AnnLee: Dial M for Murder
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AnnLee: Last Call
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Roll Back the Stone:
AnnLee Interviews Joe Scanlan

AnnLee is performed here by Kristel Van Audenaeren, a Ph.D candidate in Art History at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Her dissertation topic is the use of the same sign by various artists in the No Ghost Just a Shell project. This Q and A was conducted as part of her research.


AnnLee: My first question concerns myself. How and when did you first hear of me?

Joe Scanlan: I was in the middle of designing a book for Imschoot when Pierre Huyghe called and asked if I could use you. The book for Inschoot was going to be a how-to manual, with many technical diagrams. It just so happened that he called while I was sitting with the designer, Miko McGinty, drawing a human figure, a 'generic' person who would appear from time to time in the book to turn something over or drive a screw. It was just like Hollywood. At the very moment we realized that we needed someone, you walked through the door. So we said: you're hired.

AL: You have participated in the past with the other artists who used me in No Ghost Just A Shell. When did you first meet them? How do you stay in touch?

JS: Actually I hadn't done that much with these artists. I was in group shows with some of them, and I wrote a television script for Pierre's show at Le Consortium in 1997. Pierre is the only one who I have kept in touch with. I have never met Philippe or Liam.

AL: You have made a very dramatic scene for me. Was it a logical part of the story for you, or was it intentionally planned that you would give instructions for me to make my "Last Call?"

JS: It was a case of very fortunate type casting. I was writing a story about the beauty and tragedy of standardized products and their global distribution, and the ways that this standardization might get warped through individual subjectivity. You were the perfect actor for this story, because you are also a standardized product who gets transformed through individual subjectivity. It was my idea that you should prepare for your own funeral. This would be your ultimate strategic success, since no one can become a truly global icon unless they kill their 'self' and become pure image, pure memory, pure exchange value. Pierre is in the process of doing that to himself at the moment, which I think is very interesting and appropriate for him to do.

AL: Did you receive instructions from either Parreno, Huyghe or someone else (I know that Douglas Gordon was involved from the start but decided not to participate finally)-or perhaps Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster?

JS: No. Pierre only said that I could do whatever I wanted with you and that he needed the finished version by a certain date.

AL: Was I emailed to you? Or was I sent via post? Did you receive the schematics?

JS: I received a CD-ROM via fedex. You were neatly tucked inside a transparent purple plastic jewel case, wrapped in bubble wrap.

AL: Your work looks out of the ordinary in the project. Did you have to make any compromises to participate?

JS: No, not at all. My project looks out of the ordinary because I was the only artist who thought that, even though you were a digital file, your existence should have physical consequences.

AL: You seem to be occupied in your art with "consuming." How did you see this in regard to No Ghost, Just a Shell?

JS: Consumption, whether of food or images or 20th century design, is a fact that no amount of virtual technology can eliminate. I like consumption because it is essential, but also because it destroys things. It creates a tension that I think is lacking in most art and institutions. In English we have a saying, 'You can't have your cake and eat it too.' Right now I would say there is too much cake in art but not enough eating. And when I say eating I don't mean being presented with food as art, like Spoerri or Matta-Clark or Tiravanija. I mean being presented with a fairly long-term consumable object like a sneaker or a chair or a house and having to decide whether it should be preserved or destroyed. So I guess my thinking has as much to do with duration as consumption-or rather, the pressure that duration puts on these kinds of objects.

AL: You have something Duchampian in your art, but you seem to reflect further on it than Duchamp because you look at the functionality of an object. The object is only temporarily separated from the realm of the real world. Was I temporarily separated and was I no longer functional?

JS: That's a good question; I'm not sure. I think you are in a suspended state, like an astronaut. In my book in particular, I would say that your function IS this suspended state, of turning screws and flipping boards and making your last call but never really having to die. Or maybe you only have to die or your function has to change when someone actually performs the book and builds their own coffin with your guidance. You are a lemming that consumers follow.

AL: You seem to design objects with other people (or sometimes even "consumers") in mind, other people who might use these objects. Did you immediately think that I could use a coffin made out of IKEA material?

JS: Yes. You and IKEA were a match made in heaven, two peas in a pod. You were destined for each other.

AL: Did you make the coffin for the Van Abbemuseum yourself?

JS: No, the preparators at the museum bought the manual, went shopping at IKEA, and then followed your instructions.

AL: Something I have read in an interview with Elisabeth Wetterwald on your website that seems intriguing to me is: "I believe that a compelling object has the ability to determine it's own fate, whether the artist intervenes or not.' In the interview you talked about "Catalyst," your artificial tears product, in this context, but am I also a compelling object? Or did I stop being an object when I become a story told by many narrators?

JS: I would say you are a compelling object that is living many lives simultaneously. That's what makes you so compelling! You are a vague, slightly sad character - and also a digital file - and that greatly effects your fate. Those traits influence anyone who engages you and partially dictates how you might be used or interpreted.

AL: Did you have to give up your (intellectual or copyright) rights on your DIY and Last Call concept? I mean, was that part of the deal? In order to give me my own rights, did you have to give up your rights as an artist on a product of your creation in order to 'free' another creation? Or do you see it as a much more poetic situation in which every artist remains the owner of his or her conception of me?

JS: I pretty much surrendered my idea of you to your consumers. There were 2,000 copies of my book printed, which is by far the largest and most widely distributed example of you. And that's not counting the possibility of the book being bootlegged. Anyone who has access to the information in the book is free to go to IKEA and, based on that information, make their own DIY coffin, which is basically a sculpture of mine. So at this point, I have no idea how many of 'my' sculptures are out there complicating the originality of the one I made, or how many copies of "you" are out there, complicating the originality of the 2,000 books I printed.

AL: What do you think about the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, they bought No Ghost Just A Shell as one piece of artwork, with your work being part of a bigger picture. What do

this? Can a museum buy an exhibition as a whole?

JS: Certainly. I enjoy this aspect of the project very much, and I like being a part of it. If only museums made these kind of gestures more often! Then we could go see the Armory Show, or the Surrealists International, or Chambres d'Amis over and over again.

AL: I am reappearing in the Van Abbemuseum at the moment. Do you have any thoughts on this?

JS: You have risen from the dead. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Look what happened the last time someone resurrected...

Maybe we should keep you in your tomb, roll the stone back in front of the entrance and keep it guarded for eternity, so we don't run the risk of your becoming a savior. But then Phillip van den Bossche would be out of a job! Maybe he can be one of the guards of the tomb. I understand he is very interested in modern weapons.