Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Cinema Exploded: Notes on the Development of Some Post-Cinematic Forms, Matthew Clayfield

In his 2003 Variety Cinema Militans Lecture, 'Toward a re-invention of cinema,' Peter Greenaway suggested that the cinema died almost twenty-five years ago, in 1983, with the introduction of the remote control "to the living rooms of the world" [1], a sentiment that, while delightfully provocative in and of itself, I'm not sure I completely agree with. Insofar as I can see it, the remote control, far from killing cinema in one fell swoop, merely marked the first real tolling of its proverbial bell and the beginning of its slow but steady trek towards, while not the grave, a new landscape in which it would be but one of many audiovisual media, lighting a twenty-five year fuse, which is at present shorter than it has ever been before.

As Greenaway suggested in his lecture, the history of art has shown us that the "throwing away [of established cinematic language] in anticipation of a new cycle" of "aesthetic-technologies" is ultimately inevitable. The key word here seems to me to be 'anticipation,' and, along with the funeral procession and bomb fuse analogies, we might also like to apply to the period of innovation that has followed the introduction of the remote control the more biological analogy of foetal gestation, which is perhaps more appropriate given its positive focus on birth as opposed to a negative one on death. This is not a 'death of cinema' essay, and I firmly believe that cinema and post-cinema can and should coexist.

As we shall see, this gestation is taking place all around us: in the mainstream, with DVDs for films like Memento (d. Christopher Nolan, 2001) [2]; in the independent sector, with projects like Bodysong (d. Simon Pummell, 2003) [3]; in the art world, with video art; and in the academy, with praxis-based research projects like those of Lev Manovich and Adrian Miles. These are the true harbingers of post-cinematic forms and often bring together, to greater or lesser extent, two of what I consider to be the most important and exciting aspects of the post-cinematic landscape: non-linear granularity and the possibility for interactive audience participation.

Essentially, we can look at a film in one of two ways: holistically, as a more or less cohesive formal system or emotional experience; i.e., as a sole discursive entity (the film); or atomistically, as a series of smaller constituent elements; i.e., as a collection of potentially discursive entities (sequences, scenes, shots, and frames). The primary difference between the two approaches, to put it rather simplistically, is ultimately a matter where one chooses to place the emphasis in the clause "A film is the sum of its parts." Does one privilege the sum or the parts? The whole or its constituents?

Traditionally, with a few notable exceptions (i.e., the Surrealists), the vast majority of audiences, filmmakers, and theoreticians have chosen to emphasise the whole. This is hardly surprising, nor is it a bad thing. Cinema's mode of transmittal, for the greater part of its history, has dictated that, by and large, films be experienced in this way, presented in their entirety, uninterruptible, to a more or less passive audience. This is not to say that those who prefer to look at a film as a whole (i.e., the vast majority of us) automatically disregard its sequences, scenes, and so on, of course. They don't. But when they do isolate constituent elements, for whatever purpose—be it theoretical or practical—they tend to do so with the whole in mind, looking at the constituent element as just that—a constituent—and very rarely, if ever, as a potentially autonomous entity in and of itself.

Consider a Bordwellian reading of a shot or frame in an Eisenstein film (in contrast to a Barthesian reading of the same) or a digital effects technician's approach to a two-second sequence for the latest blockbuster comic book adaptation. These isolated elements are ultimately recognised to be of less importance than the whole of which they are a part. The constituent elements of an Eisenstein film are nothing to Bordwell if not building blocks in the overall formal system of the picture. The digital effects technician will labour over individual shots and frames for weeks and weeks at a time, but always with a mind to eventually integrate them into the larger framework of the whole.

There are more than valid reasons for this, of course, and these are ultimately the same reasons that interactivity in the cinema—in a direct, participatory sense, at least; i.e., in the sense that the viewer's actions directly influence the form and/or content of the work in question—has necessarily been limited. The theatrical experience, by its very nature, doesn't really allow for a high level of granularity or true interactivity. Sure, a film is made up of sequences, scenes, shots, and frames, but the manner in which they are presented to us—in a predefined and unalterable linear order—ultimately renders this fact, if not meaningless, then at least of secondary importance. Similarly, while there are indeed countless pictures that demand that a viewer at some point consciously engage with the form of a work for it to be understood and appreciated, this ultimately passive-aggressive spectatorship is not what I mean by interactivity.

However, as we have already established, cinema's mode of transmission is changing, and, indeed, changing rapidly. DVD, to take but one example, is a profoundly post-cinematic technology that is currently tied down—perhaps due to lack of imagination, though more likely due to economic reasons (believe it or not, but some people actually like to buy and own movies on disc!)—to more holistic cinematic forms.

The format's primary means of acknowledging the potential autonomy of constituent elements is, perhaps, the chapter- or scene-selection feature, a legacy of the laserdisc era that has taken on a life of its own with the introduction of DVD. A film is no longer simply a monolithic whole, but, as a result of this feature, a series of scenes that can be viewed out of predefined chronological order and in isolation to one another. This has not been warmly embraced by all, and, indeed, some have quite rightly considered it to be a decidedly uncinematic development.

The most prolific naysayer has perhaps been David Lynch, who has clung desperately to his holistic notions about cinema while simultaneously reducing the post-cinematic capabilities of DVD to zero by demanding that his films be released in this format without chapter stops. His films, he has said, are to be watched in their entirety, experienced as wholes; i.e., that the post-cinematic technology is to be a mere means of distribution, not an artistic tool in and of itself, limited by its arbitrary conformity to the cinematic mode of transmittal. This has not only been infuriating for many (and it has been) but also demonstrates an inherent naïvety on Lynch's part as well. For depriving a DVD of its chapter stops only renders a film less granular. It doesn't at all render the film any less susceptible to the whims of the zapper-wielding audience member, who, today more than ever, is often overtly aggressive towards the aesthetic object, particularly when it has been delivered to them by way of post-cinematic technologies.

At its simplest, most base level, interactivity in a post-cinematic context can be represented by the power bestowed upon the audience member by the remote control and its ability to pause, stop, play, fast-forward, and rewind. This is why the chapter-less Lynch discs are ultimately a fruitless venture; the post-cinematic mode of transmittal dictates that the filmmaker is no longer in complete control of the form of his work as it is experienced by an audience, particularly as regards screen-time, which is now almost completely at the mercy of the audience. Lynch's desire to have his films experienced as wholes will be more or less trumped by the audience's ability to fast-forward and rewind them, as they are more than likely to do as they try to work out his complex dream narratives. It is perhaps ironic that it is a Lynch film, Blue Velvet (1986), which is the subject of Nicholas Rombes' quasi-insane (and now discontinued) 'Frame By Frame' blog project, which, if nothing else, demonstrated that attempts to circumvent post-cinematic granularity are meaningless in a world where, if one so chooses, a film can be analysed, with the help of a pause or skip forward button, frame by agonising frame at a time.

Obviously, as I have already suggested, one can be a more or less aggressive audience member as regards traditional cinema as well, but the difference there is that one's aggressiveness—a proactive willingness to enter into a kind of discourse with a picture—can really only reveal the form of a work, it can't actually change or shape it. It is often said that a work of art is completed by the audience, but only in a post-cinematic context is this literally true. Again, this is not to say that a masterpiece like Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) would be better if the audience could actively control its form by way of a multi-angle function that allowed them to edit their own shower sequence in real time. I do not wish to suggest that cinematic forms are any better or worse than post-cinematic forms. Rather, what I wish to highlight, again, is the problematic manner in which our desire to conform post-cinematic technologies to the demands of a cinematic framework limits the extent to which these new forms can develop and grow.

In contrast to the chapter-less Lynch discs—and, to a lesser extent, to the hundreds of other DVDs that merely accommodate the chapter-selection feature as though it were little more than an obligatory formality—the DVD edition of Christopher Nolan's Memento (2001) gleefully embraced the granularity offered by the format. Included on the disc was a function that 'reshuffled' the order of the film's scenes, demonstrating that the picture's structure as a whole (and, admittedly, it was still a whole) was ultimately reliant on the parts that made it up, thus inverting the traditional hierarchy. In time, I think, this will come to be seen as an important milestone for this kind of mainstream content. When it was in theatres, Memento was, despite its convoluted (and in my opinion contrived) narrative structure, a relatively traditional cinematic experience. When it hit DVD, however, it became decidedly post-cinematic. Yes, the project was limited in its scope to the relatively low-granular level of the scene, and, yes, the film was still presented as a whole (albeit a drastically reordered one), but the step taken was a significant one in that the mainstream had begun to experiment with the possibilities.

Of course, the vast majority of film projects are still conceived with theatrical distribution in mind, at least as their ultimate goal. They necessarily and understandably comply, therefore, with the traditionally holistic demands of this approach. Most post-cinematic experimentation, in fact—particularly as regards granularity and interactivity—is actually taking place in the field of DVD special features. Take, for example, the database of supplementary interviews (four-and-a-half hours’ worth!) on the two-disc edition of The Corporation (d. Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan, 2003), which, in typically high-granular fashion, acknowledges the fundamental importance of the individual shot (in this case a simple talking head interview), which can be viewed on its own, or as part of either a speaker- or subject-specific sequence.

The problem, though, as with the Memento 'reshuffle' function, is that it's ultimately just a special feature—a high-granular sideshow beside the low-granular main attraction. And I should point out that I love The Corporation and the marvellous DVD package that its makers put together for it. My point is just that, all too often, soft cinema comes second to hard cinema, and post-cinema to traditional cinema—even when the former is trespassing on the property of the latter!

Enter, then, the avant-garde, independent, and academic projects, which are in a position, unlike most mainstream DVDs, to render the special feature the feature presentation. We can perhaps take Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky's 'Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database' (2005), in which "software edits movies in real time by choosing the elements from the database using the systems of rules defined by the authors," [4] as exemplary of these projects, dedicated as they are to post-cinematic forms and to the primacy of autonomous, highly granular signifying units, be they images or sounds. The formal possibilities opened up by these projects are significant, particularly as regards temporality, montage, soundtrack, and mise en scène, all of which become more or less open to random modulation, variation, and repetition depending on the parameters set by the author of the code. The duration, speed, position on the screen, and frame size of each visual element, and the duration, speed, timbre, and volume of each aural element (to name but a few potentially countless variables), are not fixed in these works but fluid and malleable, marking what Adrian Miles calls "a major paradigmatic shift in terms of traditional cinematic practice." [5]

Miles' own practical work is exemplary in this respect as well, with his computer-based "softvideography" [6] not only granular in the sense that Manovich and Kratsky's 'Soft Cinema' is, but also highly interactive in that the actions of the viewer (or is it user?) qualitatively alter the form of the work as a whole, rendering it so that it never appears the same twice and is constantly in flux. In a piece "as simple in structure" [7] as 'Exquisite Corpse' (2002, with Clare Stewart) [8], which Miles himself discusses at length in an excellent essay on the topic [9], all the aforementioned variables particularly screen-time and duration—are perpetually affected by mouse movement and cursor placement. The film is made up of three autonomous video tracks, all looped, in which a story is recounted verbally by actors. These tracks, depending on which one the user rolls the mouse over at any given time, play at constantly changing frame rates. The track with the pointer over it plays at the standard frame rate, the first track to right at half that speed, and the final track a quarter. The soundtrack, too, is volatile, with the audio of the selected track being privileged over those of the other two. As the viewer moves the mouse pointer around the screen, he effectively creates a complex of different relations among the three visual tracks and between image and sound, causing us to reconsider our received notions about any number of formal concepts, not to mention about the nature of authorship in a post-cinematic environment. Miles' work might at first seem lo-fi and primitive, but it is, in actual fact, extremely complex, extremely probing, and at the forefront of the practical and theoretical exploration of these forms.

In his 1967 Theory of Film Practice, Nöel Burch wrote that "of the two different forms in which the aleatoric can occur, the first (its direct intervention in a work, whether controlled or uncontrolled) seems the more 'organically relevant' to film, whereas the second (its use in the creation of works with multiple modes of performance) seems to be the more relevant to music." [10] He goes on to say that "a film's integrity appears for the moment to be as fundamental to a definition of cinema as music's need to be sheltered from the random sounds of life," but that "prospects for a new type of film . . . are just now beginning to come into view" and that "it will be one of a complexity and richness unprecedented in the entire history of art." [11] The prospects that he describes—most notably "a film with multiple interchangeable facets" [12]—find their realisation in the forms made possible by post-cinematic technologies, a direct result of the autonomous granular unit that will undoubtedly be furthered by the emergence of formally affective audience interactivity. The resultant forms require addressing and pose a whole new set of questions. How does one approach the mise en scène that is never composed the same way twice? What meaning does a work elicit when its montage is one in which any two random shots might suddenly be juxtaposed against one another? What are we to say about screen-time when a film is designed to play forever, on a loop, ad infinitum?

Since 1983, a number of technological innovations have added to the speed at which the fuse we have been discussing has burnt: the VCR and its time-shifting capabilities; analogue and (more recently) digital video recording devices (including mobile phones); DVD, CD-ROM, and other interactive technologies; the Internet as a relatively democratic means of content distribution (issues of accessibility aside). It is perhaps telling that Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most prolific of the death-of-cinema crowd, has said that, in his opinion, cinema 'ends' with Abbas Kiarostami, one of the most prolific proponents of consumer-level digital video, though this is another provocative assertion that I'm not sure I completely agree with.

Kiarostami's cinema, at least insofar as I can see it, isn't really all that close to cinema's vanishing point at all, and it certainly shouldn't be considered the vanishing point itself. His work has benefited the cinema, aiding its formal development, but not that of the post-cinema that has been the focus of this essay. New technologies, not to mention the relative democratisation of the means of production, do not automatically ensure the development of new forms. In many cases, the so-called digital revolution has merely led to a number of filmmakers embracing digital technologies for purely economic reasons, and the resultant films, more often than not, have subsequently failed to do anything new or interesting with the medium. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably cite myself as an example of this, having often used softcopy tools to distribute my essentially hardcopy film work online. The same can be said of most videobloggers. Similarly, the vast majority of filmmakers who work with digital video are essentially making and distributing cinema with post-cinematic technologies.

This is not a bad thing in and of itself, of course. More people are making movies. Kiarostami's work with digital video may be more valuable to cinema than it is to post-cinema, but it also proves that virtually anyone with a camera can contribute to the art form in ways that were previously impossible. But it must also be conceded that these technologies have a far greater formal potential than our traditional understanding of time-based media allows. One of the major problems with the increasingly redundant film-versus-digital debate is that it's essentially an argument between two parties whose films are virtually indistinguishable on a formal level about budgets, ease of use, distribution, and so-called image quality, when what it should really be about is whether or not the dominant aesthetic forms of our times should remain static or evolve and about the unique qualities and merits of the individual media. Says Kiarostami himself:

I have somewhat lost my enthusiasm [for digital video] in the last four or five years. Mainly because film students using digital video these days have not really produced anything which is more than superficial or simplistic; so I have my doubts. Despite the great advantages of digital video and the great ease of using the medium, still those who use it have first to understand the sensitivities of how to best use the medium. [13]

I am by no means a hypermedia theorist and by no means wish to pose as one. I have ignorantly, if not always intentionally, avoided talking about videogames and video art—two of the more obvious and fruitful pillars in the post-cinematic landscape—and the pressing matter of the philosophical implications of aesthetic forms in perpetual flux—not to mention the potentially democratic and thereby inherently political nature of forms that rely so heavily on audience interactivity—will simply have to wait for another essay.

What I do know about though—or rather what I like to think I know about—is the urgent, vital, and eternal necessity for formal exploration and innovation. We are forever in need of new formal models—new ways of seeing images, hearing sounds, and of being in the world—and the post-cinematic landscape is rife with possibilities. Most of these have not yet been fully or adequately tapped, however, and with post-cinematic technologies necessarily demanding the parallel development of post-cinematic aesthetic forms, the medium's practitioners, from mainstream DVD authors to practicing academics, must now make formal experimentation one of their most central and pressing concerns.

Clearly, I would argue that we are now closer than ever before to the hypothetical explosion of cinema, even though I sincerely doubt that cinema as we know it will ever really disappear. If we are to privilege my earlier foetal gestation analogy, we may well say that recently, after a twenty-five year labour, cinema's waters have finally broken, and post-cinema is about to be born. The results, I feel, will have been well worth the wait. Coexisting with cinema as we know it, they can only be a breath of fresh air.

[1] Greenaway, Peter. 'Toward a re-invention of cinema'. Variety Cinema Militans Lecture. The Netherlands, 2003.

[2] For more on the Memento DVD see Rombes, Nicholas. 'Interface as Narrative'. Digital Poetics. (April 18, 2005).



[5] Miles, Adrian. 'Softvideography'. Cybertext Yearbook 2002-2003. Eds. Markku Eskelinen and Raine Koskimaa. Vol. 77. Jyväskylän: Research Center for Contemporary Culture, 2003. 218-36..

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


[9] Burch, Nöel. Theory of Film Practice. Trans. Lane, Helen. Secker & Warburg, London, 1974. 108.

[10] Ibid. 108-9.

[11] Ibid. 108.

[12] Ibid.

[13] 'Guardian/NFT Interview: Abbas Kiarostami'. The National Film Theatre, 2005.

Matthew Clayfield is an independent filmmaker and freelance writer currently based in Queensland, Australia. His work can be seen at

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

DEHUMANIZING THE BODY AS MEDIA a transmedia essay, Ana Rifa!

media history and theory [dehumanizing the body as media]

"Human experience is, unfortunately, butter stimulatingly, thee experience of nothing and thee only reality it knows is thee inability to interpret itself and its mythically inherited structure.
After thee accumulation of too much history we have lost our innocence, we cannot easily believe in any explanations. We describe rather than feel, we touch rather than explore, we lust rather than adore. So there you are...or were... " -Genesis P-Orridge

a transmedia essay by Ana Rifa!

I’ve always believed the human body is an extraordinary machine. We are perfectly designed from the inside out. We are a mix of balance, grace and biological perfection.

As humans we are not only blessed with this overwhelming container that we carry ourselves in everyday, but also given the gift of expressing our inner self into the world; we think, we feel, we desire making the human being a restless hunter of satisfaction and pleasure.
The fact that mankind can provoke this type of needs makes society an evolving organ for consumer growth which lingers from consuming thoughts, objects and even intangible things such as belief and faith. The need to move information around through diverse types of media not only shows the human genious of moving bodies to where they want to, but how the media influences bodies to be transformed: humans penetrate the mind through the eyes, ears, mouth, nose and touch.
What happens though, when we take the body itself not only seen as a bio-container but a way to signify what we want and tell others what they need? What happens when the body becomes the medium itself? What is the result of distorting what we usually know as “the human body”?
The purpose of this essay is to explore the unlimited boundaries of the human body as media, how the dehumanization and manipulation of the body is used as a channel to flux ideas, movements, politics and patterns of beauty. The body is power. Media is power. Both certainly, make a very strong combination.

Man has distinguished itself since the old times in many ways. We have been conscious of our very special physique, we do not have large claws to defend ourselves, heavy coat to survive extreme weather, deadly teeth to hunt our prey.
Being a clear skinned covered mammal, the urge to distinguish ourselves amongst us and other species that cohabit in the same planet is almost mandatory. That is the reason why we look for human ornamentation, to invade our physique is not only a matter of decoration but of spiritual exploration and expression as well.
It is the cultural context that has put constraints in the way people adorn themselves but throuought time, technological determinism and globalization have fused to give as a result an infinite amount of body interventions.
In The Imagination of Disaster by Susan Sontag she opens her essay with the following line: “ Ours is indeed an age of extremity. For we live under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed destinies: unremitting banality and invonceivable terror”. Eventhough this essay talks about science fiction in contemporary cinema, this line catches the essence of my interest on the body and its dehumanization from the outside into our insides, the influence of our external beings overpowering the inside. (mind). This era of mass accesible and visual information leads mankind to find ultimate ways to portray ones thoughts (and inner thoughts) into the body.

In 2006 the exhibit Into Me/Out of Me was presented for the first time in PS1 at Moma in New York city. This show visualizes many relationships of function and physicality as well as ideological and political of the human body. We can appreciate an intersection of all kinds of experimental interactions and and contexts on using the body as a transgressor medium, a tool of power.

Orlan, a french based artist, is one of the pieces of this exhibit. Orlan’s work in general is completely tied to using the human body as media. It was in her early stages where she used her body as a measurement device of scale and reaction. This stages though evolved into a much more complex ideology which gave birth to the Carnal Art Manifesto, in which Carnal Art becomes a technique of using the body to produce classical work. This technique embodies disfiguration as the prime resource, the body becomes an object that strips it’s meaning of hedonistic praise to a simple ready-made container. A literal body of work.
In her pursuit of transgression the body looses its importance as a sexual object and it becomes a useless carrier of the mind, Orlan preaches that the body is a medium of pain, constraint and interference to reach into the real human soul.
The re-encarnation of St Orlan comprehends a series of surgerys into which she gets attributes from classic masterpieces into her face but using the body as the ultimate medium of production: she gets anestesia to get her through the operation but not enough to knock her out, so she paints with her blood. She records the process as well. By incorporating these masterpieces into her face she creates new meaning corresponding to each specific feature taken from the original work, turning the body not only into a canvas but as storytelling media.

In the piece “Black Cross, White Cross and Artificial Food” (1990) Orlan exposes her body making a metaphor of the Christian cult holding two crosses, one black and one white, waving them in the surgery room. She also had a plate of fake and real fruit where she would eat and come on to the surgeon at the same time, feeding and seducting at the same time. Orlan states that her pieces are against god, the physical apprerance and genetics. Why is it a still image? Although it is a process of change and transformation, the piece ends when the surgery is over like any other photograph or painting the fixed outcome that in the future will be reshaped and re elaborated to carry on with a new meaning. At the end, she is the final piece, the photography and video are her immortal witnesses. “In showing you these images, I propose an exercise which you probably enact when you watch the news on TV: not to be fooled by the images but to keep thinking about what is behind them,” she says. Her storytelling is completely immersed onto her face, her body. Her human being transforms automatically into media of exploration, understanding and evolving. Her body is not to be praised but used. Cosmetic surgery is just a way for empty headed people to please the carnality of sex and Orlan proudly uses her own flesh to show and support her manifesto.
Orlan makes me think of Haraway’s text of a Cyborg manifesto in terms of Orlan and her perception of science, technology and feminism. Orlan lingers in a thin line of feminism and anti-feminism, while feminists oppose the use of plastic surgery, Orlan uses it to enhance her point about making the body and ephimerous entity: beauty is merely a characteristic of shallowness, of feeding the pain of complying to a cannon of beauty, having a body brings only pain, transformation hurts, the body must be improved.
On the other hand there are other “manifestos” that relate to Haraway and Orlan concerning the female figure and aesthetic: Pandrogeny. Genesis P-Orridge and his current partner Breyer P-Orridge have been put under the knife in several ocassions to become a being without genre, a new being that is not male or female, mimetism of the sexes into an evolving version of themselves. Genesis P-Orridge claims that due to the change of technology and the world we live in, the body must be put into a transformation process that pars up with the evolution of mankind ( in this case the environment, technology and modern life). That makes me think that maybe technological determinism not only applies to artificial objects but to us that are immersed into the artificial culture, us that recurr to it for our modern way of living. We are the ones that set the boundaries for technological determinism, in this case, the body becomes a piece of technology itself when matched to other tools for innovative ways of art and expression.
Are we playing god or transforming our beings into cyborgs?
Is becoming a cyborg the medium for our minds to express themselves?

Maybe it is not technology that defines the new body, but the body itself put through a series of changes with the help of technology that actually produces the new generation of cyborgs in the world.
Orlan’s work which fuses the use of traditional surveillance (cameras that record her performance in the surgery room) makes the body the true witness and final recording piece of the work (making it also a recording device). Sir Walter Benjamin talks about the use of these technologies as sometimes diminishing the “aura” of the work, but what happens when the body itself becomes the media and the technology at the same time? Then we can ask ourselves if the aura gone, changed or has it evolved into a new paradigm of what a human being is.
Culture and technology do dictate then how we must carry on with our bodies, but is also the reason for people to modifiy, elaborate, ornament and dehumanize it. In that way, it seems that not even technology has the same power as the body does when it comes to using it as media.

In Susan Sontag’s text about the human body and science fiction, the body is also mutated and transformed to create a new breed of storytelling. Strange modifications in a body can tell a things about that person or carry a new meaning with them (similar to what happens to Orlan and the body profaned directly).
Chris Cunningham, a video-media artist, develops a series of charachters that show strange deformations creating dehumanized people or humanized freaks. The body evokes feelings of curiousity, disgust, fear and awkwardness. His piece “Rubber Johnny” certainly exudes all af these.
“Rubber Johnny” is an avant-garde short film that combines cut-mashed sounds by Aphex Twin portraying a mutant teenager in a basement (played by Chris Cunningham himself). The story unfolds when Johnny is given somekind of sedative by a doctor and then shows in a basement with his pet chihuahua. Johnny, a dehumanized character (or humanized creature) dances and poses in different and disturbing ways to the broken beat of the music. Stiff and cold but alive and real at the same time, Johnny creates an ambiance of rejection, disconcern and pity, for the human side that is perceived lingers on to the viewer.
The viewer gets immersed in a form of scopophilia and voyeurism since the video is shot in a basement with a nightshot light.
Technological determinism has allowed him to create a new visual style of this dehumanization, making his creations a new breed of “humans” and new terms of perception.

The original work of “Rubber Johnny” was from the beginning designed to be a multimedia project. Starting from the main object which is Johnny and his disfigured being, going through dimmed lights in a basement, broken ambient music and editing. The work is also supported by a series of pictures and a book that shows the infinite positions that Johnny asumes in order to get amused in the dark. The piece originally was going to have a series of sculptures as well that would support the aesthetic of the artwork, but the artist decided that the edition and the pictures where enough for the time.

“Rubber Johnny” creates then a line of storytelling that resides in a combination of small dialogue, simple light, extreme editing and image content. The transgression that Cunningham achieves between his fascination of the human body and the qualities of a shapeshifting organism is succesful and depicts the idea of using human parts to create new bodies contained within the same body (and making it the main medium of the work).
Somehow our minds are drawn to this kind of work where the body is no longer the body we know but a new element of admiration, a thin line between strange beauty and morbid stare. That reminds me of Nietzsche's principles of Apollonian and Dyonisian roles: We try to keep our balance in society by adopting a norm of culture, moral and restraint. But as humans we have a side that gives and unleashes that desire of power that drives us to excess and irrationality. Is dehumanizing then, the point of balance of the human mind? Makes me think then that the body is the ultimate medium for balancing the human personae.

It is sometimes the equilibrium in the body that makes us find the beauty in it or even in the person, blinded by our Dyonisian passion. Beauty as an attribute (and as we know it) is a “positive” trait related to the human body. Patterns of how the body must look and be presented have existed for many years. Sometimes beauty is implicit literally according to fads and culture, sometimes is hidden in mysterious balance within bodies that are exotic and different to what we have seen. For example, in Rubber Johnny we find weird attributes in the body that may seem repulsive but there is a certain balance in the image that makes it beautiful in a strange way. Or in the case of Orlan, beauty is disposable, silly and mundane. The real beauty lies in transformation, trangression and evolution. Maybe an unconscious equilibrium in change.
Etcoff says " Although the object of beauty is debated, the experience of beauty is not. Beauty can stir up a snarl of emotions but pleasure must always be one (tortured longings and envy are not incompatible with pleasure). Our body responds to it viscerally and our names for beauty are synonymous with physical cataclysms and bodily obliteration- breathtaking, femme fatale, knockout drop-dead gorgeous, bombshell, stunner, and ravishing. We experience beauty not as rational contemplation but a as a response to physical urgency". Physical beauty then is what we may think of a mainstream agreement of one's look but it seems that nowadays it goes much further than that the reaction towards the countless types of bodies is what really defines what beautiful is.
It is very interesting to find there are all this connotations of beauty and how we find them in the many bodies we see everyday, mankind in the western civilization has made the pattern of beauty and the worship of it a must in everyday life, a boost of human ego, countless support in specific sectors of the economy and social status. Mass media inflicts it’s beauty cannon into the many bodies that are immersed in the culture, making them the media to transform media (that is, show bodies, to transform your body according to the body of media).
So you buy a magazine and you see a certain type of body that is supposed to be beautiful, the mind reacts thinking that it wants to be that body and becomes a media target. Many bodies follow the same pattern and make the change of the body a system of mass media: plastic surgery.

In the earliest civilizations, the body has embraced several different types of artifice and natural ornamentation. Enhancement of one’s own features created a temple of significance, cultural charge and spiritual meaning. The color, the jewelry, scaring and piercings had different things to say about the culure, the place and history. Throughout time, media and technology have opened an overwhelming amount of information saturating the minds of those exposed to it to comply to the dictatorship of mass media and justify it as cultural continuity.
It is kind of funny though to think of what real beauty is: Susan Sontag’s text of the Science Fiction reminds me of our endless fascination of the human body, I think humans have created a “real” state of Science Fiction through plastic surgery. The ultimate medium being the body as a signifier of shallow content (for the body, in this case, speaks for the mind).
How does dehumanization fit in all this? Accoding to Michel Focault and his terms of transgression, to dehumanize the body (in this case the system of dehumanization is plastic surgery) gives us power. Unlike the common knowledge that being human actually sets us free, in some strange way like Orlan, is just a constraint.
To dehumanize is to create a desire for power, to have a hold on it.
In the case of plastic surgery there is a way that I can agree with Focault. Plastic surgery, also a consequence of technological determinism, has found to be the "access" of "universal" beauty. All cultures are exposed to the various indicators of what beauty is, not as a culturally charged change (which it is, but not seen that way) but as a commodity, status and asset of adoration. It is plastic surgery that dehumanizes humans (making others more powerful) and turns them into objects to sell (brands, models, sex), possess (trophy wives) and just basically capitalize (health and medicine).

It seems like we have reach a point where we keep on challenging were to bend our minds, and take our body along with it. It makes me think sometimes that is the body that in such a banal era, empowers the mind. But in the end the body IS just a container: it lies within our wit and intelligence to make the most out of the ultimate medium we possess that I still believe firmly, is the body, the carrier of our heart and soul. To dehumanize is just a tool to express what is in our heads, we have the responsability of making dehumanization a process that becomes a resource to be better humans, find and understand ourselves better.
I agree then with Focault that dehumanization is power. But I also believe that knowing our body and understanding it from the inside out is one of the greatest powers one can have.

above copied from:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Eng: Francesca Lattanzi

His doctorate thesis, “Deconstructing Networks” is based on the theme of the deconstruction of networks. It includes projects which attempt to challenge and, from a critical point of view, to subvert the well-established perceptions regarding interaction and the level of involvement within the networks.

Jonah is also assistant professor of communication on the Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP) and the department of Media, Culture and Communication at the Steinhardt School of Education and Human Development of the New York University. He is involved in several projects and he is also a co-founder of the Dublin Art and Technology Association (DATA Group). His articles have been published internationally (in Wired Magazine, Digicult, Neural, Rhizome, Gizmodo among others); his artistic projects have been presented at some of the most well-known International events like DEAF, Art Futura, SIGGRAPH, Transmediale, ISEA and Ars Electronica as well as at museums like the ICA in London, the MOMA and the Whitney Museum in New York City.

I first met Jonah during the 2008 edition of Ars Electronica. From that moment I often read his reports on festivals of new media arts and his interviews. What I find really interesting is his 360° vision which is probably due to his double role of an artist and a researcher and which allows him to have a more fluid and open-minded critical and conceptual approach.

Last September I got in touch with him in order to interview him for my Phd which is based on the investigation of the role acquired by new media art festivals as social connectors. Starting from this we virtually discussed (via e-mails) something I would like to share with Digimag readers. I think it is really interesting because it offers an ultra-contemporary vision of the artistic scenario both offline and online.

Photo courtesy by

Donata Marletta: I would like you to talk about your first experiences in the new media art scenario, about your interests and how involved you are in this field

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: I began learning about media art while I was in graduate school at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. I was in school there (last 1990s) during the "" boom, when the web was at it infancy and many artists were moving to this medium because of it's free distribution of their artwork and the lure of technology in popular culture and media. Before this, I had been making art since I was a child, raised in a family of artists (mother, grandmother, sister) and being exposed to a lot of famous free art where I grew up, Washington, DC. Since I had been interested in computers as a child, it was a natural progression for me to integrate computers into my art practice, and work within the field of digital media and culture as a whole.

Donata Marletta: I am really interested in the increasing phenomenon of new media art festivals and their role as social connectors. What do you think about these events within the global artistic context in relation to your own experience? Do they still represent a point of departure for artists willing to present some new projects? Is it still necessary to have a place in which people can meet?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: New media art festivals play a large role in creating both a community of artists and enriching the field in general. Within the global art context they help to create connections between artists living around the world who are engaging with the same medium, but on other continents. Although digital media and the Internet has the potential of erasing the need for face-to-face contact between people (especially how many artists often have made online connections with other artists and curators), there is really no substitute for face-to-face communication between artists working in similar fields in order to advance and enrich the current practice. Festivals play a large role in facilitating these meetings which often lead to further collaborations between different cultures and modes of practice. The festivals provide both a stage and platforms for these meetings to occur and often, through workshops, facilitate art creations itself

Photo courtesy by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

Donata Marletta: Can we say that these kinds of festivals do have a critical impact on the artistic scenario, or do they only have to be considered entertainment events ?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: I think there are several media art festivals that remain critical in their curation and approach, but many are losing touch with the critical nature that brought them into existence in the first place. If you look at the early history of Ars Electronica, for instance, those early works verged on the hyper-critical, where artforms often called themselves into question as well as their audience. They were considered "fringe arts" and no integrated into the mainstream commercial art world. Currently, as computers and digital media become more evident in popular culture, media art is both a strong and accepted form of artistic output and is gaining a much wider audience than it previously held in the early years of its inception.

The festivals have changed to incorporate this era of mainstream digital acceptance, and are perhaps now becoming more of an "entertainment" vehicle than one that critical engages with technology. Thus instead of questioning technology, these festivals often merely "celebrate" it by accepting many projects that have no critical focus or drive. I would like to see festivals investigate projects that question technology's influence on mainstream culture and how it's use has pervaded and changed our lives for the better and worse.

Donata Marletta: You are an artist and also a researcher and you also work on social networks. Can you talk to me about your own experiences within these virtual environments? How do you use these “social tools”?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: I see social media as something that is becoming a key element in people's everyday lives. I teach a class at New York University where one of the assignments for the students is to spend a week without accessing FaceBook or Google, two of the most prolific online brands of their generation. This type of challenge was very difficult for the students as they realized how important social media had become integrated into their daily lives, to the point where their missing the use of these tools did not allow them to function properly within their social circles. Since they are such an integral part of people's lives, I use these social media tools and communities as the inspiration and as test beds for projects and experiments in order to see how they function and subvert or challenge this function.

Photo courtesy by Jonah Brucker-Cohen - Alerting Infostructure!

Donata Marletta: Do you think a kind of interaction between online and offline worlds exists? Do you think they are connected to one another? Do they complete each other?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: Yes, there is definitely a connection between online and offline worlds. Many of my projects looks at the connection between these spaces and how they relate to each other and translate specific characteristics. For instance, my "Alerting Infrastructure!" project is a physical hit counter that translates virtual "hits" to a website into physical destruction of the location that the website represents. For instance, the project has been installed in over nine countries in venues ranging from national museums to local art spaces in an attempt to amplify how physical spaces are losing their importance to their online equivalents. In another project, "LiveWindow", I connected a browser window to a physical location so that when that location detected movement or vibration, the browser window would shake, and its text would fall off the page. By viewing "LiveWindow" on the web, a visitor can see a visual representation of the state of the physical space at anytime. These connections are rarely seen on the web, except for webcams or streaming video of live locations, however I would classify these as merely a digital version of the analog "surveillance camera", thus making them different from my projects in many respects.

Donata Marletta: Do you think 3g mobile technology is introducing a new revolution in the way people communicate, exchange files, ideas etc.?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: 3G mobile technology gives you an "always-on" connection to the Internet from your mobile device at all times, in almost all locations. The ability to have internet access, coupled with GPS data, gives the authors of "apps" or mobile applications the ability to customize an experience for the user is ways they were unable to prior to the existence of these devices and networks. I would consider this a "revolution" since it allows for more connectivity between people and data, and allows applications to tailor their content for any context the user may find themselves in, etc...

Donata Marletta: What are you interested in at the moment, both as an artist and as a researcher?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: My main interests now are examining the emergence of what I call "user-defined social systems." Web 2.0 was about the creation of content creation systems that enabled the creation of many forms of media by users such as online videos with YouTube, photography with Flickr, blog content with Blogger, etc... My interest now in my art practice is how to design what we call "Web 4.0" or "user-designed social systems" and the rule sets that go along with those systems. This idea is a departure from web 2.0 because instead of merely creating the content that is displayed on the web, the users create the underlying system of communication for this media to be delivered to others and how they use and proliferate the use of these systems online. This trend is evident in the "THWONK" project that I am undertaking with Mike Bennett where we have created a system that allows users to design their own email lists with specified rules of engagement.

Donata Marletta: What is the next festival you think you will go and visit and where would you like to present your works?

Jonah Brucker-Cohen: The next event I am speaking at is "The Internet as Playground and Factory: A Conference on Digital Labor" event to be held on November 12-14th, 2009 at the Eugene Lang College at the New School University, NY, NY. My focus for this event will be on explaining how artists are creating systems for digital labor to enable users to create their own social systems online. This relates back to the THWONK project that I mentioned in the previous question. This event will bring together a wide range of speakers and provides an ambitious challenge to pinpoint how labor has moved from the offline to online worlds and how the public should be responsible for crafting the future rules and design of networks, not only the content that is displayed on these networks. We call "THWONK", web 4.0 since it takes a leap beyond the creation of media for these sites, and actually manipulates the structures of these systems themselves

above copied from:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oral History Interview with Ray Johnson, 1968 - April 17, Sevim Feschi

Interview with Ray Johnson

Conducted by Sevim Feschi

April 17, 1968


The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Ray Johnson on April 17, 1968. The interview was conducted by Sevim Feschi for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


SEVIM FESCHI: I'd like to start with where you were born. I mean by that your birthplace, your family and religious background, and were your parents artists themselves? You know, just a few words about it.

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. Well, I find whenever one begins a tape like this that it doesn't get interesting until you're into it.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. It's always like that.

RAY JOHNSON: And your beginning questions prompt a certain silence.

SEVIM FESCHI: I mean . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: Thinking of one's childhood as a tape, if one is born and begins to live the way this tape begins, things go very slowly. And in public libraries which I used to find myself in, the different kinds of books are in different sections . If you want biography to be . . . I'm interested in these things that work like tape machines and places like drug stores. I saw a marvelous movie last night that cost five cents.

SEVIM FESCHI: That cost five cents, you mean?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. You put a nickel into it. It's an old nickelodeon. You look into it. And you're able to control the speed. I can go very slowly or very fast. You can make it stop and you can sort of go at it at your own rate of interest. So, in a certain way, my childhood was like that. Many years later . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: I was just interested in asking you these questions because I remember that the last time I saw you you told me that you were from Finland, I think.

RAY JOHNSON: No, my grandparents were from Finland. I was born in Michigan. I'm very much American.

SEVIM FESCHI: I see. And when did you come to New York?

RAY JOHNSON: I'm inclined to think I'm not here.

SEVIM FESCHI: You're not here? In which way do you mean?

RAY JOHNSON: No, you're pursuing a question-and-answer kind of way and . . . well, I mean . . .



RAY JOHNSON: I was saying that I'm not really very interested. Maybe it's just this time of day that I'm not at all interested in my childhood. I don't have any ideas about it or my ancestry. When I came to New York is of no interest to me because of my ideas of time and space. I think if I said 1912 or 1921 it doesn't really make any difference except for the fool who is going to start dissecting what the truth is, you know, exactly what year it was. I don't know whether you can do that.

SEVIM FESCHI: I understand. But a question I would like to ask you is when you began to be really interested in art yourself? What year . . . was it very early, when you were very young that you wanted always to express yourself through different media?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't think there's any answer to the question.

SEVIM FESCHI: No? I can't understand. But it's entirely up to you what you want to say. But if we talk of the creative process involved in your work, can you tell me a little bit about how you proceed in the creation of a new work? Do you have ideas or visions before you start to work? Or does it come by inspiration? Or how do you proceed in a new work, a new creation?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I have one painting now which interests me very much because it was interrupted near the very end when it logically should be completed and it's related to another work which I will describe and which, of course, gets close to my creative process. I'm doing a portrait of Joan Kornblee and it has her first name in it and then I wanted to have the entire name but it was to be Bornklee rather than Kornblee. (There's a rearrangement like children's blocks.) But what I now have is "Jill Born." And the top half of the painting has nothing at all to do with the bottom. I went away for a week and when I returned I came back to the painting and it could very well . . . the way I'm completing it, it could very well have been completed by someone else.

SEVIM FESCHI: What do you mean by completed by someone else?

RAY JOHNSON: Because the composition was very vacant in one section. And I've now put two things into it: a reproduction of the Magritte shoes which had toes where the shoes are; and I have added to that a leg going from one shoe; and next to that is a photograph of a young boy sitting in a chair and the arm of the chair looks like an animal's claw which relates to the toes of the feet. And these two elements have nothing at all to do with Joan Kornblee. And the title of the painting is "Jill Born." And it's thought of as Miss Kornblee. But I know other people named Jill who've been Born. So when you asked me about my being born . . . to receive in the mail the other day a listing of twenty-five people named Ray Johnson in Minneapolis, each of them having been born at a different time and each one having a different childhood, I'm not really that important. I mean all twenty-five Ray Johnsons should perhaps speak at the same time. I mean my ideas turn this way. I think we're inclined to think of things to be too important; there's so much unimportance among people.

SEVIM FESCHI: Unimportant things you mean?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, theoretically everyone should be interviewed about everything they do. It's like Gertrude Stein said Americans big thick books about page after page after page have to say about everything.

SEVIM FESCHI: But it seems to me that you have a very rich eye. Wherever you go are you always on the alert for visual stimuli? Because in your work, you know, there are so many different things and you must have taken them from so many different sources. I wonder how you perceive them.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, there are only so many things that can happen within the space of a day or an evening or a week. And I simply live the way I do. I'm interested in things and things that disintegrate or fall apart, things that grow or have additions, things that grow out of things and processes of the way things actually happen to me.

SEVIM FESCHI: The way things happen?

RAY JOHNSON: The other work I want to describe in relationship to progress is another uncompleted work which is a portrait of Bruce Naumann who showed at the Castelli Gallery and who is a California artist. I once sent a Brillo box containing small treasures to a California artist -- and I received in reply . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: You knew the artist?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes-s. Well, I knew of him through my friend Gerard Hendy and the exchange for the Brillo box was a photograph of the artist lying on the floor surrounded by the small treasures. He had been photographed after he'd opened the box and investigated the contents. And then quite some time later I found in a catalogue another photograph, a separate photograph of the artist except that the artist wasn't there, it was just the absence of the artist. And in doing the portrait of Bruce Naumann I found a small bamboo frame and in order to write the word "bamboo" I could only write a few of the letters. I could never complete the word. It was this inability to complete the statement. I mean it was like a baby's first words attempting to speak and not really having the experience to say what he wanted to say with the necessary words. So, for a very long time I felt that the word in this painting was "bamboo." And one evening in the subway waiting for a train I looked down and on the floor was a small package of cigarette paper with the trademark "bamboo" but it was spelled B-a-m-b-u, that is with one less letter. And I suddenly remembered my painting. I had considered all possibilities of the spelling of the word. So I think "b-a-m-b-u" is better than "b-a-m-b-o-o." So the whole point of this is that it has taken me a long time to get the balance of one word in the right place. And that is sort of how I make my works. And that is pretty much the way I live my life. It just takes a very long time to feel comfortable in the way things are composed.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. But, in referring to your work, I think there is a great sense of organization and it's very clear the way that everything is disposed.

RAY JOHNSON: But what makes it meaningful?

SEVIM FESCHI: It's what makes it meaningful?

RAY JOHNSON: No, but I say what makes it meaningful?

SEVIM FESCHI: I don't know. I'm asking you.

RAY JOHNSON: I'm sort of throwing the question back at you.

SEVIM FESCHI: But I would like to ask you this question.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I don't know as it has to have any meaning.

SEVIM FESCHI: You don't think so? You mean before you do a work you want it to express something?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, it might be its function to not have meaning. I mean people might be grasping for meaning but meaning is not grasping for the people, or grasping for the meaning. Well, there is order in the work, yes.

SEVIM FESCHI: Very much order, yes, I think so.

RAY JOHNSON: There is a great amount of consideration and planning. And being collages, there are all sorts of possibilities of arrangement -- blocks of material get sorted and rearranged.

SEVIM FESCHI: But I think you are much more interested in ideas. I was thinking now of your "school of correspondence," for instance. Or these Happenings that you call "nothings." All these things I think are much more . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: Well, the "nothings" are now pretty much in the past. I like the idea of nothingness but, having done "nothings," I don't have to re-do them. I've completed them.

SEVIM FESCHI: But you can tell from your works that they are poetical nothingness because I feel there is some poetry in your work.

RAY JOHNSON: The only good poem that I've written lately is my poem to Jack Kerouac. And that was very involved with the process of how it happened to be made because it wasn't a decision to write a poem and I didn't take a piece of paper and sit down and compose it and write it. It came about through chopping up something that I had written because I didn't want it to be seen in the state that it was. And the residue was somehow the poem; it made great sense in the arrangement of the lines and what the words said.

SEVIM FESCHI: The lines?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. It's a five-line poem. The poem simply being my next table had to knock. It's all very mysterious to me.

SEVIM FESCHI: Very mysterious?

RAY JOHNSON: It might not be to others.

SEVIM FESCHI: Now could you tell me a little bit about which artists have influenced you most?

RAY JOHNSON: Artists who've influenced me most?

SEVIM FESCHI: I think you owe quite a lot to the technique of collage.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, there are so many influences I think are really so tenuous that . . . one is influenced . . . I think I'm probably against influences.

SEVIM FESCHI: Against influences? You mean any kind of influence? What do you mean by "you are against influences?"

RAY JOHNSON: Well, you're not just influenced by artists. You're influenced by places and years and other people and irritations and problems. There's no direct threat to any one thing.

SEVIM FESCHI: Do you find, for instance, that it's stimulating for your work to exchange ideas with other artists?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I don't know if it's the artist aspects of the artists that, you know, their personality and what not.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. Or what you say to each other. Is it . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: You mean artists who are one's friends?

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. Among friends, yes, of course.

RAY JOHNSON: Oh! I was going to mention J.M.G. LeClezlo because I mentioned him this morning.

SEVIM FESCHI: Do you know him?

RAY JOHNSON: No. He interests me very much because of a photograph (I know him through photographs) and have never read him but the latest novel is what interests me very much; and especially a Time magazine caption reading "Fire and Ice" because the last three years of my work has been a long period of ice which was suddenly close to fire and produced a flow of water. And I can see that the flow of water is very difficult to handle and channel because and the ice was really very ideal because of its frozen state and it didn't take very much fire to melt the ice and there are all these forms of water to contend with.

SEVIM FESCHI: You saw the book in poems or . . . ?


SEVIM FESCHI: Does it happen to you when you read a book, when you see his book in poems forms?

RAY JOHNSON: In poems forms?

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. What you mentioned to me last night, you know, abut the gathering of the Quaker . . . ?


SEVIM FESCHI: And you said that all these people were looking at all these things are for you like forms And I was very, very surprised by this term.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I don't know how I'd feel about that today. I think it had very much to do with the position in which we were seated and the arrangement of the people because, in discussing them now away from the place, it's sort of difficult to recapture the vitality of the situation.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes, you were very much involved in any moment.

RAY JOHNSON: Back to the very beginning of the tape to not be logical every moment .

SEVIM FESCHI: Every moment?

RAY JOHNSON: Should not really go back to one's immediate ancestry but back to the birth of ancestry which takes us right back to the present moment in time there is a relationship. It is of course of interesting to know people are . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. it helps to understand and especially for an artist to understand his work. Don't you think so?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know if I really have time to understand my work. I think about it a great deal but . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: But you understand it while you are doing it? Is that it? Or is it more kind of, you know, you have a vision in your mind or you're under the spell of inspiration? And after you see it you are surprised at what you did? That can happen.

RAY JOHNSON: Well . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. I think that time for you is very important. You always speak of time. For you is it divided into moments and that you live in the present without your looking back to the past or looking forward to the future?

RAY JOHNSON: Can I have a cigarette?

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. I didn't know you smoked.


RAY JOHNSON: By the way, that was the answer to your question about time. It wasn't just on the side; it was the answer to your question.


RAY JOHNSON: You asked about creativity in the process of someone I think making drawings, paintings, collages or something like that. You are not working with language, or words or ideas. You're working with things.

SEVIM FESCHI: With things, you mean?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, with paint or ink, you know. But I happen in my work to use words. And perhaps it's all incorrect that these be looked at in terms of painting or creativity or beauty or whatever. It might very well just be useful objects like an automobile or a chair. And these happen to be things hanging on the wall. And what I wish -- well, it would have to be a great interest -- would be to try to present what goes into the making of I never used to believe in a work of art being bought.

SEVIM FESCHI: Why? What did you believe . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: I thought it should just be made and not cherished or sold. The things that I'm exhibiting now . . . . Of course someone comes in and looks at them in the space of five minutes and perhaps really that's all the time it should be.


RAY JOHNSON: And then they should be just thrown away or not used any more. The thing is that one might want to come back a week later and look again.

SEVIM FESCHI: But what happens when you look at your own paintings? Don't you like to see them on the walls? Or you don't want to see them any more?

RAY JOHNSON: Something that happened today is that a painting of mine was photographed in a magazine and there were two different Xerox techniques made of the photograph. The painting was never intended to be seen in relation to three other paintings by three other people on the page in the magazine. So seeing it gave it a change of scale, and its relation to these other things gave it a different meaning. If the three other things hadn't been there, if there had just been a blank, it would have been closer to the original work which existed by itself. And the Xerox process changed it; it disintegrated in that I saw it in a way that visually it was not . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: What you wanted it to be.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, in a way it didn't actually exist to me.

SEVIM FESCHI: I don't understand.

RAY JOHNSON: Before you said "I understand now" when it was space in which nothing is said .


RAY JOHNSON: And I think there's great fear of that negation that the spaces in my work are as necessary as the collage elements of the drawings

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. But do you think that the space what you said and what I said I understand there was nothing in that space.

RAY JOHNSON: That's very interesting. I experienced (but this is a psychological situation) -- I experienced that space more pleasingly than the earlier spaces. In the creative process there are probably moments where something is happening, you have awareness that


RAY JOHNSON: At the beginning of this interview I felt and that sort of has the boredom of You have an idea. You see a sketch again


RAY JOHNSON: Strive to make this thing into -- somewhere along the way you have some glimpse of the ending, how this will look. It might fail or it might succeed.

SEVIM FESCHI: Because I think that sometimes silence can be much more meaningful than words.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, incompletion is also very difficult to comprehend.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes, that's right.

RAY JOHNSON: One is forever striving to finish, to have a whole experience. I guess it's just natural, but the aesthetic element is probably the realization of how the parts all fit in the composition.

SEVIM FESCHI: It seems to me -- I don't know -- that any acts you do are very important (I was just thinking of that now), that whenever you do something you are in the process of doing it. Do you know what I mean? Now you are at the bottom but you feel you can do it? I don't think I make myself understood. You said that maybe what you create has no meaning for you. But don't you think that when you act in life there is? I mean you put yourself very much in what you are doing? And even the words you say when you mention about silence all these things you feel very strongly.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I have not myself invented these things I've heard other people speak I have read philosophers and seen other works of art this has been experienced by different people. But there are very personal moments in doing one's own work that no one else has I don't think done and historically I remember once I was quite delighted. I was doing very severely geometric paintings based on square units, rectangular and square units which I methodically filled in with color mosaics. And these paintings took me many, many months to complete. And one day, having this pencil drawing groundwork for a painting, I suddenly thought of putting straight pins through the back of the cardboard into my painting, into the picture. And John Cage was a neighbor of mine. When I was doing it I rushed over to show him what I was doing. "I have this terrific idea to put pins through the middle of every square from the back and the pins will all stick through." He was quite shocked because I had changed the idea of what it was I was doing. I had made this foundation that I was going to fill in all these colors and this was to be a painting. And I changed horses in midstream and I was suddenly going to do something else. And he disapproved. I don't know why.

SEVIM FESCHI: But you are free to do it because it's your own work. Don't you think you can change whatever you want?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, perhaps I should not have told. Perhaps I should not have been enthusiastic. I mean maybe what the artist should do is just plow or just sit down and do what you're expected to do, and not come up with brilliant ideas. I thought it was quite terrific. I don't know what John would think of this now. Maybe he would agree that one would not have to just proceed by plans

SEVIM FESCHI: Do you like what he's doing now in his music?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know what he's doing now.


RAY JOHNSON: I would say I like what he's doing.

SEVIM FESCHI: You're not interested in calligraphy?

RAY JOHNSON: Not too much, no. I've never studied it. I haven't looked at it much. I'm more interested in handwriting. Well, I guess you would call it calligraphy but it was on a very small scale; I saw the signature on two different business letters of an administrator and he signed his name differently, depending on the two people that he was addressing. And the one I saw first interested me very much because the simplification of the name looked like a fishhook and very delicate strokes. If one looked very closely one could see the pressure into the paper of the pen and the very fine degrees of . . . well, it was a kind of engraving. It was quite expressive and mysterious. Did you mention my eyes earlier? Were you saying something about my vision, my eyes? The way I see?

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. I said it seems to me that you have a very rich eye. By that I mean that you are very alert to visual stimulants -- or maybe you wouldn't call it "stimulants" -- I don't know what you would call it. But I mean that you are very aware of things surrounding you.

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. Well, I guess that's natural protectiveness.

SEVIM FESCHI: Protectiveness?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, like birds.

SEVIM FESCHI: You mentioned also this book of philosophy that you read. Do you read very much? Or . . . ?



RAY JOHNSON: Including the New York Times.

SEVIM FESCHI: But you mentioned a book of Le Clezio. Do you read also other books?

RAY JOHNSON: I read only the section in the magazine. It was very difficult.

SEVIM FESCHI: I think so, yes; actually you . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: Actually I'm not interested. That requires word-by-word dissection and close examination. I haven't the time. I'm not interested in words .

SEVIM FESCHI: I'm sure you would be very interested in a new novel published in France where each word has a lot of meaning and they are related to each other and they don't tell a story. You know it's a little bit like the book of Le Clezio.


SEVIM FESCHI: But in the words that you put into your work they all mean something; the whole sentence. Or am I right? In the last show, for instance, you wrote a lot of lines. They all mean something with punch, you know.

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. The two punchboards.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes, the punchboards. That I liked very much. But are you interested in words for the sake of words?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I'm interested in words in the sense that -- as I mentioned before, it was "bambu," a four-letter word which is to a three-letter word in all possible meanings. I'm always rushing to my Webster's Third Dictionary. I told you the story of my show being called rude collages so I took the word "rude" . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: I don't understand.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, in The Village Voice they list shows that are current. And it said "Ray Johnson's might be called rude collages." And I have been criticized in the past that my work is over-refined, too sensitive, just too polished. And the "rude" must refer to something in the subject matter which I never thought I was being rude.

SEVIM FESCHI: The subject matter?

RAY JOHNSON: So that was very mysterious to me, very mysterious.

SEVIM FESCHI: So you rushed . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: The caption Because going back to my childhood I have an uncle who was a twin and his first name is Rudy (spelled R-u-d-y) and he's a very strange man who lives in the woods like a hermit and refuses to wear shoes and doesn't see people and is a very strange man. He's an outcast.

SEVIM FESCHI: Does he live in America?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes, he lives in Northern Michigan where they have snow in the winter up this high. I don't know how he exists. I haven't seen him since I was a child.

SEVIM FESCHI: And he still lives there?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. He's a very strange man. Very eccentric. So I had this association of his name to "rude." I thought perhaps since they mentioned my name and my and my work that possibly they were describing my social behavior as criticism of the artist . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: And not his work?

RAY JOHNSON: Maybe his rude social manners influence these very delicate collages, casting a rude look on them. So I did a mental inventory of the things, the rude actions in my previous history. I did find instances where things that I have done or said might be considered rude.

SEVIM FESCHI: And do you think they were referring to that when they made the criticism?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know. I have no way of knowing. It's very mysterious. I know it will find its way into my work. I was just describing one of my paintings in the show which is the true story ring globe Isa, and the second section where it is repeated. But where it would say "this is Isa," Isa is not there. And where the word "Is" is a kind of red blood stains so the person speaking is suddenly executed, assassinated. And in describing this work to someone, they didn't know that in my book The Paper Snake is the original true story and the person in that instance was named Isabel. So the original Isabel, which was simplified to "Isa." And then in the next instalment Isa is not there, so it's a diminishing, a chopping off.

SEVIM FESCHI: I understand, yes.

RAY JOHNSON: So I think in my work I consider every possibility (if it's possible to consider it a possibility) forward and backward: should something be this size or should something be that size? And like Mondrian . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: You use one of his pictures?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. Mondrian reducing elements to straight lines. Even the very edge of the line is very important and the blue horizontal snake which is based on Patricia Johansen's horizontal line . . . . In my case it's wiggly, in hers it's straight.


RAY JOHNSON: In mine it's light and curved but you'd have to look closely to see the degree of curvature.

SEVIM FESCHI: the blue snake you mean . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: What I'm trying to say now is since I do use a lot of sandpaper each piece must appropriately I mean all the students' classic proportions I do work a great deal with rulers measuring; I don't quite calculate the positions. And in the "correspondence school" I spend a great deal of time filing and organizing material to be mailed which is more sketchy than the paintings I exhibit. They're apt to be stuck together with Scotch tape; the edges are quite glued down.

SEVIM FESCHI: Now, I'm sorry, Ray, but I didn't really quite understand this "school of correspondence." What . . . ? No, I mean . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know if I believe you.

SEVIM FESCHI: No, I mean what is the idea behind it?

RAY JOHNSON: What is the idea behind it?

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. I understand the process -- not very much; you explained it to me already.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, there's the possibility . . . . Well, the idea is that it's a way to convey a message or a kind of idea to someone which is not verbal; it is not a confrontation of two people It's an object which is opened in privacy probably and the message is looked at. There are incredible degrees of subtlety of the possibility of interpretation because two people speaking, such as we are doing here, we can say something; I can say something, you can disagree. I cannot agree with something you say; we can bicker; we can argue; we can try to make our point. But you can't do that

SEVIM FESCHI: When you're confronted with an object.

RAY JOHNSON: No. You look at the object and, depending on your degree of interest, it very directly gets across to you what is there, be it visual or object. You know, the most interesting thing is the mouse's ear which I received in the mail.

SEVIM FESCHI: The mouse's ear?!

RAY JOHNSON: A small mouse's ear.

SEVIM FESCHI: And what was your reaction?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I mean if you were sitting on a bus and someone suddenly handed you a mouse's ear, you'd think that was very strange, wouldn't you?

SEVIM FESCHI: Very strange.

RAY JOHNSON: You might find it offensive.

SEVIM FESCHI: No, strange.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, it would depend on the manner, and who was handing you the mouse's ear.


RAY JOHNSON: But to receive this in an envelope neatly packaged and holding it up to the light actually to see what's in it, you get this immediate feeling that there's no explanation. I mean I'm describing this object without explanation.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. There is no explanation?

RAY JOHNSON: Now you cannot experience that in this kind of wall art painting .


RAY JOHNSON: Well, this cullen (?) which is here with the correspondence and everything like that. It doesn't have the psychology of the enclosure in a letter.

SEVIM FESCHI: You mean that there is in a way more mystery?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, it isn't that there's more mystery. But I'm called "the master of the art of correspondence." that show in Nice of "correspondence art" he mentions the blue post cards of Yves Klein and his exhibiting of my imagined letters that I sent to him.

SEVIM FESCHI: That you sent to him?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. And also a listing of other artists George Brecht Bibi Hendricks who lives in New York; and other artists who send objects through the mail. The Fluxus School.

SEVIM FESCHI: The Fluxus School?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. You don't know the Fluxus School?


RAY JOHNSON: They're a group of European and American artists who . . . well, it's like Multiples. They sell editions of things, objects . . . .And, well, it isn't every day that one receives a mouse's ear. But a photograph that you would receive Well, it depends on the interest. I was going to say you'd think more of it than what you might happen to see in a collage. There's never been in New York an exhibition of correspondence art. I don't know how it could be organized because just to do it would kill it. It would be like involving this natural thing -- not that it's so natural

SEVIM FESCHI: But, for instance, when you received this mouse's ear, did you send it to somebody else? Or did you keep it?

RAY JOHNSON: No, I still have it. I let my doctor take it but it's still

SEVIM FESCHI: I was just thinking of something: Are you attracted by primitive societies, by the fetishist societies? I thought of that when I was looking at your ring, you know, with this dead hand . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes, I'm wearing this one because I misplaced my three ring which I wish . . . in fact, I wanted to wear all eight rings today but I misplaced these three. But I'm very interested to read . . . I think he's a French anthropologist, Levi-Strauss.

SEVIM FESCHI: Oh, yes, yes. Did you read . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: I have not read his books, no. But I think I will read I want to re-read a not too interesting book on child psychology called which are experimental in teaching children. I did read one very interesting book on . . . well, this was . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: Why teaching children? Are you interested in that?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I'm interested in children and ideas.

SEVIM FESCHI: In the children? Fetishism . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. I think I'm very close to the child's world in my creative process.

SEVIM FESCHI: In which way . . . in the spontaneity?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I respond completely to all my instincts and channel them into the work. Never quite get out of childhood. It's very comfortable.



SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. And fetishism attracts you very much also?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know because, if it does, it's probably . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: It's the mystery that lies behind all this mask and this . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: Well, it's probably very defined.

SEVIM FESCHI: Yes. But there is something behind the thing which attracts you very much your imagination .

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I was accused recently of performing black magic. I think I told you the story of the man I met who was a witch doctor.

SEVIM FESCHI: A witch doctor?!

RAY JOHNSON: Yes. Daniel Spoerri was ill and a friend brought in a witch doctor to exorcise his evil spirits and everything. He burned candles and incense and had bottles of sacred oil and took convulsions and rubbed on alcohol or something and did all sorts of things to cure him.

SEVIM FESCHI: And you had this doctor?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I was there when this all happened.

SEVIM FESCHI: Oh, you were there? There were a few people there?

RAY JOHNSON: Yes, there were about eight people for this ceremony with the witch doctor doing the ceremony. Afterwards, I was sitting on the floor with some colored yarn and was making some kind of an object which I attached to a doorknob and then I tried to attach it to this witch doctor's ankle. He was quite frightened. He thought I was trying to get power over him or something. And I don't know why I was doing this. It was purely instinctive to do this.

SEVIM FESCHI: How did the witch doctor react?

RAY JOHNSON: Oh, he wouldn't allow this thing. He ran away. He wouldn't have anything to do with what I was doing. I don't think he understood what I was doing, why I would be tying something to his ankle and to the doorknob. It was completely illogical. And another time . . . I had so many marvelous times with Daniel when he was in New York. We were at a Christmas party and I was seated in a chair and there were many Christmas strings and wrappings. So Daniel began the way a child would do (in fact I saw a child in the park playing actually put a noose on another child and I'm sure that one child wanted to hang the other one from a limb, hang this kid by the neck). Well, Daniel began tying me to this chair with these strings and ropes. And I just sat there. There were other people in the room and they watched. It was sort of a joke. And he found some more strings and quite industriously and seriously was attaching me to this chair. And I couldn't move. I just sat there. And then he placed two candles on my hands, on the tops of my hands. I just sat there and the candles slowly burned down and the wax was dripping and -- well, it seemed to me to go on for a long time. And we were conversing. And there was a girl there and she suddenly said, "I can't stand it any more!" And she rushed over and blew out the two candles because she didn't want the flame to burn down to my skin. And I was very angry. And I said, "Damn you! You ruined my whole act. I could have got out of here any time I wanted to." And then finally I got cut out of this chair with all the strings tied around me. But part of me knew that I was trapped but another part of me knew that I could get out of that situation if I wanted to. My will is very strong.

SEVIM FESCHI: You mean just by blowing out the candles?

RAY JOHNSON: But it wasn't that hostile a situation. I mean I wasn't really . . . it was just a playful attack on me, I suppose. Because we've had many wild drunken creation periods which involved children's dolls which he attacked and mutilated and pushed around in different ways in a very brutal way.

SEVIM FESCHI: A kind of happening?

RAY JOHNSON: And he had dishes .

SEVIM FESCHI: Where was it? Was it in Paris? Or . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: No, here in New York. And once he came to visit me with a friend and we sat around drinking rum. And I brought out a chair which was a . . . . (I always have these props that I find; I always have lots of subject matter, unusual things.) This was a child's school bench and it had one wooden arm for writing on. I had painted it white or something. And he started doing something with that arm. Later that evening . . . he just ruined the whole thing. He turned it upside down and put it backwards. He destroyed the thing that day. And I was very angry. But I thought, well, since I got the idea to take this entire chair apart. So with a screwdriver I dismantled the whole thing. The structure of the chair was very, very complicated. So I put all the parts into a cardboard box. And I delivered it to him at the Chelsea [Hotel] where he was living. So he received this chair as a gift. Which was very funny because that very same evening the chair (which was a chair like this) suddenly was just all in parts, completely dismantled. So he made some objects out of this chair. And when the Christos first came to New York I presented them with a package of forks.

SEVIM FESCHI: Of forks?! You mean all wrapped?

RAY JOHNSON: That's a "wrapped" story because . . . I've told it to you before.

SEVIM FESCHI: No, I don't think so.

RAY JOHNSON: Oh. Well, then, that is what I would call a wrapped . . . it's the beginning of a story where the story suddenly got wrapped and you'll never know what the story is.

SEVIM FESCHI: I don't understand.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I haven't finished the story of the three or four forks.


RAY JOHNSON: Because I thought I had told it to you before but since we have the tape here I didn't want to bore you by telling the story again, but I don't remember if I did.

SEVIM FESCHI: No, no, you didn't. Sorry.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, then, I think I'll tell you the story some other time, that specific story about three or four forks.


RAY JOHNSON: Not that I don't want it to be on tape but I'm keeping Christo's package this will be a story that suddenly wrapped. But that's an interesting idea of the Christo wrappings.


RAY JOHNSON: I myself for years have made wrappings but they were always pinned to the unwrappings because they were just wrappings . I had a marvelous idea today which is to eventually sell my meetings.

SEVIM FESCHI: Sell your meetings?!

RAY JOHNSON: To sell the meetings as a product. You know, you attended the first meeting. We're planning a second one on May 1 which I hope will have dance aspects to it. I'd like to ask James Waring to do a special New York "correspondence school" dance. And I'd like to have related to the letters of the paintings. And not such a sober meeting as the one we just had church. It will be held somewhere else. A bit more expensive.

SEVIM FESCHI: What do you mean by second meeting?

RAY JOHNSON: Oh, well, I had the idea today (I don't know if anyone is interested to buy this) but the first meeting was given freely, you know. I mean there was no . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: No charge.

RAY JOHNSON: No. That's how we wanted it to be given. And the second one will be done that way, too. But I would like to come up with some sum of money like for ,000 a person can buy a meeting, can buy Ray Johnson, you can buy you. Anyone who . . . you get to purchase one month of my organization and my time and my letters. I mean you don't actually get this but it's like a sponsor, a sponsorship. But the idea is I want to sell the phenomenon. It's like the Beatles. They'll just go out on a street corner and sing their songs to whoever is passing by. They are a packaged product. and I also want for the "correspondence school" for my letters to me just to be put into plastic boxes and sold as objects. Because I think there's a value placed on it which So that interested me as an experiment. And I always loved Yves Klein selling the empty gallery so much empty space.

SEVIM FESCHI: You never did that?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I always wanted to have a show with David Herbert. He had the David Herbert Gallery which is an absolutely empty gallery. But it simply wouldn't pay the rent.

SEVIM FESCHI: And who has to pay the ransom?

RAY JOHNSON: But I think that nothing interest historical. I don't think it's necessary now.

SEVIM FESCHI: That's again the same idea of nothingness in a way; buy empty space. Or is it really empty?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, what I see is just a traditional . . . . People acquire my paintings and drawings. And so far the letters are . . . well, my letters were once put up to auction And they have been sold. I would have preferred they be returned to me or destroyed or something. The Paper Snake de luxe edition sells for twelve and a half dollars. It has original Ray Johnson enclosures in it.

SEVIM FESCHI: There is a . . . .

RAY JOHNSON: It has an envelope in front with one of my small collages in it. That upsets me very much. Because the magic wears off. It gets out of my hands into someone else's hands and I can't really get . . . . You know, it's part of me and I can't get that back without my doing something illegal like So I can't have These meetings can be purchased. I can be hired to . . . .

SEVIM FESCHI: Oh, through them? Or . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: No, it would have to be . . . you'd have to take me just as I am. But like in this interview in talking to me, which I'm very pleased to do, one can get even closer to the creative process through the meeting, the process of the meeting. (I mean this doesn't have anything to do with .

SEVIM FESCHI: No, I understand.

RAY JOHNSON: Of course, I'm doing this as a joke but I should think someone would be very interested to know what the organization of this whole thing is and who you can get for ,000. I mean there are lots of very interesting people around that can be gotten together in one place if I will sell.

SEVIM FESCHI: And are you going to . . . ?

RAY JOHNSON: This meeting the other night was just the most primitive waste of feeling very humble .


RAY JOHNSON: But I can visualize all those people. They are very interested in art form artforum chronicle

SEVIM FESCHI: But would you be interested yourself to buy somebody else?

RAY JOHNSON: I don't know.

SEVIM FESCHI: You don't know? What do you mean by "buy" because I think the word "buy" is very ambiguous.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, by that I mean when you buy a dozen eggs, I think.

SEVIM FESCHI: You eat them.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I think they candled eggs or something. Sometimes you get one with a double yolk or it's rotten or something. But I'll tell you something very interesting. When you buy something . . . . I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant; it was Wah-Kee's and behind that their kitchen they have a little room. And you can sit in the back and it's very charming. They have a waiter who shouts and screams and brings you the things to eat that you order. It's a very unusual place. But I was having dinner there the other evening. And there was a big tub on the floor and the waiter came back there to get -- he was sloshing out all this liquid which apparently was soup stock. But it looked like an old rain barrel. I mean the way it was sitting on the floor and then these flour bags -- well, it was a Chinese kitchen -- it wasn't a Greek kitchen and it wasn't a French kitchen or whatever. It was extraordinarily messy with bags of flour spilled and you expected to see a rat. But it was that Chinese style of scooping up the soup stock. And we had this marvelous soup. It was very good. But when you're in a restaurant, you know, you think of what's going on in the kitchen. So what is presented to you in a bowl on the table is very different from what's going on in the back. So the purchasing of a meeting -- you would get for about one month, if one is interested, the whole creative process of the creation, the necessity for the form that it eventually takes, like why did this first meeting have to be in that Quaker church? Sure in that place in the city. I think it's all very, very personal. I have my own secret about the whole thing. I mean I have my own very private jokes about this just incredible structure of puns and wit and very witty things of the people and what they do, and who they are, and where they work, and so forth; which was all suggested but not clear because so many people didn't know the other people. And, although they did meet and converse, it was just the most basic introduction so they didn't . . . I as the artist of it had this palette and had gotten those people there, not really knowing what was going to happen. But each meeting would be a different kind of composition, using real live people and what they do. It's very dangerous.

SEVIM FESCHI: It is very dangerous.

SEVIM FESCHI: But let me come back to your idea of -- I think it's an interesting idea: If somebody were to buy you, does he have the right to come in whenever he likes and look at the way you work?

RAY JOHNSON: No. I have all kinds of rules.

SEVIM FESCHI: Oh, you will have rules?

RAY JOHNSON: They would have to be coded request as to what -- I mean, you know, purchasing date in purchasing phenomenon. It's possible that no one could possibly be interested.

SEVIM FESCHI: But the idea itself is interesting.

RAY JOHNSON: Well, something interesting that came up, the first one having been on April Fool's Day, and having the second one on May second, the fourth one will be on July 4, which is traditionally America's firecracker time. It's very exhausting to have to think about it.

SEVIM FESCHI: I can't imagine . . . . Do you ever get involved with some happenings?


SEVIM FESCHI: Called Happenings.

RAY JOHNSON: Not very much, no.

SEVIM FESCHI: Not really? I was thinking of the Happenings of Oldenburg and Kaprow.

RAY JOHNSON: No. It is mostly audience participation.

SEVIM FESCHI: And you . . . or Happenings?

RAY JOHNSON: Well, I think just being there it depends on the nature or the Happening.
Jim Dine presented at the Judson Gallery a very unknown work. I don't think maybe you ever saw it.


RAY JOHNSON: "Rainbow Thoughts." Washington Gallery. A room construction with a door and you went through the door and found yourself in black space. And there was one very tiny light bulb which went off, on, off, on. And above the light bulb was a piece of cardboard with rainbow colors so that all that you saw was the light on the rainbow and the light bulb . You could stay there as long as you wanted to. And you left. That's all it was. I was with a friend of mine. We were in there for about half a minute. And as we were leaving -- the light bulb had that switch -- and she turned it off. So that the next person who walked in would walk into this little black room where nothing would be happening. I thought she was very witty to do that. Because, for the whole day, there was one girl sitting at the desk (she probably never went in there because it was very boring); she probably the light bulb. And it was probably purchased as a new light bulb so that it wasn't apt to burn out. But it implied the possibility of being turned off because any child would have had the impulse to do that. And if he had not had that switch there the girl might then have had the impulse to steal the rainbow cardboard two things. It's hard to know.

SEVIM FESCHI: Well, I thank you. I think we'll stop here.

RAY JOHNSON: Is that it?


This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows:Oral history interview with Ray Johnson, 1968 Apr. 17, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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