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An Interview with Marta Kuzma, Director of the WPA/Corcoran


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An Interview with Marta Kuzma, Director of the WPA/Corcoran

An Interview with Marta Kuzma, director of the Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran:

Marta Kuzma: As a someone who is a multimedia performance artist (for lack of any other type of neat category), do you find that the larger art world has difficulty in placing you and identifying where you might be able to fit in terms of presentation, promotion, possible sale?

Miranda July: I have only just been noticed by the art world, I mean like starting last week when I was in NY. I differentiate between this world (commercial galleries and museums) and the performance world, which I am more familiar with. The other "worlds" have been the film world (independent and mainstream) and the music world (independent). Each of these spheres has some influence upon me, some small area where I can be for a moment before their Real people come out. The real musicians, fimmakers, actresses, artists. In integrating the media I have also had to integrate the venues and their economies and audiences. Yesterday I was realizing what an actually wonderful, free position I have created out of seemingly blind desperation and perserverence. I was talking with experiemental film heavy Ken Jacobs and he was asking about my college tour and asking 'why aren't they calling ME?' and since he is 30 years my senior and really very estblished and respected, I didn't know what to say. But later, on the train, I realized that it isn't the teachers or the institutions that are calling me, it's the kids, the students. And this happens because in punk rock you can convince the band to come to your town if you promise them food and a place to stay. So I am following the model that I learned when I was in bands. In other situations I pretend that my live performances are movies, and enter my live person into film-festivals. I don't know what I'll do with the commercial galleries. I like to sell my work, but do not rarify it or charge a lot. We'll have to come up with a plan; surely it will be something uniquely labor-intensive, like pay me to have your emotions for you. On this (mostly) college tour I am showing movies, my own and other women's and then I'll talk a little, perform or do an interactive movie-making thing with the students. I am at Amherst College right now, using the computer.

MK: Have you consciously decided to simply pursue your "placement" independently? You seem to extend beyond the traditional role of the artist into curator who gathers material of others, in critiquing that work in terms of selection, and initiating a broader dialogue that circumvents this traditional way of networking? I specifically see this in your initiation of the film distribution network by the name of Big Miss Moviola which acts as its own type of institution responsible for compiling and selecting movies by young women for distribution by mail order.

MJ: It has been conscious in the sense that I have been conscious of my own needs and desires and tried to create systems that satisfied me. That they have been "independent" reflects I guess my sense of myself in relation to the world: that I both won't be accepted by and won't be excited by what exists. There are of course many gorgeous exceptions, and these are the people/places where I attach and make alliances. With other artists, with brave institutions, with more mainstream exceptions. The only thing is this: I don't have a lot of grief over the differences between myself and these people/places-I have no time for dashed hopes. Or only about 3 minutes and then it's onto the new plan.

MK: I also see that this sense of independence extends into your own work where you have full control over your own performances, overseeing and monitoring the operation of the technical aspects of coordination, providing a full closure between artistry and technology. This in light of so many contemporary artists who are dependent on commissions by producers of objects, films. You seem to be quite certain about technology as a means. However, it appears that language is a base where you explore error, redundancy, and mishap.

MJ: Yes, well the integration of "mishap" into Love Diamond came partly from realizing that I had created a work that would never be performed perfectly because it is too hard! And also my sense that there are constant miscalculations within every science. It is only horrifying when it is not acknowledged; when the doctor doesn't admit that there is no way my eye test could be accurate since I am crying and so my vision is blurred and I am just randomly calling out : better, worse, better. The main reason I control my own vcrs and slide projectors in Love Diamond is because it never occurred to me that I could pay someone to press the buttons for me. It still seems unlikely to me, but I realize it would allow me to perform way better. Do you know that the whole time I am performing I am staring into the beam of light from the projector, and when the light turns red, for example, I have five seconds to pause the video. It is really exausting. Now that I am done with that show I can say that.

MK: In referring to the breakdown of language or the limitations that language imposes in providing a vehicle to express ourselves, you have a way to try to extend language into the creation of new terms to describe situations, things, individuals.

MJ: Like everyone else, I am trying to make you feel something very specific. Sometimes it is so specific that language has to be used almost as a decoy, to distract the guards while I rush the gates. Or sometimes, if it can be done in a familiar way, language is not neccesary, there can be visual cues, gestures. But I am not interested in divesting people of what they know though experimentation---I instead build on what is so commonplace that it is almost impertinent to reference. It is these limitations that inspire me: the pull of simple, un-ending desire and boredom.

MK: In much of your work you refer to the comparison of numbers to things, to forms, to the bracketing of concepts. Why do you repeatedly repeat to the number referencing?

MJ: This relates to the above answer. Numbers as decoys, familiar shapes that are almost like childrens toys, we all know them: 5! Oh 5!

MK: Nest of Tens holds some uncomfortable situations such as the young adolescent boy seemingly entrapped in the ascetic environment of his suburban home and who voyeuristically attends to the baby in some type of ritual of attempted communication, or the scene with the "new" boyfriend, or possibly stranger, who seems frustrated, and consequently bored, by the lack of sexual attention paid by the single mother amid the presence of her daughter, or the African American speaking seemingly incomprehensively at the podium to a predominately white audience. All three situations are controversial in the context of film images shown to a public- the petting of the baby, the appearance of the head of penis, the illiterate black man. Is this your intent, to make society uncomfortable and to approach them in a direct manner about their incessant need to feel immediately ok, to adjust themselves into comfort positions, without understanding the zones of danger? Is this reflective of the general disorientation of an alienated individual to talk and act through alienation?

MJ: I think the answer is yes, but again I am working from a basically subconscious place inside, so I would not articulate it in this way, except perhaps in retrospect. So it is more like: how can I create this feeling I have: would two girls work? No. A boy and a girl? A baby? Yes, a boy cleaning a baby: that is the feeling. So to be honest, these things are within my internal vocabulary, and so I thought maybe yours too. The little head of the penis above the waistband, isn't that as familiar as the number 5? Less familiar visually maybe, but certainly not internally.

MK: In Love Diamond, you proceed to work with ideas of environment - the idea of the house as a real framework for life and juxtaposing this with space and science and exploration. The idea of the Titan, as earth, or home, as the reference point around which we circle, act, and operate influenced by the continual need to set boundaries and welcome limitations. You've countered this with the concept of the never-ending flight - the flight that goes on forever and ever. Inadvertently you describe the challenge in our reflective response to immediately cope by implementing the knowledge (even if ungrounded) that pain has some type of threshold or parameter. Is this fatalistic or is there some futuristic utopian vision behind this?

MJ: I might not understand the wording of the question. I will answer this broadly by saying that the never ending pain and never ending love are perhaps only bearable because of the limitiations of our life here each day on earth. Though they sometimes seem to only make it worse, these limitations make compassion and art possible. Art maybe is just being inspired by the endless familiar but surprising limitations. And their relationship to the things within that feel truly beyond all limits.

MK: Some of the strategies employed within your performance work - that is in the minimalism and lack of theatricality in changing your physical identity with the use of props such as wigs, clothes, reminds me of the strategies employed in Cindy Sherman's early photographic work. I refer specifically in the way you manage to transform your expression, and hence your identity. I recognize that you are not concentrating on constructing self identity from some type of media identity as Sherman had done. I think your identities are too obscure and come out of something other that has to do with the everyday more than Hollywood. Nonetheless your femininity is stylized.

MJ: I think this may just be carelessness on my part. The decisions on how to look are made so impetuously, based largely on what is at hand. Nest of Tens was the first time I was somwhat careful about costuming-probably because I could see how things looked more because I didn't play all the parts. I'm getting better at that. The wigs in LD are largely so that I don't have to match my real hair to the hair in the video each night, I can just put on the wig.

MK: In the Amateurist, you position yourself as the spokeswoman, the analytical purveyor, the collector of information, who inevitably looks at yourself as a type of specimen, a lab rat, or what they call in the industry... Why is it that you prefer to bracket this second self in black and white?

MJ: Because I wanted to use a surveillance camera and these are mostly black and white.

MK: You often refer to science, and analytical studies of cells, or medical or scientific type of experiments as explorations that individuals immerse themselves in and voluntarily subject themselves to. Therefore the idea of science, or the experiment, as a type of invisible agent intruding upon our lives in the forms of surveillance, or surreptitious consumer research methods, don't seem to be in place in your work. You provide a human's interest in seeking out science and its structure, and in a way, as an escape from history? Is it that you are positive about technology or are you sardonic in referring to our phenomenal obsession with technology and our inadvertent trust to wherever it may lead us?

MJ: Mostly I am sardonic and personally frustrated with western medical science. But at the same time I have always been surrounded by people who have a real love of science -and this sense of wonderment is not lost on me. My brother is an enviromental scientist, Zac Love, my accompaniest on LD, is a microbiologist. I am of course always dealing with equipment and lovers of equipment. I sort of couldn't care less but like language, it is something I have become proficient in and so I use it everyday to my own ends.