Thursday, November 16, 2006

Interview with Fatimah Tuggar

Interview with Fatimah Tuggar
by Gary Sullivan
[This interview took place in Brooklyn on November 4, 2000. Half of the interview took place in a café over lunch the other half in the artist’s apartment, in front of her computer.]

Gary Sullivan: So let’s start with what you were describing to me earlier. How, at one of the showings of your video Fusion Cuisine at the Kitchen, this one guy in the audience was upset by it —

Fatimah Tuggar: We showed quite a lot of my work, as you’ll remember, and his concern was that, since the work was dealing with technology, that somehow he was hoping that I was being critical of how technology was infiltrating or taking over Africa, and not allowing Africa to remain pure. Which, I tried to explain to him, that has nothing to do with what I’m concerned about. I told him in fact that I like technology, and that it’s not really a question of whether something is good or bad, it’s not that kind of judgment. That basically, what it’s to do with is just examining, and looking at different ideas and how technology has affected the present situation and circumstances. It has nothing specific to do with wanting to keep technology out and keep this place pure.

GS: How did he take that?

FT: He was very unhappy, I guess. Because he wanted to turn it into some kind of weird Afro-centric thing where — you know, I tried to explain to him, that technology’s like everything else in life, it’s got good and bad points, it has advantages and disadvantages. Just like me: I’m good and I’m bad.

GS: Right.

FT: And, it’s not just one thing or the other. I didn’t think it was productive to do that, to be so extreme about it, one aspect of it or the other —

GS: Tell me again about what you were describing earlier about the collagist, John Heartfield, who as you said before was kind of an early hero of yours, but also very didactic.

FT: Well, with that, I mean, his work is very didactic — which, at the time, I can understand the need for it to be that way, because it’s a war. You can’t be in the middle of a war and explore different points of view. You have to kind of — out of survival and necessity, you have to pick a side, you know, in a war situation. It reminds me of — was it Winston Churchill who, referring to Russia, during the Second World War, We have to hold hands with the devil to cross the bridge, something like that. So, it’s like, they had to put aside their differences in order to win the war —

GS: Right —

FT: So I can understand why people have to be very specific about what side they’re on, but I don’t think that the position that I’m working in is exactly that kind of thing. I believe it has a sense of urgency, what I’m doing, but I don’t know that it’s that kind of situation, like a war.

GS: There are people who look at — who, when they begin to talk and think about aesthetics, become aligned with certain kinds of aesthetics, and will treat it very much like war. And, you don’t seem to have taken that route. I don’t know to what extent that’s true in the art world, but it’s true of the poetry world, where there’s camps — certain people do not cross certain lines, aesthetically.

FT: I don’t really belong to any camps.

GS: It doesn’t really seem like it.

FT: Or schools. Or any of that. [Laughs.] I just do my work.

GS: But you don’t do it in a vacuum.

FT: No, no. And I wouldn’t want to. You know? I mean, I want people to see what I do, I want them to be engaged with what I do, and I want it to be a part of a conversation. You’re absolutely right, I don’t want to work in a vacuum. On the other hand, I don’t belong to any kind of camp or group or movement, I guess is the word I’m looking for.

GS: Now, I don’t know if you’ll have more to say about it right now than you did the night of the screening that I saw at the Kitchen, but I’m fascinated by this — you and Christian [Haye] showed stills from another, earlier, video of yours, which I guess is one of the first things you’d done in art school?

FT: Well, that was — that, I did in graduate school.

GS: Okay, well, then let’s back up before that — when you first got into school, did you begin with collages?

FT: Well, in high school I did collages, and I stopped. I was doing collages and paintings. Not painting paintings: they’re posters of horror movies. And I went from that to —

GS: [Laughs.] Of real horror movies?

FT: No, the ones I invent in my head.


GS: Well, give me an example!

FT: Um, like, I would invent a horror movie where a mass-murderer or serial killer goes around screwing screws into the entire body of the victim, every inch of it.


GS: Oh, god. And that would be depicted in a painting of a poster?

FT: Yeah, that would be the poster — or, of a vampire — there are different ones.

GS: That’s pretty twisted. [Laughs.]

FT: I guess. I mean, I don’t want to analyze myself. But I was in a lot of pain at the time.

GS: Yeah.

FT: Because I hated boarding school.

GS: So, high school was boarding school?

FT: Yeah. Age 10 onwards. Anyway, then, I moved from the posters to doing product design ideas. Like, the tissue box that’s a radio. [Laughs.] That would be a good thing to sell to teenagers. They’d like it because it’s a boom-box. Or, the tissue box that’s a roller blade. You know?

GS: Did you actually construct them, or were these just designs?

FT: Yeah —

GS: Really?

FT: Yeah, I constructed them.

GS: Wow.

FT: There’s always been this cross-over for me with fine art and advertisement.

GS: Right.

FT: So, it’s funny, that I didn’t even think of that, until you just asked me this question now.

GS: Well, your work — your visual work — looks like it could be an advertisement of some kind, it looks like it could be the cover of Harper’s magazine, there are all kinds of things that —

FT: It’s borrowing from that language.

GS: Absolutely.

FT: But, it’s interesting that I’ve never really analyzed that, that there’s this flip-flop, with that going on. So, I was designing products. Then, once I got into art school, I wanted to do more three-dimensional work. And one of the things I designed actually earlier in high school is this chair that’s made out of segments of orange. So, when you peel the orange you slap them together, each segment makes part of a chair [Laughter.] and it becomes a chair —

GS: A full-size chair?

FT: Well, I didn’t make it full-size. I made it 1/4th size.

GS: Okay, well, one of the things I remember you telling me about, and I think this was in college, was — maybe taking the idea from Duchamp — where you had a bathroom? A women’s bathroom? Where you’d hear voices?

FT: Oh yeah, what I did was I made this piece called The Talking Urinal. I went into a women’s bathroom and I recorded women having conversations in the bathroom.

GS: And these were live, not acted?

FT: Yeah. And after I recorded them, I would go and ask them for permission to use their voices.

GS: They gave you permission?

FT: I found people who gave me permission.

GS: Wow.

FT: They were having conversations about their boyfriends.

GS: Really? Like Candid Camera, but kind of, Evil Candid Camera.


FT: And then, in the piece, out of the hole of the urinal, you hear conversations coming out. [Laughter.] And that’s the piece. But, using the urinal, you can’t escape Duchamp’s fountain.

Um. You know, I was thinking about what you and Christian were saying, about Tell Me Again [a piece exhibited at the Kitchen with Fusion Cuisine], about how it’s my voice. You know? I found that a little confusing, because — just because it’s me, that’s not the point. The point is — like you were saying how, when you come in to the gallery, you know that’s my voice —

GS: But, I know that’s a phenomenon that’s specific to me —

FT: But other people who don’t know me, don’t know that’s my voice —

GS: Yeah, I was trying to say that — remember, that one woman in the audience had asked you questions about how you had humanized this technology by putting your own voice in there, and I thought, well, I didn’t know what she was talking about — but, I began to wonder if the reason why she was saying that was because she associates your voice with a person, you. And so she has no distance from that, and she maybe wasn’t thinking that all the way through. She wasn’t thinking about the person who would hear this, and who had never talked with you before, in which case, it’s just going to be this radio, with this voice coming out of it, like any radio.

FT: Exactly. So, I was confused by what Christian —

GS: Because you were there. So we do know what you sound like, we do know that’s you.

FT: But, I’m saying that it can function as a piece, without me being there as well.

GS: Absolutely.

FT: I mean, I hope it does. [Laughs.]

GS: Yeah, it does. Okay, but going back again to this earlier video of yours. I’m starting maybe to see why you had done this movie —

FT: Right Angles, like ninety degrees. There are two versions. What happens is, the subject stands with her back against the wall, with her arms straight out, so that, from the armpit area, you could measure a ninety-degree angle. And if you measure from her shoulder towards the wall and from her neck down, you get another ninety-degree angle. And under the knee you get another ninety-degree angle. And above the thigh to the stomach, and the feet, to where the ankles are. So, everything is at right angles. And, the whole idea is, she maintains this position, and there’s this guy who measures her to make sure that she maintains the position, and who corrects it and adjusts it with instruments to measure ninety-degree angles. And this goes on until she’s no longer able to do this any longer. Neurologically — her body can’t take it, she starts shaking and she can’t keep her arms straight, and eventually she loses consciousness.

GS: Right.

FT: And the second version is two girls dressed in school uniforms, and they go through the same process together.

GS: And this really happened. They really passed out.

FT: Yeah. It’s real. And the duration is however long that takes — about fifteen minutes.

GS: What you discovered doing the first one was — since you were the one having to do it, since no one else would agree to do it —

FT: To pass out? No. I didn’t make enough money to pay someone to do that for me.

GS: But, the first reaction this was, when people were seeing that you had a white man measuring the angles, and you were the subject, and it was very clearly being read racially. Which you hadn’t counted on. Or, you had?

FT: I thought it would be an issue, but I didn’t think it would be the only thing people would be able to get out of it. I thought that they would be able to see the various layers of the relationship between the man and the woman, for instance the woman’s point of view, her desire to continue doing this and not giving up — I mean, I thought that there would be other things that people would be able to get from it. But everything else was completely obliterated by the fact that it’s a black woman with a white man.

GS: Yeah. In this culture, it’s — impossible at this point.

FT: You know, I thought that the whole thing about the rigidity of a right angle would come up, issues of rigidity, and that we’re not mechanical. Or that, this is a kind of technology, or tool, I thought that relationship would be explored, but none of that was explored —

GS: It’s also interesting to think that you’d been doing horror movie posters prior to this — because this sounds like a horror movie in a way. I mean, it’s an obvious sort of performance art type of event, but it’s kind of a horror movie, too. It’s like a snuff film or something. Something bad is going to happen to this person, and it’s a kind of self-torture, too. And, it relates back to the boarding school, too, with I guess the second version of it, you’ve got the school girl uniforms, it’s clearly —

FT: Actually, it comes out of other punishments I’d experienced in boarding school.

GS: Yeah, and you have to be right.

FT: Yes. You have to conform. You have to be right. You have to be the way they want you to be, you have to be in uniform and all look the same, like everybody else. A right angle is always the same. The thing that’s interesting to me about that now is that, the relationship that I see today, with the computer, where, basically the technology hasn’t been developed — I think I was saying this to you that night on the train — it hasn’t been developed to the point where the technology comes to us and conforms to how we are socially? We have to conform to the technology at this point, with computers. We sit in front of them, we have to go to them, we have to conform to their standards and limits. They don’t operate on the same level that we as social creatures do. So, I see an analogy between that relationship and also a relationship between these kinds of schoolings. You have to be in uniform, you have to do things in a certain way, you have to follow the rules — which, school in and of itself, is a kind of technology, I guess.

GS: Sure. It’s an indoctrination technology.

FT: With computers, on some level you can make that argument, that it’s an indoctrination technology.

GS: Absolutely. With itself as its own end. Whereas school is not necessarily its own end. So, when did you start doing — the things that of course I first knew about were these images that you had done in the computer, where you were using photographs that you had taken and you were combining them with clippings out of magazines and brochures and so on. When did you start doing those? Was that while you were still in school?

FT: No. Well, actually, that was right before I left graduate school in 1995. And that came out of a feeling of disillusionment with the art world. I mean, as far as I was concerned, I was in school when the 80s thing was happening in the art world, and the 80s thing was over, and in 1995 I didn’t feel like there was a clear direction, where people were going. And the 80s thing seemed to have a clear direction, so I was kind of not really sure what was happening to the art world, where things were going. Coupled with my own confusion of leaving school and figuring out what I wanted to do with myself. That’s when I decided that, well, I’d always taken these photographs: what can I do with them?

GS: Okay, well, let me ask you this, so I don’t get totally out of chronological sync. Before that, had you done any of the sculptures? Like the sneakers, or the raffia disc player?

FT: That comes in 1996. But, in 1995, prior to doing the collage, I did this series called Bewitched, in which I had an entire space with household appliances, sort of inspired by Elizabeth Montgomery’s Bewitched. And I had these traditional appliances motorized and they functioned by picking up human body heat, and I had them operating on their own.

GS: How did that work?

FT: Well, I don’t know any technology, and I’m not an engineer. So my technology is always very simple. I just make real-life connections. For instance, I want to get a blouse to be dipped in a callabash, in this motion [Raises and lowers arm.], so I go out and I think to myself, what in the real world makes this motion already? Well, a windshield wiper makes this motion already, so I would go to an automobile junkyard and I would get a wiper, bring it back, take a torch to it, cut it down the dimensions I need —

GS: So, how does the heat — what is the actual — the body heat —

FT: That is with sensors — you can buy them in different places. Particular hardware stores. And, also, you just modify things that are intended for other functions, and you take what you want and you modify things. My little rule of thumb is, if it exists, use it, don’t try to make it from scratch.

GS: So, these, the collages, the photocollages. What was the impulse — how did you suddenly hit on the idea to combine your photographs with other things. I mean, were you playing already in Photoshop, or did you decide that you wanted to do it, and so you learned Photoshop —

FT: Yeah. I came up with the idea, and then I had to find a way to get it done.

GS: Did the idea come out of a — did it begin as an ideology, or not an ideology, but did you have an idea about an aesthetic area that you wanted to explore, or did you just suddenly start having these images flash in your head? In other words, was it more ideological or more visceral? What were you responding to?

FT: That’s tough to say. I really don’t remember.

GS: I mean, it’s obvious in the horror movie posters that that’s very visceral, where you’re just allowing your id to completely be released, where you just say, okay, I’m not going to do anything, I’m not going to censor myself, I’m just going to allow this horrible image of all these screws in the body, and just do it. And that’s kind of responding to a visceral sensation, in your own —

FT: I’m trying to remember now. Well, there was — it came out of some kind of disillusionment with the art world, for me. The work that I saw that was being done and being shown. And it came out of this idea that, I’m leaving school, I’m no longer a student, and now more than ever — I mean, I always thought I should do the best work I could do because I didn’t even know if I would, um, if I would live long enough to, you know, say what I want to say — but, now, as school ended, I decided that I needed to get even more serious about what I wanted to do. So, the idea — I’d been taking photographs of people for a while, but I hadn’t used the photographs because I knew that, living in America, in this culture, I learned early on with other pieces, that using the images of black people from Africa was such a huge trigger, that everything I would do would be reduced to race. So I had been careful about using actual people and it was something I was always skirting around and never really quite did. So that was one reason to come to it, other than the fact that I was disillusioned. So, I just decided, I’m just going to do what I’m going to do, and some people are going to get it, and some people probably won’t get it. Most people probably won’t get it. So, that’s sort of how it happened. It was more of a brave move from where I was sitting than I thought it was.

GS: There does seem to be — well, like Cindy Sherman … were you looking at her stuff then?

FT: I mean, yeah, I’d seen her stuff in school. I’d seen all the 80s stuff in school. But my direction was away from that, that’s what I really thought I was doing, because with Cindy Sherman, for instance, everything is set up. You know what I mean? I mean, it’s more theatrical than my stuff. She paints herself, she’s always in the picture, there’s no using collage elements. I’m not interested in using myself so much. I don’t have that relationship where — I don’t really have the desire to be in the image. So, moving away from that and from —

GS: When you say the 80s, what are you really talking about?

FT: I’m talking about this whole work that deals with identity politics, reverting the male gaze, there was this whole way of thinking that —

GS: Because what I think of as the art world of the 80s is, like, Julian Schnabel, people who have nothing to do with that. I think of the art star system. But it sounds like you’re thinking of something very different.

FT: Yeah. I’m really not talking about that so much. Yeah, that was there, because of the market. But, I’m focusing more on the ideological thought that is interwoven in or written about that kind of work, you know, which has always to do with — okay. There were a lot of situations where, if you wanted to critique something? What you do is you take that thing, and you repeat it. If you don’t like something and you think it’s a stereotype, what you do is you get that something and you re-produce it. And everybody will say it’s a critique. And, it’s okay to read about that in school, it’s okay to get through school with that, but I found that very dissatisfying. And I wasn’t totally satisfied with the notion of everything being about the self. One’s identity, one’s sufferings, one’s way in which they were victimized or stereotyped. I wanted to move away from that. But, I knew that there would be some confusion, because I’m using images of black people, and I also — one thing I wanted to learn from was the history of feminism. Like, this notion of being broad and general, also, I didn’t want to fall on the other end of that, whereas I’m not talking about the specific self, myself — I didn’t want to go to the other extreme and be so broad and general. So, I had to figure out a way to find a place where I could be specific so that I could remain honest and vindicating to the ideas that I’m working with. So that, if I’m going to talk about technology and its effects on a third world culture, I’m going to be using a culture that I know, that I have experience with.

[First side of tape ends. The second side resumes as we are back in the artist’s apartment, looking at some of her work on her computer.]

Lady and the Maid © 2000 by Fatimah Tuggar

Gary Sullivan: Okay, so now we’re looking at — what’s the title of this piece?

Fatimah Tuggar: Lady and the Maid.

GS: Okay, so. I want to talk about how this was put together. I’m assuming that, generally speaking, the technique is carried through from image to image — no, you’re shaking your head, no.

FT: If you bring out the slides, I’ll show you, there’s a different way that each — that I’m working in each. In Shaking Buildings, it’s mostly this one photograph, and this one area with the bowls is the only place where I’m bringing in images [in this instance, of New York skyscrapers, which appear to be growing out of the bowls] from elsewhere. Or in Village Spells, you can see where I’ve added this tree trunk back there.

Village Spells © 1997 by Fatimah Tuggar

GS: Okay, so let’s talk about this new one, The Lady and the Maid. How does this image — I was amazed to find out that this was not anywhere near what it seems to be. It’s — I thought it was this one image where you have this woman sitting on the right hand side sitting in a chair eating, in this living room. And that you’d stuck this white woman over here, and put here in. Some of the detritus that’s down here on the floor, like the flower and the computer, have been added in, but that that’s not even the beginning …

FT: No.

GS: So, let’s talk about that. What kinds of manipulations are going on here?

FT: Well, the background image is several photographs that I took, and you know, to be honest with you, at the time that I took them I really didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but that I would somehow put these photographs together. So, this is one photograph, this area here [Points to the dark cabinet space on the left.], and you can see there’s this rectangular fan here, which appears twice.

GS: Oh, yeah. This lighter area, these lighter cabinets, that’s another photograph altogether.

FT: Yes. Actually, to be honest with you, I forgot about the duplicated fan until now. I don’t even remember! [Laughter.] All these things in front weren’t all there. A lot was put in later.

GS: So, the flower, in effect, is working in its own right, as an image, whatever we think or feel when we see the flower there, but it’s also, practically, it’s hiding a seam, isn’t it?

FT: It is hiding a seam. And that brings us to the question that there is another seam right here. [Indicating three shelves on the right hand side.] Yeah, you can see that this is its own area.

GS: It’s actually not that obvious it’s amazing.

FT: Well, look at the glass. And then look at this glass.

GS: I can’t really see a difference it’s not quite evident to me. See, because, there’s so much going on visually that confuses you. Because the table extends out past the first seam, and —

FT: And that’s the point. The table changes the reality. I mean, this bowl, for instance, wasn’t in the picture at all. You know?

GS: Right. So, now let’s talk about some of the other —

FT: Let me ask you a question. Why is it that people are always interested in that, like, how it was put together, which of it is real, where these things come from? Because I’ve noticed that, even with my gallery, they like to ask me that. What is it? What does that mean?

GS: I’m always personally interested in how things are constructed because I’m an artist, so I’m just fascinated by that. I want to know if something, if someone’s constructed something, whether it be a poem or visual art or something, I’m always kind of curious as to how, literally, did they make this thing? And, what was the, not necessarily the quote unquote technique, but literally the sort of practical What did they have to do to get this done?

FT: I mean, does that add to the work?

GS: It adds to its meaning, definitely. Because you’re dealing with — if you’re dealing with images at this level, you’re dealing with — because, we had talked about earlier, advertising, and how much your visual work resembles advertising. And your initial thing, when you’re looking at advertising, or something that maybe resembles advertising to any degree, is — you always begin to deconstruct it, like, Well, what is this? — I think at this point, for whatever reason, people who have maybe constant contact with art, we’re maybe going to begin by deconstructing it, and kind of react to it that way. Which may actually be the wrong way to go. You may want to have a much more visceral response to it —

FT: No, no. I mean, I don’t have a problem with that. I just noticed that people want to know these things, but sometimes, in certain situations, people are also, like, I don’t know if you’ll tell us. [Laughs.]

GS: Well, yeah, this can be a sensitive issue. Some poets I know hate talking about their work. And they will not tell you how they’ve constructed things. I’ve had poet friends like that who, even though they were friends of mine, they would not talk about their work on that level.

FT: I don’t care either way, really … whatever. [Laughs.] It doesn’t matter to me I was just curious as to why. … anyway, okay [Pointing to the left hand side of Lady and the Maid.] there’s this individual sitting here in the back, holding this remote control.

GS: Wow, yeah, you can barely see that, but, yeah. Let’s talk about the narrative element of this. As you were thinking about it and as you were putting it together, what kind of narrative is emerging for you here? It looks as though the white woman over here on the left is the maid, but I’m not —

FT: I don’t know. That’s the confusion. I don’t know who is the maid or who is the lady here. I mean, she’s the one with the high heels here. [Laughs.]

GS: But she’s also wearing the apron, too. And this woman is over here relaxing and eating. And I think that, although obviously in our culture we’re used to seeing the black woman as the maid, a very common stereotype, it seems as though that’s being reversed here —

FT: Which is interesting because, see, I grew up partly in Nigeria and partly in England, and there were times when the maids in England were not black.

GS: I’m not necessarily talking about real life.

FT: The maids in Nigeria were black, but the maids in England were white. So —

GS: But, I’m talking more about, like, the American media, movies, the history of that —

FT: Aunt Jemimah type stereotype, the black woman being the maid. Yeah, I’m kind of playing with that whole notion of who would be the maid and who would be …

GS: Now, I’m not sure what the maid is even doing, because she seems to have a big bowl there, is she going to tip that bowl down onto this stuff, is she adding to the mess, what is the mess doing there?

FT: For me, I don’t read it that way. She’s somehow tripping, with her foot caught underneath the computer [Laughs.] and the yogurt in her hand in the bowl and the callabash is out of control. She’s not in control of it.

GS: She’s not in control of her yogurt. I’m not going to do a Jungian analysis of that one.


FT: Is she in control of her yogurt? In Jungian terms, what would yogurt stand for?

GS: Um, I think the yogurt would be associated with the feminine. Because it’s in a circle, and it’s milk. And she’s tripping on this square item, which would be identified with the male, and the computer, the uh, the spirit world, uh … [Laughter.] Do you want to keep talking about this one? Or do you want to move on to the robot one?

FT: It’s entirely up to you. You’re running the show here. [Laughter.]

GS: Well, um, is there anything you want to say about this one before we go on to the next image?

FT: Yeah. Well, the black woman in the chair, the original picture, she’s actually watching TV. But I thought it would be interesting to have this relationship where, the surprised look on her face is actually in response to what’s going on on TV. But, here, it could be that what’s going on with the maid — which you’ve established she’s the maid — but I don’t know which one is the maid [Laughter.] — but that this woman on the right is responding to what the woman on the left is doing. Or it could be that that woman, in reality, she comes from TV-land. She’s really from media-world, and the surprise element in this other woman’s expression is possibly with respect to that. That’s sort of the interplay that I’m working with here. The only clue, by the way, that you have, that there might be a TV here [about where the viewer is situated], is the remote control on the far left.

GS: But that’s a very buried clue. Something you’d have to piece out — so that you really have to read this. Your pieces — I’ve always felt — really have to be read. There’s a kind of initial visual impact that they have, but when you start to look and read them —

FT: You’ll be rewarded, later. [Laughs.] Well, hopefully you’ll be rewarded. It could be a let-down too.


GS: But it is a different experience when you begin to read it, and it seems like that’s what you want.

FT: Yeah.

Robo Makes Dinner © 2000 by Fatimah Tuggar

GS: I think we’ve talked about Jess Collins before, and Hannah Höch, and this next piece really reminds me of both of their work. This is Robo Makes Dinner. And you mentioned that people were disturbed by this one. And you asked me if I knew why, and I said because there aren’t any people in it.

FT: Yeah, and I told you that’s exactly what people say, But this one has no people in it! And that’s the point. The point is that Robo is making dinner. There is no need for people. [Laughter.] Robo has started the fire, and he has three outdoors stoves burning.

GS: What’s interesting to me is the way in which people are responding to this, and not seeing any people, that they aren’t seeing everything here as evidence of people. There is not a single space in this entire image that does not suggest that human beings are here, or have been recently. Even the natural items, the fruits and vegetables, have clearly been picked by humans —

FT: And grown by humans. [Laughter.] And Robo does not eat this kind of food!


GS: So, basically, this is entirely human, including the robot, of course. There is nothing here that isn’t human, or evidence of human.

FT: Yeah, that’s kind of surprising. I’m not really clear on what that means. At first I was concerned because, well, as much as I would like to escape this, since I’m working here — well, there’s some element of bringing people that are not living here and from here in the other work. At first what I was thinking, as far as what disturbs people, or what people are looking for that they like, is this idea that they can have images of people from another culture, that they’re interested in maintaining a level of exoticism within the image by having those people in there. But, clearly, that’s not the question. Because people are not saying, Well, why do you now have this white woman in your other picture. So, I realize that there seems to be something about Robo Makes Dinner that creates some level of discomfort. I’m not sure — Robo has been humanized, actually, he’s not like this Japanese robot off to the far left, which isn’t so. I mean, he has two arms, two legs and human-like features.

GS: Maybe that is what disturbs people. Because it’s humanoid. There’s a way in which this might be read where, okay. You see these fires going, but there’s no humans about — and maybe my own initial association, when I see a set up like this, is that movie, I think it starred Bruce Dern, he’s floating out in the middle of space in this, like, terrarium, and there are three robots working for him. Dern is the only human on board, and there are all these plants in the terrarium/space ship, because Earth is so polluted it can no longer support life. So, it’s this self-contained unit, but mostly it’s the robots doing all this work. So, it’s kind of a disturbing image. And that’s part of my response to this piece, I remember imagery along those lines, where the humans are gone, and — it’s become a kind of future myth we have, maybe. Or maybe even technology taking over, continuing to do the functions of human life, but without us. And it may even be that we feel that about ourselves to some degree, that we are in some sense robotized, and that we’re just going through these functions — I mean, is that something you feel?

FT: For myself? No. [Laughter.] If I felt that, I wouldn’t make this. I mean, I would, I guess. I told you about that screw thing. No, but, I just felt like, from where I’m sitting, I’m thinking that what’s interesting or ironic about it is that Robo is making dinner in the way that you would when you don’t have modern conveniences available to you. To me, there lies the irony. Robo is not even making dinner on an electric stove or a gas stove, Robo is going the traditional outdoor fire route. And there’s some kind of circle or regressing — somehow Robo and all this technology has gone back to making fires, and he still has his, in his hand, see, his remote control.


GS: Now, you’re making this thing huge, you said this is 1,000 dpi?

FT: Yes.

GS: And I’m looking at the remote control, and it’s now the one thing on the screen, and it’s amazing, it’s crisply visible. I don’t know if people will be able to do this when they look at the image on the web probably not. So, um, you’ve talked about this before, about what is the art? Is it the image, is it what’s literally on the disc, are you going to be selling the disc, or having it printed, or what?

FT: These two pieces we’ve been looking at were being shown this weekend in Cologne, Germany. They’re nine feet by four or five feet.

GS: So what we’re looking at, we don’t see everything that’s potentially visible.

FT: Right. Including all my shadows that I made. You know, the thing about Robo is that the arms are not like that on the original robot. I reconstructed his original arms.

GS: Where’s this image from?

FT: This is from the robot that was in the Fusion Cuisine video. And if you’ll remember, that robot had straight arms. So, I played with them, so he can now hold the remote control and make dinner.

GS: So, you told me that, in one of the shows where this image will be seen, you wanted to call the whole show Robo Makes Dinner. And they didn’t go for it.

FT: Well, like everything else, when you work with a gallery, it’s a collaboration. I wanted them to be comfortable with the show and the title. We each had our several votes. Why do you want to know about the title?

GS: Because I think it’s interesting how a title is a framing device. So, when people think about how they want something framed, the title is generally one of the most obvious ways to do that. It’s just a predominant framing device. It’s short, it’s memorable, and it has meaning. And the title you and the gallery decided on, At the Water Tap, obviously has a very different meaning, or set of meanings.

FT: Yeah. But the thing is, we couldn’t just pick a title from any of my work. We had to narrow it down to something that could encompass the whole work. For instance, if we had called it Labour for Flowers, it might not have worked as well. You know what I mean? Like, it doesn’t encompass anything, it’s too specific to that one piece.

GS: And Suburbia would be a bit much.

FT: Suburbia would be a bit much. Minding the Living Room might not be a bad title.

GS: Now, this brings up another issue that you’ve talked about — there’s so much of the domestic in your work. This is not always the case, but I see that, at the beginning, the first of these images that you did, was The Spinner and the Spindle, from 1995, where she has a giant robot arm, but she’s doing a very domestic task, which is —

FT: Spinning cotton into thread.

GS: And this is carried through your work, I remember, for instance, the one where this woman’s standing in the kitchen and there are all these things floating around her head.

FT: Daydream.

GS: Right, all the way to Robo Makes Dinner. And what’s interesting to me is the way in which this is a universal. And in that way, I wonder if this is one way in which you’re moving somewhat away from the identity politics you’d mentioned of the 80s. Because this is such a universal, it doesn’t matter what culture you go to, it’s going to have some aspect of this.

FT: Cooking, or eating?

GS: Well, the domestic, using tools of some kind, and so on. I mean, if one of the ways in which identity politics in art is made manifest is by mapping out or making people aware of difference, you’re moving in the opposite direction —

FT: Exactly.

GS: And it seems like this is the ideal place to start. What are the commonalities? The specifics may very well be different, but it is all technology.

FT: There is that, and you know what else, what I find most interesting? You’ll find a people, a kind of people, who’ll have a prejudice about another kind of people, and socially they’ll not mingle with them, but they’re not opposed to eating dishes that originated from those people. I’ve always thought that was fascinating. And I think that’s part of the element of picking something domestic. It started with that, thinking about that fascination. Even within the same country, people will adapt different dishes, or assimilate them into their own.

GS: Fusion Cuisine.

FT: Exactly.