Franko B Interviewed by Gray Watson (2001)

Gray Watson: You have several times used the same title for different works in entirely different media. For example, as well as being the title of this book, Oh Lover Boy was also the title of an exhibition you recently had at the Horse Hospital, a gallery in London, at which you showed collages; and you are planning to use the same title for a forthcoming performance piece. Is that for a specific, conscious reason, or is it just an intuitive thing?

Franko B: I think it is both. It is intuitive in the sense that if there is a title, a name in my head, and I really like it, then I will use it. In the case of Oh Lover Boy it represents all the work I do in a way the studio work - and it is just like a little tune in my head. I don't know where it comes from. The collages are very 'pop' and at the same time that have a lot of images of boys or men - porno stars, as well as people I know. So the collages are basically like a diary. They contain things that were either sent to me, or collected personally, or found when traveling - you know, postcards or pictures of boys I have been out with. My new performance is called Oh Lover Boy, but the title, in this case doesn't really tell you about the piece; and this is true of a lot of my work. The titles never really explain what the piece is. Sometimes they have a sense of irony for me, because maybe I know the joke, but they are also very poetic, like Mama I Can't Sing. I don't want to describe the new performance too much at this stage except to say that it is a bleeding piece, and it is something between a life class set-up and a kind of post mortem set-up, like in a hospital, where people sit around to hear what the doctor, what the 'expert' says. So in the performance, it's like "Oh Lover Boy, look what has happened to you."

GW: Look what has happened to you, you have ended up like a sample or something…

FB: No, but it's also a positive thing. It is like people paint you and people look at you, you know…

GW: During the exhibition, you also had one evening of films in the gallery in which, again, gay porn featured quite strongly.

FB: They asked me to choose films for a film programme and I came across this arty porno film that was made by a friend of mine in Denmark. He also makes 'straight' art films; which he has been doing for the last thirty years. I also have a lot of other friends who make 'art' films and I have seen some other films I liked, so I got these films together and decided to programme them in with the porno. The porno was quit long and it had different set-ups, each about fifteen minutes - a bit of this and a bit of S&M.

GW: With Pierre et Gilles type settings, quite humorous.

FB. Yes, so I thought "what a brilliant opportunity to show the art films!" So I showed a short art film, then one section of the porno art film: over two hours six short films were screened with the porno film. It was interesting because to me it was like what the collages do. After a while they kind of blur - what is art and what is porno? And you begin to look at the art films in a different way. I was a very similar structure to the way the collages work.

GW: Yes, I thought so too. I know you don't want to say too much about the performance, but you have written some notes about what you are planning to do. Can we talk about what you said there?

FB: Yes, yes. Oh Lover Boy is going to be a performance piece where again, the body is presented: it's there, it's on the table. It is there for you to take, in a way, either to draw or to look at. As I said before, the set-up is going to be like a life drawing class but there is also a clinical side to the piece where you are looking at a body. But the body isn't passive: it's not a dead body. In a way the bleeding affirms life. And this 'body' is looking at you.

GW: I think you said you wanted the room to be both reminiscent of a life room at an art college and an operating theatre used for teaching medical students.

FB: Yes, although that is stretching it a bit, because I am not going to do it in an operating theatre, which would be too medical. It's like a kind of breaching of the two, really I am trying to suggest that it could be like a medical class where people sit down and look at the body.

GW: So both are teaching situations.

FB: Yes, kind of.

GW: When I first read that you were planning to do that from your notes, obviously I thought about Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson, except of course that there the figure is distinctly dead.

FB: No, I agree, but my work is definitely not about death. You are not coming into a room and seeing a dead body on a metal table, but there will be a certain feeling, you know As they are going to be people in there, there is going to be the doctor, the guy I work with…

GW: I think you also said that the bed might be a bit between a hospital bed and a sort of stainless steel table in a butchers shop, which reminds me of Francis Bacon.

FB: Certainly. But like most of my work Oh Lover Boy is a painting in itself and a performance where I use the body as a site for representation.

GW: Do you mean by 'site' the fact that it is going to be, as it were a canvas?

FB: Yes, it is consistent with what I usually say, which is that my body is a canvas. I use the body as a canvas, as a way to make pictures, and Oh Lover Boy takes this further. But it is also using paintings like Bacon's as a reference. And this also has to do with the life class situation, with the model in isolation and people gathering around.

GW: The last performance piece of yours which I saw, I Miss You, does make a reference to painting, inasmuch as there is a long strip of canvas on the floor, but it also makes a more overt reference to the fashion world.

FB: Yes, in a literal sense but not in a political sense: it is not a comment on the fashion industry at all. It uses the aesthetics of a fashion show in that you have a catwalk, and you have a distinctive white canvas marking out where that catwalk is, and then you have a set up with people sitting and standing either side like they do at a fashion show. Here, the difference is that what  is being paraded up and down the catwalk is not clothes, it is the body, my bleeding body. So what is happening is that as I walk I am not 'cat walking' but 'painting' the canvas as the blood drips on it. But this is a plus, it's not that I'm painting and I'm trying to do something with that

GW: You're not doing an Yves Klein?

FB: no, I am not doing an Yves Klein or a Stuart Brisley. No, that is the difference. I am bleeding and I'm walking down this catwalk and the blood is going to go somewhere and it goes on the canvas; and what I do with the canvas later, whether I am going to present it as a painting or I'm going to make a garment out of it, is a different matter. In a way I'm using all the material from the performance, it's like a kind of recycling. I am showing part of the canvas as a painting, and I've asked a friend to make a suit for me, which I am not going to wear but which is to be fitted to my size. I am going to show the suit as a piece of art, as I work in its own right.

GW: I was amazed at how regular the drops of blood work on the canvas - presumably because you were walking at a very steady pace. Certainly the main feeling during the piece was the intensity of the thing: it was painful enough seeing you walk slowly once up and down a long catwalk, but then you did it again and again.

FB: Yes, I am parading myself, my body, down the catwalk as many times as I need and can do. You never know whether the performance is going to last two minutes or 14 minutes. I know it has to finish and I know the maximum I can do is 13 to 14 minutes, which is pushing my luck,  but the idea is that every time I come out and start to walk down, you see different details. Yes, I make more marks on the canvas, but also, after the fifth time up and down the catwalk you maybe notice something different.

GW: Was it deliberately planned that you had a whole lot of people taking photographs right at the end? Was that an intended reference to a fashion aesthetic?

FB: Yes, the media were invited; yes, this was a  plant;  but other people also wanted to come and photograph. So what we did, rather than just let them sit anywhere, was to encourage them to be in a certain spot at the end of the catwalk. But, again, it's the body that is being photographed, it's not clothes for Elle or Cosmopolitan or Vogue.

GW: It did somehow for me-I'm sure everyone reacted differently-make it all the more painful seeing all these cameras flashing.

FB: It was very beautiful. I think, yes, it also reminds me of those machines which you see in certain institutions, maybe in the kitchen, or in outdoor restaurants, where insects are attracted to the light and then electrocuted. It was like dying for me, the model walking down to this flickering light; except I stop.

GW: And you don't get frazzled.

FB: But I like that connection.

GW: The main thing I came away with was the extraordinary intensity it created. The level of concentration on everyone's faces, the seriousness of the occasion. I wondered if at one level you were exercising demons, and that seem a very beautiful thing. Then afterwards in the bar you were so cheerful, I remember. It was a completely different you, and all that seriousness went out of the window and you were having a good time.

FB: Of course. You have to remember that there is a lot of adrenaline going around after having done the piece. There is the fact that I've done the piece and it went well for me, in the sense that I made the work that I wanted to make without compromising, I didn't have to stop and everything went well. It is also very emotional when I'm making a work. There is this intensity. It's not just me being serious, but I suppose people are… I think there is this energy.

GW: Maybe serious is not the right word.

FB: But then after the performance, you know, I have to wash myself and if I'm happy with the way it went then I'm cheerful.

GW: You once said that you are using language in its purist sense. You create beautiful images…

FB: I try to.

GW: And you said this was a pure way of using language,  and that it would be less pure in some way if you were telling stories. Have I got that right?

FB: Yes, it is kind of mixed… Maybe a couple of years ago I said that but I feel I am moving on…

GW: Do you think you have changed a lot, as an artist, in recent years?

FB: Of course I've changed, which is good. For example, a couple of years ago I would have said that the important thing is how to survive a performance; I wouldn't say that any more. For me there is no longer any doubt about how to survive performance. I can stop it at any time if I need to;  and if the performance stops after one minute, that performance can still be successful. There is nothing heroic about what I do. I am not putting my life at risk, that would be foolish. We now know how much I can do, how much blood I can lose, whether I'm looking after myself enough and that kind of thing. Of course the amount of time I can perform for a bleeding piece is limited; but it's the quality not quantity that counts. If I could bleed for half an hour, what would be the point?

GW: So is the thing about narrative making language pure something which you don't necessarily feel any more?

FB: Well, I am still very interested in visual language and I am still very much aware of trying to do things for the right reason and not bombard people with work that is unnecessary, because this then becomes theatre for me.

GW: I have always felt that you were understandably concerned not to have your work interpreted in a reductive way. You don't want overly biographical interpretations of it and you have been very careful to say that it is not specifically gay art. You have tended to deny a sadomasochistic content, though perhaps we can talk about that later - and it depends what you mean by sadomasochism of course. You have also tended to deny-and I am wondering whether you have changed at all on this-a religious interpretation of your work. I quite understand your point that you don't set yourself up as a guru and I don't think that anybody takes you as a guru. But, on the other hand, You have said you do like going into churches and that you you do like depictions of the crucifixion, even though you are now an atheist.

FB: I am not an atheist, I am a non-believer, which is different. I don't believe in God, I don't believe in life after death, and I don't believe that my life is about sacrificing and martyrdom so I can live a better life after I'm dead. I was brought up as a Catholic, and after I overthrew that there was a moment, when I was about 19 or 20,  when I said 'I am in atheist'. At that point I used to scorn people who believed in God and I used to think that they were fucked up. But I soon came to realise that I don't have the right to that I don't have a right to tell somebody else that the God they believe in doesn't exist. So now I say I don't believe;  but that doesn't stop me going to church if I want to go, and it doesn't stop me appreciating a beautiful painting of San Sebastien or a crucifixion. Certainly I can enjoy that.

GW: Well it does seem quite related to your work. I am sure, by the way, that you are tolerant of other people's views, but that's another point.

FB: What I am saying is that atheism and non belief a totally different matters. To me atheism is another fucking religion in the sense that they are actively trying to influence what we believe. They are like Jehovah's Witnesses: it's a kind of vocal thing, 'God doesn't exist, God doesn't exist, come on our wagon', You know. I don't say that, I say' I don't believe', which I think is specific enough because I don't stop you believing, I am not saying that your God doesn't exist. There is a difference. I certainly don't believe in what I was taught under a Roman Catholic agenda. But I haven't reacted against it in such a way that I don't appreciate the beautiful images.

GW: And of beauty, of course, it is not just a matter of how aesthetically pleasing something is; beauty can stir you very deeply.

FB: I think beauty functions like a bridge, you know, things that touch you. There are many times you are moved and you don't know why. this is something very, very deep.

GW: I think it is good you use that word 'touch' because that is in a sense what you want from your own art and what the most genuine art is, it seems to me, does do - certainly religious art.

FB: Yes, but I don't know what genuine art is either. I'm not in the business of saying what is genuine. The point is that I don't separate my art from life, because I am influenced by life and in a way life does touch you and there is this thing called art in life.

GW: But there is a way of dealing with life which is quite superficial, which deals just with the everyday and doesn't go deep, and then there is a way of dealing with life which takes you to the most intense moments and the things which really motivate you.

FB: Yes, definitely,  but a lot of the time we are not aware when this happens. We can be touched and not  be aware. So there has to be a kind of bridging element, whatever that is. My work uses ordinary language because I don't believe that I create any languages: I appropriate language and as I read it, I am touched by it, am bombarded by it.

GW: You mean the language of the body and the language of these images you making?

FB: Yes, but also the language that exists, you know, that needs decoding, like when you go into a supermarket.

GW: So you are just using that language to say something, to communicate?

FB: Yes, to bridge in a way…

GW: That's the third time you have used that concept. Bridging from what to what?

FB: Bridging is to make contact, bridging is when somebody else makes the connection with what I do, not necessarily understands what I do, in the sense of "oh, I understand what your work is about ", but when they make contact. From example, a connection is made of somebody write me an email and tells me about how my work, which they have just been exposed to, has made them think about something that has happened in their life or made them think about themselves. This is bridging.

GW: So it is close to the idea of touching.

FB: Yes, but again it's not about getting what I mean or about the sort of contact you can make with verbal language. You can go anywhere in the fucking world and make connections with anybody and it doesn't matter what background they're from. If people are honest with themselves and open this can happen.

GW: I was thinking recently about something which I'd read ages ago, written by Friedrich Nietzsche: "I admire only what someone has written in their own blood" or something like that, meaning presumably only that which is meant with 100% sincerity, in which they really give their all; and I thought, that is what you Want to do in your work, and I found it rather wonderful that you do this so literally. Obviously Nietzsche was using it as a metaphor But you literally do, in a sense, write in your blood.

FB: That's a very nice compliment and yes, to me that connects with what I said about my work having to do with painting. I am somebody who wants to create very beautiful images and I see the images as sort of painting. Because I am using blood it is very important that I use my blood. It's not theatre, you know, it's not fake blood. I have also said this before, a long time ago, that I never thought of using animal blood as a way to represent blood. I could not have a relationship with that; and it wouldn't have made sense for me to do that if I wanted to represent a body that was given life through blood or a body that was a canvas and the blood paint.

GW: I find it slightly hard to understand what that's got to do with painting but I can absolutely see what it's got to do with being 100% sincere and giving and making a bridge to another person.

FB: I think in a peculiar way, I connect because I paint. When I am performing, I am also painting. Again I'm not painting like Yves Klein or Stuart Brisley. I'm not interested in that; but then at the end, if the body is a canvas, the blood is paint.

GW: Yes, but that is still talking about the medium and I am having difficulty understanding why  you care so much about the medium.

FB: When I go into a museum and I see a beautiful painting, that's the nearest thing I can think of to what I want my work to be able to do: to create that, but in life - I mean creating a very beautiful image with the difference that people can smell and also touched it.

GW: I think I see. So in a sense these things are models to you, successful examples of what you're aiming at?

FB: Yes, certainly. When I see a work by Bacon all Rothko for me these are amazing paintings… a bridge that touches you. With Oh Lover Boy, when I was talking about the work in advance to the people that I was having to convince to help finance it, I explained it as a painting for me: this one looks like a Bacon.

GW: I suppose it's a point of reference.

FB:Are you saying "why don't you paint?"

GW: No, I'm not saying that at all. It's more that I'm wondering why you want to insist on that connection so much.

FB: Because there is such a snobbery around art, about what is a painting and what is not a painting. I think there is that, you know, and in a way I think a musician like Miles Davis could say, if he wanted to, he could say he was fucking painting with sound, it doesn't matter. I don't know if there is an example.

GW: One thing that interests me a lot is that art is often thought of - and I think quite rightly - in terms of a gift. I don't mean that in the sense of the artist having a gift or a talent, I mean it in the sense of art being a gift given by the artist to the spectator. And you seem to me to be someone who very much gives.

FB: Yes, in a way I give and I know what you are saying. I think as artists - and not just as artists, as human beings, because we are talking about life here - we have to give, because otherwise we are taking all the time. I am touched when people say my work gives them something; and then in the way their coming to me and giving their time and  their trust, for whatever reason or whatever their agenda is, is giving to me and is also making me exist in a way. Then I feel that, whatever relationship we have, it is a kind of give and take, it has to be.

GW: I suppose my thought about your art being very much to do with giving first arose when I was thinking about you in comparison with Hermann Nitsche and the fact that he is using animals' blood while, as you were saying a moment ago, you are using your own blood - there is a sense in which it is a purer gift if you are giving your own blood… just using yourself.

FB: Yes, I agree. But it is not just giving it on that level and this is where the bridging comes in - touching people. I think on that level…

GW: I only meant that as a metaphor.

FB: No, but you have to be careful. Otherwise it becomes like this kind of offering thing, it's like a scenario where you are sacrificing, which is not what I'm doing. I'm not interested in that.

GW: This is an important distinction.

FB: Yes, because I am not here to give. I am not a saviour. I'm not  a cheap Jesus. I am not here to save the world. essentially I am an artist and like all human beings artists are really selfish: it's about ourselves. But if, rather than just take, we can also give with that, then for me it is a plus.

GW: A great many people do you think that your work gives. But for me it partly does so precisely because it refers to the fact that an awful lot of human relations do involve just taking, exploiting, exertions of power in quite a negative sense - because it refers to the cruelty which exists in society - and I know you have sometime said that that's where the real sadomasochism lies,

FB: Yes, for me S&M as an issue in society is about people keeping their kind of role play. It's about power in the kind of role model that people take, perhaps in order to be able to survive life, as they see it. So in a way, yes, to me this is S&M. When people talk to me about the flavour they like in terms of their sexual fantasy, that's fine, but I don't think it's a big deal. I have to say, I'm not quite sure what you are asking me: are you asking me whether I am a sexual sadomasochist?

GW: I certainly wouldn't ask such a question. (Laughter) what I was asking you was more about channelling. To me part of the value of sexual sadomasochism is that it is a way - and at the very least a harness way - of channelling some quite negative emotions.

FB: Yes.

GW: And I suppose what I particularly value in art like Francis Bacon's and your own is that it not only channels this negative material in a harmless way, like bedroom games might, but actually it does a bit more than that: it helps work it through in some way, because it puts it into a public sphere.

FB: That is cathartic?

GW: Partly; but not only that. It also helps one to come to terms with, and reflect more deeply on, these things which have the potential to result in very negative behaviour. You have said that you want to "make the unbearable, bearable ".

FB: Yes, but you seem to be saying that people who do practice this kind of sexual behaviour are better people than those who don't.

GW: Not exactly, but I can see that what I said might have that implication. And you mean there is not the slightest connection really?

FB: I think it's bollocks, of course it is. I mean, if two people want to act their fantasy out by one kicking the shit out of the other, it could come out as a positive thing rather than being a total negative thing, if both really liked that. But what I'm saying is, to me, that is a game; and we are talking here about situations where people actually kick people, or keep people down every day in the way that they behave, or use whatever little power they have over someone else.

GW: Sure, I understand that. And more specifically, what I am talking about is art being able to deal with this, clearly, very problematic side of life. You are saying that sexual games may or may not deal with it, and you're probably right. But, more importantly, I am proposing that art does deal with it.

FB: Of course it does, art deals with a lot of aspects. This, I think, is why people are touched by art.

GW: I am thinking about a valid way of dealing with this very difficult negative feelings in life - feelings which might normally result in people being vile to each other - but which, through people being touched as we've agreed they can be by art and perhaps gaining some understanding, maybe needn't result in shitty behaviour any more.

FB: I don't know, I really don't know.

GW: For me, work like yours helps one deal with these things.

FB: But it doesn't help everyone. Some people get really upset, or just think "oh God, he is kinky", or say "what the fuck is this about? ". Once somebody shouted to the people who were photographing me "you stupid photographers, why don't you photograph your girlfriend? She bleeds every month".

GW: Probably that person wasn't touched or, if they were, they weren't happy to accept it in some way.

FB: Yes, of course, everyone has their agenda, that's fine. He wasn't impressed, which is fine.

GW: Well, perhaps I am not going to be able to push you much further on this point. I suppose what was also in the back of my mind was Pasolini's last film Salo, which does seem to me a very political film. It is about how these negative feelings can take on political and social forms, and I think he is trying to understand that and its connections with sexual perversions - and with art.

FB: Yes, and he is also not very kind to the subject.

GW: (Laughs)

FB: I don't mean physically, I mean how he deals with power. He's not kind to the state, he's not kind to the church. I think it is a good film but, I must say, I find Salo too much for my taste.

GW: Your approach is a slightly more gentle and tolerant one. Are you saying?

FB: I don't know about tolerant; but maybe, yes. I don't like violence. It's bizarre, you know I don't like violence. Yes it is interesting. This is one I haven't got my head around… I don't like violence, at all.

GW: I read something recently about you "allowing all possible details to happen". I wondered if you could say a bit about that… I suppose it is part of your working method?

FB: Yes, this is a kind of philosophy I have. In a way it's quite similar to what we touched on earlier about the language thing: saying less is saying more; the more pure you are, the more you say. And in a way by "allowing all possible things to happen" what I mean is to look at the details and also to go for it. To me, it means to be open and not to close yourself down. And this applies not just to me as a performance artist or me as somebody giving out, but also when I am receiving, whatever as a spectator or just as a human being out there. There are a lot of things that can happen. In my work, you know everything is possible in terms of how people read it.  there is not is kind of "oh no, oh no, you got it wrong". I might say "I don't subscribe to that", but that's different. It's like us both looking at this pen and, yes, it is a pen and it's got a black lines in it, and we agree on that; and then you say "it's got a warm feeling" and I say, "well, I think it's got a cold feeling". Do you know what I'm trying to get at?

GW: Yes, I think so; but nowt you seem to be putting quite a bit of emphasis on how people see your performances, whereas in what you said earlier about letting all possible details happen, I thought you were referring particularly to what actually happens in the performance.

FB: I suppose, yes. This is why in a way I have to go with things that happen while I am doing…

GW: Unless some audience member does something funny, you pretty much know what you're going to do in advance, don't you?

FB: Not emotionally.

GW: How will the emotions change what happens?

FB: I can change, and the one you saw was very… the emotional side was very hard going for me. I thought I was too emotional.

GW: Do you mean I Miss You - the one done in London at Beaconsfield?

FB: Yes, and in the one I did in Birmingham I was more more in control; and there was a moment where I felt angry and I felt I wasn't going to take any kind of shit.

GW: Is that because the local newspapers had been so tiresome shortly before about it?

FB: I don't really know; but in London it was more emotional. I think for me it was a better performance, and it was a better piece because more things were able to come out, because yes, I was naked, I was totally naked.

GW: Obviously you mean that not literally and physically, but really. Certainly that's what it felt like - it felt absolutely 100% there.

FB: Definitely, I think it was. But how it happens, you don't know; because you cannot say "I am going to be 100% and I am going to really, really give".

GW: You may not be in a mood to do that when it comes to it.

FB: No, you may not. But I think the most important thing is that you are honest in what you are doing. That's why I am totally naked and, as you said, we aren't talking about literally. It means to be really kind of… It is to give, it is really to give. But it is difficult because it's a state and you can't just tune into it. You know when you are doing it, you know if it is working, but you don't know how you are doing it. But you do know when, yes, this is really it.

GW: That must be a lovely feeling.

FB: It is a lovely feeling, but it is also emotional and it makes me cry. This has happened. Yes. So that, in a way, is what I mean: for me to allow all the possibilities to happen, but also you can talk about this from the point of view of the person looking - to kind of allow that.

GW: Because in a sense the same sort of open attitude is needed on the spectator's part?

FB: Yes, I think so; but I don't know how you do that. It's hard to achieve. But this can also kick in later on, maybe three months later or the day after, or when you are going to bed with an image in your head - and you realise that you missed a detail, you realise that maybe you reacted too quickly, that you perhaps came to a conclusion too fast, that you presumed… you know.

GW: Then you re-visit those things… I thought popped into my head, which is slightly tangential to what you were saying: there are ways of touching people, aren't there? A cult leader can touch people, but it is quite a destructive form of touching.

FB: Yes, I agree.

GW: And do you feel in a way that your images are healing images for people, or do you think that too presumptuous a statement?

FB: I don't know about healing, because I don't see myself as a guru.

GW: In a sense that perhaps Joseph Beuys did, for example?

FB: Yes, maybe, I don't think that role is appropriate for me; and I feel this is what I meant before about bridging, I believe that when I'm looking somebody in the eyes or just being in the same space with somebody and feeling a certain energy - you don't need to talk - you can see it, you can see in their eyes that in a way you are giving something, something which they will maybe want to hold for a while as a nice experience in their life, for whatever reason. I think that is nice, but I don't think my work is about healing. But if somebody said to me "since I have seen you, my life has changed more positively", I think - and this is crazy - I would believe them.

GW: It is a very individual thing.

FB: Yes, I think it is a personal thing, but in a way I would rather people didn't tell me this, because I think it is very awkward… because I don't want to have that kind of power - you know what I mean? - Where I actually believed I could change things and that my work could bring another dimension to somebody's life. What I hope that my work can do is bring something else in, and maybe then they can connect. But by connecting it doesn't mean they have to subscribe to it. My work is not about telling a story: it's there. And the point is, as I said earlier about the selfishness of artists, we do it for ourselves first. Whatever you do, whether you're an artist, whether you're an accountant, whether you make furniture or bread or whether you are self-employed or you are paid by somebody, you are doing it for yourself. For whatever reason, whether it be economic, practical, to be able to feed ourselves…

GW: Emotional.

FB: Emotional… and of course the bread you make, if I buy it and it's nice, I would say "I will come back tomorrow because that bread is brilliant" and he would feel "oh, I touched him, he wouldn't come back otherwise". So in a way it is the same. People consume my work, I get paid for what I do and that allows me to be independent. What I do in my life is a strategy in terms of allowing to me be me,  whatever that means, and allows me to exist with a certain amount of things which I feel I need to have, like feeling independent, having a kind of integrity and being happy - much like everyone does. Of course on the surface different people seem to want very different things but essentially I think the roots of why people want the things they do are not that different. Our basic needs are pretty much the same; it has a lots to do with our wanting to feel adequate has human beings. And I think essentially it's for ourselves. I don't believe in the artist as…

GW: Sacrificial victim?

FB: Or "I am doing it for the whole world" and the healing… no, no, no.

GW: You like making those bridges yourself; it's a pleasure to you.

FB: Yes, of course it starts with me. My prerogative is to make works which I feel can also give me normal material things; but also the human element to me is very important. Maybe for some people the human element is not that important, because they get their fill somewhere else. That's fine, you know, and I think it is just another way of existing. Some people might say that basically I am too primitive - the messages are too simple and primitive - and they prefer to do things in a way which seems to me kind of mechanical.

GW: Intellectually thought out.

FB: Yes, you can call it post modern, you can call it whatever you want. It either works for you or it doesn't. The main thing for me is that my work is not about being clever. I don't want to do things that are 'clever', I want to do things that mean something to me. But there is that kind of scorn; I remember when I was at college some lecturers and some students, who were reading all these books, would look at people like me as being kind of naive or too basic or too littoral. So what do you do? I don't care. In a way if I had to choose, I would like to be considered naive because I feel that you can learn more by being naive… by being open

GW: I was just wondering, as we were talking about touching and building bridges and the personal nature of communication, whether we should just talk briefly, before we end, about your one-to-one performance, when you were available for two minutes per person, where everyone has their little time slot to be alone with you and then whatever happened, happened. And could you also say why  you titled it Akton 398?

FB: The word "Aktion", with the German spelling, is a tribute to the Viennese Aktionists, Brus, Muehl, Nitsche and Schwarzkogler; the number is just chosen at random. The idea of the piece is that you come into the space, you come with your baggage into the space, and you find me: I am there naked, painted white with a little wound in my belly with this plastic collar that you put on pets so they cannot lick themselves, and that is a kind of metaphor for our wounds as human being, the wounds that we can acquire and suffer get to this stage where we are now. Some people filmed me and some people told me "I understand what you are trying to do." But with some people, I look at them and I know, I know that they know what I am showing, and either they are grateful for that or not. Some people think "yes fine, big deal" and some feel very moved: they feel touched in a way or they feel they are glad they came. But that piece is a difficult one, because usually we try to avoid such situations in life and cannot face being confronted with our wounds. Also it is a difficult one because, although it is an encounter and I like To see it as a collaboration, in a way I am the one that has more power because I am the one who has set it up. In terms of being vulnerable, I think we are both in more than one way; it is not just me because I am naked. They are vulnerable, too.

GW: I think a lot of people thought they could easily make a fool of themselves; embarrassment is always a possibility.

FB: But I am quite happy with the person who doesn't move at all and just kind of looks at you but you can tell that is something going on. And in a way I don't want to know what has gone on for them and I don't ask them what it is that this has done for them. I think it is a personal thing. I really like that piece because I will never know, with the 150 people or 200 people that I see in one day, what impact I had on them. It is not about asking them. I have seen now, perhaps, a couple of thousand people on that basis for two minutes. It is amazing to try to remember everyone; then there is this magic moment, this moment I remember from Italy, this moment I remember from Mexico - and that's life.


Published in Oh Lover Boy

[Black Dog Publishing, London] (2001)

© 2015 Franko B and the contributors