Last
year saw the publication of Private
Investigations—Paths of Critical Knowledge Production in
Contemporary Art,
part of the Büchs’n’books series created by Künstlerhaus
Büchsenhausen, Innsbruck, and edited by Andrei Siclodi. I worked
closely on the development of the book and contributed chapters on
The
Cut
and
An
Infinite Night.
To
present the second work, which I had researched and shot during my
2007 residency at Büchsenhausen, I invited my close friend Laura
Horelli to discuss it with me. The resulting dialogue carries on the
“conversation” form that I had used for the voice-over in the
artwork itself.


LAURA HORELLI Now that I’ve seen the piece again my first question
is about moving from analysis of story-telling to actually making a
story with actors. It seems you are deconstructing and building at
the same time.

GEOFFREY GARRISON
That’s a very interesting point. The piece sort of started with
discovering the book The Arabian Nights [translated by Richard
Burton in the 1880s], just picking it out at random at an
English-language bookstore in Maastricht, reading it and remembering
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Arabian Nights [Il fiore delle
mille e una notte,
1974]. And remembering being fascinated
by it the first time I saw it because it’s such a strange film. I
think the thing that so fascinated me about this story, when I
rewatched the film, was that the story of the female slave disguising
herself as a king in order to find her lover reminded me of Jacques
Lacan’s explanation of love in Seminar 4, On Transference.
(Transference being the psychoanalytic name for love.)
Lacan describes love as the miraculous moment when the one who is
desired, the beloved, comes to take the position of the lover, the
one who desires. Basically, love only occurs when the desired person
returns the desire, becoming active desirer.

So there is this key
change of position. And that’s where I started to realize this
central dialectic to the Lacanian notion of love. That we’re always
constantly dependent upon our relationship to others. That was
interesting to me—also because I knew that Pasolini was a
Marxist—so I started following that master-slave subplot in the
Pasolini film and found the story it was taken from in the Richard
Burton translation of the Arabian Nights.

And yeah, I first
started doing that in an analytical way. How it came about that it
turned into a productive thing is maybe at the center of the question
of the process of research-based art, right? At first I was writing
with a sort of documentary approach; there was the idea of a
voice-over and even using stills, historical images—the same way I
began on the Freud piece actually—but there’s never really a full
thesis in the sense that you would have for a cultural studies piece.
And then one morning I woke up with this idea of writing a B-movie,
and I just wrote it. I wrote it in three or four days, maybe a week.
And from there I extracted scenes—so then there is the act of
deconstructing my own piece—which I had actors act out in an empty
space in Berlin.

I then took a trip
to the desert in West Texas to make an 8mm film, but the camera
didn’t work, so I took stills and used these as backdrops for the
voice-over that tried to retell the parts on another level: so,
telling the story of the research, the story of the B-movie, and the
story of the Pasolini film. Then I tied that together with these
scenes with actors.

LH There’s kind of
a big back-and-forth movement between the two kinds of shots because
one is thinking about the voice-over and this analysis of the film
and then we jump into these theater scenes, where one somehow
identifies with the theater play. I’m just wondering about the
different ways of viewing and relating to the film as a spectator.

GG Do you identify
with the characters in the acting scenes?

LH I try to identify
with them, but because there are these ruptures in between, I get a
bit confused. But I think that it is interesting that there are very
short bits of acting. And then you kind of get into it, but also not.
And because the actors are dressed in everyday clothing and you have
just these small fragments of the story, then sometimes you wonder if
they are illustrations of what has been said in the voice-over, and
sometimes the voice-over actually comes afterwards. The video is
using such—in some ways it’s not conventional, but in other ways
it’s using certain conventions. Maybe people expect to get a
conventional narrative out of it.

GG Which is one reason some viewers read the acting as “bad
acting.” They are comparing it to a convention that they see all
the time. Of course, when you don’t have any soundtrack, like any
music, and you don’t have fancy things in the background, and you
don’t have a lot of edits, and a lot of things going on, the acting
is going to seem melodramatic. And also when you don’t have the
long development of a story: where there’s a kind of buildup and
you know the backstory and they’ve brought you into it—as soon as
you don’t have that, of course it seems melodramatic because it’s
falling out of nowhere. And the thing that works in movies, and why
you have a certain relationship to it, is because you’ve been
caught into the story somehow. So if it were in another situation it
wouldn’t be a melodrama because you would have the buildup of the
story and you would maybe be tied into it a little bit more.

I mean, it’s the
same thing I feel with the Freud piece: it’s so stripped down, it
becomes schematic, in a sense. At the same time that it borders on
melodrama, it also borders on an ironic tongue-in-cheek quality.

LH I think the way
it is filmed, there’s a lot of camera work, and shot-countershot
and this man-and-woman dialogue, all of this makes you want to
identify with it. But then because it is so short and because it goes
into another voice-over image thing, and then each scene is a little
bit different, it’s not a direct continuation of the previous
scene. The next scenes are always totally somewhere else in the
story. It depends more on how the film is built rather than music I
think.

GG I think this
thing about references—to come back to research-based art—I think
that, in a way, research leads to a certain type of referencing—and
the need to know something beforehand, or else having it interpreted
for you when you see it. And there’s a real difficulty letting
yourself go, accepting not knowing what the references are to, and
not caring. I was thinking about that in relation to the creative act
or of making something. Cause I was thinking about this burden of
being original. Maybe, for me, to take all of these quotations, it’s
not really about a guessing game; it’s not that I want the audience
to guess what that’s from or what that’s related to. It’s not
about that at all. It’s more a kind of way of finding material.
Like a kind of collage that produces something new. And collage is
actually a type of analysis or construction.

LH Again this
deconstructing and reconstructing.

GG That comes back,
yeah. So, in a sense, it’s a hybrid, a collage of the different
elements. I was thinking of a kind of palimpsest, a manuscript, or
printing plate, where previous writings have been erased but can
still be seen—or of Freud’s magic writing tablet. And that is
what I was thinking about with both pieces, this history which is
flattened and it becomes a kind of collage. So you have the different
layers of the different narratives, which come through in different
ways. And they get in the way of each other and create an entirely
new thing.

LH It seems that
language is very, very strong in the work.

GG Do you think
language overpowers the work?

LH No, I just think
it goes in a little different direction than the images. Because the
images are, formally speaking, distinctly different. Or they function
in different ways, there is different identification, but then the
language, in some ways, is not so different because there’s this
voice-over, this dialogue with you and this other person, and then
there’s the dialogue in the play.

GG Does the language
build a bridge between the two sections for you?

LH I think the
language keeps it together.

GG This is something
I wonder about the work process: whether language becomes so
important because the process is based upon reading and researching
and on a kind of liberal arts / cultural studies–based process. Is
that a hangover from Conceptual Art? I don’t know. . . . What
about—you also have a lot of voice-overs in your work.

LH Yeah, I probably
never manage to do a piece without any talking. I don’t know why. Then there is also
the idea of the filmic “experience” in the sense that in research
art you can have these discussions and you can have articles and
talks somehow related to the thing, but then in the end, the work
functions as a film.

GG As an experience.

LH Yeah, or, in that
sense, as a viewing experience.

GG So there’s this
question about the relationship between the object, the aesthetic
thing, and the topic of research. . . . I’ve been thinking
about the idea of interpretation rather than research. And that most
of the time what I am doing is interpreting information or
interpreting something. I don’t know about you. . .

LH Yeah, I was
thinking of transformation when I was watching the video, but
interpretation is better.

GG I think that’s
my interest and background growing up with classical music and my
interest in opera and the theater as well, in that it’s always an
interpretation; no matter what performance is made, it’s always an
interpretation. Somebody can take an opera by Mozart and turn it into
a completely contemporary thing with a very specific meaning, which
is maybe not there, or they can go to a core level and pull out an
essential meaning. And to a certain extent, what I was doing with
this piece was trying to create a kind of interpretation, and maybe
transformation, transference, metaphor, interpretation are all
interlinked. Metaphor just means “transfer” in Greek. And
I think that all of these, this level of representation, that
representation is always based on a kind of interpretation.

LH But then there’s
still this hierarchy. Often the
playwright (or composer) is—or at least the screenplay writer in
film—is much lower than the director.

GG I guess the last
thing we get to see is what’s done by the director. In a sense,
it’s always an interpretation of that.

LH I saw this
documentary over Kurt Weill’s house in Dessau, and it was quite
interesting because he and Bertolt Brecht were collaborating on the
Three-Penny Opera, but Weill felt like he was dominated by
Brecht. There was this fight and Weill felt like Brecht thought that
he was just making the music, but Weill felt he was part of the whole
creative process. . . .

GG Do you think the
urge to research a project and to continue to work on it is also a
kind of desire to collaborate?

LH It’s
interesting to exchange opinions with two people working together,
which I think is most of cultural production anyway—a
collaboration. In art there’s a tendency to put all the credit on
an individual. I think it is very rarely that way. There’s always
influences.

GG For me, researching is definitely a kind of collaborative desire. I’m
collaborating with something that is already there. Or, like I said,
it’s the attempt to avoid being stuck in the insistence on
originality, the individual. Instead, I can be an interpreter, and an
interpreter is a kind of collaborator. It’s also a way of occupying
another position, moving from the position of viewer to that of
maker, which brings us back to the video.