Coming Together to Stay Apart. Douglas Crimp in conversation with Katarzyna Bojarska, Luiza Nader and Agata Pyzik

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From May 12th to May 14th 2008 Prof. Douglas Crimp stayed in Warsaw on the invitation of the Foksal Gallery Foundation. In the Avantgarde Institute he held seminars which concentrated on the questions of subjectivity, memory, history and the identity politics. The point of departure for these discussion, as well as for the public lecture "Action around the Edges", were fragments of his two recent books together with texts by Rosalyn Deutsche, Yvonne Rainer Andy Warhol's films.

Luiza Nader: Beginning our conversation, I would like to refer to your compelling seminars and lecture in the Avantgarde Institute in Warsaw in May 2008. You presented to the Polish audience two ongoing projects: a book on Andy Warhol's films and a memoir-type of narration referring to performance art, the gay scene and New York in the seventies. During our seminars we discussed issues raised by your current works, such as subjectivity, memory, and historical writing; the notion of singularity; and the complex problem of shame and alternative forms of relationality. Would you comment on these two projects and the connection between them?

Douglas Crimp: I began the memoir project, about New York in the 1970s, after a period of working on the book on Warhol's films, but in fact the Warhol book, too, has a basis in my autobiography. In 1998 I published a defense of cultural studies, provoked by the 1996 special issue of the journal October that defended the discipline of art history against the expanded field of visual culture. My defense was called "Getting the Warhol We Deserve," a title that refers to a line in Hal Foster's book Return of the Real, where he says that in our critical writing about Warhol we all "make the Warhol we need and get the Warhol we deserve." To which I replied that it would be useful to explain why we think we need or deserve the particular Warhol we make. In making that rejoinder, I was attempting to explain that in our work as cultural studies scholars, we recognize that there are political stakes in the critical positions that we take and that it is important to make those stakes clear. I went on to suggest what a cultural studies project on Warhol might look like when its political stakes were to recover a history of queer cultural expression as a means to counter the normalization of sexual politics in the United States at the time that I was writing my essay-the late 1990s. The history I had in mind was that of underground film and theater in the early 1960s, the milieu within which Warhol began making films. It included such filmmakers as the Kuchar brothers, Ron Rice, and Jack Smith and figures from the Theater of the Ridiculous such as Ronald Tavel, John Vacarro, and Charles Ludlam. One of the leading actors in this milieu was the drag performer Mario Montez, who worked with most of these artists. Needless to say, this is a milieu that is not taken into account within the discipline of art history.

This is also a milieu that played a significant role in my own life in New York City. I moved to the city in 1967, and sometime in 1969 I moved to a loft in Chelsea, not far from the famous Chelsea Hotel, where many people from the Warhol scene lived. It was a short walk from there to Union Square, where Warhol's Factory was at the time. The Factory and Ridiculous Theater crowds frequented the back room at Max's Kansas City, the art bar just off of Union Square, and I began to go there almost every night. I met a lot of people from that scene, including, most importantly for me, the drag queen Holly Woodlawn, the star of Andy Warhol's Trash. Holly and her boyfriend lived with me for a short time during the period that Trash was being shot. I also got to know a number of the superstars of Warhol's films-Ondine, Viva, Jackie Curtis, Taylor Mead--and I developed crushes on some of the guys-Eric Emerson, Joe Dallesandro, Allen Midgette. This was a formative experience for me. It shaped my ideas about queer life every bit as much as did the gay liberation movement that was happening at the same time.

Still-to return to the question of cultural studies and art history-when I speak of the current political necessity of recovering that queer moment, there is only one way that I knew to approach such a project, and that was through the critical interpretation of works of culture. I thought immediately of the underground films as the most complete "record" or "documents" of that moment. In this I was inspired by the work of my friend Marc Siegel, who wrote a brilliant article on Jack Smith's classic film Flaming Creatures called "Documentary that Dare Not Speak Its Name." I didn't plan for this to be a monographic study, but I began with an essay on Warhol's classic 1964 film Blow Job, and then I guess you might say I was hooked. There are a great many Warhol films, nearly 100, not counting the nearly 500 Screen Tests, and they are such rich resources, such extraordinary works. In the end, I'm writing about a small number of the films-Blow Job, Screen Test No. 2, the Ronal Tavel scripted films Horse and Hedy, a group of films about people in confined spaces such as My Hustler and The Closet, The Chelsea Girls of course, perhaps Nude Restaurant. But these titles represent the entire chronology of Warhol's films. Most of these films were made before I arrived in New York, but still, I think of the world they represented-or is it the world they made?-as the world I discovered in New York. And in fact I did see The Chelsea Girls during its national theatrical release in 1967. I was still at university, in New Orleans. I'd never seen anything like it, and it made a great impression on me. And then just by chance in my first summer in New York I got a job working for the fashion designer Charles James, who lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where many sequences in the film were shot.

In my essay "Mario Montez, for Shame" I gave a name to the project: "Queer Before Gay." I no longer call it that, but my idea was not to write a monograph about Warhol's films. I knew the Warhol's films would be among the works that would give me access to the period that I was interested in, the period immediately preceding my arrival in New York. But I was also thinking about writing about the Theatre of the Ridiculous and other underground films, including Jack Smith's. In the end I've decided to limit the book to a study of a new queer sociality through a close reading of some Warhol films. After writing "Mario Montes, For Shame," I began working on a chapter called "Coming Together to Stay Apart," about the collaboration between Warhol and Ronald Tavel, who wrote scenarios for a number of films made in 1965-66.

Around the time I was working on that essay, I was invited to give a lecture at the Guggenheim in conjunction with a Daniel Buren exhibition there, because I had worked at the Guggenheim in 1971 when Buren's Peinture/Sculpture was removed from the Guggenheim International Exhibition. Because of my Warhol work, I'd been thinking about my early years in New York and about the possibility of writing a memoir, so the Buren lecture offered a great opportunity. I was not interested in simply giving an eye-witness account, in "setting the record straight." It was after writing the Guggenheim lecture, which weaves together an account of the Buren episode with my work for Charles James that I devised the form for my memoir, and I soon decided that it would cover my first ten years in New York, up to the time I organized the Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in 1977. I call the memoir Before Pictures. So now I find myself working simultaneously on these two projects-very different one from the other but both of them having their origin in my autobiography.

LN: I have the impression that these books are presenting two different and yet related models of regaining the past and its absent parts. The relationship emerges from the wide array of questions posed on vulnerable subjectivity and the site of the subject both within writing and perceiving art.

Katarzyna Bojarska: And yet in a different way, I would say. It relates to the question concerning the critical potential of a memoir on the one hand, the philosophical potential of cultural critique or critique of history, on the other. That is it: Warhol project is a cultural history project, whereas memoir is a history writing project.

DC: I don't know if "cultural history" is the term I would use, but perhaps a cultural studies project, or a critical cultural analysis. Let me back up and say, for a long time I have used autobiographical experience in my work. I think of essays such as "The Boys in My Bedroom," "Mourning and Militancy," the introduction to Melancholia and Moralism-all of these are very personal. I use anecdotes from my own life, but they are told for a purpose beyond self-disclosure. When, for example, in "Mourning and Militancy," I write about my inability to mourn my father's death and the development of an infected tear duct as a somatic symptom of that failure, I use that as a way to introduce the unconscious into a discussion of the consequences of AIDS activists' failure to acknowledge and fully mourn the deaths of their fellow activists. So I had begun some time ago to use my own experience, anecdotally, to make certain arguments clear to my readers. To do so was both useful and difficult: writing about such a deeply personal matter as, for example, my own seroconversion in the introduction to Melancholia and Moralism was especially hard for me, even though I'd already disclosed that I'd become HIV+ in "Sense and Sensibility," the final essay in the book. In the introduction I discuss why I believe I'd unconsciously taken the risks that allowed that to happen. In any case, you see, before I began thinking about a memoir, I'd already begun writing about my own life. The second chapter I wrote for the memoir is called "Back to the Turmoil." It was published in the catalogue of an exhibition called The Eight Square at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

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Then I wrote the chapter that I gave as a lecture here, "Action Around the Edges," and more recently I've written a chapter about disco [this has now been published as "Disss-co (a fragment)," Criticism, a Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 50, no. 1 (special issue on disco) (Winter 2008)]. All of these memoir pieces also engage with current issues. For example, "Way Out on a Nut," the piece on the Guggenheim's removal of Daniel Buren's work, engages with the animus toward design and decoration in the current regression to high modernist attitudes, such as those expressed in Hal Foster's collection of essays Design and Crime. This fear of the feminine (and the effeminate) as manifest in fashion and design has been criticized since at least Andreas Huyssen's work on postmodernism. But it has returned with a vengeance among the critics associated with October and many others. I approach these critical questions through memory and anecdote. In this case, for example, by discussing the work of the couturier Charles James, for whom I worked briefly after moving to New York in 1967. I didn't work for him long, only a couple of weeks, so it's not a long story.

LN: It is enough for a book!

DC: When I began thinking about that episode, I immediately thought of also writing about De Menil house in Houston for which James had done the interior decoration. When I went to Houston in 2000 for a conference at the Menil Museum, Adelaide de Menil invited all the speakers to her family home for coffee. The home was designed in 1949 by Philip Johnson in the purest Miesian style-a steel, glass, and brick box. The house had not been renovated and in fact had been essentially untouched from the time that Dominique de Menil had died a few years earlier. (The house has just recently been renovated.) Adelaide, Dominique's daughter, showed us the entire house, even her mother's wardrobe closets, where each drawer was lined with different color of fabric. Everything was so meticulous and strange and interesting. The décor was just the opposite of what you would expect in such a modernist house. In place of, say, Barcelona chairs, there was a James-designed oversized octagonal ottoman, a Victorian settee, James's version of Salvador Dali's Mae West's lips sofa. The walls were painted vivid colors, and drapes in contrasting bright colors covered the windows. James was not an interior decorator but a fashion designer, and Johnson hated what James did so much that he essentially repudiated the house. I began to think of James's flamboyant interior design as an eruption of architectural modernism's unconscious. In this piece, I move from Daniel Buren and institutional critique to Charles James and haute couture, from my experience working at the Guggenheim to Frank O'Hara's description of his love of the new (in 1959) Frank Lloyd Wright building. I didn't know where all of it would lead as I was writing it.

LN: Similarly to Melancholia and Moralism your memoir project is very much like the process of Durcharbeitung in the field of art history and cultural studies. It works through the loss and absence and in the same time it counters the nostalgia for the formative moment when the identity of postmodern art practices possessed (imaginary) values of cohesivenss and wholeness. Focusing on memory, particularity, alterity, patterns of knowledge (rather than truth) created by fragments, it also counters art history's grand narration/dominant course, regaining the repressed from the past, but in the same time taking away from the reader the illusion of any "origins".

DC: If that is what I am in fact doing, it is not something unique to my work. People who work in the field of contemporary art, art history of the postwar period-particularly those who have been influenced by feminism and queer theory-often begin with an awareness of both what has been excluded from mainstream history and how that dominant history has been gendered. Certain aspects of art were either unspeakable or were simply not spoken.

LN: Like the decorative quality of Buren's work.

KB: Or like dance or fashion.

DC: What I am doing is returning to a period that was crucial to my own formation. It was also a particularly vital moment for both the New York art world and the development of gay liberation culture. I am trying to bring these two worlds together, because these have been understood as separate histories. For example, when, in the chapter on the Buren incident I examine the letter Dan Flavin published in Studio International defending himself for objecting to Buren's work, I find that he dismisses what he calls "that French drapery" at the same time that he revels in calling himself a Yankees fan. He doesn't have to resort to calling Buren a fag or a decadent European.

KB: It is the "subtle" mechanism of stigmatisation and exclusion which works for all minority groups.

DC: The language is often fairly subtle and in need of being unpacked. When I've presented "Action around the Edges," a number of people have said how surprised they were to find that Gordon Matta-Clark would have used such dismissive language about the gay s&m scene in interviews about Day's End. The art historian Richard Meyer, who wrote Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in American Art, told me that he'd mentioned the fact that Matta-Clark had locked gay men out of the Gansevoort pier to Tom Crow, who's written about Matta-Clark, and Crow just exploded and said: This is absolutely irrelevant, this is of no interest, it is meaningless, you cannot read anything into it, it has nothing to do with anything. I am not suggesting that we revise our opinion of the significance of Gordon Matta-Clark's work simply because he exhibited the ordinary homophobia taken for granted at that time-that would be absurd. What I am asking is that we think about what it might mean that these worlds-experimentation in art and sexual experimentation-were taking place proximately and simultaneously, how it might have affected someone like me, a young art critic taking part in both scenes and experiencing that "ordinary homophobia." We should try to imagine how that might reverberate for artists trying to make work based on issues of gender and sexuality, or ethnic and racial difference

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Agata Pyzik: When I was telling people I was going to your seminar, they first of all associated your name with the museum theory. Did you decide to write On the Museum's Ruins out of your interest in exclusions? And when did your interest in identity start? Do you think we should, as art historians, include our gender/queer identity to writing?

DC: I wrote the essays collected in On the Museum's Ruins while I was in graduate school and working as an editor at October-in the 1980s. In my memoir chapter that I mentioned before, "Back to the Turmoil," in which I discuss a small show of Agnes Martin's work that I organized for the Visual Arts Gallery in 1971, I suggest something of why I chose to align myself with particularly rigorous forms of abstraction, minimalism, conceptual art, and later with institutional critique. At the time that I did the Martin show, I was working as a reviewer for Art News among a group of poet-critics who were attracted to artists associated with the New York School poets Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, and John Ashbery, artists such as Fairfield Porter, Jane Freilicher, and Larry Rivers. I'm afraid I associated their openness about being gay with their regressive aesthetic taste-wrongly of course. I wanted to be both openly gay and to associate myself with a "tougher" aesthetic. And in October, of which I became an editor in 1977, I found a milieu where I could do that. I didn't neglect issues of sexuality altogether during that time. I edited a special issue of October on Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1982, for which I wrote an essay on Fassbinder and Barthes that engaged with discussions in gay liberation literature about being open about your sexuality in your work. But my essays devoted to the institution of the museum neglected questions of subjectivity-something that I criticize myself for in the book's introduction. It took a more sustained encounter with feminism and my direct involvement with queer politics through the AIDS activist movement to understand how crucial subjectivity was to the institutions of art.

KB: I have a question concerning the memoir and its structure of radical juxtaposition. As you said you never force the reader into one interpretation, you leave the interpretation with him/her by juxtaposing two works, or two cultural texts. What would you say is radical in the juxtaposition you propose? In other words, what is radical in the juxtaposition of descriptions and not judgments? And why do you make the choice of not passing the judgments?

DC: I took the term "radical juxtaposition" from Yvonne Rainer, who uses it to describe her working method. I hadn't thought about it as the method of my memoir until I mentioned it in the seminar yesterday in relation to reading Yvonne's own memoir Feelings Are Facts. What is radical about it, I suppose, is the fact that the two things placed in juxtaposition are usually thought of as incommensurate-Daniel Buren's institutional critique and Charles James's haute-couture; Gordon Matta-Clark's Day's End and Alvin Baltrop's photographs of the gay cruising scene on the Hudson River piers-or I should say Baltrop's photographs of gay men cruising for sex in Matta Clark's Day's End. I've recently found a 1970s gay porn film called Pier Groups (a play on peer groups) that is partially shot in Day's End. So that "radical juxtaposition" isn't my invention; it was a fact of life. Nevertheless, the incommensurateness of these two scenes-the art scene and the gay scene-was the source of great conflict. I guess it is radical to me both to bring them together in a single narrative frame and to leave the conflict intact.

Regarding the question of leaving the interpretation of these juxtapositions up to the reader (or the listener), I think I've consciously attempted in my more recent writing to move away from the polemical style of On Museum's Ruins and Melancholia and Moralism. A polemical stance seemed to me appropriate to the debates over postmodernism and even more for the politics of AIDS in the 1980s. The polemical tone of On the Museum's Ruins also has in part to do with the fact that I wrote those essays while I was in October, which is a very a doctrinaire journal-even more so now than then. Since I left the journal in 1990, and after a lot of soul searching, I have learned to express my own vulnerability and uncertainty in my work. After nearly ten years of writing about AIDS, I gradually returned to the intellectual pleasures that I'd first associated with culture. This is especially the case with dance, a form that has given me enormous pleasure since I was first exposed to it in the 1970s. I think this is partly because I look at dance not as a professional critic but as an amateur, in the literal sense of the word, as someone who loves it. A few years ago I taught a course on Yvonne Rainer, in order to indulge my pleasure in dance. And then I wrote about her work, and I found myself transferring that love of dance to the process of writing about it. Writing is now something that gives me much more pleasure than it ever did before. I spend a great deal of time simply choosing words, simplifying thoughts, composing sentences. Of course, I always did that, but I'm more conscious of both the process and the pleasure now. In doing this, I find that I can allow my arguments, my critical positions, to emerge from anecdotes or descriptions of works and experiences.

LN: In your recent texts based both on the very much problematized material of your memory and also on your in-depth archival research, you are giving the reader many signs that your narrations are a source of knowledge, but this knowledge is not closed, never becoming a doxa. This is something I really appreciate.

AP: I would like to go back to Warhol, because he aggregates most of the issues I think you are concerned with. Warhol was not primarily recognized as a gay artist. The subversiveness of his art and identity, which is especially important in his films or series of self portraits, was concealed and blunted by art history. His art is to me highly anti-social.

DC: Yes, it is "anti-social" in the sense that sociality as we know it is constructed very rigidly, and Warhol offers other possibilities.

AP: Antisocial also in the sense that society is about coupling and creating fixed structures. So in this sense the gay community and Warhol's art was anti-social. Also, the gay model of love/sexuality seems to me as subversive to the accommodation and marketing of relationships that in the traditional heterosexual model support the market and the whole system. In this sense I believe that Warhol is also a part of your political project.

DC: Emphasizing the queer potential of Warhol is not original to my work. I think I mentioned in the seminar that there was a group of graduate students at Duke University, students of Eve Sedgwick, who organized a conference on Warhol and published the papers in a very important book called Pop Out: Queer Warhol. The book was not particularly well received by mainstream art historians, and there are still people who would say that Warhol's sexuality is largely irrelevant or is only a "special" interest (as opposed to a "universal" interest, of course). This is what I saw in Hal Foster's Return of the Real, where in appearing to adjudicate between what he calls the "iconographic" and the "simulacral" versions of Warhol, he is particularly dismissive of those "iconographic" readings that relate Warhol to gay culture. There is no question but that I am interested in offering a critique of mainstream art historical Warhol scholarship, which not only obscures Warhol's sexuality and its meanings for his art but literally obscures much of his art. A curious example: Warhol tells us in Popism that for a long time he would ask any man who came to the Factory to let him photograph his genitals. So somewhere there are hundreds of such photographs...somewhere. I've never seen them, he might have made the whole thing up, but I don't think so. More important, the dominant art historical view of Warhol is that there was a short period between 1962 and 1966 when he made important work, after which he "sold out" and became overly attached to society glamour. It is a fairly typical scenario: an "early" pure phase, followed by decadence. And what is this decadence? It is, of course, Warhol's queerness. Once again, this doesn't have to be overtly spoken; it is simply understood. This dominant narrative is what I want to counteract with my book by focusing on the films-both because they've been left out of the canon and because they are so explicit in their creation of an alternative, queer world.

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AP: Another issue that to me links your work on the museum and your activism is the category of visibility. In my opinion, one of the themes of your writing is making something visible. Visibility was also one of the slogans of gay community. It links your political activism, your trying to make gay issues visible to the public, and On the Museum's Ruins, where you seem to question the dialectics of visibility and non-visibility within the museum. The latter as a public space chooses to make one kind of art visible and conceal another. This way I would link those two dimensions of your body of work. Would you agree?

DC: I would complicate it a bit, because my work is also critical of visibility politics, or what was often called "coming out." "Coming out" suggests that there is a true self or, as Foucault would have said, a "truth of one's desire" that remains hidden. This suggests a coherent, conscious, knowable identity. The meaning of "queer" for me has always entailed a complication of this fixity of identity, a simultaneous making and unmaking of sexual identity. I want in my work to acknowledge our inability to know ourselves, our own strangeness to ourselves-a strangeness that is the unconscious. Visibility politics suggests a transparency, a simple access to who someone "really" is: so-and-so is gay and he should be honest with us and come out of the closet. Sexuality is not that simple. At the same time I know that, where there in an enforced invisibility-for example the invisibility of Warhol's sexuality in the dominant art historical discourse-it is necessary to make it visible. While here in Warsaw, I read the obituary of Robert Rauschenberg in the International Herald Tribune, and needless to say there no mention of his sexuality. His friendships with Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage are discussed, but not the fact that Johns was his lover at one time and that Cage and Cunningham were lifelong partners. So it's a complex negotiation, this question of visibility politics, and taking account of this complexity has been part of the project of queer theory. At the same time, you know that in my work I tend to make aspects of my own life visible, which also makes me vulnerable. I allow people to know things about me that I think most people would keep private. But I always tell these stories about myself when I believe they that will have political efficacy.

LN: I would like to link subjectivity and the political and to refer to the questions posed by the students during the seminars. What is the relevance of your concept of singularity to the notion of political agency? How the concept of singularity works within the realm of politics?

DC: I would have to give some thought to your question to answer it fully, but a provisional answer would be that we have to ask what kind of agency is involved in political organizing. When I speak, in my work on Warhol, about singularity, anti-relationality (what Leo Bersani calls "impersonal narcissism"), about not-coupling...

LN: "...coming together to stay apart"

DC: ...it is because I believe we need to re-imagine and reinvent affectional relations, which Foucault suggested was one of the great achievements of gay liberation politics. We have to begin to imagine possibilities for human relations that are not based on the model of the couple, the two-coming-together-as-one, the you-and-me-against-the-world model. We need the possibilities of what Michael Warner calls "world making" that we began to see in the culture of gay liberation. Last night Karol Radziszewski and Paweł Kubara interviewed me about my experience as a gay tourist in the East bloc countries. I told them about a young man I met in Prague in 1984. We met on the street-cruised each other at a sausage kiosk-then went to a gay club together and eventually managed to sneak into my hotel together. I have a very fond memory of this single night. I don't remember the boy's name, although I still have a Polaroid photograph that my traveling companion took of us in front of our hotel. Such a little adventure could easily be dismissed as a meaningless one-night stand, a moment of instant gratification, like having a cigarette. Or it might be demonized as sexual tourism.

KB: You can try to squeeze it into existing conventions. That is what we do when we do not know what to do!

DC: For me it is a precious moment of intimacy, just a moment, but also a memory, a story I like to tell, a photograph I keep. But there is nothing more. We didn't exchange addresses or write letters. In fact, he didn't speak a word of English or German, and I didn't speak a word of Czech, so there was no real verbal exchange. The only verbal communication occurred when we were at the bar, dancing together, and I heard the DJ say my name. The boy had asked him to dedicate a particular song to me. This story is suggestive of the kind of uncomplicated but significant intimacy that the culture of gay liberation made possible for me, and it is such moments of human connection that have constituted an important component of my sense of the pleasures of life. They are not about forever and ever, happily ever after-quite the contrary.

Another example: In my memoir chapter on disco I write about my disco buddy, Steven, the guy I went dancing with throughout the mid-1970s when I was a serious disco dancer. We were faithful disco friends-that was our relationship. We did very little else together. Maybe occasionally we'd have dinner together or sleep together, but really we were just dance partners, and as such we were very faithful to each other; we went to the disco together and we left the disco together, every week. This is a relationship that I also cherish. Steven was never my boyfriend and really hardly even a friend beyond our disco relationship. So here you have a couple of anecdotal examples of gay-liberation-style reimagined affectional relations. They're hardly revolutionary, not so extraordinary, but if you multiply them many times over, and if you grant to all of these different sorts of connections genuine significance at the same time that you de-privilege the sectioned relationships of family and marriage, you have a rather different sense of sociality. It is a truism about the gay culture that because our identities are about sex, all of the other aspects of identities assumed less importance, so connections could more readily be formed across class, age, and race. Often when I see two men walking together on the street in New York, and one is black and the other white, I immediately assume that they are gay, not necessarily a gay couple, but gay friends, because among straight men it is very rare to see mixed-race friendship-perhaps less rare now, but certainly in the 1970s, racial mixing was unusual.

KB: Exactly, these moments you just described perfectly expose our limitations: limitations of language, of possible narration we have at hand, limitations of our mentality and our thinking about interrelations with other human beings. We can neither imagine nor name other forms of relations, therefore, we usually treat them as non-existent.
The last issue that comes to my mind goes back to the question you asked us during the first seminar, namely what kind of access to a historical moment, whether personal historical moment, or collective historical moment, can be granted by a work of art?

DC: I meant that really to be a question, something that each of us needs consider. In traditional art history it is taken for granted that we are looking for facts, for what actually happened. But what if the facts aren't available? Or what if they don't tell us anything we'd like to know? If, for example, you write about performances about which there is very little record and which you didn't see, what can you say about them? In such an extreme case, you are faced with the fact that writing history is an act of interpretation. In other words, you cannot think that there is actually something there to find, that there is a truth waiting to be uncovered. A work of art is something replete with meaning, filled with significance. But it is not significance that is simply transparent. It is significance that must be thought about and described. You have to unpack it. In that process of interpretation and unpacking you always know that, to some extent, you are making it up. Of course, you also try to be faithful to the thing that you are looking at or that you are reconstructing, insofar as that's possible.

KB: And you have to acknowledge you are making it up for yourself, in a very particular moment of your own history in a very particular context.

DC: Of course, you make it up because of something you need or desire at the moment.
It's not a new idea: desire infects narrative.

May, 2008, Warsaw (Foksal Gallery Foundation)

Polish version:Zejść się, by pozostać osobno. Rozmowa z Douglasem Crimpem

DOUGLAS CRIMP is a professor of art history associated with the School of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University in Rochester NY, distinguished critic and researcher in visual culture, one of the most important commentators of Modernist and Postmodernist art. His numerous essays include analysis of artistic practices of institutions, of practices and discourses in a wide interdisciplinary context, but also reflection on sexuality and visibility, subjectivity and historical constructs. Of exceptional importance is his contribution in queer theory/policy, including the analysis of cultural presentations and representations of AIDS shaping public discourses on the epidemic. Douglas Crimp is the author of Melacholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics (MIT Press, 2002), Museum in Ruins (MIT Press, 1993) and a co-editor of the following, How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video (Bay Press, 1991), AIDS: Cultural analysis/cultural activism (MIT Press, 1988), October: the first decade 1976 - 1986 (MIT Press, 1987).

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