På lørdag, 15. januar, åpner den Los Angeles-baserte kunstneren Catherine Opie utstillingen High School Football, bestående av en serie fotografier, på galleriet Peder Lund i Oslo. Hun vil også holde en åpen forelesning i dag, 14. januar kl. 15, i Kunstakademiets auditorium på Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo.
Nesten hver eneste amerikanske high school har et eget amerikansk fotballag, om ikke en egen bane å spille på. Sporten er en del av og en gavepakke til den amerikanske drømmen: den setter små byer på kartet, nødvendiggjør og organiserer samfunn, og former unge gutter til svært så synlige og konkurransedyktige unge menn. Ved første øyekast kan Catherine Opies portretter av unge gutter som poserer etter trening, og action-bilder med ikoniske amerikanske landskaper i bakgrunnen virke typisk «amerikanske», det kan se ut til å handle om maskulinitet, nasjonal identitet og den typen stereotypier som opprettholdes av mediekonsern som Sports Illustrated eller ESPN. Men Opies utgangspunkt er annerledes. Man bør ikke glemme at hun tidlig på 90-tallet laget et selvportrett iført en ansiktsmaske av lær, med ordet «pervert» skåret inn i huden på brystkassen, og med 46 nåler stukket i armene. Som David Velasco så treffende skrev i Artforum sist sommer: «Opie ble ikke født med PERVERT skåret inn i brystet, hun gjorde det slik. Hennes arbeid handler om dyp identifikasjon – ikke identitet.» Siden midten av 90-tallet har Catherine Opie reist gjennom amerikanske byer og landskaper og tatt bilder av den amerikanske psyken. Fra butch-dykes og transseksuelle til surfere og fotballspillere, gjør Opie kontinuerlige analyser og synliggjør måten subjektiviteten utvikles på og defineres av de landskapene og omgivelsene som omgir en.
Catherine Opies fotografier har blitt vist verden over, fra samtidskunstmuseet i Los Angeles – hvor hun også har en professorstilling i fotografi ved UCLA – til Guggenheim i New York og The Photographers’ Gallery i London – og ja, president Obama har hennes Lake Michigan, Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer (2004-05) hengende på veggen ved sitt solarium i Det hvite hus.
I forbindelse med Catherine Opies kommende utstilling på Peder Lund, stilte Kunstkritikk henne våre ti spørsmål. Vi velger å publisere svarene hennes på originalspråket.
1. How are the preparations for your upcoming show at Peder Lund Gallery going?
The show is going well. I have a little model in my studio of the gallery space. I set up a scale model of the installation and then used miniature photographs to arrange them and sent the model off to the gallery, so they will know how to install the works. And if I need to tweak it, I will.
2. What do you consider the most important aspect of this exhibition or this particular work?
There are numerous things. My work always derives, in a sense, from looking at communities and how communities begin to identity with each other. When I first started this body of work it was really about this realization that every high school in American has a football field. So I wanted to look at it as an extension of an American landscape, as something that is purely identifiable as an American landscape. And then when I started to make the portraits, it really shifted from this identity of landscape to more of this identity of the iconic American football player. Is he so iconic? They don’t all look alike. They are vulnerable. And then also, with America currently being at war, many of these boys are choosing right now to join the military after high school, if there are no other choices. And I realized that I was bearing witness to a very vulnerable group of people. But you know, beyond the politics that are always innate in my work, it was really about being able to stare at these young men, having them stand before me, and trying to make these portraits that are fairly complicated to make.
3. When, how and why did you become an artist?
[Laughs] It was really just one of those things that was meant to be. I was toying with the idea of being an elementary school teacher, a kindergarten teacher. I was actually studying for one year at a college to do that. But I have been doing photography since I was 9 years old. In high school, I had my own darkroom at home. It was my passion. But like many kids, my parents told me that it wasn’t very possible to be an artist. But in the end, I called up my mother and said, «Mom, I’m an artist and I need to go to art school, and I don’t think I am going to be happy being a kindergarten teacher.» This was after a year of studying that, but I had continued to take photography classes. So she said okay. I applied to San Francisco Art Institute and I got in. After that, photography just kept being my main focus of study. And it worked out for me. And my mother and father are both very happy that it actually did!
4. How do you see your role as an artist today?
I would say that first of all my work has to pertain to my own interests and my own mind. It’s about being in touch with what inspires me, with what I want to think about, with what I want to explore in relationship to bodies of work. Secondly, I feel a definite responsibility to the politics of my own community, which is the queer community. I feel that, politically, it is really important for me to represent my community, especially in relationship to the incredible homophobia that goes on in America. Thirdly, it’s about hopefully inspiring and educating other people, whether it’s another artist or an audience looking at my work. It’s about being able to actually transport people to my ideas through the ways that I make my bodies of work.
5. How would you describe your working method?
I work hard and I work a lot. Often people in my life say, «You don’t have to do anything this year, you’ve made a lot of work, Cathy.» But I can’t not be thinking about it! I have a pretty rigorous studio practice, and I teach, on top of being a mother. But I think my curiosity for life and my interest in describing different communities and aspects of Americana are unrelenting in my own mind. Plus, right now I am stumbling with having to re-teach myself how to keep up with the digital world. It’s interesting to really know photography backwards and forwards, but then not have mastered Photoshop or other tools that I completely need at this point. Not only for myself as an artists but for myself as an educator.
6. Can you mention current art or projects/practices that inspire you?
I was actually talking to someone about this the other day. We were thinking about which artists we like right now, what is inspiring us, and to whom are we looking for inspiration. I have to say, I kind of stick with my group of people who have inspired me throughout. I always look at what Roni Horn is making. I think she is a really interesting artist. Matthew Barney is always changing it up in ways that are incredible. And his work ethic as an artist is crazy. But it varies. You go into shows and you think that a certain artist has hit it on that note and then other times you’re like…hmm…and you just wander out. But there hasn’t been a pinnacle work that I have experienced recently that is staying with me right now. It is probably because I am so busy with my own practice! … My students are doing well. My students are inspiring me.
7. What role does theory play in your work? What theorists have inspired you lately?
It definitely played a role early on while I was going through graduate school at CalArts. It had such a theoretical program, focusing more or less on Rosalind Krauss and October. And then definitely in the late 80s and early 90s, I was into queer theory and gender studies. And I would say, one thing that most people don’t know is that I studied urban planning, because it deals with space and ideas of architecture. And in my different bodies of work, like American Cities, they really relate to my interest in how things are actually built. These are pretty much the core sources that I go to for theory, but I have to say that I read all the time and I am currently very stuck on fiction. I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and I am starting on William Gibson’s Zero History, and I am also trying to get through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
8. Currently, there seems to be a need to define the term «contemporary art». What is it, anyway?
I want to give you one of those quick and piffy answers like: work that is made contemporaneously is basically contemporary art. But what is happening within contemporary art is a whole other huge discussion. It is very interesting to watch people maintain their respective mediums, while at the same time everyone is trying to explode beyond those definitions. For the most part, people are no longer comfortable being medium specific. That would be my largest comment on contemporary art. You know, how people are trying to make work and expand the definition of art, as is always done in art. But I would have to say that the Internet plays such a major role in the exchange of ideas right now. That’s fairly fascinating…Every young artist has a Website.
9. How can visual artists make a living and still maintain a critical attitude towards the commercial art market and governmental funding bodies?
Governmental funding bodies don’t really exist. We don’t really have the possibility of living on grants in order to make our work because there really isn’t any funding for artists on a governmental level. It only goes to institutions. There are no individual artist grants anymore from the National Endowment for the Arts. So on a commercial level, to be honest, I think it’s tricky. If some artists have the good fortune of selling out a show then they’re less likely, because of the market, to make a shift in their work. I think you have to be able to really almost ignore the market, even though this is really hard to do, as it obviously provides you with an income if things are actually selling. But you need to make work out of a relationship with our own practice, on an individual level, instead of in relationship to the market. And I think that artists – especially young artists – have a hard time separating this. I came out of a generation where we never attempted to get a gallery. I really thought that I would get my master’s degree, make photographs and teach. I never really had any kind of vision or notion of what this greater art market was. For a photographer graduating in 1988 with a master’s degree, you know, we didn’t really think of the money that Cindy Sherman or Richard Prince were making. We weren’t thinking of money; we were thinking about our work. I think I was fortunate to come out of a generation of artists who really thought about their work.
10. What would you change in the world of art?
More women artists need to be represented. That is what I would change in the world of art. That there would be more chances for women artists. It is really hard to see my friends, who are older women, who are amazing artists, not get the proper time to show their work. It ends up always being so focused on a young generation. But we all know that being an artist is about perseverance and about a studio practice. It’s about the ability to make work year after year without actually necessarily exhibiting. I would really like to see older artists, and women in particular, a little more focused on.