VDB Interviews

Dennis Adams (b. 1948) is an American conceptual artist whose work includes photography, text, and installation. Adams is best known for his projects involving structures placed in urban bus shelters, uncompromisingly inserted into the public sphere. These politically charged photographs and their accompanying texts are not used to make overtly ideological statements, but are open-ended in ways that challenge viewers to test their own convictions.

In this interview, American filmmaker, teacher, and video artist Peggy Ahwesh (b.1954) delves into the key figures and primary texts that have inspired her work in Super-8 and video since the 1970s.  She discusses her early influences as a member of the underground art scenes in Pittsburgh in the late 70s and Soho’s Kitchen in the 80s. Ahwesh’s experimental hand-processing and controversial subject matter can be traced to feminist theory, and her exposure to underground experimental films, including works by Werner Herzog, George Amaro, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and her teacher at Antioch College, Tony Conrad.

The word-based art and performances crafted by world-renowned artist Alison Knowles (b.1933) are central to the 1960s international Fluxus movement and its enduring legacy. Describing her experience as a student at Pratt University in the 1950s where she learned from Richard Lindner and Adolf Gottlieb, Knowles recalls her transition from Abstract Expressionist painting to the chance operations initiated by John Cage and Bertolt Brecht.

In this interview, Basma Alsharif (b.1983) examines the multiple ways in which her work engages with the notion of nomadism. Beginning with a discussion of how she initially came to video through photography, Alsharif describes how this transformation of her practice required a translation of artistic sensibilities. The artist feels this displacement between media gave her the tools to critically engage with the displacement she felt as a Palestinian-American.

In conversation with curator and educator Mary Jane Jacob, visual artist Ann Hamilton (b. 1956) talks about care, interactivity, and social relations — key concepts that preoccupy her practice — and why she feels compelled to revisit these issues under the Trump administration. Hamilton was trained in textile design and sculpture, and she received her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1985.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a venerated Thai artist and moving image maker who has directed many short works, and several feature films. In this interview, Apichatpong and Daniel Eisenberg — a Chicago-based artist and professor of film and video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago — discuss Apichatpong’s films along with his perspective on the contemporary film industry and art world.

Contemporary American composer and performance artist Robert Ashley (1930-2014) was a pioneer in the development of large-scale, collaborative performance works and new uses of language in operas and recordings. His landmark project, Perfect Lives, was opera produced for television in seven half-hour episodes.

In this interview, extreme performance artist and 1990s culture warrior Ron Athey (b.1961) discusses the genesis of his provocative performance style and the memories and desires that continue to motivate his practice. Athey describes how his particular approach to performance developed dually from his religious upbringing and exposure to devotional theater, as well as from his later interest in the DIY grandiosity of the Los Angeles punk scene.

Luis Cruz Azaceta (b.1942) creates paintings and mixed media works which use the recurring theme of the displaced individual. Marked by his own exile from Cuba—he emigrated to the U.S. in 1960, in the wake of Castro’s take-over—the artist realized that home is something he carries with him from place to place. Through his piercing expressionism, Azaceta depicts the frailty of human existence in a world full of social anarchy, historically mandated violence, and natural chaos.

In this interview, American cartoonist and author Lynda Barry (b. 1956) describes the philosophy of teaching that has inspired and mobilized her art since the 1970s. For Barry, the connection between gesture and thought collide in drawing and expose the therapeutic possibilities of art. Whether teaching undergraduate art students or prison inmates, her goal is to help others develop art making skills as an “external immune system” that will protect and monitor their emotional and mental health.

Largely focused on the critical use of language both archaic and contemporary, poet Caroline Bergvall’s work asks questions about cultural identity and feminism and explores challenging or unknown historical and political events. She works across multiple media practices including audio texts, plurilingual poetry, installation and Performance Writing.

Jeremy Blake (1971-2007) used digital media to create works that function on a flexible spectrum between being more painting-like or more film-like. He created continually looping digital animations with sound to be projected or presented on plasma screens. Blake often began by making the digital C-prints, which he conceived to be somewhat like paintings; if the imagery and idea of one of these works lent itself as such, he might extrapolate from and expand on it to begin creating a digital animation, which could range from 3 to 20 minute repeating loops.

Zach Blas is an artist, writer, and filmmaker whose practice spans technical investigation, research, conceptualism, performance, and science fiction. Currently a Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, Blas has exhibited internationally, including at the Walker Art Center, Gwangju Biennale, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Whitechapel Gallery.

Andries Botha (b.1952) creates sculptural forms made of found objects and natural materials which serve to interrogate the natural and social order. His work has been exhibited extensively throughout Africa and Europe. Botha lives and works in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Los Angeles-based, Kaucyila Brooke (b.1952) makes what she describes as, "wall size photographic sequences in comic-strip format that consider lesbian relationships within American popular culture." Produced over the past five years, Brooke’s large-scale photo-text installations look at aspects of lesbian culture and alternative communities. Wry and often quite critical, they probe some of the ways lesbian relationships both challenge and reproduce the power relations and narratives of the wider culture.

Victor Burgin (b.1941) is known as a highly influential artist and a renowned theorist of still and moving images. After 13 years in the United States, Burgin returned to live and work in his native Britain in 2001, taking up the prestigious post of Millard Professor of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. Burgin first came to attention as a conceptual artist in the late 1960s and at that time was most noted for being a political photographer of the left, who would fuse photographs and words in the same picture.

In conversation with David Getsy — an art historian focusing on queer and transgender methodologies in sculpture theory and performance history — Cassils discusses their monumental performance artworks and inspirations.

British theorist and art historian Eddie Chambers (b.1960) is a curator and a regular contributor to Art Monthly and European journals on contemporary art. His writings were collected in Run Through the Jungle (1999). Since the early 1980s he has been involved in organizing and curating a considerable number of artists' exhibitions. In addition to his exhibition work, he has written extensively about the work of artists in the United Kingdom and other countries, including Australia, Jamaica and the U.S. His articles and other texts have been widely published in magazines and journals such as Third Text, Visual Culture in Britain, International Review of African American Art, and Wasafiri.

Taiwanese artist Shu Lea Cheang (b. 1954) tackles conceptions of racial assimilation in American culture, examining the political underbelly of everyday situations that affect the relationship between individuals and society. Using video in formally innovative installations, her works include the Airwaves Project, which focused on the one-way flow of global information and industrial waste, and Those Fluttering Objects of Desire, an installation presenting the work of women artists negotiating interracial sexual politics.

Mel Chin (b. 1951) received national attention when he had to defend the artistic merits of his work Revival Field to the NEA in 1990. The work is a public sculpture aimed at cleansing toxically polluted areas of land through the introduction of hyperaccumulators, plants that absorb heavy metals through their vascular systems. In this interview with Craig Adcock, Chin discusses the research and development that went into Revival Field, which combines such disciplines as alchemy, botany, and ecology, and the subsequent controversy that resulted from the piece.

An interview that charts the activities of the Polish critic and curator Sebastian Cichocki. The dialogue is centered around, particularly, the difficulties of operating in a peripheral, Eastern European artworld context. Considerations of resources, audience and the effects of globality are foregrounded. But, despite some of the challenges this situation creates, Cichocki cites some of its advantages as well. He talks of a strong sense of community between artists, curators, critics, and journalist in his native Poland.

John Arthur Clark (1943-1989) was born in Yorkshire, England. He attended Hull College of Art, receiving a National Diploma in Art and Design (N.D.D.) in painting. From 1966 to 1968 he attended Indiana University, receving an M.F.A. in painting. From 1968 to 1978 he was a lecturer in Fine Art and Art History at Hull College of Art and Newcastle Polytechnic. He emigrated to Canada in 1978 and became coordinator of painting and drawing at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Spanish painter Chema Cobo discusses his early years of studying and creating art in Southern Spain. His career began in the mid-1970s, exhibiting at the Buades and Vandrés galleries, along with a generation of now-established artists. His work began showing outside of Spain in the ’80s. Cobo also talks about the ways that his Spanish background and identity have informed his work.

A historical interview originally recorded in 1994.

In this 2001 interview, filmmaker Jem Cohen discusses the origins of his film philosophy, and the circuitous route he has taken in his pursuit of an anti-narrative film practice outside the mainstream. Cohen sheds light on the many influences that have impacted his sentiments towards conventional film, and his desire to eschew both classical avant-garde and theatrical filmmaking in favor of a model rooted in the tradition of the 1940s New York School of street photography. Cohen also locates his aesthetic as being impacted by the 1970s hardcore and DIY scenes he was exposed to as a youth in Washington, DC.

In this 2006 interview, filmmaker Jem Cohen discusses his early interest in art, his family’s welcome antipathy towards commercialization, and his unconventional, anti-mainstream film practice. In particular, Cohen discusses his film This is a History of New York, and how this piece exemplifies his interest in the “territory of sensation” rather than simple visual descriptiveness. Cohen concludes by discussing the role of archiving in his practice, and how compulsive documentation of the quotidian and unexceptional can result in the empowerment of the everyday.