Andrew James Paterson

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The Government was Kaput:
Mike Hoolboom interviews Andrew James Paterson

 

MH: While video artists often appear in their own works, they are usually quick to insist that they are not actors. Instead, they are performing, though sometimes they have cast themselves, not to mention friends and familiars, in dramatic roles with costumes and sets. Could you elaborate on the difference between acting and performing in video?

 

AJP: Yes, video "acting" has been an ongoing subject/concern that never quite goes away. There are some observers who even feel that narrative is making a comeback And, when there is a story (or even a plot), then performers tend to become necessary and this begs questions of what sort(s) of performers.

 

In winter 1992, I was a visiting artist at NSCAD. The class I guested in was Jan Peacock's Performance something or other, and Jan informed me that Michael Kirby's essay "On Acting and Non-Acting" had been a current reference-point. So...I showed the class my videotape "Who Killed Professor Wordsworth" (1990) and had them guess which performers were actors, which ones were attempting to be actors, and which ones weren't concerned with this question (and were arguably thus effective). Some performers were clearly in one of these categories, some were more ambivalent.

 

I think that concerns about calibre of acting came into play in the early eighties art boom, where both video art and performance art became rather sidelined by the painting boom of the era. How could video and performance compete or become credible commodities? Well, since many of the proto-Canadian video artists were and still are also writers, dramatic elements began to predominate. Video seemed more professional if it more closely referenced its ghost mediums (television and/or film). Performance similarly came to be seen and evaluated in reference to proscenium theatre or to cabaret.

 

In many tapes of the eighties into the early nineties, one can see a shift away from groups of friends performing as talking and other bodies in artists' videotapes toward dramatized scenarios with often uneasy mixtures of performing parallel artists and professional actors (or artists consciously or unconsciously mimicking professional actors). Some of this tension becomes apparent in relation to the writing or scripts. Are these supposed to be matrixed or non-matrixed performers? (Kirby: "matrixed" refers to depth of characterization both physically and psychologically; "non-matrixed refers to more of a strictly visual image - one can recognize a cowboy by the hat and that is all that's required.) Not all of the performers in many of these narratives videotapes (my collaboration with Jorge Lozano - Hygiene - is one of many tangible examples) function in the same key or mode. This could either be an amusing subtext to the tapes, or it could simply be an incoherent messiness and sloppiness of intention.

 

The mention of "real time" is interesting. I think "real time" is rather seventies and even sixties - early Fassbinder, Andy Warhol. Warhol's motif of Anybody Can Be A Star is also interesting in the context of proto-video-art. Members of a scene or a "community" both usurp and critique stardom and glamour. Needless to say, the Warhol motif never did require a certificate from The National Theatre School or the New York Method Actors' Studio. Needless to say, some viewers of the late seventies and early eighties found much video art to be slow and tough sledding. Recall that this was also the onset of music videos and MTV. "Real" time or even dramatic times were by now in defiance of as MTV fast-editing regimen. Ironically, many of the most effective music videos owe their lineage and much more to experimental film (and not always via advertising).

 

The relationship between verbal and visual is also, I feel, relevant here. Video largely concerned with flash surface and quasi-MTV editing largely tended to avoid words. Words were for people who could not make pictures. Videos with words tended to avoid three-second (let alone three or single-frame) editing for its own sake, often not even cutting to different perspectives during long sentences let alone paragraphs. In entrepreneurial trade fair circles (Video Culture Canada - 1983) "content" was denigrated as containing too many words and not enough visual pizzazz. One of the organizers of Visual Culture Canada actually did describe content as being a smokescreen for technical illiteracy.

 

But, in the context of the early-eighties art boom, video (and performance) artists often found themselves mimicking their host mediums. Increased professionalism was in demand (or perceived to be in demand), and that involved higher production values, which included a higher calibre of performers, which led to an uneasy mixture of performers and professional actors. Ironically, many of the professional actors recruited for many narrative videotapes were from the theatre, and thus tended to act as if on stage rather than in front of a camera. (one of the classical distinctions between theatre and film acting). In contrast, the self-performers tended to appear more relaxed and at home with the video medium. They were, after all, generally being themselves (when they felt they were expected to act, that was another story).

 

There is another ghost at play here, not a ghost medium but a ghost genre. And...that genre is documentary (or self-documentary). One might consider dual meanings of the verb "testify"; either to be a witness or to be a performer. These are of course not necessarily contradictory, and smart documentary practices acknowledge this duality.

The "reality" that many of the performers in superficially dramatic videotapes are not really acting (either because they can't or because they don't even make an attempt) does bring these works closer to a documentary mode. A "scene" or "community": is in fact documenting itself, in keeping with one of the original subversions of the militarily-originating camcorder by artists and/or activists.

 

Ah yes. Activism. If one browses the Purchase Collection catalogue for Trinity Square Video between 1982 and 1991, one will notice many collected video art works that tend to eschew formal/formalist premises in favour of a sort of naturalist drama, marked by often strident concern with being "political". Here again one finds a blurriness between what is acting and simply self-presentation, but also usually devoid of artifice (or humour?). Many of these kitchen-sinkish videos are arguably not intended to be read as being "art" works but, rather, communiqués to or documentations of various political moments or sub-communities etcetera.

 

It is interesting that many kitchen-sink videotapes deploy a soap-opera format - the daytime rather than prime-time variety. An obvious canonical precedent here would be Lisa Steele's Gloria tapes, which did initially confuse many art denizens with their foregrounding of feminist and socio-economic issues, even though the strength of Steele's performance distinguished this important body of work from movie-of-the-week television etcetera. Colin Campbell's dramatic ensemble tapes of the early to mid-eighties are also carried by either the artist's idiosyncratic performances or the witty insightfulness of his writing. But not all contemporaries and/or students were so successful.

 

Here we do come to the embarrassment or cringe factor - the oh my God what was I thinking (or not thinking but rather doing) factor. Many a video artist active in the eighties and even into the nineties now looks back at earlier works with embarrassment at the "bad acting", the shrill and strident political correctness, the emphasis on text at the expense of visual inventiveness, etcetera. I confess to submitting my 1992/3 tape Pink In Public to a programme at Available Light in Ottawa aptly titled Video Barf. Before responding to their call for submissions, I did watch the tape and I did think "Hmmm. It's not a complete embarrassment." But it is flawed and dated, as are other works. Some of the embarrassment derives from the fact that now I work in a very different mode (although I have recently used other performers' voices if not their bodies and faces). Some of it comes from the fact that this tape (and also the aforementioned Hygiene) are so much of their time, and thus of limited or strictly archival interest. Much of the embarrassment stems from the fact that directorial and editorial strategies were used which seemed like uneasy compromises back then and now just seem wrong-headed.

 

Embarrassment and gossip are not so distant cousins. There can be vindictive humour at the discovery that such and such now highly rigorous and formalist artist once made industry calling-cards barely disguised as politically-correct kitchen-sink dramas. Auterist critics could indeed have a field day with artists (both authors and supportive "actors") whose presence is commonplace through videotapes of a certain time-frame. I have donned priestly wardrobes in at least some of my more performative works (okay, I have a priest fetish!), and have performed cameos in other artists' work often as an authority figure of sorts. Does this reveal some bombshell about myself? Well, maybe yes and maybe no. One might also discern Karl Beveridge as a policemen in many tapes. Hmmmm.

 

Archivist researchers may indeed uncover works that have not been suppressed but have certainly been gathering dust. Perhaps the artists did not remove these works from distribution, simply because nobody ever rents them? There is perhaps a thin line between artists disowning works by deleting them from active distribution and artists who assume that their back catalogue is only of minimal interest to completists and other trivia queens or obsessives. However, historically-themed exhibitions are hardly unusual. So...is an artist who deletes components of his or her back catalogue control-freak, a pompous modernist who still believes in the sanctity of authorial intention and interpretation? Are such artists ridiculously concerned with their own legacies? Well, yes and no.

 

How historical works are exhibited has a lot (if not everything) to do with how they are received by contemporary audiences. To what degree are these older works contextualized? To what degree do audiences or viewers read catalogues or curatorial statements? To what degree does impatience with convoluted history and fascination/felicitation of surface predominate? To what degree is it clear that an exhibition is indeed historical, especially when older and more recent works are curated together?

 

And...what are the differences, parallels, and tensions between history and nostalgia? Many historical surveys (more often group exhibitions purporting to document "communities" or particular gallery histories than surveys of singular artists) walk an uneasy fine line between being historical and being nostalgic. To some audiences, there is indeed no difference, and historical details tend to become lost or trivialized. Not all viewers look closely enough at older videotapes (or photographs) to realize that they are in the past tense. Not everybody reads signage. Nostalgic residue can indeed alienate predominantly younger artists, whom I have heard summarizing early works by older but still very much living artists in terms of this or that particular artist did look rather sexy when they were younger. Which may or may not have anything to do with the artist's avowed intention. This might well be an extremely reductive reading of the work, but it might also be a clue to the work. Narcissism is a prickly subject-terrain for many intriguing and contradictory reasons.

 

 

 

 

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MH: I recently attended a Vito Acconci retrospective at the Stedelijk, and was surprised to find his expansive oeuvres in writing, video and architecture crammed into a series of rooms (and self-built pods). A single space might contain four or five long tapes, or more. It was a riot of simultaneity, and seemed designed to discourage exactly the kind of attention required to sit down and watch someone talking "in real time" as Acconci did so often when he was busy, along with some few others, creating the foundations of the art 40 long years ago. Here the work was rendered invisible through its act of exhibition, a not uncommon occurrence. I'm wondering if you could spare some words on the subject of "duration," a gravity-filled term which comes quickly to mind whenever someone mentions the dreaded phrase "video art." For most it means: edit-free broadcast that doesn't know when to stop. Television without the remote control.

 

AJP: Yes...video and duration. "Real" time as opposed to dramatic time. Or as opposed to rapid-eye movement or associative montage or whatever.

 

When I first made my own initial tentative video forays, there was a sharp division between those working with "real" time and those wishing to be big and modern and new. The "real" time came from performance and body sculpture. With my theatrical and musical background, I was quite familiar with complaints against real time from those committed to or invested in dramatic time. This derision of slowness of course applies to those other video ghost mediums - film and television. Although now we have a saturation of Reality TV, which is surely the idiot bastard son of durational video-art.

 

The "real time" or durational work that I feel has endured is generally by single or solo artists. It is rooted in performance and body-sculpture, terrains where concerns about pacing and dramatic priorities are simply not applicable, or why is one watching this tape or performance to begin with.  There is a rather awkward transition between solo-performer works or self-documentary and quasi-dramatic works using a soap-opera format, where it's the daytime (or Coronation Street) model that's in play and not the prime-time model (like Dynasty etcetera). Daytime soaps use cuts and editing to move from characters to characters, but the pacing is indeed quite slow. Warhol is, I feel, another precursor to artist's' videotapes which deploy friends of the artist in quasi-dramatic roles. Viewers witness a "scene", or that dreaded word "community", that is self-documenting. People cheerfully but dutifully appearing in each others documents. Viewers either get it or feel excluded.

 

The move to colour from black and white is important here. With colour, one is now in the real world (film or television). One is obliged to have production values, so out with real time and bad lighting and bad acting etcetera. So many established artists, and some beginners like myself, self-consciously tried to up the ante - to make credible filmic or television-referent works even if they were unlikely to ever achieve television sales. There were tapes that in fact did television very well - like General Idea's Test Tube and many of the tapes in Television by Artists - which was produced by Trinity Square Video in 1980. There were high-profile videos that not only were conceived and edited with a reference to television, there were tapes that directly quoted and thus appropriated television. For example, Dara Birnbaum's Wonder Woman tapes. Some argued that they were critiques or interventions; others thought they were merely regurgitated television. I was in the latter camp. Thinking back on over twenty-years ago, I was probably rash and dismissive. After all, artists manipulating found stock or footage are not exactly unusual, are they? Perhaps I should revisit the Wonder woman tapes and some other fast videos of the early eighties that either used appropriated material or, at least on a surface level, seemed like they were designed for trade-fairs showcasing the most state-of-the-art technologies. I might well now see the Wonder Woman tapes as being very effective media critique simply due to Birnbaum's editorial choices - what she deleted and what she retained.  Then, of course, there was the music video influence and that whole industry.

 

I was primarily a musician in the early eighties, but my band The Government was aloof from any major label. So, we could make our own video that basically ignored promotional demands and promotional language. The video for our 12-inch recording of How Many Fingers? - it wasn't a single - it never shows the band playing or miming. Much of it is in "real time". Or music time - it is choreographed to the music. But the music wasn't a dance production or a snappy chorus line - it was a dirge. A surveillance dirge. The title How Many Fingers of course comes from 1984 - I wrote the song originally for a theatrical production of 1984 that the band was scoring. The New Music on City-TV rejected this video - it didn't look right, it wasn't entertaining. But it's had a life as an "art-video". It might well play for some programmers as a "documentary" - it involves not only The Government but a cross-section of recognizable artists and it's almost completely located in a particular building of historical interest. The record and its video were both recorded in the Ryerson building, which used to house Trinity Square Video, A Space, and FUSE; but which is now of course the CHUM-CITY building (or whatever they are called now?).

 

Language, or verbal language, was an element in disagreements concerning appropriate video durations or time-frames. Acconci of course was originally a poet. Colin Campbell was a very good writer. I myself am at bottom a writer, and most of my works involve language. But so many of the videos I was seeing in the early eighties ignored or minimized verbal language. Unless it's a caption-spoked, it tends to slow things down. When you have performers who actually speak in sentences or even paragraphs, that's a different pacing than snappy one-liners. What's the line about Rohmer in that movie Night Moves - a Rohmer film was like watching paint dry? There's always been that difference between action-movies and soap-operas or melodramas. Compare, say, Blade Runner, with even the latter Fassbinder movies, which are heavy on the eye-candy. I remember being in the audience in some Yorkville Gallery (Quan?) in 1982 for this video programme, which was mostly American stars like John Sanborn and Dean Winkler and Dara Birnbaum and others. And there was a Colin Campbell tape on the programme - I think it was Conundrum Clinique? - and compared to the rest of the programme it was in "real time", or some sort of dramatic time.  Not in music-video time (which of course owes to a considerable body of experimental film with its rapid-eye-movement editing and collage.) Many in the audience groaned and went to the bar or took a pee break. But I stayed in my seat. Colin's work here made so much sense to me in comparison to the rest of the programme - it wasn't flash and just surface; it was substantial. There were layers as opposed to just obviously layered images. It did refer to melodrama, which I had become quite keen on. Fassbinder and then his progenitor - Douglas Sirk. My references then were so film - not video as a different or autonomous medium.

 

I remember working as an "actor" in Eric Metcalfe's and Dana Atchley's Steel and Flesh at the Western Front in Vancouver in 1980 - Eric thought I was a Canadian Peter Lorre figure like in Fritz Lang's movie "M". That tape was based on Eric's drawings - it at least bordered on animation. So...dialogue was used only when absolutely necessary, and then in spoken captions. This was considered to be an effrontery to a slow-paced and highly-verbal Toronto video "scene". Also, a politically-correct Toronto art scene.

 

Mike, your observations about the Acconci retrospective at the Stedelijk... I feel there is this huge gap or difference between "film" and "art". I know this is a tiresome discourse that is unresolvable, but there are different durations or time-frames at play here. Watching videos or films in their actual time (whether real or dramatized or whatever) is so often not on for gallery goers. That is what is done in the cinema - why is this work in a gallery and not at The Cinematheque or whatever? Well, it is a retrospective or a survey, and it is installed as opposed to merely screened, so why not? But this all reminds me of when I was on the board of YYZ between 1997 and 2000. It had become obvious that separate programming committees for Visual and Time-Based Arts were redundant. Most of what was submitted on video (or DVD) involved looping, compressing, or downright freezing time. And of course visual art - painting, drawing, sculpture, is something one spends time with if it is initially engaging. But yes, parallel installations of Acconci tapes in one room sounds like a Tower of Babel. What percentage of viewers will make the time commitment? And how conducive are the viewing arrangements? What sort of duration are we talking about here? Suggested audience duration, or something even resembling the actual durations of the works in the exhibition? Is a huge and significant body of work being reduced to a sort of one-stop- shopping?

 

MH: In the late 1970s you started up a fabled art band trio named The Government. You wrote, sang and played guitar. Can you talk about the band's beginnings and its intersection with the art scene (were you already part of it?)? Why didn't you want to be stadium rockers making the big money?

 

AJP: Ah yes, the Government. Well...the band was formed in 1977; and it initially consisted of me, Robert Stewart on bass, vocals, and some writing, and a drummer named Patrice Desbiens (who is a Francophone poet). The band was formed as a house band for VideoCabaret, who in those days were an inter-media theatre/video/live music aggregation. I had previously been doing live music for this company, in a different band with Michael Brook playing guitar. (Michael Brook co-founded A Space Video, which became Charles St. Video, along with Rodney Werden.)  So, Michael Hollingsworth, a playwright who is a co-director of VideoCabaret, we were friends and he needed a band for this play he wrote called Punc Rok, so I put the Government together. We were trying out different names and not really settling on one, until Marion Lewis of the Hummer Sisters (who were also co-directors of VideoCabaret) kept calling us The Government as characters/musicians in their production that we were writing music for and performing in. We gave in and went with the name The Government. So...there was an incipient confusion between whether we were the VideoCabaret house band or an actual band.

 

This duality went on until 1979, by when it had become untenable. I guess myself and Robert were sort of on the fringes of an art scene, around A Space in the mid-seventies. There was a fascination with punk within the Toronto art world, and we were and then were not part of that scene.  And VideoCab were and weren't of an art scene - they were more rooted in the theatre. Now they're totally in the theatre world or "community". But the Government, particularly Robert and myself, became friends with video artists - Randy and Berenicci, Susan Britton, Rodney, others. We'd wind up at the same parties as General Idea and David Buchan and Colin Campbell and others. Being around video artists, and being around live video, made me think about using the medium myself. I think I tended even then to be rather formal about video - because of my interests in film and in writing. Although, paradoxically, I appreciated abstraction. Today I am very into abstraction, so... I had pretensions to being an actor, and not just a musician. But I preferred performing to a live camera than to an audience; or I preferred being mediated by technology. This went along with Robert and me being at least as interested in ambient music (or wallpaper or bathtub music) as we were in song structures. I was obsessed with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, during the seventies and even later.

 

 But...The Electric Eye...that was the Hollingsworth piece that made The Government and I guess primarily myself an item of curiosity to a particular art crowd. It was the band not only performing live but also interacting with characters or actors in a pre-recorded videotape. Clive Robertson, then of Centrefold and Arton's Publishing, wanted to record Electric Eye as an audio cassette, and it wound up as a long-player. Clive saw Electric Eye as performance-art - he saw me in particular as a budding performance-artist. Where Michael Hollingsworth and VideoCab saw the focus being on the taped actors with the band as live accompanists. By the time the album was released, we'd severed with Hollingsworth and VideoCabaret. Hollingsworth felt VideoCab weren't properly credited, and since it had developed under his and their auspices, then he was technically correct. Now it would make more sense to record the thing as a performance-DVD. But I was asleep at the wheel - I should have realized that Robertson and Hollingsworth were never going to mesh very well. I used to be more optimistic about these things.

 

I saw The Talking Heads at A Space in 1977 and at OCAD the following night. They were only a three-piece then, and they intrigued me. They were the opposite of punks - they were so normal that they had to be perverse. This for me was much more interesting than so many of the punkers - so many of whom were old rockers with their hair cut short. The Heads took the so normal we're not thing very far indeed - one of my initial resistance to the name The Government was their song Don't Worry About the Government, which was the diametric opposite to Anarchy in the U.K. and London's Burning and so many more. Another reservation I had about the name was the fact that we were employees of a company that were heavily dependent upon government grants. Thirty years ago there was a huge schism between people either inside or outside of the grant system, and this schism or fault line continues to exist. I had my first small Canada Council project grant when the Government was fairly high-profile, and I felt I lived in a different world than the musicians let alone the club promoters and what not. So...I guess I had entered an art world.

 

But the definition of an art band....it's almost arbitrary. In Toronto there were the OCAD bands like The Dishes and The Biffs and then T.B.A. - they looked somewhere between preppy and mod and they sounded clean. They were suburban - no improvisation, no messy noise. The Government were more quasi-New York hipster; there was some improvisation and quite a bit of noise. We liked "free jazz". We were urban, although we started getting a suburban audience that wasn't from an art milieu. There were two other drummers - Ed Boyd and then Billy Bryans - who both changed our sound, which was what we wanted to do. But, with too many things flying at us from different directions, we lost our bearing. Did we wish to cater to this more suburban geeky audience, or were we paranoid about losing our art credibility. Shit happened concerning our recordings, of which there were five. I think I can speak for Robert Stewart as well as myself, although I don't know his current whereabouts. We were suspicious of anybody attempting to mould us or make us over - which makes us sound like modernists or something even more reactionary. If we had attempted to streamline ourselves, then how would we have gone about it? Perhaps added a better singer, at least one other more conventional musician, commissioned outside writers? It's all hypothetical - I don't think either Robert or I were of the right temperaments. We were suspicious of many of the people we encountered in "the business", and our suspicions were actually quite justified. Shit happened. I think The Government got stuck in a nether zone of sorts, between large auditoriums and art bars or clubs. I felt uncomfortable playing in larger venues, either for people who didn't know what to expect or for people who had predetermined notions of what they were expecting. Which is the pop business - people pay to hear the hits. So, either you go with the flow or you act out, or cop out. I guess that's what I ultimately did, although we let the band fall apart without being premeditated about it.

 

MH: I wonder if you might riff on the queer underlining of the budding art scenes you are describing. Glenn Schellenberg, keyboard player for ur-Queen Street band The Dishes, said that the young and fabulous on both sides of the microphone were looking for a place to share the late hours. Though removed from the heat in boystown, a suite of art bar migrations (Beverley, Cabana, Cameron, Gladstone) have offered up public spaces for queer hopes in the west end. The Government was also part of that, wasn't it, particularly at The Cabana Room?

 

AJP: Well, the Cabana Room was really an extension of the scene at the Beverley Tavern on Queen near McCaul, which had been the de facto art school bar. At the Beverley there'd be a mixture of art students (many of whom played in bands), artists, and gay activists. The Body Politic had its office around the corner on Duncan Street, just past where Art Metropole was then at the corner of Richmond and Duncan. (you might want to check out Rick Bebout's website www.rbebout.com.)  FUSE (still Centrefold until I believe 1979) had its office in the same building as Art Metropole. Nineteen seventy-eight was the year of the charges against The Body Politic, over Gerald Hannon's article about youth loving men loving youth, and also there had been a raid against The Barracks (a bathhouse of close proximity). So there was a lot of interesting mixing at the Beverley. Sound didn't carry very well from the stage at the front end, so there could be this social space at the elevated back or north end where people could chatter and gossip independently of the bands. The Beverley is immortalized in Colin Campbell's Modern Love, which Bad Girls carried on from.

 

The Cabana Room was launched in summer 1979, by Susan Britton and a guy named Robin Wall whose current whereabouts I don't know. The Cabana programming format mixed bands, videos, and performance - initially often on the same evening. Later on it evolved into more of a music bar, in the conventional sense of that description. This was after Bad Girls, during which I was away. I was in New York with The Government - Robert and I were into playing and hanging around New York and possibly getting out of Toronto, but.... However, The Government was part of the Cabana scene, although we were blamed in some quarters for the demise of the original space. One of our records was getting radio airplay and thus attracting this rather creepy straight geek record nerd audience. Music geeks - mostly male and not very social. Not at all like David Buchan's Geek Chic. The Cabana Room evolved more into a music venue. The Government's drummer - Ed Boyd - didn't like playing there because we didn't make very much money there since too many of our friends were always on the guest list. Later on, we actually titled an LP Guest List. It was not the most welcome of records - it bombed.

 

And certainly the initial blend or mixture was rather queer, or at least hospitable to queer elements. I think we're talking queer and not necessarily gay, although many of the central players were gay or bi or bent. A good night at The Cabana Room could indeed be polymorphous. There was a gender-fuck going on - sometimes by people whose later work had nothing to do with gender-fucking or indeed sexuality. It was initially at least a safe scene to play in - at a distance from the gay club or disco scene but also from the straight music bar scene. The Cabana Rom was fun in a way that say, The Edge or Edgerton's (Toronto's prime new wave and punk venue) wasn't. A band could mix in other media - like video and performance. Although this all started to confuse the music geeks who came down just for the bands. But...the Cabana Room continued booking some cabaret-styled performances and video screenings into 1980. Perhaps not completely ironically, shit also happened within the art world or "community", and this shit was pretty much the end of the Cabana Room being perceived as a safe venue for performers (female, queer) and not just another yahoo bar. By the time of the massive baths raids of 1981, the Cabana Room was still a sort of default bar for many downtown artists' activities, but many others had moved on.

 

Now...are we using the word queer to cut across and between different sexualities rather than as a synonym for gay or lesbian?  I guess we are, so I think the Cabana Room was an ancestor of today's Gladstone or possibly the earliest days of The Cameron House, in that it was initially safe and encouraging to both boys and girls (and men and women for that matter). It was live-music but also performance-oriented. I guess there might be considered an anticipation of the West End Queer Scene, as opposed to Church-Wellesley. There are age differences in play, and also income differences.

 

One of the attractions of "queer" rather then gay is of course that the word can move across and in-between genders (and accommodate a plurality of genders). I support this fluidity, yet I am sometimes put off by "queer" being used as oppositional to "gay". Sometimes I get a sense that certain people may be celebrated as queer but others are dismissed as merely gay, whether personally or in terms of their work. For example, if queer refers to polymorphous and performative role-playing, then AIDS lies outside of this terrain. AIDS is not exactly weirdly and wonderfully perverse - it is wretched. And AIDS is certainly not strictly a gay (male) concern, but it was gay men who immediately identified the epidemic and who continue to be prominent in dealing with AIDS as a manageable syndrome of illnesses rather than an automatic death sentence. Sometimes I hear "queer" rather than "gay" as an age differentiation, or an ageist dismissal. I know a local female bisexual filmmaker who states that "queer" is synonymous with "bisexual", which implies that strictly same-sexers are only gay. I personally find this attitude homophobic.

 

Queerness and the artistic? Well, "artistic" has in the past been one of those buzz or code words - your uncle is "artistic" (and also a confirmed bachelor). Are we equating queer and artistic with being beyond bean-counter accountability, and ultimately beyond labels? Is "queer" a beyond-label that has of course become a label? Are both queer and artistic excuses for being beyond morality, or ethics? Wilde once stated that there is only good art and bad art, but I 'm inclined to read Wilde's surface apolitical snobbery as a defiance of class-strictures regarding who should have access to beauty and leisure and everything else that is gloriously useless - like art. But... here's my traditional lefty Puritanism raising its head. I generally have difficulties with aestheticism, with any belief that the artistic trumps everything or that gifted individuals can do whatever they want at the expense of others. Egalitarian politics has never fit comfortably with either aestheticism or queerness. Class is a terrain that I feel is often neglected or dismissed in cultural and queer circles. Not everybody can afford to be fabulous, although (back to Wilde - that queer Irish socialist) one needn't be nobility or royalty if one has a great eye and knows where the good thrift shops are.

 

In Grammar & Not- Grammar by Gary Kibbins, a YYZ volume that I edited, Steve Reinke interviews Gary Kibbins and they discuss parallels between artists and children. Reinke observes that all the images of the artist that Kibbins posts or describes share one thing in common: that the artist is never completely integrated into the adult social world (p.227). Steve makes it clear that he himself doesn't believe this but, supposing the artist is in fact never really comfortable in the adult social world, then the artist is free to do whatever the hell he or she wants to do. Certainly some artists do perpetuate these mythologies of the willingly irresponsible artist. So do divas of all stripes and persuasions. But I don't think extended infantilism is particularly queer. It might be the pre-sexual in visible conflict with compulsory heterosexuality, come to think of it. Self-acknowledged queerness involves at least some degree of sociality, unless one's erotic stimulus is the closet itself. Having said all this, there are individuals who are too obviously artistic or aesthetic or visibly queer to be completely and/or comfortably integrated into a working functional adult world, although there are also many who punch time clocks and then switch their gears.

 

I think of the 1940s to 1960s in New York artistic circles (Warhol  being an obvious exception, and there are of course others - Jack Smith if we're including film) and I think of hyper-masculinity, and of course abstraction., Pop art to a certain extent superseded abstractionism, and pop art engaged with popular culture. Abstractionism was belligerently modernist while pop at least hedged on post-modernism. In Toronto in the late seventies, parallel to New York in the earlier period, there were either tensions or else simply separate existences for the modernist artists and the post-modernists and social artists. General Idea, Campbell, Buchan, and others liked to dance - they liked to mix up high and lower cultures. So, it seemed there was this dichotomy between pomo/homo/queer, and modernist straight. But... if we're looking to go beyond labels, then we're looking to move beyond representation and that tends to lead to abstractionism. So... are we thinking what could ultimately be queerer than hyper-masculine abstractionists? I mean, I like colour-field painting for parallel reasons as to why I like a lot of pop - namely, those colours. What if Newman and Rothko had used outrageously excessive colours? What if there were this great tension between minimalist forms and maximum colours? Now this is a terrain that I find very exciting. Abstraction is sexy, because sex is so abstract.

 



 

MH: I'd like to ask you about dating experimental novelist Kathy Acker. Known for her aggressive prose liftings and theory porn novels, I was surprised to learn that one of her earliest amours was P. Adams Sitney who introduced her to what was then named Underground Film. Perhaps these small scenes did not require the strict segregation they have pursued in the meantime. Did this liaison spark literary ambitions of your own?

 

AJP: Well, Mike, I'm not sure there's one big significant detail regarding Kathy Acker - I mean, my involvement with her was nearly thirty years ago. I think that, from talking with her and reading her novels of the period - The Black Tarantula and Toulouse Lautrec - I did pick up something about writing as being as much about editing and/or collage as about actual writing. Kathy Goes to Haiti, which she described as an exploitation knock-off, influenced me simply by the idea of setting up genre-fiction and then interrupting it - editing in seemingly disparate elements. Not unlike Godard's mid-to-late sixties films, where a melodrama or noir thriller would be superseded by documentary elements or even terrorist moments. I think the cutting between analysis and expressionism - even autobiography - was influential to many people. She could be both autobiographical and simultaneously problematizing ideas of fixed-self or singular identity. Acker's writing was not unlike experimental film, as Kika Thorne pointed out in her video Kathy Acker in School, with its montage of original expressionist content and documentation - with its editing rhythms. Later on, it was easy to correlate elements of Acker's writing with eighties artists like Sherrie Levine, who were quite candidly plagiarizing canonical works and thus claiming authorship - claiming the works as well as the artist's credit. Kathy was unique as an artist shamelessly collaging and mixing disciplines which so many people think belong to different worlds - writing, visual arts, film, performance, and punk music. When I knew her, this was when the No New York post-punk scene was becoming pretty high-profile - The Contortions, DNA, Mars, Lydia Lunch. Kathy knew these people, and then she had her literary scene, which she felt pretty ambivalent about but also very committed to. Pretty well every interdisciplinary artist I've known has felt alienated by purist attitudes.

 

I hadn't been in touch with her when I was informed of her death, which depressed the hell out of me. The artist Susan Kealey phoned me so that I wouldn't be reading the morning paper and then freaking. Kathy had been in Toronto a bit over a year previous to her death - at the Toronto International Writer's Festival. I was supposed to meet her at LIFT, as were other people like Louise Bak and Eldon Garnet. And then also Kika Thorne, who shot her interview with Kathy the same night. The recording light was on at LIFT, so I did not barge in and interrupt. And I was not well-connected in those days, the mid-nineties. I was rather Luddite - not on-line. So I was out of a lot of the loops, and I didn't know about her cancer. I wish I had connected with Kathy in the eighties and nineties, maintained contact and friendship and dialogue, but there we go. Ships Passing, as the expression goes.

 

But I do remember intense discussions and bantering arguments we had. We used to argue over Beckett and Robbe-Grillet - I was pro and she was con. Kathy was of course really into Burroughs - Beckett once dismissed Burroughs as being "editing" and not "writing". Hmmm. She didn't like a lot of the au courant German writers and German film-directors - that was all their guilt and not hers. Fassbinder was not her cup of tea. Too slow - Kathy was not into "real time". I remember going to see Herzog's (adapted from Peter Handke) The Enigma of Caspar Hauser with Kathy and she strongly disliked it. The next day we went to see The Warriors, and we snuck in for a second screening. She thought The Warriors was much more like it. She was writing a book called Girl Gangs Take Over The World at that time - so there was a connection here.

 

In the fall of 1979, I was in New York with The Government, and there were lulls between gigs. Money was tight, and I fortunately could stay at various friends' places and lay low. I would not go out for a couple of days - I would stay in and read. I personally remember being quite influenced by Susan Sontag's I Etcetera. The point-by-point writing influenced me - one could skip plots and use a diary form while keeping up a formal schematism or symmetry. One could segue from an observation to another observation. This blending of fiction and documentary really excited me. In later 1979 and into 1980 I kept a diary and flirted with the idea of mixing barely disguised social comings-and-goings with other observations. Some of these writings appeared in IMPULSE magazine - commencing in 1979. Eldon Garnet - the editor and publisher of IMPULSE- was very encouraging here. I also wrote for FILE, and for FUSE. I was rather shameless about writing for different publications, which didn't always hold a high regard for each other. There were parallels and differences between the lyrics I was writing for The Government and these pieces of what Jeanne Randolph (a writer and critic I seriously admire) calls ficto-criticism. Meanwhile, The Government was rising and then falling, and many new tunes were instrumentals. Some people blend music and words very well into one entity. I was never very good at that. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I consider emotion to be non-verbal. There are so many gorgeous pieces of music that are mercifully spared the embarrassment of words attempting to represent the emotions that are already there. Also, I love aural wallpaper, and words all too frequently suggest meaning - all too obvious meaning.

 

Thinking back more than twenty-five years ago, I think the main reason I let The Government slide was the fact that I'd begun to consider myself more of a prose writer than a verse writer. But I was also into film. My novel The Disposables began as a film-script. I loosely borrowed plot elements from different sources, but primarily Antonioni's The Passenger, with the idea of finding someone dead and then assuming their identity. The Picture of Dorian Gray also filters in here, as does pulp fiction and Chandler. The decomposing pop star - Richard Monitor - is intended as a Bowie-type figure. I had projected onto Bowie's Berlin period - particularly Low, which at its time anyway seemed to violate many of the rules of the pop music world. It seemed to be a withdrawal.

 

On the Labour Day weekend of 1983, I entered the Three Day Novel Writing Contest and jigged my script-in-progress as a pulp novel. I used cheap uppers and all of that. Of course, I didn't win the prize, but I decided to keep tweaking the thing - writing a good novelette rather than a three-day quickie. I was thinking Cornell Wollrich filtered through Robbe-Grillet. I liked to milk the fact that so many French intellectuals were keen on American noir - that Camus allegedly based L'etranger on James M. Cain etcetera. Godard factored in here, of course. I actually bought the Lionel White book that Godard adapted for Pierrot Le Fou, it was actually titled Obsession and I found it at Abelard Books for twenty-five cents. I think a slippage between fiction and documentary was a tall part of the appeal with American pulp novelists - the characters are so thin the lines between fiction and autobiography get blurry. The writing veers between these poles, and not all that self-consciously. Of course, many of the American pulp writers considered to be so verite by certain French intellectuals were alcoholics who had deadlines and who didn't take kindly to editing.

 

During this time-frame, I was rather lost at sea. The Government was kaput, and I still thought about making records if not live music. I did make a couple of videotapes which I'm not crazy about - I'd been reading quite a bit of Screen theory about melodrama and its redemptive possibilities, and also Laura Mulvey, and I wanted to make videos from melodramatic stories or situations. I really wanted to make films, but that would have been a much bigger budget and scale of operation etcetera. And I was working on The Disposables. I read from it at Art Metropole in May of 1985, as a tag to Six Days Against Censorship. Christina Ritchie had asked me to do this after hearing about my testing the waters with this text in the back of Theatre Passe Muraille earlier that winter. And... the Art Metropole reading led to A.A. Bronson wanting to publish it. If I recall correctly, he also wished to reprint his novel Justine, for which he had taken the nom de plum of A.A. Bronson. Mixing up pulp with correspondence and visual arts, that was the idea.

 

Anyway, The Disposables was published in December 1986 and launched the following January, and it was all a bit of a whirlwind. There was a bit of a flourish, and then a denouement. There was a lot of activity, but it all happened in a sort of vacuum. I thought The Disposables was like an airport book - one buys it and reads it on a plane, but there's a sour taste afterwards. It's actually not disposable. That's also not Art Metropole's distribution system, needless to say. I realize that another influence on the book had been an earlier videotape I made at The Western Front in Vancouver back in 1980 called Basic Motel - in which an errant pop star person hid out in an anonymous hotel but was recognized by the room service woman. I did insert that episode into the novel. So there's already a repeat pattern here - oscillating between popular culture and hermetic modernism, or between being a public person or persona and being anonymous.

 

I realize now that The Disposables overlapped with a performance piece I did called The Strange Case of Norman Desmond, also about a decomposing pop star. I adapted this performance for video in 1987 - with the title of Immortality - and it featured many witnesses testifying (both in documentaries and performative senses of this word) about the iconic Norman and of course contradicting each other as well as themselves. Many people thought Immortality was an adaptation of the book - it is true that I was working within a rather narrow set of references here. Immortality is either completely unwatchable, or else so obsessive that it transcends self-conscious camp. I'll let completists be the judges here.

 

During 1988, I remember trying to write a screenplay. I had a weird answering service for a while, and not an answering machine, and I fantasized about answering service people spying on and conjecturing about their clients. Yes...another Rear Window derivative. I actually took it to Telefilm, but of course a producer's commitment is necessary. I abandoned this piece. I can't even remember its title. Later during that weird wasted year, I recall starting to read a lot of cyberpunk and political science/satire. I'd get Philip K. Dick confused with Richard Condon, and I wound up writing the script for my videotape Who Killed Professor Wordsworth. After shooting that video in 1989 and completing it in 1990, I was again lost at sea or in space. I tried to novelize that script - I remember thinking about the Peter Fitting character who only speaks body to body when money is involved. I got stuck thinking about that character's sex life. I figured he'd be into trade, and then I thought he couldn't be because he was such a control freak and trade is not ultimately for control freaks. I got stuck on this and other points.

 

In between video projects - during periods when I'm not sure what let alone if I wanted

to shoot or adapt or collage or whatever - I have a tendency to assign myself writing projects with the intention of getting them published. But I don't know the publishing "community" in Toronto very well. In the aftermath of The Disposables, I became very aware of a separation between literary, visual arts, and film/video worlds (not that any of these are homogenous worlds to being with). But anyway, in 1993 I'd finished Pink In Public, I'd shot Controlled Environments and was sitting on it because I wasn't sure what to do with it - I thought it needed more than just the split-screen self-performance since it has originally been intended to be more than that - and I also started writing a novelette involving these this mismatched gay male couple. One was older from the ghetto; one was younger with a punk edge. Somebody might read that the one gentleman was gay and the other chap was queer, but that's a debate in itself. One didn't give a toss about a sexually-undefined artist who got stung with obscenity charges (this would be in 1994 and clearly referring to the Eli Langer/Mercer Union debacle), while the younger one saw the bigger picture. I abandoned this writing - it was too schematic. Like, what was this mismatched couple doing together in the first place? I was writing in a naturalistic-enough mode that plausibility questions such as this were completely relevant. But...after finishing Controlled Environments as a self-performance video and having some play and feedback with it, I felt I'd boxed myself into a corner where video art was concerned. I felt there was no returning to the more hybrid-dramatic- documentary model I'd used with Who Killed Professor Wordsworth and Pink in Public. I started writing a short-film script, which struck out with the Toronto Arts Council in 1997 but which I adapted as one of the short stories I was writing between 1998 and '99 in a projected anthology called Filter Tipped. It's the one about the carnivorous William Burroughs writer-figure who hunts his own food and who orders his junk electronically - a hermit who fascinates a neighbour who is a blocked writer. Between 1996 and 1999, I was seriously into writing. I wasn't into video art or film.

 

Yes, a fair bit of the years between fall 1996 and spring 1998 was spent writing an unpublished novel called Systems and Corridors.  It's sort of a murder investigation or mystery (the default plot), but it's socio-political etcetera. It concerns the strange relationship between a riot grrl type who resumes her post-secondary education and her Lit Crit professor. His name is Barry Ferguson, and he's an academic star. I made him a weird cross between Camille Paglia and Pierre Trudeau - post-nationalist and post-identity politics. Too aggressively post-everything for his own good. Underneath it all, of course, Barry's rather traditional. He's into trade and that seems to explain his being murdered. But of course that's the too easy scenario, so it goes on. The captivated bisexual riot grrl becomes like Nancy Drew crossed with maybe Jodie Foster, or someone like that. At a key point, Nancy has to switch her operation to Vancouver, both in relation to the case and because of romance.  Systems and Corridors is a big sprawling mess - maybe a ruthless editor could wrench something out of it, I don't know. I did send it to a couple of publishers, and it was rejected. One opined too talky and too much description - show don't tell. Well, this publisher was of course quite correct. Beth Follett of Pedlar Press asked me why I had a girl protagonist (although POV's get rather shifty as the thing grinds on and on). Hmmm... perhaps a way of flirting with autobiography but disguising it? Systems and Corridors is fiction frequently collapsing into documentary. The Pierre Trudeau allusion is interesting - it predates John Greyson's Uncut. I had been doing a side job - making soundtrack music for VideoCabaret's production of Trudeau and the FLQ. I got very pissed off about pseudo-post-Quebec-nationalist CBC federalism etcetera. People who are post-everything concerned with identities but actually liberal-capitalists. So a lot of that anger bled into Systems and Corridors, as well as my own being a candidate for renouncing my own riot boy history and going back to school (which I never did).

 

In 1998 I began a projected volume of short-stories collectively titled Filter Tipped. Some characters appear in one story and then appear differently in another. They are linked by a sort of theme of dysfunctional families (or quasi-family units or even that dreaded word "communities"). Queer siblings and offspring etcetera. One was adapted from an aborted short-film script. I think, during this period, I really began separating what I think belongs on the page and what belongs on celluloid or videotape or whatever media. I began to feel the really interesting filmmakers and video artists were the ones working with both text and image, but not in obvious synchronization. The relationship between image and sound was not spelled out for the audiences - audiences had the obligation but also the pleasure of connecting some dots. I think of quite a few people here - Chris Marker, Su Friedrich, Gary Kibbins, Steve Reinke, others. I had been thinking in these terms about a couple of earlier projects - Controlled Environments had originally been intended to have the two bureaucrats as a recurring motif amid location footage. I'd applied to the TAC with a loose Super-8 (which I'd never worked in before) proposal titled The Trouble With Oscar Wilde, about class issues in "the gay community" and pundits who reduce Wilde to upper-class snobbery. This script was rejected, but it led to my 2002 short film The Headmaster's Ritual, and also influenced The Walking Philosopher (1999-2001), which were both invitational from Splice This - the annual super-8 festival run by Laura Cowell and Kelly O'Brien. The picture and the voice-over moved together but were also often at odds.

 

In 1999 I began to feel that I'd found different approaches to film and video for myself. Both the photographic black and white Super-8 tracking films and the more painterly works with original and found graphics. My friend Michael Balser, who was a very interesting artist and a lovely man, was helpful and encouraging with the latter mode of work. I learned about image-processing and creating little QuickTime movies to be edited together from Michael. I learnt about working without cameras and without being overly dependent on production and post-production facilities. But I was also doing a lot of writing during these years. I wanted to create something that could cross some borders, get outside of or beyond restricted audiences, and not make me rich or anything but have something that kept on trickling in. I'd mentioned to the writer Michael Turner that I'd considered adapting Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black to a successful rock-band situation (ghosts of my history that will never be successfully buried). This was in late 2001. So I  threw myself into writing this novelette - something that could have crossed a couple of markets or whatever. "Barry Sullivan" is the name of the protagonist's replacement when the band Circumference becomes hugely successful - the protagonist seeks out the band members individually and arranges for their deaths. He keeps changing identities, occupations, everything. Turner told me he had launched a subsidiary of Arsenal Pulp Press called Advanced Editions, and why didn't I send him a first draft. So The Ghost Wore Many Colours or A Ghost of Many Colours or Whichever is that first draft with a bit of subsequent tweaking. Turner wanted it to be based in Toronto - to not be international with roots in London - editor's insistences that could have been negotiated or dealt with. But Advanced Editions didn't sustain, and this novelette has been gathering dust for six or seven years now. I suppose there are people I could have sent it out to, but I haven't. I don't know the literary and sub-literary worlds of Toronto - let alone outside Toronto. I feel I'm too old for what they're all looking for. I feel I'm not Literary, but also not trendy. 

 

Yes, during the fist two or three years of the twenty-first century I was doing more writing than making moving pictures, and the writing was intended to move me outside or beyond a limited art audience or whatever. I wrote a volume of short stories called Cats and Their Perks - all involving felines and more dysfunctional relationships. I was trying to cross a children's volume with Patricia Highsmith - whose novels and short stories I love. They are rather sadistic - especially the short stories like The Animal Lover's Tales of Beastly Murders - tales of murder and revenge by cats and dogs and other allegedly harmless critters.. The writer Lynn Crosbie was working at Insomniac Press in early 2002 - she told me there was some interest in my cat stories but nothing followed through. I also wrote Ships Passing during that time-frame. Ships Passing started as A, B, C,D,E, F,G, and H - H standing for "home". I'm working here again with murder mysteries - with the wrongly accused plot being applied to a milieu I know somewhat - the art world and the media. The novel is about social people and their anti-social doppelgangers, and more more more. It's about gossip and gossip columnists and modernist brats. Having the macho abstract painter being revealed as a bathhouse denizen...well, you never know who you might bump into and even more down in the basement or in the dark. I might want to revisit that manuscript, but I haven't sent it out to anybody. It's a bit after the fact now, right? But I didn't see the point of encouraging probable rejection. I do know that many publishers don't even read anything unsolicited, or without an agent.

 

In early 2003, Pleasure Dome asked me what I was working on, and I told them that I had yet to complete a videotape called Mono Logical, which was originally intended to be seven self-performed monologues. I sat on that project for a bit, as I realized it needed more than just the self-performance. I hit on the idea of mixing the seven live monologues (all quite different definitions of monologue) in with a cut-and paste format of my works. I could use the good parts and delete the not-so-good-parts. I went out with my Super-8 friend Milada Kovacova and shot some Super-8 location stock for me to perform against. I thought of Jack Smith here, with his live performance against film stock performances. I premiered Mono Logical in November of 2003, and I've presented it in other locations since. Each time for every presentation, I change the mix - especially with regards to new and shorter work. The works under five minutes - like Snowjob (2001) and Headmaster's Ritual (2002-3) and D.O.A./Remake/Remodel (2005) -  I leave intact, but the others I cut up and edit. And since 2004, I've been quite prolific. I've upgraded my image-manipulation skills and editing skills. I've taken advantage of some free hours at Trinity Square Video that came along with a Lifetime membership. So...most of what I've been making in the last five years has been media-art (which included writing and also music). But I haven't closed the book on writing and publishing. I did some editing for YYZBOOKS. Money, Value, Art - which I co-edited with Sally McKay - overlaps with many of my video texts (Cash and Carry and Controlled Environments particularly, as I've always been obsessed with tensions between state-cultures and individual artist-initiatives and imaginations.). I still think about words on pages, and which words on which pages. I'm not sure if all my video and film scripts would work on the page, but between those texts and my cultural writing I think I've accumulated enough for at least a good volume. And I haven't abandoned fiction.

 

At least, I'm not going to make a bald statement that I've abandoned fiction. However, I think my writing style is somewhere between tentative fiction and documentary. Whether in first or third-persons, I lapse into social commentary or observational writing where the distinction between a fictional POV and an authorial POV gets fuzzy. And I like that fuzziness, so.... I also like writing dialogue, but I'm not interested in writing for theatre or screenplays. Although Thom Sevalrud, one of the two main voice-performers in

The Enigma of S.A.P (2008), agreed with me over tea that that piece was like a radio-play plus images - an extension of my fondness for an almost-arbitrary relationship between sound and picture. There's an overriding question of whether scripts make sense strictly on the page - without images. With some moving-picture artists, they do - yourself, Campbell, Reinke, Gary Kibbins, others. Because I rely more on dialogue, much of my work might not fall into this category, which is more applicable to monologues. People or editors might wonder where the actors are - they need to see who is speaking and I deny them the convenience. But recently I've wanted to get away from the voice-over, and work with other voices,  so this is a bit of a conundrum.

 

Twenty-one years ago, I made a videotape titled Immortality. The subject of mortality is very much on my mind. I do wish to leave at least a few things for posterity.

 

MH: Can you talk about the genesis of The Walking Philosopher (3:30 minutes 2001)?

 

AJP: Well, Mike, I'd figured that you were going to be eventually asking me about individual works, but now here we go.

 

The Walking Philosopher was conceived and then shot in 1999. I had applied to the TAC with an idea for a Super-8 film called The Trouble with Oscar Wilde, which was to have used voice-over segments over location film stock. I wanted to use locations like The Granite Club, The Yacht Club, as well as sections of Rosedale, and The Church-Wellesley Village. I wanted to riff on class inequities, in and out of "the gay community". I wanted to riff about tensions between being fabulous and being functional. The voice-overs were not intended to be literally tied to the filmed neighbourhoods, but the text and the images were intended to formally compliment each other and thus set up further associations or dialogues.

 

My application was probably too vague, so it was rejected. But I found myself accepting an invitation from Splice This - Toronto's Super-8 festival - to make a film on the theme of "Flawed". This intersected with recurring self-conversations and also recent arguments with friends and even collaborators. One friend called me a capitalist for wanting to be paid in a particular context. I thought "yeah, right. Wanting to get paid for working makes me a capitalist. Right?" But... I had been detecting a mindset in which capitalism and Marxism (or even socialism) were two sides of the same coin. They were both strictly materialist, and thus missing the boat regarding psychology and aesthetics and other fascinating realms. So I found myself writing this monologue about thinking as not only a bodily act but a moving bodily act - a form of cruising in different senses of that verb. I think academics are sexy, and not only when they shut up. So this monologue which I titled The Walking Philosopher came to me quite readily, and I made a list of locations - Philosopher's Walk naturally, Convocation Hall, The Water Works out in The Beaches, the CN Tower, and the entertainment neighbourhood where there actually was a bar called Money. Money times five - just like The O'Jays. That's what's flawed about the walking philosopher - he is not wealthy or even comfortable and thus must think about money, because he does after all live in a material world. Then I had to make the film, but I was in luck. James MacSwain, who had been my lover and who remains a dear friend, was attending the 1999 Images festival and he was staying with me. I told him he could stay with me as on condition that he brought his Super-8 camera, and he came through. We went out and shot it one glorious spring morning- the first of May actually.

 I had intended to do an in-camera edit, but I kept accumulating more and more shots and set-ups so no way it was going to be an in-camera edit. It was a movie.

 

The Walking Philosopher was a departure from my earlier work, and not only in material terms. I was shooting - I was behind the camera and that is the movement in the film. This film is a series of moving pictures created by moving the picture - it's all tracking shots. Jim had a roll of indoor film, so I decided to shoot a film-noir interlude in the basement of the 401 Richmond building that I would up incorporating into the film. Milada Kovacova edited it all together for me - I am nervous with splices and sharp objects and she is a good editor and a generous friend. I showed The Walking Philosopher at Splice This, with the audio not on the film but on cassette, and it went over well. In early 2001, I decided to transfer the film to Beta and distribute it on video, incorporating the voice-over and the music. This film has seen some action - Inside Out programmed it and referred to it as a tour of Toronto's cruising sites. Well, yes, but I think much more. The Walking Philosopher references exchange systems - sexual, financial, and intellectual or philosophical. I know it played at Montreal's Festival du Nouveau Cinema in between Joe Gibbons and Donigan Cumming. Weighty company - perhaps it was a four and a half minute pee break? It was up on a website for Visible Cities - a York University project about people in different cities that Janine Marchessault has initiated, with branches in Helsinki and Havana. I suggested this film out of my body of works, as it is about moving and socializing in urban space if not a "creative city" - that horrible Richard Florida label. Sometimes I do have pretensions to being a flaneur.

 

It's probably noteworthy that many of my works between 1999 and 2007 were either residencies or responses to calls for submissions. I read these calls, and if they tweaked something that I already carried around in my head, and if I also come up with a visual strategy, then I wrote proposals. Between 1999 and 2005 I'd do Super-8 short films for Splice This, who always had a loose theme. I can't remember what their theme was in 2002, but it reactivated the Trouble with Oscar Wilde theme, which led to The Headmaster's Ritual (title courtesy of The Smiths). But this was conceived and executed as a small, local, and site-specific shoot. The Headmaster's Ritual was shot on the grounds of The Royal St. George's College, where I had attended high school. When I was a teenager there, it wasn't royal, but there were some rich kids who considered themselves royalty.

 

I made The Headmaster's Ritual in spring 2002, when the assassination of rightist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was very much in the news. The assassin turned out to be a militant animal-rights activist, not a fanatical homophobe let alone an Islamic jihadist or whatever. I found myself thinking about right-wing gay men - libertarians who equate sexual freedom and market freedom, but also flamboyant fascists. And this train of thought led me back to that school - with the right-wing Head Prefect who always played Margaret Rutherford in the drama-club and the Colonel Bogey headmaster. I hit on the idea of using a Xerox of Hitchcock to represent the old headmaster, and one of Wilde for the new headmaster who encouraged students to have fun. I'd heard rumours about Hitchcock getting off on public hangings, so there we go.  The film itself is like moving documentary photography, but it does have this hard-line monologue, which is I guess why some programmers have liked this piece. Between 1999 and 2005 I was relying a lot on the voice-over or monologue. I could use it performatively - to enter ideas into play without necessarily adhering to or condoning those ideas.  This is an extension of my interest in portrait-performance, which is neither acting nor non-acting. But I had also decided to remove my face and body from the picture, for the most part anyway.

 

 

MH: In Controlled Environments (33 minutes 1994) you play a pair of twin arts council bureaucrats caught in a series of seven conversations about the relation between artists and their audiences, the proposition that anarchy is the ultimate capitalism, propaganda versus art, and more. These split-screened talk backs offer an image of an arts community embroiled in itself, not only the video camera as digital mirror, but locked in a self-regarding embrace. Could you talk about how this project was developed?

 

AJP: Yes, Controlled Environments. This videotape consists of seven split-frame or screen conversations between arts bureaucrats A and B (echoing Warhol), both portrayed by myself with minimal dramatic or costume variation. A and B also switch monitor sides throughout the tape, which has confused people. But there is character distinction between A and B, Mike. I would opine that A is a resigned lifer or career-bureaucrat, and B is on the verge of losing it, or quitting. It is B who posits that only public art matters because it is at least visible outside art-world parameters - it is B who keeps challenging A for falling back into bureaucratic comfort zones.

 

This piece was written as a result of my own self-conversations regarding state-patronage and statism in general. However, those self-dialogues are themselves based on and even appropriated from dialogues with people both inside and outside of state-patronage systems. Probably because I might be considered a reformed entertainer, and also because of my lengthy history of service-sector employment, I know more people outside of and also hostile to state-patronage than many other artists do. I know people who believe in the market as the great leveller, and I know people who distrust state-apparatuses as being hegemonic and elitist. I've known people who make overtly "political" art who choose to stay outside of the granting or funding systems because those systems are, at least on the surface, apolitical and/or meritocratic. I've always lived with the contradictions of being in and out of state or provincial or even municipal systems. One can become rather schizoid here. I remember one day where my itinerary shifted from serving on the steering committee for a coalition concerned about cuts to the Power Plant (in the context of federal cuts to the Harbourfront Centre) to serving drinks at an opening for restaurant artists who couldn't give a shit about the Harbourfront crisis. Except... when I mixed among that latter crowd, I found that some of them actually did care - some of them actually did see the larger pictures.

 

So, Mike, I don't think the two bureaucrats in Controlled Environments are indicative of a self-contained "art community". I think these are two individuals who know where their bread is buttered, but who are also aware that their safety nets are under siege and quite likely to collapse. One must remember that these two characters are chatting to or arguing with each other during their off-hours, except that they don't really seem to have lives outside of their jobs. They are attached to each other, so to speak. One worries that the other has picked up the new boy on the job - one worries that the other drank too much as one of the Christmas parties and made a fool of himself. They are both concerned that their jobs will become redundant, and,  if arts bureaucracies become redundant, than so will many artists - those who work and live outside of "the market" and those who are experimenting with form for form's sake, and indeed many many more artists.

 

I remember, when I was about to exhibit Controlled Environments at YYZ in fall 1994, a reporter for XTRA interviewed me. I had piggy banked my "outing" video - Pink in Public - onto the programme at YYZ and the arts-editor at XTRA considered this tape the one relevant to "the gay community". (Perhaps Controlled Environments was relevant to "the art community"?). Anyway, the reporter's first question was as to how long I was going to remain an art or cultural bureaucrat. For whatever reasons, his interview or article wasn't published. However, here it occurred to me that "arts bureaucrat" for some might refer to anybody who can speak or negotiate the art lingo - to anybody who makes what has been referred to as "grant art". I often do perceive a resentment of "grant art", which I take to be a label referring to art that doesn't play in a particularly public realm or arena, or that doesn't compete in any market economies. I remember when there was the tempest about grand dames and arts patrons Joan Chalmers and Barbara Amesbury sending signals to one of their benefactors - the Ontario Arts Council - about the surplus of bad art getting funded. There was this reporter for NOW - Glenn Cooly - who'd been involved with The Purple Institute, a quasi-anarchist gallery/social space formerly on Gladstone Avenue. Cooly wrote in NOW (1996) that he'd have bet he wasn't the only person who'd enjoyed Thelma and Louise giving the finger to "grant art".

 

The Purple Institute factors into an earlier moment I recall, with another reporter (oh, those reporters!). I remember Christopher Hume, who used to be the art critic for The Toronto Star and who now writes on architecture, interviewing someone from The Purple Institute who trashed state or governmental funding as involving too much red tape and just being too damn slow. Hume ate these comments up; as they confirmed his own dislike of artist-run culture and practices that weren't to his taste (like video and performance arts). My self-dialogue in Controlled Environments about anarchy and capitalism has its roots here and in other similar moments. I remember the writer Dennis Cooper (Village Voice, date forgotten) stating that one of the great things about queer zines was that, since they were all anarchist or anarchic, was that they didn't publish endlessly whiny (Senator Jesse) Helms-bashing. But...there have always been schisms between people inside and people outside of the governmental funding systems. The word "governmental" I like - it refers to Michel Foucault's concept of "governmentality" - a pro-active or caring government that sees the state contributing to a healthier society rather than serving as a legitimizer of corporations and so on. And a healthier society certainly encourages a variety of artistic practices and discourses.

 

Okay - the self-embrace question. The mirror question? There was Rosalind Krauss writing about video art and narcissism. It is true that in the early days of the video medium there was not only the instant playback sensation but the pleasure of self-observation. It is true that I've never really enjoyed directly addressing audiences - that I prefer my face and body to be electronically mediated. I'm not terribly keen on live entertainment, or the performing arts. I prefer my viewing and listening options to be more "cool", without sounding too much like McLuhan. Whatever I am looking at or listening to intersects with things or ideas that are already in my brain or my psyche. Only something shockingly beautiful or outrageously abrasive is going to smash that pattern. Maybe something so politically direct that aesthetics get shoved into the back seat. One of the two bureaucrats in Controlled Environments (Mister B again) opines that most propaganda isn't meant or intended to be art. He is referring to a tendency for art with political content to become airbrushed or depoliticized, because that is what art worlds and art markets tend to do. Does this mean artists with political points to make (propaganda?) should bypass art systems? I wouldn't want to get locked into such a position, although I can certainly see why some avoid the art world. I can easily see somebody or some organization deciding that they are not artists - that they only make art for political events or actions. These are highly idiosyncratic personal decisions. But I'd like to emphasize that art with a political slant or message shouldn't be dismissed as being political and therefore not art, and I've seen that happen just as I've seen artist-run centres with narrow political agendas dismiss really interesting and aesthetically seductive art that doesn't wear an obvious political agenda on its sleeves. There's too much hinged here on just who is or are in power positions to make these sort of very problematic decisions.

 

I'm inclined to believe that my use of split-frame - in Controlled Environments and also Cash and Carry - allows for third, fourth, and even more different perspectives. If I portray both A and B, then my perspective might well be neither of A or B's perspectives. A viewer or listener hopefully will formulate their own perspectives here, with the two speakers communicating to each other but not to the viewer. I usually prefer to avoid or at least problematize communicative models - present some motifs that active viewers can take up and then play with.  If the two speakers are both myself, then neither of them are my self, so to speak.

 

Do I feel that my work is condemned to the familiar - to the same old art networks? Sometimes, yes I do. I'm not terribly well-connected anywhere else. But there are and have been exceptions. It did mean a lot to me when my regular grocers had seen Controlled Environments on YYZ-TV back in 1994 - there was a Rogers Cable option available to time-based artists showing at YYZ back then. I enjoy meeting strangers who have seen my work, and engaging in discourse with those strangers. And this isn't always in an art environment like an opening either in Toronto or on another centre. I think it's obvious that electronic media has changed vocabularies here. What an artist puts on the web, let alone You Tube or Facebook, is of course a wildly variant decision, but more and more work does become available to surfers and others. Some of these others even post comments, and pass the clips on to others. I don't think I'm necessarily preaching to the converted, Mike. In fact, I don't think I'm preaching. Perhaps in a couple of older works that misfired, but not in recent work. Something like AIDS Has Not Left the Building was admittedly originally made for a context (Pride Video) in which I thought the subject of AIDS had to be moved from the back burner back to the front table, but I don't think this tape is preachy - it posits a situation and then the ball is in the viewer's court. That piece was intended for public venues rather then galleries, although it has played in both. Some artists do divide their work into gallery and non-gallery categories - that is a possible option if one wants their work to be more publicly visible. What this may or may have to do with "the market" is another series of questions, to put it mildly.

 

For video artists, and even experimental filmmakers, the other ghost option is television. I have been involved in projects that assert that many artists' tapes and films make as much sense on television as does most of the crap that's already on television. Between 1990 and 1993, I was involved with a project produced by Trinity Square Video called Artists' Television (or ATV, although the acronym became problematic). This project was roughly an hour's duration, and it eventually contained seventeen clips from seventeen artists plus artist's statements. It had been initiated by a workshop co-ordinator at Trinity named Pat Jeffries, then it became reconfigured with Judith Doyle directing, plus there were three programmers. I was one of the programmers - the other two were Michael Balser and Betty Julian. The programme was completed in winter 1993, and intended for both television and educational outlets. It got stuck in red tape, unfortunately. This compilation was conceived on the premise that all of the works excerpted could indeed comprise "television". It was quite activist-heavy and documentary-heavy - there were excerpts from four works from the series Toronto Living with AIDS which had been initiated by Michael Balser and John Greyson through Trinity Square Video and broadcast by Rogers Cable, until Rogers Cable indulged in a really trite act of censorship over some relatively vanilla sexual content in one programme. When dealing with networks, there was always that conveniently ill-defined term "broadcast quality", this of course is flexible and flexed by those in power positions to do the flexing. Artists' Television was assembled about the same time as a video programme - a series - that Peggy Gale curated for TVO. I'm afraid that I can't remember the name of this series. I  know that programme, being a series, utilized complete works - one being Paul Wong's Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade, which is a good creative personal documentary-essay not without political content .  Like Artists' Television, Peggy's series also included more formal and even conceptual works - generally higher-end and closer to appearing to be  of "broadcast quality". In the eighties and into the early nineties, a lot of video artists and indeed experimental filmmakers thought a lot about television. I think that has changed, for a variety of reasons. But I can only speak for myself here. 

 

I must admit, Mike, that I hadn't heard the phrase "broadcast quality" for eons until the other week, when Stephane Dion's response concerning Stephen Harper's proroguing of elected parliament was deemed to be unsuitable for the publicly-owned CBC and the privately-owned CTV networks. Here, the problematic term is clearly synonymous with "incompetent". Do we want this man leading any sort of governing coalition when he can't even make a videotape suitable for airing on anything other then You Tube? Ironically, You Tube and Facebook and My Space and others have changed the vocabularies of exchange and exhibition. I have made works strictly for this sort of "public space" that are different from what might be suitable for galleries, let alone broadcasting. My works over the last decade have all been pretty low-res - either Super-8 or Photoshop into Final Cut Pro. Many of them don't even use cameras - they are composed from original graphic still images that reference colour-field painting, which I love. For some time, I've seen myself as being as much a visual artist as a media-artist. But...that's just me.

 


I wrote the initial monologues for Mono Logical in late summer 2000 - what was I doing then that might have prompted this?  I was working on Money Value Art with Sally McKay, I was waiting for a breakthrough on this Pleasure Dome commission that became Snowjob (2001), I was thinking a lot about words in relation to pictures and also to video-framing. I had been a contributor to an anthology of artists working with language edited by the artist John Marriott - titled I've Got to Stop talking to Myself. There are artists in the book I'm flattered to have any association with - Reinke, Susan Kealey, Laurel Woodcock, Luis Jacob, Tom Dean, others. There was no work in particular that made me think yes talking works on video if it's a particular portraitive performance mode of address rather than "acting", but of course there were predecessors like Colin Campbell and Lisa Steele. Maybe Alex Bag, who portrayed a sort of permanent art-student, and who reminded me of both Colin and Susan Britton. I had written about Pleasure Dome's history of presenting performative film and video in LUX (2000, eds. Steve Reinke and Tom Taylor, Pleasure Dome & YYZBOOKS). I also used to love film noir - with its tightly clenched voice-overs that were often contradicted by or simply not quite right with the pictures. This obviously influenced The Disposables (published Art Metropole, 1986).

 

Two of the initial monologues in Mono Logical were not conventional voice-overs - one consisted of three twenty-six word poems and one was originally intended to be a "free jazz" fake saxophone solo. That was intended to be commenting on the vocal quality of expressionist music, and also the fact that some emotions are best expressed non-verbally. I've always thought religious musicians had their templates - Coltrane and Bach. I get bugged by people about not playing music anymore and I think "Maybe I should wear all white and go religious and play jazz. Ha ha". The first couple of Mono Logical performances, I improvised on guitar over a backing track, and I performed with my back to the audience a la Miles Davis - one of the ur-modernists of all time. KIT was intended as a thumb to people who still wanted a Government reunion. I eventually wrote seven twenty-six word alphabetical poems - running of course from A to Z. These seven poems are now part of a recent video called 12 x 26 - the seven twenty-six word poems and five twenty-six frame sequences of twenty-six images - plus a sequential twelve-tone soundtrack, beginning with A and ending with G#. 

 

But why do I keep returning to the monologue? Why was I attracted to monologues to begin with? Probably many contradictory reasons. For starters, probably my ambivalence about academia and academic discourse. I've always been fascinated by that grey zone between public lectures or papers and speaking in tongues - academics who ultimately talk because they are compelled to talk for the sake of talking. In Who Killed Professor Wordsworth (1989-90), I am referencing Arthur Kroker as well as Bob Barker; the host of The Price is Right. Kroker was hardly the only academic star of his era who seemed to be a barely-disguised monologist or even performance artist. But...my interest in monologue has similar roots to my fondness for self-dialogue. Self-dialogue allows contradictory positions of which neither is actually mine, but the positions are I feel worth positing or entering into play. The monologues also explore perspectives that ultimately I don't agree with but which I do entertain. The fourth monologue in Mono Logical is an example here. I didn't originally write this from a cop's point-of-view, but when I decided to do the live Mono Logical presentation in 2003 I decided to bring it out by wearing a cop uniform. I realized that my dislike of random elements in public space was arguably a cop's perspective. The actual monologue, if I delete the cop-identification segments, is ambiguous. I have ambiguous feelings about public space. Often I prefer that public space be neutral or anonymous, with all the excesses internal rather than external. It is space I must negotiate to reach destinations, and I don't like public space to be noisy and characterized by random factors let alone Temporary Autonomous Zones. If I were heading to work at a boring job or to a medical appointment, I would have a low tolerance for buskers and proselytizers and bad public art or performance groups. But sometimes the same offenders remind me that life isn't always like Kafka or, heaven forbid, Orwell. The monologues in Mono Logical contradict each other and even themselves. There is the Internet professor who thinks public lectures are obsolete; then there is the student who enjoys potential random factors that can happen in public lectures and also in public (not controlled) environments - that character is a budding walking philosopher methinks. There's the Green Light Kid who can't even drive. I never got my licence, so there we go. And then there's the town crier or the priest, who simultaneously condemns and forgives a sizable litany. I was thinking Johnny Rotten or John Lydon as a priest - which actually he is, come to think of it.

 

My preference for monologues also comes out of my interest in media-works where the sound and picture elements are not obviously connected or in synch. In a video like Eating Regular (2004) I suppose I could have written dialogue, but with the speakers being invisible. After Cash and Carry (1999) I thought I'd exhausted the visible self-dialogue thing, in which I might as well be visible since it's obviously my own voice anyway. I would say that Steve Reinke was an influence here, although I have a very different voice than he does, and he's rarely visible in his tapes although his writing is very often performative.  I should mention a couple of theatrical influences - Samuel Beckett, and also Daniel MacIvor. But he's a very good actor, and I don't claim to be that. I present texts, and wear costumes to create associations. Another source for me using voice-overs is film noir. DOA/Remake/Remodel (2005) was made for Splice This on a submission theme of Remakes, so I borrowed the plot and the voce-over motif from the 1950 movie D.O.A., in which the narrator has been poisoned and he has to get the poison out of his system as well as find out who put it there. I also think that I am a prose writer and not a naturally poetic writer of verse or stanzas - when I've written "poetry" it's actually rather anti-poetic. It's a formalist language exercise like the twenty-six word poems.

 

Much of my recent work has moved away from the monologue, although I used the final monologue of Mono Logical as performed in Winnipeg in fall of 2006 as the audio-base of Damned and Forgiven (2007), in which the live performance is also a base or a ghost. I used dialogue in both Rectangular World (2006) and The Enigma of  S.A.P. (2008), and employed other voices. Both tapes could in fact be radio-plays, but with original graphics that reference modernist painting and sculpture. Rectangular World is a phone conversation after an art opening, and the Enigma of S.A.P. is a conversation at an art opening. These are worlds that I have been writing and commenting about for some time now.

 

Both dialogue and the performative monologue appeal to me because I am not the world's most decisive person. I'll stake out a position and then see the flaws in that position. I would make either a terrible or simply a typical politician. Self-performance of dialogue and monologue admits that the contradictory attitudes or positions are the writer's own, even though they are not the writer's actual stances of positions. But they could be - they are in the writer's imagination - they could be autobiographical, or be flirting with is it autobiographical or is it not. When I am an audience member, I am often attracted to passages that are uncomfortable - that violate the protocols of conventional entertainment. I enjoy this ambiguity. Some of my pieces that are perhaps less successful than others might be too murky for audiences as to whether or not some of the monologues are autobiographical. Perhaps some tapes, such as Eating Regular, are perceived as crossing that line. There has of course been a tradition of the personal being political, and I would counter that far too often the personal is just the personal. But I am attracted to that uncomfortable zone in which something is not obviously dismissed as fiction or invention - that something might have indeed occurred or happened to the person speaking. That something which might seem like shtick is actually serious.

 

I like the argument form as used in Controlled Environments (1992-4). The sixth dialogue - Anarchy - is one in which one party takes a strong position (that anarchy is just another word for capitalism) that I have been known to subscribe to but which I am uncomfortable about subscribing to. Is this an intellectual argument, or is this my fear and distrust of freedom - my own as well as that of others? Is this indicative of my rather low opinion of humanity? The second party in this dialogue disagrees with the first party, but their argument goes nowhere because they are both locked into their positions. These arguments are the stuff of life, and I carry them around in my head both night and day. 

 

When Pleasure Dome asked me what I was working on, in early 2003, Mono Logical was on the burner. I'd been awarded a small grant to make a tape of the seven monologues, and I'd decided that the performance aspect wasn't enough. I had once thought of doing a talk-show parody tape in which I either contextualized or disowned excerpts of my body of work, but those thoughts were back in the early nineties. However they resurfaced. Maybe Istvan Kantor's mix performance with live singing was an influence here - that had been in late 2002 in tandem with both Pleasure Dome and the 7a*11d Performance Festival (who co-sponsored Mono Logical in 2003). But I thought...why not use excerpts of my longer tapes, why not do like a DJ's mix or mash-up, and insert the monologues from Mono Logical, and shoot Super-8 films as backdrops for the live monologues (initially the first five). These are location Super-8s - they have varied somewhat from live presentation to presentation. The first, second, fourth, and fifth monologue Super-8 backdrops have been consistent - the Robarts Library steps, University of Toronto Quadrangle into Hart House courtyard, "troubled" locations like Yonge below Wellesley, the AIDS memorial in Cawthra Park, Allen Gardens, and the Armoury at Queen and Jarvis that could be a home for a lot of homeless people, and then also the Hydro Building at University and College. That building is big and imposing and inhibiting etcetera. I had a Super-8 accident at the Mountain Standard Time Performance Festival in Calgary in 2005, so I transferred all these films to Mini-DV and then started collaging them in Final Cut Pro. I eventually wish to make a Mono Logical video adaptation, but I'm currently unsure about some key details. Like, whether to return to using my own voice or to use others' voices? I vacillate a lot here.

 

I suppose I could sum up my attraction and/or dependence on the monologue format as having to do with its innate performativity, or its conceit. The form itself connotes posture, and it plays on twin but contradictory meanings of the word "testimony", like its cousin "testify", it is about witnessing.  However ... the recitation of that witnessing is also a performance, and therefore its veracity is always dubious. But, the conceit or licence is as engaging as one writes and/or presents it. 


 

MH: You mentioned once, in a late night whisper, that you are newly concerned with mortality. Perhaps you see your video work as a trace of the comet's trail, a legacy even, your growing body of work at once pronouncement and record. In the past few years your parents have died, can you talk about how that changed the way you think about your own death (or did it?)? What would you like to say to those who will come after you? If you got to choose, how would you like to be remembered?

 

AJP: Well...mortality? Yes, I did use the word - in reference to a desire to leave something behind for not only friends and acquaintances but also complete strangers. That makes me like a lot of people, and not only artistic types. I mean, I am aging and my bones are beginning to get creaky. My parents are both gone, and so are too many of my friends, although way too many of my friends died too young and too early. So...I don't really think my thinking about mortality is all that unusual, let alone morbid.

 

For many people or members of "the public", I am more of a figure from an earlier era than a person living and working in the here and now. That does of course often cause me to feel like the clock is ticking, and that there may well be one or two rather contradictory obituaries at the end of the line. I'm sure at least some of them will be fixated on the nineteen-eighties and, since I've been quite active in the decades since, that is reductive. However, eulogies and obituaries are reductive; or else, meandering.

 

Somebody might look at portions of my work and think there's a necrophiliac sense of morbidity. There's Immortality, there's Who Killed Professor Wordsworth - the subject figure in that work is arguably not dead because his videotaped dispatches are in omnipresent re-runs (and that 1989-90 tape was so analogue!). One of the performers in Immortality - David McLean - once told me that tape was like every obligatory AIDS memorial he'd ever attended, with a host of contradictory witnesses and their testimonies. Like...who owns the narrative? I mean, do you? Even while alive and healthy let alone after death? No, one doesn't own one's narrative. But, who doesn't think of eavesdropping on how your surviving friends (or enemies) construct your narrative when they think you're sleeping or even dead?

 

Those tapes are both in the eighties - the late eighties. One might also consider a twenty-first century work like D.O.A./Remake/Remodel as a death drive film. Or Rectangular World - again, we have people speculating about the cause and motivations behind a recent death. Are they friends or ghouls? Or, are they members of a "community"? When different people die, one sees different examples of "communities" that commemorate the loss, or claim the deceased. What about The Enigma of S.A.P. - what does happen after the mysterious art event explodes? There is an explosion and then a siren, so what does become of all those artists and scene makers trapped in that weird building? One might also consider a mid-nineties piece like Controlled Environments to have a death drive. There are tremors in the foundation - etcetera. That tape does refer to support structures that are characterized by their fragility and thus contain the seeds of their own downfalls or decompositions. But this is all narrative. One is born, one does things (plots things, makes things, makes plots), and then one dies.

 

My fascination with abstractionism might seem interesting in the context of death drives etcetera. Abstraction is all about molecular decomposition. The breakdown of everything figurative can be viewed as a decaying process, surely? If one gets more abstract than Malevich or even Ad Reinhardt, then we're talking about Voidland - Lullaby of Voidland. Perhaps that's why I resurrect the body now and then again. I just shot a Super-8 for the upcoming Eight Festival, and my body is in it- my body is back on film. And there is a camera. This film has a performative narrative - I run toward a trophy and caress it. The film is called Trophy Life, which is not the same as a charmed life although it could be. But...much of my work does progress toward a void. I'm sure that's my barely-concealed mysticism in play here. I'm sure it's my parallel need for the ultimate physicality and the need to move on to another world.

 

I'm certain there's a connection here with my fascination with flicker and flicker films. The single-frame editing rhythm is akin to what I experience when I think I'm going to fall asleep, or into a temporary death. I've tried to capture that very moment of losing consciousness when I've had a hard time falling asleep (which is not unfrequently); and of course this doesn't work because I'm too self-conscious about experiencing that exact fabulous moment. I have been around people in the final stages of their lives, when they oscillate rapidly from here to here to here. It's rapid-eye movement or R.E.M., which is flicker. It's Paul Sharits and Tony Conrad and others. The first video I ever made that used single-frame editing was Damned and Forgiven (although there is a flicker or blink effect throughout Rectangular World - it provides the lightning accompanying the audible thunder and rain). My intended mission, with Damned and Forgiven, was to cover the time between longer static images over the exhortations remaining from a documentation of the final monologue of Mono Logical. At the top of the tape, there are longer images filling the spaces between the frozen stills. I'd mathematically divide these spaces by five or six and then insert according to mathematical results. But...as the tape progressed, I'd shorten the lengths of the inserted images. Finally, I hit a point where single-frame montage was the obvious option - so obvious that it in fact wasn't an option. And here I got into flicker editing. I was ecstatic. This was a form of automatic writing and it was anything but mindless. It was logical and absurd - it was collage. I went to an opening after and drank four or five glasses of wine, and then fell asleep. I dreamed in flicker-mode. It was otherworldly.

 

So...you're asking about legacies or mythologies, or how I might like to be remembered? I'd prefer to be remembered by my work, as my life really isn't that unusual or interesting. Some people's lives are, but most are not. At least I've done quite a few things that I've enjoyed doing and I am proud that I've done them or made them, although it's not as if I have all that much to show for it. I'd be appalled if I were to be eulogized as some kind of singular-disciplinary artist, since I haven't been. Most artists, and a lot of people who aren't or who don't consider themselves to be artists, do have multiple or plural narrative trajectories. I think there is a tension in my body of work between what is anti-social and what is social, or even communitarian. But that's typical of so many artists and, especially I think, writers. And of course there are so many people who are diametrally opposite in temperament to the spirit of their body of work - all those romantic artists who were horrible people in real life. It's a cliché on top of a cliché, and the work was what attracted my attention in the first place.

 

I do see some continuity throughout my interdisciplinary career. Some of the formalism of my later videos is not unprecedented. As an example, in some of the early Government songs, I would take a faulty Xerox and then attempt to write music in the shape of that accidental image. I've always been interested in grids that decompose or else explode. That's also the freedom makes sense in the context of rigidity or even slavery syndrome. I love the statement Laura Marks wrote on the back cover blurb for Gary Kibbins' Grammar & Not-Grammar, which I edited for YYZ Books. Laura writes that "Freedom is paralysing, grammar is liberating". That sounds almost parallel to Sartre - one is condemned to freedom - , except it's more about there being freedom in discipline, and also how what people routinely consider to be freedom is nothing but arbitrary interchangeable options. My flicker fetish comes out of this mindset - I have a limited set of choices and that is exhilarating. And exercising the obvious choice can lead into a new territory or abyss. But there do have to be choices or possibilities, otherwise it isn't editing. Otherwise, why not just drift away and enter into Chanceville? Why not set up a performative or image-generating apparatus and press sample-hold? That can be as good as the images and the sounds are, but I prefer those chance-interludes to be situated in the context of rigorously formal structures or boundaries. So, maybe that makes me a modernist who doesn't entirely believe in death of the author etcetera. And maybe that's been a tall part of my life story, and maybe that's what becomes apparent in my body of work. The rest is just biography and autobiography, and those are really of limited interest. I mean, I'm like other egocentric artists - I have credits which I'd like to see properly credited - I have misconceptions hanging over my head that I'd like clarified. I have all the usual baggage of since I knew and worked with Mr. X or Ms.Y therefore I must agree with or be friends with Mr. X or Ms.Y, which of course is not necessarily true. But that's the stuff of memoirs, and that's a pretty limited market and a pretty limited format.

 

Obviously I am interested in leaving a paper trail, or an amalgamation of details for posterity. The possible interplay between paper-trails and image-trails obviously interests me. That is indeed one reason why I am participating in this interview. 

 


Well, Mike, what else can I really say pertaining to mortality? Hmmm... perhaps, since I'm somewhat older than most of your other interview subjects, then mortality hovers closer for me. I mean, I've lost way too many friends and colleagues and collaborators to AIDS, and then also drugs and suicide and even homicide. And then, near the top of the twenty-first century, friends and colleagues who'd been living and working with life-threatening illnesses - different varieties of cancer - began succumbing to their illnesses. Cancer, as well as heart and stroke diseases, is not generally associated with anything illicit or immoral or anything so judgmental. Although, people are quick to cough up innuendos about diets or smoking habits, so there you go.

 

Being older than most of your subjects...yes, both my parents are gone. My mother died six days after 9/11, so I do have a tendency to associate her death with the fallout of 9/11 etcetera. I was called up to see her while I still could - when it was no longer a matter of if but rather of when.  My parents as well as my brother were and are living in Barrie while I'm a Torontonian. And I did maintain closer contact with my father after my mother's death, and his demise affected me differently because of our mutual gender. Things that happened to him, as a male body, are already happening to me.

 

And part of aging is thinking more and more about where I made bad choices, or took wrong turns. What if I had gone this way instead of that way? What if I had been committed to taking The Government to a higher level that created some lifelong residuals that I could have invested in making more art? Why did I find a home for myself in the non-profit sector? Why didn't I hone or sharpen particular skills further so that I could have done more freelance work - there are and will be many artistic types who have supported their own work in such a manner? Why didn't I go back to a university and get at least a Masters? Why am I such an art snob when, intellectually, I'm actually quite critical of people who consider themselves important (or above ethical considerations) simply because they are artists? Well...there are a lot of "what if" scenarios here and, when "what if" scenarios become prominent in one's down-time thinking patterns, then the past tense begins to take over from the present. Now, that is not at all healthy. This is beginning to sound like the two art-bureaucrats in Controlled Environments - their first dialogue is titled "Memory".

 

If persistent "what if" speculations get tangled up with a writing or an artistic block - that of course is not a good situation. I've always wanted to make a version of Krapp's Last Tape - perhaps Tape's Last Crap? I mean, I thought I'd gotten that half-assed idea out of my system with Eating Regular, in which I dismantle an old VHS tape, place the strands in a plastic box, and then eat the analogue noodles. Of course the "what if" scenarios fade away when I'm busy - when I have an "aha" moment and then an idea which I begin to formulate and realize. Which makes me like most artists or writers whom I am acquainted with, so....

 

Mortality is always a spoken, or unspoken but obviously present, subject when faced with a need to make choices and those choices are cancelling each other out. At this moment, there's no structure staring me in the face so that I can associate or collage different things I've made or been making. It's not like with The Enigma of S.A.P. - where I'd been making a relatively loose series of graphic drawings and then it hit me that they compromised an "exhibition" and therefore this permitted space for dialogue or observation. It's my obligation as an artist to find a structure - one that is hopefully suggested by specific images or sequences or whatever. Structure is always necessary - even when its sole use value is to be violated. I feel that I've probably taken the abstract painting reference as far as I can - in combination with the flicker editing, but I don't want to lose these reference points as these are my tastes and also my skills. I am considering re-introducing bodies into my work - not just other voices but bodies. And then I shift in the opposite direction - I think about eliminating verbal language - making videotapes or animations using just images and music. I don't agree with this sentiment, but many people including programmers consider language to be an impediment, or a crutch. I've been making little animations with my Josef Albers graphics and with Government songs supplying an audio component and determining the work's length.  I make these in Windows Movie Maker so talk about low-resolution! These are web-works - not intended for galleries or festivals or public screening venues. I also do feel caught in between the different gallery and festival worlds - I don't feel like either a gallery artist or a filmmaker. But I make the rounds anyway.

 

Yes ...I do feel that I've exhausted borderline internal/external art-world dialogues - I feel that I've exhausted debates about "community" and "market" and their nebulous cousins. So...I'm currently in a holding pattern - an extended "what next" moment - and I wonder if there is a "next", and then.... Well, Mike, this is all what is commonly known as narrative, or trajectory, or lifetime.