IO CHE INTERVISTO JONATHAN MONK VIA E-MAIL

Luca Lo Pinto

AND I WILL HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE TITLE BEFORE 80 DAYS

from NERO n.05 may/june 2005

From: lucalopinto@neromagazine.it
Subject: ready to start?
Date: 04 March 2005 17:18:57 CET
To: Jonathan Monk

Hi Jonathan,
Are you ready to start our conversation?
Let me know when I can send you the first question.

Best,
Luca

From: Jonathan Monk
Subject: Re: ready to start?
Date: 06 March 2005 21:12:28 CET
To: lucalopinto@neromagazine.it

Dear Luca,
I am ready to start now!

Until then,
JM

Luca: OK. Let’s start with my first question:
we all know about your great passion for conceptual art, which is also a leitmotiv of your work. I’d be interested to know how it started. Where does this great attraction come from? I mean in an emotional, not a critical way. Is it related to your studies or was it born independently from them?

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
we can add and subtract at a later date...I am just writing...not sure it makes any sense...
Until the next question,
JM

I went to art school in Glasgow (1987-91) and studied environmental art, like most of the artists you might have heard of from Glasgow. At the time my thoughts were more focused on the second generation of American conceptual artists...Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and particularly Sherrie Levine. At that time my work didn’t make direct references, but played more with a system of communication. It was very difficult for us to actually see work; most of what I saw came from the pages of art magazines and catalogues. It wasn’t until much later did I realise that my work was subconsciously being influenced by the first generation of conceptual artists, who developed their strategies before I was born. It wasn’t always what I studied, but who I studied with that became an influential factor... In fact, I am not sure I studied anything. I moved to LA in 1996 for a couple of years and was then given further opportunity to explore a different kind of artistic landscape. Strange, LA is not really a relaxed city, but the art I encountered was much more human.

Luca: I quite agree when you say that it’s very important who you study with instead of what you study. Last week I went to a conference by Vito Acconci and I was thinking about how much better the quality of the art system could be if people like Acconci taught in the schools... not only because he is a good artist, but for his incredible way of thinking about and reflecting upon everything. Have you ever met him? It’s crazy… he is 65 and listens to Tricky, new punk rock groups...it’s not by chance that he’s a good friend of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore (Moore did a nice interview about “From 0 to 9” in the catalogue of Acconci’s exhibition in Barcelona).
An interesting thought by Acconci was about time. He said that it’s impossible for him to concentrate on one specific thing only. For this reason, even though he loves to watch movies, he doesn’t go to cinemas because he can’t stay for 2 hours to see the same thing. His dream is to have movies projected onto walls in the streets, so he will be able to see more films at the same time!
I’ll take inspiration from Acconci for the next question… In an interview Acconci stated: “What a lot of us thought at the beginning was that we were going to completely change the art context, (that) we were going to make the art context impossible to exist. A lot of us, at that time, thought that the work we were doing – because it didn’t involve something that was saleable, and since an art gallery and an art system is dependent on sales – was going to change the art system. We didn’t do that, we did exactly the opposite: we made the art system more powerful than it ever was before.”
How to relate to the market was one of the most discussed and problematic questions among conceptual artists in those years. Instead, you have an intense relationship with the market… In fact, you work with seven galleries. At the last Frieze Art Fair you were one of the artists who had the greatest number of works exhibited… Thirty years after conceptual art, how do you feel about this topic (of course with a different consciousness)?

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
the system will never be broken, that is the problem. Artists from the ’60s may have believed they were working outside of the art world and maybe they were, but they only created a system far better and stronger than the original. They made it possible for ideas to change hands, not for large amounts of money, but that wasn’t or isn’t the point. There was no object, only some documentation and a signed piece of paper. The concept was conceptualised, it was possible to release a gas in the desert and offer the idea for sale. My situation is completely different and even if my work was seen at seven different stands at Frieze in London, it doesn’t mean it was sold. I have always tried to play in and with the market a little and maybe it is far better to be more exclusive and/or elusive. Keep the collectors hungry and make them wait to spend their money. I made paintings of advertisements for holidays and sold them for the price of the holiday, some are still available for one hundred and fifty nine pounds. It is also possible to buy a meeting with me in the future at a street corner in Mexico City. I think it is easier to undermine the art world from within and slowly bring it to its knees. Sometimes I have to laugh at what I do, but as long as I consider it important enough to continue, I hide my smile and believe in what I do...up to a point.

I wish Mr Acconci had been my teacher!
Until then,
JM

Luca: So we could define your work as “a sort of playing around with the power structure, putting yourself in the role of the power broker” (Robert Barry)?

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
I will consider your question over the weekend. I leave for France for a couple of days.
I am making a small show in Nantes at the art school.
Will discuss my power system with my financial adviser.
Until then

Luca: OK. Bon voyage!
Take care

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
Back from my travels...but only just.
I am not sure I’m a power broker, but I do play with different structures, whether they are power structures is up for debate. The only real position of power the artist has in today’s society is freedom, even if the market, the critics, curators and dealers would sometimes see it differently. Freedom is a powerful force and it is important for it to be used wisely and with understanding. To find a place to be free to think about what we are going to do. Marcuse via Barry, which I think has become easier in recent years or at least more expectable. I think if we can banish the idea of (creating) a product we have won, but what will we have? Nothing? And then we are back where we started.
P.S. I am not sure I am making any sense, but this is normal...

Luca: FREEDOM!
I think you have freedom when you have power. If your work didn’t create the results it does (from an artistic and/or economic point of view), you wouldn’t have the freedom that you are given when invited to think of a work or exhibition. I believe it’s difficult to consider the idea of creation as not tied to the production of a product with a specific value. Paradoxically, you are freer inside the system than outside. Everything depends on how you use your freedom and your power. I’ll give you an example in the artistic world: you as artist, Jan Mot as gallerist, Jens Hoffman as curator. Everyone works with intelligence and freedom (more/less) at a high level in the system. But they have a value and are free to act because they produce something for the system in which they live. They don’t produce what the system wants, but something that is OK for the system.
The system wants you to produce something and it’s not important if it’s intelligent or not if you are able to get the same results.
I don’t want to make a political speech, but I think it’s important to reflect a lot on the field we’re working in…

Luca
(I am not sure I am making any sense, but this is normal?...)

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
I agree, up to a point. I am not sure that the position I am in has made things easier for me. I hope that what I produce is not always made ready for the market, even if that is where it ends up. I am thinking more in terms of the opportunity to be able to think freely and I did that before I was stuck in an economic structure that helped me survive. I do though, except that my parents did encourage my direction, but I am pretty sure they didn’t think much would come from it. My mother still asks me if I have any work. I am working class. When asked to make a work for an exhibition my first question is never...is there a production budget? Ideas are free and it is possible to make them available very cheaply. I do believe that the system I am involved in is important to the way I work and intellectually it supports what I do. I still think that the product (an actual object) is not important. Most of the work I appreciate I have never actually seen. Maybe seeing is believing, but you can’t keep your eyes open all the time.
Until then,
JM

P.S. You probably see my situation differently. I never go to art fairs and I avoid politics.
More soon...good night.

Luca: I’m imagining this interview as a DJ set. We put on a track mixed with another one, remove the first and leave the second one playing. Jeff Mills, the “father” of techno music, always said that he plays a single track for just for a few seconds to take the best part and then change.
So let’s change track. I’d like to speak with you about music.
I know you love The Smiths...is it true? Reading your biography, I was interested in the exhibition: “My Record Collection”, Glasgow, 1994. Can you tell me something about it?

Jonathan: Music...
“My Record Collection” was a very small exhibition in my bedroom. I made a small invitation card that invited people to sit on my bed and play any record from my collection they wished to hear. It was like a party, but it clashed with a larger exhibition opening, so not many people took the opportunity to listen to me through my music. I do not have a large collection of records and tend to listen to one over and over and over, until I can’t hear it any more.
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before...until the record spins or the page turns.
JM

Luca: I’m curious to know more about your record collection. Do you have some records to recommend to me? Maybe it could be the soundtrack to our conversation…
I just received the invitation for Joao Onofre’s exhibition in Rome.
Have you ever seen his video “Catriona Shaw sings “Baldessari sings Lewitt” re-edit, “Like a Virgin” extended version”? A passable vocalist interprets Madonna’s famous song “Like a Virgin,” but with altered lyrics: excerpts from Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1969)--which John Baldessari had already sung in 1978. I have a multiple by Baldessari on CD. Do you also have it in your collection?
I’d like an exhibition with a specific song for each work. Sometimes I go to exhibitions with an iPod to listen to music and not the people’s comments. In some cases, I found a good relationship between the work I was looking at and the song I was listening to...

Jonathan: Dear Luca,
sorry for the silence. My record collection is really nothing special. The idea of my exhibition was only to show how normal I might sound. I do have some art music, Wiener, Barry, Kawara, but my children have somehow stolen the stereo. I did once re-edit “Baldessari Sings LeWitt” (with Pierre Bismuth) by adding a Lithuanian, Soviet style voiceover with the translations. You could hear John struggle in the background. I have also made some experimental jazz music. My mother cleaning my father’s piano is still available on seven inch. To be honest, I listen to anything, gone are the times when I was ashamed to listen to Duran Duran... In LA I used to listen to the music (very very loudly) that was available on headphones in Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. It became a perfect soundtrack for the people entering and leaving the store.
Until the music stops,
JM

Luca: Don’t worry...the silence is part of this interview. We have to think of a title for our conversation. Maybe “Io che intervisto Jonathan Monk via E-Mail tra il 6 marzo e il...2005”, like an homage to Boetti (“Io che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969”). Of course you’ll have a good one. Your works always have great titles! Do you give importance to your titles or do you just play with them? Gonzales-Torres said that he always called his works “Untitled” to not influence the public in any way...
The ones I prefer: “...and do you think Phileas Fogg (David Niven) really went around the world in eighty days...”; “...and in Rumble Fish, does Rusty-James (Matt Dillon) really ride his brother’s motorbike...”

Jonathan: We should use your title and “I will have an alternative title before 80 days”
JM

Luca: Collaborations.
You like working with other artists, not only historical ones like Barry or Weiner, but also with younger ones like David Shrigley, Pierre Bismuth, Douglas Gordon, Dave Allen, in contrast to the individualism of conceptual art... Working in collaboration with different artists seems to be a phenomenon that emerged mainly in the ’90s. What is your experience?

Ha-ppy East-er

Jonathan: Collaboration halves the work, but doubles the experience. It is always interesting to develop ideas with artists who share a similar concept. I am always pleased to co-sign an artwork, this only adds to the misunderstanding of an artist’s output. Confusion is something I am very happy to bring into the art world.
Another possible title > “The Moment Before You Realise You Are Not Lost”.
Until then,
JM

From: lucalopinto@neromagazine.it
Subject: Re: if Pierre Bismuth won an Oscar, could Jonathan Monk become Berlin’s mayor?
Date: 05 April 2005 14:36:40 CET
To: Jonathan Monk

I think confusion could be helpful to better understand the things around us. We live in a totally hybrid context where it’s the relative and not the absolute that counts. If things are too clear and limited one loses one’s interest in research. Referring to art and to your work in particular, an interesting thing is that there’s no specific criterion with which to analyse it (as is the case with many other artists). Maybe it’s easier to explain the mechanism. The very way you work is also ambivalent. If, on the one hand, every work seems meticulously thought out, on the other, it seems that the same work can take a complete different direction from where it was at the beginning, as happened in the project on Boetti: the fact that at the end the work was not realized exactly according to the original idea doesn’t limit the work itself, but forms a part of it.

From: Jonathan Monk
Subject: delayed
Date: 09 April 2005 13:55:14 CET
To: lucalopinto@neromagazine.it

Maybe this is a good place to finish.
Although I would prefer the impossibility of me lifting the world cup for England to becoming Berlin’s next mayor...both would and could be in Berlin.

L: “This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end”

Thank you very much to have taken the time for this conversation/interview. I really appreciate it.

J: Some of the crowd are on the pitch
they think it’s all over
it is now

L: