“Artists who Interview” Round-Table Discussion (with pie!), August 7th, 2011
Early August at The Project Room, I had the chance to interview five incredible multi-taskers as part of my Solstenen project series of artist interviews — artist/art blogger personality Joey Veltkamp, artist/writer and adventurer Tessa Hulls, artist/curator/writer Amanda Manitach, artist/writer and LxWxH founder Sharon Arnold, and performance artist, musician and filmmaker Saskia Delores. Joined by other members of the community — lured in by pie, I suspect – we had a sparkling conversation about connecting with other makers and those beyond the ‘art world’, breaking rules, obsessions, feasts and famines….all through the lens of ‘the interview’.
As part of my 7-week residency at The Project Room, I’m using my time here to invite other artists in I want to learn from, to learn something that will influence my year-long Solstenen project, and share these learning moments with anyone who wants to join the discussion.
The five of you who I’ve invited in are artists who do interviews [Joey Veltkamp, Tessa Hulls, Amanda Manitach, Sharon Arnold, and Saskia Delores] — who have taken on that role as well as well as being makers, and I’ve asked you here because I want to know why you do it, when just being an artist is kind of a slog enough as it is! (laughter) I’m a novice to interviewing and I want to get pointers.
So, you five — and other artists in Seattle — have created something together, in a way, unintentionally. You’re working together in this community, even though you didn’t intend to work together, and have created this net — this kind of platform celebrating the activity that is happening in this city right now. For me, looking at your interview work, you’ve created these deeper, more personal, channels of understanding of this particular time period and archived the creative life that’s going on in Seattle. I’ve been really inspired by this, and it’s a huge reason why I’ve been drawn to incorporate the interviewing of other makers into the process of my Solstenen project, to record a process of growth in myself and the connections made between people through the making of new artwork.
There have been discussions before in Seattle about ‘artists writing’, like at gallerist Scott Lawrimore’s Klatch from 2009, when it was viewed in relationship to the declining presence of the traditional media outlets for arts writing.
But what I really wanted to get at are your personal motivations for doing this. I want to know how did this start for you all, how did this practice begin? It’s hard enough to have time just to be an artist, so it must do something for you, it must feed you in some way and I want to learn about that today. I want to know your process behind it too — how you prepare, how you think about it, is it a consistent thing you do or do you just wait for someone’s work to grab you. And do you have periods where it’s just too much, where you decide I’m focusing on this other thing right now. I think that’s important to talk about, as well.
So…my first real question (laughter) is how did you each begin this project of interviewing in a sustained way. You’re not employed journalists, you’re not getting paid to do this, so it has to fit into your whole practice in some way….
Saskia Delores: So I isolate a lot, I’m a recluse, but I love people—I just really like being in my home, ideally working — and my project Shut Up Dream Crusher is leveraging something like a ten year creative block / performance anxiety. Facebook—hopefully this doesn’t sound sad! —but Facebook has made a huge difference in my life; because I’d isolated so much to the point that the communities I was a part of before my block had disintegrated massively and I didn’t know how to recreate that. Plus I was feeling really blocked. I didn’t want to go to parties and talk to people about what I wasn’t doing, and see all their awesome projects — which might seem a bit selfish — but it was just too painful, when I realized I wasn’t working. The thing that really set it off for me was the artists’ grants that Greg Lundgren had done, the Arbitrary Art Grants. That was really awesome! It was simple, I didn’t have to take it seriously and I think I got involved in the community really through that. And then I started gleaning the events pages—maybe you’re not supposed to do this! —and looking at who actually showed up and who said they were going to and I started collecting artist friends that way. Then I was just reading what people were up to on Facebook, and I made a lot of good friends through it. I’m particularly interested in what people want to do with their lives, what are their passions, and Shut Up Dream Crusher grew out of this. Interviewing is a great way for me to connect with people very deeply, quickly, to learn about what they’re doing, and have it be really meaningful. So even if I haven’t seen them in six months, I really feel connected to that person. And since I’m a bit of an outsider artist and don’t have that formal education, it’s really educational for me. I feel like I’m learning so much. Then I also get to promote them, and I love that.
Arbitrary Art Grant for Performance, 2009
Mandy: I don’t know who’s familiar with whose work, but Saskia is filming interviews and then—in the ones I’ve watched—it’s almost like you’re a persona in the interview in some way. And they really pull at my heart – there is this very intimate exposure of the very vulnerable process of being an artist and being very determined. Just the title, Shut Up Dream Crusher is all about that — we all have to do that all the time, push out the internal and external naysayers. It seems like with all the interviewing that all of you are doing, there’s this sort of intention ‘to support’ happening.
And the Facebook topic is funny to bring up because I feel like it’s such a similar process for me. When I started the community crocheting project with the Mater Matrix Mother and Medium in 2009, I suddenly saw Facebook as a tool to connect with people for the project and joined up — And that really is how I met everyone here! Right when I realized what Facebook was and what it could do, it exposed me to Joey Veltkamp’s blog and I was thinking ‘who is this guy, what is he doing?”, in regards to your interviews and show listings.
Joey, Love by Steven Miller
I realized there was all this stuff happening I had no clue about. It was right after I completed Dare alla Luce at BAM in 2008 and I had been buried in making this massive artwork for 16 months with almost no outside contact, raising a toddler. Finding Joey’s blog, it was like this beautiful blooming flower and window onto all this activity. I continue to go back to it, like a touchstone, to get a feel for what’s happening, when I’m totally buried in work.
Dare alla Luce, 2008
Amanda Manitach: I think it’s interesting because of all of us here, Rodrigo Valenzuela and Saskia are the only ones who do filmed interviews and the rest of us pretty much work just textually or with correspondence. I’m curious to hear how everyone does that because I generally conduct my interviews through email, but video is a much more spontaneous way of interviewing that seems really foreign to me.
Joey Veltkamp: I know, scary! I couldn’t do it that way! (laughter)
Saskia: It’s all about the editing! (laughter)
Mandy: I’m curious about the differences, too, between live and the written interview. Like right now, this is live and … my voice is shaking! But there is this other process like… “Amanda I’ll send you these questions later…” and that gives us time to digest and think about things. I always appreciate that when I get interviewed, having that opportunity to make sure I can really clarify something instead of just what spewed out of my mouth!
Amanda: It’s like looking for two different kinds of results.
Joey Veltkamp: Exactly.
Tessa Hulls: There is also such a huge difference between interviews that are just Q&A. I’ve always been more interested in trying to weave my interviews into a narrative, because I think the reason I like to interview is that I’m an extremely inquisitive person and I’m really drawn to the obsessive part of art-making. I’d say with the people I’m drawn to, that is the connecting thread: there is something about their work that makes me wonder what obsessive personal part of them creates it. And that’s always what I want to get to in my interviews, is for them to tell me where this started inside and where it fits into their overarching themes. I like us to go off on tangents as much as possible!
Amanda: In that article you did about Mandy Greer, is that pretty representative of your style of interview, because I thought that was very interesting. You’d made a text out of it and it wasn’t at all like a back and forth like here’s you’re question, here’s the answer.
Tessa: That’s what’s interesting to me, trying to really hear an artist’s voice and articulate it in a combined way that doesn’t put words in their mouth.
Mandy: You did an amazing job with that. And you did a good job of painting the context of where we were and — sometimes it drives me nuts when someone’s writing about an artist and they try to describe what they’re wearing or something like that! — I think the writer is trying to create that context, but it doesn’t work, it feels superficial. But you created a fuller picture of that context — this is where we are, this is what’s happening and this is what’s influencing the words that are being shared. That was so wonderful, you shared details that are usually overlooked. How do you do that?
Tessa: I think that’s the reason I like to do interviews in an artist’s workspace because it’s so telling of their process and because…well, every interview has its awkward moments and its lulls when you wonder, ‘what should we talk about now’, and you can always say, ‘oh! … what’s the story about that little stuffed giraffe sitting on that log over there?’ And it just gives you a way to keep the conversation going. I find that often transitions into stories that you wouldn’t get to hear if you’d just brought in a list of questions. So I think studios definitely allow the conversations to be a little bit more natural.
Tessa Hulls and pie
Mandy: But you also do a lot of research beforehand, right?
Tessa: I’m always curious to know what other people have come up with to interview the artist I’m about to go talk to and I think that’s what I’m saying about my love of tangents: I’m always trying to make it my goal to talk about something that hasn’t come up about someone’s work before.
Sharon Arnold: I like that little breakthrough when you can get past what artists have prepared…what they already tell everybody. There are sorts of questions that everyone will ask an artist and you can kind of push past what people are used to seeing, to get to a little bit more of a vulnerable, raw space that’s unrehearsed. For me I just like to get inside people’s heads, you know… ‘what’s that, what’s that, how does that work? where does this come from? where do you come from?’ Those are really interesting questions to me. I think that learning how other artists work informs my own practice, so I think that I’m constantly pushing to discover what people are up to and what’s going on mentally, emotionally, or just the history of their life. Maybe it’s a mirror or window into something else.
Sharon Arnold, LxWxH founder
Mandy: How do you choose the people who you interview? Is it an intuitive thing, where you’re drawn to this person and you want to know more, or is it more structured, such that because of your own practice you’re interested in investigating people who do this or that?
Sharon: It could be both or it could just be someone that I don’t know much about and I want to learn more about somebody I hadn’t heard of or whose work I wasn’t familiar with, and because you do all that research before you interview them you’re forced to find out who they are.
Mandy: I get this sense, too, from Amanda and your work, Sharon, that both of you feel an urgency that this information needs to be out there, that people need to be knowing more about this artist’s work….
Amanda: I think in both of our cases our interviews stem from things we had curated, so we already had a vested interest in the artists. And for me it’d be interesting because either the artist produced really different work than they were used to doing, and at that point crafting questions is almost too easy because you want to ask what is going on, why this? But it’s much more difficult and much more interesting to come up with new questions that haven’t been asked and try to draw stuff out that’s not in their statement. But the research involved in that is the hardest part.
Rodrigo Valenzuela (filmmaker): When I interviewed you, you were kind of shy about it, you know, it took us like an hour of conversation with you…
Amanda: To get, like, fifteen seconds!
Rodrigo: How did it changed for you, mentally, because you’re still formulating questions based on my questions in your head…it’s this thought process of verbalizing your own questions so you can get to an answer. So how much changes for you when you interview artists, when you talk…you know it’s like, when I see other filmmakers I think oh no, you don’t grab the camera like that! (laughter) So how was that process of being interviewed for you, because you were anxious….
Amanda: That was really hard! Mostly because it was on camera and audio and I’m just not super used to that, and I’m like oh my god, I gotta look smart *and* sound smart?….because, you know, we’re all egotistical and vain a little… (laughter) …because we’re artists! But I also don’t conduct interviews that way, I tend to form questions that are text-based and expect that exchange, so film is a little out of my depth.
“A strange daydream, deprived of all thickness” from Rodrigo valenzuela on Vimeo.
Rodrigo: It’s interesting filming documentaries with artists…it’s interesting to have both the audio recording and film because it becomes this almost endless collection of material…and it can be really interesting to just worry about either/or. When editing, sometimes I just go through just the images and sometimes I just listen to the audio, and I don’t always try to sync it to the image because then you get a more pure connection…
Mandy: You’re actually recording body language, which, if you’re conducting a written interview is hard to even process while doing it.
Rodrigo: That’s why I’ve done videos—they’re not for profit—but they’re videos of people not talking, just their faces while I’m asking the question, so it’s just a compilation of faces. It’s interesting to see personality come through that way, and it sometimes reveals things that could never come across in a written interview. It gives you access to information: you see that there is something in them that they didn’t ever want to talk about; it could be revealed in a single gesture.
portrait exe. from Rodrigo valenzuela on Vimeo.
Amanda: I have to say the style of your interviewing is excellent, it’s completely conversational, which is the opposite of my style, which is to do so much research, trying to craft these questions that are very specific but also trying to open up vast depths of information, and here Rodrigo is, just like, well, what do you feel about that? And suddenly you forget you’re in an interview…except that, you know, there’s a camera on you. (laughter)
Mandy: I had this revealing experience the other day: one of The Project Room advisers (Sarah Novotny) brought in Dale Dougherty, who is the founder of Make Magazine and Maker Faire, and when she told me that he was going to come in I just thought ‘how am I going to talk to him, how am I going to connect to this guy?’ I just didn’t know, and made assumptions about us having different perspectives (which was very wrong). So I did absolutely no preparation whatsoever and decided I was just going to sit and listen, and it was actually so good because when you’re in a room together sitting there, you have to find some sort of connection. At one point we ended up talking about county fairs and how that related to what he’s doing with Maker Faire and also an element of my community projects, and I realized that I’d had this idea that I needed to do all this preparation to have a dialog, but that maybe sometimes it’s better to be in the hot seat, uncomfortable….I feel like I walked away with a different understanding of his work that was more personal rather than what every other media outlet has described.
Jenifer Ward (Associate Provost at Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, TPR Adviser): I think there has to be a stance of vulnerability when you go into it. In other words, if it’s not a conversation, if it’s not an exchange and not a mutual relinquishing of power in how this is going to unfold, then you might as well ask an artist to give you an artist statement and publish it, right?
Sharon: You have to leave holes for unpredictability for sure, for unexpected things to come up. I was thinking about how an interview can serve as a bridge. You can purposefully go out and find someone with whom you have nothing in common and find where that common ground is.
Mandy: That reminds me of a project Tessa was involved in; when she was interviewed by journalist Gaby Dunn as part of her ‘100 Interviews’ project. Gaby made a list of a hundred types of people that she had never met before and purposefully sought out and interviewed those people, to find those unnoticed connections, because I guarantee that we all have them…
Tessa: Her list had some really random, specific things on it: she had someone who’s picketed outside an abortion clinic, someone who was left at the altar, a one-hit wonder, an airline pilot, and—I don’t even know how I ended up as her someone who’s showing at a gallery. It was really interesting because she has zero art background so she was interviewing me as this person who was like I’m inquisitive, I’m a journalist, I don’t know anything about art, let’s see where this goes. So the questions were interesting because they were not what I was used to answering at all, just because she was asking as someone without any frame of reference about what it’s like to make things. And that’s something I wanted to ask you guys: do you think you can be someone who interviews artists if you’re not an artist yourself? Because for me that’s what draws me in, having a mutual fascination and finding the parallels between myself and the people I talk to.
Rodrigo: Also, with the Maysles brothers and the concept of cinéma vérité, we’ve learned that anybody has the capacity to become interesting in front of a camera…you just have to spend enough time with them. They’ve made some great documents of crazy ladies in ‘Grey Gardens’, of really simple or really annoying people that become very interesting…
Mandy: Everybody’s interesting in some way.
Sharon: And I would like to see more non-artists writing about art. I think it would engage people outside the art world more—and I think all the press coverage around Mad Homes exhibition in Seattle proved that people are willing and interested and open—so the more people that are asking about art from a different perspective, the more it makes us think as artists in different ways about what we’re doing. I feel like there’s danger of becoming really circular, insular; there’s this language that we use that could become only ours, which other people don’t have access to or understand necessarily. So if someone comes and they’re asking us things in ways that we’re not really thinking about it, I think that’s an opportunity to grow.
SuttonBeresCuller from Rodrigo valenzuela on Vimeo.
Mandy: And also realize that the artwork you’re doing has many different layers of accessibility, that it can function on the academic level but also can communicate the similar experiences we all have, that allows us to find that connection with whomever. The other day a friend was telling me “I was in Montana showing some guys, these hunters, your slaughtered deer piece (Small but Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006) and they thought it was really cool!” and I thought, yeah, they know much more about the visceral quality of killing an animal and I don’t, but I wanted to use that imagery to convey my own experiences. I love that moment when you realize that your own artwork can have all these cerebral elements to it but then there are many different ways to connect to people through it, without getting rid of anything or dumbing something down, or trying to appeal to a particular audience.
Small But Mighty Wandering Pearl, 2006
Saskia: It’s funny because when I was 30 I lost my job of twelve years and I realized I didn’t know anything about managing finances at all, so I started doing research on Internet marketing. One of the reasons that I do the Shut Up Dream Crusher project is there’s this thing called a marketing funnel, and basically you take from all the different communities in your life and you channel them into a funnel, and the large end is where the communities are and the small end is where you want to funnel that into your business, into your living that you’re making as an artist. I like the idea of my interviews being mutual marketing funnels, essentially, for both myself and the artists that are featured. But I always feel dumb when I’m interviewing, because I don’t have that formal interview background, and I’m tempted to research. But I’m lazy! (laughter) And busy. So I do a little bit of research, I go in, and I just field them. But most people like talking about themselves and sharing and so I just try to communicate with them authentically and by the end of it I feel smarter. And I’m glad I don’t go in knowing too much, because then we avoid seeming pretentious, hopefully. I don’t have to use fancy words. I just really like that human-to-human contact, and I actually want to get out of doing just artists for Shut Up Dream Crusher; I want to do anybody with a dream because, I mean, dreams take creativity, and so everybody’s creative.
Saskia Delores by John E Hollingsworth
Sharon: There’s this exposure element that I think is really important in an interview — having non-artists exposed to the fact that it’s really hard work to be an artist and it’s a process that takes development and time and mistakes, and hopefully people reading the interviews will starting thinking about what they do outside of work. There has got to be some kind of relationship to people who live outside the art world, and we’re exposing the meat and the bones and the sweat and the non-magical way of art making….
Mandy: Like, as artists one is crafting a whole life for oneself and it translates into an infinite variety of contexts, where people are trying to carve out their own place in the world for themselves. And while you were talking, Sharon, I was thinking that one of the people I really want to interview is a woman who’s a farmer down near Olympia. She’s from Iceland, and I came across her farm because I need to get some Icelandic wool that is a bit still in the raw, and she raises Icelandic sheep down there. On her website she’s like “I was raised a city girl, originally I didn’t know anything about farming but I had this deep desire and this vision that I wanted to be a farmer and so I made it happen” and I was floored by how that’s exactly the same way I talk and think about wanting to make art. And this is all about The Project Room curatorial question for this year, why do we make things? It isn’t at all just about making art or making objects but is about truly making a life. That’s what I get really inspired by.
Bone Dry Ridge Farm
Sometimes making art is just really shitty, it can just be really demoralizing, you get can crapped on by so many different directions, and it makes you ask what is this all about? I’ve had to decide that making a life for myself on my own terms is what it’s about, where it’s about being in the moment, being engaged, being a human being, making a little boat that I ride in to do that, but other people ride in other boats, like being a farmer, and that’s what I want to know about and what I find inspiring…the boats!
Jenifer: I want to comment on the notion of it being a conversation and an exchange and not just a one-way thing where you hand them a microphone and say tell me what you know…. The interviews that I love the most are the ones where the interviewer is so clearly in it, where I can read that person as well. And there are so many things in me that say as a scholar your voice is not supposed to be visible, as an interviewer we really want to know about this person you’re interviewing and not about you and I think that’s bogus. I really want to know what the process of that exchange was and how the interviewer is changed by the interviewee and vice versa. I don’t really know how to get around that in terms of what we expect an interview to be.
Mandy: I butted up against that idea in the very first interview I ever did, which was with Shoplifter — the NY-based Icelandic artist who did the work on Bjork’s Medula album — who was in town curating the Nordic Fashion Biennale at the Nordic Heritage Museum, and Jess Van Nostrand set up a little talk with us. I crafted all these questions and the hard part was that a lot of the questions I really, really wanted to ask had so much to do with my own projects and were along the lines of I was working on this stuff and you don’t know anything about me and how do I quickly explain that my husband and I have recently been working on this project and that I’m connecting to this image of you and your husband…? and I wondered if it was inappropriate for me to bring myself into it so much. I never quite resolved it, because I didn’t have a personal relationship with her.
Sharon: That’s how you can get one! Maybe part of the interview process is building a personal relationship with someone. That’s how I started writing; I wanted to be more a part of the Seattle art scene that I just moved back to, and writing a blog was a way of engaging people I’d never met. I think if you look at it as this is a conversation I’m having with another artist AS an artist which I’m going to share with everyone else then I have no obligation to the reader.
Mandy: I went and read everything anyone had ever written about her, and I found this picture of her, her husband, and her two very young children and I thought no one mentioned anything about these kids! And instantly that was all I wanted to know about: how the hell do you do all this with these two kids? Because I do that too and I’m often struggling and feeling like I’m failing and feeling like everyone else has their shit together and how do you do that? And that was all we talked about, and I wondered if it was too private.
Shoppy Family Portrait 2007 by Silja Magg
Saskia: I don’t think the same rules apply anymore. That code of ethics was for journalists covering current events. And that’s why I do video and podcasts: they’re automatically syndicated, picked up by readers who distribute them, and with video there are no rules anymore. It’s really exciting.
Joey Veltkamp: Absolutely.
Mandy: Yes, that was one of my questions! Are there any rules, and do you think about them?
Saskia: I think about them, and I get freaked out, and I break ’em! (laughter)
Joey Veltkamp: That’s my whole thing, coming from an untrained point of view, frequently people will tell me that’s not how you do it and I think, well, it’s too late now! (laughter) Eventually I started to psyche myself out though. At first I was like, I don’t care! But eventually I found myself caring and less frequently talking about myself when talking to other artists. Then my family was like your blog sucks now! And I was like it’s not for you anymore! (laughter)
Mandy: It’s almost like you have to work to retain the outsider point of view, to hang on to that.
Sharon: You’re always negotiating what you want to know and how much you want of the person you’re asking questions of and who you’re talking to when you’re writing: is it entirely for you, is it entirely for the art world, are you trying to reach other people? It’s not that you should really focus on any one of those things more than the others, but those things are constantly rotating in your head. You’re not beholden to anyone.
Sharon Arnold, cut paper feather installation
Mandy: Exactly. I always have to remind myself I’m only beholden to myself. Sometimes a situation needs to be formal and sometimes it needs to be informal…I have to remind myself that it can be done many different ways. I don’t have to find a style and stick with it.
Tessa: If you’re open to where the conversation’s going to go, I find that the easiest interviews often write themselves because interviewees are usually very strong, opinionated people and you just kind of have to put yourself in the mindset of going where they’ll take you.
Mandy: Yeah, during Shoppy’s interview I asked one question and I never really needed to go any further, the conversation just took off.
Amanda: I first got interested in doing interviews after reading Hans Ulrich Obrist’s books, and his style of interviewing is so broad: his philosophy of interviewing is I’m going to continue talking to people throughout their lives and it’s going to be an ongoing conversation. He sets up a camera and records the conversation and edits them into texts for books….which brings up editing. I’m interested in how everyone approaches editing their content.
Jenifer: The interviews I’ve always done have been for scholarly journals or for scholarly books and in that context you still always have to follow the rules.
Amanda: In the third person…you don’t exist!
Jenifer: Yes, which is a real problem for me, and Mandy and I have been talking about this quite a lot. You have these beautiful, beautiful conversations, these experiences that are vast and random and absolutely lovely and challenging and scary and then I have to edit it down to this cold back-and-forth. But in some ways it’s like I get a twofer: it’s like I get a scholarly thing, but then I also get this thing that’s mine, that’s for me and the person I talked to. And that’s the thing that leads to the relationship with the person.
Mandy: I’ve been thinking so much about that with artwork…for instance, John Grade is going to be working in The Project Room after me as well, and his work has this huge, temporary element to it, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot, about the transitory nature of things. In your [Joey Veltkamp’s] interviews there’s a sense of real pleasure, of you really loving the artwork, and it’s like that pleasure—you try to grasp it and record it in interviews and conversations, but you can’t really capture experience that way, you just have to have it while being in the moment.
La Chasse, John Grade
I’ve been thinking about that so much with the artwork I make, that I’m only responsible to myself and my life that I’m going to travel. I’m going to do what is pleasurable, and trying to make those connections through the interviewing process is really pleasurable to me, even if it doesn’t get down on paper.
Jenifer: Yeah, that’s why I want a patron!
Mandy: A patron?
Jenifer: Because then I can just have pleasure! I can just pursue pleasure in these conversations and it will be valued!
Mandy: Well, it is valued right now, even if you haven’t managed to write it down.
Jenifer: Yes, I just mean that my landlady is less interested in this than in receiving her payment!
Sharon: Erin, you’ve interviewed people. You should speak up!
Mandy: Why do you do studio visits?
Erin Shafkind: I think I like to go into people’s creative spaces, and I think one of the first ones was Joey’s and it was just visiting his studio. I ended up writing about it in my blog and eventually City Arts Magazine came to me and I did get paid to do it, which is kind of cool! (laughter) But I’m fascinated by the creative energy of people’s spaces. Growing up in a creative household, I never thought I couldn’t draw. But now that I’m an art teacher in Seattle public schools, I have kids that are like I can’t! and there’s something to that thing of what happened to us, because little kids are like I can draw, then something happens in the fifth or sixth grade where all the sudden kids aren’t able to access that. So I guess I’m a little Polly-anna-istic that somehow if we can tap into that thing as we get older, we’ll just be more content people. So getting into artists’ studios is a way to find that thing, to tap into that energy.
Erin Shafkind portrait
Joey Veltkamp: Has anyone ever used your interviews to make connections…like to interview your art crushes?
Tessa: I feel like I only interview art crushes! I’m a really outgoing person normally and not at all shy, but the only time I get nervous is talking to someone whose work I really like!
Joey Bates: I’ve used my artwork to actually connect with musicians I like by taking pictures with them. Part of my process is kind of like interviewing: having a conversation while taking a crap load of pictures of them for portraits, so I’ve met some musicians who I listen to, whose whole discographies I own.
Joey Veltkamp: Joey, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but your interview with Chris Crites was the longest interview I’ve ever read and I loved it! Was it exhausting? Because you haven’t done another one that length since then, right?
Joey Bates: I…got caught up in my own artwork!
Joey Veltkamp: Perfect! It was just such a fantastic interview.
Joey Bates: One of the things I want to do with that blog and the interviews is have more conversations between artists-on-artists, and make it all about them. Because it is all about them. Chris Crites and I have a very similar level we work on. We’re both OCD pretty big time, we’re good friends, too, so it was a pretty smooth talk, but it’s also nice to talk about things that do not work. I’ve found that a lot of interviews end up being really congratulatory and I kind of wanted to move away from that. I’m not sure that I did that all that well, but the next one I’ve got planned is with David Kane. Tim Marsden and I are going to go to his studio and just record a conversation between the three of us.
Mandy: Can you explain what you mean by ‘congratulatory’?
Joey Bates: Sometimes you’ll read interviews where people just kind of dote on the person they’re interviewing, and the artist has a whole body of work but the interviewer only focuses on what does work, and I think we learn a lot from what doesn’t work. It’s interesting to look at artists and relate and talk to them about what does not work, because you end up learning more.
Amanda [to Saskia]: That’s kind of your style, isn’t it? To approach artists about what doesn’t work?
Saskia: Not really. I totally dote on them because I love to worship people, and especially the first time I meet people I’m just like oh my god, you’re so amazing at what you do and I fall in love. But then I edit myself out. I tried in the first couple interviews to treat it like a vlog and it was awkward, I don’t feel like that VJ personality. Maybe I could train myself, but it’s not natural for me, so it’s much more natural for me to cut myself out of the interview and sometimes phrases are sacrificed, you know, that seem really obvious, but I spend a couple of hours at their houses, so there’s always going to be good material for me to grab from. But sometimes they do talk about what doesn’t work…but I definitely am a doter. And I’m not going to stop either!
Joey Veltkamp: I think I fall into that congratulatory camp! I think that nowadays you have tons of avenues for expressing yourself, but historically it seems like you get an artist statement but everything else about the artist is driven by an external agenda pushing at artists: like the review is not necessarily what the artist wants to present. So the intent for my interviews is always to have a platform for artists to have a bunch of good questions, nothing complicated that’s going to put them on the spot; I’ve always wanted it to read as a piece they’re really proud of. So sometimes I’ll get an artist who is like this is kind of weird and I’ll remove it, because I don’t want them to not be happy with it. But to my knowledge it’s very congratulatory…very “two paws up.”
Rainbow Grizzly Adams, by Joey Veltkamp
Mandy: I love the differences.
Joey Veltkamp: Me, too. The more people who are writing or interviewing, the better!
Amanda: Ultimately everyone’s going to have a different thing they want to get out of it. What can you get out of an interview that you can’t get out of a statement that you can’t get out of other forms? And everyone has a slightly different twist on that, but obviously there’s a reason you’re interviewing a living breathing person, and not just reviewing and not writing an essay….
Saskia: Yeah, I think it’s that awkwardness we mentioned before, that kind of vulnerability, I think sometimes it’s better if I ask somebody on Tuesday and I do the interview on Wednesday than if I ask them on Tuesday and then I do it three weeks later.
Amanda: Don’t give them time to think about it!
Saskia: Yes, that’s dangerous! But again, I want to create comfort. My goal is for them to be proud of what they see, that they feel it’s really representative, and not like a puff piece, but like yeah, this is totally what I’m thinking about, this is what drives me, maybe I said something that was vulnerable but ultimately I feel stronger for it, it represents my work! But I think I do as much as possible to make that clear for the people while the camera is on them, because one of the things I do is I’ve literally sat there before for two hours holding my Flip like this [arm trembling], just shaking, steadying the arm…it’s painful! But because it’s so small, it’s less imposing than a big camera in their face, because I really want it to be conversational.
Mandy: I hate the big camera! Tessa, I was thinking about something you brought up with me a while ago about quirky things that you always ask, like what are the OCD things that people do in their studios to get themselves ready to work. Do any of you have any pet things that aren’t necessarily about the interviewee’s work that you ask?
Joey Veltkamp: I don’t.
Amanda: I love that kind of interview, too, like the Proust Questionnaire when the questions are always exactly the same, it’s interesting to see how the answers differ.
Mandy: That reminds me of the Vis-à-Vis Society (“Poetic Analysis of the Everyday”) They sort of do that with questionnaires in a performative interactive way, coaxing some very interesting answers out of the general public.
Tessa: This is a bit of a tangent, but we were talking about the cross-germination of influences. I came across this amazing book a couple of years ago, and I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s a coffee table photo book of somebody who contacted all their friends who were authors and asked what strange things do you keep in your writing space that inspire you and why and then a photograph of whatever the object was and an essay from the writer about how it fit into their process. It’s something too that can really translate over to visual artists. There’s one example I always remember: one writer said that she had a photograph of a rhinoceros being pulled from a flooded zoo and that it was blindfolded so that it wouldn’t get nervous because of the fact it was hanging in the air. She compared her creative process to that, and it’s a whole book of amazing things like that. I think that’s why that became a part of my interview question, part of my repertoire, in that I found that so fascinating. I think every interview I’ve ever done, if you ask that of an artist or a musician or a writer, they can identify something quickly and will say yes, that is my strange thing, that is my totem and I always want to know what that is.
Mandy: And those are things that we all do, they’re so buried and they’re so hidden away sometimes…the opportunity to say this is really special to me, I’m slightly embarrassed about this, this isn’t deemed important by the cultural viewing of my artwork is really fascinating to me.
Joey Veltkamp: I know I think that’s probably why a lot of us do written interviews, because it requires so much editing, because I need lots of time to think about questions. I have to put so much thought into it, it takes a surprisingly long time, like even an easy post will take me about an hour and often I don’t do the interviews anymore because it’s like a day’s worth of preparation just to do one interview….
Sharon: There’s that other element of hidden work, when you’re interviewing for a blog, the referencing the information online that people are talking about so you can link it, there’s all this hyperlinking going on in a blog post when you start digging into what your interviewee is talking about, so that you can send people there, bring your reader with you, since we don’t have footnotes.
Mandy: Yeah, I love that process, personally. I love finding the hidden references and linking them…I love hyperlinking! It is a huge amount of effort, and again it goes back to wearing the dual hats that all of us are wearing. Because sometimes it’s like I just need to make my work!
Sharon: I think we all used to write more in the past, but because of Facebook we’ve fallen off. We have the immediacy of conversation and are able to break that down into more frequent communication, questions, and interactivity, so writing on the blog hasn’t been as gratifying for me because it’s more a one-sided platform than a conversation, which I can get on Facebook. And then I have a conversation with one of you online and then I see you in the real world later, it forces me to say, hey, how are you doing, whereas before we didn’t have to do that, but it’s sort of pulling all these people together in different ways now. Blog posts are just so much work and so littler return in a lot of ways.
Saskia: The only difference I see there is the difference between the interaction and the archiving, because there’s something about cultivating that material for both yourself and the artist. I think that’s one of the things in the interview that I’m trying to do is archive. You had mentioned in the beginning of this about Tessa’s interview capturing a moment in time….
Mandy: Yeah. I spent some time studying everyone’s interview work a little bit to prepare for today, so I was reading the interviews Joey had done back in 2008 and I was realizing there are slightly different things happening right now than were happening in 2008 and I hadn’t really named that until then. But it’s archived and because you did all that work, Joey, it’s still there. It’s like with the Matthew Offenbacher interview in 2008 where a certain something new and special was happening in the Seattle art culture right at that moment, and we don’t notice the subtle shifts sometimes in our community, so it’s worth it!
Amanda: I would guess that all of us have an interest in documentation, archiving, and memory.
Mandy: Yes! [lifts camera]
Jenifer: And I also feel—and maybe it’s because I’m old (laughter)—I do feel this kind of responsibility to archive and document, and I’m from a generation that started out hammering things out on typewriter with duplicate carbon, and now the very things that have made my life so incredibly rich because of digital immediacy are also the things that make me think it’s all going away! It’s fleeting! So to me it feels like there is a responsibility to say this happened.
Jenifer: I was here!
Mandy: Can we talk about the workload again? Balancing it…like, why? It’s kind of ridiculous! Writing, curating, interviewing, making art….
Saskia: So when I started the series last year—it was April or March—I said ok, I’m going to do interviews five days a week—
Joey Veltkamp: My god!
Saskia: —and I had never done any interviews before! I had done a few, but, I mean, not like that. What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t be sleeping for the next fourteen days! I miss it though, I miss having it out there and I miss making it and I’ve been gradually getting back into it, but I think when we’re thinking about archiving, we try to figure out how to do this in a way that’s sustainable, for us as artists specifically.
Joey Veltkamp: Doesn’t it end up just being like feast or famine? Sometimes you’re into it and then when you’re not, you’re out.
Mandy: I have to remember sometimes that I have my own speed and it’s different from the world’s speed. Like, I think Saskia interviewed me in January and I’m not at all like “where is it?!” Because I myself am always like….I’m a glacier…!
Joey Bates: So you’re not on a boat? (laughter)
Mandy: When I’m trying to balance everything I have to remember that I am going to do it and I’m going to do it at my pace and try to forget the people who are like I need you to do this now! Because, you know, you need to keep what’s important with you, too. So if you’re working on what is most valuable to you at your own pace, it’s not going to happen at the fast, artificial pace that external forces expect. Like this (Solstenen) process blog I’m trying to do, I feel like I haven’t even written about anything I’ve made or thought about while I’ve been here doing the residency, but I’m just trying to remind myself that there are different paces, and I have to stay centered in my own pace, and if I’m not doing this super fast, it doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant to me.
Saskia: I always try to edit my interviews so that they’re timeless. So it’s not like what are you doing for this specific show. That’s one of the things I have to remind myself when I’m feeling guilty!
Joey Veltkamp: I struggle with that because sometimes I like to capture a specific moment and I’m really interested in a specific show, but then you go back and read the interviews and I feel like I wish I’d asked them more general questions so that it does feel more timeless.
Amanda: I think it would be interesting for you to go back and do repeated interviews over time, because there are some people you’ve interviewed years ago when they’re about to go off to grad school or whatever…to go back and revisit….
Joey Veltkamp: Yeah, it would be interesting.
Tessa: I feel like I come from an interesting outsider perspective in terms of balancing the workload and my style of interviewing because I moved to Seattle a little over two years ago for an ex that was a neuroscientist. My entire life I’ve been the only artist surrounded by scientists. This has been the first time when that ratio has finally started to balance out and I feel so much happier.
For me, I had no real connection to the Seattle art world, I hadn’t gone to school here, I knew nobody that made anything. So I started interviewing because I thought I was going slowly crazy, because I had no one I could discuss process with, no dialogue; So for me I saw it as a completely mandatory thing, and I would always come back from interviews and be giddy for days because I’d finally gotten to talk shop with somebody! I’m not just this isolated little thing making really intensive brushstrokes in the basement. So for me, it’s always been a gift—what I get out of it is always so much more than the time constraints. I also think that’s one of the reasons I like to do so much research… up until the last six months there wasn’t much feeding me, so I really enjoyed getting to have this voyeuristic preparation before the interview.
Mandy: Very cool! I’m done with all my questions. I went through everything…
Amanda: It’s like a meta interview!!!
Mandy: I know…I started writing my questions by noting: It’s a little bizarre thinking of questions to ask about asking questions!
Thank you everybody!
Transcribed by Amanda Manitach. Edited by Jenifer Ward and Mandy Greer