Danielle Dutton & Richard Kraft
Danielle Dutton & Richard Kraft (Excerpted from a conversation for BOMBlog, December 2014)
DD Where are you right now?
RK I’m in my studio, downstairs. It’s the nicest I’ve ever had, pretty big, quite palatial by my standards.
Is it underground or—
No, it looks out to the east, to the San Gabriel Mountains, with the city in the foreground. I’ve loved living in Los Angeles—it’s been fourteen years—but I’m ready for another move. I would love to live on the East Coast again, or even go back to Europe for a while.
I know you’re from England. How did you come to live in America?
I’ve moved around a lot, actually. I lived in New York for five years and went to school there, then went back to England. I went to Ann Arbor for two years for graduate school, then moved to the Pacific Northwest. I like being a foreigner, particularly here in Los Angeles. I regularly look up and think, Wow, how did I end up here? It’s so alien. The landscape is completely different, so dry. You drive almost everywhere. It feels improbable to me. And I really like that sense of being on another planet somehow. I think it enables me to see both the place where I live and the one I’m from with fresh eyes.
I always feel, in Los Angeles, like dinosaurs might crawl out of the hills. Since I was little I’ve been obsessed with the La Brea tar pits. So what made you want to leave England?
I’m not even sure I knew I wanted to leave England. I just wanted to study art and photography, and my dad suggested that I go to New York. This was in the 1980s. At that time there were not many photography programs in England and it was also a very difficult time there. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Unemployment was high, the miners went on an epic strike, and the decade began and ended with huge riots. It was amazing to be eighteen years old and living in New York City. It was a great time be there, but also weird. It was the beginning of AIDS.
And you came to study photography? Do you think of yourself as a photographer?
Yes, but not exclusively.
Did you for a while?
I did, definitely. That was my way in, and it opened doors to many other things. I teach photography, so I feel really connected to it, but over time its become part of my wider practice. I use it primarily as a way of collecting.
Ideas, things. I think a lot of my work is rooted in things I collect that can be organized into taxonomies and then re-contextualized. Here Comes Kitty is filled with them. So photography for me is a way of collecting the world really directly, because it demands that one look at things in a very focused way.
I was just looking at your Tube Portraits. Did those people have any idea you were taking their picture?
No, they didn’t. I was actually taking video footage of them, so those are stills. I just had a camera in my lap.
It absolutely feels like collecting pieces of the world. Collecting people. It’s kind of creepy.
It’s funny, I was just back in London and thought, Oh, I should do some more of that, but then I couldn’t. I was very aware of how intrusive it felt. In the past I didn’t care because I wanted the images so badly. I would go to class on the tube as a teenager. I was expelled from school and for a while had individual lessons scattered in various parts of the city. I often feel my real education was wandering around London. And so I wanted to make those images because it was a way to solidify my memories. I would ride the tube and that’s what I saw. It was a bit like collecting a piece of my youth, and I really felt like I had to do it.
It makes sense to think about your work in terms of collecting, how collecting is not just about accumulation but variation. I wonder: do your influences change from project to project or is there’s a clear constant?
Does it look like they’ve changed?
I feel like I see something about you or your aesthetic in all of your work, but there’s also such diversity from project to project. Someone I talk about a lot in my classes is Gerhard Richter. When I first started at the School of the Art Institute there was a Richter retrospective, and I naively wandered in there, knowing nothing about him, and I was pretty sure as I moved to the second or third room that I’d accidentally wandered out. I was sure these other rooms couldn’t possibly belong to the same person. I became so interested in him then, in how he worked, in the idea of an artist who could change so radically. I’ve been interested in that ever since—immersing yourself in a project or a way of working for a while and then moving on, as opposed to the idea of “finding your voice.”
I always loved something John Cage said, which was: don’t just do one thing, do so many things that they won’t know what you’re going to do next.
Georges Perec said his ambition was to write every kind of book possible. He had an enthusiasm for projects. That’s what I mean about collecting being about both accumulation and variation—that particular kind of enthusiasm.
Yes, and that makes me think of Fernando Pessoa, who said that no artist should have just one personality, and that the goal of the writer should be to write in numerous genres, with as many contradictions and discrepancies as possible. It’s so contrary to what we’re taught. I’m not sure why there’s such a strong emphasis on developing a single, easily identifiable voice. Maybe it’s a market thing?
Maybe also a predisposition. I mean, pick up any book by Sebald, turn to any page, and you know exactly whose hands you’re in. And I love that. I love his work. I’m just also interested in this other way of doing things, and I got the sense, looking at your work, that you are too.
Definitely. I’ve had countless influences. I’m reading an interview Brian Eno did with his daughter. He talks about his early work and involvement with Roxy Music, how he feels this represented the antithesis of the Romantic idea of the artist who has a singular vision. He compares himself to Van Gogh, who, he says, painted the way he did because it was what his vision demanded. Eno claims he was never like that. He saw all these different things that he liked and took a piece of this and a piece of that. I think I’ve always worked in a similar way.
Like a magpie.
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.