they do that but the volume of transaction is very small. And they say "but why?" They thought that it would sell even more because the people would buy and immediately would know if they win or not.

And my theory is that NO; what people buy, when they buy a ticket in the lottery, is not the first prize, it is the hope to have the first prize. If you immediately know if you have it or not, you have not the pleasure of having the hope that is going to lead to frustration later, but beside frustration, before frustration, you have the hope, the false hope, two weeks of happiness. You buy that two weeks of happiness, two weeks of hope. And if you know immediately, the frustration comes with the buying of the ticket. That's why it did not work in Brazil. And the lottery works, the illegal gambling works very much all over in Brazil. Because there is the bad hope, the hope that you are going to win in the lottery, the hope that finally the oppressor is going to stop oppressing you, the hope that the world is going to become better without you doing anything. That hope I think is very bad. I think it's very oppressive. But the hope of your desire being accomplished, and your desire being a collective desire of changing toward a better world, this hope should develop. This hope—I believe in that.

1. Done in early 1996 at the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed. [Return]
2. Pluto Press, 1979. [Return]
3. A more extensive analysis of catharsis appears in Rainbow of Desire (Routledge, 1995). [Return]
4. Boal is using Forum Theatre techniques to gather information to guide his political activities as vereador: a project he calls legislative theatre. [Return]
5. The term coined by Boal to refer to an audience that is invited to intervene in a performance in Forum Theatre. See Theatre of the Oppressed for additional information. [Return]
6. Edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz (Routledge, 1994). [Return]
7. Invisible theatre is a technique in which the audience is unaware that they are watching a theatre event. See Boal's Games for Actors and Non-Actors (Routledge, 1992) for additional information. [Return]
8. This technique is designed to examine internalized oppressions. For additional information see Rainbow of Desire. [Return]
9. A technique used to help participants see how their image of another person influences conflict. For more information, see Rainbow of Desire. [Return]
10. When a spectactor comes on stage to replace the protagonist during a Forum Theatre performance. [Return]
11. This phrase was suggested by conference participant Bruce McConachie during a conversation about TO techniques. [Return]
12. They used minor administrative rationales to justify their refusal to do plays by Black authors. [Return]

Douglas L. Paterson is Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and founder of the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed—Omaha. Mark Weinberg is Associate Professor and Director of Theatre at the University of Wisconsin Center—Rock County and author of "Challenging the Hierarchy: Collective Theatre in the United States."

An edited version of this interview originally appeared in High Performance #72, Summer 1996

above copied from:

She Who Would Fly: An Interview with Suzanne Lacy, Richard Newton

Suzanne Lacy and Richard Newton were both performance artists based in Los Angeles at the time of this interview; both used sexual imagery in a social context. Lacy was making headlines with her large-scale performances about rape, aging and the status of women in U.S. culture. Newton, an associate editor at High Performance, was making performances and films concerned with "the integration of the male and female personae within us all." This was HP's first cover story. —Eds.

Suzanne Lacy: I came from Wasco, a town of about 6,000 in the central part of California. I was exposed to art through the paintings of the Great Masters Series. That's all one really had in Wasco. I went to school in zoology, with two years of graduate work in psychology. During my second year of graduate school in psychology, I met Judy Chicago, who was doing the Feminist Art Program at Fresno State College.

I had been involved in the feminist movement and had become increasingly alienated from academic studies because of their representation of women. I found such fulfillment relating to other women through the Feminist Art Program that I changed plans in midstream and went off to California Institute of the Arts, where Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro were beginning the Feminist Art Program.

I entered the Design School as a social design major and studied with Allan Kaprow, Judy, Sheila De Bretteville and Arlene Raven. I tried drawing and sculpture, but it would take a long time for me to learn how to draw well enough to put forth ideas accumulated after 26 years of living. I moved toward conceptual work because it's a more facile mode to express ideas without the need to learn laborious drawing skills. Plus, I was educated as a social activist. I had been in VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) for a while and worked in mental hospitals.

There was a strong emphasis on performance in Judy's programs, so I was exposed to it there. The first pieces I did were involved with body identity and used biological imagery. I did things like tying myself and the audience to beef kidneys and bathing in cows blood. It was similar to a lot of people's early work at that time—very visceral.

Richard Newton: What is performance art? Are there parameters?

SL: Performance's definition is rapidly changing. It is in a state of flux right now. Five years ago performance was defined as an offshoot of happenings—the mass environmental activity of happenings was reduced to the actions of one person. It was psychodynamic, about the experience of the artist as he or she performed.

In the last five years it's mushroomed in 100 different directions. People like Yvonne Rainer have begun making movies. People like Lynn Hershman have gone in a whole other direction, one that hasn't yet been defined—a kind of environmental performative activity. Her work comments on culture, is in a public place, and the artist acts as either a director or, if as a performer, as simply one element in the piece.

RN: Do you think performance is an art form or a movement? Is there a time when performance will simply be over?

SL: There has always been a performative form for every art movement. The Surrealists were a small and coherent performance movement. Futurists also had a performance activity— the same people that were performing were also painting. Happenings were a performative form of abstract expressionism. People like Kaprow and Oldenburg who did happenings also did sculpture and painting.

I think performance has become more specialized, so it might be that it has become elaborated and exists as a form in itself. People who perform are becoming specialists in that sense, there's not the same kind of connection with painting any more.

I think painting and sculpture are behind the times. Performance has taken over. Performance, conceptual photography and video work seem to have taken off into areas of concern away from any connection to painting and sculpture.

RN: Do you think art without political content is merely decoration?

SL: (laughs) A loaded question.

RN: I'm just trying to find a place for abstract painters.

SL: No, to say that would be historically imperceptive. I think the development of formal thinking through art has taken more or less political turns throughout the centuries. The Futurists were very political (and very fascist while they were at it). There's been attempts to interpret the Abstract Expressionists as being political.... What's happening now is that politics are coming back into the framework of art. There's allowance for that kind of content, and for content in general, to become manifest in art works. Before, there was a hard emphasis on formalism. Each of these concerns advance the body of information and body of knowledge that is art. I would never put one of them down.

On the other hand, I don't personally find work interesting that is not politically meaningful—and I use the word political broadly, because pictures of me floating in guts wouldn't be interpreted as political by most people. Art that is not personal, not reflective of existing in this culture, not somehow attempting to improve or change the culture—that kind of work bores me. So I don't look at it a lot.

Work that is "immoral"—that is, work that perpetuates very real and serious problems without questioning—I think that is laziness on the part of the artist. For Larry Bell to exhibit flocked pink nudes is plain old laziness. But it's easiest to go along with the images we've always had in our culture, and you get a lot of guys patting you on the back for pink flocked nudes, obviously. When there is no real attempt to deal thoughtfully with the meaning of these images, when you just kinda slide your work into the way everybody thinks, I think it's just lazy and tacky.

I hate Les Krims' Wheat Cake Murders, for example. It's a series of black-and-white photos where nude and half-clothed women are lying around in different household scenes. They are poured with Karo syrup that looks like blood in black and white. A woman's head might be stuck in a washing machine and there's a stack of wheat cakes in the photo, the signature of the killer. I think they are really disgusting and immoral. They are immoral because the reality of the world is that many women are murdered and when Krims picks up on those images and does not critique them, he just reinforces that kind of image of what is expected for women and of women.

But Abstract Expressionists—well, they're fine, they don't bother me.

RN: How do you separate a public concern for something like rape from your own artistic ambitions? There's a real immediacy to a problem like rape that doesn't stop, and I can see it absorbing all your energy.

SL: The first three years of my career, when there was an emphasis on organizing, like starting the Woman's Building, I didn't do a lot of art work. The first pieces were slow to come. Now I've pretty much got it under control because I've learned enough about how to make art and I can make it a lot faster. I've done three major pieces in two months. Three years ago, I did three a year. They're becoming much clearer and the energies are much stronger.

I think there is a deeper implication to what that you're saying. It has to do with why I choose to make art and how I survive. I am trying to represent myself to the feminist community as an artist and not as an organizer. I greedily hold on to the ability to make my own images, and make clear-cut distinctions about how much organizing I'm going to be involved with. I start with an incident that I want to react to, that is very painful for me or an image that's very personal. For example, I feel very deeply about violence towards women. With this last piece [In Mourning and In Rage. . .] we had a meeting with all the women's organizations in town that deal with violence, and we said we wanted to do this piece, and we wanted to support them, and we wanted them to support us. Immediately, one of the women from one of the centers jumped up and said we think the way you can support us is that you can help us do a self-defense lecture-demonstration and then you can serve on the hot line and we need help doing that. And we said NO, we're artists, and we have skills in this area and we're going to talk with you about it. There was a struggle because they didn't understand what we were trying to do as artists; they don't trust art. Realistically enough, what's art ever done for them? What's art done for political organizations in the past ten years? So there was a struggle to educate them to what we can do, and about the power of this imagery and what it can do. After Three Weeks in May, I left town right away for Las Vegas. I did another piece there, with Leslie Labowitz. I think it was a physical way of cutting myself off from the tendency to continue an involvement on an organizational, rather than artistic level.

RN: How involved are you in the overall visual presentation of your work?

SL: I think that it's very important to me and I'm just realizing that recently. The last few pieces—the old lady pieces, Three Weeks in May, the Hillside Strangler piece—when I see them in slide, I realize the visual images are strong for me. I don't think I visualized them in detail before they are made, but I'm compelled by a sense that I've got to have that...whatever it is. I've begun an aesthetic move toward the creation of something, and I don't care what my politics are, I'm going to have that image there. I work to make my politics work with the image. I have faith that whatever comes out of my unconscious is going to be in some way political. In Mourning and in Rage... got a wonderful response from the women's political community. People don't necessarily know that the power—and a lot of people were very moved by that power—is not because we [Suzanne and Leslie Labowitz] are good organizers, it's because we know how to make visual images. It's because those images hit you in the stomach. The general public doesn't know that, but artists do.

With the She Who Would Fly performance installation, the audience is looking at documentation of sexual assaults on women, and suddenly they become aware that they're being watched, they look up and at that moment they are confronted with these nude women painted blood-red, crouched like vultures. Images from the past—Sirens, Valkyries, mutilated, vengeful women Furies, dislocated spirits—all that opens up to a shock of recognition. It's a piece that is political, but it rests on two very strong visual images—a flying lamb carcass and the at first hidden, red-stained nude woman. I think the visual is very important to me but since I wasn't educated in visual things, it's taken me a while to recognize it.

This interview originally appeared in High Performance magazine, Spring 1978.

above copied from:

Ideology, Confrontation and Political Self-Awareness, Adrian Piper

Adrian Piper is a conceptual artist with a background in sculpture and philosophy. Her performance work and writing during this period asked the observer to consider the construction of his/her own beliefs and their relation to action in the world. Art historian Moira Roth has written that Piper's work of this period "deals with confrontations of self to self and self to others, exposing the distances between people and the alienation that exists in our lives—personally, politically, emotionally." Here she puts forth some basic considerations about ideology. —Eds.

We started out with beliefs about the world and our place in it that we didn't ask for and didn't question. Only later, when those beliefs were attacked by new experiences that didn't conform to them, did we begin to doubt: e.g., do we and our friends really understand each other? Do we really have nothing in common with blacks/whites/ gays/workers/the middle class/other women/other men/etc.?

Doubt entails self-examination because a check on the plausibility of your beliefs and attitudes is a check on all the constituents of the self. Explanations of why your falsely supposed "X" includes your motives for believing "X" (your desire to maintain a relationship, your impulse to be charitable, your goal of becoming a better person); the causes of your believing "X" (your early training, your having drunk too much, your innate disposition to optimism); and your objective reasons for believing "X" (it's consistent with your other beliefs, it explains the most data, it's inductively confirmed, people you respect believe it). These reveal the traits and dispositions that individuate one self from another.

So self-examination entails self-awareness, i.e., awareness of the components of the self. But self-awareness is largely a matter of degree. If you've only had a few discordant experiences, or relatively superficial discordant experiences, you don't need to examine yourself very deeply in order to revise your false beliefs. For instance, you happen to have met a considerate, sensitive, nonexploitative person who's into sadism in bed. You think to yourself, "This doesn't show that my beliefs about sadists in general are wrong; after all, think what Krafft-Ebing says! This particular person is merely an exception to the general rule that sexual sadists are demented." Or you think, "My desire to build a friendship with this person is based on the possibility of reforming her/him (and has nothing to do with any curiosity to learn more about my own sexual tastes)." Such purely cosmetic repairs in your belief structure sometimes suffice to maintain your sense of self-consistency. Unless you are confronted with a genuine personal crisis, or freely choose to push deeper and ask yourself more comprehensive and disturbing questions about the genesis and justification of your own beliefs, your actual degree of self-awareness may remain relatively thin.

Usually the beliefs that remain most unexposed to examination are the ones we need to hold in order to maintain a certain conception of ourselves and our relation to the world. These are the ones in which we have the deepest personal investment. Hence these are the ones that are most resistant to revision; e.g., we have to believe that other people are capable of understanding and sympathy, of honorable and responsible behavior, in order not to feel completely alienated and suspicious of those around us. Or: Some people have to believe that the world of political and social catastrophe is completely outside their control in order to justify their indifference to it.

Some of these beliefs may be true, some may be false. This is difficult to ascertain because we can only confirm or disconfirm the beliefs under examination with reference to other beliefs, which themselves require examination. In any event, the set of false beliefs that a person has a personal investment in maintaining is what I will refer to (following Marx) as a person's ideology.

Ideology is pernicious for many reasons. The obvious one is that it makes people behave in stupid, insensitive, self-serving ways, usually at the expense of other individuals or groups. But it is also pernicious because of the mechanisms it uses to protect itself, and its consequent capacity for self-regeneration in the face of the most obvious counterevidence. Some of these mechanisms are:

(1) The False-Identity Mechanism

In order to preserve your ideological beliefs against attack, you identify them as objective facts and not as beliefs at all. For example, you insist that it is just a fact that black people are less intelligent than whites, or that those on the sexual fringes are in fact sick, violent or asocial. By maintaining that these are statements of fact rather than statements of belief compiled from the experiences you personally happen to have had, you avoid having to examine and perhaps revise those beliefs. This denial may be crucial to maintaining your self-conception against attack. If you're white and suspect that you may not be all that smart, to suppose that at least there's a whole race of people you're smarter than may be an important source of self-esteem. Or if you're not entirely successful in coping with your own nonstandard sexual impulses, isolating and identifying the sexual fringe as sick, violent or asocial may serve the very important function of reinforcing your sense of yourself as "normal."

The fallacy of the false-identity mechanism as a defense of one's ideology consists in supposing that there exist objective social facts that are not constructs of beliefs people have about each other.

(2) The Illusion of Perfectibility

Here you defend your ideology by convincing yourself that the hard work of self-scrutiny has an end and a final product, i.e., a set of true, central and uniquely defensible beliefs about some issue; and that you have in fact achieved this end, hence needn't subject your beliefs to further examination. Since there is no such final product, all of the inferences that supposedly follow from this belief are false. Example: You're a veteran of the anti-war movement and have developed a successful and much-lauded system of draft-avoidance counseling, on which your entire sense of self-worth is erected. When it is made clear to you that such services primarily benefit the middle class—that this consequently forces much larger proportions of the poor, the uneducated and blacks to serve and be killed in its place—you resist revising your views in light of this information on the grounds that you've worked on and thought hard about these issues, have developed a sophisticated critique of them, and therefore have no reason to reconsider your opinions or efforts. You thus treat the prior experience of having reflected deeply on some issue as a defense against the self-reflection appropriate now, that might uncover your personal investment in your anti-draft role.

The illusion of perfectibility is really the sin of arrogance, for it supposes that dogmatism can be justified by having "paid one's dues."

(3) The One-Way Communication Mechanism

You deflect dissents, criticisms or attacks on your cherished beliefs by treating all of your own pronouncements as imparting genuine information, but treating those of other people as mere symptoms of some moral or psychological defect. Say you're committed to feminism, but have difficulty making genuine contact with other women. You dismiss all arguments advocating greater attention to lesbian and separatist issues within the women's movement on the grounds that they are maintained by frustrated man-haters who just want to get their names in the footlights. By reducing questions concerning the relations of women to each other to pathology or symptoms of excessive self-interest, you avoid confronting the conflict between your intellectual convictions and your actual alienation from other women, and therefore the motives that might explain this conflict. If these motives should include such things as deep-seated feelings of rivalry with other women, or a desire for attention from men, then avoiding recognition of this conflict is crucial to maintaining your self-respect.

The one-way communication mechanism is a form of elitism that ascribes pure, healthy, altruistic political motives only to oneself (or group), while reducing all dissenters to the status of moral defectives or egocentric and self-seeking subhumans, whom it is entirely justified to manipulate or disregard, but with whom the possibility of rational dialogue is not to be taken seriously.

There are many other mechanisms for defending one's personal ideology. These are merely a representative sampling. Together, they all add up to what I will call the illusion of omniscience. This illusion consists in being so convinced of the infallibility of your own beliefs about everyone else that you forget that you are perceiving and experiencing other people from a perspective that is, in its own ways, just as subjective and limited as theirs. Thus you confuse your personal experiences with objective reality, and forget that you have a subjective and limited self that is selecting, processing and interpreting your experiences in accordance with its own limited capacities. You suppose that your perceptions of someone are truths about her or him; that your understanding of someone is comprehensive and complete. Thus your self-conception is not demarcated by the existence of other people. Rather, you appropriate them into your self-conception as psychologically and metaphysically transparent objects of your consciousness. You ignore their ontological independence, their psychological opacity, and thereby their essential personhood. The illusion of omniscience resolves into the fallacy of solipsism.

The result is blindness to the genuine needs of other people, coupled with the arrogant and dangerous conviction that you understand those needs better than they do; and a consequent inability to respond to those needs politically in genuinely effective ways.

The antidote, I suggest, is confrontation of the sinner with the evidence of the sin: the rationalizations; the subconscious defense mechanisms; the strategies of avoidance, denial, dismissal and withdrawal that signal, on the one hand, the retreat of the self to the protective enclave of ideology, on the other hand, precisely the proof of subjectivity and fallibility that the ideologue is so anxious to ignore. This is the concern of my recent work of the past three years.

The success of the antidote increases with the specificity of the confrontation. And because I don't know you I can't be as specific as I would like. I can only indicate general issues that have specific references in my own experience. But if this discussion has made you in the least degree self-conscious about your political beliefs or about your strategies for preserving them; or even faintly uncomfortable or annoyed at my having discussed them; or has raised just the slightest glimmerings of doubt about the veracity of your opinions, then I will consider this piece a roaring success. If not, then I will just have to try again, for my own sake. For of course I am talking not just about you, but about us.

This essay originally appeared in High Performance magazine, Spring 1981.

Above copied from:

Obrist/Abramovic/Chaitin interview, Kitakyushu, Japan, July 2001

This conversation between curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, performance artist Marina Abramovic and mathematician Gregory Chaitin is on pp. 29-44 of a collection of Obrist interviews published by Edizioni Charta in Milan, Italy, in 2003.

HUO: Marina, I know that you've been reading this interview with Gregory done by Guillermo Martínez that will be published in Conversations with a Mathematician: Math, Art, Science and the Limits of Reason (2002), and that you found some interesting biographical similarities. Maybe we should open this conversation on these similarities.

MA: Yes, I thought there were some amazingly interesting points in our biographies which kind of cross. The one thing he couldn't tell me was where your grandparents come from.

GC: They came from Borispol, the airport of Kiev, on my father's side. My mother's side was Romanian---Moldavian actually---and Odessa. Those are my grandparents.

MA: Mine come from Montenegro, Yugoslavia, and are very strongly oriented towards Russia, so I think geographically there is a connection between us. The second thing I found out about you is that you said that you have been working on one idea since you were 15. I've also been working on one idea since I was 15.

GC: Really?

MA: The main idea of my whole work is the body. What is yours?

GC: Randomness.

MA: So randomness and the body it is!

GC: So we were both obsessed by one idea---our lives have been consumed by one idea?

MA: Another interesting similarity here is that you are interested in putting complexity into simplicity.

GC: Okay.

MA: You have said that you want to put very complex things into the smallest possible data.

GC: I like unifying ideas, yes.

MA: I also try for a synthesis of information into a really simple message, and to create a strong image. And this is an interesting process.

GC: It does sound related, yes.

MA: Another similarity is this enlightened effect, you know? You were talking about this in the city [Kitakyushu] yesterday, that in this lifetime there are very few moments that we can describe as enlightened states.

GC: Yes, it does seem like enlightened states are what some people would describe as a spiritual experience, I think. All of a sudden, it feels like your mind is working more clearly and somehow you understand and you're more connected with everything. It's actually quite an amazing experience. Do you have a similar kind of experience?

MA: Yes, that's one of the most important experiences I'm waiting for, and it is unpredictable. You never know when it will come. It sometimes comes as a total surprise and it's very short, but unholdable. I was always interested in how I could learn some kind of method so that I can really live in this moment, so that this moment is extended.

GC: These moments are just magic, and that's why when I get in this emotional state I don't let anything distract me. For example, if I've been trying to write a book and it starts to work, I don't stop, because I know I can't stay in that state forever. So I'm pushing. I'm trying to sustain the emotion, to keep the mood going long enough to get to the end of the book, you see.

MA: Yes, yes.

GC: So when a moment like that comes I just push everything out of the way. I don't pay my bills; I don't do anything else in my life. I just concentrate on following the inspiration and on working---working like mad because, as you say, these moments are magic and you never know when they're going to come and how long they're going to last.

MA: These moments don't always come when you're in the studio, when you're in a situation where you're really working on something, but instead when you're hiking, walking or swimming---it can be totally unpredictable. This is a strong link with the state of the artist. Sometimes we work very hard on one idea and it doesn't work; it doesn't actually bring any results, so you start on something completely different, and suddenly the solution or the result comes as a shock, in a completely unpredictable way.

GC: I think your subconscious is working on it like mad, even when you don't realize it---if you've been really obsessed by what you're trying to do---even when you think you're not working on it.

MA: There's one very strange example, and perhaps we should ask our colleagues about this; it's in The Idiot (1868) by Dostoyevsky, when one of the main characters has an epileptic attack. He described the situation before the epileptic attack as being a feeling of absolute clearness---a kind of stillness with nature, total harmony with the outside world. And this sensation is so strong that his body and mind cannot bear it.

GC: As if one can't bear the presence of God---it's too much for him.

MA: And then it turns into an epileptic fit, a kind of drastic solution from the brain. Why is it that at the moment of total harmony, we can't bear it?

GC: For me it's a moment of elation. I wouldn't say you can't bear it. What I can't bear is when I come out of that and I have to go back to real life.

HUO: So it always fades away at a certain point?

GC: Yes, but it can last for a month while I'm working on a book---the inspiration and the feeling of elation. I often think of it in terms of mountain climbing. You go up to the top of a mountain and the view is wonderful, the air seems so clear, it's an absolutely exhilarating feeling, and then there's that horrible problem of having to get back down. Getting up, you want to go up, so it doesn't matter how tired you are, you have this wonderful goal. But getting back down, you're tired, you're exhausted because you made it to the summit, but then, unfortunately, you have to go all the way back down, and that's not a goal really worth striving for, and it's very unpleasant.

HUO: Perhaps you could both speak about the beginning. How did you, Marina, come to working almost only on the body, and you, Greg, on randomness?

GC: You've always been an artist, would be my guess. And I've always been doing research. I didn't have my first idea when I was 15; I was doing research before, all the time. Isn't it the same with you?

MA: Actually, I've never doubted what I was going to be. There wasn't one second of doubt. I've never even considered other professions. I had my first exhibition when I was 12 years old. It was like nothing else.

HUO: Was it in Belgrade?

MA: It was in Belgrade. And in a funny way, at the time when my mother was pregnant with me, she was studying art history, just after the war. And then they took me to museums when I was born, so one of my first words that came out, when you say mama and papa for the first time, I said ``El Gleco''---it was El Greco!

GC / HUO: [Laugh].

MA: You put all your energy in one direction. It was almost like a distorted energy.

GC: Same in my case. But my parents also took me to museums. I practically lived in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I always loved art but I somehow always knew that I wanted to be a scientist. Exactly what kind of thing I would do, that was another matter. I think at first I was interested in physics, astronomy and cosmology.

HUO: Do you remember the first science book that you read?

GC: It's hard to remember, but one that I remember from a long time ago was by the Russian-American, George Gamow: One Two Three... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science (1947). There were also math books I read very early in my life. I just lived in the library.

MA: Did you ever try any poetry?

GC: Did you?

MA: Yes I did, very much. I was so romantic. I am so amazed, I always had a totally different opinion of mathematicians being very dry, very exact, very realistic, but then I find that firstly you're very poetic and second that you have this enormous erotic energy.

GC: Uh-huh?

MA: It's amazing.

GC: For me, mathematics is a passion really. [Laughs]

MA: Sexual energy is the basic energy that people have.

GC: It's the life force; it's the life force, that's right.

MA: You have to be as passionate about life as you are about your work.

GC: You have to be incredibly passionate. I'd like to hear, Marina, about how it is with the kind of art you do. With the kind of mathematics I do, you may spend many years trying to solve a problem, and you have to be really passionate about the importance of what you're doing and about your desire to understand. It takes enormous energy and, I would say, optimism, to do that.

HUO: And is it also about taking risks?

GC: It's very risky because you can spend years working on something and not get a good idea and not understand what's happening. That never bothered me somehow. I was just so passionate about these ideas. I loved them so much. Maybe it was all a form of misplaced sexuality, since we're talking about sex, you know!

MA: No, no.

GC: Having one hundred women---many men have done that, but maybe it is more interesting to put all that energy into mathematics!

HUO: Many artists say that doing art puts oneself in a risky situation somehow.

MA: Exactly. The risks are so important because if you don't take risks, you don't move on, there's no progress.

GC: That's right. Exactly.

MA: I was interested by Hans Ulrich's statement in your previous interview with him when he quoted Man Ray to you. In science, there is progress, and Man Ray said that there is no progress in art, there are just different ways of doing it. And somehow I don't agree with that. I think there is progress, but it is in the development of the artists themselves, and the phases of development they are going through. There can be inner progress. There has to be emotional progress when you're going from one state to another and so on. In mathematics or in science in general there is this kind of result, going from one theory to another, progressing. It is exactly the same in art. I definitely don't think that there is no progress.

HUO: I wanted to ask about this notion of ``big steps'' in both of your work, because you both stated that an artist or a scientist doesn't have that many main ideas, and rather that there are only a certain number of ideas that they will have. Greg, you said before that a mathematician had only three main ideas in his or her life.

GC: It all depends on the size of the ideas. Some ideas are major, and others seem like a breakthrough for you at the time, but you realize that they're not at the level of your best ideas.

First of all, I'd like to speak about taking risks. It really depends on the person. I think we have another thing in common, Marina. What you're doing, a lot of people say isn't art, and what I'm doing, a lot of people say isn't mathematics. The mathematics community is upset, many logicians are furious at me. I'm an unmentionable name. And it's also a question of risk-taking. For me, there is no point in doing anything the way anybody else does it, because if somebody else is doing it, it's been settled, it's being taken care of. So I think that the only activity that's worth it for me as an intellectual---and perhaps it's the same for you as an artist---is to go off in a direction that nobody else would dare to, except perhaps for you and me. And I don't view it as a question of risk---I just think it's a complete waste of time not to do this. There was never any doubt in my mind about picking an unusual path, because, otherwise, what's the point of doing it at all?

I've always had the feeling that one should not be a cork, one should not be passive. The waves are going by and you're just a cork going up and down! There's no point to that kind of life, really, because soon it's going to be gone, and what did you do, what did you accomplish? You did nothing. You did what other people wanted you to do. G. H. Hardy, a mathematician, put it this way: he said that it's never worthwhile for someone who's first rate to follow a majority view, that is, if there are already plenty of people who feel a certain way about something and who believe in it and are going to argue in that direction. So if someone is first rate, it's a waste of their time to agree with the majority; you always have to go in a different direction. That's the role we can play for human society.

Marina breaks the concept of what is the artist and what is the observer, and in my case, I'm challenging mathematicians' conceptions of what mathematics is. I'm claiming that mathematics is more like physics than mathematicians think. I'm not saying it's identical, but that it's much more similar as an intellectual enterprise than people thought. And mathematicians either say that they don't understand what the hell I'm talking about, or else they just get furiously angry at me. I consider that a good sign, because no one would get furiously angry if I weren't touching on something important for them---they would just laugh and say ``poor fellow.'' A reaction of outrage is often a good reaction.

HUO: Does it also have anything to do with changing the rules of the game?

GC: Aren't you doing that Marina? Looking at your work I really felt that you were changing the rules of the game.

MA: There's a wonderful quarter page of text---I can't quote it here, but perhaps we can insert it later. Basically it was talking about how the father of John Cage was an inventor.

GC: ... John Cage the musician and composer?

MA: ... And he said that what he learnt from his father the inventor was that whenever he made something that was accepted by society, he immediately moved to an area where it wasn't, and that's very important.

[``Well, I keep telling everybody this, and it's actually kept me in good stead because I was the son of an inventor. The fact that people weren't accepting what I was doing indicated that I was inventing something. In fact, I developed the opinion, which may be right or wrong but I still have it somewhat, that if my work is accepted, I must move on to the point where it isn't.'' (John Cage, 1982)]

GC: And he knew he was doing something wrong if it was accepted.

MA: It's this immediate consumption, making things so simple. I think that art has so many layers, and that every society can benefit from one layer at a time, as even simple things can be very complicated. There is complex complexity and complexity of simplicity, you know, and what is so important is this pioneering of new territories---that's the main thing. How can you actually find a way to break through the unknown and find different ways and different rules? That's very interesting.

GC: Pioneering is so much fun!

MA: To shift the way society thinks into different directions, that is incredible. The intensity of that moment when you realize that you're on the right track. It doesn't matter that you're not accepted at that moment, because deep down you know that you're right. Throughout history people have had to die and the ideas wait hundreds of years to be consumed by society.

GC: I worry if people like what I'm doing too much.

MA: It's like reading the daily newspapers---tomorrow it's an old paper. You have to go beyond that, beyond the daily news.

HUO: Marina, could you speak a little about some of the key moments which have changed you and moved your thinking forward?

MA: I was working as a painter, and I had different periods in painting. At one point I had this obsession with sky, so I was painting sky. And I remember so clearly when this happened. I was painting the sky and I was always looking at clouds. And at one point there was a totally clear sky and there were 16 military airplanes passing through the sky of Belgrade, and that was such a revelation. I saw this wonderful drawing that the planes had made. I saw the making of the drawing, I saw the existence of the drawing and I saw it disappear---I saw the whole process in just a few minutes. There was such a realization that my paintings were complete nonsense---there was something two-dimensional about them that didn't have anything to do with anything. So I decided to go to the military base, to ask them for 15 planes to make drawings for me. And so I did it. I went to the military base and they called my father, who is a military man, and said, ``Take your daughter out of here. Do you know how much it costs to make 15 planes fly to make drawings for her?''

GC: [Laughs]

MA: But it was an incredibly important step because it meant that I left this two-dimensionality of painting and I started using real materials. And I started working with sound and projects, and then this led to performance and so on. Another important moment was when I walked the Great Wall of China and understood the relationship between landscape and different states of mind, and the importance of the magnetic energy lines. And I wanted to transport the feeling of the experience to the public. Then I found this form of transitory objects, and I knew I had to work with transitory objects.

HUO: It occurred to you when walking the Great Wall of China?

MA: Yes. I never wanted to make sculptures because I'm not a sculptor. I wanted to make something of a cross---using just experience---you have the experience and then it can be moved. I found there to be a very voyeuristic relationship between the performer and the public. The public doesn't really get into it, they just always take the same role as the viewer. And I wanted a public that can only be transformed if they have their own experiences.

GC: The public has to take a risk, you might say.

MA: I was arguing with a scientist that they're always observing but they don't make observations of themselves. I wanted the observation to be central in you first, so you are the first one to be observed and to be changed and transformed. So that was the next step that I made---the public body, the public as performer. So this was really important to shifting the rules of the game. The problems of serving art are in there somewhere. So the public became the art, together with the object. There was another moment, in the early '70s, when we had a very small number of public, say 10 or 15 people. It was very underground; performance was not accepted and so on, and we just made our performances. At one point I ended up in a very large exhibition---documenta 6---for which, together with Ulay, I performed a piece called Expansion in Space, and it ended with 1500 people present, for the first time in my life. That was the first time that I understood the power and the energy of the public and how, as a performer, you can take this energy, transform it, and give it back to them. This was the first time that I understood what it means, what an energy dialogue is, and how the energy in the performance works.

GC: You know that mathematical research is all energy. You have to throw yourself at the problem. It's like you're running up a mountain. You're not just going up, you're running up. And you've got to make it to the top of the mountain, and it's a tremendous burst of energy and concentration. So when you say the word ``energy,'' you know, that's a key word for me.

HUO: Can you give me one or two examples of such situations, where you are ``running up mountains?''

GC: In my research? It's so completely emotional to solve a mathematical problem. You have to really want to solve it. It's like adrenaline, it's like energizing yourself. I want to smash against the problem. I'm going to run and throw myself against the wall. I'm going to smash through the wall. I think of it as a wall, you know, my lack of understanding. And you want to just smash right through it. It's just a question of energy, it's energy. That's the key word; otherwise you can't do research.

MA: There is a text in my last book called ``Towards the Pure Energy'' (Marina Abramovic: Public Body, 2001) and that's really what it's all about. And that's the kind of special state where you really want to be. You have to question everything to transform it to the same state.

GC: And human society doesn't want us to do this because it's too dangerous, you know. You're supposed to stay in your place and do what you're told. And to crash through the barrier is to break through. But this is the kind of energy that can make a social change, not just an intellectual change. It can transform society. It's the life force. It's the only basis for anything of value. Every time one does anything of value---like the Center for Contemporary Art here in Kitakyushu for example, someone was telling me what they were going through politically to be able to have this institution. Every time you want to do anything good, you have to fight the whole world to do it, because this planet is arranged so that everything is okay as long as you do what everybody else does. But that doesn't create anything new. For our personalities, Marina, that's impossible, but everyone is fighting us. That reminds me of a story I heard about Fermilab, in Illinois, which is the biggest accelerator in the United States.

HUO: The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It's a particle accelerator?

GC: It's a particle accelerator, right. The man who built that accelerator, Robert Wilson, built it under budget; he built it ahead of schedule, and he managed to make it more powerful than it was supposed to be. He's even an artist---he put sculptures there, and used the material they had excavated from the tunnel to arrange in interesting ways. So what was the result? Of course, everybody hates him. So what you do is, after he creates this, you immediately fire him and you put another man there---another man who has not made enemies accomplishing this wonderful thing. It's a typical thing to do. You use someone to accomplish something, but to accomplish anything of value you make enemies everywhere, you rock the boat. So the moment it's done you get rid of this person and you put in a nonentity who hasn't made any enemies because he hasn't accomplished anything, and then everyone's happy. The world goes back to its normal state!

MA: Can you tell us the precise moment when you really found your randomness?

GC: It's hard for me to remember. I was 15. I just had this tremendous, essential joy in reading and understanding mountains of books. I was wildly enthusiastic about it. And I wasn't just reading in one narrow speciality; I was reading all kinds of things. I was following my intuition, reading everything that excited my imagination. Computers excited my imagination, cosmology excited my imagination, all kinds of things, I don't know. There were areas of mathematics I somehow found beautiful, other areas of mathematics I thought were infinitely ugly---I couldn't force myself to look at them. It was all done completely emotionally, like when you see one woman and you find her exciting and beautiful, and another woman you don't. And you can't explain why, there's no way to explain it. It's just a total reaction that one person feels and another person doesn't feel. It's not rational; I just followed my feelings. And then I had lots of ideas that I was excited about, but they were all from different areas---people who don't normally talk to each other. And all of a sudden I saw a connection. It looked pretty obvious to me. It was a way of defining randomness, but it required combining ideas from four or five different fields.

HUO: What were those five fields?

GC: I was combining ideas from probability theory, from game theory and information theory (which is communications engineering), ideas from the philosophy of physics and the foundations of quantum mechanics, and ideas from mathematical logic and the foundations of mathematics. A whole lot of areas, and I saw the connection, it was obvious to me, it was my definition of randomness. But this was because I was looking at a whole bunch of fields, and because I didn't see a wall between those fields. But certain people in these fields, especially logicians, hate me. They used to mention my name occasionally, but not anymore. I consider this a compliment by the way, and I'm not just saying this for psychological reasons, as a defense mechanism. The fact is that before, logicians in the United States used to occasionally mention me, nicely even. Now there is a conspiracy of silence. My name has become unmentionable!

To give you an example, the man who wrote the ``official'' biography of Gödel, John Dawson (who is accepted as the official biographer of the great mathematician, at least in the United States), he has a chapter in his book talking about the work that followed Gödel's work, and I'm not mentioned anywhere in that book, not even in that chapter, where I certainly should be mentioned. But this man knows me so well that he sent me a copy of a previous book of his with a dedication. He certainly knows about my work, if he sent me a book of his with a dedication on it; he signed it and sent it as a present. I think that it's great that these people are so threatened by my ideas that they react in this childish, emotional way. I think it's fantastic. Of course, if it costs me my job at IBM, or something like that, then it stops being a joke.

I should mention that there is a lovely biography of Gödel written by two men who live in Vienna, John Casti and Werner DePauli, and their book has a chapter on my ideas.

I don't know how I got onto this. What were we talking about?

HUO: I was asking about when you found out that randomness was your idea, and about key moments in your work and how they occurred.

GC: There's another key moment in my research that I want to mention. It was when I had an idea in Rio, the week before carnival. Being in Brazil was very exciting for me. The sensuality, the women, the tropics, the colors, the heat. I was living in Buenos Aires, which is very European. It's not the United States, but it's inhibited, it's middle class. And you go to Rio and it has this African sensuality. The women love being women, you know, they want to drive the men crazy. The sex in Brazil is not like in France. In France the women are very sexual, but it has to be done with elegance, right? But in Rio they throw it in your face!

HUO / MA: [Laugh]

GC: So what did I do in Rio? You might think I spent all my time making love to these beautiful women. Maybe that's what I should have done, but instead it just energized my mind. I had all these mathematical ideas!

HUO: And what came out of this stay in Rio?

GC: I realized that even though most things are random, according to my definition of randomness, you can never prove it in individual cases.

MA: Are there any sexual undertones?

GC: It's theorems, it's mathematics! The normal output of sex is children, beautiful children, so math is a more interesting, or certainly a more unusual output, let's put it that way! I had come up with a definition of randomness and then suddenly I realized that it would give me a completely new attack on Gödel's incompleteness work. This had subconsciously been my goal all along. One of the reasons I went into mathematics, besides the beauty of the ideas, was Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, which was a main source of motivation for me. But when I got the idea of randomness, I had years of work to develop it. And you temporarily put aside a more important goal to concentrate on that kind of subsidiary goal. It was a stepping stone; but while you're working on that thing, all your concentration is on that and maybe you forget the original reason that you went in that particular direction.

So after I finished developing my idea of randomness, I was able to relax, to calm down and step back and ask myself ``What now?'' And then I was in Rio and all of a sudden I realized that this definition of randomness was perfect, it was exactly what I needed to be able to get back to incompleteness, which had obsessed me and brought me into mathematics. I realized that randomness completely changed the way you think about incompleteness. This was not by chance. I'm sure that for subconscious psychological reasons I had been going exactly in the direction for penetrating the fundamental mystery of incompleteness---because that's where mathematics turns back, where mathematics stops, you know, where there's a wall. I felt this was so fascinating---how can mathematics show that mathematics has limitations? And so this is what happened in Rio, and then I spent years working on that.

Another idea I had was more technical. In my theory, the proofs, the reasoning, they were ugly. I was annoyed. I had developed a theory but it seemed a little clumsy. Even though I had achieved my goals---I had a theory of randomness, I was applying it to incompleteness---the proofs bothered me, they annoyed me. It's like a painting when you feel it's not finished, that there's something wrong with it but you can't say what, that there's something that isn't right. And I was looking at this painting, and it was a good painting, but it wasn't finished.

This led me to redo my theory. I changed the definition of randomness, in a way that would be hard to explain to you. It was a technical change that all of a sudden made the theory more beautiful. I don't know how to describe it. It's as if I had been looking at everything out of focus, and suddenly I adjusted my binoculars a little and could see sharp, you know? The theory was suddenly right. I had the feeling that this had to be the correct theory. Afterwards, it seemed inevitable that the new theory was the right theory, but it had taken me a lot of work and a lot of experimentation to get the right formulation. But afterwards I said to myself, ``How could anyone ever have conceived of doing it any other way?'' And it's good sign when you feel like that.

MA: There was another moment in my life, which happened some time ago and I really think I'm right, but it's still not there. It's like the whole idea of how art's going to look in the next century. How are things going to develop? And I honestly strongly believe that art is going to the point where the objects will be removed---there will be no objects: no paintings, no sculptures, no installations, whatever. There will just be this artist directly translating energy through the public, with no object in between, and that's it. Objects won't be necessary any more; but to get to that point, the public has to be prepared as well as the artist. And one of the reasons for these transitory objects is to prepare the public to be able to receive it, so it can really be developed in the same way as artists, because artists go through the process of change, but most of the time the public doesn't. It is a two-way process: the public body performing and the artist's body performing to find an end point for this transformation---without objects---to take place. This is really my vision of the future.

GC: Let me react strongly to that, Marina. The crazy thing is that I feel like I'm a performance artist too, really. For me also, apart from creating new mathematics, one of the most intense moments is transmitting it to the public---I feel I'm a performer. I love sharing my enthusiasm for ideas with the public.

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