Knowledge Held in Suspense: A Conversation with Kerry Tribe

There Will Be _______
Kerry Tribe, There Will Be _______, 2012, Installation view, Courtesy the Power Plant / photo Toni Hafkenscheid

Toronto-based writer Rosemary Heather spoke to Los Angeles-based artist Kerry Tribe during her solo exhibition Speak, Memory at The Power Plant (24 March – 3 June 2012).

This excerpt is part of a longer conversation, most of which took place in a taxi on the way to the Toronto airport. Heather notes, “Setting out to do this interview, I devised a theory of how to understand Tribe’s work. As often happens, however, our conversation overtook any hope I had of getting Tribe to commit to a particular hypothesis about her art practice – it defies easy encapsulation. This made talking to Tribe about her work much like the experience of engaging with it: the process is an end in itself.”

ROSEMARY HEATHER: One way that I thought of talking about your work is through the lens of Here & Elsewhere (2002). You remade a piece by Jean-Luc Godard, in which he interviews children by asking them metaphysical questions. Can I locate that as a framework for your work as a whole?

KERRY TRIBE: The idea of remaking something?

RH: Yes.

KT: I don’t know if I would think of it as remaking so much as returning. At UCLA when I was a graduate student I organized a series of screenings — a 24-hour unofficial film festival — because I discovered a little pocket of money in the graduate program that allowed me to rent some titles.

I had never seen Godard’s television series France/Tour/Détour/Deux/Enfants (1977) and a friend recommended it, so I screened it. I just screened the first two episodes. I was really struck by what happened when this big father of avant-garde film and video (who was a Maoist and tough and rigorous and making images that were often difficult to look at) set out to interrogate this little girl and little boy about heavy political and philosophical issues. The little girl’s responses, which were down-to-earth and sometimes confused, were totally compelling to me. What was it about the presence of this little girl? There’s one point in the video where her face appears — her name is Camille Virolleaud — and over it is the word “Verité” in big letters. And I thought: There’s something accurate about that. We all want to identify with this simple, you might say, Cartesian subject position that says: Yes I know. I’m here. I only exist once. I walk through my life. I understand things or I don’t, even if we know better. I mean, even if feminism, psychoanalysis and critiques of capitalism tell us that this simple belief in one’s own self-identity, agency and autonomy is inadequate, it’s nevertheless compelling. I wasn’t so much interested in specifically remaking that Godard video, or in pointing directly back to it but rather in trying to see what would happen if some of those questions were asked again. At one point, Godard asked Camille about her room. It’s very bright and it’s clean, and who cleans her room? (I’m paraphrasing.) And she says something like either her mother or the housekeeper does it. And he asks, Well who pays your mother to do this? And she thinks probably nobody does. Do you think maybe The State should pay her? And, Is The State a man? Or a woman? And so on. It’s great stuff.

And these are questions that continue to be urgent. And yet in the end, it didn’t seem viable to do that in 2002. When I tried to work the explicitly political questions into the script it just fell flat. It was actually dreadful.

RH: Can you elaborate? What does your piece look like? Read the full interview here.

This interview was commissioned by the Power Plant, Toronto. A longer version will be forthcoming.

More info about Kerry Tribe can be found here.

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