in Frieze Week Magazine | 14 FEB 19
Featured in
Frieze Los Angeles 2019

Chris Kraus Speaks to Matthew McLean about L.A., Influences and #MeToo

Q: Will there come a point when you are sick of talking about I Love Dick? Has that point come already? 

A: Yes

in Frieze Week Magazine | 14 FEB 19

Chris Kraus, Traveling at Night (1), 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Chateau Shatto, Los Angeles; photograph: Elon Schoenholz

Matthew McLean: You’re in Finland right now. There’s a lot of place in your work, and a lot of travel. Are you a nomadic person?

Chris Kraus: Yes, definitely. But I’m trying to be less so in the future.

MM: You split your time now between Los Angeles and Northern Minnesota. Where do you live when you’re in L.A.? What do you like about it?

CK: I live in the Westlake neighborhood near MacArthur Park. When I moved here in 2000, it was considered scary and dangerous but it never seemed like that to me. It was wildly interesting, with the largest Central American community in the US and old brick apart- ments from the 1920s, built for people arriving from the east coast. For a few years, I rented an office down by the park, in the same building as Vaginal Davis and Ben Ehrenreich.

I love walking around when I’m here I like seeing my friends, working with Hedi El Kholti and others on Semiotext(e), looking at art, catching the Metro downtown. And I like driving at night when things empty out. Usually when I’m here, I’m teaching writing as well.

MM: And what do you like about your other home?

CK: Northern Minnesota began as a placebo for upstate but it’s a lot more remote, and interesting in different ways. My partner, Philip Valdez, moved there full- time in 2017 to work as a psychologist in local schools, which puts him in touch with pretty much everyone, and gives me a more accurate sense of the com- munity than I had before, as a writer alone in the woods.

MM: You made films before turning ‘full time’ to writing - which are the subject of the recent Chateau Shatto exhibition ‘In Order to Pass’. Is it weird to see them again, and know other people will see them too?

CK: No, weirdly it’s not. The films were made so long ago, they feel like artifacts of another life. And since a lot of the people who worked on them are no long- er around, I like that they’ve become vehicles for transporting one era into another. It’s wonderful that people are interested in watching them now.

MM: I heard Liv Barrett, the founder of Chateau Shatto, chose to open in L.A. to maximise the chances that you would go to her shows. Do you ever feel like a celebrity?

CK: Liv was joking. I don’t feel like that at all. I think everything I’ve done as an artist goes against the idea of celebrity. A guy who interviewed me in London was surprised that we communicated directly, not through a publicist, but that kind of filtering seems like prison to me.

Chris Kraus, How to Shoot a Crime (1), 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Chateau Shatto, Los Angeles; photograph: Elon Schoenholz

MM: Who were your influences during the filmmaking period? Are there any filmmakers that continue to inspire you?

CK: I wanted to be Jean-Luc Godard. Or Chris Marker, or Agnes Varda. Their films demonstrated how movies can work as an almost literary form, where information and experience pass through the director into the film. But I like all kinds of movies. Recently I saw John Huston’s Fat City, a New Hollywood film of the 1970s, for the first time. And then, Barbara Loden’s Wanda, and which was pretty astonishing.

MM: One of the things I love most about your work is how often failure appears in it, often as almost indistuinghable from success. What does failure mean to you?

CK: I’ve used the word ‘failure’ as a hyperbolic pejorative, like ‘ugly.’ I don’t really think in terms of success and failure at all. Every success is built on hundreds of little failures or false starts. Sometimes a work can be artistically successful, but not popularly successful until decades later, if ever.

MM: Jill Soloway’s 2017 television adaptation of I Love Dick brought you and your work to a new audience. How did the adaptation come about?

CK: When Jill proposed the adaptation, I was confident she’d make it happen. On a personal level, of course I was ambivalent: who’d want to be a named character in a sitcom? But the plusses outweighed the embarrassment.

MM: A friend cursorily described your latest collection, ‘Social Practices’ — which contains, for example, a failed application for a Guggenheim grant to run a local store in Minnesota — as a meditation on ‘private life in public’. What does that mean to you?

CK: I’ve tried to capture aspects of private life, not necessarily my own, as it mani- fests in art. The book includes essays about artists like Ryan McGinley, Kate Newby, Fernando Corona, Julie Becker, where I’m trying to understand some- thing about artistic process, how ideas are formed from circumstances.

MM: You’re the author of many other novels and anthologies, besides Dick. Will there come a point when you are sick of talking about that one book? Has that point come already?

CK: Yes.

MM: Eileen Myles said that ‘When I Love Dick came into existence a new kind of female life did too’. In the last year or so, the art and entertainment worlds have been rocked by the #MeToo movement. What do you think this moment means long term for women? Has there been any good art to come out of #MeToo?

CK: I’m not aware of any artworks that directly address #MeToo, but the influence is everywhere. Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex has a Harvey Weinstein-esque character, who an ad-hoc gang of vigilante girls does horrible things to.

What’s a book you think everyone should read?

CK: I just finished Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook for the first time, and was overwhelmed by its brilliance and prescience. Everything seems to be there.

Are there any words you live by?

CK: Try?