UbuWeb | UbuWeb Papers
Kay Rosen Interview with SAIC Students
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Feburary 13, 2007
Kenneth Goldsmith: So, hi. Thanks for coming. Um, I'm Kenneth Goldsmith. I'm a, uh, visiting professor this semester in the class that's called Publishing as a Project that I'm co-teaching with Sally Alatalo. I normally teach at the University of Pennsylvania in the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Creative Writing. I want to first thank the writing department and especially Alex Jovanovich for making this event possible and, um, also Sally, thank you for making the entire class possible. The class is basically a class that is exploring different modes of publication. I run UbuWeb. Ubu.com which is the web's largest repository for avant garde arts and Sally runs Sara Ranchouse Publications which make limited editions of very beautiful and unique objects. The idea is to kind of marry the electronic with the, for lack of a better word, electrically acoustic, paper publishing as acoustic and electronic publishing as electronic, and for the um, class, we decided to focus on one artist and explore her production, uh, entirely, both electronically, and acoustically, and that artist, of course, is Kay Rosen. Um, we selected Kay's work because it is both visual and verbal. It lives as beautifully on the screen as it does on the page. It's literary. It's even musical and oral. It's philosophical. It's academic. It's outside of academia. There's just so many reasons why Kay is, is such a perfect person to sort of sit on the intersterces, interstirces? interstices? Interstices of, of, of so many, practices. She's truly a multimedia, multidimensional artist. And there's something about a sort of fluidity of moving between on the page, off the page, into the network, our of the network, into the unique object, and spinning back into the network spewing around and that Kay's work is particularly adept at doing.
So this is being recorded and for the electronic side it will be archived on ubu.com. The format today is going to be a, uh, Kay's going to show a few slides, just so we kind of get an idea of what we're talking about, and then the students of the class have each prepared a question for Kay and they're going to come up and ask questions which will provoke some discussion between Kay and myself. And then at the end we'll open it up to anybody, please feel free. Anybody that has a question, really please feel free to come up to the mike and ask Kay. Um, the other great thing, is that Kay is here. She lives in Gary and she's been teaching at the Art Institute for many, many years. So she's, it all is working out in a really interesting way. This will be archived for a long time to come.
I don't know if Kay needs much of an introduction, but I'm going to tell you about some of her many achievements. I've known Kay personally for almost twenty years and she has been the subject of over thirty solo exhibitions, beginning in 1979, and most recently she showed these incredible wall paintings at the Yvon Lambert Gallery in New York City. That was just this past fall. She's participated in numerous group shows including the 1991 and 2000 Whitney Biennial. She's shown her work at Mass MOCA, the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Neue Gallerie, and Kosla House in Graus, Austria, PS1, and the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Houston among many other places. Her works reside in the collection here, at the Art Institute, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, MOCA in LA, MOMA in New York, the New Museum, the Norton Family Collection, the Whitney, and it goes on and on where she's represented. About Kay's most recent show in New York City, this past fall, the New York Times Art Critic Curtis Smith wrote, "Kay Rosen might be described as a writer's sculptor. While strictly two-dimensional, her crisp sign painter style drawings and wall paintings cleave and assemble words highlighting, deleting, or shoving together their letters and syllables to make them new in ways variously phonetic, typographic, visual and linguistic. She perpetuates a tradition of reading/ seeing that includes Stuart Davis, Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, and Mel Bochner, as well as her contemporaries, Barbara Krueger and Jenny Holzer. But Ms. Rosen's legibility arrives in separate stages as in a well-timed joke which sets off a surprisingly physiological experience. Your eyes widen. Your gut tightens and your mind changes gears. Zeroing in on language and forcing it through the sieve of form and perception, Ms. Rosen makes us see it and the world differently often in sad, wise ways. Cultivating her own garden, she is one of the best artists of our time. I'm very happy to introduce Kay Rosen.
Kay Rosen: Thank you. That was very sweet. Thank you. Oh, it's weird. (laughs) I think I'll stand back here and (feedback) why is that happening? Is it too close? Oh, okay. Um, so I'm just gonna go through some slides, kind of quickly. Let's see. Oh, wait. Um, kind of quickly. I'm not gonna talk about them very much. They're a chronological group of works, about 35 that are just sort of highlights from the last 25 or 30 years. And, um, they're, just to briefly though pick up on something Kenny said, about going in and out of academia: um, I did begin in academia, as a language major. That was my educational background, and it really wasn't art although I'd always done art, but after a couple years of being in academia I just decided that, um, the work - my interest in language had more to do with - not formal systems in linguistics, but kind of, the under the radar kind of things that happened, coincidental or accidental events in language, that were funny, surprising, um, just really kind of amazing, and, um, that had to be expressed visually. So, anyway, I segued into art from there, so, it's sort of a chicken egg thing. I've always loved language. I've always loved art. I don't know which came first, but they somehow blended and I sort of feel like, uh, I'm continuing like my, post-doctoral studies or something. You know, like I'm still investigating language, making these discoveries about it, but, um, you know, in a, through a visual way, rather than through academia.
So, um, I'm just gonna, I'm not gonna really talk too much about each one. The previous slide was just a group of paintings from 1984-85, sign p- I always use sign paint, on, um, that was on poster board. This is a wall painting. Coincidentally the sign paint I use is made in Gary. Um, and for the larger works, like the wall paintings: this was from 1986, but it was reproduced in LA at LA MOCA in '99. And, uh, I have sign painters that do the big wall works because it would take me about a year to do something like this.
Um, this is called "Big Talk." I'm not gonna -
This is, um, from a group of works I did in 1986 using Xerox and sign paint and this is called "The Mexican Revolution" and it uses the names of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution of 1910: Pancho Villa and Emilio Zapata, to, um send another message, turning their first names into possessives and their last names into nouns. Um, the agenda of the Mexican Revolution was sort of the equal distribution of, uh, wealth throughout the whole country, but it looked like they sort of ended up with their, like, own little kind of retirement packets. (feedback) God. Sorry.
Um, this is called "Edgar Degas" and this is a small painting, sign paint on canvas, um stacked canvases. And, um, just this discovery that Edgar Degas, if you took the "r" off and the "s" off, they were exactly the same words but in a different, same w- letters but in a different order, and, um, the capitals were used to, for the stressed syllables.
Um, this is called "John Wilkes Booth," 1988. Um, and, I don't really like to give the title because I like to people, for people to kind of come to the message on their own, the limitations of the canvas sort of, um, make you read it as "ass ass in in the the ater," but it's actually "assassin in the theater," and the sort of inscrutability, or non-detectability of it, sort of parallel to the actual, um, John Wilkes Booth who was sort of undetected until his crime.
Um, this, um, I'm very interested in, like, systems in language, that sort of reveal themselves, these sort of benign little phrases. This is called "Torsos Rot," and it's a painting, sign paint on canvas. And, if you divide "torsos rot" into these three layers there, it reveals all kinds of other messages. Um, first of all, "SOS" across the middle, kind of a alarm, and then these other sys- alphabetical systems along the left and right sides vertically like "tsr," "rst," "tor," "rot," and then "tot," "ror:" it just sort of divides itself and kind of creates these, um, systems. 9:39
Um, this is a painting called "Six." It's from 19- (Am I too detailed? Too de- Too much - Too many details?) Um - called "Six," and kind of embedded messages, um, in the two big male painters: Tworkov and Twombly who are two men. Um, they're these words for women: "work," "womb," and "women." So, it's sort of a, it's sort a little, one of my little feminist works.
Um, in 1990 I did a series of works using, uh, blocking out letters, um, and requiring the viewer to sort of reconstruct meaning from the remaining letters and even from the squares thems- and rectangles themselves.
This is called, "You Through Your Teeth." A lot of the work, you can, if you really try hard, can probably reconstruct it, but - and some of the work titles are really crucial and I almost think that they're almost an extension of the work. Um, so under it - under the rec- the black rectangle it could either be two "E"s and, in which case, you know, the - it would be like this gapping space in your teeth where lies were pouring forth or the rectangle could obscure "ru" and it could mean truth and in which case the rectangle would be like a barrier which would prevent truth com- from coming out.
And, then, um, a lot of these represent larger bodies of work, but I just sort of picked out one from different bodies.
Um, this is a wall painting, um, called "The Forest for the Trees." This was done at LA MOCA. Um, and I realized that if you, that if all the letters in the wo-, uh, the phrase "The Forest for the Trees" could be used to spell just the words "tthhee ffoorrreeesstt" so that, because then you have a lot of redundant letters, you actually could, um, not, it's sort of re- it sort of parallels the same, you cannot read the words "the forest" for the words "for the trees."
Um, this was a project, uh, called "Art Aga-" It was a five city show "Art Against AIDS on the Road" and there were fifty bus tailgates - tailgates posters in Chicago. Um, lemme see, here's a detail. So they were, what it was a list of words that were, uh, synonyms, for the verb "aids" and provided, I thought, a, an attitude of compassion toward the disease and the people who had it.
Uh, this is another print. Um, an etching called, um, "Palimpsest." Uh, a lot, and it's also a list. I'm just, I've done a lot of lists. Um, all of the first, the first names are kings and popes who are the tenth in line. Um, so they have this, like, system of power that has supported them through- throughout the years. Um, but when you get to the last name, it's Malcolm X which of course stands for something else entirely different, and in fact, completely the opposite because it, you know, indicates, uh, a lack of, of roots, a lack of history or knowledge of predecessors. It's kind of a revolutionary little piece I think.
Um, this is, I made one video called "Sisyphus" and it's the name "Sisyphus" spelled 73 different ways, but they're never right, so it, like, never gets it right, and it just, the names just continue to come up on the screen accompanied by a drum roll.
Um, this painting is from a group of paintings from '91. Um, sign paint, sign paint on sign paint. Uh, that were about, like, balance, equality, harmony. Um, and, uh, this is an example, if you take the word "tidbit," If you use that font and if you use lower case letters, so they have to be manipulated to an extent, you end up with these kind of, two halves of the word that are mirror images of each other. And all the other works in that group were kind of exploring these same ideas.
And this is another one that sort of combines that idea, plus the blocked out things. This is called, um, "Distinguishing." So, if you took out the distinguishing letters like "d," uh, "t," "u," and "h" you have letter that look, two halves of that word that look exactly the same. So if you take out the distinct or disharmonious elements.
Um, this was part of a group of paintings in which, from 1993, in which I was exploring letter forms and the word "trick knees" could actually be pronounced "tric nees" without the "k"s. Um, so then the "k"s become these kind of left over little objects that, um, can function pictorially as two little pairs of legs, stick legs, in which one of each is sort of unnaturally bent, like a trick knee.
Um, this is called "Aunt Bea." And, um, this is 1994 and it deals with issues of, for me, and all the things that I'm telling you, the way I describe 'em, is sort of my takes, and where I begin with the work. As language, naturally, it has lots, they have lots of layers and everybody brings their own associations and interpretations to them. So I don't want to close off discussion of any work when I give my take on it, but it's sort of the way it arises for and it always arises for me with language and structure of language.
Um, so anyway, this is a little bit, it's about class. It's about gender. It's about heredity. And Queen Ant and queen bee, you would think would have an heir or a product of their union would be Ant Bee, but because there's, like, a slight mutation, it becomes Aunt Bea. And, um, "A-U-N-T B-E-A." And, uh, it, it's also, Aunt Bea was this character on a sitcom, years ago, called Mayberry RFD in which there was a character named Aunt Bea who was a sort of homespun, down to earth, older woman. (laughs) Who was, like, you know, as far from royalty, or you know, how we perceive royalty, as, as possible.
Um, this is a graphite drawing on paper called, um, well, I'll tell you how I thought of it. The name "Virginia Woolf," I realized that within the word, within the name, there was the words "virgin wool." And so, this is called "A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing," instead of, you know, the opposite of that phrase which is "a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Um, this is, um, just an example of this kind of, of an anagram, that um, just sort of miraculously describes, like, two opposites, opposite positions of information, and, and it was done as a, uh, commission for a public library. On one end of the library, "Silence" was painted on this wooden panel and on the other end "License" was. So, it just describes, you know, the infor- it's sort of encompasses the information of the library, where on one hand you have the sort of silence, repression, censorship, and one the other hand, license, you know, complete freedom and complete access to information.
And, this is called "Leak" and it's just one of these perfect examples, of a found, I mean, I do think of language, everything I do is sort of found language and all I do is sort of manipulate it to reveal things I see in it that I think are exciting. So if you took "roof" and turned it upside down over floor, you have exactly the same letters except for the missing "l" which I sort of perceived as um, a leak, 'cuz then you have this hole in "roof." This was a wall painting, I think, in a, in Germany.
Um, and this is just a big billboard which, um, is an alphabetical fragment in which the "hi" is highlighted so that it sort of becomes this voice that comes out of the body of the alphabet. Um, this actually worked very well as a, sort of a public, very public piece, and, you know, wasn't too difficult to grasp for people passing by. This is at the Geffen Contemporary in LA.
Um, this is a drawing in which the material was important. Um, I just used a very saturated red marker and drew "wound" on one side of, on side of the paper and what bled through was this. And so the title of this is "Bleed."
Um, this was a, um, on the faade of the Whitney Museum in, as part of the Biennial in 2000, and, um, it's called "Star Spangled." It's a fragment of the lyrics from "Star Spangled Banner" and, um, each part of this, well, it's so hard to talk about this one, um, if I sing it which I hate - I will sing it - but I hate to do it 'cuz I've a horrible voice, but you have to, I have to do this, so it goes, if you start from the lower left and then go up and come down it's (singing) ba-ah-ner-er ye-eht wa-ave. "Ave" is way down in the corner and "et wa" are on the same vinyl banners because it's the same note. So, it's, um, the way it sort of climbs, it sort of ascends on the faade and then falls, is sort of the same positions that it has on the musical, on a musical staff. And, um, and it sort of waves, you know the way it goes up and down, and so, um, it sort of worked out really well. I'd actually done the piece before, even before the commission came about, so it was sort of lucky that it worked so well on the front of the museum. Uh, this was a project from, uh, the first year that Art Basel, Miami Beach has a big art fair that took place in 2002 and so it can either read, depending on, you know, how the colors back it up, "mi amigo, Miami" or "Miami, go, Miami." Um, this a cartoon that I ran across in the New Yorker which gave rise to, um, just notice, you know, there's winter, the little leaf, autumn on the door and the little umbrella out in the - side, outside, gave rise to this installation at the Suburban which is a, I don't know if you know about the Suburban out in Oak Park that Michelle Grabner runs. They had this little building out there. They'd invited me to do a show and that was their original building before they built a space and it just seemed like a perfect container for that cartoon. So, we painted "Autumn" on the door, put the umbrella out in front and we locked it, but indoors there were, there is the sign which says "Winter" and the little leaf. It's called "Four Seasons." Um, and this is a large wall painting called, obviously, "Blurred." Um, also just this found language, um, that automatically divides itself by color, so there's "B-L-U" and then "R-E-D." Um, where they meet, in the corner, in the middle, is a purple "R." So, um, it's perfect when it's, like, construc- when it's painted on two walls meet in a corner, because like the meeting point, so reinforces the way the word meets in the middle and the red and blue become purple, or like this sort of compromised, compromising and accommodating, uh, point. Uh, small color pencil drawing. Pretty recent, um, in which, it's called "Taking Charge," but just the little black, kind of architectural, um, feature on the "C" changes "Chance" to "Change." And it interested me that, little things interest me in language, like really small occurrences, and it interested me that, like, such a tiny little fragment, um, could makes pro-, you know, makes a profound difference in the meaning. Something that was just chance could actually effect, you know, become, changed. Um, this is called, uh, "I Wish I Knew My Neighbor Better." And, I don't know, I wish, can you read the first, the word "Ivory?" Or is it too light? I'm just wondering.
Kenneth Goldsmith: It's a little light.
Kay Rosen: I'm just wondering. It's a little light. It was light in the show, but, um, I'm, I just actually got this slide from New York and it really looks very light. It says "Ivory L. Brown." Ivory L. Brown and, um, it's woman who lives in my neighborhood but who I don't know. Um, I was struck when I ran across her name in the phone book that her first and last name were two colors: ivory and brown, but I don't know what the "L" stands for, but in the context of color, it seemed that it also had to be a color. So, (laughs) so, it's, um, I decided it was either lime green or lilac (or lavender). So, but if I knew her better, um, I would know what her middle name stood for. And this is the last slide, and it's called, uh, "New Orleans," 2005. It's about Katrina, and, um, it uses this series of letters that can break down into various ways. Um, you know, "Oh, Noah" or "OH AH" as, you know, expressions of alarm, "NO" for New Orleans and, um, kind of in these colors it describe kind of alarm. They're, you know, bright and eye-catching, hopefully. And the little painting on the left is called "Back of the Boat." And it's the word "RAFT" and the, uh, back of that part, of that word, is "AFT" which is the back of the word and it means "back." Um, there is a reference to, from back of the boat, to back of the bus, and Rosa Parks, and as somebody described it, in review, as sort of the unfinished business of her business. Um, and, uh, so that's sort of it. That's the group of slides I decided to show you and, you know, be happy to talk about that or anything else. Thank you.
AH: Hi. I'm Amira Hanafi and I'm a student here in the MFA in Writing program. Thank you for showing us the slides and giving us an introduction, that was very nice. When I first saw your work, the first thing that struck me--after I stopped laughing, because it's very funny--was that it has a lot of parallels with concrete poetry. So then I went and did some research and read up about definitions of concrete poetry and for all practical purposes it could be defined as concrete poetry. I just wanted to ask you why you choose not to define it that way.
KR: Well, it could be partly out of ignorance (laughs), that I'm not a big student, a serious student of concrete poetry. So there are probably some aspects of it that I'm not aware of or don't know well enough, where it probably fits in. And I do think it fits in, in some ways. But I feel like it diverges from it in more ways than it is like it. I do get that question a lot. I feel like it's maybe because I think of concrete poetry in association more with the printed page, where the page really becomes a frame, where words are laid out to form a certain structure. And you're probably saying well that's exactly what yours does (laughs). I just feel like that's not a priority, though. I think my purposes are to arrange text in a way that reveals something about their structure but whatever comes after that, any other layers I love for people to draw and make other associations with it, but it's not my primary reason to arrange it just for the sake of arranging it. It has more to do with revealing something about the structure of language, and that's why I think it has more to do with linguistics than with concrete poetry. However, I don't object that it's thought of that way at all. I mean, to me, and you (Kenneth Goldsmith) can probably talk more about that.
KG: I'm just wondering if it's a matter of economy, what economy you decide to place the work in. Had it been placed into a page-bound praxis then in fact, we would have to think of it as concrete poetry. But in fact concrete poetry was never meant to live in a physical environment. And often when it's moved off the page it fails terribly. You know I think that Kay['s work], because it's invoking a physical space, it's really dealing with issues of the body, letters really off the page. Even a drawing is rarely an 8x11 experience in her work. I believe that once you take something off the page and throw it into a different economy, the economy of fine art in fact, then we need to look at it as fine art. However, if she had only kept it on the page, then we would have to figure it as that--in that economy, through that economy.
KR: That's right.
AH: As a follow-up to that, what would happen to your work, the language aspect of it, if you took away the color and the material and the painting on the wall, and you just put it on the page in a book. I was thinking about your piece Elvis Elvis, Elvis Lives...what if we took those two words and just put them on the page, what do you think might be lost or what do you think might be gained?
KR: I think it's a case-by-case thing. I think Elvis Elvis could work on the page, just like Silence License could work on the page. But some things really require the color, like Blurred, say or Ivory L. Brown. They require color; some require scale. I think OhNoAh, New Orleans 2005, I think the wall paintings are important when you want the volume turned up on a message, when it's not such an intimate and private message but more of a public message. So I think that scale would be an important thing that you would lose on a page. So color, scale. I think that some of them, when you talk about the body, I think that they are body-like, in a way. First of all I think the size of the paintings, and I think it's hard to tell from there (the screen), but they're pretty much easel size. And I think they're sort of within the confines of the body. And they are object-like. So I think some would work. You imagine Elvis Lives on a page, in black and white. I don't know if everyone's seen that one, I didn't show it, but it's usually black text on a bright pink ground. You would lose the context, which is sort of the 50s, you know, these 50s colors. I think something would be lost. I think more would be lost than gained.
KG: It would be funny if you could do a project where you take all of Kay's texts and Xerox them or whatever and reduce them to a page and do a little book and call it "Kay Rosen Unplugged." You could do that and see what happens.
KR: (laughs) Yeah, see what happens.
KG: Personally I think things would be lost but I think new things would happen too. When you take away a lot of the scale, the sensuousness, you're really left with words on the page. I agree that the language is strong enough, that actually stripped down without the physicality, would certainly be very powerful on the page.
KR: Well, thank you. I think it's a good idea. Maybe I'll do that. Thanks.
A: Hi, my name is Andrew Blackley; I'm a student here in the Printmedia department.
KR: Hi Andrew.
A: I'm curious about your print-based works- the way that you build the images, or the text rather, how it differentiates from that of the handmade, and also the processes and the framing that you employ. I'm also interested in your titling, and in your print-based works, how you don't include the titles on the bottom, especially how we've discussed how integral your titles are. Traditionally, I, or some people, would expect it. I was also curious about that.
KR: Ok, that's a lot of questions. So, the first one is about printmaking.
A: ... Yep- about how you build the image.
KR: A lot of the prints, as I was saying, as I said, are um, are lists. They are a large amount of text that can't be accomplished by painting, or you know, it would be foolish. So when I do these lists, and I do a lot of them, they work better in a print medium. I've done a lot of prints that are, you know, not lists, that work maybe because, like a print that I did on letterpress, it was a letterpress project, it played with the "rainbow" backgrounds that letterpress uses sometimes, and it was "rain bow-wow" or "rainbow wow" but uh, anyway, it sorta just depends. It either has to do with printmaking, usually, specifically, or it is a lot of text that is better done mechanically.
A: Yeah, I was going to ask if you had used letterpress before.
KR: Well, yes, well not personally but I have done three letterpress projects - well one that is about to be done, and I uh, love the way that it looks.
A: Would you consider your print-based worked, maybe hybridic? Between the language and the visual and the manner that they sit upon the page? As you were saying about concrete poetry being works on a page.
A: Would you consider them closer towards that?
KR: Yes, I would, yes and some of the print based projects, some of the lists have been reproduced as covers, on projects in a magazine or a journal or something and I think they work fine.
A: And I have one more (question).
KR: Yeah, it's fine.
A: Do you, are you creating your own fonts? Or are you utilizing other fonts?
KR: I'm utilizing existing fonts - not that I wouldn't love to design a font, I just haven't had time. But I use, I use usually, except for this little decorative period in 1994 where Aunt Bea is part of, most of the fonts are Sans Serifs, they are really simple fonts because I don't really want the font to distract from other things, other issues in the painting. So I usually use Futura, or something very simple, its, that's sorta generic looking...
A: Thank you
KR: Was that everything?
A: You know, one more (question.) about your titling-
KR: Oh yeah, the titles. Sometimes the titles are really important and they are like an extension of the piece like Sheep in Wolf's Clothing or, I can't think of other examples right now but sometimes they are just very...
KG: I Wish I Knew My Neighbor Better?
KR: Yes yes, yeaaa, that's an important one. But sometimes the titles are just the name of the piece, like um Tidbit is just Tidbit and Torso's Rot is just Torso's Rot. There is nothing very exciting about them.
A: Well, thanks.
KG: Let me follow up on the idea of multiples. I mean, I think these things would make great t-shirts
KG: Coffee cups, mouse pads...
KG: No, seriously, they are so iconic in a way, powerful in a way, because I think the work always, I mean always has a political and social message in it.
KG: Its not simply for halls(?) so there's all these other venues.
KG: ...Of mass production, getting to screensavers, I mean have you done everything along...
KR: Yeah, I have. I've - there is this company in New York called Photofolio, do you know them? Photofolio - and they make t-shirts for, of artists work, and they sell them to museum stores and stuff like that. And they, um, have done a lot of my t-shirts actually, and I have this new project, I just had a flood in my studio and I decided that I needed to get rid of a lot of stuff, so I have all these t-shirts that I am now giving away, and so if anyway [laughing] wants to come to my home.... Because they gave me like 15 of like every t-shirt they made, so there are all these t-shirts...
KG: What where? Where were they available?
KR: They've available, um, uh, well Photofolio is like a wholesale. They like sell to museum stores or something, I guess. You could go to their website and try to find out I guess, if they um, if they actually sell them. I don't know, I should find out.
KG: Have you ever collaborated?
KR: But I love them. I love to do postcards, you know.
KG: Have you ever collaborated with a fashion designer?
KR: No, not that I can remember,
KG: Hmm. So, have you done postcards?
KR: I've done postcards.
KG: Coffee cups?
KR: Not coffee cups. I haven't yet. I've done a screensaver for Camel cigarettes, who are (inaudible) they (inaudible) oh yeah, Phillip Morris [Transcribers note: RJ Reynolds, not Phillip Morris, manufactures Camel cigarettes] um, commissioned me to do this screensaver. Unfortunately, it only comes, it was so long ago, it only came on a floppy [chuckle] so like no one...(inaudible) Oh you can actually download it from my website, I think [chuckle] there is this screensaver thing there under the index.
Polina: My name is Polina Zionts; I'm in the Visual Communications Department. I also have a background in theatre. Um, since coming to this school, when I see art that is, the intent is to be funny and there is humor involved(you were talking about the coffee cups and um, screen savers and such. My interpretation is that when something is funny it isn't taken as seriously or um, it isn't as valid to some people and I just want to hear your argument why it is.
Kay: Um... I feel that, I agree with you. I think things that are funny are not taken as seriously and aren't given as much, um, importance, uh, as more serious subjects. Um, my, I don't have much of a defense. Um, you could just think that... I think there the work, sometimes, I mean(I feel there's more in the work. Other people sometimes feel, sometimes feel there, there is more in the work besides just the humor. The humor is sort of the thing that comes, sometimes it's.. you know, "Ha Ha" funny. I think I talked about that in the interview. Um, sometimes it's just.. the kind of humor that comes as when you are surprised. You don't expect something. It's like "Ah Ha". You know, that kind of funny. But you know, I think language being language that there are other payoffs besides that and I think it's sort of, you know, up to the viewer whether they receive that more out of it than just that. Um, so I'm not sure that quite answers your question. You know, I really don't know how to defend that I think it's as valid as, as more serious work. Uh, and... but that's not to say that humor is not serious either. You know, I think that a lot of serious issues can be addressed with humor. So, I don't know, probably not a very good answer but...
Polina: No, it is.(???) And I think that it absolutely, I, I disagree with that.
Polina: Um, I mean with theater comedy and tragedy go hand in hand so...
Polina: So, it seems like for art you know it just has to be serious. And that leads to, um, when you create text for a piece do you deliberately make a choice to set out for a specific mood, er a comedic mood, or does it just come to you during the process? And then also, um, have you created any pieces where.. you know there are so many layers to um, the text... and do you, do you discover things where all of the sudden you've the made the piece and you know, that there are all these, um, I don't know... When, when it's up do you see something that you didn't see before?
Kay: Well, the first part of ... the humor is usually something that comes with it. I don't go looking for it. It's usually the thing that recommends itself, the piece, to me. Um, and uh, so, its already like, comes with the territory um, and the other layers or associations... yeah, sometimes I think of them, but so much I, I learn from other people who... But, I can sometimes get stuck on a certain way of looking at. And then I find that other people will suggest other, uh, layers to me or other associations and I'm just like amazed that I haven't seen it. Um, for example that work called "Six"( "twombly tworkov twomen", to me originally that was only about spacing and reading. That two men read like twomen. After you say tworkov and twombly, you say twomen because there is no space in between. It was just about reading. And someone who wrote about that work discovered, not I, that it was really there were these female words embedded in it, which I didn't even see. I mean, it's just amazing cause it seems so obvious, so I have incorporated it into my (???)
Kenny: (???)What uh, uh humorist, humorist uh artists works do you admire? Give us some examples of artists or works that you find interesting (??).
Kay: Um... some of Richard princes jokes (laughs)and gosh um. Well see, I thought... Sheryl Donavan is, can I say it? Kenny's wife, who's a wonderful artist. She did, she did this, um, fabulous piece. She's a wonderful artist and um, that some years ago... a piece that I just thought was so funny was a work she did in which she sat her bare buttocks in green paint and made a print with it by moving around in four places on paper like a shamrock. And to me that was very... I just thought it's, it's a combination of wit and humor. And like getting at something that's, um I don't, you know... it's just is so unique and that no one would have ever, ever thought of. It's just so fresh and I can't think of anyone else. I'm sure, I mean it's usually the thing that clenches...
Kenny: You know, I think that it's sometimes very funny about the work because the work doesn't read funny.
Kenny: I mean, it is really austere you know, it's not humorous. I remember years ago Larry Johnson.. is that his name? He does the text with those funny colors...
Kay: Uh huh.
Kenny: And it was all, you know, very decorative and very humorous. And I think one of the strengths of your work is that fact that it reads very austere and very serious.
Kay: Uh huh. Yeah.
Kenny: And then of course, there is this layer of humor, which kind of creates, um... a sort of tension in the work. Do you feel that if you had, if you used funnier thoughts, the work would just kind of slide off the wall into a, you know, a pile of Jell-O so to speak? Um, is there a tension and there's a rigor and a tension in your attention to typography that holds the humor in check by the austerity of the typographical treatment?
Kay: I think that's very likely. I think that's a really good point. I think that's very possible and um, I guess maybe also the economy of the work does that. There are only a few words, you know, its never more than three maybe. And, I don't know... and there is something... I am a big believer in really painting or drawing the works well (laughs). I think there is a sort of authority in, you know, doing things... I'm just one of those, you know, anal perfectionists that has to have every like, line straight. So, maybe there is something about that authority that, you know, for the way it's physically done that also keeps up the austerity. I'm not sure.
Kenny: (???) look also, as say, as opposed to say hand painting.
Kenny: (???) What's the Mexican one?
Kay: That was based on a cartoon I drew then enlarged. Yeah.
Kenny: But you never, you never would Jessica Donavan style you know...
Kay: (laughs) No.
Kenny: You know try to do this. (???) Why wouldn't you do that?
Kay: I just don't think I would be happy with it.
Kenny: Do you think, do you think it would undercut the seriousness of the work? Or do you think that... what would happen if, if the forest here was in fact ended without a freeform (???)? Um...
Kay: I just, I don't think it would work as well. There is something maybe about... um, the, the neutrality that is created when it's sort of done in a formal way that keeps it in a certain place. Kind of rigidly in a certain place, and allows you to enter and move around in it maybe. I actually never thought about that before. I think it's a really interesting question. Maybe that's it. Maybe it just becomes too loose and too... maybe it needs to hold it's own place and be very formal.
Kenny: I'm thinking about what happened with Warhol's celebrity portraits in the seventies...
Kay: Yeah. Uh huh.
Kenny: Where the original Warhol's were just screened and not touched and just no hand at all. And as the time went on he began to get more and more decorative using looser brush strokes...
Kenny: For expressionistic brush strokes and in a way you know really undermined the rigor of his practice.
Kenny: And perhaps while pleasing the client, because the client is paying so much money for these portraits, they want a little bit of the artists hand.
Kay: Uh huh.
Kenny: As opposed to the (???) thing. The artists hand, how does the artist's hand...?
Kay: I know there's no artist's hand here.
Kenny: But there is! You hand paint these.
Kay: I do hand paint these, yes.
Kenny: So, there is an artist's hand.
Kay: I hand paint them all.
Kenny: But, it's a suppressed artists hand.
Kay: Yes, it is, it is. I mean, I admire, and I admire that in other artists. I wish I could be Jessica Donavan and go in and just like, you know, paint this huge dollar sign on a wall or you know some...
Kenny: Carrie Leibowitz
Kay: Or Carrie, exactly Carrie Leibowitz, who is another very funny artist who also does (???). But, um, I just don't think I can. I may have made a few (???).
Kenny: We've got a few things. We've got some coffee cups...
Kay: Uh huh, we have some lists.
Kay: Unplugged, some black and white (???)
Kay: So we need to be here in a year.
Kenny: Ok, so um next question, other students?
A: I'm Ashley. Hi. I'm an Art History, Theory, and Criticism student. I was wondering, have you ever thought about doing other languages with your work? No learning the language but just using it strictly as letters would be things like this and finding out maybe what would happen?
KR: Well, I have used other languages, but only ones I know. I've done a piece using nein nine ten, using "nein" like German, but just like really basic words. I feel like without the meaning, you know if I didn't know the meaning I would be a little helpless. But I have used other languages.
KG: When you, say, work in Germany, has the work ever been translated? Chinese, German? When you do a show in Korea or something, do you use English?
KR: I haven't done a show in Korea, but when I do a show in France or Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands- so many people speak English in Western Europe that it usually isn't a problem. But also, because the works are so brief, they can be looked up in a dictionary and anyone, even if they don't speak English, can probably find the meaning of them. The thing that suffers though is the cultural... the cultural implications that we get here, that we know here., that they aren't aware of. Things that are read into it, like "Tidbit." I don't know if tidbit is a word they'd used...
A: It's an expression, right?
KR: Yeah, or...
KG: But but but say the word "tidbit..."
KG: If the German equivalent was here at the Art Institute you'd be completely lost.
KR: If you were German and saw it?
KG: No, if a German artist came here and painted a German slogan on our wall here without a translation, we'd look at it and go, "Whuh? Whatever."
KR: Right, and then it has to offer something else. And then maybe you'd see it as mere images and you don't have to know what the word is... I mean the word isn't so crucial to that piece, I mean it is a little word, it's a tidbit of language, you know? But I'm not sure how important that is.
KR: But yeah, you're right, it's a little problematic. I mean "Blurred" was done... this image here is from the MCA in Chicago, but I did do it in Germany at a gallery and, you know, they could probably read it. But at the time it was done, which is in 2004, we had this blue/red political thing raging, and still do, and even though I don't want to be read that way, to me it's about two sides of anything that sort of come together. But, in the United States, that's how a lot of people read it. In Germany it wasn't an issue. So I just think some cultural nuance is lost in other countries.
A: And also, your comment about the text, if you were to use a kind of a signature, I think I would concentrate more on what your handwriting looks like then more on what it's about, like the actual word.
KR: You mean you prefer this (font) to a more casual hand?
A: Yeah, like if it was your actual handwriting.
KR: Yeah. So you're on the side of keeping the formal-
A: Yeah, and I'm usually not, I'm usually not. Because I think more about the meaning of the word instead of how you write the word.
KR: I think that's part of it too. I think when it's hand-done, I think it's something else coming in that is not important to what I'm interested in.
KG: I think that's a really fascinating question in the way that we presume the social/political/cultural migration of language. The way that we presume that English does travel, because everywhere we go people seem to speak English. Have you thought about working in other languages in those countries specifically? Working with somebody who could either translate the work or actually create some new work using, say, Japanese kanji.
KR: I would love to do that. I haven't really had an opportunity. I don't know, somehow the shows I've done have just...it's been work maybe they've seen in New York, you know, and they want to transport it to their country, and it's really closed. That's it, you're not going to do anything else.
KG: Do you feel that working in English limits your career as an artist?
KR: (deep breath) Oh, maybe... Do you think so? Maybe. (laughs)
KG: I'm not sure, I think maybe...you know.... the painting, the image reads across internationally... We get back to concrete poetry again and again... One of the political thrusts behind concrete poetry was a transnational language. In other words, you could actually read a poem not knowing that language, but if you had a key to understanding the simple things that were going on on the page, then in fact you would be able to read and write poetry that could be understood transnationally. So, yeah. I think it's a very utopian, mid-century idea, kind of an Esperanto idea. You know, Esperanto, say, could you do a show in Esperanto?
KR: That'd be great. I don't know Esperanto, but I could learn it.
KG: Of course, the idea was that anybody could learn it. I mean Esperanto is a muti-dimensional reverberatory linguistic space.
KR: Except nobody speaks Esperanto, do they?
KG: Of course they don't. But everybody would be able to understand it, even though it's a failed utopian system.
KR: But I would probably have more success in English. But then, Lawrence Weiner does do some work in, say, German or Dutch. Ed Ruscha does not really that I'm aware of... I don't think Jenny Holzer does- I'm trying to think of language artist who just limit their practice to English.
KG: Do we have some more questions?
A: Hi, my name is Mike Avella. I'm an MFA student here at the Art Institute in Writing. How often do you keep an audience in mind when putting a piece together? Is there an audience? Why do you care if people come to see your work?
KR: I think every artist cares because we are communicate, communicate something to an audience, but although, I also think we do it for ourselves, don't we? I think we do, but I do keep an audience in mind more. I think it's important to try to gage how someone reads your work and how they come to it, because an artist works, you get really close to it. It's not seeing the forest from the trees. It's hard to judge how well it communicates what you want to say, to a viewer. So, I think it's important to me not to satisfy myself, but to get it to a point where there's some clarity, economy and directness, focus it will be accessible, not to the point where you compromise it, but to make it the lowest common denominator, but to be just honest and make your views what you want to communicate really clear. A real long time ago the work I did, I expected the audience to meet me, I come 75% and for me I would prefer to meet them half-way. I think it's important; it's a balance, like striking a balance.
KG: I think the works would be delightful to live with. Day in and day out, how is it to live with your work?
KR: I don't have too many of, but, you know how it is when you have something and don't notice it after a while, but, they don't annoy the one's I have up. At the very worst I don't notice them after a while, but I enjoy living with them. They're sort of a test of time. See work that you just think, "oh my God, how did I let that out of my studio, it's so awful?" Sometimes you look at the work and say gee, that wasn't so bad and didn't destroy it like I wanted to.
KG: Do you do commissions for people's homes?
KR: They're difficult. I've done a couple. Like two. That's it. Mostly they're public- a museum will buy something and they'll have a record and they can put it up whenever they want.
KG: So they'll reconstruct it?
KG: On occasion then tear it down.
KR: Right, so I'll give them all the plans for doing it and they'll do it. I don't think it's such a big deal for people to paint something on their walls, then if they more they can repaint it, or paint over it. I think people are very resistant, I think they're much more partial to having the object.
Jac Jemc: Hi, my name is Jac Jemc. I'm in the MFA writing program. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about the idea of language as a found material, and in relation to that, I was also wondering if there has ever been an instance where you didn't feel you had the authority to take on certain language or rearrange it, work with it?
Kay Rosen: Ah, you mean because of, ah, copyright issues or what kind of issues? I mean, what would keep you...what would prevent? Well, I'll try to answer that without your... I mean, I was just trying to think, like, what would keep me from feeling that I had the authority, but maybe it's because of the nature of the found language, so I'll answer that first.
Jac Jemc: Or maybe certain ways of turning language around or manipulating it?
Kay Rosen: Yeah...well, as I said, I do think of the work as found language. There...you know...sometimes the things just pop into my head. Sometimes I just read something. Sometimes it's a bit of conversation I overhear. Um, it comes to me in different ways, but it's always found. You know, it's always something that exists out there that I just sort of pluck out of the air, out of the atmosphere, because there's something about that I feel, you know, I want to do something with, and usually though because it's so anonymous, I never feel, I don't feel like it's off-limits to me. So I don't know if that's quite what you were asking about, you know, but I can't remember a time...uh, I mean, the only time I would feel that way is if it was, you know if I was, you know like plagiarizing, or you know taking, lifting language from an author, you know where it had already been authored. I haven't done that that I can remember, so, like, maybe that would be an issue.
Kenneth Goldsmith: What about copyrighted language? What about, you know, language, commercial language? Um, would that, would that prevent you, the fear of using that and getting sued, perhaps? Proprietary language? The words you use seem to always be in the public domain except for Ivory L. Brown.
Kay Rosen: Yeah. I know.
Kenneth Goldsmith: And I asked you at lunch, what would Ivory think if-
Kay Rosen: I know.
Kenneth Goldsmith: if she knew you were put-
Kay Rosen: I'm afraid to meet Ivory-
Kenneth Goldsmith: putting her name against- without her permission.
Kay Rosen: I know. Well, I think- I don't know what would happen.
Kenneth Goldsmith: No, I think it's a ...Perhaps your question is-
Kay Rosen: I don't know if that's like grounds for a lawsuit.
Kenneth Goldsmith: Is it ethical? I mean, is it a question about ethics? Because I think when one works with, with language, that one takes, assumes a certain, you know, must take a certain ethical position, stance, either for, against, or completely ignoring the idea, idea of ethics in language.
Kay Rosen: Yeah.
Kenneth Goldsmith: You know, I - it's interesting. I mean, I- have you ever used the word Coca Cola?
Kay Rosen: No. I've used Coco - croco (?) in cocoa (laughs) I have but it's not, it's not about -
Kenneth: Do you, do you purposely shy away? Would the meaning, would the meaning and connotations of the word Coca Cola be too limiting anyway as for what it could possibly do for your work anyway? I mean, when something is that prescribed, it doesn't have the openness and the fluidity of normative language.
Kay Rosen: Right, yeah, I mean, it's never - there's nothing about that word right now that's interesting, you know, so I'm not tempted, but I can't think of any copyrighted word right now, yeah, that would be off limits.
Sally Alatalo: Hi. Sally Alatalo, teacher of the class and I wanted to ask you a follow up: What would be an example of language that is not found?
Kay Rosen: Gosh...Um...I don't know, I mean, language: it all exists, so it is all found. Some of it is, and it's all kind of generic, you know? There's nothing about it that - I mean there are some proper names, like Pancho Villa or Noah or Elvis : I mean, there are some proper names, but the non-proper names are - they all - they exist as language, so they're all found, I mean, I think, do you, I mean, do you have another take on that? Yeah, cuz I can't think of anything that isn't. And getting back to the copyright issue: I actually had tried to copyright "HI" you know the "ABCDEF" because in (laughs) I had this, like, running battle with the copyright office, the Library of Congress and they would not copyright it, because it was too, you know it was generic, it was an alphabet, and even though I wanted to copyright it, you know, as an artwork and just sort of, you know, in that way, they would not do it.
Kenneth Goldsmith: Wait a minute: why did you want to copyright it?
Kay Rosen: I don't know. There was a point where it was just so - you know, in so many, um, in, in, you know, in retrospect it was kind of a silly idea but in 1997 -
Kenneth Goldsmith: No, no, no, I'm really curious. Were you, were you feeling that somebody would use that in an ad campaign -
Kay Rosen: You never know, yeah.
Kenneth Goldsmith: And you wouldn't get credited?
Kay Rosen: Well, you know, you always hear about Robert Indiana's, you know, experience with the "LOVE," you know, blocks, and how he never copyrighted it, and he never, you know, he was made into stamps and you know, mugs and key rings and all kinds of stuff and he never got a penny and, um, not that mine would ever, you know, enjoy that kind of success, but you know, that I think that is like the example that everybody thinks of, I mean in "LOVE" it was just love, you know, so anyway, he probably couldn't have copyrighted it if he wanted to, so anyway, I just wanted to copyright it. It was just out in the public for a while as, you know, in a lot of different locations and it was a tee shirt, it was a button, it was a billboard, it was a building, it was a wall, it was in New Zealand, it was in Australia, it was in Philadelphia, it was in California, it was just all over the place. And it was like, I don't know, I just got a little like: Maybe I should protect this, but anyway, it didn't happen.
Jac Jemc: This is maybe a little bit different, but, and I'm not aware, maybe you have, but have you ever used someone's name that is still living in your work?
Kay Rosen: Yeah, Ivory Brown.
Jac Jemc: But, um, someone that's -
Kay Rosen: Oh, you mean a public -
Jac Jemc: - in the public sphere?
Kay Rosen: I did, well, yeah, I did a bumper sticker, yeah, about Bush. Um, what else? Let's see. Yeah, that's the only one I can think of and that's sort of, you know, it kind of came in through the back door.
J: Hi I'm Jessica and I'm in the Masters in Arts Administration and Art History, Theory and Criticism. My question is how any outside perceptions of your work, you've already mentioned the work, womb, women, but how maybe any outside perceptions of your work affects how you see your work? And also, being formally trained in linguistics and not art, how you view the art history thing and how that plays into your work?
Kay: You mean coming to it from another place? Yeah. I felt very self-conscious for years that I didn't come to it through art and didn't go through all of the formal, rigorous training, networking, all that kind of stuff that art students go through. But, I think it's actually, probably good that I came to it from that way. You know it was more diluted and uncontaminated (laughs) by a lot of art world issues - maybe, I'm not sure. I mean it's interesting. It could have been different in a better way, it could have been a positive thing, I don't know. But, I did have to learn a lot on my own, and that made it a little more difficult. But I think basically I was able to develop it in a way that was maybe more pure and maybe more focused. It just came out of that certain place.
KG: You came from academia; is your work ever discussed or received by say, linguistic journals in academia? Have there been critical pieces written about your work from an academic linguistics standpoint?
KG: Or even Freudian slips of the tongue, certainly.
Kay: No, I mean no one has. Do you know who Stephen Pinker is? He's a linguist and he's written a lot of books and he's sort of a big authority on linguistics in a certainÐ he has a certain theory, which right now, honestly I can't think of what it was. But he did talk about my work in conjunction with a show I did at MIT, you know the List Gallery at MIT. And, I wasn't there for it, and the person who was supposed to record it screwed up and I never heard it. So, that's the only case I know of, that I can remember, where someone's talked about it more academically.
KG: It would seem that there could be a virtual industry in linguistics of commenting about your work.
Kay: Well, I think they just don't know about it. Don't you think? I mean I think they're just not aware of it. Because how many linguists or academicians really are involved in the visual arts? Probably not many. We were kind of talking about that. There's this big divide even within the same...
KG: But it seems like your work in terms of slippage, reverberation, there is also the socio-economic, you know, I would imagine an academic community would have a field day with it.
Kay: That would be wonderful, I would just love that, but I just don't think anyone is aware.
KG: Do we have another question?
TS: Hi, I'm Tiffany Slade, I'm an MFA in Writing student with a background in painting and originally when I viewed your works, I was impressed by the visuals of just certain words put together and the sounds of them. I put the words together, pronouncing them in my head (INAUDIBLE) ... but listening to you speak, I heard a lot more about the meanings behind them and a lot about (INAUDIBLE) ... and so I could really appreciate the wit so i just wondered, what drives you? Is it the meaning or the visual or the sounds or a combination of all three?
KR: good question. I think it always begins with the language...just the language itself, the physical language, in its structure and the potential that it has to reveal some sort of message or something else that exceeds what (inaudible-the stencil?) Is about, that it can, you know, you can draw more out of it by, you know...thru something within its system, its structure, and usually that's where it begins. And, it's, as you can tell, a little microcosm. I mean the things that make a difference are (INAUDIBLE) letters, sometimes punctuation, just really small events.
So that's where it starts and then sometimes the color just is part of it-like "blurred" or "Ivory L. Brown" because it just goes hand in hand with it and you can't separate it. Sometimes it's layered on top, sometimes it's like, "well what do i do with this in terms of color?" you know, like "Queen Bee"...where the Bs are yellow and black, you know like, so that usually comes later. I would say it just always start with the, you know, with the structure.
But the humor is really important. That's always closely involved with it. And, a lot of times, a work will have some potential. (INAUDIBLE) I'll work on it, I'll think "Ahhh, there's something here," and usually when a work fails, (I think I mentioned this in the interview that you all read) it's because there's a lack of... or just something that's missing, like...doesn't have that kind of (INAUDIBLE) moment.
KG: Can I ask you about the process of your work? You know, the genesis of things. Like "Ivory L. Brown." Did you go out searching for a word? Do you search for words? Do you carry a notepad around with you? How are they born?
KR: Different ways. That one, I think Sally asked me and I never answered, I think I just discovered it accidentally. I wasn't looking for names in a phonebook that, you know...however I did find a name in some phonebook that, her name was Olive Green. (laughs) Isn't that amazing? But I just discovered it and it was like, "Oh, my gosh! I have to use this!" I cut it out, and I did a collage with it, and that didn't quite satisfy me... it wasn't until I realized that that middle initial "L" was in there, and that really sort of brought it together. Then you start thinking, "Well, what does the "L" stand for?" sometimes they just come to me in the middle of the night, sometimes it's something I'm reading- they just come about in different ways.
KG: Do you keep a file?
KR: I do keep a little notebook.
KG: Once you've decided on using something and you've decided it's got the linguistic reverberations, then how does it get translated into its physical manifestation? How does one thing become a wall piece and another one becomes a painting? How does one thing have a serif type...or maybe you don't use serif types?
KR: No, there were a few years where I did.
KG: You dropped serf type, why is that?
KR: I only picked it up around the early 90s for some reason, I don't know why. I just wanted something a little more decorative where the font suited the subject.
KG: Do you find yourself going back to the same font again and again?
KR: Yeah. Now I'm using this font, that Ivory Brown and Oh Noah was done in, and "Taking Charge" the colored pencil drawing... and it's kind of one of these odd fonts, it's not a font that people use a lot. I just like it because it has a lot of straight lines, it's very blocky and, it's sort of easy to paint. It's been a good font for me. I don't know how much longer I'll use it. It's called... I hate the name of it... it's called "commander." I hate to admit it, it's just such a terrible name.
KG: Do you lay them out on the computer?
KR: Yes. Well, I start out by doing little drawings in pencil, kind of exploring and seeing how to best do it. Then I do it on the computer and then print it out and lay it out on paper. Then I make my canvas and lay it on and transfer it.
KG: How do you transfer it?
KR- With that graphite paper. Like carbon paper.
JT- Hi. I'm Jeremy Tinder. I'm a painter and a cartoonist. I wasn't familiar with this piece until this slide lecture (points to image of four seasons installation), "Four Seasons" at the Suburban. It was a found cartoon? Found in the New Yorker?dd
KR- Mm-hm (nods).
JT- It's interesting that we've talked about language appropriation, but we didn't talk about image appropriation...
KR- Oh, right...I did call the New Yorker and I said, "Do I need permission to reproduce this?" It was pretty easy. He said, "No big deal." I couldn't believe it! I sent a written request and they just sent me a form back saying "Fine." And I forget the artist's name. I forgot who the cartoonist was now... But anyway, I said, "You know he'll be credited, of course, in any kind of literature." I did go through a formal thing to get that.
JT- I had one other small question- How do you choose which works of your are going to be presented in the public, like the AIDS bus ad project, or the ABCDEFGHI billboard, versus the OH NOAH piece, which I think begs to be public art rather than gallery art- how do you make that decision?
KR- Well, the AIDS piece I actually did for that project. I hadn't done it before that. They asked me to do something for a public venue, for this project, Art Against AIDS on the Road, for a bus, or a train station, artists could choose. So that was done for that, definitely to be a public piece. "HI" was... you know it just seemed like a public piece. It's been done as an interior wall piece, but I just don't think it's as effective. I would love to do it (OH NOAH) as a public piece. There just hasn't been an opportunity. I think it would be great. I don't know where I would do it. You don't really need to do it in New Orleans, they're so aware of the problem. It seems like it needs to be done in Washington DC.
KG- I think that's something we haven't touched on much- the political, the social underpinnings of the work. It's so present. I think one of the misconceptions about Kay's work could be that it's merely formal, it's merely word play, it's just "fun with letters." I think a cursory reading of your work would be able to dismiss that immediately. And yet... can you comment on the "yet?"
KR- (Laughs) I'm a very political person, so if it works out with the other requirements, I embrace that. It's really important to me. Of course, you just saw a small amount of work- there are an awful lot of works that are very political. Some are political and have to deal with feminism, some are political and have to do with war, some are political and have to do with class. And some of them are sort of this subjective thing; I think it's sort of up to the viewer to create the meaning.
KG- Is that viewer participation part of the political or social mechanism in the work? A feeling that in order for the works to be invoked that the viewer needs to be involved in some way, as opposed to say a more propagandistic attitude, like with Barbara Kruger? The Kruger is screaming down at you. Is there a purposeful social engagement that you're referring to in the work between the viewer and the work that could be some sort of a model of empowerment?
KR- I think it does require more viewer involvement, because a lot of them have to be figured out. They're not just there as a slogan. I think they have to be sort of figured out. And sometimes there's time involved. Like the Palimpsest that has all the popes and the kings that are the tenth except for Malcom X. There's like this time thing as you go down the list and then you get to the bottom and I think it's pretty evident, what that's about. It's sort of like you have to invest yourself in it to read it through to get to that point. The AIDS work I think is pretty evident, the AIDS bus poster. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question, but I think yes, as opposed to Kruger who is really more didactic I think... but there are other issues involved with hers.
KG- I think the question really is, does the act of participation of the viewer, the work that the viewer has to do, form a social engagement for you?
KR- Is their involvement more of a social engagement for me?
KG- Yeah, yeah. Is your work doing a sort of work by asking the viewer to step into it?
KG- And does that construction in some way socially or politically or aesthetically empower the viewer?
KR- Empower the viewer? I think it does. I think it always empowers the viewer to be engaged, whether it's politically or not, don't you think?
KG- Yes. I think Kruger does that too. Kruger speaks out. You ask... are participatory...
KR- That's true. Very good point.
KG- It's an activist approach.
KR- Yeah. Like the bumper sticker, the Bush one...have you seen it? The bumper sticker? You have. You don't get it like that (snaps fingers). You see B-U-S-H, but then you have two blocks after the BU, and two blocks after the SH, which of course, you know (means) BULLSHIT. There's a little lag time, so it requires a little bit of involvement.