Conversation with Kristina Lee Podesva

Kristina holding George in New York City around the time of this year’s New York Art Book Fair.

Kristina Lee Podesva is an artist, writer, curator, & editor based in Vancouver, Canada. She is editor of Fillip magazine (if you are unfamiliar with this publication, I highly recommend you look at it). This conversation was conducted via e-mail over the past month.

 

DH: Hi Kristina. You’ve been in New York for a week or so now, having come here for the NY Art Book Fair. I think we’ve eaten together almost every night! What has been your favorite or most memorable meal so far? (On a side note, completely by coincidence, right now I am listening to the Gang of Four record I received through your Ripping Library project).

KLP: Dear David. I’ve just missed my flight out of here, which leads me to believe that New York, after nearly two weeks, is not through with me yet. I guess there is still more I have to do here…For instance, I have to get this interview going. Moreover, I haven’t yet said goodbye to you, which is a shame especially since you’ve been tremendously hospitable and generous by sending out announcements for my talk at Art in General and by also cooking for me. Despite all the meals we’ve shared in restaurants, I’d say the one that you made and then brought to me in Williamsburg was primo not only because it was home-cooked but because you then cycled it over to where I was  staying! I can still taste the savory sausages and leeks, refreshing beet salad with dill, and tangy soba ensemble. I guess if I think about it, the whole context of the meal made it more valuable and memorable. The meal was by itself tasty and nourishing, but what makes it really stand out is how it was made and how it came to be delivered and presented. It’s not too different from contemporary art making in that sense because it is never about the “thing” itself, but rather its framing and context that endows a work with significance and value.

This reminds me of a little experiment my friend Peter Rostovksy prompted me to undertake with him in Soho. What we did was first wander through a gallery ostensibly recognized as a “player” in the contemporary art world, one we might stop in on during an evening gallery hop. Then, we walked over to a space nearby that we would probably not go into normally and walked around it. It’s the kind of space that some interior designers might visit as a one-stop art shop. Anyhow, what we found was that the work in the décor store was not necessarily uninteresting, but framed and presented really sloppily and slapdash. It occurred to us that if we were to re-frame and edit the work on display we could probably “sell” it to our peers, or at least re-contextualize the work so that it can be viewed as relatively more “serious” art.

And yet, these distinctions within visual art remind me of their peculiarity and artifice, especially vis-a-vis one of Marshall McLuhan’s favorite expressions from the Balinese language, which is simply: “We have no art, we do everything well.”

DH: It was a delivery service! Come to think of it, it was very similar to the project I just did in Den Haag, Carry-On, where I carried various art-works by other artists (many close friends) in my carry-on luggage. It wasn’t just about the carry-on (and airplanes, borders, customs, restrictions, security, etc…), but also about the body carrying what it can, and nothing more. The distances traveled for that meal goes beyond the bike ride from my house to where you were staying. The Japanese ingredients came from Mitsuwa in New Jersey. The spicy sausages came from Arthur Avenue, the old Italian neighborhood in the Bronx. I didn’t order anything online or settle for the not-as-good or as-good-but-more-expensive sausage from a market closer to my house. I took the time to go and get it and carry it back. I’m happy you brought up McLuhan. I think looking at The Medium is the Massage book when I was probably 18 could have been what inspired me to start making zines and then artist-books. Now that you are probably back in Vancouver by now, what are you working on?

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Flore’s The Medium is the Massage.

KLP: The Medium is the Massage! Nice!

I suppose the medium does have a body, much like yours was the medium in Carry-On, in order to communicate a message. And, if we stretch this logic really far out, we find that there is no message communicated to us without our bodies even when we are largely living in our heads. Mentally, we must still attach to something somatic. Speaking of massages, I’m in San Francisco right now where just around the corner you can choose from a veritable spectrum on offer…aromatherapeutic to exotic!

In thinking about the body, David, I realize that our specific bodies connect us not only in our enthusiasm for food, but also in the fact that we share a fuzzily coded corporeality, recognized as, for lack of a better phrase, distinctly but not precisely ethnic. I’ve been intrigued by this mutability for some time and am struck by how we can be received or mis-recognized according to context. Being somewhat Asian, I can be mistaken as Chinese depending on where I travel. For instance, when I traveled in Albania this was the logical assumption most people made about me because Chinese represented the majority Asian population encountered in Albania historically speaking, so, given this, I made a T-shirt that said “Unë nuk jam Kineze” (which means “I am not Chinese” in Albanian) to simultaneously display and frustrate potential assumptions. That is a concrete example of how I like to work with the specificity of misrecognition. But in a more theoretical or abstract vein, I think colour represents a really nice vehicle for thinking about contingency and identity (since colour derives meaning from its context), but also the contingency of art in terms of producing meaning. After a few years hosting colourschool, a free school project dedicated to the speculative research of five colours (black, white, red, yellow, and brown), I am currently focusing on the cultural codings of brown through a series of works exploring concepts of hybridity and mixture, among other concerns. The first piece in this series, Brown Globe, was actually exhibited with your work Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern at No Soul for Sale earlier this year.

Brown Globe at No Soul for Sale, presented at the Or Gallery‘s square.

From Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern at No Soul Sale, presented at Rhizome‘s square.

It’s funny because even though colour is one of my preferred topics of consideration in art making, I share with you yet another interest, this time in re-purposing the Internet in such a way that it does not elicit participation as a compulsory process, but rather draws from its resources and protocols to facilitate detournements that ultimately show how concepts of distribution reveal and conceal what we value or are compelled to value, or more basically what we see or are compelled to see.

From Souvenirs (Albania). The T-Shirt reads – “My friend came from America and all she brought me was this lousy T-shirt.”

From Carry-On at Galerie West in Den Haag, Holland.

DH: I just had a massage the other day! I went with Virginija Januskevicite to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo Pistoletto exhibition. Because the traffic was so bad coming back to New York, we went straight to Chinatown for a thirty minute massage to decompress our bodies. Have you ever noticed the plastic bags in New York’s Chinatown? They are a bright pinkish orange. I don’t know its history, why it came that that color was to be used, but every time my eye registers that bright translucent orange pink I immediately think, “Chinatown.” Sometimes if you look down Mott Street you see everyone holding splotches of that color.

Your shirt reminds me of signs that emerged on the West Coast United States after Pearl Harbor that made statements such as, “I am not Japanese.” They would be posted by the Chinese, to distinguish them from the Japanese, who were now the enemy. And you know, my grandmother and all her family ended up in the Amache Internment Camp in Eastern Colorado for being of Japanese decent. When I was an undergrad I re-traced the journey with her from her former house in Northern California to the camp, and made photographs along the way.

My grandmother at an Amache Camp reunion.

I think we both did a project about tagging at the same time. Mine was so dumb, ha! I made a post asking people to photograph their heads in a freezer and post it online with a special tag (241543903), so that when people searched for that tag, the search engine would filter out everything else, and only show those images. I think its stupidity in content allowed it to take off and become a small meme. I later did a similar project on tour with my friends, the band Xiu Xiu. This was actually right after the No Soul For Sale event. I photographed their Eastern European tour and sent out unique photographs to fans of the band who requested them. I gave everyone their own unique photo (I deleted my copy), and asked them only for one thing: to upload the photo to the internet and tag them with a special tag (123448527). Searching for the tag not only showed all the images I took on the tour, now dispersed across the web, but linked back to the personal blogs of the band’s fans. So it connected a small community using the tag/search.

Can you tell me about your tagging project?

241543903.

KLP: I like your freezer project, David, but then again I am biased. I pretty much find something of interest in all the antics you get up to whether in your projects or in daily life!

With Alan McConchie, I had an idea of working with tags online such that somehow we could develop tags that could correspond to Hobo sign language in some way. We attempted to get this project off the ground while on the Polymath Breakthrough residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts, where Joseph del Pesco directed what turned out to be a really amazing group of people, gathered together as a “thinktank” for one month in the Canadian Rockies. Needless to say, the original project did not pan out, but a couple new ones developed instead. The one that resembled the original tagging idea is a very simple web work called Free for All. The premise is rather basic – to present, gather, and share images of “free.” In this way, it is a kind of index. You and I have discussed elsewhere that today, within the context of potentially endless internet information, the question is not whether or not something specific or unusual exists, it’s more of a question of how you find it or how you can distribute it to others who seek it out. So, this means essentially that the power to filter is a really significant and, I think, still an under-considered force with which to reckon. I guess because of this thinking, I have been interested in creating other web projects that activate this selective filtering mechanism. Five years ago, the first attempt I made was with Google Emotional Index. Since then, I have been exploring it in various other ways as well in between working on Fillip and some exhibitions of “material” works.

It seems like you have had particular interest in using Wikipedia. When did you start using it and how many iterations of Wikipedia interventions have you managed to make at this point?

Free strips of paper!!!

DH: I wonder what “emancipated” or “liberated” would look like in comparison to “free.” The questions that we have about finding and distributing information are the same questions that search engines, social network sites, or sites like Flickr or Youtube are also asking. It regards the interface. But another thing that is important, that we have discussed, is that they are sourcing information created by users and participants, creating value out of it, and profiting from the value (The last time I was in Vancouver at your apartment, you printed out the Matteo Pasquinelli text for me to read on my plane home).

I do use Wikipedia a lot. The one thing I am worried is that people will think of me as the “Wikipedia Artist.” There are the Wikipedia Readers that I did with Mylinh Nguyen under ASDF, and the piece I have in Lauren Cornell’s Free exhibition at the New Museum, which is a derivative of the Wikipedia Readers. For the Free show I created a “wiki trail” that went from Hateruma Island to the Public Domain. This paralleled an actual travel I made some years ago to the small Okinawan Island. The reason why I chose to stop at the Public Domain was because I had posted a photograph I took on the island (a photograph of the sea at the southern most point of Japan) onto the island’s Wikipedia entry, and thus relieving it of any intellectual property rights it may have. I wanted the view I took from my travel to not only be posted on the Wikipedia page, but also hopefully become part of the image search results when people look up the island. A lot of other sites source Wikpedia, so by posting things in there, you never know where they will end up. In the past I would joke around on the site, putting false information into articles. Or, not necessarily “lies,” but more of adding to lore on subjects – like in story-telling when you just make things up. Like what happened to Bas Jan Ader’s boat. Or how Valerie Solanas got the gun she used to shoot Andy Warhol. Some of these stayed up for quite some time because this was before Wikipedia was heavily policed. But most of these are gone now. Though there is one in particular that has actually stayed. I feel if you “fixed” this now it would probably get changed back because people think it is real information now. You may be wondering why I am not saying what it is. It’s only because if I publicly state this, someone may cite this interview as a source to go in and fix it! One great story was I heard from a friend that at a party someone mentioned what I had written as if it was real information. But, they mentioned it in a conversation context – so this information had been memorized from the person who read the article, and then re-dissimenated through small talk at a party. When Wikipedia started to become more heavily policed, I couldn’t just go in and make up fake information. So, what I do now is I make relevant photographs for articles, with me in the periphery space of the image. So the center of the photograph in one example, is the marks of an anarchist bombing on Wall Street from 1920 that is still visible today. In the photograph is also my hand, giving the marks scale. You can recognize the friendship bracelet that I wear on my right hand that my friend Naseem brought me from Mexico. Or, in another, a photograph of Rosa Luxembourg’s memorial, at the site she was murdered in Berlin, with my body at the side of the image. I am a little weary about publicly announcing all of these, because people can easily go and change them. So, I’d rather let people stumble upon them. Or maybe if we are sitting at a computer together, I’ll show you them personally. I just did a new one, which I sent to you, a view from Bodega Head in Northern California. I am standing at the edge of the cliff looking out at sea. One thing that I am interested in is actually getting something in there that lasts. I’ve seen other Wikipedia works where people make “interventions” that last only a few seconds, and then they rely on distributing and exhibiting the documentation of the short lived information. I want mine to be lasting. The reason why I started using Wikipedia was because it is so immediate, and that it is a site of public information/exhibition. I used to do works on Craigslist, which I loved doing, but they would always come down in a few weeks. With Wikipedia, it can stay, and it can be sourced. And the fact that in can be sourced opens up a whole new unpredictable future of the image or the information. Something I just remembered, on my 2009 instruction e-mail list/ blog, I sent out an instruction that told people to make Wikipedia pages about their mothers and post them. I got an email from someone that said they respected Wikpedia too much to post fake information. I replied, “your mother isn’t fake, she’s real.” Next time I see you, we’ll take a photograph together and post it somewhere.

Are there any new projects that you are working on, or about to start working on, or new on-line interests that are going to lead you somewhere?

A photograph of me looking at Marcel Duchamp’s Tu ‘m. The image was originally placed on Marcel Duchamp’s and Katherine Dreier’s (a patron of Duchamp) respective Wikipedia articles. The image has since been deleted for supposed “copyright violations.”

KLP: Hi Again David. Looking back over our conversation I realize that this is not only a meander through our projects, but it has by now also become an accidental log of our own recent wanderings around North America. Since last we corresponded, you have been to both LA and San Francisco, and are now back in New York. I have just been to Seattle and am now back in Vancouver, having previously shuffled through New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, and then San Francisco once again. While I think this is a relatively more active travel season for both of us, I find that you and I are often just missing one another on these hamster-wheel runs of ours, which is too bad because when we do bump into one another we usually find time to not only attend any assortment of art events, but to grab something remarkably delicious like saba (especially the Japanese mackerel at Hachi Bei in Vancouver), soy pudding (especially at Hibino in Brooklyn), or any dish at all (at Mission Chinese in San Francisco).

Thanks for explaining your Wikipedia interventions. I understand why you cannot fully disclose the details of these activities, because they would jeopardize the lifecycle of the project, so I appreciate that you provided some context for this body of work. I think the work exists as a kind of iterative and intimate system of distribution (of images), operating as a collection of small ruptures in which you are able to successfully (and perhaps only temporarily) insert yourself into a specific photographic record of reference.  This double level of indexicality is really interesting to me for not only is the photographic image an index of what it shows, but in this context, the images you create are also subtly challenging how authoritative the photographic image really is even though the images in Wikipedia are de facto references. This reminds me actually of a quote from Roland Barthes (which I used in an article for Fillip 12). In it, he proposes that we seem to think, despite evidence to the contrary, that “the photograph ratifies what it represents.”  With your interventions in Wikipedia, however, this idea is easily contaminated. I suppose most images today, if they have gone through any obvious form of Photoshopping, would challenge this idea as well, but it is telling that your images are not transformed in any way. They simply create another layer of reference for those of us who know about the ongoing project. Thus, you are working with juxtaposition and layering just as much as image-making and referencing. Moreover, you rely upon your trusted network of friends to pass on the information about the work through “secret society” rituals, coded winks, and handshakes via person to person contacts.

Recently, I was re-reading about the work of Douglas Huebler and I was struck by how much your projects remind me of his. Not only does some of the substance of your work remind me of his, but there is also this shared interest in democratizing art and dressing it with a palpable dose of humor, which I appreciate. Do you know about his Duration Piece No. 8 Global? From what I understand, Huebler asked 50 people to give him something they value at $150 and in exchange they would receive a signed original statement that describes the piece as being an edition of 50 that would place the items exchanged on offer to collectors. Once the edition of 50 items was sold, then the idea was that the piece would take a new form according to Huebler’s instructions (in fact, “the net proceeds resulting from its sale [were to] be used to structure and execute its final destiny”) The problem was was that the piece never produced “net proceeds,” and so Huebler instead made a 2,000 copy newspaper edition featuring the items he received in the initial exchange. He describes the project in the book Artists Talk 1969-1977 from NSCAD Press like so “…it really is the work of fifty different artists rather than my own work. My work is putting together the work of the fifty different artists in a particular way.”  I think that in this piece, for instance, Huebler is really making the case for artists adopting a kind of curatorial or selection type of practice, but using it “in a particular way” that departs from other kinds of framing and selection activity already in existence.

Douglas Huebler, Variable Piece #101, 1972. (The person photographed is photographer, Berndt Becher)

Another online piece that I have, which I have not really shared or put out there still, but I have been thinking about lately because we’re in the season of insane, hyper-consumerist, holiday shopping, is Thisisavehicle.com. For that project, the premise is really simple again – 1. Take a photograph of an object then 2. Use the object in a way that it was not designed for and then 3. Photograph the object again showing and stating what the new use is. It’s probably best if I just show an example…

This is a vehicle

for

showing temperature

With this work, I am interested in encouraging new uses for objects and for detouring not only the objects themselves, but our sense of them and our relationships to them. I was thinking here a bit about Ricardo Basbaum’s NBP project, but instead of supplying people with a confounding object that they must work/play around as Basbaum does, I thought that any object of anyone’s choosing would do in terms of this kind of exploration. Also, opening up improvisational uses for already recognized things is especially compelling to me because it stimulates double-takes of our immediate environment and everyday routines.

Besides Carry-On, in what other ways have you been interested in our relationship to objects? How do you find yourself negotiating objects as a person and as an artist?

DH: Hi Kristina. Regarding our recent travels – this conversation is not only indicative of our movements around North America – but also our carrying around of laptops around North America. Though, since this is done in e-mail, we could technically be using other’s computers where we go. But we aren’t – we have these technological appendages that have adapted to our needs and follow us around. Or, in light of ideas of the apparatus/ technology (back to McLuhan), maybe we are adapting to the technology itself (we shape the technology, the technology shapes us and changes our social behavior). I find it fascinating how because of digital technology – because of it’s instantaneous speed – and because of it being a machine of memory – we can carry on a coherent conversation scattered over space and time. It reminds me of two people playing chess in different locations and sending their next move to each other through the postal mail.

And that reminds me, when are we going to travel together and realize your Cross Country Take Out project, where we drive across the US and only order Asian take-out, while conversing which each restaurant owner asking how they ended up in that part of the US or Canada? The other day in San Francisco I saw a window in Chinatown that had listings of jobs available all across America for Chinese cooks. I was reminded of your project, and I am getting hungry to do it!

I haven’t heard of that Huebler piece. It reminds of me of a piece I did with a German collector where I had the collector give away a piece from his collection to a friend. I signed a statement that stated when, what, and to whom the piece was given to. Though, this was more about the movement (removal) of an object, its loss, about the gift, and also about his selection process.

I remember the This is a Vehicle site. I like this one a lot because it’s also about the idea of ‘making do,’ of being creative in times of need. In my second summer at the Bard MFA program, (though not really in a time of need) during one of the parties that the Williams dorm (the quiet dorm) throws, I spontaneously jumped on top of the refrigerator with a colander in my hand and created  a disco-ball effect for the dance floor by spinning the colander around the horrible bright lights in the kitchen. Everyone was dancing, I was crunched in the space above the refrigerator and below the ceiling, it was great.  I’ll submit this to the site!

I have a funny story in my response to your question. Usually everyday after I wake up and before I leave my room, I feel the need to have to take something out of my room that I feel is unnecessary – and to either throw it away or give it away. I consider this more of a daily practice of cleaning, and not something neurotic! I really hate having  stuff around. I travel a lot, and I am involved in many different “productive” lifestyles (music, art, publishing, etc…), so I am always getting stuff from people. And to be honest, I don’t really want all of it. Some of it, but not all of it. If I were to keep everything, my room would be an entire archive. I am interested in the dispersed archive, not the concentrated one. And, it is so easy today to mass produce things for cheap – to make 1000 copies of a poster of anything – and to give it away for free under the guise of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres gesture. There’s a difference between a gift and unnecessary mass-production. I obviously make posters, but every time I do I ask myself, “Is this worth it? Is this not going to just go straight into someone’s trash can?” It’s a horrible thought, but so many things just go from production straight to waste. There’s not even time for the planned obsolescence that are built into some objects.

To return to Huebler, I would like to put one of his most known quotes in here: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.”

And though I do stand by this statement, I cannot stand by it completely because I do make things. Not everyone knows this – but I come from a background of photography – so I am always thinking about images and image production. I guess I am talking about images here, not objects. But, there are probably more images in the world than objects – in terms of production and our social environment. I was told that there are more chairs in the world than there are people. I wonder if there are more photographs of chairs in the world than there are chairs. Probably.

One thing that has been on my mind recently comes out of the most recent Fillip, in the article, Eclipse of the Spectacle: Art and the Network of Networks. Eric Kluitenberg writes, “The visual arts… ceded their function of organizing the visual experience of the world to technological media.” He is not just describing the birth of photography and film, and mass printing and distribution. But that image making has become monopolized by industry. So, a thought I have been carrying around with me when I am inundated by images of consumerism, is it possible to not just critique this with images, but to present an alternative that successfully disrupts it?

I think our back and forth emails have generated a good “blog length.” Is there anything else you’d like to say?

KLP: Hi David. To this, I can only add that the world is full of ideas, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more…for now….Thanks for the conversation. Now let’s take this offline, on the road, elsewhere.
k

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