Richard Crow interviewed by Edward Scheer, August,1998.
Q1. grenzganger is a border crossing figure, a performative figure which you activate or inhabit to investigate the boundaries that separate things from people and people from other people but is it also a boundary subjectivity that you are looking at in this piece?
Yes, but I might also add perceived boundaries that I have deliberately set
up between seemingly disparate objects and 'past' events revisited albeit
in a rather obscure way, that makes the question a little clearer for me to
answer. I think what I have tried to achieve with that work and the cycle
of works that it has subsequently generated is to somehow inhabit and
identify with the world of a fragmentary subject - that's what I think you
mean by a boundary subjectivity - And demonstrated and performed with what
I would call to appropriate a term from psychology -a 'a consciousness of
activity' which means essentially an autogenic and unanalysable
experience.I think the emphasis here is on something intimately and
ultimately tragic. Although I think I dealt with that in quite an
ambiguous way it was still a pretty dark work.
Q2. you've said that your influences are mainly writers rather than artists. What do you get from writers like Artaud, Beckett and Cioran?
Well since you mentioned them as a trinity (the unholy three) there like
bread and wine for me, I like the profanity of that analogy - something to
partake of, body and soul - a 'spiritual' sustenance or fuel of a rare
order - and they are like signposts in the void something to hold on to in
times of crisis..... they could equally be explorers - marking out some
unbearable personal journey. That they endure in spite of themselves.
I think I already said before that in the Le Corbeau persona I see myself
as a celebrant of Artaud and his works. I think why these writers are so
important for me and so crucial for an understanding of why I want to make
a personal art is that there work is not separated from there life they
embody it they carry with them esp in the case of Artaud who was at the end
of his life thee literal embodiment of the Theatre of Cruelty - its
integral to there 'being' and being in the world, let us not forget that to
all or a lesser degree they were outsiders or exiles for most of their if
not all of their existence. And that is something I can relate to - With
Beckett there is y'know a desolate familiarity that I know so well and a
bleak exhilaration at the same time but its that singular sunless voice
from the later works, I am thinking particularly of A Piece of Monologue
that haunts, but there's also that grim humour and strangely compassion
which I think is often overlooked. Obviously there is a certain sensibility
from my appreciation of his output that readily asserts itself within my
personal aesthetic, I'll give an example I recall going out one evening for
a quick walk with the intention of returning with a bottle of stout on the
way back I almost fell into a workman's hole excavated on the pavement, the
safely lights if there were any having probably been nicked - on further
inspection into the hole I saw one of those metallic street signs that are
made for traffic that had been kicked into the hole with the single word
END in huge black letters, the generator for the pneumatic drill bore the
name MURPHY, I was in a scene reminiscent from Beckett ! Immediately I took
the sign to mark the event.
Q3. your work seems to involve giving meaning to discarded objects, giving them a kind of psychic life. but is it still possible for people to have a psychic life? and what would it look like?
well I that is linked to perception and inner states of transformation....recently I re-discovered the work of the Greek artist Giorgio de Chirico, a surrealist artist I have always liked ...and I have been looking again at his metaphysical paintings and got really obsessed with them...the other worldliness in his work.and I he was think was one of the first to value the magic of the commonplace and stage in his paintings, nostalgia for non-existent realities..and that sort of unconscious power invested in his hallucinatory city scapes and interiors with their dark shadows, disorientating perspectives, and weird objects , fruits and vegetables, rubber gloves etc - I was struck when looking at some of the slides from the Grenzgänger installation as I think there were many similarities with what I have just described in some of the micro-theatrical scenes that I set up.strange relations and groupings of objects.......disconnectedness. To get back to your question about what a psychic reality would look like - has 'nt Artaud all ready formulated contemplated this in some of his proposed film writing and scenarios?? .... these have often been criticised as being unfilmable - but I can think of recent video works by artists like Bill Viola, Tony Oursler and the rebirth of the cinematic extensively through the use of video projection dramaticly re-address this, also I think that is what I wanted to explore and engage with in the 'Theurgy' pieces that utilised video like the one I created and you witnessed for the 100 years of cruelty conference.
Q4. the two performances you did in Sydney were entirely different in form. the first at the Performance Space was walking through the mud in thebasement with writing on the body surrounding yourself with images of Artaud and in the other you were clean and well dressed and playing with objects on the concrete floor of Artspace. how do you account for these radically different styles?
I think you have to remember that 'Theurgy - messe basse ' was a piece I had made previously especially for the IOR and was part of the series 'the noisiness of bodies' although the version I presented at the perf space for the 100 years of Cruelty Conference was considerably expanded However the structure remained much the same ...in that it was a visual and aural descent into an Artaudian underworld ...at that time also I was heavily into the work of James Hillman especially his excellent book 'The Dream and the Underworld'...anyhow the piece was transmitted in real time from a sealed chamber via video and sound projection live and pre-recorded. the camera acted as a magical instrument and tool.....Theurgy is an ancient word for a magical operation... literally a working of a supernatural agency and its intervention in the affairs of humans I was deliberately and remotely cut off from the audience....so that I could create,control and manipulate the image and the sound world....that was built into it ....it was a live working through of prima materia, the alchemical nigredo .....but for me for me it had every thing to do with the form and the image ...alot of it was choreographed at least for the first half hour with an assistant....but when this inevitably broke down and got very chaotic there was this anticipation as to what would and could happen next.....composition and de-composition of a sophisticated image .... y'know that old one... so in some sense it was in keeping with the legacy of the IOR and what I had made and shown there it had that sensibility....localised if you like ..the space in it and the intimacy...and I think this was the case where the audience could view the piece upstairs in the gallery in that small curtained-off space...I mean I never expected all those academics to sit down and watch it all......playing on their voyeurism ..... a cinema of cruelty?. ...anyhow ...I think the basement of the Performance space was an ideal location for what was essentially then a secret ceremony installed in a secret space -. a private ritual made public .....that s why I used the french for a low mass ....there's obviously some blaspheming going on there too...but it also relates to his final written fragments.....'And they have pushed me over into death,where I ceaselessly eat cock, anus and caca at all my meals... all those of the CROSS" it seems ...because he had been taking unregulated amounts of chloral hydrate there was this possibility of suicide, this elimated a catholic burial.....but it also had.. especially the london version a feel of a seance and that seems to fit in with what I think you mentioned before....in attempting to make contact with the imagined body of Artaud after death.....I was Le Corbeau picking over the cadaver of Artaud.......and especially because the digital tracer effect I used pretty much throughout the piece gave it that otherworldly dimension.....but I was investigating how to realize and harness the power of artaudian images and ideas ,through the use of objects and materials, how to make them real and how to incorporate and evoke a live extra-corporeal performance presence without the usual banalities and cliches paraded and presented in the name of Artaud....this was then the first series of works that I have made that directly engages with and confronts the limits of what I think is possible with the cinematic,digital technology, representation, the abject and the auto - eroticised body.....In slumber one sleeps there is no self,nobody only spectres...from 'fragmentations' AA.so I would say that it was a secure and to some extent a rehearsed piece...that I was bringing with me ....an old crow looking at a new re-animated Artaud.... Grenzgänger made whilst I was artist in residence on the other hand was a completely new departure for me and with it the birth of something new - with the style of this piece I was trying to open up a new territory for meaning for myself and the art that I want to create..... and how perhaps to depict and communicate a lost ,interior world ......perhaps that was the narrative of it...the point where reality and imagination merge........memory comes from somewhere else and moves things about...I mean if you look at children with toys they are engrossed in this kind of play but who know s what kind of an silent inner worlds they are creating...what's that phrase children know something they can't tell... And I think the staging of this... was much more of an accessible piece for other people to enter into and opened up alot of possibilities for me - obviously again I think there are the secret references to the self ,the highly personal objects and materials that I used...magnetic rubbish Beuys called them...there were also alot of parallel concepts that was also looking at which I think I have discussed earlier in the question of a boundary subjectivity....but the piece was more of a pleasure to make and in some sense was a celebration ....I think that particular piece made at Artspace was a crucial to my ongoing work in my development as an artist and performer.in that sense it was an important marker for me in what it opened up one could say of my work from now on as being pre-grenzgänger and post -grenzgänger....
Q5. What does performance mean to you as an artist? Are you continuing to work in performance?
....My realm, my regions are hidden, dark, deep, mysterious and under ordinary circumstances inaccessible...there is a physical perhaps almost pathological need to be alone...I would liken myself to a creature of the netherworld.....I am naturally reclusive, introverted, leading and watching over..... a deep interior life. I think that has been manifested at the IOR over the years as the theatre of secrets I have stepped into performance as a kind of communication, it bridges the gap if you like between the inner and outer- its that breakthrough ...for me then art of Performance or performing is that very real powerful tool of communication, a communication with the world.... that is the forthcoming persona to which others can at least have some relation too, and its always some kind of external confrontation or test or challenge that questions my intellectual organization and limitations of the self....physically emotionally and intellectually....I think the effect that this work has, is to produce a crack or an opening in the way thinking is categorised,..allowing new input to come in and sort of expand the intellectual information base which can open up everything and create new perspectives...I think that is cathartic but its part of the mechanism...i think there is this powerful resistance going on in these confrontations which can be quite intense...this is obviously how one grows as an artist.....alot of security and stability is at stake ,,it has to be useful and legitimate....it has to regenerate ....that is quite a curious logic of transformation going there..... we could speak of cycles of implosion and explosion..... in the future I don't think i will put myself at the centre of this I mean when i think about it I have always found it nessecary and vital to the making of the work that there is this deliberate concealing going on at the same time as something is being revealed... suppose its like working undercover....Strangely though, I 've always thought of myself primarily as a visual artist....an image maker....my world is structured around the symbolic .....performance is useful for some of the reasons I have just mentioned.......I also like and admire the methods and tactics employed by artists that have made Performance... work for them ..........especially the relation to time, duration and the limits of the self, body etc there's also this powerful relation to personal ritual and myth, Beuys and the Italian artists of the arte povera movement used ordinary materials to build up often highly personal mythological images wishing to give them this metaphysical meaning and dimension I am thinking of Mario Merz structures symbolising the nomadic existence of the artist, and exemplified in Beuys and his many.... meditative, shamanic actions.... some secret inner procedure at work.....inventing a ritual through the visual representation of his own code....I think some of my performance style is also influenced in part by my exposure to the kind of highly stylised dadaistic, cathartic and controversial theatre made at the Voksbühne in Berlin especially the work and style of directors like Castorf, Marthaler and Schlingensief in Berlin whilst working with the Die Ratten company as a performer... this explains allot of the absurdity, irony and self destructiveness in my work...... note - I am still planning the Beckett performance - I think I already emailed you that there will be a performative element probably for the opening but I am looking to making some large prints you can get these done quite cheaply these days here in London - The Suicide Milk may find it's way into that show we'll see, THAT WORK and its re-production NOW NEEDS TO BE SEEN IN A WIDER CONTEXT as I think it's quitessentially the Crow piece par excellence (Can you please get the original transparency back from World Art , thanks....)
Q6. You will be returning to the Southern hemisphere in 1999 to be artist in residence at the University of Dunedin. Could you perhaps outline some of the ideas you will be working with in the course of that work?
Firstly,I am very excited about this forthcoming trip, as you know I am drawn to remote places/locations that are likely to inspire me and test me..... The works that I am hoping to produce whilst there are part of this piece called Executor. It's going be a sort of archiving of the self show, lots of personal details and its the last in the series of the performance persona's.....I am going to concentrate on creating quite an elaborate necropolis ...there will also be alot of images, super 8 films and video's stuff that I have never shown before and it will be located in various locations...like Bad Habitus there will be a gallery space acting as a HQ ......and I will be creating alot of new pieces while I am there Dunedin with it's apparently abandoned and derelict Victorian /Edwardian buildings has a somewhat gothic feel to it.......appears to be the perfect site for this on going meditation on mortality ....Where else can this confrontation take place other than in the persona of the Executor - who is eternally caught up within the riddle and mystery of life and death? I have asked for an assistant to act as a sort of notary and there will be a web site of everything I will be doing .....I've also asked for a Black Sheep to keep me company during gallery hours....its another chapter in my strange life and destiny as an artist and performer once again on some kind of strange journey of self -discovery..... I would describe it as a an undertaking of the self in transit - there's this brilliant quote from an interview with Christian Boltanski where he talks about being dead and working from the grave and the problem for an artist like himself that the more he works, the less alive he becomes and finishes by saying that when you are an artist, you gradually become a part of your own art and you don't exist anymore - properly in the world, you become a kind of mirror .... I think I can also relate to this - I like the definitions of the word Executor I immediately saw the performance potential of the word and its implicit meaning for me - one who executes or performs, a person appointed to see a will or testament carried into effect.. one who executes or performs the inheritance of remembering and forgetting, one who performs the will of the deceased, I also read into it to disinter, dig up , bring to light.... it struck me that ...isn't this what I have become ....the artist as executor...a collaboration with corpses ? ....During my Grandfather's funeral ceremony in Yorkshire a couple of years back I somehow got separated from my immediate relatives and for some reason there was a mix up in the fleet of cars and I recall being mistaken ...I was wearing a black suit.....for one of the undertakers ... and got to drive in the hearse with the coffin to the crematorium... more recently a friend of mine who runs his own video production company was sent a fax on spec which he passed on to me from a guy who was seeking a career change to that of the television industry his CV testifies to his previous employment that of working for various funeral directors for the past decade, he'd detailed all the numerous duties and tasks he had to perform very meticulously,which I think is why it had been passed on to me... at present I am setting up a time when he can be interviewed and recorded for future material... His leisure interests are writing poetry and lyrics, reading autobiographies and art of the Impressionists ....!! There are a number of potentially interesting sites in and around Dunedin which have been mentioned to me, there are a couple of old cinemas in the city -- one of which has apparently been untouched for most of the century. There are also some very interesting basement spaces in the city -- as much of the central town area has been built on what was once the beach front/harbour entrance. There is one space in particular in the centre of the city, under a shop which has an old stonework basement with a natural spring flowing through it.Therefore a number of site specific installations, performances are planned as well as collaborations with local free noise musicians in the production of a CD. Dunedin has a mythical alternative/experimental noise scene, many have well known international reputations. I will also be introducing and screening a series of films and video's possibly using one of the afore mentioned cinemas - that I feel have a special influence and significance for my work over the last decade - it will be quite fragmentary and I will include a selection of my own work and work produced at the IOR and will be punctuated by readings by me from my library/archive - it is envisaged that some of these films will be accompanied by a live sound mix/treatment - something I have wanted to do for ages. There's lots of obscure stuff I'd love to show as well as the more obvious to anyone that know's me... Bros Quay,Bunuel, Svankmajer,Tarkovsky...so in some sense I am passing things on, giving them up.
"To be objective is to treat others as you treat an object, a corpse - to behave with them like an undertaker." E.M Cioran