interview :: Jon Leon
interview :: Scott Pierce/Effing Press & Tony Tost
interview :: Gustave Morin
interview :: Buck Downs!
review :: Amy King Antidotes for an Alibi
interview :: david baptiste-chirot
review :: Rupert Wondolowski The Whispering of Ice Cubes: New and Selected Pieces
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milwaukee, wisconsin artist david baptiste-chirot describes the philosophy behind his rubBEings in his essay Refuse/Refuse (published by Gianni Simone in KAIRAN 4), "to refuse the labeling and treatment of found materials as refuse is to refuse the classifications and hierarchies of the 'art world'."
dbc continues to import the street into his aesthetic, "it is also, by being from the streets, a sign that one refuses the labeling and classifying of people whom society has deemed as "refuse": "street people", the poor, the homeless, all "those Others" at once so public and so invisible." while this may seem less obvious within his work--as the homeless, by their very nature lack property, the also lack the materials to allow dbc to 'rub'--it is more a nod to his personal history, a personal history riddled with substance abuse, and redemption. "the main thing with the rubBEings book as it says in the statement, I hope it inspires others to make them also and have their own adventures with them."
unlike artists who import refuse into their work (whether through paintings with elements of graffiti or through sculpture), dbc does not, in the end, produce a standard art object as such--indeed, his use of a lumber crayon is, in and of itself, a challenge to conventional art materials. instead, his work engages the reader with an extremely simple technique (placing a sheet of paper over an object and rubbing it with a lumber crayon) charged by his ability to juxtapose and layer various elements.
with his most recent book, "rubBEings", issue 32 of Xerolage, a vispo magazine running since 1985, released in 2004 by mIEKAL aND's Xexoxial Editions,
www.xexoxial.org/xerolage/x32.html, I had the following e.conversation with him from february through march, 2005.
kt: how do you compose the individual pieces in rubBEings?
dbc: each piece begins as a form of calling--to follow the forms--and sounds. . . the composition is an interaction among Others and otherness yet at the same time present in the materials and myself. certain forms or letterings call out with a sense of what they need for response.
kt: how does milwaukee influence your work?
dbc: i think that, in part, i know so many sites in the city, each area has its own callings, quite different from one another. within an area i'll rub one piece which seems to lead to another close by. i may start a piece at one point then move to another--some of the rubBEings are from three or four sites, all within a certain area.
each area forms its own calling in a sense.
by callings, i mean as i go along i find, encounter, letterings, objects, forms that seem to call to me in a visual and sonic way both at once, though sometimes, of course, the sight precedes the soundings. i get a rhythm going with the work and just go with it.
kt: when you say, 'i get a rhythm going with the work and just go with it' how do you keep a rhythm going when you have to walk and search?
dbc: the rhythm simply comes with the movements. everything seems to follow. each movement of the hands has a grace in it which leads to a rhythmic flow. in a way, i move along with the materials. god, all this makes me want to go out and do some found works--being at a machine most of the day is new to me.
the rhythms come simply from the sense of flow, body movements in space. they begin to receive each other. when i get going i'm in a sort of trance and i have a sense of what the being is that would express this.
kt: 'the being?'
dbc: sometimes i start making sounds as i go along--these sounds come from the things i'm working with. it makes one feel happy, very happy, and childlike in a way. i find myself unaware, is this what happened to me? lost in joy in some alley? it is nice, no need to really be anyone in a sense, yet thinking of others.
i've had days so difficult i wanted to just fade into death and standing there staring at cracks in the wall i begin to get interested and it brings me to life. many of the places are very alive with memories of my life. memories of light and things encountered, faces i've seen and many emotional moments that are everywhere present from the last fifteen years.
looking out the window with a great view yesterday from my doctor's office i looked over the east-side that i lived in for 12 years before my current odyssey. it (the view) brought back memories, so vivid, of 2000. after awhile the city is embedded with memories.
kt: is it a rhythm, or something more akin to a state of inhabiting the piece as your piece inhabits the city and vice-versa? i get the feeling that the city is a part of rubBEings as your rubBEings are a part of the city.
dbc: i have slowly begun to realize what is so readily apparent to you, that the city is speaking through what i do. it is the city and it is me together.
kt: what about the technique of rubBEing?
dbc: it varies depending on if one is standing, kneeling, crouching, laid out on the ground for some embedded ones, or climbing up to reach. all make for different rhythms. when i work all sorts of odd thoughts bounce in the brain--they help the work by being as fragmented as the things i find to work among.
what i love is that they came from the act of rubbing which is all about touch. how you hold the crayon. is it flat, or straight, angled? how much of the paper is peeled off? then, with the differing ways you bring pressure you can actually make changes in letters, shiftings slightly that usually you only see people do with xerox works.
kt: where did the desire to work like this come from?
dbc: i think a lot of it came from loneliness, so in a sense the friends one has are these things encountered. sometimes that can seem very rough, other times wonderful. i first started this many years ago in boston, walking and finding a whole other language opening up for me. wordless, just emanations and feelings and surroundings.
i was living in an abandoned house and made things in my room with various materials but they were clumsy attempts. especially since i lived with a bunch of punk rockers. they loved what i made and then i had, out of the blue, begun to make collages.
when i stopped using speed i could make things again and these eventually became my little books, one page folded into four pages. they evolved over time into one large page, each day my on-going saga (in a sense) of my life.
kt: what about all the wandering?
dbc: i was an amphetamine addict all those years so a lot of walking and a lot of loneliness--really cut off, even though i worked in harvard square and knew tons of people. the loneliness drives one out away into things, into other languages, a language to live in.
i had gotten so far away from words--i had been a professional writer. then the typewriter rusted and i stopped reading anything other then those words on record albums.
for a long time i never made words at all just signs. i had a huge collection of amazing things and made weird shrines, but part of addiction is you never finish a project. i shouldn't say that, i finished two: a monument to the espresso machine and another to the man who discovered amphetamine, some italian chemist.
i often think of walking as rhythmic thanks. in part, probably, because for many years of my life i couldn't walk but with unbearable pain for nearly seven years--three of which were spent on crutches. so one does really appreciate the freedom to walk, walk, walk.
kt: a (usually) banal question, talk to me about the weather.
dbc: the thing in encountering all the sites is they come in all sorts of conditions due to weather. the other day i walked forty minutes, everything sodden and ugly. . .things seemed malformed, lumps, even the houses looked lumped and sagging. the world tumbled down in a mist and grey sky water, everywhere dirty with trash that only comes to light with the vanishing snow. nothing in anything that day, just sodden.
kt: ever 'been caught'? seems like it would be an odd action to catch someone up to.
dbc: i have met a lot of people doing this. many ask questions--the police, too, of course! it fascinates people, such a simple thing, yet see what it produces! they really like it and seem often to be able to really 'read' the visual poem as well.
kt: how do other people (beyond the police) respond to your rubBEings?
dbc: actually, a few nights ago a group of friends--younger artists, poets, writers and photographers--had given a party for my birthday--some copies of the book were being passed around as i had given three people there copies--and i was stunned by many of the responses. people found things in them i had been unaware of. one man, a quite good painter, commented a lot going through the pieces on the varying depths and shadings, the way things had been rubbed differently within a piece--he said they gave a very powerful sense of texture, that one could feel the differences in the materials, without knowing exactly what they were.
another person going through said that it was like taking a journey through milwaukee--a kind of archeology (what i call anarkeyology) of the city. he said it was great as it liberated so much of the city that was there all the time and never really seen. people wanted to know with each page where something came from, so they could go look and start to see things differently for themselves.
another person was much more interested in the use of language, texts, the way they were laid out, or layered over and among each other--someone else got very excited saying it was like discovering whole new scripts and calligraphies.
so there was quite an array of comments! all of which meant a lot to me, as in making them i have no fixed objective in mind other then to be making contact--witnessing, hearing, being alive with the materials--so they and i speak, sign--word and image together. i am glad so much emerges that has nothing to do with me personally, that is the things themselves that are coming through. one person said it is as though they are right there, pushing up through the page--that you could almost touch them in three dimensions. this also meant a lot to me as i hope that the pieces convey touch--since they are made at the most basic level by touch. when people tried to decide on favorite ones, there was quite a variety of choices, which also means much to me, as i hope that certain ones somehow don't tower over others--that they are more of an overall feeling than one of greater and lesser parts.
kt: this leads directly to my next question; do you judge certain rubBEings to be "lesser" aesthetically?
dbc: this is a really good question and one that has never really occurred to me in quite those terms. yet on reflection i can say that at the times i make a piece--often there will be one that will feel to me like it has more of the quality of the moment, is more in tune with it--and feels somehow more fluid. . .more energy of that making. other pieces will not have quite the same feeling, yet later when i look, i don't know if another person might see the difference. and, perhaps this only matters to me, unless i make some of those feelings more explicit.
yet trying to think this through, i find that again it is really myself and the material working together that makes the piece. i have to be open to the materials, to feel it, see it, sense it--as i work along--and also somewhere inside myself will be a feeling that is yearning to be expressed, yet not quite words--or at times a refusal of words as when angry i feel that words can become a trap.
kt: so in your work there is an attempt to not let consciousness dominate?
dbc: i'd say so. i attempt to let go of what one might call the ego or self at a certain point--so that the material can speak more directly--in that way when i set out to make pieces, often i will start with a mood--and then this may abate as i get to work. later, looking at pieces, or actually right after a little group is done, and this ties in with your original question, i will find right away that there may be one or two that look more 'right' than others. some look to me what i would call 'nice'--something that when you turn the page, say, and find them one's first response is simply 'yes, it is nice'--something in it is just that way.
other pieces to me (i don't know about others) will have, actually if i stand back, a reference to some other forms i have seen someplace--in a book or film, an image--or text--so i can see that the piece has a certain quality that is linked with something else. this is getting long, but i don't think of a piece being 'lesser' so much as within a group, some seem to be more 'telling' in terms of the arrangements, the forms, the sounds, the letterings.
over a series of groups made at different sites, i will notice that each area presents a kind of aesthetic of its own. i do in some ways feel that some pieces have a greater energy and presentation than others--yet when i show them to others they often choose something different from myself!
while on the realm of aesthetics, can i add something else?
dbc: i also value two qualities very much: what bob cobbing called 'robustiousness' and what i feel also is something elusive, at the periphery of vision, of being--a sense of grace--an arc of beauty across the field of being, seeing, feeling, hearing--this is something very elusive yet which i feel very often and i hope in some pieces makes an appearance.
these two qualities, and another which i would call a 'harsh lyricism'--at once something with a jagged edge to it and something of a lyrical quality--it sings from out of what may appear to be broken strings, vocal chords--it has that sing to it, harsh and cracked, yet signing, lyrical--so with these three in mind, i find that yes, some pieces do present this more that others, with more clarity, strength. . .'temperment' as cezanne called it.
kt: how did you and mIEKAL work on what to put in the book? or the order of the pages?
dbc: in choosing the pieces for the book, and mIEKAL choosing among a few alternates, what i was trying to do in a sort of simple way is find in the pieces ones that seem to have a certain feel, the same geography perhaps, and then finding which one form those groupings that might best convey the feeling of them--as one has only so much room. so, in that sense, one is saying that one is 'better' than another--a choice.
i tried to present as many of the groupings as i could, so that you don't get too many that are all one style, one emotion, one set of elements--to express the variety that is continually around. i have recently discovered two areas that are motherlodes of new materials and i know from these new 'styles' and forms, meanings, feelings, touching, sight, sounds will emerge.
in the book i hoped in this way to show that there is such an open endless array of possibilities, diversities--yet in choosing the particular pieces for the book, yes, i did have to make a choice. it was a very interesting challenge for me to do so, for on what criteria was i to go? for that i went as much as possible with just opening up to the pieces, then presenting those that conveyed, in an almost intuitive way, what was the clearest and strongest within that series.
robustiousness, elusive grace, harsh lyricism, these all play into that intuition. it is just a sensing that one follows--to find--where it goes--so i used that for the choosing, much in the way i find the sites and do the pieces.
i think there is through all of these 'stages' so to speak, among the choices made, a great deal of trust in the found, the intuitively sensed and also humorously--the happy accident!
kt: is there a narrative as such in (the book) rubBEings?
dbc: i'll answer this in a number of ways. is there a narrative in each piece, then in a series, and in the book as it is.
i believe in what Kerouac called 'book-movie, the original American form'. that is, i regard each piece as a form of film--when the eye begins moving in the piece, among the letterings, shadings and forms. i find that this is a form of narrative in itself, a journey. the oldest stories involve journeys. what i have noticed from others' comments is that for each person there has been a different journey, using the same materials--which i am delighted with--as i feel that the pieces are not to impose a narrative as such--but to do the opposite--that is to elicit narratives.
i want to honor and thank the materials, the sites/sights/cites. have them speak through the pieces, at some point not being 'my' voice at all, but something else for people to make of what they will. part of this reason is that what i use, the sites, are public ones--almost entirely. they don't belong to anybody, except the city, in many cases, or to some institution which has a public face to it--letterings etc--though almost everything is basically from public things--even trash cans and dumpsters.
there is also, when i am making them, the narrative of the making. walking along, finding a site, then getting to work--standing, kneeling--to me this makes a kind of story also--yet one that happens outside the paper--but is felt there i think--the sense of finding--something at once familiar and unexpected.
the overall narrative is simply the one of the journey along in the city--what it presents--that seem to open up possibilities. there is also, as i walk along making these things, finding things, a form of autobiography. the sites affect me, speak to me, to call me--as part of my own on-going inner journey made up of so many elements stammering yet they find contact in time with some form. the autobiography is poured into the forms, it exits in there, is there--but maybe only i know--which is fine because i want so much of the 'I' to not be there, in the way of the viewer.
certainly choice makes a sort of narrative--by choosing certain elements to juxtapose, in the doing of this, one is forming various possibilities or narratives. the other day i showed the book to some people who work in a used bookstore--one man said they all looked like tattoos, the other said they were mini-movies. one of my favorite responses is from a Moroccan friend (with whom i converse in french). seeing some of the rubBEings that emerge he said, much what i feel also, "C'est de l'absurde, ca!" that genuine absurd feeling.
kt: with each piece being in itself a sort of narrative generator, how does one begin to make a narrative of with them as a group?
dbc: one way is that i do these in series at certain sites. i will get so involved in the materials that i keep seeing and feeling something different so that it evolves into a series of differing presentations of related elements--these are all (in their way) stories evoked by place. and i think it is important that many don't see it directly as a narrative, but as something else happening--not a story at all so to speak.
for the book, what i tried was simply to go through piles of rubBEings and choose ones that seemed to represent a certain aspect, a 'look' or 'style'--a similar feeling. going through the piles i found that there is quite a variety so i wanted to represent as many of these avenues, possibilities, as i could within the length of the book. the next thing to consider was the order.
the opening page suggests that there are many, many things going on inside--as it emphasizes the word OPEN "to open/to open/water/found/signal".
it also suggests that one goes in with openness--of finding as one goes. water meaning that it flows instead of it being a step by step exposition. on flow, william carlos williams said/wrote that "for a poem to be a poem it must have a direction." the direction is shown in a sense by the front and back covers--which show the rubBEings--that is, the BEings that emerged from telephone poles--since they appear here and there throughout the book, they are what i call the droll companions on the way. they are encountered here and there--and at the end there is one looking at you--it is probably the most literal page in the book. it is put together like a very crude painting--it reminds me of a very crude douanier rousseau style in this sense; the absurdity of that figure is still situated in what looks like a sort of conventional fence by a tree. the droll companions i think play a part in the narrative of the book, they appear here and there--like passersbys. they, in a sense, keep the flow.
the last page within the covers with "author/be" and the 00000's and then the word 'c/ode' is also a 'sort of hint'. i don't think i chose this one to be the last--mIEKAL may have--but it does convey a standing back and acknowledging 'author' as basically 0000's--and then the "c/ode" hints that the author is within the works, but in a c/ode that is personal. each person can actually create their own c/odes.
kt: is it odd to sell a book made from refuse?
dbc: first, the rubBEings are sometimes made from refuse, pieces thrown out, broken, discarded, "useless"--and many of course are made from "permanent" sites--manhole covers, emergency police and fire department boxes, signs, plaques, still functioning pieces of equipment and public surfaces such as city dumpsters with letterings, etcetera.
actually when i first started making rubBEings i never really thought what to do with them--for a while they were basically things i was making as ways of being a part of, in, the world. eventually i began sending them along with other pieces to various poetry/visual poetry/ journals, without knowing if they would be of any interest or not.
kt: you weren't sure?
dbc: no, i wasn't sure as i didn't really have any idea other than what they meant to me--what they might mean to others--other than maybe a form of journal making while walking. all i felt was i should share them--pass them on.
as time went by, the rubBEings, since many times they were the only thing i could do in terms of visual poetry, began to become even more immediately part of my daily life in the sense that they were my one real means of finding things in the world available to me--and to use these materials to express something simultaneously of myself, inner life/emotions, and of the site i was in...
though i have been sending the rubBEings out for some time, it had never occurred to me they might be a book. there had been an exhibition of my (primarily) street paintings here in milwaukee, I also included rubBEings, but they were on a table in a large manilla envelope for people to take out and leaf through--there wasn't enough space for them and also the gallery owners wanted to focus on the paintings. when mIEKAL aND first wrote to me about doing a book/xerolage issue of rubBEings, i think it was prompted by some letters i had written regarding making them to spidertangle list-serv--also to fluxlist--they appeared to have generated interest.
kt: right, i was introduced to rubBEings via spidertangle
dbc: oh, that's right.
kt: anyway, go on.
dbc: even when putting together and working away on pieces for the book/issue, it never occurred to me it was something for sale--or rather it would be on the publisher's part, which of course is necessary in order for there to be publishers. especially for the ongoing series of work the publisher is so inspiringly sending out into the world to widen the spheres of communications among people making and interested in or just learning about visual poetry, collage, copy art, mail art, etc. i just see what i am doing as a part of this larger endeavor--being part of community/communication. in that sense there doesn't seem to be anything odd about the materials showing up in a book. believe me, it was and is a great surprise and quite an honor, but when i look back, it seems to have really occurred through a natural flow of events--it wasn't premeditated. i started sharing them with others as another avenue open for people to work with. i always hope that others may be doing rubBEings and we could correspond! even collaborate--do an exchange--back and forth--sharing and learning--in that sense, having a book out doesn't seem odd but much more of a welcome event. . .hoping to be in touch with others--either doing rubBEings or other things, yet sharing interests and activities.
i can remember when i very first made rubBEings--quite clearly--and the way they function has not changed at all--other than having lived with them through time. i have come to be very grateful to/with them--as through acutely difficult times i have been able to make contact with a form of notation in the world and be in a shared communication with it. a notation which is there hidden in plain sight! i, at times, seek to be out of conventional language--as within it one feels very much trapped, tortured almost at times--so the yearning for an outside--yet at same time--a place where one may join in and find a means of one's own being a part of the ongoing conversation--something that brings one forth into. . .an immense continuum, one might call it, is a yearning for freedom. in a way one feels this all around one, this kind of reaching out--so this form is really a means of finding that "shock of recognition" right here. "look under your feet" as Chuang-Tzu says.
i have also given away a lot of rubBEings through time--to friends, in letters, passersby who are interested--anyone--in hopes they provide openings into the world all around us that one doesn't always see, fell, hear, think of.
i know if one looked over all, not just the rubBEings, but a good deal of my work and activities, one could say, 'well, why should they ever be in a book or displayed, etc' if one were a real purist about it. my response is that, for myself, the pieces are not just about me, my point of view, etc. they are really about reaching out and then finding in the world ever more openings up, which one wants to share, with the excitement of discovery, and in hopes others will join in and create community/communication. to go beyond the loneliness and beyond the refusal of all this "refuse"--so that they also participant in the world, and in society, in new ways. it is important the ways that things are shared via the means/media of communication: journals, books, exhibition, web-sites as well as just giving them away.
in the beginning, rubBEings lived only inside notebooks carried around everywhere and then stacked one at a time--yet something in and with them didn't seem at all to be for that isolated purpose. having come from, being in the world, is to remain part of it.
nothing is refused--everything is felt as possibility--a way--of opening
interview :: Gustave Morin
interview :: Buck Downs!
review :: Amy King Antidotes for an Alibi
interview :: david baptiste-chirot
review :: Rupert Wondolowski The Whispering of Ice Cubes: New and Selected Pieces
narrow house home