Interview Raymond Pettibon

EN /

H: How will the maximum stranger appear to us? What does he have to tell us? What will he ask us? Which models can help us to prepare for our communication with the maximum stranger? My suggestions are, first, we will get in touch with a strange being. Second, we will go on a voyage of discovery through the solar system. We will decide on a parallel or an alternative world. We will discuss the aspect of time shift. We will explore the existence of a temporal paradox. We will ask ourselves what paradox spaces are. We will ask ourselves what never-ending space looks like. We will question the danger of catastrophe and what comes after. The recipient of science fiction needs an effect of recognition, just as the recipient of art does. What is known is what is interesting. Just as Huxley, in “Brave New World,” constructs an imaginary future state that is directly connected to what we know. Utopia is related to mythical images and motifs. The state and social order represent an oligarchical collectivism. A counter-reality is depicted here.“Brave New World” is a satirically sharp, technological image of the American Dream. Another example is Cyrano Bergerac’s “Voyage to the Moon.” The transposure of our horizon of perception and experiences into the extraterrestrial zone gives us the opportunity to describe the limitations and possibilities of human activity. The fear of the unknown seems to be an inherent human characteristic. Now my question: What is the incomprehensible?

P: What is the incomprehensible to me?
H: To you.
P: I haven’t run into it yet. Have you seen UFOs, have you met aliens yourself?
H: No …
P: No…?
H: Maybe I am an alien. You don’t know.
P: No, that’s possible. But do you have orders not to divulge that? or … there has to be, just left up in the air, a mystery … I don’t know.
H: I don’t know either.
P: A lot of things are incomprehensible, but, to me, they’re not the kind of things that identify themselves in an average day. They’re more abstract. One gets used to some of the same things, the same sensations, the same environments and it becomes commonplace, and patterns develop and one gets by without great shocks. One is a part.
H: Where is the human being’s most incomprehensible place?
P: Perhaps within their own being. Self-knowledge or coming to terms with their own place. Not just within existence. Beyond their corporeal state, that, and eternity and all that. But also to state their position. Not that they are asked to be any given position that couldn’t change. But there is so much resentment and dissatisfaction, complaints about their state of affairs compared to everyone else. That’s not moving out of… that’s becoming entrapped by positions and states. That’s making … concrete, you could say, these abstractions of things that are probably never meant to be in the first place. Feeling terribly unhappy because one wasn’t born in the right place and raised the right way and did the right things, and there are all kinds of persecutors which made their boyhood and life-long dream of becoming an astronaut or whatever it is…I can only speak for myself. That’s a little more revealing than I wished it to be. I guess one of those examples popped in my head.
H: What if nothing is possible any longer and therefore everything becomes probable?
P: You mean, where everything becomes kind of levelled and there’s no distinctions between … as if we lived in a very jaded state of … everything is all the same, right … boring … you mean like that?
H: Yes, maybe.
P: Well, that can happen. I’ve known quite a few people where…that describes their emotional and mental states very well. I don’t see that happening with me and I think it’s unfortunate when it does. It’s a lack of imagination and openness to so much out there. I mean, I can live with trying years but still be working on something that is enough to… I mean, I always have a musical accompaniment …
H: In science fiction, binary worlds are designed. The description of space battles, for example, demands a strict black-and-white pattern. Science fiction has thereby constructed a model for itself which strongly limits its potentials, I think. How can we construct a thought building that is complex and yet remains simple?
P: Well, this is just … you’re sitting in one right now, and there’s a connection between the building and the thought. It’s like a thinking cap, in a way. Whether its Buckminster Fuller or Heidegger … it’s part of … this is a place that…you know, I just came in here in the past few months and it’s a very meandering, odd assortment of little rooms, it started as a very small cottage, a beach cottage, maybe in the twenties or earlier, I don’t know… over time it was added on and changed and it took it’s own organic growth almost, in a sense, it changed with the new circumstances and new demands. This is all without my…I kind of like the idea of that…to be able to accept something that’s developed, that has a history. This isn’t a place that’s a historical monument or anything…everyone else who considered buying this place would almost certainly have torn it down … And even if not, they would have imposed their own stamp on a place. As soon as you walk in you decide, well, this is going down, and this is going down, and tearing down and remodeling. I just don’t have that gene in me, to impose my will and to control my environment to that degree. There’s nothing wrong with that … their self – determination of, well, making their places as best they can for themselves. But it goes from there to, unfortunately, having this overwhelming urge to control not just one’s own environment, one’s own life, but other people’s.
H: In science fiction the world is often described through scenarios. The point of a scenario is not to serve as the background for a plot. So the scenario lets the hero seem interchangeable and sets its own conditions which have long exceeded human reach. Does your work not represent scenarios, too?
P: Well, I think so … usually within one image or a small collection of … that’s just as much possible as expanding it into a longer narrative. There’s usually something going on in my drawings, there’s some context …
H: Sometimes, you depict an iconography of contemporary apocalypse. So your work is and remains fragmentary. Does it bear the fear of loss within it?
P:What does fear of loss have to do with fragmentary ? I’m not sure.
H: Let’s take Hamlet as an example. Hamlet personifies a basic inner conflict between a person’s intellectual and his or her emotional impulses. He longs for a world without contradiction. Yet he increasingly becomes mired in contradictions. Here we have a paradoxical conflict which we all bear inside us. It seems like body and spirit are working according to two different principles. Where the spirit wants to divide, the body seeks unity. What do we do when the principle is inverted? What happens when the spirit has to think the disparate as a unity? I mean our desire for unity and our failure to fulfill this desire. The opposite of unity is a fragment no more than just a part of the whole. The fragmentary always signifies the loss of something.
P: Hmmm … I’ve never …
H: You always have only a part of something … so don’t you have the fear of losing something ?
P: You mean in my work?
H: Yes. And you, too. Better to ask: What can we win, should we lose ?
P: Well, I work in steps, in small increments … but it’s not that much different, than say, a book for instance is a collection of pages or scenes or a film, the same way. There’s rarely those … say, even if you depict a day in someone’s life in real time…there’s no secure state of unchanging wholeness, anyway…I guess you could say in the literature of Proust, to want to be able to order one’s one life and time into an all-encompassing…I mean, not all-encompassing, he wasn’t delusional about that either…to bring order to the past and to marry and the change of one’s sensibilities and growth and also of everyone around them…you have, over time, characters aging and changing, and one’s own sensibility. Or Joyce in a lot of the same ways, he was trying to define or make this sense out of the Irish, that position of the Irish, his times … but the actual works, they can be just as fragmentary at the same time. In other words, wholeness is just a collection of parts, really. That’s one reason I never had an attraction for the common, Christian version of heaven, the afterlife. Because, to give over one’s own personality, one’s own being, to a bigger cause, to become one with God, and have eternal peace. That’s something that I, to the degree that I can fathom it, would not choose. The abandonment of personality or character is not something I would look forward to.
H: In the history of earth inhabitants, one view of the world succeeds another. Whether we have reached optimism in the face of the future or whether we are promised a scenario of catastrophe, we believe it because we cannot comprehend it … I like Stanislaw Lem, do you know “The Futurological Congress?”
P: I don’t think I’ve read that. I read “Solaris.” When did he write “The Futurological Congress?”
H: In the novel “The Futurological Congress” the author describes an inside-out mask, he describes the distortion of the disguise. The mask is not on the face any longer, it is behind the face. The observer sees the whole of reality as a mask. The mask produces uncertainty.
P: You mean they’re looking at themselves?
H: Under the influence of the drug Maskone, the observer sees a masked, manipulated reality. The mask is a spatial image that can be entered. The imagined images are manipulated. They turn into new inner perspectives. The human as a corporal being loses significance. The images liberate themselves. They don’t need reality anymore. Behind this, the real world is in the process of dying. When reality is no longer possible, then illusion, too, becomes impossible.
P: You get this drug in the rave clubs and it’s …
H: No, this is just a story, a science fiction story…!
P: No, but Lem was very involved with the psychedelics, I think he was distributing them quite a bit, and that must have been one of the drugs that he was involved with in Eastern Europe…I don’t know what they’re called, what does he call them in his book?
H: Maskone.
P: Hmm. I wonder if that’s the street name or the generic name or … is there a drug company called that?
H: I don’t know, maybe it’s only the translation in German. Would you like to meet the maximum stranger now?
P: Is he here?
H: Maybe he’s here. He’s under the couch.
P: Oh, I see him there! Do you know Callarme. His science fiction was about Indians and Cowboys. Well the US was founded by…they thought they were going the wrong way. The American Indians were the native inhabitants. If you go far enough into the past, you have these connections that are drawn out … or look at the Mayan, all the ancient … Ezekiel, the chariot. You’d think it was because of the UFOs and the visitors…But you’ve never seen, or had an encounter? With UFOs?
H: Me? Well, you know I’m a cosmical optimist.
P: What’s that, a religion?
H: No, it’s not a joke!
P: No, I don’t know what cosmical optimism is …
H: There are some theories …
P: Terrorists?
H: Leibnitz for example …
P: No, I know, but I’ve never heard them called terrorists. Philosophers, but … what did you say?
H: Theories …
P: Oh, sorry, theorists, yeah …
H: The eternity of the star Earth unfolds between nothing and everything. The Earth is not the world. The abstract Augustinian categories “nothing but God and the World” serve to describe the eternal space which stands within human responsi- bility. If Earth were a star among other stars, the world would be fundamentally transformed. Do you think we can change the Earth into a star?
P: I don’t understand why that concept would make a difference. Originally it was very important to the state or the Church or the powers that Earth be the center of the universe or the solar system. That, I realize, did have a cosmological effect that was psychological as well. But I don’t understand what, if the Earth was considered a star, the difference would be?
H: We are on the Spaceship Earth. Each of our fantastic voyages charts paths inside us, even when the voyage leads us to the moon. With the extension of our astronomical vision the discrepancy between responsibility for the world and contempt for the world became larger and larger. God is not to be found, since the eternal silence of space speaks only of the incapability to love. Since the beginning of human existence, the human being has been revolving only around itself. Life and Death, however, rule the entire cosmos. Who can prove to me that the inhabitants of the moon do not dissolve in thin air. The explosion of the muck earth forms nuclei of the exploding universe and crystalline outer space has been crushed by time, transformed into a world of science and work. Now we are here. With instruments of communication the world unlimited unfurls over the sky. That’s the point. There are some theorists like Galileo. Maybe they’ve forbidden the Earth to be a star. Maybe this makes the Earth lonely and confronts the human with the empty silence of space. According to Pascale, the eternity of the mother star Earth unfolds between nothing and everything. From an astronomical perspective, Earth is not the world. Nor is it a world of spirits, but rather a human world.
P: Yes.
H: For example Veronesi, the Italian abstract painter.
P: Abstract?
H: Yeah …
P: You mean the old master?
H: Luigi Veronesi talks about a cosmic universalism…if you want to interpret it that way…the cosmic optimism is no abstract philosophical delusion, but rather the reflection on a certain form of human conduct. Surely, a process of work and research characterizes the space between nothing and everything. This isn’t just speculation. That’s why I am asking if we can be cosmic optimists. Don’t think that I am crazy!
P: No, I don’t.
H: Rather than asking “what is human or what is the human being” we should perhaps ask “what is happening on the star Earth”? What were to happen on Earth if scientific consciousness were to transform her into a star?
What were to happen on Earth in the very moment in which she becomes as large and wide as she has the power to imagine? Can a new earth correspond to a new sky? What do you think?
P: Well, I don’t think so, because I don’t think there’s any escape from Earth. And everything that attempts to do that, it’s where it becomes possible, for instance, to go to the moon, or to Mars … that’s dependent on technologies that have almost inevitably signed and sealed the death warrant of the Earth already. From the time of atomic fission, nuclear bombs, that technology became discovered and put into practical use for weapons and power. Once a civilization gets to that point I think its very unlikely that you can…the time span of what happened in the previous century is so minute compared to the evolution of even Homo sapiens, of humans … and before that, of other life forms on Earth. There is so much that can go wrong just by accident or by design… once you have that huge amount of concentrated energy and power, destructive power…whether it’s just in one hand…that was bad enough, especially when you have … that hand is … the modern, the last hundred years plus, at least, the destructive agents…you know, the US government…outer-seeking…it’s like Star Trek, and science fiction, a lot of those are patterns for describing the American imperialist enterprise, and expanding that to different universes. There is an appeal to that, too… I think it’s great to have a sense of discovery and wanting to expand your experience and your curiousity, your knowledge of different worlds and stuff…that goes back to…but it’s one thing to be open to new experiences and it’s another to want to force one’s own will on everything else. No, I’m not an optimist about the future at all.
H: How do you as a human and artist deal with your responsibility for the world? I’m talking about the “how” and “what” of human and artistic action.
P: No, I’m not against that…a lot of it, unfortunately, is just a personal therapeutic … that has negative consequences … a lot of people who want to save the world don’t understand the complexity of the world …
H: Maybe that’s it, there is a crucial difference between responsibility for the world and saving the world … don’t you think there’s a difference?
P: Yeah, sure. It’s a little bit like I was saying before, when you have this ambition to save the world, that is almost the same thing as wanting to remake the world, to change the world in your own image. Assuming, if you look at what the Earth has been the last five, ten years of the American interventions, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, if you want to pretend that these are all very save-the-world type people, they just wanna spread love and democracy. Now, let’s assume that, which is nonsense … that doesn’t make it any better. When someone has this crazy need to show and spread his love for everyone and the way he does it is by his own subjective…the way he sees it it’s just wonderful, just doing this great deed for everyone, but actually it’s destroying … so … you mean, do I have a responsibility to change the world?
H: Maybe not to change the world …
P: Or to save …
H: Not to save …
P: I think one can do that just by being an example and being nice to people and not hurting people … hell, that’s wonderful, that’s enough! Yes, and in my work, I go beyond that.
H: Your pictorial language has a special intrinsic internal reference system. This system wanders from drawing to drawing. As a whole, your work can be regarded as a language. It could enable communication, but it could also turn out to be a sign of speechlessness and an expression of muteness. Does the audience prefer a work of art which visibly fulfills a type of “critical function”?
P: Not necessarily. Like I said, I go beyond, I do make art work that, on occasion at least, is critical. But I don’t think art does necessarily have to be.
H: Oh, hold on I’m cold … could you hold this?
P: Oh okay, do want a blanket or anything?…The heat doesn’t work here … yeah but there is a small …
H: Don’t you feel cold?
P: Yeah, well, today…yeah, it has been lately…but I don’t usually get cold so much … Here, this might help …
H: Thank you very much.
P: You want a sweater or something?
H: No. Why has our civilization and its technology run away from ethics? Is it because our morality is useless in the face of all progressive effort? Extreme media attention and overconsumption of information or other surrogate materials which fill our brain cells originate in the human need for being and the human fear of emptiness. Where does our strong need for fullness come from?
P: What was the first part again ?
H: Today we are living in a war of signs. Like a big ornamental net. Zero, one, zero, one is also like an ornament of signs.
P: What is zero one ?
H: Each single sign loses its meaning in never-ending chains and in networks of information.
P: Semiotics? It becomes overwhelming … that it’s just the image of things rather than the real …?
H: We are increasingly learning to read messages as deviations from patterns. Maybe that’s why so many artists are painting in patterns, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a fashion! We are in a world full of information that is spreading out into all corners and also into space. Perhaps, seeing that we are in this whirlpool of information, we have to look for a means of rescue? Because we aren’t able to read anymore, not just books, but information in general, because there is so much of it that we can’t take it all in … the concept of rescuing oneself is essential to Modernism. When you see art now, like an endless field of forms, do you think that this can be a means of rescue?
P: Well, no, to me that’s not a problem. This argument has been going on for a long time in history, in that every generation feels itself beset and overwhelmed by new works and new images and information…and so they burned down the library of Alexandria…or let’s rejoice with the book-burnings or…against the distribution or dispersion of the written language, or the printing press. I don’t see too many people who are even in a position to have any anxiety over this in the first place, unless it’s on their TV set where they have 500 channels and they can’t decide which to see …
H: That’s kind of like an ornament, you know?
P: Yeah.
H: Do you think that’s alright?
P: Well, it’s not for me…this argument in art is used, the people who make this argument, how many of them ever see my work or a lot of people’s works … and they’re upset because when anything changes, their position of authority is rocked. Of course they want things to stay the same as they were in their heyday, their defining moment, their coming-of-age as with their critical point of view. To see things like the Internet, for instance, or any diversity of art-making is a threat. Every generation goes through this. That has no appeal to me, and at the same time I’m not … I mean in my personal life I am so retarded technologically…and the way I make my art work, do everything, could just as well be back in those pre- technological times. I don’t need a new cheap thrill or any sensation or any addiction or anything. But, once you take the position that that’s bad and evil and once you start policing that, that’s a very negative, bad thing to do. You don’t fuck with things that developed with a complexity and evolved from going way back, on their own…maybe a bigger problem is American violence and exportation of violence and death to millions of people year in, year out. And once you introduce this governing force into policing anyone else’s idea of culture…on those terms…then you’re allowing this huge military industrial system, this overwhelming government that is fighting out designs on a complete domination of the world…their Achilles heel, it’s like little roadside bombs and stuff. Unfortunately that shows the power of society as a collection of independent…in one way, of self-determination at least, as part of families, clans, whatever. It turns out it’s not so easy to try to stem that, to police it. I hope … it’s not enough to take root … this is how it happened in Vietnam and it’s happened in other places. Unfortunately it’s still going on now … to its complete disassociation from the reality of … it’s not only that it’s not successful, it’s an evil thing in the first place, in my opinion. It doesn’t ruin my life to have the knowledge that there are people running around this day, this moment, nearby, actually, who are interested in other things than I am … and I’m not speaking personally as this cosmopolitan example in everything myself, either. There’s specialization, or one’s own things to be good at or things they like or preferences, that’s fine, that’s normal.
H: It is often said about your work that you depict the “tragédie humaine.” The tragedy of our era is the danger of the dissolution of the individual. Is synthesis and the reunification of fragments the goal of the modern poet and artist? For example, the basic mood of tragedy tells us that the world divided into fragmented individuals longs for unity. In the tragedy of Electra, the fear, the scream, self-sacrifice and the act of becoming sacrificed are at the center of attention. The idea of the victim is related to the idea of onward movement and a new human being. The human being is looking for its own identity and the problems of the human being in action are clear. It is necessary to take action but the one taking action will always be guilty, no matter what he or she does. Therefore, tragedy will never end. In tragedy and in the parody of tragedy the assertion and the negation of life are comparable opposites. A divided world is shown, so tragic existence cannot only be related to individual lives but also to whole eras and cultures. This is a rhetorical question. Can the tragedy of an era or culture be regarded as fateful?
P: Preordained …? Fateful, you mean it’s going to be and so be it?
H: I am meaning to ask you about tragedy. What about the fundamental question of guilt and responsibility? Like, for example, Oedipus. Why do we fail in the face of the duplicity of appearance? Is it because of our false conclusion that what is obvious is also true? Oedipus equates illusion with being. He lives the paradox of being blind though able to see, and seeing though blindness … how do we deal with guilt which we did not intend for?
P: Well, that’s a little too broad. Could you be more specific?
H: Is tragedy the fulfillment of the artistic myth itself? Okay, the next question. Do you regard the myth as a pathological problem? Yes, for example, in the Enlightenment the myth was criticized as a depot for repressed neurotic animal instincts. Jung claims that mythical archetypes can be derived from a collective unconscious, as elements structuring personality, for example. Therefore my question: Where does myth clash with the concept of reason? How intensely is a cultural movement or horizon surrounded by myths? Is it something like a pathological problem? If it is so, does a new myth always lead to the same dilemma for which it was meant to be a solution?
P: Well, they’re always there. The self-conscious of them, analyzing them from a distance and being is another thing. I don’t know how you could really separate it and say they’re pathological. I mean, what’s alternative, to have a complete knowledge, self-knowledge, no illusions … what is really a myth? A myth can be something like a veil of ignorance or falseness that one’s living under, or it can be something that is, by way of explication, making metaphorical use, or allegorical use, of an argument or a way of looking at things. It can be helpful … or another point of view for looking at something … or just one’s own amusement, you know, maybe literary amusement or to keep things interesting. One doesn’t have to buy into, to actually believe a lot of things…they can be useful. I don’t think its such a crime to…I don’t want to strip away all this and force reality. What is that? I mean, every positivist, that was their…you know, complete realism, they’re just new forms of delusion. Especially when you have this all or nothing, or black and white, Cartesian, binary, what- ever, judgement calls …
H: In your opinion, can thinking in binary principles be utopian in its own way? Is it useful to think in binary structures today? Temporal and binary structures of meaning shift and are being destabilized. Is thinking in binary structures potentially utopian thinking? Why does the human mind think in binaries?
P: I think in this state of our evolution, of our development, this society, this culture …
H: Do we need it?
P: No, I hope not. I don’t think it’s a good thing. What is so offensive to me is that the deliberate dumbing-down, I guess you could say, of the public argument, meaning the media and even talk around the office or one’s home even, that … and the news media in this country is … to deliberately go along with this us against them, and … it’s beyond that, even … that one’s not supposed to acknowledge any other argument…because it’s not in their interest. If they even admit that things aren’t exactly the way that the government says they are, then they lose contact with the administration, they get shut off, and they lose advertisers, they lose their public, they lose money, and power and prestige … it’s so easy to buy off the American political system, it’s ridiculous, I mean when you consider California politics, it’s run by the Prison Guard Union, of all people. America … really, the growth industry in this country is the prison system. As an issue, it’s not existent, really. It’s not a popular issue with anyone, right-wing, left-wing…the people who have a voice in the media, very few of them have ever done time or know anybody who has. On the other hand, you grow up in black or Hispanic neighborhoods or families and of course, a lot of people, your own brother and sister, mother, father. They’re just quietly warehoused away or put to death or brutalized, day in, day out. On a national level, it’s even more appalling that the American foreign policy … well, there really isn’t any American foreign policy … Not even Israeli foreign policy…because everything that’s happening, not just in the recent past, but for … since the Palestinian-Israeli problem, going way back … but by any standard of reality, this is the worst conceivable thing that I can think of for Israel as a people and the Middle East…you know, to speak of long-term survival, or just survival of human life on earth, that is not a guarantee from any period of time. To have the mentality of wanting to crush another…to commit violence of any sort, and then to think that one can do that to a whole people, with their families or network of families, friends, compadres, neighbors…and to objectify them, no, not even objectify, just mentally wipe out … the vital thing is that you can, I don’t agree with it, I don’t accept or defend it, that when you have conflicts next door to each other, some very ugly things going on … I’m not the type of person who would have feuds with anyone, neighborly or whatever, that’s one thing. But then when you have this country on the other side of the world, they don’t have to live next door to these conflicts. America has always been comfortable with exporting bombs, dropping them from way above, and no repercussions at home, and they send generations, periodically, of young and ignorant and poor or clueless and deluded, cheated out of their lives and their futures…it’s like with the prison system, it’s largely underground, no one in politics knows or has a family member involved in the armed services, so there’s no dissent there. The only reason there was in Vietnam, which was much different, was because you had the draft and you had somewhat…although then, there were so many loopholes, even then it wasn’t that hard to get out of … when you have just about everyone in politics, even Lebanese congressmen, or people who are ethnically…having to support, because it’s politically impossible not to, like with the destruction of Lebanon, or … and all these Southerners and right-wing, well right-left, it’s the same, that are all in their personal lives virulent—with exceptions, but for the most part—anti- Semitic, in their own opinions, and at the same time they’re supporting the most extreme versions of military, well, terror against Lebanon, Palestine, and so on. Because American politics, American democracy is so easily bought, that you have lobbying special interest groups who are able to concentrate on one cause and mobilize all their resources. It takes very little to buy the whole system. There are economic interests, well, not in that area, in foreign policy…there’s farm subsidies and so forth… although that, too, has repercussions elsewhere. Even dramatic repercussions, that a lot of people starve to death because of that.
H: Thank you. Let us come to the next topic: The distortion of reality. Distortion is an artistic form of presentation, especially in literature. It is related to the poetological categories of parody and satire and is based on systems, conventions and traditions. Human perception today is becoming ever more automatized. We are reducing the fullness of life to fleeting patterns. Is it the role of art to disturb this automatism? We succeed in doing this, for example, by creating aesthetic irritations. The thing in question is torn out of its familiar associative pattern. The poet, for example, extracts a term from an associative pattern and places it into another pattern of meaning. I think your work is similar, in a way. You extend your metaphors of language with the drawing, create something like a synthesis from found texts and pictures, and create something new from them. One possibility for the way distortion functions is through aesthetic shock. Do you think the process of perception is nothing more than an end in itself?
P: Well, I think all that was true, but I think lately something happened with my work, and also as compared to the reality as we’re led to know, the larger media for instance, the reality-based community, whatever. It’s not enough to say that I’m doing satire or parody of that or showing the reality with some quirks or shocks. Because, what’s happened is, the news media, the reality manufacturers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, every other newspaper in existence, those are the caricatures, those are dealing in cartoons or worse, the most artistic version, for instance of reality…stick figures, and beyond caricatures and cartoons because those have a subversive element of the critical. To stand up, to show up, to make a farce of pompous respectability, for instance, when it’s bringing it down to earth…the news media here has become such a simple- minded caricature without any of the humor and subversive, critical element to it. A lot of my work, it can be short-hand in a way, because … if I work on one drawing, let’s say that’s a more primitive representation of what you can claim…then it’s some news print or a newspaper article or … I don’t have any apologies for the forms I work in and any qualifications or … I deal in reporting, information gathering and communicating … just plain information … more than American journalism does.
H: But you go beyond that, because …?
P: No, I’m outright saying … of course I do. I mean, in America, you’re not supposed to see, for instance, the coffins come home. Just the fact that the first time you do a drawing of a coffin, just that itself, without commentary, is crossing the line and giving information that you’re not supposed to.
H: So, the distortion of convention is a consistent means of social critique for a dramatist.
P: Yes, but I don’t distort convention to any degree that the supposedly legitimate news media does – at all! I mean, what is more distortion, by design, than …
H: But here, there is something like a contradiction – in the text, and in between the text and the drawing. The written thought is like a ghost. Sometimes the drawing seems to be its paradox. Both together conjoin in a paradoxical metaphor. In your work, the text to the image often appears as its counter-rhetoric. Whose is your voice?
P: Yes, well, there are a lot of rhetorical devices that happen in my drawings. But the overall tendency for it is towards realism, actually, when it comes down to it. Because with a society that becomes enclosed and governed – its communication…you know, the Soviet or the Fascist totalitarian states where everything is a fantasy of complete, utter…and everyone who reads the propaganda or whatever knows that. That only goes so far. With a lot of the general public, not to give them too much credit as being such … willful suspension of disbelief.
H: Do you see yourself as an outsider?
P: I don’t know…I’m not comfortable with that terminology one way or another. I don’t want to be one way or…
H: Do you feel involved, or are you looking at things from the outside?
P: Involved, you mean like with complicity?
H: Yeah, maybe.
P: Well, if you mean that I am part of the system because …well, usually, you know where that’s going, all these very strict connotations, meaning that one should be in an artist political action group or a communal thing or all this ineffective, careerist, actually, therapeutic excuses for…ineffective- ness and hectoring on the sidelines at the same time.
H: You place signs between power and powerlessness. The powerlessness seems to be a prerequisite for the signs. How do you keep a critical distance? So that you keep your fragmented stories from becoming …
P: You mean that I’m so close to the establishment that…
H: No, I mean through your own work. Creating distance also means setting oneself apart and removing oneself from the story. How much room for interpretation do you give the reader? How can you keep your fragments from becoming banal? Do you have a critical distance to your work?
P: Distance? Yeah, I think I do, I don’t know whether that’s…to me…
H: Would you like to continue?
P: Oh no, I’m just trying to answer…you might…that’s a way of saying you’re …? I don’t mean to go on and on.
H: What about your critical distance to your work?
P: Well, my work … I wanted to say, there’s nothing personal in it, but it’s not like a governing principle with it. It’s not something even, if that’s possible, expressive…it’s simply, without going through jumps and starts and all kinds of distancing or effects. Even when it’s political it doesn’t … I don’t have a very strident, sincere, wide-eyed take on politics, because there’s only so much influence that artists can have, anyway. If it means some incrementive of effect, of changing things, of influencing things to the detriment of the art … if it’s all about that, then there’s better things to do than art.
H: Do you think … I’ll start with the text … do you want to have a look?
P: What’s that, oh, that’s your book!
H: Yeah, if you like you can take a look at it …
P: Yeah, but do you have copies of it?
H: Sure. I have it on my computer. If you want, you can read it …
P: Oh, the German … read the German …?
H: No, the English! Do you think we can draw for eternity?
P: Yeah, why don’t you explain that, though?
H: Is it possible to draw eternity? When signs and forms repeat themselves, they give up their unique identity. Can we thus succeed in constructing a higher coll- ective being? Can a physics of the psyche be an artistic principle? Is a thematic and formal continuity of certain factors a criterion for a good work of art? Is the whole of your work based on a principle of addition? It is difficult to get a sense of orientation in the mass of your drawings. The fullness of the whole – which is composed of innumerable single parts – generates a larger movement that leaves each single drawing strangely inert … for example, let’s say you have an exhibition with a lot of papers, there, in between – the holes, there is nothing on the wall. In these empty spaces you find the connection between the single drawing papers and the stories being told. How they are connected? Is it like a coincidence? Don’t you make a conscious choice when you put the papers there?
P: Sometimes yes, but sometimes no.
H: When you see the drawings, your pictures on the wall, there is nothing in bet- ween. It’s a little bit like telling stories. At the beginning you have an association. When, for example, I see the work of Walter Obholzer, very filigreed and elegant, there is a lot in between. When there is a large, collective thought in a drawing, do you think we are approaching eternity?
P: Well, I guess it’s in that direction. You never ever arrive, though, I don’t think. Everything is just by steps and contingencies … and, what ultimate aim is there, I don’t know.
H: Do you think we can draw for love? For the people?
P: Draw for love?
H: Yeah. When I see your work, it’s really dualistic. It’s hard for me to explain. But in your work, there is something like a dualistic principle. When you have a plus- minus system …
P: Sometimes … I like to have some lyrical openness, at best. When it’s that dualistic it’s not … neither one of those is, rarely, my own point of view. It’s setting it up as … I guess you could say like a dialectic. It’s not supposed to be taken as … directly, like that. It’s not a program or …
H: So it’s not like a closed, hermetic system?
P: No, mmm.
H: You have no system?
P: No.
H: How important is the coincidence in your work?
P: How important is it?
H: Yes. You get a text and you combine it and …
P: Everything you’re saying, like coincidence, association, yeah that’s very much a part of it. I think when I explain that sort of thing, usually, people take take it too much that it’s random or the associations just take care of themselves. That can happen to some degree, but … for one thing, I don’t know,sometimes people assume that I just borrow everything and… there’s actually … it depends on … most of my work … sometimes it’s verbatim, sometimes there’s elements of it, but mostly it’s just written out … my own. But it’s not particular to me. It’s a lot of poetry, it has elements of that, in the way it’s written. And that’s an element that I don’t want to lose in my work …
H: You couple the figurative moment with the verbal method. Could it be that you as an artist are similar to a detective? How would you describe your own personal form of “detectivism” in relation to finding thematic working principles? Let us compare the signs of the crime with the signs of the art work. The artist convicts the alien as the detective convicts the criminal. In reconstructing a case, coincidence turns into a clue for the detective. In how far do the signs and clues of your art work contain the signs of coincidence? In your work, coincidence seems to be a working principle. Is the way in which you appropriate texts, which the observer reads in a coincidental order, similar to this?
P: Well, let’s say someone who strictly borrows everything. It becomes like a work of editing, collage. And that, over time, of course, that becomes his personal in some way, as anything, anyone else’s. Every writer, they use the same keyboards, the same 26 letters, whatever, I mean language is different somewhat. Even that is a mixture of … signs.
H: Maybe I can send you the interview ?
P: It’s gonna be for what? The short version, or…?
H: Actually the interview is the short version of this here, the text.
P: Oh, but you mean I should answer questions by writing?
H: No. I told you that I will send you the text. Our conversation. I can send you the interview , if you want to read it. I think it’s a good beginning.
Could you call me a taxi?
P: Yeah. Now, you’re going to …
H: I am going to downtown.
P: In LA? I thought you switched hotels …
H: No, my hotel is in downtown LA.

Übersetzung: Miriam Dagan