Sasha Bergstrom-Katz met with Cal Crawford at his opening of POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS at Sister Gallery on May 7th, 2009. They conducted the following interview via email.
Sasha Bergstrom-Katz: Your current show at Sister Gallery, POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS, is striking, to say the least. Can you tell me about the conception of the idea and what the title means?
Cal Crawford: Initially I was doing a lot of research on the history of linear perspective, specifically looking at the language surrounding this strategy of creating and displaying depth. I’m attracted to how graphic techniques can take on and allude to other areas, such as aspects of control, power, psychology, etc. A good example of this would be Rudolf Arnheim’s take on perspective. He describes the product of the vanishing point as a “violent imposition”, and the overall structure of linear perspective to be a “hierarchical conception of human existence.” Sort of by playing on/with these words and phrases about perspective I try to make the grand turn toward the metaphysical and inject these concepts with a grander meaning. The work isn’t an investigation into linear perspective as such, but a use of the language surrounding perspective, both aesthetic and linguistic. I like how this language can bring up questions about forcing points of view, the authority of creating false depth and the inherent manipulation that these things involve.
Installation view from POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS, 2009.
The title, POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS, can be read in a few different ways, and because its a compressed sentence it has the ability to secrete other words and fragments that are not necessarily present but lie inside the title non the less. POSSIBILITIES evokes the idea of a promise, or something to come, which I think all artworks do in a way. Other words that seep out are Sophist (SOFFIST), TIES (or, Lies), and of course FISTS. Tying together the aggression that comes with the image of a fist with the persuasion through rhetoric associated with the Sophists, sums up much of the manipulative attitude I was trying to convey. This is an overarching theme of the show, using overdramatic music, severe lighting and a confrontational entrance that forces you to duck in order to enter the exhibition, all are intended to persuade the viewer with a heavy hand. This manipulation, because its so apparent, becomes weakened and the idea of manipulation can be considered in itself.
SBK: You use abstraction, but in a very specific way. I'm really interested in the anxiety and tension you create with the combination of image and sound to create a beautiful, but almost intolerable environment. Can you talk about why you seek to inspire this kind of feeling?
CC: I’m a very anxious person.
SBK: The text in your film "Threats you can keep" is compelling, but vague. Is it supposed to reference something specific, or is ambiguousness the intention?
CC: I’m really interested in the continual trauma we experience as humans. Not recognizable traumas resulting from horrific experiences or events, but the constant trauma, that inner snag, that follows us around and pushes us onward toward the ultimate certainty, which is of course our own death. So you could say that living, or being, is in itself a constant threat that we perpetuate in the simple act of living. This is the context I was I was thinking about when I created that phrase. I wanted to create a slogan that could be read in two ways, one expressing the acceptance of life's inevitable possibility, and another denying it. On the one hand the threat you can keep is the threat you have to keep, the recognition of the undeniable end of your existence that is kept with you at every turn. On the other hand it could be read as a denial of this and a protest against this threat, and can be read as a kind of ‘fuck you’ to the threat; we don’t need it so here you go, you can have it because we don’t recognize it.
In relation to the formal aspects of the work I was thinking the phrase could also express the attitude taken toward the exhibitions aesthetic qualities. In this sense the threats can be read as the material and historical references, the striped banners of Daniel Buren, the strobing of flicker films, the melody of cinematic music. As established forms they have an authority that one must contend with when making art, but I wanted to utilize them in a way that could possibly both honor them and put their authority into question. So, the threats in this case are the historical allusions to op art, late 60’s conceptualism, etc., that are in a sense recognized as necessary and also denied their unique authority by the manipulative and heavy handed structure of the exhibition.
Installation view from POSSIBILITIESOFFISTS, 2009.
SBK: Can you tell me about the variety of media and materials you used in your exhibition?
CC: All the elements of the show, striped banner, media cart, projector, are shown at one point or another as animations rotating in limitless strobing fields. With these animations I wanted to place these materials on a higher plane, something akin to making the ideal platonic form of each material that is forever harnessed and rotating in an abstract realm. This is how I deal with materials in the show, by raising them up into another sphere their physical presence can contain a bit of abstract importance or power.
SBK: You're show is extremely meticulous, I imagine that is reflective of your studio practice and your personal habits. Am I right? Or do you have a secret life of havoc?
CC: Recently I have become extremely neurotic about my daily schedule. Kind of like Benjamin Franklin's daily routine, getting up very early, exercising for a set amount of time, reading for a determined number of minutes, researching, then going to work for 8 hours. This started a few months ago and I’m not sure if has appeared in the work anywhere but I’ll just say I think its a coping strategy, an attempt at control that has helped me deal with some tragic things that have happened recently, and to also be able to make work while having a full-time job.
My studio practice is a little less reliable, as I do most of my work in my apartment on my computer. This is where most of the planning, composing and other work happens. The studio is simply a place for me to test projections and set up installation possibilities, and I don’t go there to really think or work through things. Its simply a place to get things done.
SBK: Your work references film, through the use of moving image and cinematic music. What films or scenes influence your work?
CC: Early Mike Leigh films have always influenced me, specifically the characters that display physiological ticks like intolerably awkward social skills, stutters or excruciating pauses. I think these appeal to me because he is able to express certain anxieties in a variety of ways that range from mental disorders and social inadequacies to class struggles and economic hardships.
SBK: Can you tell me about the kind of music you listen to and how you got involved in composing music?
CC: Previously I have done alot of abstract sound compositions and performances. I used to always have a minidisc recorded and microphone with me, and did a lot of recording and archiving. At that point I don’t think I listened to anything that wasn’t abstract, and was on a constant diet of experimental music like The Hafler Trio, Bernhard Günter, Artificial Memory Trace, Otomo Yoshihide, and stuff like that. Just before I moved to Los Angeles, after a long drought my thirst for melody showed itself in the attraction to guitar solos and classic rock. I like the undeniable purpose that a simple melody can communicate, like cinematic music whose purpose is to tell and prepare the audience for what is about to happen or what they are supposed to be feeling. I like the way a simple melody can set a mood that is recognized and understood quickly and viscerally, but also, because their intentions are so recognizable, allow the listener to consider them as signs of the mood they are expressing. Hopefully my melodies work in both these ways. (Image: The Triumph, 2006, mixed media installation)
I’ve have never played an instrument or studied music, and I think this explains a little why I make the kinds of music I do. I’m not interested in pushing the boundaries of composition or melody, so I’m just trying to find the most clear melody I can that communicates the mood I want. This is why someone like Hans Zimmer’s or John Carpenter’s film music appeals to me, at least in teaching me how to pull the strings in a conventional and economical way.
SBK: What artist or artists inspire you or influence your practice?
CC: There is an artist named Jim Roche, who I mention because I don’t think alot of people are aware of his work, and who I return to over and over again. In the 70’s he did a collection of spoken word pieces called Learning to Count, which are essentially uncut and unedited monologues. These monologues make up a collection of voices and attitudes Roche experienced while traveling the lower 48 states in the 1960’s, and range from an extremely violent racist to a compassionate environmentalist. Each is fraught with a sort of psychotic delivery and intensity, both in the way he rambles on with such intense abandon and speed, and in his ability to really capture, by summoning these voices in an almost trace like state, the real paranoia or the American culture at the time. I tend to talk about my work as if it were a voice and the qualities of the work being the intonations and stutterings of that voice. Roche has some amazing pieces that, with one voice, are able to simultaneously present the most horrific and violent attitudes while still inciting compassion for this voice. This is something I am always trying to do, speak in a voice that feels the unbearable necessity to speak and protest, but isn’t able to take this protest to the very limit because it questions its very right to be speaking in the first place.
ArtSlant would like to thank Cal Crawford for his assistance in making this interview possible.