In the second part of this series, artists Kione Kochi and Anaïs Duplan discuss the role of biography and autobiography in the writing of manifestos and how their own biographies influence them during ManifeStation, a temporary manifesto-writing service held at Flux Factory. Read the first part in this series in the February issue.
- Choose one of the people we interviewed. In your own words, tell his/her/their life-story. Then read an excerpt from his/her/their manifesto that you think correlates particularly well to that person’s biography.
Anaïs Duplan: Jack Grange had, perhaps, the most enthralling biography – and of course, Jack Grange isn’t his real name; he asked us not to mention him by name, because he used to be a practicing physician. One of the first things he said was, “There’s no use talking about the future because it doesn’t exist.” It was at that moment that I leaned forward in my chair and everything else in the room disappeared for me.
He told us about R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience. Essentially, that children are born innocent and that their experiences in society and in school cause them to feel alienated. He said this in such a way that made me feel as though he was relating something about his own childhood. From there, he leapt into a story about being at this party and seeing a zinnia plant withering. He said, “You can’t turn the sprinklers on because there’s a party going on, and plus this zinnia belongs to the host.” So he discretely went inside the house and got some water for the plant from the kitchen faucet. But you can imagine Jack at this party, not mingling at all with the other party-folk, but instead focusing on this zinnia plant.
At one point, he said, “If you’re with a bunch of people who just assume you’re the same as them, they will say all kinds of things. Racist things or things about fags, because they just assume that you have those beliefs as well.” I asked if he’d found himself in those types of situations often. He said yes and told us about the first time he’d visited a psychiatrist. The man was from the Spanish Civil War and had many diplomats from the United Nations as clients. He told Jack that the most important thing was to “make people feel that you are the same, or else, if you’re not the same, you’re a threat.” When Jack said, “I wish I understood him better,” I wondered why. The psychiatrist seemed to be a bit of a dubious character, sharing all sorts of information about his other patients with Jack. I asked Jack if there was something about Jack that made the psychiatrist feel as though he could divulge that information and Jack said, “Yes. Because I was not part of them.” So, again, the alienation. Jack recited a line from Thoreau and described how he used to sit on the floor in those days and how he stopped shaving and combing his hair after reading Walden.
Jack said, “One of the conventions of society is that you do not reject your parents.” I wondered about Jack’s upbringing, his relationship with his own parents. Throughout the whole interview, his son Greg was seated on the floor beside him. At the exact moment that Jack talked about not rejecting your parents, Greg, who had been seated cross-legged and upright, hinged at the waist and rested his palms and forehead by his father’s feet. Ostensibly, he was just stretching, but it looked quite like he was bowing to his father. Those are the moments when you want to stop everything—when you want to break social convention—and ask, “What just happened there? Did you see that?”
We had the opportunity to interview the whole Grange family. We interviewed Jack first, then Greg, and then Greg’s mother, Karen. So, in each case, we witnessed a small piece of a larger story—the biography of an entire family. They all seemed to be such different people. Jack was, at the same time, intensely focused and a bit aloof; Greg was quite energetic and spoke very quickly; and Karen was a bit timid but extremely sweet. They were all extremely sweet. But Jack stood out for me. Perhaps in the way that he’s always “stood out.”
Anaïs reading from Jack’s manifesto
Kione Kochi: I interviewed Selina, a good friend of mine, and it was a “pre-order” request from people we knew prior to the event at Flux Factory. This happened in a different setting than the two-day performance. Unlike the other participants at the Flux Factory event, I was familiar with her biography prior to the interview. She told me how everyone in her family is very math- and number-oriented except for her. Because it was something that everyone else in her family was good at, she worked hard until she was able to teach others how to solve problems. I think this was in elementary or middle school. I saw it as an incredible feat of self-forming. She also decided that she would learn Spanish well enough to claim her second citizenship in Argentina (and she did), which affirmed what I knew already; she is very self-driven and determined, constantly working to accomplish the goals she sets for herself. Selina is also a dancer and has been in many pieces by other choreographers, but has not been an author/choreographer. We talked about authorship and responsibility—how it can be easier to just be a contributing member rather than a creative director. Another topic we discussed was her residence at the co-op. When she first started living in the shared house, she struggled with other people’s ways of being that clashed with hers. Over the years, she came to be known as someone who is very attentive to detail, caring, reliable and selfless. And I knew that she was proud of these traits but they were also taking a toll on her physical and mental well being. I tried my best to write something that took into account all of those relevant ideas.
Even though she spoke in fairly abstract terms, I had more context and detail for her life, just because we have mutual friends and acquaintances. This became a distraction during the writing process. When she spoke about her trip to Argentina, I knew the people she had stayed with; when she spoke about her dance practice, I knew who she had worked for; and when she spoke about the house that she lives in, I knew all of her fellow residents. Writing for strangers had given me the permission to imagine, extrapolate, take risks and come up with something that was abstract enough to be applicable but personalized enough to be special. Writing for a friend, it was challenging to find this balance – I feel that the text came out more as an advice based on what I wanted for her, rather than something I imagined she would write for herself.
Kione reading Selina’s manifesto
- Choose a manifesto you like. Don’t give this too much thought; just choose the one that comes first to your mind. Read an excerpt from this manifesto. Then investigate the person (or people) that wrote it. What were they doing at the time when the manifesto was crafted? Go searching for clues about the manifesto in that person’s biography.
AD: The first two manifestos that came to mind first were Breton’s Surrealist Manifestos and Tzara’s 1918 Dada Manifesto. In the end, though, Tzara won out. Nothing stands up to this:
Anaïs reading excerpt from Dada Manifesto:
There’s a great excerpt of the film, Europe, After the Rain (1978), that features Tristan Tzara wearing a monocle and delivering a sort of verbal manifesto against manifestos. “I am against principles,” he says. Then he instructs us on how to write a Dadaist poem, which is essentially to cut out the words in a news article, to place all the words in a bag, to “shake gently,” and then to re-combine them. The result of which is a poem that will be “like you.” “And here you are, a writer, infinitely original.”
Tristan Tzara on Dada
I think we’re pretty much aware of what Dada came out of, but I went in search of some gems about Tzara, aka Samy Rosenstock. Here’s what I found, in no particular order:
– In February 1935, Tzara (along with Georges Braque, Eugene and Maria Jolas, Henri Matisse, and André Salmon) published a Testimony Against Gertrude Stein, in response to her memoir, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, where she apparently produced inaccurate portrayals of Tzara and company. The whole publication is a page-by-page commentary on Stein’s book and each person has their own section to air grievances. Here’s an excerpt from Tzara’s contribution:
– When he was 24, Tzara published the “Dada Manifesto on Feeble Love and Bitter Love,” in which he writes:
A manifesto is a communication made to the whole world, whose only pretension is to the discovery of an instant cure for political, astronomical, artistic, parliamentary, agronomical and literary syphilis. It may be pleasant, and good-natured, it’s always right, it’s strong, vigorous and logical.
Apropos of logic, I consider myself very likeable.
This was in the same year that André Breton publicly declared Dada to be over, thus marking the end of Tzara and Breton’s friendship. Much later, William S. Burroughs, who was a great advocate of the cut-up method described by Tzara, characterized the dispute between the two men in the following manner:
Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem. As many poems as you like. As many Shakespeare Rimbaud poems as you like. Tristan Tzara said: “Poetry is for everyone.” And André Breton called him a cop and expelled him from the movement. Say it again: “Poetry is for everyone.” Poetry is a place and it is free to all cut up Rimbaud and you are in Rimbaud is a Rimbaud poem cut up.
“The Cut-Up Methods of Brion Gysin” – William S. Burroughs
– In September 1963 interview, when he was 67, Tzara speaks of having lived in a large apartment in Montparnasse, surrounded by friends like Man Ray and Crevel. He says, smiling, “So obviously, at that time, life was good, friendship-wise, and it was like a huge apartment that belonged, where we all lived.” Tzara died in December of that same year.
Tristan Tzara speaks about the Dada movement
Kione reading Half Letter Press manifesto
Temporary Services wrote this text and I think it can be thought of as a manifesto, even though they themselves didn’t call it as such. It was inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, and the straightforward tone and clear diction without jargon speaks to its influence. Temporary Services is an artist group that has been active since 1998. They wrote the text for their publishing imprint, Half Letter Press, which was established in 2008. Instead of considering the biographies of the members, I’m going to look at the group as an entity. When I read this, I feel that these statements pertain not only to their publishing practice but what they do and how they approach all of their work. The group has done many projects in the past where they have used their position and the opportunities they are given as artists to “champion the work of those who are frequently excluded.” For example, during a recent exhibition at School of the Art Institute in Chicago, they invited groups and individuals who normally don’t consider themselves to be artists or who normally do not have access to exhibition spaces at art institutions to create publications with them. They have also created and distributed a free newspaper called Art Work, which contained articles by artists, writers, critics, etc. on the topic of art and labor within depressed economies. This is one of the ways that they support the work of other artists and created a print space for important discussions on art labor. Looking at the group’s history of projects, the manifesto seems to be a condensation of their values and what they aim for in their publishing practice and beyond.
- What elements of your own biography do you think came into play during ManifeStation?
AD: I think, going back to Jack’s interview, my experience growing up as an only child, and moving to different cities pretty frequently, so that I was often the “new kid.” I have what I call a “new kid complex” in that I’m often overly conscious of my own sense of belonging, or more aptly, not-belonging. For me, being a black female immigrant from a third-world country (as they say) is like being a permanent new kid. As in, trying to “fit in,” but finding that to be impossible. Interviewing people is this strange experience of becoming highly visible and disappearing at the same time. You’re highly visible in the sense that there’s a person sitting across from you, and in some cases, is making very powerful, unbroken eye contact with you as they relate details about themselves to you—and so you become this vessel, which is perhaps the sense in which you disappear. It’s not really about you; it’s about the interviewee. So, for me, interviewing people is this very liberating experience, very rewarding, because I get to learn about other people, but I can do that while still feeling relatively safe and protected.
KK: I’m sure any number of things came into play—but I was conscious of when interviewee’s interests/concerns/ideals would match up with mine. Another thing that could be relevant is the fact that I’ve given gifts. To say a little more on those points, I really could sympathize with some of the things Selina was thinking about (see question 1) in regards to selflessness and selfishness. There were many parts of the conversation where she was talking about things I’ve often thought about. This made me feel like I was writing the manifesto for myself or was basing it on the things I wished for. I’m not sure if that was helpful or not—but we did linger on the points of shared experience and had some rich discussion on self-care and caring for others. On the second point, I think you and I briefly talked about manifestos being a gift to the participant or a thing in exchange for taking the time to sit down and talk to us. Having something written just for you does feel pretty special. Many of us give gifts, just as an obligation in our social lives or as something more meaningful. I personally enjoy putting together gifts and doing guesswork on what would most please recipients. I think that’s something that came into play for me in writing customized manifestos. Another thing might be that I have been a listener and note-taker in various situations—it’s an interesting exercise for me to organize thoughts, tease out a logic or order and extract themes and meanings from conversations.
Anaïs Duplan is the author of the forthcoming chapbook, Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Phantom Limb, Birdfeast, PANK, Souvenir, amongst other journals. She is also Head Astronaut at The Spacesuits, a multimedia initiative to generate new concepts for paradise.
Kione Kochi is an artist, seamstress and writer. She is interested in collaborative practices and customized objects and documents. She currently studies Visual Arts, Costume Design and Literature at Bennington College. Find more at kionekochi.com.