Ten Questions: David Horvitz

David Horvitz is ready for the opening of Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF), but is still searching for a wooden spoon made from rowan tree to stir a soup he has made from a magic stone.

David Horvitz, Lenge leve havet, 2013. Photo: David Horvitz.
David Horvitz, Lenge leve havet, 2013. Photo: David Horvitz.

When the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF) opens in Kabelvåg and Svolvær today the program will feature a range of events. At the opening festival visitors will be offered a soup made from a magic stone from the California coast. Brooklyn-based artist David Horvitz (b. 1982) is the man behind this curious gastronomic contribution. Educated at UC Riverside and Bard College Horvitz has in recent years gained attention creating works inspired by the more poetic and humorous aspects of historical concept art. Many of his works are based on systems for dispersing objects and information, featuring everything from the global postal system to more modern platforms like YouTube and Wikipedia. Public Access is probably his most renowned work. In this project, which began as a journey along the North American Pacific coastline, the artist had himself depicted on over fifty beaches all publicly accessible under U.S. law. The snapshots were then posted in Wikipedia-articles about each individual beach. The fact that Horvitz turned up in one «official» beach photo after another roused the suspicions of self-appointed Wikipedia editors. They either removed the pictures or edited the artist’s contour out of the images. Horvitz himself declared that he was mainly interested in the circulatory effects and the gameplay between two supposedly open public zones.

The ambivalent position of Wikipedia as a collectively created source of truth becomes evident in the entry on Horvitz himself. In it we are informed that a few years ago the artist rediscovered a lost film by Dutch concept- and performance artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared at sea in 1975 in an attempt to cross the Atlantic in a 13’ sailing boat. The film was supposedly found at the University of California Irvine where Ader taught during the early 1970s. When Horvitz subsequently put up the work — which he named Rarely Seen Bas Jan Ader Film — up on YouTube on behalf of the Patrick Painter Gallery, there were consequences. The gallery in charge of Ader’s estate protested and the video was removed. The film, which is now back on YouTube under the title Newly Found Bas Jan Ader Film is a brief, grainy, black-and-white clip — just a few seconds long. It shows a man cycling into the sea. The work plays on both Ader’s famous Fall II — in which he cycles into an Amsterdam canal — and his death at sea. At the same time this work is about ownership, art as commodity and the notion of the originality of the artwork.

Horvitz’ play on the mercantile status of art is marked by a certain ambivalent irony. His websites offer videos and images free for print or download. Simultaneously he demonstrates a business talent comparable to that of Seth Siegelaub. At the moment his website is dominated by a photo of a blossoming cherry tree accompanied by the following offer: «For $1 USD I will think about you for one minute. I will email you the time I start thinking, and the time I stop. Make sure your PayPal email is up to date.» Previously the artist has sold his studio rent as art and he is currently on the lookout for a collector to buy his student loan.

Horvitz’ contribution to the LIAF seems slightly less pecuniary in nature. In addition to his stone soup we find the installation Lenge leve havet, presently mounted in Smedvika. Kunstkritikk interviewed the artist via e-mail. Horvitz refers to answer some questions with images rather than words.

How are the preparations for your upcoming show going?

Things are almost done. Bassam El Baroni is great to work with. Chef Arne has left, so all the time I spent eating his fresh bread is now spent instaling. I have work in two rooms in an old house in Kabelvåg. And some other works are scattered around the house walls. There is the work with a flag out on a boat. And there is a soup on Friday made from a stone from the Shawangunk Mountain ridge that I carried in my pocket from New York. We are still looking for a wooden spoon to stir the soup. If you have a wooden spoon, can you bring it on Friday? I want one made from a rogn tree (rowan tree). They are everywhere here.

What do you consider the most important aspect of this particular work?

The wind. The flag needs wind to fly. The wind is very important.

When, how and why did you become an artist?

Ti spørsmål-David Horvitz-1

How do you see your role as an artist today?

Here is a little story: Ryokan was a Zen monk who lived a simple life in a small hut at the bottom of a mountain. One night a thief came to the hut where he found there was nothing to steal. Ryokan was awakened and approached the thief. “You must have travelled far to get here,” he said, “and you shouldn’t leave without having something. Please take my only possessions – these clothes – this is my gift to you.” The thief was confused but took the clothes and quickly went off. Later that night Ryokan sat naked, looking at the moon. “Poor friend,” he thought, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

How would you describe your working method?

Sometimes I will develop a project, and it will solidify into one thing. Sometimes it will dissolve into many projects, or into nothing. Sometimes it can act like a mushroom’s mycelium, the underground networked body that can stretch out for miles branching off into different directions, where there is no center, just continuous expansion.

An example of my working process is seen in a room that displays an image of me looking depressed. This image is playing off of cliches found in stock photographs that represent depression. The image was posted to Wikipedia’s Mood Disorder article. Since Wikipedia hosts copyright free material, the image of me looking sad began to circulate as a free stock image for articles in need of an image that depicted depression. It was digested by the internet’s continuous production of content. The room displays about 40 or so examples of various websites in different languages that have used the image. But there was no way to predict this would happen. And there was no way to force it. I just had to wait and see. So I’m always doing things that may potentially grow into something. Or not.

Today, on the way to Henningsvær to get some bole, we stopped at the beach and I made this photograph, which is now here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henningsvær

Can you mention current art or projects/practices that inspire you?

This past week all my inspiration has come from the cooking of our in house chef Arne Skaug Olsen. The borscht was unbelievable. The halibut was perfect. The chocolate mousse made with avocado with the cloudberries and the almonds… Unbelievable. Hazelnut cake with a brownie on top. Texan chili.

What role does theory have in your work? What theorists have inspired you lately?

Ti sp. David Hortviz-2

Currently, there seems to be a need to define the term «contemporary art». What is it, anyway?

The term contemporary means to be “with time” – or to be “with the times.” But everyone I know never seems to have time. As if it has become a scarcity. (I am, I should say, writing from the perspective of living in New York City…). There are deadlines, things are late, there is always something that demands our attention to be occupied. One hundred new email announcements for exhibitions by artists and galleries I’ve never heard of (how did I get on this list?). Some new things posted about an hour ago, or a few minutes ago, or one second ago. It’s like a race, but there isn’t really a finish line. What is the opposite of “con” in Latin? How can we say to be without time? Sinetemporary? That sounds weird. What about distemporary? Or atemporary?

How can visual artists make a living and still maintain a critical attitude towards the commercial art market and governmental funding bodies?

Again, I am writing from the perspective of living in New York. We don’t have a lot of funding. And not everyone is selling their work. Whether it’s because they are against selling it, or that no one is buying it, they still have to figure things out. Most people I know don’t make their living from sales. Some have a day job. Some have two-day jobs. Some balance out their expenses by shoplifting all of their food from grocery stores. Some live in houses where someone works one day a week at a farmstand, and someone else works part time at a bakery, and no one in the house spends money on food. A friend of mine sells poems on streetcorners in Oakland to pay his rent, and he’s been doing this for years. Another friend sells his own small production wines on the side of his art practice. I used to offer a monthly edition subscription that subsidized the rent of my studio. It was a new artwork each month that was an edition of ten sold at 10% of my studio rent. So they were pretty cheap. Almost all of them are sold out now, which is crazy to think about, because it means none of my studio rent came out of my pocket. It was never a question of the contradiction of selling/maintaining a critical position against commercialism because you weren’t selling anything (except $30 editions). The question was how do you make time to maintain your art practice. I don’t think I answered the question.

What would you change in the world of art?

Less deadlines. Less Facebook event announcements. More openings in the early morning.