Stills from Fusion Cuisine © 2000 by Fatimah Tuggar
[This interview took place in Brooklyn on November 4, 2000. Half of the interview took place in a café over lunch; the other half in the artists apartment, in front of her computer.]
Gary Sullivan: So lets start with what you were describing to me earlier. How, at one of the showings of your video "Fusion Cuisine" at the Kitchen, this one guy in the audience was upset by it
Fatimah Tuggar: We showed quite a lot of my work, as youll remember, and his concern was that, since the work was dealing with technology, that somehow he was hoping that I was being critical of how technology was infiltrating or taking over Africa, and not allowing Africa to remain pure. Which, I tried to explain to him, that has nothing to do with what Im concerned about. I told him in fact that I like technology, and that its not really a question of whether something is good or bad, its not that kind of judgment. That basically, what its to do with is just examining, and looking at different ideas and how technology has affected the present situation and circumstances. It has nothing specific to do with wanting to keep technology out and keep this place pure.
GS: How did he take that?
FT: He was very unhappy, I guess. Because he wanted to turn it into some kind of weird Afro-centric thing where you know, I tried to explain to him, that technologys like everything else in life, its got good and bad points, it has advantages and disadvantages. Just like me: Im good and Im bad.
FT: And, its not just one thing or the other. I didnt think it was productive to do that, to be so extreme about it, one aspect of it or the other
GS: Tell me again about what you were describing earlier about the collagist, John Heartfield, who as you said before was kind of an early hero of yours, but also very didactic.
FT: Well, with that, I mean, his work is very didactic which, at the time, I can understand the need for it to be that way, because its a war. You cant be in the middle of a war and explore different points of view. You have to kind of out of survival and necessity, you have to pick a side, you know, in a war situation. It reminds me of was it Winston Churchill who, referring to Russia, during the Second World War, "We have to hold hands with the devil to cross the bridge," something like that. So, its like, they had to put aside their differences in order to win the war
FT: So I can understand why people have to be very specific about what side theyre on, but I dont think that the position that Im working in is exactly that kind of thing. I believe it has a sense of urgency, what Im doing, but I dont know that its that kind of situation, like a war.
GS: There are people who look at who, when they begin to talk and think about aesthetics, become aligned with certain kinds of aesthetics, and will treat it very much like war. And, you dont seem to have taken that route. I dont know to what extent thats true in the art world, but its true of the poetry world, where theres camps certain people do not cross certain lines, aesthetically.
FT: I dont really belong to any camps.
GS: It doesnt really seem like it.
FT: Or schools. Or any of that. [Laughs.] I just do my work.
GS: But you dont do it in a vacuum.
FT: No, no. And I wouldnt want to. You know? I mean, I want people to see what I do, I want them to be engaged with what I do, and I want it to be a part of a conversation. Youre absolutely right, I dont want to work in a vacuum. On the other hand, I dont belong to any kind of camp or group or "movement," I guess is the word Im looking for.
GS: Now, I dont know if youll have more to say about it right now than you did the night of the screening that I saw at the Kitchen, but Im fascinated by this you and Christian [Haye] showed stills from another, earlier, video of yours, which I guess is one of the first things youd done in art school?
FT: Well, that was that, I did in graduate school.
GS: Okay, well, then lets back up before that when you first got into school, did you begin with collages?
FT: Well, in high school I did collages, and I stopped. I was doing collages and paintings. Not "painting" paintings: theyre posters of horror movies. And I went from that to
GS: [Laughs.] Of real horror movies?
FT: No, the ones I invent in my head.
GS: Well, give me an example!
FT: Um, like, I would invent a horror movie where a mass-murderer or serial killer goes around screwing screws into the entire body of the victim, every inch of it.
GS: Oh, god. And that would be depicted in a painting of a poster?
FT: Yeah, that would be the poster or, of a vampire there are different ones.
GS: Thats pretty twisted. [Laughs.]
FT: I guess. I mean, I dont want to analyze myself. But I was in a lot of pain at the time.
FT: Because I hated boarding school.
GS: So, high school was boarding school?
FT: Yeah. Age 10 onwards. Anyway, then, I moved from the posters to doing "product design" ideas. Like, the tissue box thats a radio. [Laughs.] That would be a good thing to sell to teenagers. Theyd like it because its a boom-box. Or, the tissue box thats a roller blade. You know?
GS: Did you actually construct them, or were these just designs?
FT: Yeah, I constructed them.
FT: Theres always been this cross-over for me with fine art and advertisement.
FT: So, its funny, that I didnt even think of that, until you just asked me this question now.
GS: Well, your work your visual work looks like it could be an advertisement of some kind, it looks like it could be the cover of Harpers magazine, there are all kinds of things that
FT: Its borrowing from that language.
FT: But, its interesting that Ive never really analyzed that, that theres this flip-flop, with that going on. So, I was designing products. Then, once I got into art school, I wanted to do more three-dimensional work. And one of the things I designed actually earlier in high school is this chair thats made out of segments of orange. So, when you peel the orange you slap them together, each segment makes part of a chair [Laughter.] and it becomes a chair
GS: A full-size chair?
FT: Well, I didnt make it full-size. I made it 1/4th size.
GS: Okay, well, one of the things I remember you telling me about, and I think this was in college, was maybe taking the idea from Duchamp where you had a bathroom? A womens bathroom? Where youd hear voices?
FT: Oh yeah, what I did was I made this piece called "The Talking Urinal." I went into a womens bathroom and I recorded women having conversations in the bathroom.
GS: And these were live, not acted?
FT: Yeah. And after I recorded them, I would go and ask them for permission to use their voices.
GS: They gave you permission?
FT: I found people who gave me permission.
FT: They were having conversations about their boyfriends.
GS: Really? Like Candid Camera, but kind of, "Evil Candid Camera."
FT: And then, in the piece, out of the hole of the urinal, you hear conversations coming out. [Laughter.] And thats the piece. But, using the urinal, you cant escape Duchamps fountain.
Um. You know, I was thinking about what you and Christian were saying, about "Tell Me Again" [a piece exhibited at the Kitchen with "Fusion Cuisine"], about how its my voice. You know? I found that a little confusing, because just because its me, thats not the point. The point is like you were saying how, when you come in to the gallery, you know thats my voice
GS: But, I know thats a phenomenon thats specific to me
FT: But other people who dont know me, dont know thats my voice
GS: Yeah, I was trying to say that remember, that one woman in the audience had asked you questions about how you had "humanized" this technology by putting your own voice in there, and I thought, well, I didnt know what she was talking about but, I began to wonder if the reason why she was saying that was because she associates your voice with a person, you. And so she has no distance from that, and she maybe wasnt thinking that all the way through. She wasnt thinking about the person who would hear this, and who had never talked with you before, in which case, its just going to be this radio, with this voice coming out of it, like any radio.
FT: Exactly. So, I was confused by what Christian
GS: Because you were there. So we do know what you sound like, we do know thats you.
FT: But, Im saying that it can function as a piece, without me being there as well.
FT: I mean, I hope it does. [Laughs.]
GS: Yeah, it does. Okay, but going back again to this earlier video of yours. Im starting maybe to see why you had done this movie
FT: "Right Angles," like ninety degrees. There are two versions. What happens is, the subject stands with her back against the wall, with her arms straight out, so that, from the armpit area, you could measure a ninety-degree angle. And if you measure from her shoulder towards the wall and from her neck down, you get another ninety-degree angle. And under the knee you get another ninety-degree angle. And above the thigh to the stomach, and the feet, to where the ankles are. So, everything is at right angles. And, the whole idea is, she maintains this position, and theres this guy who measures her to make sure that she maintains the position, and who corrects it and adjusts it with instruments to measure ninety-degree angles. And this goes on until shes no longer able to do this any longer. Neurologically her body cant take it, she starts shaking and she cant keep her arms straight, and eventually she loses consciousness.
FT: And the second version is two girls dressed in school uniforms, and they go through the same process together.
GS: And this really happened. They really passed out.
FT: Yeah. Its real. And the duration is however long that takes about fifteen minutes.
GS: What you discovered doing the first one was since you were the one having to do it, since no one else would agree to do it
FT: To pass out? No. I didnt make enough money to pay someone to do that for me.
GS: But, the first reaction this was, when people were seeing that you had a white man measuring the angles, and you were the subject, and it was very clearly being read racially. Which you hadnt counted on. Or, you had?
FT: I thought it would be an issue, but I didnt think it would be the only thing people would be able to get out of it. I thought that they would be able to see the various layers of the relationship between the man and the woman, for instance the womans point of view, her desire to continue doing this and not giving up I mean, I thought that there would be other things that people would be able to get from it. But everything else was completely obliterated by the fact that its a black woman with a white man.
GS: Yeah. In this culture, its impossible at this point.
FT: You know, I thought that the whole thing about the rigidity of a right angle would come up, issues of rigidity, and that were not mechanical. Or that, this is a kind of technology, or tool, I thought that relationship would be explored, but none of that was explored
GS: Its also interesting to think that youd been doing horror movie posters prior to this because this sounds like a horror movie in a way. I mean, its an obvious sort of "performance art" type of event, but its kind of a horror movie, too. Its like a snuff film or something. Something bad is going to happen to this person, and its a kind of self-torture, too. And, it relates back to the boarding school, too, with I guess the second version of it, youve got the school girl uniforms, its clearly
FT: Actually, it comes out of other punishments Id experienced in boarding school.
GS: Yeah, and "you have to be right."
FT: Yes. You have to conform. You have to be right. You have to be the way they want you to be, you have to be in uniform and all look the same, like everybody else. A right angle is always the same. The thing thats interesting to me about that now is that, the relationship that I see today, with the computer, where, basically the technology hasnt been developed I think I was saying this to you that night on the train it hasnt been developed to the point where the technology comes to us and conforms to how we are socially? We have to conform to the technology at this point, with computers. We sit in front of them, we have to go to them, we have to conform to their standards and limits. They dont operate on the same level that we as social creatures do. So, I see an analogy between that relationship and also a relationship between these kinds of schoolings. You have to be in uniform, you have to do things in a certain way, you have to follow the rules which, school in and of itself, is a kind of technology, I guess.
GS: Sure. Its an indoctrination technology.
FT: With computers, on some level you can make that argument, that its an indoctrination technology.
GS: Absolutely. With itself as its own end. Whereas school is not necessarily its own end. So, when did you start doing the things that of course I first knew about were these images that you had done in the computer, where you were using photographs that you had taken and you were combining them with clippings out of magazines and brochures and so on. When did you start doing those? Was that while you were still in school?
FT: No. Well, actually, that was right before I left graduate school in 1995. And that came out of a feeling of disillusionment with the art world. I mean, as far as I was concerned, I was in school when the 80s thing was happening in the art world, and the 80s thing was over, and in 1995 I didnt feel like there was a clear direction, where people were going. And the 80s thing seemed to have a clear direction, so I was kind of not really sure what was happening to the art world, where things were going. Coupled with my own confusion of leaving school and figuring out what I wanted to do with myself. Thats when I decided that, well, Id always taken these photographs: what can I do with them?
GS: Okay, well, let me ask you this, so I dont get totally out of chronological sync. Before that, had you done any of the sculptures? Like the sneakers, or the raffia disc player?
FT: That comes in 1996. But, in 1995, prior to doing the collage, I did this series called "Bewitched," in which I had an entire space with household appliances, sort of inspired by Elizabeth Montgomerys "Bewitched." And I had these traditional appliances motorized and they functioned by picking up human body heat, and I had them operating on their own.
GS: How did that work?
FT: Well, I dont know any technology, and Im not an engineer. So my technology is always very simple. I just make real-life connections. For instance, I want to get a blouse to be dipped in a callabash, in this motion [Raises and lowers arm.], so I go out and I think to myself, what in the real world makes this motion already? Well, a windshield wiper makes this motion already, so I would go to an automobile junkyard and I would get a wiper, bring it back, take a torch to it, cut it down the dimensions I need
GS: So, how does the heat what is the actual the body heat
FT: That is with sensors you can buy them in different places. Particular hardware stores. And, also, you just modify things that are intended for other functions, and you take what you want and you modify things. My little rule of thumb is, if it exists, use it, dont try to make it from scratch.
GS: So, these, the collages, the photocollages. What was the impulse how did you suddenly hit on the idea to combine your photographs with other things. I mean, were you playing already in Photoshop, or did you decide that you wanted to do it, and so you learned Photoshop
FT: Yeah. I came up with the idea, and then I had to find a way to get it done.
GS: Did the idea come out of a did it begin as an ideology, or not an ideology, but did you have an idea about an aesthetic area that you wanted to explore, or did you just suddenly start having these images flash in your head? In other words, was it more ideological or more visceral? What were you responding to?
FT: Thats tough to say. I really dont remember.
GS: I mean, its obvious in the horror movie posters that thats very visceral, where youre just allowing your id to completely be released, where you just say, okay, Im not going to do anything, Im not going to censor myself, Im just going to allow this horrible image of all these screws in the body, and just do it. And thats kind of responding to a visceral sensation, in your own
FT: Im trying to remember now. Well, there was it came out of some kind of disillusionment with the art world, for me. The work that I saw that was being done and being shown. And it came out of this idea that, Im leaving school, Im no longer a student, and now more than ever I mean, I always thought I should do the best work I could do because I didnt even know if I would, um, if I would live long enough to, you know, say what I want to say but, now, as school ended, I decided that I needed to get even more serious about what I wanted to do. So, the idea Id been taking photographs of people for a while, but I hadnt used the photographs because I knew that, living in America, in this culture, I learned early on with other pieces, that using the images of black people from Africa was such a huge trigger, that everything I would do would be reduced to race. So I had been careful about using actual people and it was something I was always skirting around and never really quite did. So that was one reason to come to it, other than the fact that I was disillusioned. So, I just decided, Im just going to do what Im going to do, and some people are going to get it, and some people probably wont get it. Most people probably wont get it. So, thats sort of how it happened. It was more of a brave move from where I was sitting than I thought it was.
GS: There does seem to be well, like Cindy Sherman were you looking at her stuff then?
FT: I mean, yeah, Id seen her stuff in school. Id seen all the 80s stuff in school. But my direction was away from that, thats what I really thought I was doing, because with Cindy Sherman, for instance, everything is set up. You know what I mean? I mean, its more theatrical than my stuff. She paints herself, shes always in the picture, theres no using collage elements. Im not interested in using myself so much. I dont have that relationship where I dont really have the desire to be in the image. So, moving away from that and from
GS: When you say "the 80s," what are you really talking about?
FT: Im talking about this whole work that deals with identity politics, reverting the male gaze, there was this whole way of thinking that
GS: Because what I think of as the art world of "the 80s" is, like, Julian Schnabel, people who have nothing to do with that. I think of the art star system. But it sounds like youre thinking of something very different.
FT: Yeah. Im really not talking about that so much. Yeah, that was there, because of the market. But, Im focusing more on the ideological thought that is interwoven in or written about that kind of work, you know, which has always to do with okay. There were a lot of situations where, if you wanted to critique something? What you do is you take that thing, and you repeat it. If you dont like something and you think its a stereotype, what you do is you get that something and you re-produce it. And everybody will say its a critique. And, its okay to read about that in school, its okay to get through school with that, but I found that very dissatisfying. And I wasnt totally satisfied with the notion of everything being about the self. Ones identity, ones sufferings, ones way in which they were victimized or stereotyped. I wanted to move away from that. But, I knew that there would be some confusion, because Im using images of black people, and I also one thing I wanted to learn from was the history of feminism. Like, this notion of being broad and general, also, I didnt want to fall on the other end of that, whereas Im not talking about the specific self, myself I didnt want to go to the other extreme and be so broad and general. So, I had to figure out a way to find a place where I could be specific so that I could remain honest and vindicating to the ideas that Im working with. So that, if Im going to talk about technology and its effects on a third world culture, Im going to be using a culture that I know, that I have experience with.
[First side of tape ends. The second side resumes as we are back in the artists apartment, looking at some of her work on her computer.]
Lady and the Maid © 2000 by Fatimah Tuggar
Gary Sullivan: Okay, so now were looking at whats the title of this piece?
Fatimah Tuggar: "Lady and the Maid."
GS: Okay, so. I want to talk about how this was put together. Im assuming that, generally speaking, the technique is carried through from image to image no, youre shaking your head, no.
FT: If you bring out the slides, Ill show you, theres a different way that each that Im working in each. In "Shaking Buildings," its mostly this one photograph, and this one area with the bowls is the only place where Im bringing in images [in this instance, of New York skyscrapers, which appear to be growing out of the bowls] from elsewhere. Or in "Village Spells," you can see where Ive added this tree trunk back there.
Village Spells © 1997 by Fatimah Tuggar
GS: Okay, so lets talk about this new one, "The Lady and the Maid." How does this image I was amazed to find out that this was not anywhere near what it seems to be. Its I thought it was this one image where you have this woman sitting on the right hand side sitting in a chair eating, in this living room. And that youd stuck this white woman over here, and put here in. Some of the detritus thats down here on the floor, like the flower and the computer, have been added in, but that thats not even the beginning
GS: So, lets talk about that. What kinds of manipulations are going on here?
FT: Well, the background image is several photographs that I took, and you know, to be honest with you, at the time that I took them I really didnt know what I was going to do with them, but that I would somehow put these photographs together. So, this is one photograph, this area here [Points to the dark cabinet space on the left.], and you can see theres this rectangular fan here, which appears twice.
GS: Oh, yeah. This lighter area, these lighter cabinets, thats another photograph altogether.
FT: Yes. Actually, to be honest with you, I forgot about the duplicated fan until now. I dont even remember! [Laughter.] All these things in front werent all there. A lot was put in later.
GS: So, the flower, in effect, is working in its own right, as an image, whatever we think or feel when we see the flower there, but its also, practically, its hiding a seam, isnt it?
FT: It is hiding a seam. And that brings us to the question that there is another seam right here. [Indicating three shelves on the right hand side.] Yeah, you can see that this is its own area.
GS: Its actually not that obvious; its amazing.
FT: Well, look at the glass. And then look at this glass.
GS: I cant really see a difference; its not quite evident to me. See, because, theres so much going on visually that confuses you. Because the table extends out past the first seam, and
FT: And thats the point. The table changes the reality. I mean, this bowl, for instance, wasnt in the picture at all. You know?
GS: Right. So, now lets talk about some of the other
FT: Let me ask you a question. Why is it that people are always interested in that, like, how it was put together, which of it is "real," where these things come from? Because Ive noticed that, even with my gallery, they like to ask me that. What is it? What does that mean?
GS: Im always personally interested in how things are constructed because Im an artist, so Im just fascinated by that. I want to know if something, if someones constructed something, whether it be a poem or visual art or something, Im always kind of curious as to how, literally, did they make this thing? And, what was the, not necessarily the quote unquote technique, but literally the sort of practical What did they have to do to get this done?
FT: I mean, does that add to the work?
GS: It adds to its meaning, definitely. Because youre dealing with if youre dealing with images at this level, youre dealing with because, we had talked about earlier, advertising, and how much your visual work resembles advertising. And your initial thing, when youre looking at advertising, or something that maybe resembles advertising to any degree, is you always begin to deconstruct it, like, "Well, what is this?" I think at this point, for whatever reason, people who have maybe constant contact with art, were maybe going to begin by deconstructing it, and kind of react to it that way. Which may actually be the wrong way to go. You may want to have a much more visceral response to it
FT: No, no. I mean, I dont have a problem with that. I just noticed that people want to know these things, but sometimes, in certain situations, people are also, like, "I dont know if youll tell us." [Laughs.]
GS: Well, yeah, this can be a sensitive issue. Some poets I know hate talking about their work. And they will not tell you how theyve constructed things. Ive had poet friends like that who, even though they were friends of mine, they would not talk about their work on that level.
FT: I dont care either way, really whatever. [Laughs.] It doesnt matter to me; I was just curious as to why. anyway, okay [Pointing to the left hand side of "Lady and the Maid."] theres this individual sitting here in the back, holding this remote control.
GS: Wow, yeah, you can barely see that, but, yeah. Lets talk about the narrative element of this. As you were thinking about it and as you were putting it together, what kind of narrative is emerging for you here? It looks as though the white woman over here on the left is the maid, but Im not
FT: I dont know. Thats the confusion. I dont know who is the maid or who is the lady here. I mean, shes the one with the high heels here. [Laughs.]
GS: But shes also wearing the apron, too. And this woman is over here relaxing and eating. And I think that, although obviously in our culture were used to seeing the black woman as the maid, a very common stereotype, it seems as though thats being reversed here
FT: Which is interesting because, see, I grew up partly in Nigeria and partly in England, and there were times when the maids in England were not black.
GS: Im not necessarily talking about real life.
FT: The maids in Nigeria were black, but the maids in England were white. So
GS: But, Im talking more about, like, the American media, movies, the history of that
FT: Aunt Jemimah type stereotype, the black woman being the maid. Yeah, Im kind of playing with that whole notion of who would be the maid and who would be
GS: Now, Im not sure what the maid is even doing, because she seems to have a big bowl there, is she going to tip that bowl down onto this stuff, is she adding to the mess, what is the mess doing there?
FT: For me, I dont read it that way. Shes somehow tripping, with her foot caught underneath the computer [Laughs.] and the yogurt in her hand in the bowl and the callabash is out of control. Shes not in control of it.
GS: Shes not in control of her yogurt. Im not going to do a Jungian analysis of that one.
FT: Is she in control of her yogurt? In Jungian terms, what would yogurt stand for?
GS: Um, I think the yogurt would be associated with the feminine. Because its in a circle, and its milk. And shes tripping on this square item, which would be identified with the male, and the computer, the uh, the spirit world, uh [Laughter.] Do you want to keep talking about this one? Or do you want to move on to the robot one?
FT: Its entirely up to you. Youre running the show here. [Laughter.]
GS: Well, um, is there anything you want to say about this one before we go on to the next image?
FT: Yeah. Well, the black woman in the chair, the original picture, shes actually watching TV. But I thought it would be interesting to have this relationship where, the surprised look on her face is actually in response to whats going on on TV. But, here, it could be that whats going on with the maid which youve established shes the maid but I dont know which one is the maid [Laughter.] but that this woman on the right is responding to what the woman on the left is doing. Or it could be that that woman, in reality, she comes from TV-land. Shes really from media-world, and the surprise element in this other womans expression is possibly with respect to that. Thats sort of the interplay that Im working with here. The only clue, by the way, that you have, that there might be a TV here [about where the viewer is situated], is the remote control on the far left.
GS: But thats a very buried clue. Something youd have to piece out so that you really have to read this. Your pieces Ive always felt really have to be read. Theres a kind of initial visual impact that they have, but when you start to look and read them
FT: Youll be rewarded, later. [Laughs.] Well, hopefully youll be rewarded. It could be a let-down too.
GS: But it is a different experience when you begin to read it, and it seems like thats what you want.
Robo Makes Dinner © 2000 by Fatimah Tuggar
GS: I think weve talked about Jess Collins before, and Hannah Höch, and this next piece really reminds me of both of their work. This is "Robo Makes Dinner." And you mentioned that people were disturbed by this one. And you asked me if I knew why, and I said because there arent any people in it.
FT: Yeah, and I told you thats exactly what people say, "But this one has no people in it!" And thats the point. The point is that Robo is making dinner. There is no need for people. [Laughter.] Robo has started the fire, and he has three outdoors stoves burning.
GS: Whats interesting to me is the way in which people are responding to this, and not seeing any people, that they arent seeing everything here as evidence of people. There is not a single space in this entire image that does not suggest that human beings are here, or have been recently. Even the "natural" items, the fruits and vegetables, have clearly been picked by humans
FT: And grown by humans. [Laughter.] And Robo does not eat this kind of food!
GS: So, basically, this is entirely human, including the robot, of course. There is nothing here that isnt human, or evidence of human.
FT: Yeah, thats kind of surprising. Im not really clear on what that means. At first I was concerned because, well, as much as I would like to escape this, since Im working here well, theres some element of bringing people that are not living here and from here in the other work. At first what I was thinking, as far as what disturbs people, or what people are looking for that they like, is this idea that they can have images of people from another culture, that theyre interested in maintaining a level of exoticism within the image by having those people in there. But, clearly, thats not the question. Because people are not saying, Well, why do you now have this white woman in your other picture. So, I realize that there seems to be something about "Robo Makes Dinner" that creates some level of discomfort. Im not sure Robo has been humanized, actually, hes not like this Japanese robot off to the far left, which isnt so. I mean, he has two arms, two legs and human-like features.
GS: Maybe that is what disturbs people. Because its humanoid. Theres a way in which this might be read where, okay. You see these fires going, but theres no humans about and maybe my own initial association, when I see a set up like this, is that movie, I think it starred Bruce Dern, hes floating out in the middle of space in this, like, terrarium, and there are three robots working for him. Dern is the only human on board, and there are all these plants in the terrarium/space ship, because Earth is so polluted it can no longer support life. So, its this self-contained unit, but mostly its the robots doing all this work. So, its kind of a disturbing image. And thats part of my response to this piece, I remember imagery along those lines, where the humans are gone, and its become a kind of "future" myth we have, maybe. Or maybe even technology taking over, continuing to do the functions of human life, but without us. And it may even be that we feel that about ourselves to some degree, that we are in some sense robotized, and that were just going through these functions I mean, is that something you feel?
FT: For myself? No. [Laughter.] If I felt that, I wouldnt make this. I mean, I would, I guess. I told you about that screw thing. No, but, I just felt like, from where Im sitting, Im thinking that whats interesting or ironic about it is that Robo is making dinner in the way that you would when you dont have modern conveniences available to you. To me, there lies the irony. Robo is not even making dinner on an electric stove or a gas stove, Robo is going the traditional outdoor fire route. And theres some kind of circle or regressing somehow Robo and all this technology has gone back to making fires, and he still has his, in his hand, see, his remote control.
GS: Now, youre making this thing huge, you said this is 1,000 dpi?
GS: And Im looking at the remote control, and its now the one thing on the screen, and its amazing, its crisply visible. I dont know if people will be able to do this when they look at the image on the web; probably not. So, um, youve talked about this before, about "what is the art?" Is it the image, is it whats literally on the disc, are you going to be selling the disc, or having it printed, or what?
FT: These two pieces weve been looking at were being shown this weekend in Cologne, Germany. Theyre nine feet by four or five feet.
GS: So what were looking at, we dont see everything thats potentially visible.
FT: Right. Including all my shadows that I made. You know, the thing about Robo is that the arms are not like that on the original robot. I reconstructed his original arms.
GS: Wheres this image from?
FT: This is from the robot that was in the "Fusion Cuisine" video. And if youll remember, that robot had straight arms. So, I played with them, so he can now hold the remote control and make dinner.
GS: So, you told me that, in one of the shows where this image will be seen, you wanted to call the whole show "Robo Makes Dinner." And they didnt go for it.
FT: Well, like everything else, when you work with a gallery, its a collaboration. I wanted them to be comfortable with the show and the title. We each had our several votes. Why do you want to know about the title?
GS: Because I think its interesting how a title is a framing device. So, when people think about how they want something framed, the title is generally one of the most obvious ways to do that. Its just a predominant framing device. Its short, its memorable, and it has meaning. And the title you and the gallery decided on, "At the Water Tap," obviously has a very different meaning, or set of meanings.
FT: Yeah. But the thing is, we couldnt just pick a title from any of my work. We had to narrow it down to something that could encompass the whole work. For instance, if we had called it "Labour for Flowers," it might not have worked as well. You know what I mean? Like, it doesnt encompass anything, its too specific to that one piece.
GS: And "Suburbia" would be a bit much.
FT: "Suburbia" would be a bit much. "Minding the Living Room" might not be a bad title.
GS: Now, this brings up another issue that youve talked about theres so much of the domestic in your work. This is not always the case, but I see that, at the beginning, the first of these images that you did, was "The Spinner and the Spindle," from 1995, where she has a giant robot arm, but shes doing a very domestic task, which is
FT: Spinning cotton into thread.
GS: And this is carried through your work, I remember, for instance, the one where this womans standing in the kitchen and there are all these things floating around her head.
GS: Right, all the way to "Robo Makes Dinner." And whats interesting to me is the way in which this is a universal. And in that way, I wonder if this is one way in which youre moving somewhat away from the identity politics youd mentioned of the 80s. Because this is such a universal, it doesnt matter what culture you go to, its going to have some aspect of this.
FT: Cooking, or eating?
GS: Well, the domestic, using tools of some kind, and so on. I mean, if one of the ways in which identity politics in art is made manifest is by mapping out or making people aware of difference, youre moving in the opposite direction
GS: And it seems like this is the ideal place to start. What are the commonalities? The specifics may very well be different, but it is all technology.
FT: There is that, and you know what else, what I find most interesting? Youll find a people, a kind of people, wholl have a prejudice about another kind of people, and socially theyll not mingle with them, but theyre not opposed to eating dishes that originated from those people. Ive always thought that was fascinating. And I think thats part of the element of picking something domestic. It started with that, thinking about that fascination. Even within the same country, people will adapt different dishes, or assimilate them into their own.
GS: "Fusion Cuisine."
[Back to Readme]