Bordowitz Chapter 1

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S.R. [...] Maybe we have two parts; first is more about your background and your approach; the second is more about historical questions, like influences... [...] How do you see your own practice between writing and film or video?

G.B. do a number of things, and that includes making art, making films and videos, teaching, writing, and I don't assign any more or less importance to any one of those things. I like to approach my practice in a way that focuses on what I'm doing at the moment. Right now what I'm doing is being interviewed and discussing Conceptual art with you, and this is my practice, this is what I'm doing; when I'm in the classroom, that's my practice, when I'm writing that's my practice. I'm much more comfortable when people ask me to identify what I do, I usually say I make videos, I write texts; I'm much more comfortable speaking in terms of verbs rather than saying, I'm a film maker, I'm a writer, I'm an artist. None of those names seem to capture everything that I do.

S.R. Maybe this is a very specific definition of art practice. It would be interesting to have a little bit more of your background. How did you come to this specific kind of practice?

G.B. I always wanted to be an artist. When I was very, very young I was most interested in being in the art rooms at school, and I was always painting, I was a childhood painter. I think I got that from my great-great grandfather – since the generations in my family are very small. My mother was eighteen or so and she had me and my grandmother was seventy – my great grandfather was alive for the first few years of my life; he died when I was around five, but he was a very important figure in my family. He was a painter and a Socialist, and a part of that generation of immigrant Jews who was politically progressive working class but also interested in culture. I think I inherited that. Throughout my childhood I was very much interested in painting, and read a lot. And then as a teenager I became very much interested in politics. That all seemed to combine into a set of desires that lead me to making art. But when I arrived in Manhattan, when I was 18, to art school, I was making paintings – and I'm still making paintings. I also came from a place where to be an artist meant to be a painter, and it wasn't until I got to art school in Manhattan where I met many people who called themselves artists and were making art and were not painting. I was introduced to Conceptual art, to video artists at the School of Visual Arts [...] in the early 80s. I got to the School of Visual Arts in 1983, and in the early 80s the School of Visual Arts was a place where a great many interesting people were teaching. J. Kosuth was teaching, I studied with J. Goldstein, May Stevens. I encountered and studied with C. Owens and B. Buchloh who were teaching at the School of Visual Arts and I also met colleagues, friends who are still very important people in my life like A. Fraser and M. Dion and many others whose names you know [...].While at School of Visual Arts I realized that I could be an artist or make art and not necessarily limit myself to the practice of painting which in the end, though I'd been doing it all my life, didn't really seem to suit my interests as much as working with language, and then working with time. When I first picked up a video camera [...]. I realized that I was very much interested in adding the element of time to my work in a way that one couldn't possibly do if one was doing static work, making paintings or even photographs or even installations, all of which I tried to do but there was sth. about working with the element in time, the way that video allowed one to do that excited me greatly, and I started making videos. In the mid 80s the Aids-crisis took a hold of Manhattan, and many people on the Lower East Side were getting ill, and I was living on the Lower East Side [...], and being a young man in a largely but not entirely queer-, lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-experimenting context, community, also many of us were experimenting with drugs, and people started to get sick on the Lower East Side. That was the political context, the Aids-crisis was the political context in which I discovered video; the two things happened at the same time. I stopped painting, I started making videos and I was looking for a way to bring politics into my art work in a direct way, and the Aids-crisis was becoming rapidly politicised in the mid 80s. All that came together, and in some ways that explains my practice, that's how I ended up doing what I've been doing for the past 15, 20 [...].

Gregg Bordowitz »