“Those that dream by night sometimes have wonderful and enchanting experiences but those occasions slip through their fingers as they awaken, leaving just a slight residue that only they can recall. Those dreamers that are lucid when they actualize their dreams create a ripple effect in the world.”
Introduction by Jeremy Zini
Interview by Theo Constantinou
Images Courtesy of Krista Wortendyke
I have known Krista for over twenty years, since we were kids, before either of us consciously knew we were artists or what that meant. Our parents and their friends would have long dinner parties that lasted way past my sister’s bedtime and then drive us home drunk. Krista never knew it but I was always envious of her. She was the best at everything she did. No matter how hard I tried I could never beat her. Krista got better grades then I did, swam faster than me, and when we played tennis I would finish the match with more black and blues than points. Now, twenty years later, not much has changed. I still look up to Krista and our parents still drink and drive. With age, however, I have come to understand what makes her so great at everything she does. What made her so great then and most importantly now as an artist is that she deeply, truly, genuinely gives a !#$%.
When I was in Chicago a few weeks ago and met with war photographer KC Ortiz and we started chatting about future projects. One thing we spoke about was domestic violence. I read some statistics about the number of people killed in Chicago as of 8/31/12 …”This year, 346 people have been killed in Chicago, up 31 percent from the same period last year, while shootings are up 8 percent citywide. The homicides have been concentrated mostly in the city’s South and West Sides, where gun violence has been rampant.“…Since 2009, there have been 265 deaths of the Iraqi Coalition Military Forces. I then took a deeper look at your blog Killing Season Chicago. Can you talk to me more about this project along with your thoughts about the comparison I made between the amount of killing in Chicago vs. Iraq?
When I began Killing Season in the spring of 2010, it was estimated that the same number of Americans were killed in Chicago as in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. This staggering statistic made me interested in the propensity that people have to ignore what is right in front of them and fixate on what is beyond their immediate reach. Americans and—more specifically for me—Chicagoans, talked incessantly about the deaths overseas, some even posting names of the dead or images in shop windows, but there was never any attention paid to the people that were killed nightly within the city limits of Chicago, so close to where they reside. Somehow, the people that don’t live in neighborhoods that are plagued with this kind of violence seemed to be able to relate more readily to drones, bombs, and war machines than they could to the everyday human struggle to survive in the urban environment. It was that awareness, coupled with an interest in the correlation between that land and the people who inhabit it that got me thinking about starting Killing Season. I not only needed to make sense of all this new realization for myself, but also wanted to get others who live in Chicago to stop ignoring the killing just because it wasn’t literally at their doorstep.
Beginning on Memorial Day and ending on Labor Day of 2010, a time period chosen because of the increased number of killings as the temperature rises, I tracked the homicides within the city limits of Chicago, visiting and photographing each site. 172 people were killed between those dates. It took well into the fall to photograph each location. The resulting piece is a 65-foot long installation of the photographs against a caution-orange background placed in a chronological graph that mimics a city skyline. The form draws attention to the homicides and their frequency in a schematic way. Moving left to right in the piece, there is one column for each day the project spans. Stacked photographs in each column reflect the number of homicides that day as well as document each crime scene. It is meant to be a public art piece, placed strategically in areas where the residents choose not to engage with the reality of the everyday life of some Chicagoans. The piece has stayed relevant since it was created and will remain so until the homicide rate stops rising with no clear solution in sight. I believe that it is not just those people on the South and West Sides in the neighborhoods that are more stricken with this violence that are responsible for solutions. We are all responsible. Nothing will change if we continue to ignore this problem. This installation is a way for me to infiltrate people’s everyday experiences and expose them to the breath of this violence problem we have here in Chicago.
I went and saw Henry Rollins perform in Philadelphia and he quoted Abraham Lincoln in a speech he made at 28, in his address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, IL, January 1838: “From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some transatlantic giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe and Asia could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio River or set a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.” Basically, what Henry concluded was that the greatest threat to Americans is Americans killing or treating other Americans poorly. Do you think we are in a time where we can change this and move forward as human beings to create this global collective and have respect for one another and mankind?
I don’t like that this question implies that human nature is different now than it was then. It posits that the Internet may enable us to solve the world’s problems and it presumes that Americans are the unique holders of this ability. My simple answer is this. It’s behavior we need to change; it’s whole mindsets and attitudes we need to change. We, as humans, seem to be able to have extreme compassion for those that we know personally, but are totally incapable of empathizing with someone that we’ve never met.
In 1955, Edward Steichen curated a show called The Family of Man. The exhibition featured 503 photographs from 68 countries showing the universality of our shared experience as humans. During the high tensions of the Cold War era, Steichen wanted to show that there is a human consciousness that supersedes social consciousness and that we are all one big family. By pointing out our commonalities, he believed that he could build enough compassion in people to prevent nuclear holocaust.
Steichen tried to point out something that we all already know. We know that our experience of the world is much like everyone else’s. We all laugh, cry, fall in love, couple, bear children, work, eat, and strive to enjoy our time here on Earth. If we know we are all innately the same, what has changed today to make us any more equipped as Americans or as humans to be more compassionate towards one another?
In a recent article I read called “Doyen of American”, a critic turns his back on the ‘nasty, stupid’ world of modern art. Dave Hickey, a curator, professor and author known for a passionate defense of beauty in his collection of essays “The Invisible Dragon” and his wide-ranging cultural criticism, is walking away from a world he says is “calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing … They’re in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It’s just not serious,” he told the Observer. “Art editors and critics–people like me–have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It’s not worth my time.” Hickey says the art world has acquired the mentality of a tourist. “If I go to London, everyone wants to talk about Damien Hirst. I’m just not interested in him. Never have been. But I’m interested in Gary Hume and written about him quite a few times.” What are your thoughts about the art world being in the “hedge fund business” and what Hickey says at the end of his piece that if he isn’t invited to the party that he quits?
I’m not very interested in being invited to the party either. My work is made out of an innate drive to explore ideas, learn about the world, and in turn share that knowledge with others. I’m not interested in tailoring my work to the buying market. In fact, I’m more concerned with finding better and cheaper ways to disseminate it to the public for free. In his essay, Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary, Allen Sekula stresses that we need to take art out of its normal discursive spaces and put it where it will benefit the people it is meant to speak to or about. More importantly, he emphasizes that art should be treated as common cultural artifacts rather than privileged objects.
What can we learn from an art object that is locked up behind walls out of the reach of the masses? Isn’t art a response to the similarities and differences between our shared experiences? How can that knowledge be shared if only a select few have control over who gets to engage with it? In my opinion, the art world being in the hedge fund business is detrimental to the vitality of art and its fundamental purpose, to engage and to teach. Art gives us a safe environment to learn awareness, ingenuity, and it instills in us the flexibility to adapt to and value all the fears that come with life. Art’s power is like nothing else that exists.
Maybe Hickey and I can throw our own party.
In your artist statement for Intervention you say, “Our environment is saturated with imagery. Over time, the viewing public has lost the ability to connect emotionally with images, even the most horrific. By obscuring the parts of these images that define them as historically significant and re-drawing the gesture of what lays beneath, I have compromised the meaning of both the old and the new images. What is then created makes the new image visible as well as redefining what is seen in the old image, thus creating a different relationship than originally intended between the image and its viewer. In doing so, the viewer is forced to imagine and/or intuit what is erased, compelling them to examine these images in new ways that elicit emotional and thought provoking responses.”
In the Thammasat Univesity Massacre photograph, Time described the event as a “A nightmare of lynching and burning”:
Suddenly the nightmare that Bangkok had dreaded was happening: a wild outbreak of kicking, clubbing, shooting, lynching. Youths hurled themselves into the river to keep from being shot. Then the blazing finale as a heap of gasoline-soaked bodies was set afire.
What do you think the emotional response is to your re-interpretation, and then, if the viewer knows the context of the photograph (the individual being brutally lynched and beaten), how does obscuring the original image create new meaning for you and your viewer?
We witness imagery of disaster, devastation, violence, and death every day whether it be by absorbing it through news outlets, watching it unfurl in front of us in movies, or playing out scenarios in video games. Our easy access to information has made us into perpetual witnesses of tragedy. We steadily consume this imagery without processing it. For me the question becomes, how can I, or we, avoid being passive when violence and devastation become common sights? How do we combat this image fatigue?
By reinterpreting these historical images of somewhat sanctioned murder, I am slowing down our habits of consumption and making the viewer think about the image in a new way. If part of an image is blocked out, the viewer is forced to imagine what might be there. Because it breaks from the ordinary structure of things, they cannot consume it without processing it first. They are forced to imagine the atrocity behind the block. Most of the time, what we imagine is worse than what was there in the first place. It’s like the boogeyman behind the closet door. The longer we can’t see him, the scarier he gets. By not giving the viewer what they expect, they are forced into a position where they have to think about what they can see and by extension, what they can’t see. This challenges what the viewer thinks they see and what they think they know. By slowing them down, I am able to start a dialog about both the new interpretation of the image and the old, which in turn helps to save it from the abyss of the ordinary.
I came across two similar but very different quotes about dreaming: T.S. Eliot says, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” and, Edgar Allen Poe says, “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things, which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions, they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in waking, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil.” … Are you a dreamer of the day or the night and do you sympathize with Eliot or Poe more so about dreaming in relation to realizing those dreams?
I identify more with T.S. Eliot’s notions of dreaming. Those that dream by night sometimes have wonderful and enchanting experiences but those occasions slip through their fingers as they awaken, leaving just a slight residue that only they can recall. Those dreamers that are lucid when they actualize their dreams create a ripple effect in the world. A dream in sleep cannot have time and therefore cannot have consequence. For a daytime dreamer, once their dream is realized, it grows, changes, and leaves the hands of the dreamer to become something beyond them. Although day dreaming produces a physical manifestation with lasting effects, it is the dreams at night that help expand our minds to what is possible. One cannot exist without the other.
I am learning how to be a dreamer by day. For me, it is a slow and arduous process. I have always needed to know exactly how I was going to make my dream reality before even attempting it. It is difficult to take risks when failure is at stake. My newest project is a huge risk for me. I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I am embracing the uncertainty. It is truly a struggle.
In Errol Morris’s documentary film called “The Fog of War.” McNamara says, “[Morrison] came to the Pentagon, doused himself with gasoline. Burned himself to death below my office…his wife issued a very moving statement – ‘human beings must stop killing other human beings’ – and that’s a belief that I shared, I shared it then, I believe it even more strongly today.” McNamara then posits, “How much evil must we do in order to do good? We have certain ideals, certain responsibilities. Recognize that at times you will have to engage in evil, but minimize it.” First off, I find it impossible to believe that McNamara believed the sentiment of Morrison’s wife, for obvious reasons, however, do you think as humans we must engage in evil but minimize it in order to do good? And or, do you think that ultimately, like Morrison’s wife, humans must stop killing other humans, period?
People should stop killing people period. It’s obvious to say that, but it is an impossible statement. The history of the human race is a history of war. We would have to change the fundamentals of society to stop violence. Something as simple and ubiquitous as ownership and property can be attributed to man’s violence towards one another. But we are talking here about undertaking evil in response to existing evil in order to make good and more specifically about war, not of random, malevolent acts.
The expression “fight fire with fire” rings true here. We end up engaging in wars and kill each other to stop the killing. You can’t sit someone like Hitler down and tell him to stop killing people. It wouldn’t work, but you can kill his people as collateral. This falls neatly under the rules of engagement and is considered a necessary evil, but war is not won by following the rules. It is won when morality gets thrown out the window in favor of “good.” Dropping an atomic bomb in Hiroshima killed 80,000 people in an instant. It was not only military that was killed, but also the civilian deaths were exorbitant. If there are enough civilian casualties, war will cease. This is evil fighting evil for good. Unfortunately, sometimes good comes with a hefty price.