Carla M. Wilson
Black Scat Books
220 Pages; Print, $14.95
What do Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georgia O’Keefe, Louise Bourgeois, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Leonora Carrington, Madge Gill, Balthus, Béla Lugosi, Agatha Christie, and the infamous Anonymous all have in common? Is it that they are all dead? No! That cannot be the case. Anonymous is alive and well, as is Yoko Ono.
Some of these artists, of course, have been biographed extensively. Willard Espy’s humorous The Life and Works of Mr. Anonymous (1977) is a particular delight. But even then, by and large the lives of those who have been discussed are still rather mysterious to a large extent (don’t let art critics or historians who claim to “know” them fool you—no one has convincingly claimed ultimate knowledge over who they really were, especially not the artists themselves). The most profound artists are, after all, the most notoriously confused about their own relationship to the world. And that is perhaps exactly what has attracted Carla M. Wilson to writing these “imaginary interviews with world-famous artists”— the very fact that much about these particular artists is still an enigma (especially the aforementioned Mr. or Ms. Anonymous—I am afraid that Espy’s assumption of the gender of Anonymous has not convinced me).
When artists leave such delicious ambiguity behind, we, their aficionados, are left to our conjectures. What we can do, at best, is read as much as we can and immerse ourselves in their art, and then, perhaps, we may find a glimpse of the flicker of light that illuminates their work. Let us applaud Wilson here for diligently looking for that flicker. And, given the opportunity to speak with these great artists about their work, and keeping in mind that the interviewer is no mere sycophant but indeed also a fully shaped human being who is interested in artistic engagement, the interviews are begun.
The shroud of ambiguity surrounding the artists is highlighted by Wilson in the interviews. For example, Ono has a sphinx-like response when Wilson asks Ono, “Your pieces deal with nature and intuition. What about pain?” Ono responds by saying, “It exists in the world that is not a world.” That response might elicit a WTF from anyone not willing to be engaged by tergiversation, but for those of us who appreciate art that opens up new spaces for thought, it is worthy of applause.
Wilson also gives us wonderfully tangential transitions from interview to interview, for she asks Ono about Warhol to end the Ono interview and then follows the Ono interview with the Warhol one. Warhol, also famous for his rather mercurial nature, when asked by Wilson, “How would one know the real you?” responds, “I don’t…know.” At the end of the interview, Warhol states that he can’t decide if he prefers Godard or Hitchcock. Wilson asks him to pick one, and he replies, “Hitchcock, I guess. He had this thing for blondes,” which leads to the interview with Hitchcock. The pattern of connectivity from interview to interview results in giving this collection of imaginary interviews the feel of a type of novel, the way Sherwood Anderson’s Winesberg, Ohio (1919) and Edgar Lee Masters’s The Spoon River Anthology (1915) feel like novels. The parts can be unassembled and examined individually, of course, but they fit together into a coherent whole. To do this with the imagined interview form is something new, a furthering of the effect of the imagined interviews that pervade Alexander Terekhov’s The Stone Bridge (2009) and Bob Raczka’s The Vermeer Interviews (2009), in which Raczka’s subjects for his imagined interviews are the subjects in Vermeer’s paintings. But Wilson is using the imagined interview form in a new manner here, and that is outstanding.
Hitchcock is asked about Macguffins, to which he replies that one “mustn’t ask what a Macguffin is, but rather what it does.” He refers to...