This is an interview/project (auto interview) for Atlántica Magazine,curated and edited by Octavio Zaya, Issue Number 48/49. (Spring-Summer 2009).
Praxis is an art collaborative of Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo (Carey).
Delia Bajo: What is this project for Atlántica about?
Praxis: It’s about several projects that all involved touch in a variety of ways. Some of the images are from the Whitney Museum during the Biennial, where we gave out hugs, foot washings, and bandages. The bandages were a little different: we would ask people if they had an invisible wound, and they would say something like “I have a headache” or “My heart is weak” and then we would put a bandage on that part of their body and kiss it, the way a mother would do to make a wound heal faster.
For Atlántica, we have gathered these images that span several years, but all have a relationship to a theme that runs though our work. We have done a great variety of shows and used all different media, from painting to film to conceptual ideas and instructions, but there is a thread that is consistent in all the works.
Some images are from the Greater NY show at P.S. 1, and others from our studio on tenth street in the East Village, where it all began.
Brainard Carey: Why are you both so attractive?
Well, you know how people say that dog owners sometimes look like their dogs? And it seems to be true that somehow we all actually influence each others looks, depending on how much time we spend together. So when we chose each other and fell in love, we were also attracted to each other’s beauty and so we each continue to look like the other, and since neither one of us is a dog, it’s turning out quite well!
DB: Have you ever thought of doing porn?
What kind of question is that? Do we have to answer that? You’ve got a lot of nerve! OK, well, no, we haven’t, but we did make several videos of ourselves making love and we showed them on different occasions, and I suppose that that is getting close to porn, but of course it wasn’t, it was real, it was sincere, and there wasn’t some sleazeball behind the camera or a fluffer to keep things going. It was real, it was intimate, and that is a quality that runs through much of our work. There is very little irony in what we do, which is probably why it became so popular with the non-art crowd as well as museums and artists.
DB: What do you mean “so popular with the non-art crowd”?
BC: Well, initially, the hugs and foot washings and actions you see in these pages were done out of our studio. And the local community was very excited. After the Whitney Biennial and lots of news coverage, it began to take off in more ways. All kinds of people began giving out hugs—on YouTube and in music videos—it seems there is a whole movement of “free hugs” going on outside the art world proper, and it is genuine and reaches people in a meaningful way.
DB: How is your intimate gift culture manifested in today’s media?
Well, it’s interesting that you use the words “gift culture”. We appreciate being interviewed by such an articulate and knowledgeable person as yourself, who seems to have done research and has an awareness of the varieties of cultural tendencies! We have been called artists that are part of the “New Sincerity” as well as “gift culture” artists because we tend to give away so many services and objects. However, the “gift culture” right now is a fascinating term to us, and your bridge to today’s media is exactly what has been on our minds. Facebook is a great example. It’s an amazing form of informatics, or the automated exchange of information. It enables people everywhere to exchange words, images, videos, and more, which could be called “gifts”. Yet even more interesting is the little applications that can be made, such as the Gifts Application. We recently made a gift application called “Box that opens when you close your eyes”, and then we made all these little conceptual gifts that were more about words than anything else, such as a picture of a tongue with the words, “Slippery slope with hope”, or pictures of butt plugs with the words “A means to an end”. Then these gifts are exchanged, not just from us, but to others from others, and it quickly becomes viral. In a month already over 5,000 of these little conceptual gifts have been given, and that activity is amazing and beautiful to us. We love that the gift ceases to be about us and about art, and is only about the gift itself. And that is what we, as artists, are reaching for, creating a paradigm or way of giving and receiving that replicates itself and lives beyond us and without us, because, after all, we are just two people, and who we are is not that important.
BC: Why do you keep looking at me like that?
BC: Like you are seeing right through me! You are transparent, your motives are clear, and there is nothing about you that is not revealed. We simply see you as you are, nothing more. You are, and we are, that.
DB: Do you see yourselves as modern gurus or saints? No, not at all, but thank you! If we wanted to be gurus, we would create a manifesto and call our actions the New Yoga. Then we would open centres all over the world, but we are not doing that. If we were saints, miracles would be happening all around us, and we would be living in a world that is almost entirely of the air.
BC: Well, it does seem that miracles are happening around you. Who ever heard of artists getting big shows and fame from actions like hugs and foot washings? And aren’t those hallmarks of the great saints?
DB: If you say so. It’s not for us to say. We are what we are.
BC: Why did you name your child Shiva?
DB: That’s a funny story. We were going to a meditation by a well known guru in Manhattan that a friend of ours told us to go to. It was very simple, we sat in silence for an hour focusing on a spot between our eyes, we really enjoyed it, and found it a little funny, ‘cause we thought the guru was taking a nap. Afterwards, everyone walked up to him on their knees and asked him questions. We didn’t know what to ask, but thought we shouldn’t pass up this opportunity. So, when we got to him, we asked him what to name our son, who was to be born in a month. With a big smile on his face he said, “How about Shiva? That’s my name, and I love it!” That seemed so flip and crazy and sincere that we were charmed, and it stuck with us to the last minute when we had to fill out the paperwork right after birth. We were struggling through a list of names, and, at the end, we said, “let’s just call him Shiva. If we don’t like it after trying for a while, we can always change his name.”
BC:: Do you believe in God?
DB: Yes and no; it’s not really a fair question. If God is a metaphor, which we believe he/she is, a metaphor for all that we don’t understand, then how could we not believe in him? But then, we also believe in ourselves, and believe in the theory that we are God, but if God is an omnipotent being that interrupts life based on faith and prayer and adherence to rules given out by the church, then we don’t believe.
BC: How often do you make love?
DB: Twice a day at least, but since we have a child, not on the kitchen table anymore, or the counter, or the living room floor, or the bathroom, or the stairs, or up against the walls, mostly, we are in our bedroom during the day and the living room at night.
BC: What is your favourite position?
DB: Any position that we haven’t tried before. We do a lot of yoga, so that means all kinds of things are possible, and we often use the different positions of yoga as a starting-off point. Then we let passion take us wherever it will.
BC: What about you?
DB: I’ll ask the questions, thank you.
BC: What about spirituality?
DB: Spirituality can be a vague word, but, as it encompasses all mind-oriented actions that are difficult to define, we embrace the varieties of current spiritual practices. For example, Neuro-linguistic programming or NLP, we think, is a fascinating form of altering your mind and your mental patterns through new codes of behaviour. Meditation, yoga, and visualisation all are in our lives. Our artwork is certainly based in what many have called a neo-spirituality. Many of the actions in these pages look like they could be part of a new religion. We don’t structure it for that purpose, but its message is there, and the spirit of it is undeniable. Our spirituality is a philosophy we have developed about life and why we are here, and, for us, we are acting on those impulses that we listen to, and that is our paradigm, our spirituality.
BC: What is your greatest dream?
Our greatest dream is something of a shape shifter, it is always the same but transforms itself into new modes all the time. The manifestation of our dream is probably what you mean, but, for us, that is the least of it. Our greatest dream is in the realm of thought. We make love with our minds, and, in that space, we build castles that are beyond what words can express.
DB: Are you serious?
Yes, we are very serious. Of course we could tell you about manifestations of our dreams, different projects, shows, and communities we will create, but, for us, what is closest to our hearts is the psychic space that is creativity in its true form, though it may manifest as a simple smile or a community built on silence. The many forms are important to us, but the dream itself is almost unutterable, it is so divine.
BC: What kind of food do you eat?
We eat mostly vegetables. We are raw vegans, which means that we eat the way people ate 2000 years ago. We make all kinds of wonderful concoctions out of living foods, with all their vitality intact.
DB: What is your next project?
We are working on a laptop orchestra that will be an installation and performance. It’s an art-rock band that invites the audience to take part in the performance. We are loving rock and roll right now, the fashion of it, the attitude and the pure fun and energy of it. All of those elements are informing this next project, which will begin to take shape in the form of promotional music videos.
BC: Let’s talk about some of my favourite projects and their meaning, like washing hands at ISE gallery.
One of our favourites also. We washed everyone’s hands, and it was very simple and very beautiful to us. Hands caressing hands. About 200 people came through for that performance, and it was very humbling somehow and resonated with us for a long time. It’s a hard piece to describe. It seemed one of the most poetic of our works in hindsight.
DB: “Forget Me Not” at PS 122?
That was all about death, of course, and life. It was the story of a close family member who died, and the entire audience left the stage individually, in closed coffins. It was a huge success in many ways, with great reviews in the Times and all over the place, but it was also very dark. When someone dies who is close to you, it always seems contradictory that the world keeps moving. It’s as if you want to say to the world, “Stop! This is not the time to move on!” And, in a sense, that’s what we did with the audience: we stopped them all, night after night, in this major performance in PS 122’s biggest theatre. We decided not to take this on tour because it was so difficult to do, emotionally.
BC: “Dreams and Possibilities” at the Whitney?
Wow, that was a major commission by the Whitney Museum. We had the ability to do whatever we wanted in 6000 square feet. We built huge sets, auditioned over 700 actors, Richard Foreman directed scenes, it was a beast! We had several students from Yale building amazing sets, and the idea was that it was a film set you walked into. Fact meeting fiction if you will. Like walking into a dream consciously. It was fantastic for us, and, luckily, it all worked out, and the museum and the participants as well as we ourselves were all very happy. It was like a mini-Hollywood production—everyone came: the director of BAM, and all kinds of art world and theatre people came, and it was that kind of quintessential theatre/film experience, with hugs, drama, and a wonderful feeling of collaborative effort on a large scale.
DB: “Let’s Play Doctor, an erotic audio party”?
That was a project for the Museo del Barrio in New York, where we built an inflatable bubble and taught people how to DJ, that is, how to scratch records. The title was meant to titillate, and, in fact it did: the museum removed it from their materials—it was censored! But I think that was because the idea of playing doctor, the way you might have as a kid, is an association that isn’t always comfortable. But we did the show, and had people in bathing suits teaching, and it was all very sexy and fun.
BC: “Miracles” at the Reina Sofia?
That was about the miracle, the first miracle that Jesus Christ performed. It was the miracle where he is at a wedding party, and everyone is dancing and drinking, but they are out of wine, and they ask him to help. So, as we all know, Jesus produces about 300 gallons of wine from water, to get the party that is already drunk completely wasted! Unusual miracle, we thought, because it sounds like Jesus was a party animal! This was a party that didn’t need more alcohol, and he made 300 gallons? We loved the contradictory nature of that miracle, so, at the Reina Sofia, we talked about it, and then served wine to everyone with a ladle and a giant bowl, the way we imagined it was being served at that famous party. Of course, people loved it, and that show travelled to Murcia and elsewhere.
DB: “Edamame” at PS 122 Gallery?
That was a strange one for a lot of people. Onestar Press had commissioned a video for us, and we made one about the transformation of elements—in this case, food into paint. And this was the process: Delia ate food cooked by Brainard, then Delia breast fed her son, Shiva, then Shiva pooped in his diaper, then Brainard and Delia used the poop for paint! The paintings were exhibited at PS 122, and the video was published by Onestar Press. That was probably one of the few works of ours that was also about being parents. BC: “Return to sender” at P.S. 1 Greater New York? That was our first museum show, and we were very excited. We had just formed Praxis a year earlier. We gave out money at that show, and also accepted anonymous prayers that were slipped into a box, which we performed telepathically later.
DB: Telepathic performance?
Yes, we did a telepathic performance in several ways in different venues. Once, when we were invited to do a show in Dublin, we told the curators that we would perform telepathically from New York City. The way it worked was this: the curators put up boxes in different places with paper to write your prayer on, and an email or text number. Then the curators would send us all these bits of paper, we would pray in our own way, and then the curators would send a text or email to all the people saying their prayer was performed! It was a lovely piece really, and the prayers were often heart-wrenching in their desperation. We liked that text messages or email could actually be carriers of an intimate message, anonymously.
BC: “The Invisible museum”?
That is a project that is still being developed. But the idea was that we create a whole museum on paper and choose a site, like an empty field, and then give people a tour of a solo show we are having there. For example, we lead you (and a whole group) to the non-visible museum doors. We bring you in and begin describing the show. We talk about the work on the wall, which is ours. The exciting thing is that the work has an infinite range! We describe, as any museum guide would, the paintings that are not there, the sculptures, the installations, the films, the technologically complex works! Then we get into the non-visible elevator and take the audience to another floor and do the same. In this way we are in the realm of words and imagination only. However, we imagine a catalogue of this show with descriptions next to blank pages and, ideally, the name of the person whose collection it is in. This project is still in a formative stage, and we are even thinking of using an existing piece of architecture that was never built as our museum floor plan, like Tadao Ando’s museum for France that was never built.
DB: “Marijuana manifesto” at Scope?
We were asked by a dealer at the Scope Art Fair in Manhattan to do a solo show in a hotel room. We had a nude couple on a bed, a remix we made of One Love playing on a CD, and we gave out hits of real marijuana. We didn’t smoke, the nude couple on the bed that we hired did, and so did almost everyone that came in the room. Needless to say it was a very popular show there! For us it was riffing on the meaning of “dealer”—but also, marijuana can be a means to a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking, which is what everything we do is about.
BC: At what age do you think you will die? We are both planning on living until 120—that is, if we feel tired by then. Maybe we will still have plenty of enthusiasm, so, if that is the case, we will keep on going till we feel is time to go, and, at that time, we will both go on a juice fast until we die in peace.
–end– some images from the magazine follow—