Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Artist Interview: Isaac Richard Pool "A Alternatives" at What Pipeline

"Isaac Pool - A Alternatives" at What Pipeline (Curated by Daniel Sperry and Alivia Zivich)

(all images below are courtesy of What Pipeline and Isaac Pool)

1. Since leaving Detroit and also finishing graduate school how has your practice developed? 

Isaac Pool: Leaving Detroit was a necessary move for me and graduate school was an available method for that transition. The switch from working within a very small arts community to entering the massive number of artists in New York was   energizing but totally perspective shifting. In Detroit, I was working mostly within provisional exhibition sites and discussions about "selling" or "the market" were totally alien to me. Whereas in New York, things feel much more institutional and commercial even in "alternative" spaces. I think that being in graduate school helped me understand different forms of art making that I hadn't been exposed to in the Midwest, and levels of rigor and critique that were unthinkable living in Detroit, but the value of my work in relation to a community or a public feels very different here. Languages relating to embodiment and lifestyle that mean something radical in the space I was inhabiting in Detroit mean nearly the opposite in the context of a fully functioning, commercial zone like New York. That's just one example, but I think I'd say that's the largest thing that changed for me during the move - understanding how much language can change in context.

2. How would you describe the importance of these greater networks to your practice? (From God Club to Jessica Posner, and to seeing Alivia Zivich in the video who also started What Pipeline.) There is the feeling that wherever you go, so do your friends.

Isaac Pool: I think that my practice is kind of meaningless, or certainly less meaningful, without collaboration. The idea or image of the solitary, genius artist is so boring and patriarchal but also false - no one exists in a vortex, especially not artists working within a history of shared images and ideas. "A Alternatives" was kind of about this - for the lead character, Sally Johnson, I chose to cast 3 women in addition to myself to imply that Sally was more of a social body than a centralized, singular voice. I end up carrying most of the film myself with a monologue that acts as a treatise on self-agency, but the project ultimately ends with questions about the rhetoric of "agency" and what good speaking as a singular subject can actually do. The answer to this is ultimately that things actually happen in transit, among individuals in collaboration and/or conflict - that a center of authority is both impossible and undesirable as an embodied personae. 

3. You employ such a wide range from producing music, mood boards, sculptures, publications and even panel discussions as art pieces. In particular with your video work, do all of the different materials and formats relate to each other?

Isaac Pool: This kind of ties into the question about collaboration - I think that all of the projects relate to each other in that they are largely products of the social environment that I participate in by co-producing things like readings and discussions and performances. I've often used video to formalize these relationships. In Transfer Progress, which was the precursor to A Alternatives shot in Detroit in 2010, I used Sally as a fictional outsider to make a document about my relationship to a group of people I was sharing a nightlife culture with. It was a way to objectify myself and make the more manipulative aspects of documentary filmmaking more transparent - it was a protection of agency and a celebration of style whereas I think A Alternatives is the deflation of that. But both of these discussions came out of my relationships at the time and the spaces I was trying to create in Detroit through different parties and events I was either organizing or performing at with friends. Similarly, a lot of the photographs that I show in exhibitions are presented as documents. The collages at What Pipeline featured many photos that were production stills taken with disposable cameras while filming the movie paired with small accessories to offer small, ephemeral spaces for reflection. 

4. You have also released an eBook "Alien She" which has a review by K8 Hardy referring to a "new feminism". Could you talk more about this and perhaps the relationship between the use of "she" and "it" within the poems and how it relates to A Alternatives?
I am definitely interested in the moment where humans and objects slip into one another as things/subjects. Sally is a character who believes that distilling her personality down to a hyper-stylized, controlled look can further her viability as a subject. This ultimately makes her a more viable consumer subject in the sense that her "look" becomes her, but it also allows her a certain level of freedom to express dissonance or disinterest in becoming "average" or "conservative" in public. There's a level of objectification that Sally commits herself to by relying so heavily on a look, but I think that this is a way to operate strategically within the language of capitalism and that the "look" Sally becomes is so garishly feminine that even as a product it retains a necessary vulgarity. This sort of relates to Luce Irigaray's ideas about mimicry and I think may have something in common with the "new feminism" that K8 is referring to. Sally's persona plays off of certain pop cultural affectations of a superstar or a rom-com / sitcom lead but she does so poorly - she kind of mis-performs in this way that is both adherent to the melodrama of those archetypes while also leaving room for doubt.

5. I really like this statement: "My relationship to "being political" through Sally's performance is not apathetic or disillusioned but ambivalent - very much concerned with two, often opposing, frames of mind/points of view. It isn't impossible for a person, or a character, to be invested in superficial elements of lifestyle and in critical practices and political agendas. In fact, I would argue, that this knowing display of style doesn't posture as "objective" or "no-nonsense" in the problematic neo-liberal tradition of chastity. I honestly think that reactions to stylization and excess are homophobic leftovers from the demarcating of homosexuality as "bourgeois decadence" in Marxism. Excess is an important gesture and I often think it's misunderstood syntactically which, again, makes it a language problem."

How would you describe a way forward for ambivalence to be productive and taken seriously? It seems to be similar to how Simon Critchley describes a faith for the faithless.

Isaac Pool: I hadn't read this interview with Critchley but he's certainly speaking to some ideas that I share, and that are shared by other writers and philosophers right now. For instance, I think that Sally's character was definitely shaped by a reading of Lauren Berlant and Eve Sedgewick's writings on affect. Recently, I've been thinking about the idea of coping as an answer to the pragmatics or viability of ambivalence as a form of resistance. Coping is something we think of in direct relationship to trauma, but I think it's a really productive way of thinking about "lifestyle" in a way that isn't tied directly to capitalism or neo-liberal logics of "self-help" humanism or new age ideologies that are just as prescriptive and classist as their counterparts. Coping is always in relation to time and to a body moving and becoming out of a situation. In this way, the subject is already destabilized and their actions are stratified across their own body but also the bodies of their peers, their object choices, their hangout activities, etc. Coping refers to a contingency of individuals to experience that is at once active and hopeful but not necessarily "committed" or definitive by any means. This is an ambivalent form of political action that I think is well suited to framing some of the conversations happening right now. 

Interviewer: Cedric Tai

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