BLOUIN ARTINFO: "18 Questions with the Hard-Working and Straight-Shooting Kelly Mark"
Interviewed by Sky Goodden, February 21, 2013
Name: Kelly Mark
City/Neighborhood: Toronto (east side)
Current or upcoming exhibition(s) (dates, location) or similar: The first comprehensive catalogue of my work is being published right now, titled "Everything is Interesting."
1. What are you most proud of accomplishing, as an artist?
- The fact that I'm still doing it.
2. Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
-Currently: Wake up, feed cats, make coffee, play online poker for an hour or so, make 2nd cup of coffee, punch in, draw for 3 or 4 hours, make lunch & more coffee, back to drawing for another 5 hours, punch out, check emails, feed cats again, make dinner, watch tv or play XBox for a couple of hours. Punch back in and either draw some more or do other shit. Punch out and go to bed. Next day repeat as same...
3. What is the Canadian art world lacking?
- More collectors with the nuts to buy Canadian
4. What's your favorite place to see art?
- In an artist's studio when it's like half done and right on the edge
5. What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
- My punch clock & my cigarettes
6. Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
- Cracker-Jack boxes
7. Do you collect anything?
- Debt, bad habits & tattoos
8. What are your studio or art practice indulgences?
- Coffee, cigarettes, chewing gum and assorted recreational substances
9. What's the last artwork you purchased?
- I've never bought art, never will
10. What's the first artwork you ever sold?
- "Object Carried for One Year" 1997 to Micah Lexier
11. What's your art-world pet peeve?
- OMG, where do i begin? Ummm, lets not go there ;)
12. What's your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
- Used to be my old studio downtown...we always seemed to end up there. Now being in butt-fuck-nowhere-east-end...i don't have one (sigh).
13. Do you have a museum/gallery-going routine?
- No, I just tend to go to friends openings wherever they might be
14. What work of art do you wish you owned?
- Felix Gonzalez-Torres "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) 1991
15. What would you do to get it?
- I dunno? Ask nicely?
16. What international art destination do you most want to visit?
- No place in this world is an art destination for me. Couldn't give a rat's ass about going to museums.
I've always wanted to see the city of Prague for some reason though...don't know why?
17. Who's your favorite living artist?
- Chuck D
18. What are your hobbies?
- Music, XBox, Poker, watching TV or anything else that includes sitting on my ass.
MASS MoCA: "Kelly Mark answsers 10 must-ask-job interview questions as determined by the Globe & Mail via The Cedar Tavern Singers aka Les Phonoréalistes - 2012
1. What was your most challenging job? Why?
The most challenging job for me over the years would have to be the ongoing project of In & Out, which I started back in 1997. The actual process of the piece is pretty simple as I keep track of my studio practice by punching in and out using punch cards and an old time clock. I’m currently in my 16th year of the project and intend to continue until the age of 65 at which time I will ‘retire’ the piece…only 21 more years to go.
Only a few years after I began the piece a local collector, Dr. Paul Marks, purchased the work in its ongoing form. While he never actually took physical possession of any of the punch cards, they remain in my studio in storage, what he agreed to purchase was the ‘idea’ of the work. I realized right away that by doing this he in effect conceptually completed the work for me at that moment. By not owning the piece myself, but instead having an ‘employer’ who would pay me an agreed upon sum each year for the finished set of cards, the work became what it was inherently referencing… a low-wage shitty day job.
The challenge with In & Out has not been the daily practice of doing it but keeping the overall integrity of the piece intact. The collector has occasionally considered passing on the project by donating it to a museum but the concern is that whatever institution takes possession of the piece agrees to the principle of the work as an ongoing project and will agree to take on the role of my ‘employer’ until it is retired. Currently I have a commitment from the collector for his participation for at least another ten years, so we have some time.
2. What was your least challenging job? Why?
I guess that would have to be the eight-hour artist lecture performance entitled All in a Day’s Work I did for the DHC in Montreal back in 2009. Time and labour have been two things I’ve been dealing with in my work since the beginning. I framed the lecture into a standard 8-hour workday from 9 am to 5 pm, which included two 15-minute coffee breaks and an hour off for lunch. I originally thought that this endurance performance would be quite a strain both physically and mentally but after only a couple of hours I realized it was quite easy. I had absolutely no problem talking about myself all day…lol. I’ve always known deep down I was an obsessive-compulsive self-absorbed asshole.
3. In what situation did you find you had to overcome major obstacles to meet your job objectives? What did you do? What did you learn from the experience?
In 2006 I was invited to participate in the Liverpool Biennial in the UK. Probably one of the most schizophrenic experiences I’ve ever had in the art world. As a Canadian I was invited to represent my country by a German curator, at the time living in Asia, to participate in a Biennial in Liverpool England. Once he selected me I had no further contact with him until the opening of the Biennial. I was invited to Liverpool to meet with the Biennial staff and was informed that they had already decided that I would be working with an organization called FACT and a further subsection of this organization called Tenant Spin, which worked with tenants in Liverpool’s aging high-rise blocks of flats.
Meeting after meeting I found my creative box so-to-speak getting smaller and smaller. I was basically given a tourist map of Liverpool with all the attractions and historic sites and was asked to make an artwork on one of these sites that would somehow encompass all that was Liverpool and speak to all it’s citizens.
All my work tends to be experiential in nature and with such limited exposure to the city during my visit there I found it impossible to literally pull an artwork out of my ass this way. After returning home I had a month to reflect and then I was to propose an idea for a new work to the Biennial. After racking my brains and trying very hard to come up with some clever art idea, which is a recipe for disaster in my opinion, I kept returning to one moment in particular that really stood out for me during my trip. It was not any of the locations I visited but instead a very weird, funny and charming conversation I had with a middle-aged lady in a pub about the star of her favorite television program. I realized that this had been one of the only genuine experiences of my stay there and I had to do something with this.
In retrospect it seems so simple and obvious that the memories that really stay with us and end up meaning the most to us are not the places we visit but the people we meet and out interactions with them. Long story short… I proposed to spend a month living in one of Liverpool’s tenement block flats and invited 26 residents of the city of various age, gender, race and professions into my home and have them tell me about Liverpool and what it meant to them. I used the British tourist guide called A to Z and chose 26 residents to stand in place for each letter of the alphabet and created 26 short films called Liverpool AZ with such chapters as: Adam, Ben, Cathy, Dolly etc… Projected onto the video screen billboard in central Liverpool with a consistent time slot and familiar visual set up it allowed the project to achieve a “soap opera” type feel, with installments screened for the duration of the Biennial.
Since I only had one month I interviewed, filmed and edited all sections on location in my flat and never saw much of the city except through the eyes of its own people. I’m not sure how I feel about the piece, I’m not sure I’d even call it an artwork…perhaps a documentary… but it was an incredible learning experience to work in a new way and still stay true to my practice while creating something that I believe reflects a truly genuine moment.
4. Who do you admire most? Who do you admire least? Why?
Artists who constantly challenge themselves within they’re given practice.
Artists who are too scared to do this.
5. In what situation did you attempt to do something, but failed? Why did you fail? What did you learn from this situation?
There are no real failures if something can be learned from them obviously.
Back in 2000 I was invited to create a time-based artwork at a local high school for the Public Access Collective in Toronto. The only parameter’s I was given was that it had to reference time and include the students in some way. I did numerous site visits to the school and roamed the halls trying to “make art”… I always come up with the worst shit when I try and work this way…it’s so unnatural. In my opinion, every bad artwork I’ve ever seen just looks like someone was trying way too hard to make art… it looks like art and that’s about it.
So I kept finding myself sitting out on the front steps of the school smoking cigarettes and thinking of what to do. I was there early one morning when the school bus arrived and just found myself watching all the students as they hung out and talked with each other in various groups before having to head into class. (The 4 or 5 skater boys stood near the sidewalk and smoked, 3 or 4 nerdy looking students of both genders sat on bottom step, the popular kids were off to one side talking loudly). I returned the next morning at the same time and watched the same scenario unfold… I decided I would make a work that dealt with our daily routines, rituals and recurring patterns of everyday life and how they can intersect with each other.
The piece I ended up making was called Hiccup. Everyday for one month I arrived at the front of the school at the exact same time, wearing the same clothes and sitting on the same step. Then as the students began to arrive, I began my performance of a pre-set routine of simple everyday actions. I smoked a cigarette, took sips from my coffee, looked to the left, stretched my leg, adjusted my hat, read the same 5 pages from a book and underlined the same passage etc... Although appearing to be moving and acting in a completely natural and spontaneous way I was in fact, with the aid of a pre-recorded and timed audio track on headphones, completing the exact same actions and gestures everyday at exactly the same time. For one month I entered into the normal daily routine of the people around me as a background element... a small anonymous deja-vu experience. During this month I had 7 days of this performance filmed from across the street, this is what was exhibited, and the effect of each video shows me moving in synch with myself from monitor to monitor while everything else around me is different.
Conceived as an orchestrated "ballet of the ordinary", Hiccup pivots on the play of two differentiated timelines: my standardized routine of carefully choreographed body movements, juxtaposed against the limitless variables of the everyday world.
6. Describe a bad experience that happened to you. What did you learn from it?
In the spring of 2007 my bank accounts were seized by revenue Canada for an outstanding debt they said I owed in the double figures. I won’t go into specific details but…Revenue Canada hereto referred to as “The Department with Shit for Brains” screwed up in their Shit-For-Brains way and I didn’t actually owe them a dime…but it took several months to sort the mess out and free up my money and my accounts.
I found myself depressed, flat broke and just laying around watching TV. My video camera was hooked up to my television from when I had created Commercial Space (a glow video project where I was capturing the light from various commercials) and one night I just started recording television footage while flipping through the channels. (I’ve always thought that all those late night channel surfing sessions growing up has something to do with my generations proclivity towards editing in this way)
Once I got into the process it gave me the idea of creating a made-from-television, feature length movie in the form of a mash-up. It became the work REM. A 2 hour & 15 minute mash-up consisting of 170 different sources taken from television during the summer… and it didn’t cost me a thing to produce.
What did I learn from this experience? That the government can mess with you whenever they want, they don’t apologize to you when they’re in the wrong (heh, well actually they did send a nice letter to my bank apologizing to THEM for any inconvenience), and I learned that you don’t always need money to make art… and ideas are free.
7. Describe a situation where you tried to help someone change. What strategy did you use? How did the situation end?
I’ve never tried to change anyone…at least not consciously.
8. Describe a mistake you made in dealing with people. What did you learn from it?
Uh, trusting my old dealer not to jerk me over and pay me for work she sold before she went out of business…. Yeah, that was a mistake. (An even bigger mistake was letting her buy new work from my other dealer while she still owed me this money and then have her tell me afterwards she was closing the gallery and wasn’t going to be paying me the original debt. Yup, that’s right…she basically bought my new work with the money she had owed me for selling my older work…LMAO.
I learned that punching a wall really hurts.
9. What was your best learning experience? What was your worst learning experience? What did you learn from each of them?
I guess as I mentioned in a couple of the answers above it’s been in situations where I’ve learned not to force it. To let it come naturally. In the past I’ve made some down right shitty stuff and that was usually when I didn’t have the next brilliant idea staring me in the face. I tend to get depressed when I’m not working so in these times I would ‘force it’. I’ve now learned to avoid this bad habit born of impatience and now use my Letraset Drawings to fill this void. These drawings are in one instance mindless right-brain doodles but at the same time they require an exorbitant amount of time, concentration and precision and I can lose countless hours in them. They provide me a great deal of satisfaction and a feeling of being productive while I wait for the next idea to naturally present itself to me… the next thing to respond to.
10. Describe the last major change you made. Why did you do it? How did it work out? What did you learn?
I guess the last major change I made in my practice would have to be how I approached the production of Public Disturbance. I was asked to create a live performance piece for the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery’s annual fundraiser called the Power Ball. (Back in 2003 I had created a work for this same fundraiser that caused a bit of a disturbance when I showed up with 30 or so artist friends and picket the event. This work entitled Demonstration took the form of a mass demonstration about ‘nothing’. Props included blank picket signs & leaflets which were handed out asking for ‘nothing’ and such slogans as “what do we want…nothing’ and ‘hell no…we don’t know’. The guests attending this fundraiser had to cross this picket line in order to attend the event).
Having just recently produced a number of works using television and media content I was keen in pursuing this long-standing interest and finding a way to somehow incorporate it into a live social setting and at the same time cause a bit of a disruption in the evening once again. I chose to hire professional actors to attend the event posing as couples and then had them burst into uncomfortable domestic based arguments within the crowd. The dialogue for these arguments differed for each couple but were all based on domestic based fights taken from various movie scripts. In the past I had always used friends to help me with projects like these such as Demonstration, Private Conversations or the Couple series but in order to really make this believable I realized I would need to hire professionals to pull this off. I also, for the first time, chose to hire a professional videographer and sound engineer to capture these performances, not for mere documentation, but with the idea that this footage could later be used to create a separate work beyond just the single evenings performance.
I had never quite relinquished so much control over a project before and found it quite stressful to stand off to the side that evening and let things play out. As a bit of a self-confessed control freak the learning experience of being able to trust in and allow others to complete my vision was a totally new experience for me. Perhaps in the future I can continue to let go a bit.
Liz Knox: Kelly Marks art works reflect everyday life; they are documents of the objects and ideas that surround her. Through these reflections of the objects, actions and concerns of common things, the inherent value of even the smallest aspects of life becomes evident.
Kelly Mark was interviewed in Mar. 2006 - Liz Knox
Liz Knox:I was wondering about your inspirations, especially since your practice is so interdisciplinary. Do you get your inspiration everywhere and then decide which medium to work it through?
Kelly Mark:The idea always comes first. As a young student my influences were with minimalist and conceptualist work, so process based work, and systems and grids and repetition and time were all important to me. Again as a young artist I made what I call A to Z conceptualism; you have the idea, you do it, and it’s art at the end, which became boring for me after a while. Over the years humour has become more important. And repetition and time, not in terms of any old 60’s or 70’s idea, the everyday, and repetition in the everyday. Like getting up every morning. Hiccup is about that.
LK: I’m glad you brought up Hiccup; I’m so fascinated by the idea of the piece, of making yourself that one constant, while everything around you is changing.
KM: I’d never done a performance before, it’s a video work now, but the real first piece was a performance, and I’d never done a performance. And again, that was about doing this everyday thing, time and repetition, and trying to create a deja vu experience in a way. I did it from 9 am to 9:15 as they were coming to school so the school busses would let out and they’d come and hang out around the front doors and smoke as they were going in. It was trying to hook up my routine of drinking a coffee to their routine.
LK: Did you like being a performer? It’s a very different way of working.
KM: I’ve never performed for art public; they’re more like public interventions than they are performances. But once I realized I could do this thing anonymously, and my performance was smoking a cigarette, everyday things, then it became interesting.
LK: You talked a little bit about how your work stems from conceptualism, I think that the reason it does work so well is that it is using humour, which is not what conceptualism is remembered for.
KM: I have a theory about that; the minimalists and the post-minimalists, it was all very dry, Carl Andre’s row of bricks, Sol Lewitt’s programs Kosuth’s definition of chair, and all that stuff influenced my generation and everything since then. Everything is idea based now, everything is conceptual, and a lot of work looks minimalist. I think what happened is we took all those forms so it looks like that work, but what’s being injected back into it is some kind of humanity, whether it’s humour in my case, or romanticism in Rachel Whiteread’s work, spiritualism, or like Mona Hatoum, her stuff is very minimal looking but it’s very political. So all the guts have been put back into it, whether it’s sexual politics or sexual identity, gay art or feminist work, or humour. It looks like that old work but it’s got all the blood and guts back.
LK: Obsession, collection and everyday life, are very evident in a lot of your work. Are there reasons that you explore these things, is it a natural inclination?
KM: It’s definitely an inclination. I’m one of those anal, ordered obsessive people. I’ve always collected things. Like the knife collection, but it’s also a bit of humour. The daily habits or little things that we do, I find that humourous, and that’s what triggers a lot of the work. The Placed series is photos of little pieces of garbage stuck in places, that’s just because I was walking, out doing other photographs one day and I saw this grey metal electrical box and there was this folded piece of pink paper in the crack. You see that kind of stuff all the time. In Toronto, there’s a lot of litter all over the place and I think it’s funny when people specifically place litter, like the Toronto Sun boxes by all the street cars, they’re always filled with all kinds of pop cans and coffee cups. Guilt-free litter; you just place it and walk away. It’s not like you’ve thrown it. There’s one that’s a chain and it looks like a gum wrapper stuck in it, and the chain was part of a parking lot and it was a foot off the ground, so there’s no way that piece of tinfoil blew in there, someone got down on their hands and knees and stuck it in. That was the other thing about the photos, the garbage is either incredibly deliberate, or incredibly unconscious, you can’t tell. I think all those photographs have a weird little story. Humour really interests me, these small moments, things we all do.
LK: It is a way of personalizing the environment, I think people have that need to make a space, even the most banal passageways, something familiar.
KM: To mark it. Someone said in an essay once, and I put it in my bio, something about cataloging the small marked and unmarked moments of our lives, and that’s exactly what I do. I never deal with the grand concepts, just small moments.
LK: A lot of the knives are from being a waitress, right?
KM: Yes, I started that piece when I was working as a waitress after I graduated art school. That is a collection project, again a little bit of humour. The most stupid thing I could think of collecting would be a butter knife, but it’s also a take off on my mother’s spoon collection. It’s about the everyday; my mom has all these spoons from all over the world. She’s never been anywhere, but when any member of the family goes anywhere they have to bring her back a spoon. And those spoons are like recognizing special, significant moments, which is bullshit right. You go to Scotland and you get a ‘Nessy’ spoon. The knife collection is an everyday thing, I don’t keep track of them, they’re not special, it’s just from eating out in diners and people inviting me over for dinner.
LK:Pieces like I Really Should are also accumulations of a sort, I find that one especially interesting, I think this must happen with a lot of accumulation, but with that piece in particular, it sort of cements and obscures the meaning of what’s being repeated.
KM: Yes, you’re right. The original was 100 of them, I sat down and in 50 minutes, I wrote stream of consciousness, whatever popped into my head first: I really should stop smoking, I really should lose weight, I really should wash my hands more often. They seemed to make sense, sometimes every once in a while one would pop into my head that didn’t make sense with the one before it. But when I did the thousand, I started over. I really see the piece in a funny way; it’s kind of like a monument to procrastination. I really should is very different than I wish I could. There is no reason why I couldn’t be doing all these things. The monotone voice levels everything down so that cleaning my cats litter box and doing something about the homeless situation in Toronto, I’ve leveled them down to being the same. I’m not saying they’re equal, but when you’re sitting on the couch, you’re supposed to be doing stuff, going to work, and you’re kind of in that lazy mode, you’re not going to be doing either. So it’s this really long audio piece monotone, leveling all this stuff down, making it equal.
LK: There seems to be some contradictions. I was reading about your practice, and it will be described as sentimental and then as formalist, as obsessive and as banal. There’s something really interesting about walking that line, between those contradictions.
KM: I really like when someone can look at my work and see something completely new in it. The work is never about just one thing, I’m not trying to prove facts. It’s not like the work is about one thing, and if you didn’t get that you didn’t get the work. I don’t believe that at all. I have my reason for doing it. It’s one part of a conversation, that’s what I really think art is. I’ve done this, I’m putting it out there, I’m not proving anything, and it’s at that point that the viewer, curator or reviewer can have a conversation back with the work.
LK: I think that’s what’s nice about work that is based in the everyday. It is applicable to anyone, you don’t need an MFA to be able to understand and appreciate the work.
KM: I didn’t want to make art about art. The first piece I made out of school was the aluminum bar, Object Carried for one Year, and it was a way to deal with notions of repetition and time and not like the work I was doing, not like the Black and White jars, these minimalist formalist things. So it’s an art idea, an art object. I came up with the idea and if I carried it for one year it would be art. For that whole year I just wanted this thing to be a part of my everyday world, so it was no different from my cigarettes, keys, wallet or lighter. Every morning I had to check if it was on me.
LK: Do you have a favourite piece?
KM: My favourite pieces are the obvious ones like Glow House and Hiccup, and then there’s the first piece I made as a student where something clicked. Up to that point my work was all over the place and then the one work lead to other work; the beginning of the continuation. That piece was the bars I hit together ten thousand times, Ten Thousand Hits, that was a kind of epiphany.
LK: With a piece like Glow House, I really liked that instead of the dematerialization of the art object, you were just looking at an object and its effects. Do you like TV in its pop culture sense or more for its material quality?
KM: It’s funny, Dave [Dyment] talks about that in the essay for the Glow House poster. With Glow House and Prime Time, I mean there’s nothing more loaded than what’s on TV. They’re pushing right, there’s so much ammo there. You could be an artist and just deal with the content of TV and movies. I learned that as a student, just deal with one small little thing. The most obvious thing is the content of the TV, but get rid of that and what do you have left? You have light and sound. There are things about TV I have always liked, the vertical Roll Flip and Snow. There were all those other things about TV when I was growing up, and all those things interest me. With Glow House I’m just dealing with the pretty light, and the version I did in England, you could call that piece War House for Christ sake. I did it in April in England 2003 and that month was the month that the Americans invaded Iraq. So all the channels were set to BBC 2 and probably 70% of that beautiful glow was war coverage. That would have been amazing to do a piece called War House and make this beautiful thing all about war, and TV coverage of people getting killed. That would be an interesting work, but it’s not the work I made.
LK: Even I Called Shotgun Infinity has the whole room emanating light.
KM: I did that piece for the [Mercer Union Infinity Etc.] show. All of the other work in the show was dealing with infinity in a very poetic way, and this was like childhood. It’s that notion of a game with infinity. From a kids point of view, notions of infinity are how you cap everything; it’s the total end. But there’s also three numbers in there, twelve, infinity and I which is singular, so the piece is dealing with numbers and this kind of childhood singsong thing.
LK: I know some of your works are more obviously autobiographical than others. Your website talks about Prime Time as being a psychological snapshot, and In and Out is more literally autobiographical in some ways. Do you think of most of the works as being autobiographical?
KM: In a way everything you do is about yourself, but the work is not really autobiographical. The demonstration piece for example, it’s my humour and what I’m interested in, and how I feel about demonstrating and protest. It’s all a reflection of me for sure, but nothing is overt.
LK: This could very well stem from doing work that’s all about everyday life; it seems like it could be almost anybody’s autobiography, of what you’ve walked by and where you’ve been.
KM: I was just the one who noticed it. Glow House is a deceptively simple piece. Everybody’s experienced walking by a house at night, the whole street is dark, the house is dark but a TV is on. Even the act of taking a house and filling it with TV’s and turning them all to the same channel, even that’s really been done. If you go out game 7 of the World Series, if you’re in a condo and you look out at Toronto it happens because everyone’s watching the same program. I didn’t invent that, it’s just playing on that. I see something there and I tweak it, respond to it. Like the Statue Series, I was in Birmingham doing the British version of the Hiccup piece and that statue is on the exact same stairs, he was just farther down. That statue, I kept looking at him, I was in Birmingham for a month and I kept walking by that statue, and again it’s part of my humour and taking advantage of situations. Like seeing that pink piece of paper as something. I don’t worry about trying to make the next piece of art, I just respond to my environment. I do it and I worry about it later.
LK: Why do you do it?
KM: I’m not trying to make a masterpiece in one piece, I’m at the point in my career where I see this lifetime body of work which I’m working towards and I think it’s just going to get better. I don’t think I could continue to make work if I didn’t think that way. My best work is still to come, it’s this lifetime body of work that’s jut going to improve.
The Rev Magazine Interview September 18, 2002
Questions & Answers:
1. Please tell us your name and artist medium:
- Kelly Mark : whatever is lying around.
2. Your pieces come in such a wide range of forms. Why have you decided to stray away from just one specific medium?
- I see myself simply as an artist, not a sculptor or photographer but an artist. I think that is a very important difference…and that opens up everything. As a ‘contemporary conceptualist’, for lack of a better name, the ‘concept’ comes first and the medium second. I work with whatever medium makes sense for each idea or thought. Sometimes it’s just whatever I happen to pick up that day, whether or not I have my camera with me or not…
3. Which medium to you prefer to work with and why?
- I have no preference.
4. Can you tell us the inspiration behind your work “Knife Collection”? I find this piece to be very interesting and dark to look at?
- I have numerous works that have turned into life long accumulative projects, time based yet also dealing with modes of collection, counting, and inane obsessiveness. This work began in 1995 while I was living in Halifax and working as a waitress. I began by collecting i.e.: stealing knives from other restaurants, friend’s apartments, airplanes etc, as long as each knife was unique. Every other year or so I like to show this work in a new format. This current version utilizes wall mounted magnetic knife strips creating a piece which roughly measuring 5’ x 9’. The work tends to mark upon not only the obsessive nature of collecting but also the particular oddities and forms that such collections can take. The innocuous and banal ‘butter’ knife has become my form of participating in this culture while keeping my sense of humour about such things intact.
5. Is your work usually accepted across Canada? Do you find a general acceptance for it?
Hmmm, acceptance is one of those weird concepts. I guess when it comes down to it I really only care about being accepted by those whose opinion I value. I think this is all any sane person can strive for. To answer your question more directly though…I suppose so, I seem to be doing ok…maybe you should take a poll?
6. What type of involvement do you have when it comes to art in the community you live in? Do you try to get as involved as possible?
- When I first graduated from NSCAD in Halifax, I became very involved with the art community there. I worked at the Khyber for several years, sat on artist run center boards, organized lectures and group shows etc…but I found it all a bit of a drain mentally and just too insular and bureaucratic. Since then, I have tried to keep things more separate. I now tend to work in jobs outside of the art community and I feel it’s a more healthy way of living for me. I didn’t end up at NSCAD right out of high school but instead worked in the ‘real’ world for 5 or 6 years before this time. Quite frankly, I was happy to get back to it. Although it can be a pain at times, the “shitty day job” does have its perks. Most importantly, it allows me to stay in touch with real life, people and the everyday experience that has become the subject matter of much of my work. Instead of simply being a voyeur in this world…I live and work in it and try to find a balance. I made 3 promises to myself when I left Halifax…1. Never teach full time, 2. Never work in a gallery, and 3. Never be anyone else’s studio assistant. Therefore, I guess you can say that I now have very little involvement…if you don’t count busting one’s ass for 8 years making art and showing it.
7. What are an artists’ most important qualities to possess in your mind?
Personally, I think a combination of both good and bad traits in moderation is the most helpful thing. Hard work, sacrifice, determination and integrity are vital but I think a good dose of plain old self-centeredness doesn’t hurt either. You and your work have to come first, before anything else. You don’t have to become a royal bitch or anything but you do have to place you and your work first. I guess you could also see this as the main sacrifice as well.
8. How did you become hooked into art? Have you enjoyed what it has brought you in life? Would you change the path you choose for yourself?
- Art is a drug and it’s highly addictive, and I don’t mean just the by-product, all that stuff we make…that’s really just some kind of weird residue. The most important thing we, I learned in art school was simply how to view the world in a new way and how to think, communicate and express oneself within this new world. I come from a working class background, I lived and worked in it before ending up in art school. I went to art school to escape this world which I found uninteresting and dead, I thought maybe there was something more…Because of art I now view this world that I chose to go back to in a very different light. It is through the lens of my art education that I now appreciate what was always there. Everything is interesting…
Re: Choosing some other path…there’s no going home Dorothy!
9. What messages do you try and convey through your work?
- OK, that’s kind of a thesis type question…A little hard to answer in an interview. There is no one huge message or anything, its more of a series of questions, suggestions, interpretations, reflections etc… If there is one message to be found in my work it would have to be “look both ways before crossing the street”.
10. Do you consider yourself a proponent for any particular causes?
11. Is your work politically motivated in any way?
12. What sparks your creative juices? How does one of your pieces come together? (From start to finish).
- It’s more often than not something small and innocuous that triggers me. Something that I may see everyday and one day seem to really notice for the first time. Pieces come together in a variety of ways depending on the idea itself and what medium I may be using. “Glow House” for instance came to me one night while walking home and seeing a house with all the lights off except for the small flicker of the television set. Now I have seen this image all my life, but for some reason this night, it took hold of me. The loneliness of it, yet at the same time it was comforting. The Television, is after all, our modern hearth. I took this small moment and expanded it. I used an abandoned 3–storey house in Winnipeg and filled it with over 30 televisions. I then turned each TV to the same channel and then walked out and locked the door, Each small flicker of light ended up creating a pulse of light that emanated from the entire house. It was a one-night installation piece that I had been thinking of doing for over a year and a half and finally the opportunity presented itself.
13. As an artist in Canada, how do you rate the credits Canadian artists are given at home? Around the world?
Well generally speaking, Canada is part of the ‘new’ world and unfortunately art is not something that has ever been seen as having much value here. Generally North Americans are quite uneducated in contemporary art as compared to other parts of the world and this stunted education seems to stop at Van Gogh and the Impressionists. Van Gogh’s Yellow House was painted in 1888 for fuck sakes! I could go on… I think some of the best contemporary art is happening here in Canada and its definitely being noticed abroad.
14. Do you believe change is needed in the arts community throughout Canada to give more credit to these amazing talents?
- I think the ART community is doing fine. It’s really vibrant and full of talented and dedicated curators, artists and administrators. The Canada Council is doing an amazing job funding contemporary and experimental art. It’s the community at large that is the problem…there still looking for their Van Gogh’s and unfortunately there still finding them at places like IKEA and Wallmart…all neatly framed and only $15.99, buy one get one free.
15. What is planned for the upcoming year? Will you be on the road a lot?
- Well right now I’m just trying to get as much work done as I can. I have a bunch of commercial shows coming up here in Toronto and Vancouver and some artist run center projects in Quebec and out west. My main solo show that I am currently working towards will be at the IKON gallery in Birmingham UK in April of 2003. I will be going there this November to get a look at the galleries and to find some off-site locations for some installations I have planned.
16. Any last comments?
Open Space Gallery: In conversation with Kelly Mark
Mapping the Body, 2001. Curated by Jessie Lacayo
Reading articles about your work in past exhibitions in addition to your recent notes, I become intrigued with the approach to “process” in your work. In your note you say, “In all that I do, it is always the process, the making that is the real point. Everything else is gravy…”
I started to think about what “process” meant for me as an artist. I found that process is sometimes neglected for the end product or result. However, I do believe that processes, whether internal or in relation to our actions, contain energy that could be useful, I find the process of repetition you refer to in you work, creates a pattern in which the most reent pattern fits together with other past patterns to make a larger pattern that is then transformed. Making sense of our experiences in may ways is dependent on repetition, without it nothing can be recognized, recognition in this way conditions cognition. Do you see “process” as a grounding tool, a way to interpret a temporary reality?
Action is everything from a simple sitting movement to the action of mixing ingredients in a bowl. Having a physical body means that our sensing and acting capabilities are not separable, but tightly coupled and that in order to accomplish a given task, our processing powers need to be active. In the broades sense, when we talk about action, we imply that we are interested not only about what is in the world, but what is happening in it. Notions of time are consequently implicit. Do you see process and action connected? And How?
Speaking of process…when I say that the making is the real point and every thing else is gravy I mean this as a maker of course. The end result is exciting and fulfilling but as an artist, the one making the work, it is the life that the piece has before it actually beocmes art that is crucial (and I don’t mean ‘studio life’). I think that art needs to live in the real world just as we do, even if for only a while. Once it is art…it will always be art, but for a time it needs to be real. To answer you next question…No I don’t think art is real, it is many things…it is obviously a mirror, a tool of understanding like anything else…Life can be art, but not the other way around. (Not withstading that art can become a real part of our lives).
I’m speaking about process in these terms in a very general way I know…I’ve been thinking a lot about this in terms of my own work and processes for some time. In 1996 I started carrying an engraved aluminum bar on my person, I had decided that I would do this for one year : (Object Carried For One Year). This was the first time I had tried to deal with the notion & working concept of repetition (habit) over an extended period of time. For me, seeing & experiencing the piece over this time frame, illustrated to me that initially it was simply an art ‘idea’ and in the end it was a finished art ‘piece’, but over the whole length of time in which I carried it, yes it was art in the making, but it was more about this thing becoming simply apart of my daily routine, like carrying my wallet or my keys, when this happened to the piece it served as a sort of epiphany for me. Even though I appreciate the finished object it was actually carrying it for one year which was important. This is an obvious example of what I’m trying to talk about.
I have since moved away from dealing with myself as a vehicle, so to speak, and have turned to society as a whole as a subject matter. (Which of course is just a greater reflection of myself, which in some ways is the point). The Waiting Man series of photographs which I just completed is one example of observing and documenting the simple everday actions and routines that we all experience. Much of my recent work falls into this vein of observer and half-assed participant…artist playing at socioligist. It is actually walking around and just looking, slowing my self down in able to see and appreciate such moments that is important to me, ( I trully think that this is the greatest thing about being an artist, its like an excuse to sit back and just experience and learn and grow), if I get a body of work out of the experience that’s great, in one sense that’s why I’m out there, but if I come home empty handed I don’t feel it was a bad day.
In anything, not just art, it is the doing not the completing which is the point. This is an obvious thing. Like life.
You asked the question : “Do you see process as a grounding tool, a way to interpret a temporary reality?”….I would have to say exactly. That is exactly what it is. That is, in many ways, what art is for me : a tool of understanding and expressing what I feel I have seen or learned. The fact that I employ process in much of my work, and that issues of ‘time’ are evident in much of my work is not a coincidence. I feel process allows me to slow down time in some ways, offers me the chance to see what is actually going on. It like slowing down a movie and watching it frame by frame and seeing the small moments of change. It has always been those small moments that have intrigued me. I’m not interested in the grand picture of life, but the many small details that make up that life. It’s like a spectrum with society as a whole at one end and at the other the individual.
Hamilton Art Gallery: "Dont Let the Truth Stand in the Way of a Good Story" - Eileen Sommerman
Kelly Mark tells me “I am not a photographer.” Okay, but you take photographs. The issue comes up a lot, and I wonder why she trips over it. To me photography is a way of seeing. I am curious about what she sees and how she sees. I have decided to record our fragment, insidious and at times riveting dialog over coffee, as a way to see her. Following Mark’s lead, this is an attempt at a casual, thoughtful, quizzical and unfettered portrait of an artist. A number of times it turns itself: a series of questions with a clear intent (a facetious image of the artist). Mostly I want to offer up an oblique entry into sensibility.
As part of Signs of a Sick Mind, a thee day show she installed at Kate’s apartment in Toronto last year, Mark showed her fridge piece A Hundred Things I Really Should Do_ a fridge inscribed on the outside with a fantastic list of things she should, but will likely never do including reading War and Peace, give more to charity, and brush on her French). She filled the fridge with all sorts of white stuff like yogurt, eggs, milk, powdered donuts and mayonnaise. I am sure she laughed while she was doing it. I am still thrilled by the contents of that fridge. I was so deliberate and odd. It’s signature Kelly Mark.
The following is really a collaboration between Mark and I. It is a collage. In the brackets are afterthoughts.
423,628 (she claims this is the number of grains in a thimble. She counted with a pair of tweezers. While she was counting, she says she felt like a go counting the stars.)
KM: That was a Homer Simpson epiphany. That’s what I live for.
How about Roonie [her cat]?
KM: He’s my CBC playing in the background.
Is he smart?
KM: Roonie? No, He’s dumb as a stump. I never planned to have a cat. I always hated cats, I grew up with dogs. But I lived in a studio with rats and when I was sleeping one night I could hear them moving in the walls. So I got the cat. But as soon as I took him home I said “Look, you stay on your side of the studio, I’ll stay on mine; I’ll feed you but you do what you’ve got to do here.”
And then you just came to love him?
KM: I love him to death.
It’s just like everything else. You just never know.
KM: Everything’s interesting. I didn’t pick the cat. I didn’t pick his name. I’ve always wanted to change the name, I hate the name, but it’s pointless now no matter how goofy it is. I always thought Yossarian would be a good name for a cat. You know, Catch 22. The main character where everyone’s all fucked up around him and he’s the only sane one.
Digressing is the greatest thing.
KM: Digress is a good name for a cat. I’ve always found that a good name for a cat is the same as a good name for a band.
Why do you think that is?
KM:I don’t know I’m just blathering now. Gerry [Gerald Ferguson] used to always tell me “don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”
That’s great. I think it should be the title of this piece. I threatened that we would have to have breakfast together every morning. She said sure, if I would get up at 4 am.
KM: I like my job but I still call it my shitty day job.
Maybe it’s because you don’t mind a shitty day job?
KM: I think that’s what it is When I’m off work, on my chosen studio days, or Saturdays, my shitty day job shuts off. When I walk into work my art shuts off.
There’s a certain clarity to that: knowing when something begins and when it ends.
And that’s what a lot of my work deals with. Setting parameters. Like the drawings I do with the pencil until it runs out; the pencil decides when it’s done, basically [she scribbles until there’s no pencil left]. But during that process, stuff is happening. It’s an infinite learning of the pencil and the piece of paper; you actually see how the pencil is acting on the paper, how the paper is responding to the pencil, you feel your hand getting tired. Until you’ve done something, you may think you know what it is, but you can’t know.
There is a certain unknowability about art. Getting some sort of intimate entry into the wok I an exceptional opportunity.
KM: But that’s an historical thing too. That’s kind of the history we’re involved in right now.
I think it’s a bit about persistent distance. Maybe it [seeing art is about wanting an intimate experience with ourselves?
KM: I don’t know.
I don’t know either.
I wonder sometimes about futility.
KM: When I was collecting b&w stuff for the jars [she’s referring to the grids she did with mason jars] I had so much fun with it. I went into every dollar store, corner store and clothing store. I’d go up and down each aisle because I wasn’t there for any specific reason, I was just looking for black stuff. And I was often followed by security guards. When I went to the cash register I would laugh inside watching their expressions. I’d have a whole cart full of black stuff that had nothing in common – a bag of black jelly beans a black lace bra, a bible, some axle grease. No one goes into the store with a list like that.
Did anyone ever ask?
KM: Yeah, a couple of times.
Did you tell them you are an artist?
KM: No, no, I’d never ever do that. It just leads to hell. You get all these stupid looks and questions. I prefer they think I’m psycho. I went into Canadian Tire once and did this piece called Nail Collection. I bought one box of every type of nail they had, there were about 60 of them. That wasn’t the art, but in a way it was. For me as an artist that was the art, just doing it. But then I ended up with a sculpture at the end because, you know, in my mind I am a sculptor so I must make an object – and I need proof of the thing!
Do you think you are a committed person?
KM: Unless I get bored…
And then what happens?
KM: I get committed to something else.
KM: A lot of my work starts out as this good art idea, like the time card piece [she’s been punching in her studio for hours for years now] or the object carried for a year [in her back pocket]. But then it becomes part of my daily routine. For a while it’s just a job that I’m doing. So it’s art in the beginning and it’s art in the end when I show it, but the time in between it’s just like brushing your teeth in the morning.
I am really curious about that. I think I can look at some work and know that during the entire process it was all about making art.
KM: You can always tell.
[We laugh aloud when we read this together later.]
KM: It must live in that other world for a while. It has to have a life.
KM: I’ve had it planned for at least a decade. I know how I want to die. I want to die alone. I want to experience my own death. You don’t get to experience your birth and most people don’t experience their death. I don’t tell many people this; no one really gets it.
I tell people that I love to be alive but don’t think it would be that bad to be dead. They don’t get that either I think what I mot want is to feel things deeply.
KM:I don’t respond to work emotionally. Even my own work. Humour and intellect for sure, but no other emotions really. The only thing I think I ever insist on is that people get the humour in the work because humour is the only emotion I’m not afraid of. I think it’s why I adopted the minimalist visual. I learned early on that as soon as you put it in a gid it kills emotion. And since I’m dealing with personal issues [really?], putting it in the grid works. I am not into romance or new age crap, I’m nervous about that kind of stuff It’s just not me. I’ve always used the grid because it throws a bit of cold water over things. It cools things down. And I think humour is the one way I can kind of be a bit emotional and express stuff, and no mind people seeing that.
I need humour.
KM: It’s vital.
KM: Let’s talk about addiction. We’ve talked about it before and I think it’s really important. I do think art is an addiction but I don’t think most people think of it like that.
Let’s figure out what an addiction is?
KM: No, let’s figure out what art is. It’s not a career. And I don’t think it’s a choice.
So you’re compelled to do it?
KM: Yes, but compelled sounds so romantic. And I’m not romantic. It might have been a choice in the beginning but now, for me, it’s an addiction.
So it feeds you.
KM: Yes, intellectually and physically. And it allows me to be self-centred. And it’s okay because I am an artist. When I say self-centred, I am referring to the pursuit of knowledge with ideas or materials that is rally about knowing myself better.
And I don’t think that we necessarily need to get rid of our addictions. I believe in emancipation and struggle. I’ve been reading Krishnamurti [Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti].
Part of me thinks things will come.
KM: Yeah, but you have to tweak it a bit too.
How about those beautiful objects you make?
KM: Beauty comes first. I can’t do messy work, things scattered everywhere. Unless I have a reason to put things in disarray, which I rarely do.
So you have a will to order?
KM: It’s a big fight.
So the work looks like it’s resolved and clear, but it’s a struggle.
KM: I did a whole body of work where I was taking things apart and putting them back together. I used to do that as a kid with radios. I’d take my brother’s radio that he got for Christmas and I’d pretend I was defusing a bomb. I’d take it apart think I broke it and just put it back in his room. I used to do it with chairs also. I did it with the ax handles: took them apart and then laboriously tried to put them back together.
Is it a conceptual thing (like needing to know the thing) or just tinkering?
KM: Well, it’s about learning the materials, but it’s also just really pathetic in a way…the pathos…
Don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
I tell her that the other morning I looked at a watch for a minute and counted. I thought I’d do a test. In five hours you could ostensibly count to about 48 000, max. so she could not have counted some 400 000 grains of salt in the five hours she claimed.
KM: I’ll have to check my sketchbook
Yes you will.
KM: I remember that each salt shaker had a couple million and that would only be a few thimbles full, so you’re right it was probably less. [She did check it and in fact the number of grains of salt in the thimble was 12,618; still she felt like god and I don’t doubt the epiphany.]
What about the unevenness?
KM: I like the freaky people as long as I don’t have to share an apartment with them, or a phone bill. It’s totally voyeuristic for me because I’m, well, you know, unchanging. I’ve had the same haircut since I was in grade 3
I think that’s why I trust you.
KM: I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo of the three dots [an ellipsis]. I’d like to get it on the palm of my hand. That would be perfect because you’d see it when I gestured, and it’s a gesture, the three dots.
What about here [I point to the corner of her mouth. We laugh]
KM: A dribble.
Most things are less than exceptional.
KM: I don’t know about that You know what I love? When you look at someone, especially a stranger at a distance, and the way they are feeling shows up on their face. Coming home the other day, I was standing waiting for a streetlight to change. And I’m just watching this guy as he’s pressing the button , visibly anxious. It was just such a fascinating and hilarious thing to watch. I remember reading somewhere that you are always being watched by somebody.
Thank goodness you don’t know it. I think a lot about anonymity. I know I walk differently when I am in Paris than when I’m here.
KM: And I notice the other day that I walk differently at work; I walk really fast at work whether it’s a slow day or not. I’ve made a decision that when I’m not at work I am not walking fast.
KM: You know what, you’re the only one I seem to have these kinds of conversations with.
Yes? Well that’s what I was hoping to offer up with this, some of our musings. I don’t want to know why or how you made the suite of sun box photos. I want to know about how you stare at the guy waiting for the light to change.
KM: I wish I had a camera in my eye.