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Read the interview here.

 

david

David Krippendorff: Without wanting to sound naive, first and foremost I hope that my work has a strong emotional impact. Every initial idea I ever had for a piece always started with an emotional reaction to something, be it a film or a piece of music. Throughout the process, I then conceptualize it and parse out the various political subtexts and interpretive layers. I do think that all art is political, but I am also a great believer that art should be more visceral. We live in times in which nobody trusts their feelings anymore; our society is becoming increasingly cerebral. I think this is a very dangerous trend, because remaining in touch with one’s feelings is also the first step toward empathy. When we’re detached, it becomes much easier to turn a blind eye to injustice; we fail to see the humanity in a homeless person we pass by on the street. I strongly believe that the role of art should be to help people get in touch with their feelings. To me, this becomes political, and it’s the only way that it can have an impact and make a change. We have enough “interesting” art, but how often does somebody go to a show and say: “That was really moving,” or “That was beautiful”?

A conversation with Patricia Thornley published on 3QuarksDaily

08still from The Western, 2018

From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me (2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US  formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.

The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.

Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?

Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level.

I didn’t ask this question because I was trying to be instructive, but because one of the most important aspects of my work is to observe opposing and conflicting states of consciousness and to create situations that attempt a kind of uncommon reconciliation of these states. So in terms of what has changed I would say that what I was perceiving as a state of unconsciousness (pre-Trump) has been pushed to the surface by outrage and fear.

Read the interview on 3QuarksDaily here

 

THIS IS US: Sang Real

Andrea Scrima talks to Patricia Thornley about Sang Real, her third multi-media work for This Is Us, an ongoing series of interview and song. The series, begun in 2011, consists in highly mediated encounters the American artist stages in different environments.


AS:
 Patricia, there’s a strong sense of place in this piece that I’d like to ask you about. Perched on a stool on the banks of Port Medway Harbour, with domestic objects scattered in the sand and the tide rising rapidly around him, a rugged man stems himself against the cold and speaks about his connection to the landscape of his birth: “most people stayed within five miles from where they were born.” Surrounded by what appears to be the detritus of a life, he adds: “it wouldn’t happen today; there’s no work … you’ve got to go where the work is, I suppose.” As you question him off-camera, and as he offers his laconic answers, I find myself thinking about uprootedness and what it means when people lose the economic ability—and by extension right—to stay in the place they come from. The socio-political undertones in all the works of the series This Is Us probe questions of individual and collective identity; here, one of the themes is displacement, a fate this man has managed to defy.

PT: Yes, people seem to leave home for different personal or economic reasons now, as a matter of course. In the different pieces in this series, the notion of moving “forward” is key. In both the interviews and the songs I try to be inclusive of what exists on the back and the front of that movement.

AS: In each of the pieces in This Is Us, the people you interview are people you know personally, people you admire for a number of different reasons.

PT: Yes, the subject of this piece is a friend, and someone I hold in high regard; he lives in the community and takes care of property and houses there, mine included. I’m dependent on him in that sense. We often work together; I’m an outsider, and I’ve learned quite a lot about how to be in the landscape there, and how to be, through him. He has a way of coping, and laughing, and thriving. I’m interested in the way our lives and worlds cautiously, respectfully collide. It was a big step to ask him to participate in the piece.

AS: You mentioned to me that the title Sang Real comes from the Old French and combines the meanings of holy grail and royal blood. I noticed that at the end of the piece, as a kind of spontaneous afterthought, the man—who has been sitting on a kind of throne as the wind picks up and the waters rise alarmingly around him—fishes an object from the water, an old lamp that could be understood as a metaphor, a sort of grail. To an English-speaking reader, an entirely different meaning presents itself, of course.

PT: Actually, late medieval writers devised a false etymology for sangréal, an alternative name for “Holy Grail.” In Old French, san graal or san gréal means “Holy Grail,” whereas sang réal means “royal blood.” The objects placed on the beach were pulled from an old house that he no longer lives in and now uses for storage; they’re a combination of domestic objects and tools that he no longer needs. In keeping with the theme of home and place, I do imagine my subject as royal, and the harbor as a center, a life force erasing the detritus and then offering up what he is owed, a birthright retrieved in a casual gesture that speaks of essential instincts of survival.

AS: As the waves come in, themes of danger and mortality emerge; lost in his own thoughts, the man seems circumscribed in a very particular space, the space of his life, in a sense. And then, in a kind of superimposition or even violation of that space, you appear in the frame and approach your subject with a microphone attached to a boom pole, which has something almost weapon-like about it, or you wander about in the distance in a somewhat predatory manner, carrying a large round reflector. These are stark moments in which different levels of reality collide, where life and art seem to hit up against one another in an uncomfortable way.

PT: Yes, there’s always a deep ambivalence involved in casting a friend in a piece. On one hand I’m paying homage; on the other, I’m making them an object of scrutiny. The impositions are inevitable and endless. Inherently, my “contribution” can only exist apart from real experience, and in counterpoint to my subject. We play what’s wrong with this picture as soon as I introduce my tools—my ideas, branding, props, equipment, music—into what implies or refers to a clean and honest inquiry.

Going in, we knew the shoot would be cold and awkward, but of course we didn’t know that the wind would kick up like it did that afternoon, that a storm would be rolling in. You can’t see it in the footage, but it’s snowing at the end of the shot. To the work’s advantage, this underscores the sense of danger, of human frailty in the piece, but it was nearly unbearable for the subject and crew. The harbor did give it back to us that day.

AS: There are several distancing devices used throughout the piece: you enter and leave the frame; off-camera, you discuss elements of the footage that can be changed, post-shoot, on the computer. Though I have seen incongruous props in other works in the series, I now find myself wondering about the false eyelashes.

PT: I’m interested in showing impulses and gestures rather than outcomes, in embracing contradictions that are present. I think of the shots of the crew at the end as a kind of nightmare hallucination from the point of view of the subject. The lashes are meant to be a gesture of submission to him, but they’re also a discordant detail that may reek of insincerity, especially in this landscape. In the song the repeated phrase I’m Your Man is sung in earnest, but it’s the chorus of a song about money. The crew and I have feminine decorations glued to our faces, but they are mangled by the weather in the end.

Published in Lute and Drum, issue 1