NOTE: Due to a technical issue, this article is not appearing in its entirety. Please check back soon.
Paul Chan, an artist who, on the occasion of the publication of
his book Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: A Field Guide
(Creative Time Books) and the premiere of the Godot archive at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York (June 30, 2010–September 12,
2011), spends a hot afternoon talking to…
Claudia La Rocco, a writer, who grew up in the sticks in Maine
and so read a lot of science fiction, bad science fiction, like the
kind with the covers with the horses with the big eyes.
Setting: A studio in Brooklyn
Claudia: My fear as always is that it won’t record. It’s recording it says, but I never believe it.
[Recorder rustling, as though being handled.]
Paul: Should I take a look? [Recorder rustling around loudly.]
Claudia: It looks like it’s recording.
Paul: It’s really fancy looking.
Paul: It kind of looks, I mean, is this recording? [Recorder being handled.]
Claudia: It’s recording. It says it’s recording—
Paul: Funny, it looks like a gynecological tool.
Claudia: Do you ever get tired of being smart? I was reading one of your interviews—
Paul: [Chuckling, not so smartly.]
Claudia: It might have been in October.
Claudia: And it occurred to me that either you picked me because
you’re tired of people asking you about Adorno or because you’ve
seriously overestimated my intellectual interests.
Paul: The life of the mind on the page is different than the life of the mind in person. Know what I mean?
Claudia: I know.
Paul: So you create this sort of ideal dialogue through editing, and it may have no purchase on what we consider reality.
Claudia: I can already tell this is one of those interviews where we’re not going to get anywhere.
Paul: When did you start reading science fiction?
Claudia: I read Watership Down when I was in—I’m not sure
that actually counts as science fiction, but it’s sort of a fluid
category for me—but I read Watership Down in fourth grade. And
then I stayed with science fiction/fantasy/allegory pretty much
through high school. I went to a pretty rough rural public school.
Paul: That sounds about right. You read to escape. To make time go in another way.
Claudia: I think now I read to get back to something; maybe just
a reverse escape, to get toward something, a space in my head that I
find my life increasingly works against me getting to.
Paul: Which is what?
Claudia: [Sigh.] Space to create.
Claudia: Space to think, space to float that sort of—space where you are a little bit bored, a little bit restless and dreamy.
Paul: You know, Claudia, I read that New Jersey just legalized medicinal marijuana.
Paul: When I was growing up, the comic book that really helped me escape was The Question.
Claudia: I don’t know it.
Paul: It was published by DC Comics in the late ’80s, about a man
who had no face. His mask was a piece of hi-tech elastic material that
made him look like he had no features, no eyes, no mouth.
Claudia: And, if you took off the rubber mask?
Paul: He had a face underneath.
Claudia: Oh, so it wasn’t like [Italo] Calvino’s Nonexistent Knight?
Paul: No, no. It was only a mask. And he would fight crime as
this faceless crusader. But he was no good at it. He was learning on
the job, trying to do right but always ending up doing wrong, which
made him very self-reflective about what he was doing and why.
Claudia: When you were a kid were you thinking about it on that sophisticated level?
Paul: I didn’t have to, because it was in the comic. Questions
about what it means to have power, be someone, about what one can be
accountable for and pleased by, were all part of the storyline. And
that made it more exciting in a weird way, because what The
Question did was take the tropes of the superhero genre and
pervert it, make it strangely philosophical. And at the end of each
issue, they would recommend a book to read.
Claudia: Oh, that’s great. What were the sources?
Paul: Aristotle, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Schopenhauer.
Claudia: And would you ever look at the sources?
Paul: Everyone who read the comics did. Because we were in our
private Maine, and we were looking for something above and beyond what
we were getting, either in the streets hanging out, or in school.
Claudia: And how old were you?
Paul: Sixth or seventh grade.
Claudia: Public school?
Paul: Hardcore public school.
Paul: Godot happened in November ’07. Then I disappeared for a couple of months. Because, I had to.
Claudia: You disappeared from whom?
Paul: Me. The project took an arm and a leg and I had to grow them back.
Claudia: Have they?
Paul: Hard to say. But, in any case, I disappeared for a bit, and
in the meantime, I shipped stuff I had made in New Orleans for the
performances back to New York. Some props, some drawings, documents.
[Distant car-horn, quietly.] Then around February ’08, my
gallery was documenting the props in the gallery, and Kathy Halbreich
from MoMA happened to see them and asked what they were. She knew
about Godot but didn’t see it. In any case, one thing led to
another, Klaus Biesenbach got involved, and the next thing I knew MoMA
wanted the props for its collection. So I made them a deal. They had
to take everything, which meant what I called the archive: all the
paperwork, the drawings, the photos, the ephemera I collected. I
wanted MoMA to catalogue, scan, and document everything. Godot
is as much an experiment in organizing as it is a play. And so, I
thought, everything should be saved and people should have full access
Claudia: I’m usually pretty ambivalent about how the
institutional art world chooses to preserve/present performance.
They’re such different cultures.
Paul: Yeah. And different motivations for doing it.
Claudia: And the motivations change. It’s so interesting to see
the Abramović retrospective and to see how she used to be really
adamant about work being in its time and of its time. And then—
Paul: Time goes on.
Claudia: Time goes on and you get older and maybe it’s not such a
bad idea if the work hangs around. Sometimes just seeing the trappings
makes me…I get really sad.
Paul: Here’s a funny way, I think, of talking about it: You’ve
seen celebrities who age well and those who don’t. Those who don’t,
don’t because their faces are frozen in time, through Botox, because
they believe they are only fully alive if the past is fully present. I
think in a way, the sadness that comes from seeing that kind of
documentation may come from the work wanting you to feel as if it is
fully present, as if no time has passed. Whereas, I think there are
other ways to do it.
Claudia: I would agree. I like the way that somebody like Joan
Jonas has just done different iterations of work. That seems a lot
more elegant. She lets the work age, to keep your metaphor.
Paul: Right, right. You sort of have to.
Claudia: Or, you have to be very clear about what it is.
Paul: No. I have to respectfully disagree.
Claudia: You can disrespectfully disagree, too.
Paul: Maybe later.
Claudia: So, you don’t think you have to be clear, you just have to be smart.
Paul: I think you have to be open.
Paul: To the potential of change.
Claudia: Yes, but by clarity, I mean just the idea of what is it
that we are putting into this room, into this box. How does it relate
and how can it never replicate what that thing was that happened in
time and space? It so often seems to me that performance gets stuck on
a wall with a pin through it like a butterfly. [Loud
car-horn outside.] It’s right there, but it’s not
Paul: That connects to the art of the curation. More
philosophically, it connects to how we imagine artifacts of the past
can inform us now.
Claudia: Some hardliners think there should never be
documentation of live work, that it’s totally inappropriate. [A
microphone jostling obscures the conversation.] I see that at
certain times but I’m always ambivalent about it.
Paul: Yeah ’cause there is no right way to do it; it all seems wrong.
Claudia: I don’t know that I’d say it all feels wrong. I’ve seen re-creations that haven’t seemed wrong.
Paul: I meant documentation. I don’t know that re-creation is considered documentation.
Claudia: Let the record show he’s making a very skeptical “that’s
not correct” face. [Someone shifts.] Um. No, you’re
right they’re different things and I’m trying to mash them together.
But there’s a relationship.
Paul: There is a relationship.
Claudia: The problem with documentation is it’s all these
inanimate things dumbly following along in the wake of the action. The
letter of the law, not the spirit.
Paul: [A plethora of loud honking horns are heard.]
Tell me if this is similar to what you just said: [clears
throat] there’s a whole tradition in contemporary art where
different forms of social engagement, from parties to meetings to
protests, are organized in order to manufacture documentation that
then become works in exhibitions. And these works are really
impoverished, because the engagement has no substance to it beyond the
fact that it was staged to merely be documented. It’s some of the most
boring work you’ll ever see.
Claudia: Yes. It’s dead on arrival.
Paul: Yeah. And maybe this is what I was getting at when I was
saying that there are certain characteristics that make a human being
human. One of them is unpredictability. The reason those works feel
dead on arrival is because we know what we’re going to get in the
documentation. The parameters are already pre-established—what we’ll
get out of the interchange.
Claudia: You want to not know where you are going.
Paul: Yes. There’s no reason why cadmium red should be
unpredictable; if it is unpredictable it’s probably not very good
cadmium red. But with this entanglement of people, performance, and
documentation in work, the really unstable element is people. But a
person’s essential unpredictability is precisely what is being
suppressed within the entanglement of the documentation and
performance. These works want people’s lives but not their potential
Claudia: For the Abramović show they should have chosen to just
attack that, right? I haven’t been interested in the work she’s done
in recent years; but what I love about her early work is its
lawlessness and her really playing with being in control by being the
object and taking responsibility for not being in control.
Paul: Did you write that in her guest book at MoMA?
Paul: Next time. Her-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha [loud nasal inhale].
Claudia: [Loud nasal inhale then a long pause after a glass is
put down close to the mic with a jingly wobble.] What’s
your first memory of landing in America?
Paul: [Pause.] What do I remember? I remember we were
stuck. We flew from Hong Kong to San Francisco en route to Iowa. And
we were stuck in San Francisco for two days, but I didn’t know why.
That’s what I remember. I remember how bright it was. The quality of
the light was different. Brittle. I remember watching TV. I remember
thinking how similar it was to Hong Kong TV except it was in
Have you been to Hong Kong?
Claudia: No. I spent one month on the mainland.
Paul: What were you doing?
Claudia: Wandering around, eating a lot. Ah, street food huts.
[Smacks lips.] That was one of the best months of eating of my
Paul: We’re going to leave that in right?
Claudia: Haheha, hah. That’s probably the most interesting thing I’ve said.
Paul: Claudia…Haha, hahaha. You want that whiskey now?
Claudia: Hehha. Yeah.
[Footsteps across what sounds like concrete or dusty linoleum.]
Claudia: On the rocks please.
Paul: [A cup is placed on a counter.] Let me see if I have
any rocks. [More footsteps, then a fridge door opening.]
Oh, lucky you!
Paul: [Inaudible mutterings as glasses clink and a bottle cap is unscrewed.]
Claudia: I spent about 45 minutes at the Guggenheim the other day.
Claudia: Herr-herr. I know. “Whoa,” is the only suitable
response. Just watching people watch your work, 6th
Light [2007, digital video projection, silent, 14
Paul: [Liquid being poured and a bottle hitting the table.] What did they do?
[Footsteps. One glass intentionally hits another.]
Claudia: Thanks, cheers. It depended where it was in the loop,
how present the work was. It varied from this heavy middle-aged guy
who walked around the barely-there outline then threw up his hands in
disgust and kept going, to these teenage girls, who looked like they
were maybe [a heavy glass hits the table] from the
suburbs, who did a little dance in front of the projection, which was
beautiful because it was really creepy. They looked more like stuff
that should be cast away than anything that was in the piece itself.
Some people just stood and watched, then read the wall text.
Paul: It was a nice space, I was happy with that space.
Claudia: Mm-hmm, you lucked out.
Paul: It’s true. Projector was on. They didn’t misspell my name.
Claudia: Do people misspell your name often?
Paul: You’d be surprised. Chin. Chang. Giamatti.
Claudia: Hm-hm-hm-hah-hah-hah. Do they get the Paul right?
Paul: If you’re named after an apostle they never get it wrong.
Paul: I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t met more people in art who play tennis.
Paul: In art school some students got together to form a hockey
team, but they only played 14-year-olds. They couldn’t qualify for
Claudia: Boys or girls, the 14-year-olds?
Paul: Mixed. Hm-he-heh. I grew up playing tennis. There were these concrete courts with chain link fences.
[A truck accelerates in the distance.]
Claudia: That’s how I grew up playing.
Paul: It wasn’t even painted.
Claudia: And you would play till the balls were deader than dead.
Paul: I would play with these two brothers and this one other guy
who introduced me to Guns N’ Roses. Every day for two summers we
Claudia: Guns N’ Roses, chain link fence. Sounds like a good childhood.
Paul: Good enough. That was the first time I could use my body
because I was so sick in Hong Kong. In Omaha I got my body back or at
least I trusted it enough to do things beyond just breathing. That was
a real joy.
I remember one time in high school I was helping coach the girl’s
tennis team and one of the players hit the ball and it hit a bird
flying through her court. We all had to stop practice because everyone
Claudia: Instant death!
Claudia: What kind of bird?
Paul: A sparrow? It’s once in a lifetime. She hit a forehand, the
ball was flying through the air and just hit the bird and the bird
[pluph]. It was unbelievable.
Claudia: So I guess that would’ve been a let.
Paul: It would be a let. That’s true. I never thought that way about it.
Claudia: It’s interesting that everybody who interviews you tries
to get you to talk about why politics and art have to be different.
Your separation of the two bugs people.
Paul: Yeah. What do you think bugs them?
Paul: Does it bug you?
Claudia: No. It seems pretty clear to me why the two would be
separate. Especially as you said you don’t like working with
Paul: Haha, yeah.
Claudia: Not that the two have to be separate, but it’s
interesting that people interviewing you are aggressive about it. I’m
guessing because it’s not separate for them and because they think
that somehow [microphone movement obscures speech] that’s your
Paul: As an?
Claudia: As an artist who’s also a politically active person.
Somehow, you’re not fulfilling this responsibility, this
Claudia: It also fits into a certain type of art; a certain idea about art fitting into the armature that’s being built around it.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. It’s hard work.
Claudia: Hard work.
Paul: Or, how else do you say it? It’s [really long pause] I mean, there are so many ways to say it.
Claudia: If there were a thought bubble above your head right now, it would be, “Fuck, dot-dot-dot.”
Paul: That’s not true. Hahahaha. Um, here’s one thing I can say:
I empathize with the question. But I think they’re really asking
something else. And that something else is a question for me, as well.
And perhaps for anyone who believes that what they make will resonate
beyond who they are.
Paul: Because the feeling, in reality, of what we call progress
seems to be out of our hands. And that art, if we believe in art, is
the closest thing that we can do with our hands. Metaphorically
Paul: If we can somehow make our hands make things that can
connect to this sense of progress, then perhaps we can recapture that
sense of, for lack of a better phrase, agency. That we have some sort
of control in the direction of our lives. That we don’t feel like
we’re being dragged in the wake of something we have no control
But on the other hand, what is interesting is how pleasurable and
fulfilling it can be, being dragged along, not having complete control
over the course of our lives. It makes us feel whole and purposeful
somehow, and in a way that makes us less than human.
[A seagull flies by the window. Long pause.]
I don’t know if this example works completely, but for the sake
of argument: we could say right now that the most expressive and
energetic political movement in the United States is the Tea
Paul: What it has in common with other movements is the feeling
that people will give themselves wholeheartedly to it, in its
grassroots organizing, its ability dictate its own terms, for itself
and others. That’s what a movement is, really: A set of promises and
themes and ideas that compel people to form a social whole. And this
feeling of merging, this communal fusion, both fulfills them in a way
that only belonging to something or someone can, and also makes them
in the same instant strangely, and ironically, not fully human. Which
is to say, of not having the full potential of being
It’s an intense feeling, belonging. It’s ecstatic. Dangerously so.
Claudia: But then there’s the resistance. What is that beautiful
Auden poem, “Law like Love?” He talks about the crowd—in the
transcript it will say that I just remembered this effortlessly— and
“always the soft idiot softly me.”
[Speech obscured by recorder noises, moving around, then glasses, liquid poured.]
Paul: America, we love the crowds. Little more?
Claudia: I’m okay.
Paul: For now.
Claudia: What was it like getting caught up in the energy of the
crowd in New Orleans? That’s something that performance has that other
forms of art don’t as immediately.
Claudia: And you can at once give into the energy of the crowd, or you can resist it. Or go back and forth.
[Telephone rings loudly.]
Claudia: Do you have to get it?
Paul: I’m gonna let it ring. [Loud ringing.] We tried to resist it. To a certain degree.
Claudia: Who’s we?
Paul: The project. The structure of the performances. Part of
what I think made Godot work in New Orleans was its essential
alienness. As much as we let New Orleans seep into what we were doing,
it still felt like an alien ship landed. It couldn’t fully belong to
that place and it was the tension between the fact that it’s there and
the truth that it doesn’t belong there that made it interesting, made
it more than what we thought it could be.
Claudia: I think that tension exists in most really great
site-specific work. With something like your Godot, the stakes
would be pretty high. To retain that tension.
Paul: To do it any other way would be a disservice to everyone:
Beckett, the city, the people we were working with. Especially
Beckett. Because really, when a good Beckett play lands, you’re on
Claudia: It’s destabilizing.
Paul: That was his genius, right? He shaped the feeling of
estrangement in daily life into radically new forms. Handsome, too. I
recently saw the portrait Cartier-Bresson took of him. The shock of
the white hair, the thin bird-like face, those piercing eyes. He aged
Claudia: No Botox.
Paul: Am I private? Some things I’m very happy to talk about and some things I’ll never talk about.
Claudia: My guess is that you have a very developed public
persona, that you’re very clear about what is for public
Paul: I do make a distinction between what is for me and what is for others, that’s true.
Claudia: We’re not going to talk about your “juvie” record, huh?
Paul: Be happy to. No one’s ever asked that.
Claudia: You have one?
Paul: I do.
Claudia: We’ll get back to Beckett, he’ll still be there.
Paul: Starts with shoplifting.
Claudia: What’d you steal, gum?
Paul: An asthma inhaler.
Claudia: In Hong Kong?
Paul: No, Omaha. It’s been downhill from there. Hahaha.
Claudia: Corner store?
Paul: A big pharmacy. I actually broke it open and used it right there.
Claudia: And did you try the I-was-gonna-pay-I-just-was-desperate line?
Paul: I put it in my pocket and tried to walk out. I said I had money in my car.
Claudia: Did you do the “[Cough, cough] I feel weak”?
Paul: You know what, I didn’t. I was so proud of being able to breathe again that I didn’t do that. Ha-hah-haha.
Claudia: Plus, it’s harder for boys. Any girl who gets pulled over by a cop, the waterworks are the first thing you pull out.
Paul: Does that work?
Paul: Has that happened?
Paul: It’s important, I think, going through the criminal justice
system. I don’t mean that in a flip way. I’m not saying I want people
to get arrested. I only mean that, once you do, you really get a sense
of how things, in a way, work. Rightly and wrongly.
Claudia: Was your sentencing just?
Paul: I pled no contest. I remember getting dressed up for court.
I wore a green checkered suit jacket that I bought at a Salvation Army
that was way too big. I looked like a clown.
Claudia: What was your hair like back then?
Paul: It looked healthy and alive, just like now.
Claudia: And, you’re wearing green now, also.
Paul: What are you implying?
Claudia: Were your parents disappointed?
Paul: Let’s just say, that was the first in a long line of disappointments.
Claudia: You broke them in easy.
Paul: I just told them, you know, this is the first time, but not the last time, you should just be aware of that.
Claudia: It’s a drag to have a public persona.
Paul: Is that true?
Claudia: I find it is. Most of the time [said at the same time as…]
Paul: What’s draggy about it?
Claudia: Well, a lot of things Paul. Pretty much everything [finishes her words laughing].
Paul: Hahaaha, ha. Ohha.
Claudia: [Someone is readjusting themselves in a leather
chair, you can hear glass tapping another one, things are shuffling
around for a moment.] You have to act a bit like an adult. The
other day I was at a really bad show, and I was mouthing off—
Paul: Dance or what? [He is eating what sounds like nuts. Maybe pebbles.]
Paul: You were mouthing off after the show?
Paul: [Wheezy laugh.]
Claudia: Just sort of rolling my eyes, and the guy next to me was like, “Shh, crshh, people are looking.”
Paul: Claudia, honestly, that just sounds like learning, [chuckles] to me.
Claudia: That sounds like learning? You mean like kindergarten learning? Like this is how you act in public learning?
Paul: Hahahaha maybeee.
Claudia: You’re telling me that you don’t ever feel like going
through some god-awful gallery show or museum show and just being
ridiculous about it?
Paul: I guess the answer is no. I’ve seen ridiculous things, but…
Claudia: Art doesn’t even have to be ridiculous but you might
feel at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, while walking up the rotunda of the
Guggenheim, you might feel the need to be ridiculous.
Claudia: If people know who you are—
Claudia: —there might be repercussions for your being ridiculous.
Claudia: Nobody knows who you are, there are no repercussions.
Paul: That’s true.
Claudia: This might be a complicated way of saying that I am sometimes socially awkward.
Paul: You ever read TMZ online? It’s 24-hour coverage of Lindsay Lohan right now.
Claudia: She’s an alcoholic, right?
Paul: Yes, and an actor. She’s supposed to be at a court hearing
in L.A. but she didn’t show. Um, and, this is not to say that I think
about her often, but apparently I think about her enough to
talk about her on tape. In any case she’s living in a kind of media
fishbowl, with her every move being photographed and recorded. And I
imagine it must really take a toll emotionally, psychically.
On the other hand, I think this strangely gets back to what you
said about Marina, about the entanglement of vulnerability and
Paul: That in a weird way, the more one is exposed and vulnerable today, the more one’s sense of power and identity grows.
[A long pause, filled with sounds of passing traffic.]
Paul: I’m gonna crack the window open.
[Someone takes big gulps of a drink, and then a glass is put down on a table.]
Claudia: We haven’t talked much about art.
Paul: You want some more?
[A bottle opens, followed by the glugging sounds of Paul refilling their glasses, and recapping the bottle.]
Paul: You wanna cut it with water? No? How ‘bout more ice?
[Ice cubes drop in a glass.]
[A tap on the mic.]
[More clinks, liquid is poured.]
Paul: This is a nice Friday. [A loud truck passes by.]
Claudia: What are you gonna do after I get out of your hair?
Paul: Take a nap.
Claudia: In the studio?
Claudia: Where do you live?
Paul: Twenty minutes away.
Claudia: That’s nice.
Paul: I went to dinner last night, so I’d like to stay home and
read tonight, and then I have to [takes a deep breath] go to a
garden party tomorrow. It sounds actually kind of nice.
Claudia: “I have to go,” he says, in this labored voice. [Paul
laughs.] “I have to go to a garden party. There’ll be
Paul: Ah I hope–
Claudia: –“and kids running around barefoot.”
Paul: I hope the intern, as he or she is transcribing this, will
put this in italics, to show everyone how sarcastic Claudia is,
in this section of the conversation.
[A glass is put down. Paul keeps chuckling.]
Claudia: What are you gonna read?
Paul: The Iliad.
Claudia: That’s what you’re reading?!
Paul: I’ve never read it.
Claudia: For pleasure, or for… more nefarious purposes?
Paul: To write a screenplay, to sell to Michael Bay? Hehehe.
Claudia: Michael Bay, oh my god.
Paul: You should do a conversation with Michael Bay.
Claudia: I don’t know who would walk away from that feeling worse, me or Michael.
[More pouring, putting down the bottle.]
Paul: His earlier movies are pretty good. The Rock, with Sean Connery, and Nicolas Cage.
Claudia: That was when they all had escaped from—
Paul: They broke back in to Alcatraz.
Claudia: Why did they break back in? I think I saw that.
Paul: Because Ed Harris, as a rogue marine or military person, had um, taken over Alcatraz.
Paul: And was aiming missiles armed with chemical weapons—
Claudia: That’s right.
Paul: —at San Francisco.
Claudia: Yeah, Nick Cage and Michael Bay were made for each
other, right? The universe just dreamed them up for each other. I mean
late Nick Cage.
Paul: That’s true.
Claudia: Did he have long hair in that one?
Paul: I still hold out the hope that someday you’ll have a conversation with Michael Bay in the Brooklyn Rail.
Claudia: Paul Chan sits down with Michael Bay.
Paul: I don’t wanna do it. It should be Phong and David Levi Strauss.
Claudia: My god.
Paul: The whole editorial board. Should sit down with Michael Bay. Call it the Day of Reckoning.
Claudia: Do you think at this point in the transcript the interns [laughing] fall asleep?
[Intern: Absolutely not, this is great.]
Claudia: I would imagine there will be very little overlap
between the people who saw Godot in New Orleans and the people
who will see the show at MoMA.
Paul: Mm-hmm, yeah. One of the other deals I made with MoMA was
that I would make the audio guides for the Godot archive. They
agreed, so I went back to New Orleans for a couple days last year, and
recorded ambient sounds around the city and people trying to remember
different things they’ve seen from the archive.
Paul: And I think that was my stab at situating the stuff in the
show so that they are both present and absent at the same time,
because, the people you hear speaking on the audio guides are trying
to remember what you’re potentially looking at right in front of you,
like [sweeping sound] that sign, up there.
Claudia: And that was the sign that was put up—
Paul: Around New Orleans, yeah.
Claudia: And it just read “a country road, a tree, evening.”
[Glasses clinking, liquid pouring.]
Claudia: One way to think of a show like this is as a form of
criticism. [Muffled, sweeping sounds.] I don’t mean that you’re
critiquing what happened, but that you’re making something new in
relationship to a past event, and a rich mix of memories. Which is the
way I like to think about criticism. I hate that idea of criticism as
the rough draft of history.
Paul: Who says that?
Claudia: Really irritating people.
Claudia: It’s said a lot about performance criticism.
Claudia: Um, but that always seems really inappropriate to me,
and it seems that it is elevating criticism to a place it shouldn’t
be. And not letting it be what it wants to be.
Paul: Mm. Which is what?
Claudia: Its own thing.
Paul: Right. And maybe the thing that connects what you’re saying to what I’m saying is that we want life to live beyond something.
Paul: What happened?
Claudia: Someone just splashed whiskey on my face.
Claudia: What do you think of audio guides [a glass is set down] in museums?
Paul: I love them. It’s another opportunity to make a mockery of authority.
Claudia: Is that the authority of the museum? Of the artist?
Claudia: Everyone. Of the individual, I suppose, most of all. Right?
Claudia: I think.
Paul: Audio guides are set up so that you have another instance
of getting someone else to tell you what you are looking at, and
Claudia: It makes me itchy to watch people walking around and
stopping; they’ll consult the thing and they’ll stop for as long as
it’s going and then they’ll go to the next one that has the earphone
Paul: Well, I think it’s not a way to experience. It’s a way to know the work but it’s not a way to experience it.
Claudia: I don’t think it’s a way to know the work. It’s the difference between information and knowledge.
Paul: Well yeah, I think that would be your way of saying what I said.
Claudia: I don’t think so; I think that was my way of disagreeing.
Paul: Hmm. Really? I guess I disagree. When I said knowing it’s closer to the spirit of what you said is information.
Claudia: Okay. I can live with that, Paul.
Paul: They want to get at the bottom of things. Right? But the point isn’t to get to the bottom of things.
Claudia: I don’t think it is to get to the bottom of things at
all; I think it’s more to check off. Like, “Okay we’re in New York,
and we’re going to see the Guggenheim, and we can check it off ‘cause
we’ve done the audio tour.”
Paul: No. I would disrespectfully disagree.
Claudia: That’s an awfully respectful disrespectful disagreement. You didn’t even raise your voice.
Paul: I’m a cold fury kind of person.
Paul: There weren’t any plans to record Godot.
Philosophically, no matter how well we did it, the recording would
never be it. Then the question is: does it only disappear? And
that’s what we have to grapple with now.
Claudia: That’s a deeply human problem.
Paul: Yeah; with performance you have to deal with an actual body
and time, and we have no way to measure time except with other
Claudia: What do you think of the philosophy of somebody like
Tino Sehgal who is adamant about not allowing documentation; I mean
does that make sense to you or is it just good marketing?
Paul: Hahaha. [Continues to laugh in a high register.] Did you ask him?
Paul: I think it’s valiant and untenable.
Claudia: If somebody wanted to record Godot and put it up
on YouTube would that upset you? Would you try to take it down or
would it be a part of it?
Paul: It would not upset me and if we did it right that’s what ought to happen. I think it’s a mark of its afterlife.
Claudia: As I understand it, your decision not to make an
official Godot recording was to avoid trying to exert some form
of control in determining how it lived on. But if some 25-year-old in
the audience decided “Oh wow, this is so cool, I’m going to record
this,” that would be its natural life, so that would be lovely?
Paul: I wouldn’t say it’s lovely. I’d say it’s what it means to live today.
Claudia: But that’s lovely, right? Because the absence of that is to not live.
Paul: I think I would have to disrespectfully agree with you. I agree.
Claudia: Oh we’ve gotten to that point.
[Very loud reversing truck signal blares. A car alarm begins behind the noise of the truck.]
Paul: It’s interesting there is so much focus on performance right now.
Claudia: That the art world is so focused on it?
Paul: That a certain segment of contemporary art sees performance
as the undiscovered territory that’s increasingly being discovered and
territorialized. A larger question for me is what it brings out, which
is what it means to be in the presence of an actual human being. I
think that’s a real question. It’s a question that people will
increasingly ask themselves. What does it mean to be present in front
of an actual someone else as opposed to something else?
[Police siren blares off to the distance.]
[Very long pause populated by a number of noises produced through fidgeting.]
Paul: How you doing?
Claudia: I’m okay. How you doing?
Paul: Pretty good.
Claudia: Is this everything you hoped it would be?
[missing scene 17 due to technical error]
[missing scene 18 due to technical error]
Claudia: It’s six o’clock.
Paul: We’ve been talking for four hours!??
Paul: I think we know the spirit of this conversation already.
It’s going to be diversions and ha-ha-ha and it’s going to go on for
Claudia: This is so much longer than 7,000 words.
Paul: Well, we’ll edit it for rhythm and timing, but really,
essentially, it’s ha-ha-ha and Michael Bay, hah-hah-ha-hah-ha-hah. And
Marina and Tino.
[Really long pause.]
[The phone rings loudly.]
[Answering machine: Hey Paul, are you there? Hello? Are you there?]
PAUL CHAN is an artist and contributor to the Rail.Claudia La Rocco
CLAUDIA LA ROCCO writes about performance for the New York Times and is the founder of thePerformanceClub.org, which won a 2011 Arts Writers Grant. She is a member of Off The Park press, where she is editing an anthology of poems by painters. She is on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's graduate program in Art Criticism and Writing.