BY Julie Ault in Interviews | 05 DEC 14
Featured in
Issue 163

Questionnaire: Julie Ault

Q. What should stay the same? A. A moratorium on gentrification would be good.

BY Julie Ault in Interviews | 05 DEC 14

Kris Kristoffersen, 2014, illustration by Elisabeth Moch. Courtesy: the artist

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

I move from place to place a lot and mostly don’t work at a desk. I prefer to work sitting at a kitchen table or on a couch. The room I’m in and its views outside are my visual environment. When I’m immersed in a project researching, thinking and writing, I need pretty much to screen out what is unrelated, including the view, so the more interiorized I am the better. I used to regularly sit at a desk where I’d hung one of Nancy Spero’s ‘Artaud Paintings’ (1969–70) very close by. It portrays a figure floating upside down in a skeletal room, a tombstone backdrop reads: ‘Hanging from the inner cadaver.’ Very stimulating, existentially.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

There was no first significant work that mattered to me. I’ve always been more affected by individuals than works. Tim Rollins was my inroad to art; I met him when I was 15. Tim’s ways of thinking and being changed everything for me.

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?

I think more in binaries and clusters than individual works. I love living with Sister Corita’s serigraphs from 1966 that layer coloured type on white backgrounds – they open up wall space in a fascinating way and interact with whatever is near. Or I would choose a light string by Félix González-Torres, because you always need light. There’s also a precious work that Nancy Spero gave to me in 1985. The piece has no title and is difficult to describe but, nearly 30 years later, it still grabs me visually and viscerally every time I see it. These come to mind, but it could just as easily be others.

What is your favourite title of an art work?

It’s between Sister Corita’s Wonder Bread (1964) and Portable Memorial (1993) by Tony Feher.

What do you wish you knew?

I wish I could retain information and build knowledge in fields I have a history of ignorance in – from mathematics to geography to languages.I have trouble interpreting maps and I have difficulty conceptualizing translations from one mode to another – for instance currency exchange is pure abstraction to me. I only speak English but I’d like to be fluent in Spanish. I have good emotional memory and poor informational memory.

What should change?

Mainstream thinking and its widespread repressive effects. The larger formal, informal and rogue systems that govern society should be dissolved – I doubt reform is an option. Most classification systems are dictatorial and should be dismantled. Unquestioned allegiance to ‘progress’, ‘efficiency’ and technology – look where that’s got us. Most people I know are drowning in toomuchness: communication overload and cultural gluttony. Something has to give, but it takes a lot of energy and self-possession to step out of cultural currents and head for the edges. We need a ‘revolution of the mind’. (James Brown, 1971)

What should stay the same?

A moratorium on gentrification would be good. The thorough gentrification of New York cannot be reversed; the extent of cultural demolition inflicted is disgraceful. We’ve been brainwashed to think nothing can stay the same, but that isn’t really true. The collective and corporate expansionist mindset that has infected society and so many institutions is profoundly destructive. Downsizing seems to me a more valuable agenda.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Possibly being a greeter at Walmart. Seriously, I daydream about doing something far from the art field, although I worked in the service sector a lot when I was younger and I probably wouldn’t go back. I once talked with a park ranger stationed on a mountaintop in Utah, whose sole duty was watching for and monitoring fires. That kind of targeted focus seemed enviable at the time. I wouldn’t mind being a free-floating consultant,talking with people about their problems, projects, giving feedback, suggestions and sharing experiences.

What are you reading?

William Least Heat-Moon’s collection of short-form writings, Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road (2013), The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982) and I’m a sucker for Adam Phillips, so I’ve got his latest, One Way and Another: New and Selected Essays (2013), in line. Recently, I’ve been reading only short books I could finish in a day, so Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009) and lots of Marguerite Duras and Peter Handke. I’ve also been on a biography binge: high points are Timothy Egan’s Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis and Cynthia Carr’s Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (both 2012) – both electrifying in their portrayal of artists who were consumed by creative passions.

What do you like the look of?

Kris Kristofferson’s ageing face, the Oregon woods, signs that read ‘Free WIFI and Cable TV’, overfilled bookshelves, extreme horizontality, generic guest apartments, hotel rooms, certain combinations of dark colours, snow-covered mountains, blinding snowfall, any film by Pedro Almodóvar, a bubbling hot cooked-to-perfection serving of Amy’s brand macaroni and cheese, densely populated supermarket shelves, the driver’s seat of my car, the view from behind the wheel, a big analogue television set, an old-school diner … This list could be endless.

is an artist, curator, writer, editor and teacher who lives in New York, USA. In 1979, she co-founded the artist collective Group Material, whose practice explored the relationship between art, activism and politics until it disbanded in 1996. Her recent exhibitions include ‘Afterlife: a constellation’ for the 2014 Whitney Biennial, New York, and ‘Macho Man Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault’, shown in 2013–14 at Artists Space, New York; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel, Switzerland; and Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal. Ault’s publications include (FC) Two Cabins by James Benning (2011) and Show and Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material (2010).