PRINT November 1970

An Interview with Stephen Kaltenbach

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF a conceptual artist?

Yes. I think most of the work is heavily weighted towards ideas and away from the visual. Most of my art is direct action. Art is traditionally shown in galleries and the folks who traditionally show it there are trying to make the showing system work with conceptual art. It seems to me to be a difficult thing to do because the gallery/museum setup is designed for an experience which is primarily savoured with the eye. For conceptual work, the taste buds are mostly in the mind.

I think that conceptual art is about art. It is an emphasis of a position of art, one way to look at art. New art is often an aspect of old art emphasized with the older percentage removed. I think there have always been concepts in an artist’s production. Praxiteles’ conception of the gods or Duchamp’s readymades, or the conception of the possibility of painting a painting about nothing or nothing real. Conceptual art is the strengthening of the head aspect and the minimalizing of the other aspects, like the visual. Besides, with the excess attention given to the development of art thinking, it’s not surprising that art thinking itself should receive the emphasis necessary to become a movement.

My teaching is one of my most important conceptual art involvements now. As an artist, it’s as logical for me to work with a person’s perception as it is for me to make beauty available. In a sense it’s like working in reverse. Instead of making beautiful objects to be seen, I try to make the eye see beauty in everything that’s about. I want my students to see the problems and possibilities I have encountered in trying to make people see beautifully. Since I can’t show them how to do it, I can show them how I’m doing it. Therefore, teaching is also a process through which I can expose myself so that other people can see what I am. This is as pure a conceptual work as anything I’m doing. Yet what am I going to show? I put an ad in Artforum saying Teach Art. It’s a suggestion about possibilities and an announcement of an art action I’m undertaking. It’s more comparable with a situation or an idea or a point of view. To write it all down and to put it into a conceptual show becomes secondary. It doesn’t have anything to do with the art action itself.

Does your work have a philosophical center?

It seems to me there’s a way of looking at what a person does as a game. Whether or not the something is a game depends on your viewpoint. I think that my art work is about setting up processes like someone would set up a chess or checker game and going through with it. I have a variety of reasons for setting up games. I’ll set up a game to bring me success or to bring me notoriety, or to give me feelings of adequacy. Sometimes I set up my games to work out problems I have in myself. It seems my art is becoming those game things more and more directly. Let me give you an example. Here is a game I used to help me out of a hangup. It was in a show at Berne, “When Attitude Becomes Form.” It was a little rubber stamp of my lips. (When you make an art object it can still be directly a game.) I took dark lipstick and put it on. Then I made a print so that it looked like the lips were blotted. Well, I sent it to Europe and told them to make up the stamps and sell it as cheap as they could. People could use them as graffiti stamps to put the lips on subway posters, bathrooms, etc.

Ever since I was in grammar school, I was self conscious about my mouth and the size of my lips. It was a feature of myself that I really hated, so much so that I was seriously considering having plastic surgery done to make my lips lighter in color and smaller. Well from 1963 to last year, when I did the stamp piece, I was working my way out of that thing. Now I realize that everyone has a part of his body that he doesn’t like, and with the making of the stamp, it was clear to me that I really felt OK about my mouth. The problem was solved, stamped, finished.

Were the ads in Artforum related to hangups, too?

Yes, some were. They were a series of five illusions. I am interested in the fact that you can provide verbal illusions as interesting as visual illusions. They were all similar things: Tell a Lie, Start a Rumor, Perpetrate a Hoax, Build a Reputation, and Become a Legend. I wanted to suggest these illusions as possibilities for artists to work with. Several of these ads had more meaning to me than others. The first one, Tell a Lie, was like a freeing game. I was always a fantastic liar and if I was not lying, I was exaggerating. I see it as the result of my inability to accept myself as I was, so I lied to make myself more interesting or to correct something in myself I saw as a fault. My inability to accept the act of falsifying was the hangup for me, and the ad was the claiming that I do lie and that it’s OK, acceptable to me. Being able to publish the ad in Artforum really made me see that now I could tell everybody “I’m a liar.”

Were the other ads in that series also connected with your personal hangups?

Yes, Build a Reputation was. The idea of becoming a famous artist has been strongly with me ever since I knew I was an artist, and that was since my grammar school days . . . when I would win the watercolors at the end of the year. I have always been involved with reputation and I’m always playing it down and not admitting what a big aspect of my drive to make art it is. Anyway, I got out of school in California and I couldn’t get the kind of job I wanted because getting a job depends on a reputation. I was also ineffectual as an artist because a lot of my ideas were expensive and I had no money and no one was interested in underwriting them there. So I came to New York for a reputation, and it has helped me to some extent in that way. However, now I know that any reputation I’ve built is an illusion. It’s not me. It’s about me and the illusion of me as anyone sees me. All reputations are like that. If they really get out of hand, they become legends.

Could you tell me about the room construction that you did at the Whitney?

When I was still a student at the University of California in 1966 and 1967, as part of my MA thesis, Robert Mallary, my instructor, asked me to describe my work physically and philosophically as far back as r could remember. Then I had to present a variety of proposals as if I were applying for a Guggenheim grant which would extend my work from the present ·state to possible future development. The room constructions came out of that assignment. It gave me an objective viewpoint of my work that I wouldn’t have had normally. That experience showed me that my primary concerns were with reducing the number of elements that could be removed before the work itself disappeared and that the possibility of nothing being acceptable as art was not acceptable to me at that time. So I felt that once I had arrived at the point where I was really minimal, nothing but a simple geometric shape, then other things would have to be done to reduce the experience. I accomplished that by reducing the visual complexity in the room or space where the piece was to be seen. One way I did this was by surfacing the geometric shape with a traditional interior finishing material so that it would become part of the room. It did have that effect. The negative space became more important and that reduced the value or strength of the positive space of the object a great deal.

Then you saw this room construction as a strictly formal problem?

Yes, very formal. It was like an abstract word thought, “I am making a minimal work––I am trying to make it more minimal.” Then it became translated to the spatial object which became translated to human experience as people ran into the thing. If it was claustrophobic that was the result of human beings interacting with it, not the things I planned.

There were also sketches for other rooms. They presented difficult problems for those who came into them. If, as I assume, you envisioned these rooms in terms of human beings entering them, why do they present such obstacles as to make people climb and crawl about them? Why are they designed to make visitors so uncomfortable?

They’re not living rooms. Everyone is used to spaces designed for human comfort. My rooms don’t accede to that at all because they are about other things. They are a confrontation, in a way. You open the door and the floor which has risen to fill the lower half of the room blocks the doorway leaving only a space of one and a half feet at the top. It’s enough to crawl through, but it’s really barring the entrance. If you like being obstructed, or if you’re very athletic, then the rooms don’t obstruct you. If not, you have to make more effort. You can make of the rooms whatever you like. It all depends on where you are at as to how you react.

Are your early rooms connected with the newest room constructions in any way?

Out of the early rooms came the process of turning three-dimensional work inside out. Several of the pieces became shaped spaces that you could enter. Rather than perceiving the shape of the space externally, it was to be seen from the inside. Those things led to the wall paintings and room paintings. The six-sided ones completely enclose you. Of course, there was Samaras’s mirror room and all sort of other leads to follow.

But your new rooms are not just a problem in reduction for you?

No. The star room is my being cut off from the sky. In New York there is no sky and I’m used to lots of sky, so I made my own. There are no intellectual flip-flops in the brain. It has to do with a visual feast. Making something beautiful.

Did these sky pieces grow out of a specific experience?

I was helping a friend work on a summer cabin and we were at Wright’s Lake, high in the Sierra Nevadas near Lake Tahoe, above the timber line. There was not much above the level of the lake, only some boulders about 200 feet high and a few trees. At three A.M. I got up to go to the john which was the bushes outside. There was no moon and no wind, but a hundred billion stars were out. It was really clear, and there was sky above and sky below. The sky was in the lake. I went back for my friend and we sat on the shore and marveled. Then we went for a ride in a rowboat and took a blanket. In the middle of the lake there was a cement block about four feet square which cleared the water by about a foot and a half. My friend left me on it with the blanket. Then the water cleared up and calmed down, and I was really floating in the universe. It was an amazing experience.

Could you describe this new star room?

It’s an eight foot square room with a six and a half foot ceiling. It is entered through a concealed trapdoor in the floor of my sleeping platform which lets you into the room through the ceiling. The trapdoor is nearly invisible from the inside when closed. The room is white and on the floor, walls, and ceiling are painted about 10,000 dots of invisible blue luminescent paint ranging in size from half inch to a pin point. When the light is on, the dots are invisible. I imagine the experience is like that of being locked in a refrigerator. When the light is off, you expand outward. I wanted the difference. The one makes the other stronger.

Was the room expensive to build?

No, not too expensive. It’s in my loft and I built it when I built interior spaces for my living quarters. It cost about $100.

How long has this room been here?

Since December. I also built one in the Reese Palley Gallery in San Francisco, but that one had no rounded corners. It was a room with an obvious doorway.

Who has seen this room?

Mostly my friends and my students. I don’t advertise it, but anyone is welcome to see it. However, just the logistics make that difficult. It’s in my house and my house isn’t a gallery.

What about the time capsules?

The time capsules began as a consideration of the legality of things. I got to thinking about legality and illegality versus morality and immorality and whether there was any correlation at all. Sometimes, something I would consider evil would also be illegal, but then, sometimes it wouldn’t be. Sometimes some things I would consider good would be legal and sometimes not. It didn’t seem to be one following the other as I was taught. Anyway, my first thinking about the time capsules had to do with the idea that I could possibly select laws which I thought had nothing to do with morality and break them and put the evidence in a time capsule in order to escape social retribution, but not hide my act forever. I was thinking about those things during the spring of 1967, but I didn’t do any of them because I was in the process of getting myself together to come to New York. By the time I got around to making the capsules my ideas had completely changed.

What’s inside the capsules?

They possibly contain things and possibly they do not contain things. I don’t say anything about their content, or that there’s any content at all, because I found out the concealment of information is as primary a function of the capsule as its preservation. When they are to be opened is on the outside of the capsule. The first three were not objects that could be handled in any commercial way. They required a specific environment to function in, and I just had to make them and place them and the ownership is not defined. I made one that Bruce Nauman is taking care of but I’m not sure he owns it. I don’t think it matters that it be owned.

What came after the capsules?

The plaques were next. Coming to New York, I was turned on to sidewalk hardware. There were plaques uptown that say “Private Property,” and plaques that say “Water.” There are Life Magazine plaques that they use for paperweights at newspaper stands. All those things led me to make the sidewalk plaques. There was also a specific influence. I was turned on by Bruce Nauman’s art. He had done a piece a year or two before which was a message, “Rose has no teeth.” It was a plaque that he screwed to a tree which the bark will eventually cover. In a similar way, my plaques are to be set in cement on a sidewalk where they will eventually be worn out as they are trodden on. I like Bruce’s thinking and use a lot of his ideas. Usually it’s pretty much unconscious. This time the source didn’t occur to me until the plaques were cast in bronze.

Weren’t they advertised in the May, 1970 issue of Artforum?

That was something else. It’s continuing the chain. It went from Bruce to me and on to Jerry Walburg and Bob Arneson. Jerry made tin copies from my mold for the “Art Works” sidewalk plaque and titled them forgeries. Bob Arneson used the mold to make clay art work. So the idea continues as we pass it around.

What happened when you realized that you had taken Nauman’s idea and used it so directly?

I considered what had happened and thought I would like to try it again and see what it felt like. So I tried using someone’s idea without altering it in any way. When I was asked to be in the telephone show in the Chicago Museum of Art, I submitted Walter de Maria’s telephone piece. They would install a phone in the Museum and he would periodically call the Museum and speak to whoever happened to be nearby. It was an idea that had appealed to me since I saw it in Letter Edged In Black Press. Unfortunately Jan van der Marck said the piece didn’t turn him on, and so I had to give him something else.

You and Robert Morris worked with felt pieces about the same time. How do you feel about that?

Bob Morris has been a large part of my art ego. It started in California. We were duplicating each other’s work a lot. I was hearing a lot about him, and seeing his work constantly in Artforum made me feel very ineffectual and I was very much concerned with that kind of thing. One of the first things I did when I got to New York was to try to influence Bob’s work. It was my first pure causal art work. Most of the first causal work was secret. I documented it, but my ego was so involved I really didn’t know how to consider it. I wanted to specify it as an art activity and bring it into the realm of something which could be credited to me. When I first got to New York, Barbara Rose told me Bob was working with cloth manipulation. I arranged for a friend to take me to his studio for an introduction and to see his work. I then invited him over to see my work and showed him drawings for cloth pieces I’d done. I think that the art action may have stimulated some change for him. It certainly worked the other way. I was using canvas for my artistic draperies, but the felt made more sense to me after seeing it in Bob’s work. Hemming isn’t necessary to keep the edges from unraveling, and Bob turned me on to a place that sold a huge variety of textures, colors, and thicknesses. Besides benefiting from his material suggestions, I got a better feeling for the possibilities of scale from his felt pieces. Accepting the fact that causation is a two way road has made me much more comfortable with that kind of work. It has set up possibilities for working as an artist. I’m influenced, others are influenced by me, and I in turn am influenced by them––groovy.

How did you develop the idea for the cloth pieces that you showed at the Castelli warehouse in January of 1968?

The idea of arranging cloth things came out of an experience at Davis. Some models were dancing around in class with props. One model opened up a huge bolt of cloth and threw it over a ladder and started doing things with the cloth. Thoughts connected in my mind to the use of it in art. There are all those draperies of one kind or another. You never get away from it. Well I got interested in it and it seemed to be something in itself, something that didn’t require a table or a vase of flowers or a beautiful body under it. It seemed very important in itself as something beautiful to work with. So I first went through a lot of possibilities of just arranging cloth loosely on the floor and on the wall. Then I made a diagram of these possibilities and if someone was interested in a piece, I would give them the diagram and ask that they select their own material of specific proportions, but any size or color. They could follow the diagrams or do their own things with it. Then by the time it got to the Castelli show, the process reversed itself, so that I was providing the shape of the material but not the arrangement of it. I assigned Leo or someone of his delegation the responsibility of arranging the piece any way he wanted to.

You were relinquishing some control over your own piece?

I am really interested in the way things get done how what I am––the nature of myself––controls what I can do. You are really limited in what you can do by what you are. The thing that I have been looking for was how to get around that. One possibility is giving the work to other people to do.

How have you been able to incorporate those possibilities in other works you’ve done?

I use other people in my work a lot. Here is an aboveboard application of that. Here was this object, the slant step, which California artists have been into for three or four years. Bill Wiley found this enigmatic, homemade, homely thing in a junk shop. It was made like a step stool, but the step was slanting so you couldn’t stand on it. He bought it for fifty cents and gave it to Bruce Nauman who made a variety of things from it. He made a mold for a modern version of it and a movie about how to build it. Other people got on to making their own versions of it. They had a show and then Richard Serra stole the original slant step from the show and spirited it away to New York. It next went to Philadelphia and then back to California. The ownership, or more accurately, the possession of the original kept moving around here and there. I managed to borrow it for a while myself and at that time Rosa Esman, of the Tanglewood Press, was looking for things to make into large editions. It was a great opportunity to let someone else do some art work for me. I suggested that she take the original slant step to an industrial designer and have him redesign it for consumer appeal. That was all I had to do with it––making the suggestion. So she took it to an industrial designer named Bill Plumb and he came up with a smooth design and reproduced a number of them. I think it’s pretty much an unlimited edition, like 25 in each color. Since the eye can perceive hundreds of thousands of shades there is no limit to the number that can be made, except that they are not selling very well. It’s interesting that it has become a useful sort of thing, due, I suppose, to the fact that industrial designers make usable things. It’s a comfortable footstool.

Maybe that’s why it’s not selling?

Well it does throw a wrench in the works depending upon how you look at it. Some people think that art objects are not supposed to be usable and therefore it was questionable if this stool was an art object. To me it was acceptable. I’m in there accepting whatever happens to my work as it develops. I don’t give things an evil connotation because they are usable. This is something I’ve had to do to remain a happy artist. So many of the projects I set up and get going turn out to be very small scale, and, at least from one point of view, are miserable failures.

A good example of this is the tread design I made for the astronauts. As you know, last year there was a great deal of talk about the astronauts’ first footsteps on the moon, and so I got into making a lot of different tread designs for it. I went through dumb things like eagles and stars and stripes––things I didn’t really care much about––and finally I came up with an idea I liked. What I really wanted to do was to make the first footprint myself. So I made a cast of my bare foot and made a rubber mold from it and sent it off to NASA. Of course, they ignored it. There was no question about them offering Neil Armstrong a tread design of my foot. The project was set up to be a failure. “Born to lose.” I have that experience a lot. I have really grandiose ideas, but I’m not the kind of person that is required to make things happen that way. I’m really a Walter Mitty, coming up with inventions which are concepts and therefore art works. At first when I had an idea for an invention, I tried to set up something in a way which would bring financial return to me or at least credit for it. This became much too cumbersome because it called for much more of an involvement in a secondary aspect than I wanted to have. So now if I have an idea for a new kind of sanding disc or a new toy or a new means of advertising, I write it down, as tersely as possible, and ship it out to someone who might be interested in it. But I don’t see the results, and if there are results, I don’t know what they are. I seldom experience the work in a state that might be normally seen as completed. So the possibility exists that the idea has had no action, in other words, it’s a failure.

Do you find that hard to live with?

It’s something that I don’t have a hard time accepting any more. In my secret outdoor work, there is no way to measure or determine the results. There is no quantitative measurement possible and very little qualitative measurement either. You never really see what you’ve done, and, in a sense, it brings up problems if you are used to working in a traditional way. For instance, I do a piece of work and the return from that often feeds the next piece, the reaction gives me my ideas for the next development in that line of investigation. In a lot of cases the lack of return limits the development. Well, it’s OK though. It forces you out of that way of working and into something else––working without a return or with a purely imagined reaction. I think that a lot of feedback is unnecessary or can lead you to things that aren’t interesting or confusing. You don’t have to deal with these things when you don’t have feedback. You don’t have to deal with reality or maybe it’s a matter of being free to choose the reality that you like or the one that fits the work. Any situation provides possibilities for working. Anything I can do as an artist is determined not only by my talents but also by my ineptness.

You mentioned secret outdoor work. That leads us to the streetworks. How did you get into them and how have they been developing?

I got into them here in New York. I don’t know all the forces that pushed me that way. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve never lived in a city before and suddenly I was in the biggest city in the world. I found the subways exciting to ride and the graffiti all over the posters and walls was really interesting to me. It was because of seeing this graffiti that I felt a heavy urge to work outside and do graffiti myself. I got the idea of altering the subway posters by using what existed and extending it. My lip stamp was especially intended for one poster. It was a Fruit of the Loom stocking poster, which displayed a pretty chick with a very short dress and nice legs. Right up high on her thigh was a stamp that said “Fruit of the Loom.” So when I rode the subways I carried the stamp in my pocket and whenever I’d come on one of those posters, I’d put my stamp right beside it.

Just working with graffiti like that got me thinking about the reaction to artwork when it’s known as art work. So much of everything depends on what we read into it. You see things in your own terms from your own point of view. I think art can be anything. We make up the word and we use it and we apply it. It really depends on what we apply it to. It’s a matter of who you convince and who comes to see it your way. If it’s someone in a position of identifying what is art, then what you’re doing becomes art. I was interested in the possibilities of giving someone an experience that was much more open-ended.

How were you able to do that?

To me one of the most important aspects of streetworks, especially the later things, was the fact that they were secret works. I felt if they were identified as my work, they would be identified as art, since everything an artist has ever done sooner or later has come to be considered an art work. If I wanted to set up an experience unidentified as an art work, it was necessary to be anonymous.

In that case, you really can’t tell me what the streetworks were, since you would be defeating your own purpose.

That’s true, but streetworks quickly became “streetworks,” and that’s when I began to lose interest in them. They brought the museum out into the street and they identified what was going on as art work. They became specific again. It was, in my opinion, losing the aspect of it that was of primary interest to me. The experience became, once again, an art experience, and it was another thing. However, that’s not definitely a bad thing. I think there have been a lot of really pretty and interesting streetworks done and I’ve been interested in involving myself with that also.

I participated in all of the organized streetworks, but I never actually did anything myself in them. For one of the streetworks, I asked my classes of 105 people to carry out my streetworks for me by doing anything they wanted to do in a specified area. It was a problem of amplifying the strength of what was done and releasing control of what was done as much as I could. That was the second streetwork. The first streetwork was centered in a 10-block square in midtown. After the event there was a party which was an admirable setup for what I wanted to do. I had decided not to do anything, but to go to the party and describe the things I’d done. In other words, I wanted to tell a pack of lies and see how much substance nothing could be given. It was fairly successful, as it gained a little substance because John Perreault wrote about some of the pieces in the Village Voice.

Was that the one where you tried to sell something?

I used five or six lies. First I said I had a brown paper package which I offered to 100 people. The price to the first person was $100 and it was reduced by one dollar each time it was offered.

I also said I took some Polaroid photos of sidewalk squares on Greene Street to record the position of the litter on them. Then I said that I’d gathered up the litter and brought it uptown and set it out on Fifth Avenue sidewalk squares to match the photo.

But none of this really happened?

Correct. The artwork was the possibility of making something out of nothing, which was generated out of the situation of my being faced with establishment streetworks.

You mean if you are expected to do that sort of thing why bother to do it? It’s just as easy to say you did as to do it. That sort of action is traditional in terms of the way people behave, but not in terms of the way art is made.

It seems a lot of works are like that. Artists are bound by some traditions. In getting out of art traditions, they must take from other traditions.

What about the art work that went on at Max’s Kansas City in May? You seemed to be doing something with lights.

Yes. Frank Owen and I decided to do a piece together. We didn’t know what we were going to do until we were doing it. In this case, we decided to do a scent piece with oil of spearmint. We squirted it under all the tables and filled the back room with it. It was like sticking gum under the tables. We didn’t want to say anything about that piece, so we did a cover piece. We bought eight lights, 300-watt bulbs, and set them up in front to boost the daylight. But we plugged them into a line that didn’t have enough current, so we kept blowing fuses. Frank and I are both from California, and out there, there is a lot of malfunction when it comes to mechanical art shows. Artists are always setting up one mechanical thing or another and they won’t work. So we spent an hour running back and forth. I was tearing around the whole time changing fuses and resetting the lights. The piece never functioned from beginning to end. So it was a matter of watching the artist struggle with his processes.

Then your work was also a kind of satire?

I thought it was a good opportunity. It’s all games, just games and jokes.

Some people might resent art being fun and games.

Maybe it depends on whether you think having fun is detrimental to the experience art is able to give. If artists are doing a lot of fooling around and if the end result is no beauty for anyone, maybe you are going to get uptight about it. But all art has obviously not been serious.

But don’t you think that it is unfair that the artists participating in the streetworks should be having such a good time while the people on the street have no idea what is happening? Shouldn’t art communicate to more than a few people?

It seems to me that the nature of each thing determines who it’s for and who it can get to. The idea that it has to be for a specific group or a specific number of people can certainly limit what you can do. Sometimes my art work will be for lots of people, sometimes for only one person, and sometimes it’s just for myself.

Do you still think it’s valid to do more traditional kinds of art works?

The thing is that I don’t really believe in any of it as being the way, the right way, or the best way––just a way of doing it. And one way is as good as another. All seem to offer time-filling, interest-producing processes. I work in a traditional way because I feel one thing doesn’t pull me out of the other. It’s all just aspects of the same thing which somehow seem to work harmoniously together.

Are you working on anything that you consider to be of a traditional nature at this time?

I am working on a stained glass wall which utilizes a combination of the techniques of stained glass and cloisonné enamel. This is part of my religious art, which falls into two categories: object making and conceptual. The object-oriented work is in the tradition of the production of votive objects. Jewelry, stained glass, cloisonné, and Liberace’s gold-sequined sports coat are part of this traditional art. It functions, in a sense, like the hypnotist’s jewel to distract attention from the mundane and to redirect it toward the visionary experience of non-ordinary reality. My art, like most other art work of this sort, is a crude representation of a vision available through a variety of routes including meditation and mescaline. I’m using the materials and techniques available to duplicate as closely as possible the two most outstanding visual aspects of “the other side.” The first is that light seems to emanate from all things rather than being reflected by them, and I, therefore, chose stained glass as a medium. The second aspect is the incredible minute articulation everything takes on. This geometric organization, I feel, can only be poorly imitated at best, and the traditional stained glass technique of joining pieces of glass with lead is especially unsuitable. Therefore, I’m utilizing an aspect of cloisonné enamel in order to approach more closely the scale of complexity I desire. I am having cloisonnés manufactured which can be much more intricate than the mosaic of lead and glass. These cloisonnés will be set in a pattern backed by a sheet of plate glass, forming a screen into which I will cast translucent dyed resin. Thus the wall will have the intricacy of cloisonné enamel and the light color of stained glass.

What kind of light will you use?

I want the light to come horizontally through the wall directly at the observer, so I will use the most intense artificial light that is obtainable and practical.

Will there be any specific image used?

This piece is about as strong or as total a beauty as possible. Therefore, it seemed to me, that if I’m trying to create a beautiful experience, I should start out with as much beauty beforehand as I could. The image is the face of a girl who is as beautiful as anything I know about right now.

What about the conceptual side of your religious art?

I think I can explain the conceptual side of my religious art by describing a work I did last year for a concept show at the museum in Leverkusen, Germany. This piece was designed to be executed by using the power of positive thought. Rather than contributing a work to the show, I decided to attempt to improve the show itself. I built, in my mind, a picture of perfect communication and understanding between each artist and each spectator. I think that the existing action to which this work comes closest is prayer.

How about your piece in the “Information” show? It seems to go back to games.

That project came from my involvement with graffiti and also from my last ad in Artforum, which was a statement You are me, period. It’s like a description of a philosophical position or viewpoint from which things can be seen. It seems to me that in my experience, my clearest understanding of others comes from the clearest understanding I have of myself. It’s the knowledge that we are all really the same as much as we are different. It comes from realizing that each person you are relating to is a you, separate, but each person is also a me, an entity not unlike myself. So the piece at the Museum of Modern Art is the command “Expose Your Self.” Your Self being two words to suggest the possibility of self examination as a means of understanding the self and therefore others.

How did you present the piece?

The piece is in the Museum stenciled on the wall. It is intentionally sexually oriented as this seems to me, from my own experience, that that was the side of myself it was the hardest to know. It was the side of myself most bound up by traditional thinking and by my own fear. I asked that before the show some of the museum people stencil it here and there in the city in public restrooms. I guess my primary reason for doing that is that I like the idea of its being there. I get to be an awful preacher sometimes, as a lot of teachers do, and this takes the edge off of it a bit. In the john it’s just more bathroom writing.

Have you done many other things with your own body?

Yes. I’ve done a variety of things. One of the first things I did, which I now consider as a part of my art, was to make wound prints. Every time I’d cut myself, I would make a monoprint by pressing paper on to the wound. It’s a record of what happened to me, and I have those things dated and in my filing cabinet. The second thing I did was when I was in a motorcycle accident in 1963 and I had to have a toe amputated. It turned out that a pre-med student friend, who was in my ceramics class, did the clean-up for the operation, and I asked him to save the toe for me. Since I was stuck in the hospital for two months after the operation, I asked him to put it in an unfired pot and cremate it for me. When I got out of the hospital, I mixed the ashes from my toe into a Japanese ash glaze, and put it on a small pot. This suggested to me that when I die, I would be cremated and have my ashes glaze a nice Chinese vase. I might donate it to the Brundage Collection. It’s like a sea animal who dies and leaves a shell you can sell for $50 on 59th Street. It’s trying to make your remains beautiful.

Have you made other objects out of the need to create beauty?

I make objects for people I love and when I do it, I call it the art of love. Mostly they are small things that I mail out like paintings on autumn leaves or seashells. They are always things that are given––never things that are sold, and they are always made with a specific person in mind and a strong feeling in myself. Often what the feeling is determines the nature of the art work. Sometimes it’s a very platonic feeling of love. Other times, if there’s an attraction, it becomes a kind of courting thing, a favor. When I feel strongly for someone, and I want to show my feelings, I make something beautiful for them.

Do you make the art of love in a conceptual way too?

It’s not always an object. Sometimes it’s simply a communication––telling someone that I love them and being real to them instead of being phony, which is often my first inclination. The art of love is trying to make myself able to express my true self, to expose myself. It’s something that runs through my life and my work. It’s not easy for me, since it’s a thing that is so involved with ego and possibilities for rejection and hurting and being hurt. It seems to involve things that are dangerous and not easy or natural. For a long time, I considered these works of love as a kind of minor thing and not really my art, but now, it seems that the experience of making them is probably the best kind of experience for me. When I use a strong, honest expression, it’s always good.