Jordan: Before getting into it... wow, Jordan Wolfson, fascinating. ‘Rape the floor’? Maybe it’s a good investment? But, by good, I'm not sure what I mean
Thomas: I have to confront this truth often, I really like his work.
J: I know you do, you always have! It’s good to be truthful. I kind of like it too but then sometimes, ugh.
I saw the Peter Saul survey show today at the New Museum. It was complicated. The work is really upsetting. The colour palette is intense — it’s hot! There are lots of classically racist caricatures of Black and Asian people and they’re all in these violent colours. Disfigured bodies, lots of heads cut off. I’m surprised there haven’t been protests.
Then on another floor a Jordan Casteel show with these positive and morally good images. It's as if those two shows being up at the same time is presenting the ‘real’ problem.
I'm supposed to like this and I'm supposed to find this upsetting. But in actuality, what I left with was the power of these upsetting hot racist paintings by this old white man… painting is the problem.
T: Do you think it was strategic to mount these two exhibitions at the same time? To mitigate potential protests?
I remember when I saw Love is the message, the message is death (2016) by Arthur Jafa at Gavin Brown Enterprise my criticality was paralysed. I couldn't articulate a critique regarding the gallery’s, then recent, move to Harlem because the work was so viscerally powerful that I was back in Chinatown by the time I could even try, let alone be interested in finding the words. I love that piece, it’s masterful and only in deep retrospect does GBE’s presentation of it feel potentially strategic.
Those monumental encounters with artworks are rare. Though, most of the work I care about doesn’t aspire to produce those types of experiences.
Ironically, one of the other of the few times I had an encounter like that with art was with Jordan Wolfson's Coloured sculpture (2016) at David Zwirner.
Should we start?
J: Thomas, what is the relationship between truth and love?
T: I was looking into a work by Gregg Bordowitz called Testing some beliefs (2011 - ongoing) recently; I love this work and think it's uniquely relevant to this conversation. Like him, I feel uncomfortable saying the word ‘truth’ and committing to it in an honest way, especially when drawn into proximity with art.
J: I think it's inevitable to talk about the topic of how truth and love are related or of truth or love as concepts. All the responses are stupid and that’s what I like about it. It's nice to embrace feeling naïve.
Like, I regretted sending you that Lacan thing the other day because that kind of ruins it... we shouldn't be looking at anything or preparing anything, the prompt works best that way. It’s something you just ask. You can go to the deli and ask or I can call my grandma — she would probably say, ‘the truth is I love you very, very much.’
T: Yes, that's true. I like those things about it as well.
First though, this is being recorded and then published. It's going to take the form of art discourse, that's very different to your other experiences asking the prompt.
This might be lazy of me and I’m trying to do this less, as in I’d like to permit experience first more, but for now, it’s important to acknowledge from the top that we're not in a deli and I am not your grandma. We are peers in an art journal that is perceived as important by a certain type of person. Language is, especially when published, imbued with an authority; for many reasons but one is that it's fixed — unlike truth and unlike love. I’m uncomfortable having this conversation because of that.
The other thing worth stating for the record is that Lacan said stupid things all the time! He said that ‘love is a pebble laughing in the sun’ and that sucks! Also, I remind you that I am in psychoanalysis five times a week, that’s proof that not only do I care about Lacan but also that I get-off on being naïve. However, in analysis, the door is shut and there is no audience.
J: It's been really surprising who has felt comfortable just saying what they think. And often it's people who I consider extremely intelligent saying something like, ‘truth is love!’ I find those responses really uncomfortable.
T: They’re dishonest responses.
J: If you're uncomfortable and scared why did you want to do this?
T: Truth is, I love talking to you. It’s an excuse to talk, to have a structured conversation.
J: There’s something about those concepts, truth and love. They fall through… they're impossible to hold. There are no reliable sources so you can only depend on friends.
I liked something my friend Anne Cousineau said, ‘truth and love are more like breathing or doing the dishes than they are like a birthday or a shooting star’. And I love that and I think it’s true and I think that’s nice. And that's why all the conversations about truth and love lead to other things and then come back. I think talking about Covid-19 and fears about that lead back to these topics.
T: You fear Lia [Gangitano] getting it. Your fear suggests that you love her.
Before we keep going, what's the deal with names for this?
J: I don't think I want Lia to know that I thought about her getting Covid-19! I think it will make her feel old and I don't think she's old. I like, love her a lot I'm sweating!
Ugh, no — we can keep names I don't care.
T: You said there are no reputable sources aside from friends in conversation. That’s important and powerful, and I love it and I think it’s true.
J: I was thinking about this today, that I feel lucky to be an artist. We’re lucky to be artists. It's a beautiful coping mechanism.
T: I don't disagree. I just don't relate. Making art doesn't make me feel very good.
J: I mean, it doesn't necessarily make me feel good.
J: Someone asked me the other day, ‘are you suffering for your art?’, it was a text message and I took a really long time to answer because I wasn't sure.
T: What I like about your project is not that it deals with truth and love, I like its form and methodology. The topics could be switched out and replaced so it’s not precious.
This is a very demanding work and I don’t think you realise it, and that’s good.
J: I'm kind of embarrassed by it and it doesn't feel like a work at all, it feels indulgent or it doesn’t feel hard enough or something. I mean… it’s the hardest thing.
T: It can be anything. It’s been many things already and will be many things. I especially love the format of ‘focus group as art.’ What types of staging and performance is involved in the focus group versions of the work?
J: With Phoebe Osborne, I’ve done two and they were really different. The first one was at our studio building and we originally planned to have the focus group go all night, so we called it Red eye, to discuss truth and love. We couldn't get anyone to commit to it so we held it from 10pm until 12am. It started with a survey. The questions were all spectrum style questions, like from one to five but ours was ‘hard truth’ to ‘beyond false’.
Everyone got a survey, filled them out and returned them and then we asked several people prior to give presentations on the prompt, almost everyone was a poet. John Elio Reitman sang a Bjork cover and that was my favourite one. And then we had a discussion, which was kind of structured, but we were also serving punch.
And then the second focus group was at SculptureCenter for the In practice show and I think it was more successful because it was less in our control and we also offered an incentive for people to attend, which was cash. It is pretty much structured just like a focus group except for the presentations.
T: I’ve never been to a focus group.
J: A friend started forwarding me these emails where you fill out surveys and then if you qualify for certain focus groups they call you and they'll offer you like $250. I go all the time.
T: I definitely know that focus groups happen but I didn’t necessarily think they were real, or that I know people who frequent them.
J: The thing is that focus groups always have a product. There's always a point. And we felt very aware of that for the one that we held at SculptureCenter.
T: I love that the ‘point’ is for you to consider the responses for the following focus group. The focus group itself is the product, which in turn becomes another product for focusing on.
J: Right and it’s true.
T: It's like in psychoanalysis, I only go so I can go back. Like a revolving door or that snake that eats its own tail... or a dog chasing its own tail.
T: I gave up agency in that relationship quite a long time ago.
J: My therapist said something interesting to me, I'm not in analysis just regular psychotherapy, we talked a lot about my fear of Lia getting Covid-19 and then she was like ‘I'm 56. Are you afraid of me getting it?’
T: Oh my god...
J: Right? Am I bad for not having thought about it? She said ‘you know, you can tell me if you're worried about me. I'm aware that we have a relationship.’
Last time we spoke you said you’re in love with your psychoanalyst. I don’t understand that. I don’t feel that kind of love for my therapist, mostly because I am very aware that I'm paying her and that it’s a service.
T: I don't know how I could not love him, the psychoanalytic situation is in some respects set up for that to happen.
J: Maybe it’s one of the most true things... is he the truest lover? Or it may be one of the falsest loves because... do you feel he loves you?
T: I suddenly became very aware that pauses don't exist outside of the audio recording of this, and pauses feel uniquely important to the dynamics of ‘working through’ and ‘speaking through’ positions.
I will now take a very long pause and then answer your question.
Do I feel that he loves me? I don't think it matters. I do know that he thinks I'm very interesting. I also know that psychoanalysis is an incredible discipline and practice.
The payment and the transactional aspect is an important part of the dynamic and not something that should be shied away from. It has a real purpose in the relationship. You have to submit yourself to an analysis. Without ‘skin in the game’ it wouldn’t work. Even acknowledging the ‘is’ of a subconscious is confronting and you pay for it. Which is fucked up and I am fucked up for it. I don’t ‘attend’ analysis per se, I’ve submitted myself to it in a very serious and studious way.
And importantly, I wouldn’t characterise it as a ‘service’ as you said, unlike therapy.
J: Do you think my characterising it that way is out of fear?
T: It’s worth considering. Maybe you should start an analysis.
T: Can we talk about the relationship between art and truth? Is it true that Jordan Wolfson is an asshole?
T: There's this thing with ‘truth’ that happens in art discourse, in journals like this one and others and in-wall texts and audio guides and books and syllabi and catalogue essays, where the material ‘thing’ and its symbolic systems get detached from each other. That can happen retroactively in art history or, more often, upon a works first presentation in announcements and reviews and curatorial texts. That growing detachment [gesturing with hands] is produced by language and to me, this alienates truth. I don’t know if it’s ‘inherent’ in language but I do know that ‘lying’ is native to arts’ discourses.
Contemporary art has no value, so we say these ‘things’ to convince ourselves and others that it does. It's important that arts’ discourse enacts these tricks on people, its publics and its markets... its lookers, its buyers, its dealers, and its makers. That’s how we prove ourselves of our own entitlement.
I’m thinking of Dan Graham’s For publication (1975) for this idea [reperforming hand gesture]… it’s also related to Andrea Fraser’s There’s No Place Like Home (2012).
J: Do you have a non-text based example of this [reperforming hand gesture]?
T: I'd encourage you to find one.
My analyst says a very good thing often. He has a lot of valuable insights toward me and my behaviours and desires and blah, blah, blah, but he’s opposed to sharing those insights with me. If I ask him to share he says ‘No’, followed by an obscenely long pause, because ‘that would rob you of the experience of arriving there yourself.’
J: That is so manipulative.
T: That’s not true.
But really, are you unconvinced that there is a difference between what an artwork is and what is said by people about what it is? Or does? Or is doing?
J: I think that this conflict is as simple as ‘fact versus truth’. It’s not a ‘lie’, it’s a deeper truth. You can tell a lie to tell the truth or whatever.
This is so romantic, but the only real relationship between truth and art is hopefully that an artwork makes you feel something true. Or encounter a truth.
T: I think my one true experience with art was in a group show curated by Leah Pieres at Wallach Art Gallery in 2017, Finesse. Karin Schneider reconstructed a 15-minute camera-less film from 1973 by Michael Asher. I felt that work deeply.
And, pointedly, I won’t say anything more about it. I wouldn’t want to use language to make sense of that experience. I'd rather be honest.
J: There's also a scale to this. I think that there are artworks that do that profoundly and then there are artworks that do it in a milder way and some that don't do it at all.
Remember in school when we were both in Alex [Segade’s] class and we had to write things as Brecht or Artaud? That always stuck with me as a true binary.
T: It’s the only binary I don’t want to disrupt.
J: I like that binary a lot! It's helpful. And I think what we're talking about is, in terms of truth, Artaudian. I have no idea what I'm talking about, but from what I understood that binary to be, it’s like Brecht is alienation, words, teaching, distance and then Artaud…Gore! Real!
Is that how you understood that binary?
T: I like that you said gore before you said real. That feels true. Maybe that’s the next focus group? Not truth and love but Brecht and Artaud.
T: Do it with Alex, that’s not boring.
T: Yes, true.
J: Ugh, I really want to pour myself a drink and have a cigarette but I'm afraid we'll lose service if I take the phone into the kitchen.
Speaking of love, I'm cooking my friend dinner tonight.
T: Is that an expression of love?
J: I think so.
T: Do you love this person?
J: Yeah. My friend Edythe Woolley.
T: Do you want to fuck Edythe?
T: Is that good?
J: I'm realising that it might be. I've recently been heartbroken and friends of mine have said to ‘focus that energy in your work’ and I'm like… that energy doesn't come from the same pie, you know what I mean?
T: Did you say pie?
J: Pie, yeah. I don't think art and heartbreak come from the same pie. I don't think that love is finite in that way where you can take it out of one place and put it into another as if it were like liquid in a cup. I don't think it's a limited amount of stuff, or that in some way suffering will make my art better.
T: Curators, historians and critics don’t suffer nor is it expected that they do. So, who has more magical powers, artists or curators?
J: What do you mean by magic?
T: Transmutation, the sorcery of the art world, of art discourse, the market of meaning, substance and value...!
J: As individuals or as a category? I mean, there wouldn't be curators without artists.
T: Well, you know what my next question is going to be.
J: Is money magic?
T: Do artists need curators?
J: I don't think artists need curators.
T: That’s true. Now to the question of whether money is magic, money might not be but finance definitely is.
J: Maybe money is one of the only of the few true things despite it being a total and obvious construct. You know, blah, blah, abstraction… death and taxes.
Death is the only true thing!
T: I don't want to say anything too smart because that would be stupid but Gore capitalism (2018) by Sayak Valencia is a very good book.
I want you to do something with these words for me; fact, desire, myth... and I'll let you pick the fourth word.
J: Mmm — I knew you were going to say myth. Okay, fact, desire, myth and…
T: Jordan Wolfson.
J: No! Do you think if we say his name enough he'll read it? It will come up on his Google Alerts.
T: I’m remembering now that his exhibition at Stedelijk was called Manic love / Truth love.
J: Ugh, that’s annoying.
The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘feeling’, which is awful... feeling can be dangerous in relation to fact, desire and myth. Feeling can be the thing that troubles the dynamic because the feeling that something might be true can come from desire and that creates a myth of that thing. Fact would be the only thing that could pierce through feeling.
I’m thinking about people ‘arming themselves with facts!’
T: I'm in love with someone who really likes Yvonne Rainer so my mind is just jumping to the fact that she has a book called Feelings are facts (2006).
J: And that relates to what we were talking about earlier when I was like, art's relation to truth is basically that.
T: I am more cynical about art than you maybe, but I guess that's always been true.
J: I appreciate your approach as more of a type of scholarship.
I have so much self-doubt right now in my practice. I feel like I’m just making stuff up...
T: Can you describe how you experience ‘making stuff up’?
J: I could literally just think of something random that comes from my head and do that.
For example, I'm making this animation a of skywriting plane spelling out ‘stupid slut’. It's just complete bullshit and out of nowhere...
T: Your work is really brilliant, regardless of whether it's ‘made up’ or not.
J: It's cheesy but I want to be building in myself a kind of confidence that doesn't require any approval from the outside. I think that it’s also systematic and that it goes back to artists’ needs.
T: Again, do artists need curators?
T: I once installed an artwork at the New Museum. I was being paid $8 per hour to install a painting valued at approximately $180,000. I also had to install a lighting fixture and was asked to paint the screw white so that you couldn’t see it. The painting I was installing was worth that much but there was no artist fee for its presentation, and who knows if that painting was ever bought.
You’re not getting paid for your exhibition at the New Museum but I did get paid for my little white monochrome painting on that screw.
J: I'm not getting paid to show and I'm paying for the production of the work. I'm filming it all in miniatures. I got four of these little ambulances. Cute! Isn’t it cute?
The money isn’t ideal but there's always going to be something that prevents the most ideal circumstance from existing in the work so whatever that restriction is it just has to become part of the work, hence it is miniaturised.
T: Make it up!
J: Make it work!
Do you feel that you're compensated for your contributions? I am willing to bet that you're not.
T: I’m not.
But maybe we shouldn't be compensated for this work. Especially if we're just, as you said, ‘making it up’. Not everyone is allowed to pay rent with made-up things. But we do it because we love it, or there is a suggestion that we love it but that love for it is also what's held above us economically. And they do that because we…
J: Would do it for free regardless.
T: For your focus group at SculptureCenter, the incentive for participating was two $2 notes. How did you source them? They’re so hard to come by.
J: You can get $2 bills from the bank. You just ask for them. Rare to come by ‘naturally’.
The origin of that was when I was on my way to meet Phoebe to plan the focus group I stopped at a Deli near my apartment and got a seltzer or whatever, I paid in cash and the change I got were two $2 bills.
T: Well, the interesting thing is that the cash you gave for the focus group can recirculate. So again, the work isn’t precious.
There is a work I love called Insertions into ideological circuits (1970) by Cildo Meireles is. The piece is stamped paper money that he later spends and thereby re-entering or resubmitting it back to the circuit after being transformed into art.
Are your two $2 bills different to normal $2 bills?
J: We didn't mark them or anything.
T: Like art.
I talk about the art world and its players in psychoanalysis often.
J: I talk about the art world in therapy all the time. I always feel I’m wasting the minutes.
T: That's why I have five sessions per week, surplus time.
J: Do you feel that it's a sustainable practice? Can you keep it up?
T: I think being in an analysis, and taking it seriously, and having a functional life outside of it is not possible. And, this is what I’ve chosen. I mean, I've been reading about and flirting with psychoanalysis for a long time but fuck me up... no amount of reading could have prepared me for just how Artaud it gets in there. I always thought it was Brechtian!
One day I'll be the nymph, the one who escapes her captors and then becomes a tree!
J: That’s literally a creative act.
T: What do you mean by literal?
J: … Love you, Thomas. I had no predetermined thoughts on our conversation.
T: Neither. Which means I love you. If I didn’t love you there would be a lot of notes by my side for me to refer to.
J: That’s trust… maybe that could have been the fourth word?
Are they fetish-y about that one type of mask to wear over there during the pandemic?
T: Yeah. What is it called again? R2?
J: I don't know. I always want to say i95 but that's a highway.
Well, Thomas, I love you very much.
T: Love you Jordan.
Jordan Strafer (b. 1990, Miami) is an artist based in New York and Thomas Ragnar (b. 1993, Singapore) is an artist based in Melbourne. They met in 2013 while studying Fine Arts at Parsons: The New School.
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