As part of our series on MTV’s larger-than-life, outdoor video billboard At 44 1/2, Creative Time showcased three works curated by artist Marilyn Minter, in a program entitled Chewing Color. Screened from April through May, the films included Patty Chang’s Fan Dance, Kate Gilmore’s Star Bright, Star Might, and Marilyn’s Green Pink Caviar. This was the starting point for the following conversation, where Marilyn and Kate speak about color, glamour, and what it means to be in front of or behind the camera.
Marilyn Minter: Let’s begin by talking about our videos in Chewing Color at 44 1/2 in Times Square—I had these models with long tongues swirling and sucking bakery products, and I was shooting stills of them from under a pane of glass. I wanted to make enamel paintings along the idea of “painting with my tongue.” My makeup artist picked up my 10-year-old digital camera and started shooting short videos just to see what they would look like. These looked so good that we made plans to do a professional, high-definition video. I wanted to project it on a building or digital billboard, so that it would be huge. This made sense to me as I have a history of making billboards, and once produced a commercial advertising a painting show I did in 1989-90. The commercial aired on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Arsenio Hall Show, and Nightline– (it’s now on YouTube). Art that’s interesting to me is always metaphorical. I like multiple layers and interpretations. What was the impetus for your video in Chewing Color? What made you think of the extreme circumstances that you put yourself through? Are you working in metaphor?
Kate Gilmore: Star Bright, Star Might is a video that was made out of a feeling of dissatisfaction. I was pissed off at an external situation and pissed off at myself at the same moment. On one side, I was mad at myself for not being something that I should be, but on the other side, I was mad at something else for making me feel like I should be something that I am not. The conflict in this piece is reflected in the struggle, all ultimately worth it, since the action results in success!
Can we talk about color? Color can always be coded. We know what certain colors mean. Light pink is usually girly, black is goth, red is sexy... For Star Bright, Star Might, I was thinking about something striking—the character is clearly a woman (fire engine–red lips, long hair) and the wood barrier is painted in orange and yellow. I wanted very strong colors that pop in the video and I wanted to deal very specifically with a woman's experience. This isn’t the story of a girl. What is your relationship to color? Do the specific colors carry any particular significance?
MM: I always attempt to locate my color in the 21st century. The time I live in. I avoid nostalgia. Color is generally dictated by my subject matter, but I am very conscious of amplifying the color in striking ways. For instance, the mud puddles I used in my Creative Time billboards in 2006 were gooey and brownish (I added pigment and oil to dirt) not anything like real mud puddles in New York, which are a dull, transparent, dark grey. The colors I used in Green Pink Caviar were as gorgeous, as I could make them. My models were basically mixing food coloring and baking products with their saliva on a glass pallet. There is a natural element of disgust which could make people run away or gag. I had to distract my viewer with an abundance of pretty so they wouldn't think about what’s actually going on.
I think I’m so attracted to your work because I find it excruciating. I suspect that's one of the things we have in common. You once called all of us in the Times Square show an example of girly massacre. I love that description. Can you elaborate?
KG: Girly massacre…. I was thinking about the way we use these "appetizing" elements in our work that could come across as girly, feminine, or –designer-ish and then we twist it. For instance, in your piece, you use these insane colors, sexuality, beauty, and glamour, but it is also so incredibly gross. You are in one way embracing the glam, but in another way you are questioning or redefining it. I think it is similar with me. I love color, I want things to look good, I like pink and red, but at the same time and on equal footing, I like brutality and roughness. It’s important that these two combating sensibilities come together.
What is so great about your work is how it can compete with everyday popular culture. I really noticed this in Times Square. It’s really hard to get people to look up in Times Square, especially when The Rock is on one screen, The Cougar on another, etcetera. I watched as people really took notice of your work—initially in the same way, but then they start questioning what they’re looking at. Can you talk about that relationship?
MM: Pop culture and glamorous images can give you immense pleasure, but subconsciously you know you’ll never look that good. No one looks like what Photoshop does. I try to make pictures of what that feels like. I will be the first to admit that I don't invent anything new. I just take what already exists in popular culture and exaggerate it. So it makes sense that I blur those boundaries and I look like I fit perfectly in Times Square. The perfect storm of advertising! I love the paradox and complications that evolve when I take a pop culture trope and amplify it. Like jewels in the mouth. That is a common picture in the fashion industry: Instead of lightly kissing the jewelry, my models just crammed it into their mouths until they started to vomit. I need pop culture to make art. It’s how I think.
Are you aware of labor practices when you develop your ideas? Your character doesn't always get the reward. Although sometimes she does accomplish her goal, like in Star Bright, Star Might. What determines when she wins or looses?
KG: In the videos I always set out to win, to accomplish something, but often I don't get my way. I might make things too difficult for myself or something goes wrong. Since everything is shot only once, there really are no other options. I have to assume that if there are "mistakes" in the piece or if I am unsuccessful, it is just a reflection of our own daily existences. Believe me, I certainly set out in life prepared to win everything and that is definitely not my reality or the reality of most individuals.
Marilyn, I don't think I’ve ever seen you in any of your pieces. I want to know why! It’s clear that a lot of your models have some of your characteristics like red hair or freckles. I am curious why it isn't ever you!
MM: Another good question. I have to be the one to look through the lens. I shoot with a macro lens, very close up. I have to be the eye, as my work is always my vision portrayed. I don't consciously try to make surrogates of myself, but freckles are more or less Photoshopped out of popular culture imagery. They’re considered "flaws.” I use freckled models all the time (male and female). I even enhance their spots with makeup. Looking at my images, the eye reads them as off somehow. The brain doesn't know why, but it just never sees freckled people represented anywhere in culture. I am probably only interested in images with so-called flaws. Things that photo editors airbrush out. How about you? Do you ever think of using someone else in your videos?
KG: Yes! I have been really seriously thinking about it. It has to be right though. There are a couple pieces I have been thinking about, but nothing fully developed. I think it would be an interesting thing for me to try to do. Will you be in one?
MM: Of course. But only if I succeed…