So this was your first video piece? Why go that route?
I made this piece in 1997. It was actually based on a performance that I did at Momenta
Art where these two people were joined together at the lips. That piece was kind of a disaster but
there was something nice about the motion and something that I couldn't capture
in a photograph. The video itself
is very photographic. It's three
minutes long and in a way non-narrative.
It's more like a kinetic photograph, the way that it functions. I think if you compare it to my later
work in photography that it's similar.
It's one image, one shot.
There's no editing, no change in framing. But I was able to do things that I couldn't with a
photograph. Like you have the
before and after of the kiss, the weirdness of it being live and being fake,
which didn't really seem possible in a photograph. I actually tried to do it as a photograph too, but it didn't
work as well.
So prosthetically joined at the lips... kissing yourself, you also did a
similar kissing image for the cover of Mall Punk...
Yeah prosthetics and special effects but then also this idea
of intimacy. When I did the video
I had just finished reading Remembrance of Things Past
, and there was this moment in The Captive
where Proust, who has been sequestered in his house
and developed this tremendous jealousy of his girlfriend, is kissing her
goodnight, and he talks about the inside of her mouth being an entranceway and
yet a barrier to her. This kiss to
me is a perfect symbol of thwarted intimacy, because on the one hand he is
inside her body, but on the other hand it's just another sign of being
incapable of inhabiting someone else's body. So making out with myself in this video has the same sort of
impotence to it. The kiss that you
are seeing is real, there are two of me, and the kiss is really happening, but
it is also really low-fi, and therefore also very fake. There is this mood to it that has that
same sort of impotence or thwarted quality to it, of trying to get inside of
your own body, and being incapable of intimacy, even if it is reflexive. So it's really... it's really pathetic
It is very lo-fi.
This being your first would you do it differently now that you have more
No I like it crappy actually. I'm really interested in special effects in movie
making and the way in which people try and make an imaginative image, but for
me, one of the important things in this and which carries over into all of my
works, is that you see the hand that makes it, that the blue screen is really
jumpy, and that you see the edge of the face sort of flickering in and out,
that you can sense someone behind it all creating this perverse image.
Did you expect that effect going into it, knowing your
limitations, or was that something you liked once it occurred.
I think I knew that I wouldn't be able to do it terribly
well, and some of the earlier pieces that I had done using prosthetics had that
split between being believable and sort of not believable, and yeah, when I was
editing it, I really liked the result, and that made me realize how important
that was, the obvious fakeness. That
is something that has come up again and again in future works. That's why this video is such an
important first project for me.
You have repetitions, themes that come up, like the
intimacy issue, but also the replication of self. I guess you said that you got the idea for the video from
seeing Christie Tarlington kissing herself in an ad that you saw on a bus.
Yeah but that stuff was in my work before that. That was my
catchphrase for a time.
Well in the Mall Punk series that you did, the cover
piece (which was later used for the cover of Dennis Cooper's new book My
Loose Thread)... I think when we were
talking about what would be a cool cover for the magazine, I had suggested a
guy and girl in a similar pose, but then you ended up doing two guys, which
fits in better with the replicated self theme. But you also pushed it into a gorier realm. Can you talk about the way that the
earlier themes, fused with the more violent themes in your later work?
I guess the first violent piece I did, that was shown at the
same time as the kissing piece was this photo where I was split in half. I had been reading a lot of Dennis
Cooper books, and actually I was thinking about his relationship to Proust... I
take in a lot of his (Cooper's) work and Genet's work because they are also
interested in the artifice of (construction?) and because of the way Cooper
uses violence as an expression of intimacy, or thwarted intimacy. It's very moving to me. The next big project was Heidi 2, which
was a sequel to Mike Kelly and Paul McCarthy's movie Heidi, which was sort of
styled on the American horror movie - I think I read somewhere that it was
specifically styled on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- so I was sort of obsessively investigating American
horror movies when making that piece, and combined with my interest in Cooper
and Genet, it was somehow about seeing your own death or how America sees
images of death. I think even in
the make out video that element is there as well because one of the heads looks almost corpselike. It's like kissing a corpse or your
imagined dead self. That was
really interesting to me looking back on it. What started out as two living people in production became
one alive and one dead once completed.
Your work continues some themes of other artists that have
been described as feminist, work dealing with the conflict between ubiquitous
idealized images of self and the personal self-perceived image. Someone I was talking to recently said
that she thought that your work approached these issues in a way that didn't
use the same tropes, that was almost masculine in its approach.
More gender neutral.
Yeah I tend to think of myself in a more gender neutral way, and I think the make out video is gender neutral.
It's de-glamorized, sort of goofy and sort of pathetic, but it's not
particularly gendered to me. I am
interested in the history of feminist art, and I am also interested in many
other histories, whatever I find to be exciting to me at the time. So then Cooper or Genet are gay men, or
Valle Export who is really great to me is coming from a history of feminism. These are all great people and they are
categorized in different ways, which may or may not fit with what their work
Who are some of your film heroes?
Do you have favorite effects people?
Yeah I have a lot of Tom Savigni books. I'm more into the old ways of doing
effects, having to use actual props, rather than the computer. In the make out video I actually made a
plaster cast of my own head that I used to kiss. So even though it looks totally digital, it was made in an
old fashion way.
Some of the later works you've done, some of the
photographs, Like Twins or the
one of the two girls exploded that have kind of become one, their torsos sort
entwined or shoved through the other... it seems that a lot of emphasis is put on
the formal arrangement.
Yeah Twins is sort of a flattened swastika. Yeah it's pretty awful. The pose was actually taken from a Sheile
drawing where the models bodies formed a swastika.
Well this is another instance where you have done a piece
in an updated form. Why this
interest in doing remakes and sequels?
Are you trying to update the subject for a modern audience, or is it to
get things right that you saw flawed in the originals, or is it more of an
homage? What percentage is
Yean I am kind of a bottom feeder.
No there's a definite difference. Like in Twins you've added bobby socks and miniskirts and it
becomes a different piece...
I think everything I do stems from somewhere else, from the works of others.
Yeah, like the Nightmare on Elm Street reference in the
piece Bed, with the blood
dripping from the ceiling. Are you
making a comment on revisionism itself?
Or is it just that you are interested in these things.
It's not that highbrow, from my perspective. Others may get
that from the work and that's fine. History kind of becomes kind of a
collage. But I think of myself as
more of a fan.
Have you ever read any Frederick Exley? He has this book
called A Fan's Notes, in which the
premise is that all anyone can be these days is a fan. He's talking about sports, but
ultimately it's about originality, and sort of the exhaustion or impossibility
of originality, and how we are left to be merely fans of prior
No I haven't read that, but that's great you should have me
quote that. Yeah, well there are
people like Hal Foster who talk about the death of originality and repetition,
and I guess the difference is that the topic of my work is not about that
death. I have no problem with my
status as it stands. I feel really
comfortable. So it's not the
subject, it's just the form that I use.
Do you worry that people might accuse your work of being
formalist? Some artists really
take offense at such accusations.
No I actually think about formal things a lot. And I don't think that my work gets
addressed a lot on formal terms.
Because of the thing that we were talking about before, with leaving the
loose ends visible, being able to see the hand of the artist, I think maybe
people get this idea that it's spontaneous, but actually the work is very carefully constructed, extremely
minimal - the photographs in particular are - so yeah they're all about
formalism. I love it.
Let's talk a little bit about innocence. All of your work seems to deal
with young people, and I wonder if you think of your work as correcting some of
the media's images of young people, their misconceptions about what it means to
be in the mind of a young person.
I think it depends on the source of the media. The prime time newscaster reporting on
an fifteen year old kid that got shot at a school is probably going to get it
really wrong, but an account posted on a teenager's website about the same
incident might be a lot more accurate.
I mean somewhere someone is going to get it right. Partly
what I am interested in is a kind of empathy that someone can have for something that's been mass
marketed, like totally loving and believing in a rock star, or
believing in the world of zombies, and that having a kind of
sweetness and purity to it. And also
sources that you wouldn't normally think of as being pure, like an earnest love
of advertisements for a hair product.
And so taking a horror movie out of the context of the schlock
narrative, you might have a fifteen year old confronting death for the first
time, and dealing with their own mortality, and seeing that as a pure
experience. That's something that
is a constant in my work, even in the make out video.
So who are the icons of the school shooters that you deal with?
It depends on the kid.
They are really particular.
One of the ones' that I got really obsessed with was Kip Kinkel. He was really into Marilyn Manson and
Trent Reznor. Marilyn Manson got a lot of attention as being an influence on
many of the shooters, but Kip was the only one that was really into him, but he
really loved him and had lyrics from Marilyn Manson songs all over his bedroom
framed, and lyrics from The Downward Spiral
sort of written in pen on the wall.
I bought the records that he was listening to at the time, and they are
very much these sort of goth products. They are not particularly scary or violent, more like products created by the record industry, but Kip really believed them. Like he would sit in his bedroom and listen to these records, feeling like he was going insane and wanting to kill people. He really connected to these lyrics in a very real way.
So the attraction for you is the belief ?
Yeah totally the belief.
No matter what the belief is in.
Yeah no matter how corrupt it is. Whether for a hair gel, or for Tower Records, or whatever.
Yeah? I'm getting called.