Glen Fogel, With Me…You. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Glen Fogel, My Apocalyptic Moment, runs through June 30, 2012, Tuesday–Friday 11am–6pm and Saturday 11am–4pm.
PART ONE: PDX/AMSTERDAM
Glen Fogel: Hello!
Kristan Kennedy: You are right on time. Hello! What are you doing in Amsterdam?
GF: I am trying to stay awake! I have been so jet lagged. Those overnight flights really suck unless you have some Ambien.
KK: Drugs are usually helpful. Except when they aren’t.
GF: Speaking of drugs, I have never been to Amsterdam and everyone is stoned! It’s really funny.
KK: Everyone is stoned in Portland as well, sometimes it is funny, sometimes not. You will see we have a fairly regular news segment called “Faces of Meth.” It is not amusing to watch humans shrink before your eyes.
GF: Meth is not cute.
KK: Exactly. Speaking of cute, why do you think you’ve been the subject of so much adoration?
GF: Well, I think it’s kinda over now, but it was really intense for a while—from about third grade through my early 20s.
KK: I read your interview with Antony in North Drive Press. It seems your hair had something to do with it.
GF: Oh no! I can’t even remember that. Please refresh my memory…
KK: Well, you mentioned that you were small for your age, and that you had large, feathered hair bigger than your head.
KK: You made it seem that you were simultaneously trying to hide and stand out. Or that you unintentionally stood out because of your unassuming nature. This is all leading somewhere…It seems that while your work is about portraiture and mining personal terrain, it is also about perception; other eyes seeing you before you see yourself.
GF: I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but that sounds about right. It’s as if I was found out before I knew what I was about.
GF: It happened consistently for many years. I found it at once thrilling, but also really disturbing—I could’t figure out what people were seeing.
KK: It makes me think about walking past a mirror and catching a reflection of yourself and having the image in your mind not match up with what you see. Of course, somewhere between the insane, obsessive notes written to you by pre-teen girls, and the embittered letters of your later loves there lies the truth. Is that what you are looking for—some truth?
GF: I remember feeling like I was a blank surface that people were projecting themselves onto. Somehow people would look into my eyes and just see what they wanted. I don’t really believe in truth.
KK: Now that is interesting. I don’t think I do either, but often we are in hot pursuit of it. Or, maybe a better word is ANSWERS. I don’t want to get psychoanalytic, but do you think this “projection” of self is manifested quite literally in your film work?
GF: Do you mean by the very nature of a projection, or in something specific in the work?
KK: The very nature of projection? Take a bong hit and answer that one.
GF: This conversation is making me feel high—kinda like an intense therapy session.
KK: Curator does mean “to care for the soul”…it was a term used to describe people who took care of mental patients, but that is another subject entirely…
GF: I think that might be a bit too literal—the projection thing. I really came to making films and videos because I couldn’t make anything else.
KK: In the end, I want something from you, just like all of those note-writers. Answers…
GF: Too literal of a reading, I meant…
KK: Yes, perhaps. Well, let me re-frame this: when did you decide to mine this material to make work?
GF: Well, I think it was always present in my work, just not so explicitly. There was a veiled aesthetic, a removal of sorts. Then, four or so years ago, I received a hand-delivered letter from someone I was seeing, and it opened a flood gate. The letter was the ultimate act of projection and the person was fully aware of it. I realized that I had received so many of those letters over the years and simply put them away, always carrying them from place to place in a box, never sure why I was keeping them. I actually don’t keep much of anything. I’m always throwing things away—purging—but I kept the letters.
KK: Was there some freedom in exposing them, putting them out in a way, where they became material that did reflect who you were, something you understood, art?
GF: It seemed to me that my voice as an artist could be the voice of others, like a conduit. It also felt incredibly wrong and that appealed to me, and continues to appeal to me.
KK: The wrongness…meaning the reveal of the personal?
GF: Yes, and the apparent narcissism of the act. I think there is a definite cringe factor to the letter paintings—they make people feel uncomfortable.
KK: There is that mirror image again—and the disconnect—between the actual and the perceived, but I don’t see this work as being self-obsessed or egotistical, even in its cool removal (how formal the paintings are, how crisp the video is). It is soulful and self-aware. Still, there is a space between the beauty or craft of the work and what it is saying. Is that where the tension lies?
GF: That is precisely where I want the tension to be.
KK: If someone found a box of your letters hidden under the bed, they would surely read them. It would feed that part of us that wants to know someone’s secrets. But, in their current state, on the wall at such massive scale with bright light illuminating them, the only one who is implicated is the viewer.
GF: It does play out like a sleight of hand; in the end, I don’t feel very exposed by the project at all, so perhaps, like you say, it’s not really about me or ‘Glen’…
KK: No, it’s too human to be about one Glen; it’s about ALL GLEN’s. Your name does become something else in the painted letters, and in other work…a name that represents a feeling, something repeated over and over for effect.
GF: I never like my name, and at times have thought of changing it, but when I think of the work, it seems as though it wouldn’t have the same effect with another name. ‘Glen’ is just right. Just like with Goldye—that Cadillac—the year, color, model, etc… was the only car that could’ve worked [with that name], even though the car itself is rather unexceptional.
KK: Yes, there is a specificity that does not call out something’s uniqueness, but it’s universality.
GF: So am I the medium?
KK: It seems like it is about iconic symbols of emotionality or relationships. How a car can reflect a persona, or how people start looking like their dogs, or how a love song is about everyone and everything. Yes, you are the medium. “The medium is the message/massage.” Thinking about the iconic symbolism of relationships leads me to your installation, With Me…You. There is such a perfect imperfection in the rings.
GF: I think it’s very important to the piece that they are worn, and that they don’t initially appear that way.
KK: All of the work has a patina, but is devoid of nostalgia. To me, that is why it works. It is stunning…you know there is history there, but the stylistic choices strip the work of any schmaltzy, diaristic qualities. It all feels new, even if it references the past, or an era, or a lifetime commitment.
GF: I need you to write my grant applications!
KK: Hardly! So, talk to me about your use of color, light, sound. This is something that feels like your language, your way of speaking back.
GF: I think of those things as being very intuitive, and what I have always been drawn to—clean lines, bright crisp colors, cool spatial light, electronic music—they are things that give me pleasure. I think of those stylistic decisions as a way to create a space to receive the work—both distancing, but also very seductive.
KK: I think that we don’t talk about pleasure or joy enough when we talk about art.
GF: If it doesn’t provide pleasure or joy, then I’m not sure what good it is. It can also be pleasure in something sad or painful…
KK: Certainly there is pathos in the work. Also humor, a slyness. You mentioned slight of hand. Do you see some of your work as trickery? Playing on people’s emotions or perceptions?
GF: Kristan! I am so jet lagged and falling asleep! Can we continue tomorrow, or do some email questions if we need some more stuff?
KK: Of course!!!!
GF: Or we can edit and add something…
KK: My intention is not to make your eyes bleed.
GF: I am going to send you this now and read it and shoot me an email…
KK: Sounds perfect.
GF: Well, it’s not your fault, they just bleed anyway!.
KK: Haaa! Well. get some rest. A start of something is very helpful. Then we can get to what we need. zzzzzzzzzz sweet dreams zzzzzzzzzz
GF: gnight —–
Glen Fogel, From Jamie (August 20, diptych), From Anna (date unknown), and 15’00″. Photo courtesy of the artist.
PART TWO: PDX/NYC
KK: I am looking at your paintings, and listening to the song “Promise” by Jagged Edge. It seems fitting.
GF: I don’t think I know that song.
KK: Oh you do. You just never knew RnB could be hard like that and have a name like “Jagged Edge.” But it seems fitting for this to be the soundtrack to the interview.
GF: Maybe I should download it and listen too.
KK: You should. The song is all about assuring someone that “everything will be alright” because of love.
GF: So how is it being with those paintings? I realized yesterday that its a different grouping than I’ve had before, perhaps very ‘Jamie’ heavy
KK: Yes. Jamie is an interesting writer—super mystical?
GF: I would say more classical than mystical—he has greco-roman fantasies
KK: That makes sense. The romantic ideal seems to be thread to his musings. The paintings have this tragicomic read: you catch yourself laughing and cringing at the same moment.
GF: I’ve been told they are thoroughly uncomfortable—they have proven very divisive—people love ‘em or hate ‘em.
KK: I can’t see hating them. Even formally they stand up; the paint quality is as awkwardly beautiful as the content. They are bewildering.
GF: In the two newest ones that are there [at PICA], they have all sorts of odd grammatical errors from the translation of them being painted in China. I used to have them corrected, but have recently decided to leave the errors, did you notice them?
KK: Patrick pointed them out. I love this about them. That the “reading” and meaning of the content was eradicated by the painter. If you had to revisit each letter with a paint brush it might be something of a penance. In this case, there is some appropriate distance. What was your thinking behind having them fabricated?
GF: The idea was to create distance, to put the intensely personal through a totally removed process. Originally they were conceived as being paired with the With Me…You videos, and the rings were treated with a similar formal process; rendering personal artifacts through lens of advertising and commodification.
KK: In this installation, they will be further removed by space, and the addition of a few new works. All of it seems to be a loop back onto itself, a series of different series… but all to the same end.
GF: I’m curious to see how both the paintings and videos will work without being in the same room—perhaps it will give a more open read, less 1-to-1.
KK: Can you talk about With Me…You? I am interested in the pristine trance-like quality of the spinning rings being interrupted by sound and light. By the way, Mariah is on now, I think we need a playlist for this interview.
GF: We should do that
KK: Consider it done.
GF: This cafe i’m sitting in is playing crappy jazz. I don’t think that should be on the playlist; I can’t stand jazz. i’ll answer your question now, I swear.
KK: JAZZ IS MY NIGHTMARE.
GF: I really can’t stand it, unless its Nina Simone
KK: ANSWER ME. Nina does not count. I guess I need voices. OK, shit. Focus.
GF: So the sound and light disrupting the videos was meant to do exactly that — create a disturbance in the ring/wedding trance. Its also meant for comic effect, as a “You don’t think I’m serious, do you?” or maybe, “Damn right, I’m serious!”I’ve also been very interested in trying to use light elements and architecture as part of video installation, to fully inhabit the gallery. I think upcoming works will continue in that vein…
KK: This quality of the work-seriousness/irreverence-gets to the heart of things for me. It also destabilizes the viewer. I have been thinking about the new additions to this groupings of work- the banner outside and 15’00″. They will fit into this dynamic push pull.
GF: I hope so. I want them to function in the extreme irreverence direction as much as the letters/rings can function in the sentimental direction, but pull each other into this uncomfortable middle.
KK: Well, 15’00″ will be quite literally in the uncomfortable middle of the room. A confrontational clown. You mentioned that the drawing on the sculpture came from childhood doodles; the other thing that is interesting to me about the work is a collapsing of time. The rings have this long familial history and the letters come from past lovers/loves, yet they both also feel like they are about RIGHT NOW.
GF: Yes, the drawing on the sculpture was an attempt to recreate a face as I drew them as a child. My mother told me this story that has always felt relevant to me: as a kid I used to always draw faces with a straight line for a mouth, instead of smile. One day my mom picked me up from pre-school and I was drawing smiles, she went straight to the teacher and asked her what was up — she found out that I had been corrected by the teacher and she immediately stopped taking me there and enrolled me in a different school. An alternate title for the piece could be For Mom, but that just seems way toooo sick!
KK: I think I love your mom.
GF: She is kinda the best mom ever, I have to say.
KK: This leads me to portraiture…which is where your work begins. I am still obsessed with the link between de Kooning’s Women and your series of photos from altered subway advertisements. I was watching a video of him describing that series, its origin and intent. It started with a collection of cut out mouths from magazines-women’s mouths-which he found appealing. He said that the mouth was so strange to him. That we do everything with it, that we, “don’t put spinach in our eyes.” A commentator in the video called the mouth, “the eye of the hurricane.” The photo we selected for the PICA deck has the same quality as de Kooning’s Women to me: violent and beautiful, something linked to the history of portraiture, but also subversive.
GF: Perhaps it’s a similar impulse in the graffiti act as [in de Kooning's paintings]? I think a lot of the ‘Call me’ series has elements of misogyny, also racism, homophobia… Not sure if that was were you taking that.
KK: That is true. It is sort of a cultural portrait, made by many people. They reveal the best of human nature-to scrawl on the wall, to change things, to use their brains, to be clever, to invite accident-but then the graffiti also reveals how ugly things are. I was not talking about that exactly, but of course de Kooning battled the impression of the work being misogynistic his whole life. He really thought it was absurd to try to make a portrait-to pick up paint and make a nose, as he said-but also absurd not to make portraits…
GF: I wonder if all art is portraiture of some kind, like the primal impulse to portray ourselves. I know I can’t seem to get away from it no matter how far away it seems. I remember a few years back I really was trying to make my work less ‘personal’ and it came back with a vengeance.
I think i just fell in love. The barista is ridiculous.
KK: Baristas are from a planet of aliens who keep breeding and tempting my boyfriends away from me… so BEWARE! OK back to the subject at hand…I think that is what he meant about the absurdity in trying to avoid making work that reflects who we are as artists. How can we avoid making visual statements about our lives? It is our language.
GF: So true. What else do we have?
KK: Nothing else.
GF: Especially when one doesn’t believe in ‘truth.’ I gotta say that the barista’s hotness is true though.
KK: HAAAA! I’m gonna kill you, but I think you delivered me the ending of this interview…
GF: Good, no more torture!
KK: This interview is DOPE. The soundtrack will be even better.
GF: Actually hasn’t been torture. Talking to you is very easy.
KK: I think all the answers we seek from artists are in the work, so maybe we should leave it to that. Thank you, Glen.
GF: No prob, KK.
Download a PDF of the condensed version of the interview, along with a fold-out artist poster. Or, visit us in-person and pick up a copy in person and explore Glen’s show.