SOLLARS. LABAT. INTERVIEW
On November 4, we’ll be screening two democracy-themed projects by Bay Area artists. Chris Sollars’ documentary C RED BLUE J explores the red state/blue state divide of 2004, as Chris juggles his beliefs with those of a sister working for the Bush administration, a born-again Christian father, and a lesbian mother. I Want You (Auditions) is Tony Labat’s new work, culled from footage of the original I WANT YOU performances. I asked them to interview each other for the blog & they typed their conversation together in real time in Tony’s studio Weds afternoon. Chris & Tony, thanks! and xxxooo, SS
2:00 PM Chris leaves his house at 21st and Shotwell. Tries to go to the Mission post office to mail a DVD of C RED BLUE J to Kentucky and Portland, Oregon.
2:03 PM At the post office. Only two postal workers and all self-service equipment disconnected and missing. Worst post office in the city and possibly the country.
2:09 PM Chris rides past construction at Mission and Cesar Chavez (Army) on the sidewalk where Tony Labat recorded immigrant workers from his studio across the street. The workers are no longer here but there is an ISO container with pipes attached.
2:11 PM Chris rings the Buzzer for Tony’s Studio and enters the building.
2:13 PM Tony offers Chris a beer and sits down to complete an email. Chris picks up the California Biennial Catalogue. It includes imagery of Tony’s surveillance of immigrant workers, a video still of a tank passing on a train (Blur 2007), and a photo of Tony standing next to a Wax Museum sculpture of Fidel Castro.
2:15 PM Tony “NO MORE JFK!” I am coordinating my flight with a gallery I am showing at in January and the last time I flew into JFK it cost me five grand for holding a Cuban passport and an American green card.
2:20 PM As Chris types Tony unloads a clip from his Black pellet gun, firing around the studio.
2:25 PM The phone Rings. Chris laughs…Tony shouts “TIMMY what do you think of Chris? Chris and I are think-tanking for this writing about both our projects for SFMOMA.”
2:57 PM Chris is just making up the time-lapse, but that’s okay, that’s the nature of time…impressed by his skills at typing, I’m a one finger (or two) typist…the phone rings it is Jennifer Locke…she is letting me know that she has cleared the problem with my check from St Mary’s College…Chris has a nice little gallery…Jennifer says “don’t say little.” Why? “Because he may be a little sensitive about size.” Am I getting my money? Yes…it was a mistake so it was a good thing you called me…Thanks Jennifer…
3:06 PM Chris asks about my sketch for an installation, he thinks that it looks like a voting booth…I find that very ironic…
3:07 PM Chris, Why did you make C RED BLUE J?
3:10 PM Just like political debates, before addressing the current question I will first address the comment made earlier, “Little”: The exhibition space of 667 Shotwell is compromised by existing in a private home.
3:11 PM Interrupted by Tony swinging a dirty towel around the studio swatting flies. Caliber and quality of works: from democratic dinners voted by and prepared by the People with Jerome Waag, the whole backroom of 667 Shotwell turned into an XMAS present to sit on Santa’s lap (with Pat Rock as Santa) Brian Storts, or the 50cent beer machine in the same room a couple years later by Rock and Storts, and most recently the show 10 year itch of SF underground music (videos, outfits, posters by John Dwyer, T.I.T.S, Numbers, Erick Landmark, and Mike Donovan of Sic Alps amongst others. “Little” in size, but busting at the seams.
3:18 PM OK Tony is now done with that towel. Anyway a lot of the music in C RED BLUE J is by John Dwyer and I integrated it into the film since I was listening to his music all during the past four—
3:20 PM But Chris…Why did you make C RED BLUE J ?
3:21 PM Probably as a way to cope with my sister… “Jennifer” working for BUSH. Turn it into something positive. To have a window into her life and ideology and to look at how she could work for HIM after the way we grew up. Mom is a lesbian. I always thought it ironic or fitting that here I am an artist in SF and she is working for Bush in DC… couldn’t be much more split than that. Family is often where we are confronted with opposing Political discourse.
3:23 PM RING Tony: Did you vote for Obama? You did already? Oh come on…
3:24 PM Felipe: “Chris, you have a nice ass”
3:25 PM Tony speaking in Spanish so as to hide his conversation from Chris…NUMERO UNO… Miami… XMAS… get Mom to LA… Fantasy…
3:25 PM “Havana to Miami, No way …then I am involved with Homeland Security again..”
3:31 PM Tony puts in the DVD for I WANT YOU.
C The HD makes them look as good as politicians on TV. Did you change the order in the editing?
T The order happened naturally. I wondered if it was going to have to be edited, but the order was so organic and natural I stayed with it.
C This gives new meaning to SPOT Light.
T The performer can’t see us, just the light and that darkness. And the X on the floor.
C It also almost feels like an interrogation. How was the project publicized?
T It was listed online, on Facebook, Craigslist, and with posters. This generation is protesting more online than in the streets. I wanted to create a space for this NEED to demonstrate. Narcissism seems to be the nature today. In front of the camera but without the voice.
C I keep thinking that as our world becomes more and more digital I need to stay physical too. Tell me a little more about the I WANT YOU process.
T Part one: private auditions in front of the judges. Part two: I took myself out and the audience became the judges, American Idol/The Gong Show style. Part two became the spectacle. When I watched I kept thinking of what lines would be good for the posters. And was the audience rewarding the performance or the message? Part three will happen Monday Nov 3, when the posters of the winners go up all over town.
C Your film is totally inclusive. The good, the bad, the ugly; it also reminds me of the structure of the Democratic Convention when they invited average workers to speak their concerns, no matter how scripted.
T The posters come from the idea of common man propaganda. They use the voice of the everyday, like the participants. Similar to Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber is symbolic, but it didn’t work because it is Fake. Not a Joe, not a plumber.
C The symbol is effective though…
T But once Joe became tangible there was disappointment. Same with Sarah Palin: the “Hockey Mom” who then shops at Bloomingdales.
C Hypocrisy. I WANT YOU is also similar to your work as a performer on the Gong Show. You went from participant to host. What year was that?
C What month? (Chris is thinking that his sister was born that same year.)
C What season? Jennifer was born in June.
T In the Fall.
C Tony, watching I WANT YOU, I can’t help but think about performance and being on stage. I moved here in 1999 from the east coast, and one thing I wanted to ask you about is Performance. I myself feel like I make Actions, not… “I want to Perform”. For example, at an event put on by Brian Storts in March 1999, I wanted to intervene, and not be on stage. A lot of the artists I was meeting at that time were putting on performance events. One after the other…Perform…My audience for my actions has always been in the streets. It might not be as prevalent as it was in 1999, but why all this performance art in San Francisco?
T Wow…That’s IRONIC. I came to San Francisco in 1975 to study out here. Chris Burden, Tom Marioni, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, and I, I think we all were against “the stage.” Theater vs performance. In Studio 9 at SFAI in the 1970s there were all of these performances going on. At my core was a desire to deconstruct and investigate this apparatus, “the stage.” It was around this time I went on the Gong Show. I saw the Gong Show as a bridge between performance art and TV/theater on stage. What would it be like to have Karen Finley or Tony Labat on the Gong Show. Total subversion of the stage. I wanted to consider the potential of these other venues/ platforms or spaces. Karen and myself were using the stage as a platform. The stage is a pedestal. Just like in sculpture. Here in the film the stage and X marks the spot, becomes a soapbox/platform.
ON THE TV: A person bound in brown with tape around body is placed on the X on stage. There is a total breakdown with this. And The person starts screaching and screaming. The person walks to the edge of the stage and the crew comes back to keep the individual from falling off. The bound person falls to the floor and continues to thrash back and forth with screeching.
T The museum staff didn’t know how to handle this person…when to end or stop it. This person became a liability. Is this person in torture or is this performance? What do we do? The only way to end it in this context was, after several minutes, for me to say “thank you” and she stopped…I don’t know who it was. It seemed as if she wanted it to stop but was dependent on the context of the situation for it to end. It could have gone on for hours. This trust between performer and audience is similar to Acconci’s early works. Potential energy, possibility, and the “what if”…What if this energy is transferred…
C Transferred either within the performance or outside. All these words of potential directly relate to politics for me…
T Also, how does this potential energy transfer to language…Everyone is feeling this angst. Where are we going? What is happening? The Dow Jones is dropping. Ha Ha. And people laugh…But what if this energy was transferred or reached a boiling point.
C Just like everyone screaming “I am Mad as Hell! And I’m not Going to Take it ANYMORE!”
T What if these people started transferring this interior discomfort into strange behavior in the streets.
C This same internal struggle is reflected in my family. The characters of C RED BLUE J.
T The most compelling character for me was your Dad. He was an artist and had odd behavior. Which fascinated me. His archive of your childhood—from the toys he had made to the documentation of you growing up, that he had saved the toys. All of this is a formal idea of the ARCHIVE. To Document. To Record. The baby photos of you each month, with weight recorded.
C I think this is also why I am so preoccupied with this as an artist. But it was just as much my Mother. She wrote the month-to-month cards, and my weight, and told my dad to take pictures of that. As he was making our toys, my mom was making our clothes, especially for Halloween. These ideas of documentation, record, and time was presented to me very directly at an early age.
T The most significant thing for me is: “Why do we do This?” It’s like anthropology/archeology “What do we learn?” What is the purpose of what we do?
C Or what our family does? Why did my parents take the time and go to the trouble of documenting everything.
T That’s that open Ending…That makes it art. Mystery.
C I don’t like it when something is too completed or closed for me. Ohh I get it. Next, move on.
T We should transcend the didactic approach. That is what is good about the film: it takes a open-ended approach. All the answers aren’t there. It’s Beautiful, complicated. The personal becomes universal and ceases to be about “ME.” It’s a Fucked up Country Right now.
C Nodding. That’s what I like about yours.
C Our two works – there is an intent with democracy. You made a choice to use everyone [who auditioned] before selections were made, and not just the performance winners; the film isn’t about the journey of selection. With mine, even though editing is a manipulation, I tried to be more democratic in the construction of the conversation, bringing together the individual members of my family to have a conversation that wasn’t actually taking place. Your inclusion of all the participants creates a conversation between them. This democratizes it. Maybe even socializes it.
T You didn’t know the outcome of your film before starting?
T This not knowing of outcome, becomes the glue for these works. This No Idea where it will lead. Artists are attentive to being detached but also completely invested.
C It seems that we both have social & political interests but use non-traditional methods for communicating these concerns.
T Neither me nor you make communication a priority. We do something different…we like to …PUT IT THERE!…RIGHT HERE!
C No… I want you to… Here Deal with this. Here it is. Yes. I think that is also what I experienced with moving here in 1999 and seeing the performances. Here now perform. This kept me outside in the streets. I want everyday people to deal with my actions on the streets.
T All the performance that was happening at art school I took outside of its familiar context and took it to the Gong Show. I was seeing the overlap between art school and the Gong Show. So I went there and crossed over.
C You also present SFMOMA for performers in this way, offering them SFMOMA’s theater. It’s similar to your teacher Terry Fox’s work, inviting the bum to drink and sleep not in the street but in the basement of an art show. You invited the outside—“the street”—inside.
T Wow…Terry passed 3 weeks ago. He was always right here. Artworld to the street or the street to the artworld elites. This is also what I am doing with I WANT YOU, the film will be playing in the same space where these auditions took place. At the same site. It has potential to transcend.
C You’re building on history and also having the viewers watch the film through the actual space the performers stood. The screen is at the back of the stage not the front. You’re re-presenting these realities of this space through the mediation of your film…I mean Video.
T I’m a fucked-up TV kid.
C I am too… and now these other kids are coming along fucked up on tv, internet and other…
T Hopefully you’re a smarter TV kid learning from these things. And what I’ve noticed with performance that the performer is here…
two remotes on a table…Tony moves one 12 inches in front of the other…the artist is here.
Pointing to the one behind…the audience is sometimes here. And what needs to happen is for the audience to stay up with the artist…[but?] a lack of language…
C This word “potential” keeps coming up. It reminds me of the terminology from sculpture. With potential of material, potential of movement. Action etc. I don’t think of my work as performance but as actions or interventions.
T There is a lack of conversation in the terminology with these…Performance vs Action. America vs Europe. Action was traditionally more European based. And more formal. Is Laurie Anderson the defining artist for “performance”? There are differences that have been stated in manifestos & rules that have been ignored or consumed by theater.
C Hey tony
C I want you …
From: C SOLLARS
Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2008 1:46 PM
To: Stein, Suzanne
Subject: Re: the lab cell phone thing
Yep that was me…
On Oct 30, 2008, at 1:02 PM, “Stein, Suzanne” wrote:
a bunch of years ago there was some performance event I think at the lab, and someone’s cell phone kept going off (in the audience), totally irritating everyone, and I thought that was the most brilliant performance of all (it was a performance, I think)
was that you?
All photos of the Labat I WANT YOU auditions by Aimee Friberg