In this issue we go beyond LA to interview three artists who live and work outside the country. British performance artist/musician Cosey Fanni Tutti talks with columnist Zak Smith about her new book and life as a band member. Skot Armstrong interviews Vaginal Davis, formerly known as Vaginal Cream Davis, who left Los Angeles for Berlin. And I landed an audience with Jorge Pardo, another expat who now lives in Merida, Mexico.
Besides all the artists being in different parts of the world, all three maintain a practice that defies any common conception of “art.” Each claims, in one way or another, that by simply pursuing their passion, they are producing art. It’s not exactly a novel concept: Yoko Ono framed it years ago when she stated, “Art is my life, and my life is art.” Performance artists say it a lot, and I kind of get it. When I used to make videos, it seemed like everything I saw around me had potential for being some kind of arty video. I understand the consuming nature of being an artist: the passion, the devotion, the commitment, the self-indulgence.
It was my visit with Jorge Pardo that got me thinking. Jorge makes beautiful things—colorful Plexiglas lamps; patchwork pastel walls and floors; complete, fanciful, functional houses. But none of it is the sort of figurative or representational stuff we usually call art. Pardo’s work is confounding to me. It got me thinking who determines what art is. And why don’t we have an answer to what art is?
Other modes of expression have clearer definitions. No one hesitates or ponders what “music” is. My dictionary defines art as, “human creative skill and imagination,” but that’s awfully vague. And wouldn’t “creative skill and imagination” apply to the process of composing music, acting in a film or writing a novel, just as well as creating art?
Pardo builds and designs houses, so it seems fair to call him an architect. Not such a bad thing, right? But he insists he’s not an architect; he’s an artist who does house projects. Why is it important that he calls himself an artist, and not “just” an architect?
Is it more prestigious to be called an artist instead of an architect? Is it more powerful to call oneself an artist instead of a thespian? When do these boundaries get crossed, and the work becomes art? And why is it more important to be associated with the art world, than the pedestrian world of architecture, or theater?
Cosey Fanni Tutti has been known to strip for her performance; why isn’t she then a stripper? Vaginal Davis sucked cock on stage; isn’t she just a cocksucker? Is it all just putting a fancy label on it all? These artists profiled in this issue all challenge the meaning of what art is. They claim their art is meshed with their lives. They live and breathe art; it is their calling in life.
Maybe that’s what it amounts to. Your work is what you call it. Then it’s up to us: is it art, or is it not? Check out our profiles here, and see for yourself!