Quintan Ana Wikswo and Arturo Vidich on Degenerate Art Ensemble's Blog
Degenerate Art Ensemble (2013 Performing Arts) recently invited Quintan Ana Wikswo (2013 Emerging Fields) to write for their blog every day for 14 days. In the fifth post of this series, Quintan sat down with fellow Creative Capital Artist Arturo Vidich (2013 Performing Arts) to discuss their “underworlds, undergrounds, and innerworlds to communicate with what’s been erased, banished, exiled, excluded, hidden, contained.” You can read the original essay on Degenerate Art Stream.
It’s Day 5 of The Talismanic Tetrakaidecahedron – a 14-sided, 14-day essay-vessel filled with artists discussing our underworlds, undergrounds, and innerworlds to communicate with what’s been erased, banished, exiled, excluded, hidden, contained. We’re talking about the hydras and hellhounds, mysteries and magnificences, myths and talismans that live therein. And about navigational tactics, map-making, and unknown routes through the mystery.
Arturo Vidich climbs aboard our essay-vessel today, and we sail happily into the ways in which artmaking involves contingency and disruption, bad ideas, not-knowing, in-between-ness, atomichanical fabrics, memories of future objects, endogenous DMT, dark mirrors, H.P. Lovecraft, slamming into time waves, attempting the impossible, replicated selves, semi-autonomous animals, un-abilities, in-abilities, and dis-abilities, being shamed by autocorrect, soul retrieval, and other engaging enigmas.
QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO: I’m curious to talk to you about the role of ritual and rite in navigating the worlds you are inhabiting and creating. I tend to think of ritual as a process by which we adjust our “mundane” daily-world perceptions and perspectives, and begin to tune them into other less-easily-visible frequencies. In my fieldwork process in particular, I feel like a large part of my practice entails learning how to enter the kind of altered state of consciousness that allows for deep-seeing and heightened perception of ecological, archeological, and other kinds of traces from the past.
ARTURO VIDICH: For a while I was trying to throw my consciousness outside to watch myself in the studio – beats video for real-time adjustment and arrangement– kind of like astral projection. And then for a while I was trying to impulse a release of endogenous DMT in my brain. Attempting the impossible: even if it doesn’t work, it gets you somewhere you want to be (hopefully).
QUINTAN: Having an out of body experience while actively working within the body makes perfect sense to me. It basically creates two bodies, though. And adding video actually begins to create and invoke a multiplicity of bodies. What you’re saying is very much in keeping with this idea of the many-headed hydra – that we (the individual artist) becomes a multiplicity when we create work. The person we are in flesh and blood, and then the conjured characters, the audience’s idea of us, the camera’s data-collection of us, the photo documentation and then the replication and duplication and digital distribution…we can become literally millions of avatars of ourselves. The million-headed hydra…the vigilante army of shadow selves…
And of course unlike writers and visual artists and filmmakers, choreographers and dance performers spend an enormous amount of time in front of mirrors. In constant contact with this body double, who is always a precise distance away. In the way one’s shadow is somehow tethered to us physically, following us at the angle of the light. But sort having individual agency, a mysterious life, its own independent adventures, connected but not fully communicative of its thoughts and activities.
ARTURO: In high school, late at night I would burn candles and make sculptures out of whatever happened to be in my room, usually under some influence or another, listening to Pink Floyd or what have you. I took photos to document. At some point, I lost track of time and things were happening in my room, and it wasn’t me doing it. Stranger and stranger arrangements of artifacts and drawings and power emblems managed to come together into an altar that was me and not me, a mirror into the dark figure occupying my psyche. I always knew it was there but didn’t have a way to contact, only to tamp down. I still have everything. It’s all photo documented: the lead up, the descent, and eventual dismantling and distribution of all the materials. It’s interesting to see how things lose power when they are dismantled. It was very Lovecraftian.
QUINTAN: Dismantling. Sometimes I wonder whether the role of ritual is to dismantle. I have a longstanding creative relationship with characters I call the Mantlers and the Dismantlers. The Mantlers build up things out of fragments, and the Dismantlers break down things into fragments.
Although for a long time I wondered if they were enemies, I’ve discovered they’re actually very loving friends to each other. They have their rituals, and one begins with nothingness, and the other ends with nothingness.
ARTURO: In life, I am a fairly ritualized person, and get anxious when I can’t do my thing. It is possible to create rituals that embrace contingency and disruption. It’s a challenge, but possible. That’s life.
In my work, however, there is very little ritual or rite. Every work is like starting over from scratch, having no skill, not remembering how to do anything or what, exactly, is my work. It can be a struggle to have to constantly reinvent your wheel, but there is a lot of freedom in not knowing what you do. It’s a different sort of rut.
If there is a ritual in my work it’s Not Knowing. Or thinking I know but then finding out later that I actually didn’t know and made something based on assumptions about what it should be. The work changes depending on the project.
QUINTAN: The emergency of not knowing is, to me, a very powerful state of powerlessness. As artists, it feels like we’re conditioned to hide our ignorance, our inabilities, our conundrums and inadequacies, and yet to me there’s a palpable harnessing of power when we wrestle directly with these sites of mystery. It’s as though there are secret gifts hidden inside these places in the self that are disguised as liabilities. Chuck Close being a prime example, but I think this concept of secret power within disability works across many un-abilities.
ARTURO: And the work is partially about the feeling of inauthenticity– how can I find something even purer, how deep must I dive to get to some truth-core. There is nuance to not understanding what truth is for oneself, the feeling of being incapable of uttering a sure thing, an honest appraisal of one’s feelings. I am not the only person who gets this.
Make something with it rather than just let it push you and push you to the edge. So art can be an outlet for trash and bad ideas, bad decisions, that would otherwise infiltrate your daily life and ruin everything. It’s a way of putting on the play of the taboo without having to actually go through.
QUINTAN: Creating a deliberate relationship with the un-abilities and in-abilities and dis-abilities is a very important watershed – and is at the heart of what I’d call a shamanic action. I started working with old typewriters when I developed severe language problems due to my brain injury, and was feeling shamed by the autocorrect feature on my word processor. The typewriter didn’t amplify my flaws, and I began to find myself in a process of radical acceptance by the tools of my trade. It actually developed into an improvisational process, which was new to me as a writer. I still retained a rudimentary grasp of the alphabet, but how it assembled itself became quite surprising.
ARTURO: In my work, improvisation is a technique used in performance to augment the performer’s relationship to time and space and being seen. Every performance is a trial by fire within an organized ‘set list’ of how things progress in general. It filters down to how I make the objects and music I use in performance, as well. As a dancer I started to use improvisation basically because I can’t remember moves, and I had to make that into a strength. I’m located somewhere in the middle, trying to improvise within a structure. Contingency plays a big role.
QUINTAN: I suspect contingencies are in some way the mysteries of life acting upon us, almost as though the cosmos itself is dancing with us in partnership, and we just have no idea what the steps might be, and often we can’t see it moving until we step on its toes, or it slams us into a wall, or drops us, or vice versa.
Or perhaps sometimes we begin a dance, and the cosmos jumps in to participate, and it just ends up knocking everything into a very strange place, in unfamiliar rhythms…
I often think that artists who create characters (in literature, visual art, film, dance, whatever) are surrounded by un-seeable companions – we can call them imaginary, or ghosts, or inspirations, or memories, or spirits, or ancestors – who participate in our artmaking whether or not we invite them.
ARTURO: I’m susceptible to energies, forces, and personalities. And if I’m not careful I can take on other people’s narratives, problems, viewpoints.
Last year afforded me a glimpse behind the veil of all veils, and I saw the atomichanical fabrics enveloping us all, and everything. And then I received a soul-retrieval from an inexperienced shaman, who gave my dark figure some glowing mushrooms, and banished him behind the plenum at edge of hell. But she forgot to lock the gate or something because bad stuff started happening. There were some difficulties. And some really, really good stuff.
Anyway, I put stock in it and I don’t. I guess I’m an inside outer, an in-betweener, a grey matter. Mainly in my thoughts, not my actions or lifestyle. Truth in multiplicity instead of singularity. Both are illusions of the same coin anyway.
QUINTAN: In-between-ness is exactly the crux of this Tetrakaidecahedron – how mythology gives us iconic examples of that process of crossing between states of being, underworlds and overworlds, life and death, English and Mother Tongue…. In my culture of origin in the Southern World and the Mexico Border World, there was not a delineation between reality and magic. Miracles were real. Angels spoke through the fangs of rattlesnakes. Paintings of Jesus would issue real blood. Tears would fall from the eyes of statues. All this was acceptable.
In the Art World, we’re supposed to all agree that we’re only working with metaphors I suppose. It just feels very sanitized and artificial in many ways – as though the actual real meaning behind our artworks is being eliminated so as not to scare off capitalism and commerce, who make money off fake death and fake violence and fake politics but get very squeamish around hanging real death on the wall above their $27,000 sofa.
So I’m wondering about where artists can locate our candid, honest conversations about what is really going on within and around and underneath what we’re making. The implication is that it will damage our credibility, but I think the real reason is that too many folks are scared of the dark. But the ancient role of artists was, in fact, to be guides through some heavy, distressing, uncomfortable aspects of existence. The worlds within worlds, like death and injustice and birth and similarly transfigurating experiences.
ARTURO: The last performance I made, 142241, at Abrons Art Center, was about death, among other things. In very plain language, 142241 is about how last year I was in a car accident and, to make a long story short, it was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. Life after that incident was very different. Every day felt like some static nightmare joke where there is no option to view the next slide, and I started to feel like I was living in reverse. Or, wouldn’t that be nice? If only we could go back in time and change that one moment, make a different choice (yes there are a million books, movies, songs, etc that touch on this, but it’s different when you live it first-person). Sometimes life gives you a never-ending pie in the face.142241 is about what you do with all the muck and slime dripping from your head.
QUINTAN: I’m working on an upcoming discussion with Lynn Hershman Leeson, and she talks a lot about the role of time as a talisman in this navigation of worlds. Do you have any relationship to that?
ARTURO: In the studio I started experimenting with doing everything backwards, and it redefined how I moved as a dancer, my relationship with objects and my perception of events as points in time, which they are not. I started to imagine that things that would normally be foreshadows, or gradual crystallization leading up to an event, are actually back ripples from the event. Hindsight is 20/20 but so can be foresight, and so premonitions can be defined as memories of the future object. Time started to take on the properties of waves, which can be ridden. Or they can slam into you.
142241 is also about memory. Memory is a facet of time. If memory is fallible, what is one’s relationship to time? Time-hopping is fascinating, but don’t waste time remembering stuff.
QUINTAN: What would you say are your most alchemical talismans in this process, in your creative life and psyche? In the sense that talismans are touchstones, are sites where we gain the strength and fortitude to move into places that call out to us.
ARTURO: For the most part, animals and science fiction have been great driving forces in my work. The relationship between human and animal is fraught and layered. Animals are these strange semi-autonomous things that we keep around and love and nurture, and yet we have total control over their well-being and intellect and barrage them with orders and requests.
Sometimes we are actually the needy ones. We are the captors, the givers of food and mercy, pain and torture. They assist us, act as our sense enhancers, give us deeper meaning in humanity.
Animals and animal spirits are great protectors, warders off of unwanted energy. To focus on them– the real creature in front of you, or the dead one in your head, or the energetics of the essence– can be an anchor when one is tasked with digging up old pottery in the killing fields. You never know if you’re going to find a skull or a gourd. You definitely want your animal with you if it’s a skull.
And, true love is not limited by taxonomic rank.
QUINTAN: On Day Two of the Tetrakaidecahedron, the writer Ranbir Singh Sidhu mentioned that in a previous professional life, he was a bone collector. The official term for that would be, I suppose, an archeologist. The first horror movie I ever saw was Raiders of the Lost Ark – this idea that digging up something can have epic consequences. Perhaps that’s why in the old tombs there were animal totems, and the underworld was guarded by animals, and animals accompanied humans between worlds, and goddesses and gods were half-human half-animal.
(All your work speaks strongly to me in this way, but Body Island in particular – I’ve included the video documentation at the end of our conversation.)
I suspect that humans need animals because we know that, left to our devices, we have no clue whatsoever about how to ascend and descend, how death and birth function, where we go, where we come from, what happens. We’d like to think, perhaps, that they’re still connected to ancient past, as we have science. And animals seem to have an ability to cross between worlds, to ascend and descend.
ARTURO: I don’t have a strategy for descending or ascending– sometimes meditation for ascending, or dancing– usually I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, on tracks, unable to deviate from the dips and curves and cranks. It’s a pretty passive perspective. It’s not fate exactly, or deterministic necessarily. There are infinite paths and they’ll all get you somewhere in the end, which can also be a beginning.
This famous last part of T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets Part II: “East Coker” gets to the issue. How unlocking your path within the infinite doesn’t mean you’ve found God with a capital ‘G’, rather, you’re able to accept your own death, as insignificant yet highly significant, even if it’s hard to accept the deaths of those you love.
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.