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Peter Geschwind on punk, programming and playgrounds
Interviewed on 19/4/08 after the opening of his show: 'Automatic' at The Exchange, Penzance
Linda Cleary: I thought it was interesting that you had been a musician. I was thinking about your exhibition and my take on it was that it was very much about sound...I was imagining a high-octave sound running through it...
Peter Geschwind: Wow, that's nice
LC ....the sound of psychological conflict - at the same time as a gaiety and joy.
PG I'm not a musician anymore... I wasn't really any good when I used to play. We played punk rock, you don't have to be very good to do that! Its like a feeling, like a dissonance or something. If you take 'Sonic Youth' for example I suppose you start with the feedback and then just tune into that and in the end it will be something like a song that is structured from what comes next, like some kind of organic thing...
LC a melody of distortion?
PG Yeh and to have that emotional aspect as well. I mean if you add a tune it might get melancholic. Its really about the direct experience, that gets straight into your stomach when you hear something. It might not be possible to take qualities like that into sculpture, but my intention is to do it anyway and then its really nice if you have experienced that: you actually think it has something to do with music. And maybe art is not so far away from music after all.
LC Yeh and definitely if you've got those punk influences: Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth. I've loved Jello Biafra for many years...
LC ....it will mean a certain attitude to life: a desire to confront it and switch it around
PG If you don't know the song on the video 'Sound Cut' that I made some years ago (see 'webprojects') it will probably sound like noise, but if you recognise the melody of course you will hear the song. My brother immediately recognised it: 'Oh it's that Dead Kennedys song'.
LC I didn't recognise it, what was it?
PG It was 'Too Drunk To Fuck'
Did you notice in yourself - was it obvious - the movement from Peter as a musician to Peter as an artist in the sense of making exhibitions, installations, sculpture?
PG It was more a question of lack of time because I was playing some music when I started to study art. It's two full-time things, and I really liked to work with art, and after some years I felt like I had to choose between them or otherwise I would end up doing absolutely nothing. I just had to leave that, but for me it's still very present with the same ideas, so maybe I took parts of it and continued...
LC So apart from your musical influences, in an artistic world what excited you, what still excites you?
PG I think I wouldn't be able to say like exactly references, cos it's always everything together
LC But you went to art school?
PG yeh yeh
LC Yes, so at art school did you immediately feel that you'd found your groove?
PG I was like not into art at all before I started to study art, so my only reference would be through record covers from the music that I listened to...
LC So you were talking about album covers having an influence and you mentioned about Velvet Underground the one with the banana
PG Andy Warhols cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico
LC Which other covers got your attention?
PG I was more looking for a similar attitude I guess as I had with the music, and the connections between the visual art and record covers.
LC Yeh, sure: the fusion between them
PG Yeh exactly, yeh and then it might be a cover from Sonic Youth.
LC ...and as your taste in music has changed have you found that what you're producing is different?
PG I think when it comes to what I listen to now I think I'm more open and I'm interested in all kind of music compared to maybe when I was playing music. I was more into one thing then.
LC In the presentation you talked very much about this altered state of reality: of questioning everyday objects, like someone coming from another planet where they didn't have the same references...so is it still a sort of area that you're wanting to keep pushing?
PG Yeh I think I try to do that in different ways. One way could be like using material in a totally wrong way or it could also be using some other technique or media in a way that its not meant to be used. Just trying to find ways to push things a little bit all the time and see where it will end up.
The video 'Sound Cut' for example. Since its based on music, and music is a rhythm, you can measure it by rounds per minute. I wanted to transform this to video which is based on frames per second, so its two totally different structures, and I was looking for somewhere in-between those two like the tempo of the song. In Final Cut video programme, I found that if I just used this four stroke rhythm - I mean its four, eight, sixteen, thirty two - I could use that and count frames with that, and decide that one cut that I make has to be two frames, four frames etcetera, that video editing became more like programming a drum machine. Then in the middle it became more like a music programme...
PG I think someone else maybe would prefer to hand the idea to a professional company that do this and be there and supervise it. But one of my things, one of my ideas would be to have like full control of all the details.
I think I have some total control manic side that makes me do this that I really want to, to have that kind of relation to my work. I think another side of me is like no patience at all and I want to do something quickly and as easy as possible so that is also a contradiction.
LC But I think that's part of the brilliance that I see in your work is the coming together of the mind and the intention with the actual technical ability to carry it through. After you've done a show and you've come to the close of some work do you have an emptiness?
PG No, actually not because I don't see it like a closed project, since I try to continue it, you work on the project and then you show it and then it is like OK here is what it is now.. and then just drop it and continue something new.
It's really easy to end up just working and working and working and you never get finished on anything and there are no reasons to say oh its finished because its not. If you make a show its like summing it all up, and more easy to take a step back to get an overview.
LC I think your work seems to really speak about your questioning of the world that we live in and the structures underpinning society. Its not a narcissistic body of work. Its not introspective. Its very much about the conversation of the world.
LC Which I think then comes back to what you've said about wanting to retain the child who is in conversation with the world at all times. You have a child of one or two?
PG I have a child of two years now and its a fantastic age and he starts to talk and look at things with really fresh eyes. He will be fascinated about things that I used to be fascinated about but today I just don't have time or just forgot about.
I mean if you would compare a playground or a toyshop with the psychological aspects that you have in hardware stores and DIY stores; its all these bright colours and they have some similarities. The weird thing is that I see with my son that all these playgrounds are projections from grown ups that we want kids to play on places like this. When I go to the playground with my son I am like 'do you want to go on the swing' or 'do you want to do that' and my son will pick up a stick from the ground and his imagination will transform this stick to a pen to draw in the sand with, to a bird, to anything which I think is really beautiful.
LC I think we're probably gonna have to finish cos it's a little bit noisy and you've got something to do
PG Yeh, I am meeting up with my friends who came here from Sweden and we will drive by the coastline and check out the spectacular views, will be great...