Sunday, December 31, 2000

Appendix A: Interview Transcript with "Language of War" Painter Rebecca Whipple

This interview transcript is a raw version of the interview published here, and was inspired by this piece about interviewing via Google Talk and employs a few techniques I confessed to employ in this post about interview editing.

5:19 AM Rebecca: Hello Jeremiah
5:22 AM me: hi rebecca!
give me one sec.
Rebecca: okay, take your time
5:23 AM me: I'm going to close this chat to make sure it's saving the transcript to my chats section without me having to do anything special. Then we can start chatting again, okay?
Rebecca: sounds good
5:24 AM me: okay, it seems to work fine.
5:25 AM how are you?
Rebecca: I'm doing well, I've just finished a week long painting project
me: what kind of project?
5:26 AM Rebecca: sorry
my chat was doing something strange
I couldn't send
it was painting my new apartment!
5:27 AM me: ha ha
Rebecca: it takes a different kind of talent
me: where in france are you living?
Rebecca: I'm living in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris that borders the 16th
5:28 AM In a few weeks I'm starting a teaching assistantship through the government
5:29 AM It's teaching english, but it's part time which means I will have plenty of time to paint
me: what brought you to paris? something external (marriage/relationship/job) or jus tthe desire to be there as an artist or a human being?
5:30 AM Rebecca: Well, I would wish I could say it was just some burning desire, but no, it's a boyfriend
me: what is he doing there?
5:31 AM Rebecca: He's doing his Masters in English and American Civilization, he's from here
we live just 20 minutes from his parents
me: i'm guessing you share views about the Bush administration...
5:32 AM Rebecca: we aren't on opposite sides of that many political arguments
It is interesting to be here because they are coming up on a presidential election
and one of the candidates is very pro USA
5:33 AM me: I suspect you could find a gallery interested in showing your work there?
Rebecca: There seems like there will be a lot to watch
5:34 AM I hope so, at the moment I'm still just setting up basic living things but I plan to look for a gallery
I'm also hoping to check out Berlin and London
Yes, there will be a lot to watch
me: connecting with the professional art community can be different in a different culture, esp. with a language barrier - but I think your work translates very well!
5:35 AM Rebecca: As I understand more it will get more intrigueing
me: its concerns are global.
Rebecca: thanks
Yes, it will be a challenge
but I think it will be fun to see what the art world is like here
5:36 AM I've heard that in Berlin, at least, things are a bit more open and welcoming but also that that is changing
In the United States galleries still seem to be afraid to put anything with a political face on their walls
5:37 AM that same concern may work for my benefit here
me: well let's talk in some detail about your recent work. tell me about the finished book. how many pages? did you actually bind them?
and what is it called?
5:38 AM Rebecca: Well, the book is not yet finished. I believe it will take another 2 years to finish. It is called The Language of War, and I AM hoping to have about 20 pages in all
5:39 AM Also, it will never actually be bound in the original version.
The only bound versions will be a reproduction of the exact same proportions as the original works
me: tell me about your process in creating these images.
5:41 AM Rebecca: With each piece I have some original idea, I work as intuitively as possible. That idea is like a little seed in my head and it usually takes a few weeks for it to develop more, at which point I do some sketches.
5:43 AM Often when people see my work they respond to it, because of the detail and precision as if it is a very planned and thought and rethought piece. Thoough it is thought and re-thought I actually only make very rough sketches to figure out basic compositional elements before moving directly to the piece.
When I begin drawing on the actual paper there is still a lot of room for innovation and change.
5:44 AM Because each piece takes a month to two months to finish my thoughts and ideas change throughout the work
5:45 AM Though I often start from some basic response to a political event, the works accumulate their own meaning. I think that this is an important point because they really become the antithesis of a sound bite
me: The intuitive nature comes through, which is one of the things I like so much about your work. It feels almost dreamlike, very open to mystery, while still being very formally structured and also very pointed. I think this can open a viewer up to your perspective.
Rebecca: ...what we are use to as a visual addressing these issues.
5:46 AM Thank you, it is interesting that you say dreamlike. This is critical to me.
5:47 AM The work I was doing before this was in response to dreams
me: Yes, and the way you reference works on paper - medieval illumination, japanese prints - feels very textual, and in that sense a condemnation of the sound bite and of the fast-talking, deny-it-later mentality of much of government propaganda (gee, thought I'd make it through more of this interview before using that word...)
I did see those drawings on your website I think.
5:48 AM Rebecca: Yes, and I have plans to start up a new project that will combine some of those ideas with approaches in my current work.
5:49 AM Yes, the propaganda. Well, the piece Gladiolus is the one that most pointedly addresses the question of media
me: The mere presence of symbolism also suggests dreams, I think, and some of the titles of your pieces are also very suggestive of that. What, for example, is the intended meaning behind the title of the Gladiolus piece - oh, you're writing about it now!
5:50 AM Rebecca: Well, this piece really took on a life of it's own.
7 minutes
5:58 AM Rebecca: All of my titles reference flowers, and their "meanings," which I've found in online lists of flower meanings. I take a flower whose meaning attracts me and use it in the piece with which I think it functions. In this case I began with the flower Gladiolus, the meaning being "Give Me a Break, I'm Really Sincere" these were really two separate meanings but using them as if they were connected added a very interesting intonation to me. When I began the piece it was to be of a 'red' and 'green' zone. From the green zone a media circus would be looking across onto a scene with a suicide bomber. The 'green' zone was going to be done in a more western illuminated manuscript style and the 'red' zone in a more eastern manner, but the two would intermix. In the end the media circus became a self-portrait, and the suicide bomber never appeared but the title seemed to take on even more significance.
I don't know if that answers your question.
5:59 AM me: the right panel of that image is very haunting - with the streets completely deserted, and the awning of someone's fruit stand kind of falling down.
6:00 AM it looks like a place where people are afraid to be - everyone except the Americans.
by which I mean the military.
Rebecca: Yes, I could only manage to put animals there.
The people didn't want to be there
6:01 AM me: the venus fly-trap was the only botanical symbol that seemed straightforward. let's see, what were the others...
i'm going to call up your website while we chat.
Rebecca: Okay
I have a strict titling system from which I vary
6:02 AM The base is a flower's name, it's meaning and a date; however, in Gladiolus there is no date and in Victory there is no flower.
6:03 AM I must admit, I think that the Delphinium title is not complete on the website.
6:04 AM me: so the date is... completion? or a tag related to an event?
Rebecca: The full title is Delphinium, Flights of Fancy, Ardent Attachment - (The Iraq National Museum) and the date of the looting, which I can't recall right now (my brain is a sieve.)
6:05 AM The last line is the answer to that question
me: I am picturing you now with a thick packet of news photos for reference -- all of these likenesses. is delphinium a composition related to a news photo?
6:07 AM Rebecca: Yes, almost every piece uses news photos or just photos found on the internet. The drawing of the museum came from a picture of the museum with a tank beside it, after the looting.
The pieces are really collages.
I don't usually think of them as relating too directly to one image.
me: do you keep these reference materials? do you have a source I could look at for that delphinium image? I think that would be a really interesting view of the "pre" part of your process.
6:08 AM Rebecca: I pick and choose what I need and want to use.
Well, moving means I had to throw out a lot of the images I had printed out, but I'm sure I can find the web reference and send it to you.
6:10 AM me: There is a strange sense in which these pieces suggest that this whole process - this whole history - is in a sense imaginary. A fantasy. The running legs of Iraqis who have been blown apart by bombs... the smiling animals... the planes just floating over that scene.
6:11 AM Rebecca: There is a miny project I've started which is not in it's completed form but may be of interest to you. At the bottom of any of my web pages you can find a "links" link. If you click that it will take you to something called "Cross Section of a Painting."
me: It's very disturbing in the sense that it is lyrical and indicts by the style in which it portrays the horror.
I saw that but can't make it work!
6:12 AM I use Firefox and all I see are the labels and lines, no picture.
Rebecca: Oh really?
me: I haven't tried it in Internet Explorer...
I will after we are done and see if I can see it.
Rebecca: yeah, that's the problem
I have to fix it but have been busy
the code is different
me: Do you code your own website?
Rebecca: Try Safari or IE
it should work
6:13 AM When I first decided I wanted to be an artist, seriously, I thought I should learn computers a bit, so I would have a "real" skill.
6:14 AM But, I enjoy doing it, and computers are becoming more and more important to my work.
It is funny, because I am working with things that are very fast and things that are very slow at the same time.
6:15 AM I enjoy it, I feel like I'm on the border of two eras.
me: I have about 10 more minutes so wanted to make sure to get a few more questions answered. First, basic details: Where are you from? How old are you? How long do you plan to be in France?
6:16 AM Rebecca: Okay. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. I'm 25 years old and am not sure about the duration of my stay here in France.
me: are there contemporary artists who have inspired you to take on political topics - others who, in your opinion, do this very well, and in a way that is relevant to your thinking or your work?
6:17 AM Rebecca: Hmm, well one of the inspirations for my beginning this work was Jeff Wall, and his piece "When Dead Soldiers Talk," forgive me if the title is off.
6:19 AM Besides Jeff Wall, there have been many other artists who inspire me in one way or another, but like my work, the inspiration is more of a collage than necessarily a direct link such as "this one artist does great political work."
me: a wonderful piece, thanks for the reference.
6:20 AM what about historic political art? anyone whose work helped you better understand how politics could be a part of good art and not just propaganda?
Rebecca: Sure.
me: I ask because the tension between art and political messages seems so delicate.
Rebecca: Yes, indeed.
me: I'm trying to understand what makes some politically-charged art so wonderful and other stuff will just look like propaganda in 10 years. I have some ideas but wonder what you think.
6:21 AM Rebecca: Well, to begin with the most obvious, illuminated manuscripts and Indian and Persian miniatures were a huge influence.
me: when you look at these influences do you see them as political artifacts?
6:22 AM Rebecca: What I love about art and history and art history is being able to explore an old piece and discover how it relates to that time, to what people were thinking about and to the very real and sometimes ugly propaganda that goes on in all times.
Yes, sure, why not.
Also, Shakespeare.
me: yes, a great example.
6:23 AM Rebecca: I know he's not a visual artist, but I've been very inspired by how he weaves ideas and theories and politics into beautifual and even seemingly fanciful work.
6:24 AM These ideas are able to withstand time because they are sewn into great dedication and eloquence even if they are somewhat hidden at parts.
6:25 AM me: I wonder if the indirectness of some of them is more inviting to the viewer to contemplate - that this helps differentiate it from propaganda.
6:27 AM Rebecca: Not necessarily indirectness, as much as not be closed, I think.
being closed, excuse me
me: How do you mean?
6:30 AM Rebecca: That certain works are more open to the intermixing of concerns. It is not just politics, it is life, it is flowers, it is animals, it is buildings, and they work together somehow and coexist.
6:31 AM and dreams too...
me: one piece that i had difficulty engaging with was begonia - the reference to the children's book session was so heavily played in Fahrenheit 9/11 that it kind of played itself out for me. This even though it is such a powerful and significant bit of historical information - even though it is so telling - you are somewhat at the mercy of the "rest" of the media in how effective these iconic images can be in your work. Of course, you make them your own as well - Bush's blank expression and profound (Christian mystical) hand gesture are a briliant combination with his advisor at his ear... okay, I take it back, I like that one too. Any thoughts, though, about what viewers will bring to your work, and how your interpretation/reinterpretation can benefit or be harmed by how fully the images were explored or "used up" before you worked with them?
5 minutes
6:36 AM Rebecca: Yes, images are certainly used up sometimes. That piece was one of the earliest and I think it may be a little more naive. However, part of this project is to look at different types of events, used up ones and unused and to see how they hold weight in our minds and bodies in different ways. What has been exciting to me is how people always respond more harshly to the paintings that have the faces of political figures in them. To me it is a necessity to have them, and I deal with them with great care and concern because I think the specificity is so important. However, people almost always seem to think that the paintings with politicians are more didactic and simple then those without. I tend to disagree, but I think it shows the weight that those images carry.
6:37 AM me: you described your process a bit ago... what point are you at in the one- to two-month cycle of an image? I know you just moved, but I guess I'm asking, are you in the middle of a piece now, or have a "seed"? Can you tell me what it is, what you're thinking about?
6:40 AM Rebecca: Well, the move has certainly disrupted my flow. I have a few pieces that I'm thinking about and one that I am almost done. These pieces are a bit more simple in some attributes, in that I'm working more simply on portraits. The portrait I am almost finished is of Donald Rumsfeld. However, I am also in the midst of starting some animation work. It is a different project about which I'm excited and which I plan to work on at them same time as the book.
6:41 AM me: animation!
in what format?
Rebecca: Yes!
me: how produced?
Rebecca: Well, I can't give away all my secrets yet.
me: Well... tell me, hand-drawn and filmed, or Flash, or what?
6:42 AM you have to give me something....!
Rebecca: Hahaha. Okay, hand drawn.
No flash.
6:43 AM When they are further along I can tell you a lot more. I promise.
6:44 AM Well, it may be time for me to go now. This has been very fun.
Do you have any last questions?
me: No, it's been wonderful. Your answers have been very thoughtful.
6:45 AM Rebecca: Thank you. I will now tell everyone how wonderful it can be to do a g-mail chat interview!
me: I will create an edited draft and then send it to you for your review. Some of the basic facts you've given me will be worked into a text about your work, and the commentary will be tightened up and "un-chatted" a bit. But I will let you vet the final format.
Yeah, it's an interesting format... kind of fast/slow.
Rebecca: Yes. Okay, I'll look forward to the draft...
6:46 AM me: Have a good day and I'll be in touch in a few days. Can I have pre-approval to put up to 2-3 images of your work into the interview?
Rebecca: Of course!
me: Cool. Okay, talk to you later. Enjoy paris! I lived there for a month once... So much great medieval work there. Have you been to the Cluny yet?
Rebecca: A bientot (while in France.)
6:47 AM All I've been doing is painting but I can't wait to explore.
I'll check it out...
All the best.
me: Okay, okay, I know you have to go. Thanks for your time! - Jeremiah
6:48 AM Rebecca: Sorry, didn't mean to cut you short, we'll talk more about France later, okay?
me: no problem - it's time for me to get ready for work in the USA. Bye!
Rebecca: Bye!