This is a transcript of the lively discussion and question time that took place at the Albert Road Clinic, a private psychiatric hospital in South Melbourne, on the 29.01.05, following Justin Clemen's talk "Getting off your face with a destructive character: Christian Capurro’s Another Misspent Portrait of Etienne de Silhouette".
Christian Capurro: I can’t help but see the irony - since you were so persistent making the point about people not getting reimbursed - that you are in fact the only person so far within this whole process who someone else has recognized as having some sort of exchange value that could be negotiated and cashed-in, so to speak, to your financial benefit. In some ways you are the standout here.
JC: Right, so no one else has said, ‘So, you’re ripping me off!’
CC: No, No, No; although some people have said that! I mean you are the only one to have so far receive some financial ‘reward’, because the value you have…
JC: I’m drinking water for god sake! Water! Go on, sorry.
CC: As a writer, I mean, getting paid to do the Artlink article.
JC: Jesus, as a writer, hmm, I always wonder about that. You don’t get that much money at all for writing.
CC: The use-value, or the usefulness of your skills is actually able to enter into an exchange, a monetary exchange, more readily perhaps.
Michael Farrell: That means Justin you’re doubly ripped-off!
JC: I was. So I’ve been doubly ripped-off. At the same time I’m being told I’m not being ripped-off because I’m the only one to get something; so I’m being ripped-off three times Michael, three times!
Carolyn Mier: On the other hand, what are you getting from this yourself, is there another form of exchange?
JC: That’s exactly the question that I wanted to propose in the abstract, in order to avoid answering personally, if that makes sense. To be as absolutely honest as possible about what my interest is in this, is that, well, I’m a writer, I make some money from writing but I’m not making enough to outweigh, in terms of economics… Sorry, I’ll go back a second. Doctor Johnson says that any man who doesn’t write for money is a blockhead, basically, so if you are writing just for your own interest or your own desire there’s something wrong with you, according to Dr. Johnson, and he’s probably right. We are all in some ways in the art world, in a general sense, whether it’s writing or making music or whatever this is. There’s a weird fantasy that holds this together that somehow we will be both recognized universally as great artists and we’ll make lots of money as well. I think if people are going to be honest with themselves unconsciously, you can’t be an artist, you can’t continue to be an artist unless you are an utter megalomaniac, in some deep unconscious sense, and it’s megalomaniacal to the point where you no longer even see empirical restrictions on your behaviour in life as in anyway affecting your essence at all. Whereas, I would say, sorry to project the phantasm of a normal person, but a normal person realizes, ‘Well actually, I’m not very much. I’m only going to survive insofar as I can continue to consume and dress as other people would have me consume.’ I think with artists unfortunately, and I include myself in this, insofar as I’m in this economy, there must be some deep unconscious fantasy of total, grandiose, universal control. And I hope all of you are honest enough with yourselves to agree with that too.
So when people write or get money for their art, like none of us here are that successful that we’re in New York, right, for instance, we all know that there are gradations here and hierarchies and we haven’t quite made, but we all know that it’s ok because Melbourne is not such a bad place after all. I think these are like all different ways in which people mis-recognize exactly what’s at stake in the economics of a situation and that’s one of the things that I think this work brings out; it’s forcing you to think about how much you are complicit with your own self exploitation and what’s keeping you in a situation that’s exploiting you (and people are making money out of us, not us, but people are making money out of us a lot more than presumably we’d expect), is we’re trapped by our own desire. By something specific about our own desire like, the monkey hand in the jar.
Now, I’m interested in that for all sorts of reasons. I’m obviously deeply personally interested in myself, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what this is. I think there’s a deep unconscious structure to it and I believe it would be different for every person who’s contributed to this particular project. There’s a swarm of phantasms around this project - that’s why I talked about the organization of multiplicity - and there’s a swarm of phantasms here insofar as, shouldn’t you be watching tennis on TV or something!
Did that answer your question at all, if not in a personal way?
Libby Brown: Do you think it would be almost impossible to a certain extent for people who have done it to verbalize the reasons why they did it? You could explore that to a point, but maybe after that it’s…
JC: So what!
LB: …who knows?
JC: Yeah, who knows? I think it’s different for me because I’m professionally enjoying to think about, and to try and explain the processes of my work to you. Even though I’m not being paid today, but obviously I felt there might be some ‘investment’ opportunity, and the expenditure of my energy here will have its reward. I can talk about that, but I’m not sure that anyone else would necessarily have to, want to, desire to. And yet, I think it is still a question insofar as you are asking about human motivations, it really does say; ‘Well, what are you doing it for?’
LB: I would have hoped people who did do it, who have found out about the project since, would in fact ask themselves those questions - they are pretty fundamental.
Phil Edwards: But would they be of interest to anybody else? I couldn’t care less why anybody did that.
LB: I would.
PE: It doesn’t interest me at all. It interests me as an object, as a vehicle where all these things can be discussed, the exchange value of fantasies and ideas, but why one individual did one particular page in that is of no interest to me at all.
JC: I think that’s exactly right. That’s exactly the problem with this art; everyone’s been involved in it in one way and you wonder about audiences for art - what actually is an audience for art? On the one hand once you start looking at every individual they are very important to themselves, but who cares! I don’t care about your feelings, really, to be honest, except insofar as maybe you’re an audience for something I do in the future - if you know what I mean - this weird sort of attention investment disorder. Maybe that’s what it should be called since we are in a psychiatric clinic; A-I-D, AID we’ll call it, attention-investment-disorder. But, any individual is irrelevant. The thing is how do you get a whole load of different individuals with their different fantasies all of a sudden swarming around this, the nullity of this object. You can’t get there simply by toting up individual desires.
PE: That would depend on how many pages you put in.
JC: Yeah, ‘I put in three so I’m three times more important!’
MF: What about it as a form of philanthropy?
JC: What, giving nothing!
MF: Aren’t you aiding Christian by donating your time?
JC: Well, I think that’s true and I think that the thing about philanthropy is there’s not a single person, or writer I respect from the late 18th Century to the present who I know of who actually has a good thing to say about philanthropy - not a single one. Whether it’s Blake saying, ‘Charity would be no more if we did not make somebody poor’, or Samuel Beckett saying, ‘To those that have nothing it’s forbidden not to relish filth’, or psychoanalysis saying, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are that you’re big enough to donate, like, something to…’
MF: Is this what you are chaffing at here, because you feel like you’re being forced to be philanthropic when you don’t want to be?
JC: Being philanthropic, well, that’s probably the only ethical position you could take towards philanthropy. Anyone else is like, ‘How did you actually get that much money that you could feel that you know…?’, that’s one of the problems with philanthropy; all these people giving back money that you stole in the first place and now you’re giving back a tiny little bit of it and now people have to thank you for the tiny little bit you’re giving back even though you’ve stolen the whole lot – do you see what I mean? I agree with you that there is a philanthropic aspect – philanthropy itself has a very interesting structure which is not irrelevant to the economic sorts of calculations that I think Christian has been performing.
CC: The thing that struck me in the process of doing this project was the diversity of identifications people made with the thing; either the exchange that was going on or what they saw in the object, or, after the fact, once it had been completed, the desire of people to identify with it in different ways or to try and identify - within these blank pages - identities through these small traces (of noted-down times and hourly rates or of image reside) that are left on the page. At almost all the sites the names of the people who rubbed-out pages were listed, separately, so people were going from seeing names to seeing blank pages. At Site #1, Worksense Haircutters, after the magazine had been displayed for about a week one of the hairdressers, recognizing one of the names posted on the list and giving that name a certain value because of the profile of the person as an artist and the value they got for their work - he knew that this artist produced work that was very valuable - he said to me, ‘Can we have it open at ‘such-and-such’ a page?’ After pointing out that the second ‘spread’ that’d been open at their site had included this person’s page, all I could bring myself to say was, ‘His page had been open on Tuesday, didn’t you recognize it?’ It seemed the only reasonable thing I could say in response. For some the desire was pretty strong to identify something, someone, and to be able to give it another sort of value.
JC: Which is the celebrity value anyway with Sylvester Stallone on the cover, the celebrity identification and now the celebrity identification through nothingness. Even if nothing is there you’re still desperate for a celebrity to have fill it or to have emptied it. Which is silhouettage isn’t it? There’s nothing, you’ve just reduced everything that’s actually meaningful and then you go, ’Now I can see’. That’s the real secret.
PE: I don’t know what you make of it but I feel that it’s significant that the front cover isn’t erased. You didn’t mention that when you were talking and I feel that that, and the back (cover), actually locates the work back to its original source. In itself that alters the project. It would be different again I think if it was…
JC: Completely blank.
PE: …totally erased. That may even be a greater denial, in some way. There’s been an erasure but not a total erasure; an erasure up to where I can still identify what I started with.
JC: It’s interesting that it is the cover. It’s important that it is the cover and not a couple of pages inside.
PE: Also that it’s falling apart and, in a way, has to be put together. It’s been passed around and many, many hands have touched it. There is also that other aspect of construction to it - the next generation of construction to hold the idea together. I’m not sure what to make of that yet because I haven’t thought about it but I find it really interesting and interesting that you didn’t mention it.
JC: It’s true. There are two things that I think of: the first is a conversation that Derrida and Lacan apparently had about Lacan’s first book the Ecrits, which is a series of writings in French, eight hundred pages or something. Immediately people bought this book it fell apart; it was too big for the binding that Gallimard had done for it so it kept falling to pieces. So, Derrida basically says, ‘There’s nothing holding your work together!’ and Lacan says, ‘Don’t worry we’ve solved the problem, it’s now coming out in two separate volumes but we are calling it one volume.’ The question of binding is exactly what I think is the question that you’re raising, the question that Derrida raises of Lacan; ‘What actually holds together intellectual work?’ Well, it’s something as material as glue and staples.
PE: Or some signifier that gives you an angle and that’s why you can’t have total erasure, a tabula rasa.
PE: Then you get back to that original problem where everything is nothing and nothing is nothing and…
JC: I completely agree with you and that’s also the trace of identification. There can’t be a total erasure. That’s why I wanted to say at the end that, at the end there will be total erasure and that’ll be Utopia, but until then there is still going to be traces of the process of a yet unfinished work, unfinishable work. Yeah, binding and covers.
CC: At the Collins Place Eyecare site talk (Site #4) Tony Perry characterized the magazine as an assassin. Observing that even though this Vogue Hommes is a fashion magazine it doesn’t have a model on the front (cover), it has a celebrity, he went on to vigorously describe the celebrity magazine as being the most pernicious sort of assassin because, as it’s foregrounding one person it has moved on. While you’re still privileging that person in the magazine it’s already working to displace that person and replace them with someone else. So it’s one of the cruelest sorts of things in a temporal sense as it is always ahead of you, moving on to someone else while you have that. I thought that was a very interesting observation about…
PE: About art!
CC: …and quite pertinent also, in a way, to an aspect of how the erased magazine operates.
ANON: Did you know everyone that you approached to erase the magazine or, how did you go about approaching them?
CC: Some people I never met because at times it was handed on and on. When I began I didn’t know 250 people or 260-odd people – the number of people I thought were needed to get this done. It started with a small network of people – family, friends etc. – that gradually grew as my confidence built that I could ask. It’s important to remember that in the beginning it was just a magazine. Each person was a negotiation; I had to approach them, to show them the thing, to talk about it and then try to work out if they were interested. If they were I would then organize for them to do it and get it back. So initially the people I approached were those who I had some confidence in to be able to begin to get done, those who I thought would have confidence in it, or me, as a way to begin. Then over time other people were found and the network spread. There wasn’t a predetermined logic as to who should do it. Some people said, ‘Why don’t you try and get all the occupations you can think of and all the…etcetera?’ That wasn’t so important and realistically it was incredibly difficult to get it done, to find that many people who would be prepared to rub out a page. That’s why it took five years.
JC: Did anyone steal a page or tear pages? I have an anxiety about trust and it seems to have done a lot, you know, getting 250 people involved.
CC: I don’t know if anyone tore any pages out, souvenired them. It was almost shredded at one stage, it was left it at a supermarket once, it was left it at a coffee shop (by me), it disappeared into the country for a while after a family tragedy, but it never, it never… but it got close to disappearing. A lot of people near the end - the people who were doing it after more than half of it had been done - often would tell me that they became very anxious about having it, apart from having to do it, which was in itself, for some, another anxiety altogether. That response fascinated me. After living with it for so long my thoughts about it, about its preciousness, were, to be honest, quite ambivalent. Interestingly when it went to ACCA (Site #8) they were very concerned about how I was intending to display it , even questioning whether I really cared about it, considering its precarious material quality, questioning my valuing of it. That anxiety was again noticeable - maybe it had something to do with them having to insure it.
JC: What did they insure it for?
CC: I think I put down $15,000. At the time it was a pretty arbitrary decision.
PE: $11, 349.18….
JC: But surely value, that’s the thing, it’s going to accrue and there are replacement costs, with wages going up, cost of living…
PE: (to Christian) Talking about the way you put it there, there’s an interesting slippage between the portrait of Stallone and the portrait of the artist, you, who’s not actually there, but what dominates the blank book is this other desire for people to be involved in the project who may or may not be celebrities but the are now because they’re ‘in’ there. I don’t know where this is going but there’s an interesting slippage between the artist as the celebrity, if you like, and controller, the master and controller of the event. You’re sort of absent but you are very, very present, particularly after the event with the series of talks and posters and things like that.
JC: What about the weird aggression of it?
CC: That’s something no one has picked up on in any of the talks. For me, in the act of rubbing-out there’s this weird, almost aggressive act, a certain aggressive friction which goes on, and it has always been there when I’ve… but it’s funny, very few people have remarked on it, because it is a very physical act of getting rid of this thing.
PE: It’s funny they haven’t remarked on it because it’s in the poster. I take it they are the rubbings of something, is that what it is (pointing at the poster on the wall)? The leftover image on the bloodhouse floor?
Stuart Ringholt: When we think about trading with this book what interests me are two statements recently by artists of my age, which were quite profound. One artist said that, ‘Contemporary art is a mugs game’, referring to the fact that, as with the recent “Say No to Nothing” campaign, where artists aren’t receiving generous artist fees for being involved in important shows (in State and National Galleries in Australia) and the other statement was made a year before, when an artist said to me that, ‘Art’s a rich kid’s sport.’ What does that mean? And then I think about, what is the role of work? Is it to think about how can we unionize artists so they are treated fairly or, do we think about international economic systems and Fair Trade systems in the Third World and that’s where we need to be centering our work? So for me the book is a good think-tank.
CC: This bit of background might give some context to the work (see also [CC Artist Talk Part 1]). It came out of a situation I was in where I was trying to reconcile the value of my time for different people. I didn’t feel it was a ‘healthy’ situation and I didn’t find easy to deal with, so I wondered whether you could, as an artist, adequately, meaning creatively and critically, deal with this sort of thing. There was this occasion around late ’98 where somebody had bought some of my work and it ended up in a collection, a collection I was then hired to photograph, for I work as a photographer as well as an artist. My value to them was twenty times more as a photographer than what they would have paid for my ‘artistic’ work. When I asked them, ‘Why did you buy the work?’ one of the things they said was, ‘It was relatively inexpensive da da da….’ So I started thinking: how do you reconcile an image of yourself when you are having to constantly reassess your value, the value of your time, for what you do for different people? Most people today, unless they left school at eighteen and went into a full time job and stayed there all their lives, have to negotiate that question over and over and over again. The next question then was: how does one deal with this without picturing it, without making an image of it? Instead, I felt more driven to try to embody the disparities, or the coming-and-going of an image, the trying to hold on to an image and losing it. Just maybe what resulted could be emblematic of that sort of exchange.
MF: Justin you said ‘forcing’ a couple of times and I wanted to ask you if you object to that?
JC: To the word ‘forcing’? Why, what’s objectionable about it?
MF: Because I don’t think we are forced to do anything in particular.
JC: David Odell says to me about forcing, which is what you do with geese to make pate, you force them until their liver explodes, he says, ‘It sounds cruel but the results are delicious.’ That was one of the reasons I used the word ‘forcing’ in particular and I do think we are all forced to do things, however not necessarily by other people but by our own, ‘I want to turn myself into a goose, a goose-liver pate.’ What is your desire there that forces you? It’s got nothing to do with you, it doesn’t want your good, it just runs through you. To quote a French psychoanalyst Eric Laurent, ‘If you have to distinguish between fact and value,’ which is part of the question of this project, ‘a fact is that human beings hate the other in themselves.’ I would also link ‘forcing’ to that, that fact, at least as psychoanalysis see it.
PE: It’s like a complicity of desire, in a way. I was thinking about that when I go to see shows, maybe at places like ACCA, and I know they don’t pay artists well but it’s gives them a lot of profile. There’s a complicity there; you are going to get ripped-off but you are going to get something in exchange which is the envy of your fellow artists.
JC: Inestimable value.
PE: Inestimable value and there is this constant complicity going on between these economic and political structures which have got the art scene sorted out in Melbourne well and truly. And so, there’s this continual chute, S-U-T-E (sic), for all of us, really. That’s a large part of the original source, with the magazine, the Vogue, there’s the complicity of the image in there and people know what they’re going to get, it’s going to reassure them or provoke desire. And then there’s a desire to be in it.
JC: Well, the structure of desire in these things is a real…Frances Ferguson talks about, and a lot of right-wing American theorists who I quite admire, talk about envy. Envy is traditionally considered a really, really negative emotion, one of the one of the seven sins, jealousy, envy etc., but it is absolutely crucial to capitalism. I you want a stable system, for capitalism to continue, you have to produce envy and, in fact, you need institutions that are there to go about producing envy. What’s envy? It’s not as simple as an object I can’t have. It comes from, ‘There’s an object that someone else wants and I can’t have but maybe I’ll be able to get it, if.’ So envy is quite a complicated structure according to desire, it’s not routed vis-a-vis the object which is desirable in itself, it’s routed through what you imagine other peoples’ desires have for that object. Does that make sense? So Saint Augustine, seeing his little brother sucking at his mother’s breast is filled with envy, this intent, and he says, ’It’s not that I could have used the breast, I wasn’t interested, I couldn’t have used the milk, but I was just really pissed-off that he was having something that I could no longer enjoy and that’s what drove me crazy!’ As for your ‘chute’ metaphor, there’s a chute of envy, envying desire that’s clearly at work.
PE: We talked before about religion not having any innovation because the results are given and there’s no need for envy in a way.
JC: That’s right. In fact you have to exclude envy from it.
PE: People aren’t, or perhaps they are on certain occasions, I don’t mean that there aren’t lots of people who are envious of religious people, there are, they are successful people or something like that, but maybe with envy one of the things it does is produce innovation.
JC: Absolutely. A right-wing American capitalist will say this happily, ‘Envy is the motor of innovation and we need to create envy in people. It’s absolutely crucial.’ The good thing about envy is that it not only produces innovation but it does enforce the dissolution of like, like Etienne de Silhouette himself, the dissolution of familial and class and tribal affiliations; you’re always looking at what others are doing and not just what Daddy is telling you to do…
TAPE RAN OUT.