Raimundas Malasauskas Talks to
Donelle Woolford

Raimundas Malasauskas writes letters, menus, scenarios and situations, as well as scripts for CAC TV. He lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. Along with Alexis Vaillant and Sophia Hernandez Chong Cuy, he organized BMW, the IX Baltic Triennial for the Contemporary Art Center, Vilnius. Recently he has been traveling throughout the United States and Mexico and is currently working on a project related to the late Canadian artist John Fare. More info is available on request at rai@socalledrecords.com.

RAIMUNDAS MALASAUSKAS
Are you Donelle Woolford?

DONELLE WOOLFORD
Ha, ha. Rai, is that really the first question? To answer: "Yes, I am Donelle Woolford."

RAI
another first question could be "Who are you?" One of the reasons I am asking this question is a project that Loris Greaud, a French artist, did for the Black Book of the IX Baltic Triennial, which was curated by Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, Alexis Vaillant and me in 2005. At some point of our multiple email exchanges in preparation of the project I've noticed that Alexis Vaillant was using two email addresses in the correspondence between the three of us. Not the most striking fact given the common practice of using several different email addresses by the same person, but when a time came for artists to submit their contributions to the Black Book (which was dealing with black markets, undercover strategies, shadow networks, etc.), Loris Greaud sent us a wiretap of all our email correspondence, which he entered using the name of Alexis Vaillant and a specially created email address for that. So we suddenly faced a mirror of our own strategies and ended up publishing the wiretap in the publication including the parts that we've censored due to a number of obvious reasons. I think Loris Greaud did a really interesting project and it made me very much aware of the "shadow identities" one might encounter not only on Internet, but at the corner bodegas as well. How does it sound for you?

DONELLE
I am Donelle Woolford. But I do believe that we all have alter egos or shadow selves. I might define who I am differently from day to day.

RAI
Do you know why I am contacting you?

DONELLE
I would guess that you want some answers from me, unless you are just feeling a little lonely over in Vilnius, or wherever you are these days. I know you've been traveling . . .

RAI
So who are you today? And weren't you part of the same Baltic Triennial two years ago? Can you tell me more about it? And about your day?

DONELLE
Today I am Donelle Woolford because I choose to be (that's my daily mantra). It's nice to be able to don personalities like a wardrobe. But in the end "Puffy", "P. Diddy", "Diddy", or "Sean Combs"... doesn't really matter what people call you. A name is just a name, but it's how you put yourself out there that counts. I was a part of the Baltic Triennial a year ago. I can't believe it's been so long. That show was a great excitement. The idea of undercover systems and black markets was something I had been dealing with abstractly in my work for years, and am still toying with those ideas today. I have a fascination with authenticity or lack thereof. Who is to say what's real or what's original? People are always hiding and revealing different parts of themselves, consciously constructing their image from pieces of others.

RAI
'Multiple solitude' — this is how Deleuze was talking about Godard. Can you share some loneliness with me? Loneliness is a way of traveling to me.

DONELLE
I would share my loneliness with you, but I prefer my solitude! It's interesting that you bring up Godard though. I always think of how he calls attention to the inherent plasticity and performative nature of things on display. It seems we are all on display now-a-days. We have taken Hollywood to heart and have begun to perform ourselves. Each of us enters society as a model to be tested and identified with. Your next-door neighbor could be the next American Idol! You begin to play roles, to construct your image. Life is getting so performative, full of escapism and disguise. The most admirable people achieve greatness by embracing levels of reality much lower than those of average people.

RAI
'All of us invent ourselves, some of us just have more imagination than others' claimed Cher. Do you agree? And do you invent other people (or help them to invent themselves)?

DONELLE
Quoting Cher eh? You are well versed! I do agree with her though. We all play a very active role in constructing our identities. I do dabble in the creation of identities, my own and others, but then again I work in advertising . . . I think it's facsinating how people can really feel connected to personas, even if they are clearly constructed. Madonna (or is it "Esther" now?), Napoleon Dynamite, Superman. There are teams of people who work behind the scenes to construct these personalities; yet we enjoy their persona and performance so much that they become endearing to us in very real ways.

RAI
You work in advertising? Does it overlap with your artistic practice, or is it a continuum?

DONELLE
It pays my bills. I would add though, that developing an understanding of how advertising works has affected how I think about my art work and what I might do to influence its reception by, for example, what I read or the shoes I wear. It's just a fact that, whether real or contrived, our biographies play a big part in the reception of our work. Successful people know this. In order to make the most of this inevitable framework through which all of our work will be perceived — or at least to neutralize it — they have to become whomever their work tells them they should be.

RAI
So which stage of your formula from your contribution to Hans Ulrich-Obrist's Do It are you in now:

1] Get rich
2] Become an artist
3] Get rich

DONELLE
There's a formula?! Things would have been much easier if I had known that. Why don't they teach that in math class instead of all those useless algorithms? Well, regardless, I don't think I'm fully at any stage of that progression.

RAI
Talking about the Baltic Triennial ∆ it has been exactly eighteen months since we received an email from Joe Scanlan, an artist whom we wanted to participate in the Baltic Triennial, introducing you as his assistant and a very particular type of collaborator. Can you explain more about your relationship with Joe? Is he your collaborator or a mentor or a shadow self? What is your current role in Things that fall? And why do they fall?

DONELLE
I have known Joe for many years. He was my first sculpture teacher. I worked as his assistant for some time, biding my time and observing how things worked because I didn't really know how to insert myself into the art world.

I was intimidated at first by the challenges I saw, not only as an unknown, unconnected artist from the south but also a black female in a white male dominated world. For a long time I decided I would just be invisible. Pawn my works off as someone else's, don a mask. After promoting my works under Joe I realized that being invisible was ridiculous — especially when he was getting credit for my ideas! This is the fate of every artist's assistant, the reason they — at least the ambitious ones — break out on their own. I appreciated al Joe's help, but it was time for Donelle Woolford to have her own space, her own work, her own narrative. So here I am. As much as they try to keep the two worlds apart, art is politics, and I just got tired of sitting on the sidelines. Labels aren't so important to me, call me what you will: a collaborator, an image, an avatar. All I want is to achieve things that are beyond my identity, beyond what my physical appearance in the art world will allow.

I am a part of things that fall — I take up some space on the website, plus I used to handle its sales and marketing. Everything falls really, is there any object on earth that ascends in perpetuity? Inevitability is very profitable.

RAI
Why did you decide you wanted to insert yourself into the art world? Why did you decide to become visible at some point?

DONELLE
It's difficult to create work and not to want people to experience it at some point. It was more painful to watch from the sidelines and complain than anticipated. I thought by not taking part in all the politics I could forget about it. But I love art and will always be around it so there was really no separating myself from it.

RAI
Were you making works of different stripes under those different names or was it a more homogenous production?

DONELLE
I haven't released my works under many different names. I've stuck mainly to my wood works. But I could understand reaching a certain point where you feel locked into a style. People can be very inflexible and expect a certain work from you. In that scenario I could see creating and releasing a new genre of works under a different surname. It's like how celebrities put on hats and glasses to escape the paparazzi.

RAI
So if one day someone asks you to produce a work in someone else's style under someone else's name, properly paid, would you?

DONELLE
Yes, that's what I used to do for a living as an art assistant, use my hands as instruments of labor to create someone else's vision. I don't like it much.

RAI
What would you do if one day you saw a piece by Donelle Woolford that you've never seen before on ebay?

DONELLE
That's a strange thought. I guess I would be flattered and outraged. People copy, you can't really stop that part of human nature. I do believe that when something is made by a person it carries a unique energy, and that can never be copied. If my works are so well liked that people are bootlegging them and pawning them off on ebay I don't think I'd worry about the sale of one knock-off.

RAI
Would you ever consider producing an invisible work?

DONELLE
I have actually.

RAI
The above? Or something else? Tell me, I am really curious. Don't you think invisibility has become almost a matter of style, not only an ideological statement?

DONELLE
It was a different project to actually create an invisible piece . . . it was interesting, very liberating. I liked it a lot. I think the obscure and the unknown have always been in vogue.

RAI
Do you have a blog? Where is your home? Thinking about home (or rather about a house) I remember John Waters who claimed that 'My life is a reality show. Everybody has a great reality show if you go out, if you live a life. I think the only people who really love reality shows don't go out of the house.'

Do you ever see your life as a reality show? Or a film? Or a song? I think it was Jill Scot who said that 'You become what your sing about' — she was talking about funk. Is it true that the artwork you do can have a transformative power on your life?

DONELLE
I don't have a blog, my daily stream of consciousness is not for public consumption. My home is where I can breathe and create, right now somewhere between New Haven and Brooklyn. I often see my life as a film or at least an hour-long sitcom. In certain moments I can even hear the music cue up. I don't really think my art transforms me; I am not separate from my art. It is just an extension, an action, a part of me that reflects myself just like a best friend or an enemy would.

RAI
I think my home is writing, or maybe traveling. Kathy Acker was saying 'traveling is just like having an endless orgasm. You just go and go and go.' Do you know her work? I remember her when I think about the way you re-appropriate Cubism — I think she did similar things with centerpieces of male writing like Don Quixote. Can you tell me more about your cubist period? Did it come from Fauvism or Conceptualism?

DONELLE
I grew up with Cubism. Jazz, scratching and breaking, even beat boxing with my sister. I grew up looking at African sculptures and masks and kente cloth dolls. So when I went to school years later and saw the works of Klee, Mondrian and Picasso I was like . . . oh, ok, I see where they are pulling from. Breaking things down to basic elements, flattening, refracting and recombining to approximate life — and maybe even create a better vision of it — seemed very familiar to me and natural.

RAI
To envision life? Do you like to define what art means to you? And how does this definition change?

DONELLE
That sounds like a very philosophical question Rai. I say 'envision life' because I think all pieces are made through their creator's eye, from their vantage point. Life is consumed. Filtered through our beings and regurgitated back into the world through various forms of creation. Art is just another form of communication, one that can reach you in ways that dialogue alone cannot. I like the freedom it allows for; to comment on, express, re-envision, or supplement life however you see fit.

RAI
I like what you say about freedom. To me art provides a possibility to be at both sides of the door at the same time.

DONELLE
And do you stand there just looking at yourself?

RAI
I look at myself fully aware that I become different in this act of looking. Almost-someone-else. Have you ever appropriated Joe's work?

DONELLE
I have never purposefully appropriated Joe's work, but I can't promise that I haven't been influenced by it or his thought. I've never been one to believe that copying is the highest form of flattery. To me it's much closer to plagiarism, criminal almost. But we are all guilty of it. It's impossible to see something and to not be affected by it and have it seep into you, but it still surprises me that it happens. What does new and original even mean: without a trace of influence or origin?

RAI
Do you consider originality a sin as well?

DONELLE
I could never see true originality as a sin. I'm just not sure I've even witnessed such a thing.

RAI
A sin or originality?

DONELLE
Either. I do know and like Kathy Acker's work. I like thinking about how her intention was not to be a feminist voice but to wrIte from a female point of view in a sexist world. People get so used to looking at things from a certain perspective it can be hard to flip it around and really see it from another vantage point.

RAI
So would you mind if I flip it around and say that Joe Scanlan is a creation of Donelle Woolford and this is how the feminist machine works? Is it true that Joe is an actor performing the scripts you've created — I am sure you know the story of the buried coffin in Vilnius. Did he tell you any details about it when he returned to the U.S.? (By the way, I really like the way Russian poet Joseph Brodski talked about the power of one's creative practice to influence one's everyday existence. He was saying that in artistic production he was trying to make things in a different way each time and thus to avoid clich≥s, and the same attitude would move to his everyday existence where he would try to avoid clich≥s of living.)

DONELLE
As intriguing as the idea is, Joe is definitely not my creation. And nothing against him, but I don't think a feminist machine would use Joe as its front! He still plays a huge role in my career and development, but he is very much his own person. He is kind of like Big Brother, or the man behind the camera, coaching, guiding, advising . . .

RAI
Once, while we were digging a grave by flashlight in the woods outside Vilnius, Joe introduced himself in a rather Hitchcockian fashion as 'the man who knew too much.' Would you agree? Is he following our conversation now?

DONELLE
That sounds like Joe. He's much smarter than he lets on. I do feel an inherent sadness for people that seem to 'know too much,' and that includes Joe. It seems to always come with a loss of innocence. Look over my shoulder and tell me if you see him.

RAI
Yes, I see him and I'm trying to decide whether he is a projection or a screen, or both. Who are the other characters in this sitcom?

DONELLE
Well the usual cast. My very sexy romantic lead, my best friend, my ex, my two sisters, my mother and father, my roommate. They are a lively bunch. Love, lies, betrayal. I've been waiting for MTV to call me for my own reality TV show! I'm still waiting . . .

RAI
Would you like Madonna or P Diddy to have a cameo appearance in your reality show? Who else if not them?

DONELLE
Prince. Do you know how to contact him?

RAI
Call him. Why Prince?

DONELLE
He's one of the greatest artists I know and he dances in heels better than I do.

RAI
By the way, what are the materials and skills you are using in your current work? Would you like to tell more about what you do? And would you agree that you share some love for craftiness with Joe?

DONELLE
I use wood scraps and recently have begun integrating a layer of beautifully corrogated cardboard to the pieces. It gives them a wonderful new depth and texture, they feel much more concrete, images as objects, like Malevich or Fontana. The pieces I make are cubists paintings, made out of wood scraps. My studio is in a giant reclaimed lumber factory so I have tons of free material, and all of it from the industrial revolution. It's funny ∆ part of Cubism's original motivation was to inject an element of primitivism, of baser instincts, into industrialized modern life. So here I am, remaking cubism from derelict New England factories, injecting remnants of industrialized modernism into our media-driven, postmodern life. I really love working in a very physical way — I always have. As an adolescent I used to carve things out of wood, blow glass and melt metals. I like working with the elements. We don't push materials around much anymore in our society, there's something really sad about that.

RAI
Were did you find a place to blow glass and melt metals?

DONELLE
I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my love of the arts so they put me in programs initially that had those classes and facilities. I really admire that, because if I had a daughter who came to me at age fourteen saying she wanted a blow torch, I can't say I'd so readily oblige.

And one summer while I was visiting my mom's family in North Carolina I attended an workshop on Installation art taught by Lester Hayes. He was an early and influential postminimalist in New York before he became bitter and left town. Art world politics in New York City in the late 1960s really got him down. But when he was in a room with stuff in it, any kind of stuff you might pull out of storage shed or a garage, he just lit up and turned it all into poetry. It was startling to me at that age, to carefully peel the aluminum foil off a broken piece of insulation and then, voila, call it art.

RAI
I know that work. He was a contemporary of another tragic artist from the 1960s, John Fare. At the moment I'm working on a project related to his work. I hope you can contribute to it in some way while you are in Paris.

He wrote (let me quote this big chunk of his email):

'For the past five years I have been developing an artist named Donelle Woolford. First was she was my studio assistant, then she did some editorial work for me, and finally she became my publicity manager. Many people corresponded with her and she performed her tasks well.'

Now she has left my employ and set out as an artist in her own right. Having heard that there was a very lively market for hot young artists in New York — especially recent Yale graduates — she has moved there to try her hand with the rest. She is currently living in Clinton Hill and working as a television advertising producer.'

I mention her because she is, on many levels, a black market artist. First and most obviously she is a black artist and she markets her work, ergo, she is functioning in a kind of "black market" that is, as you say, both obvious and indiscernible in the context of the contemporary art world.' Second, her work is a smart, satiric remake of classical cubism. That is, she is taking back for her people an aesthetic that was stolen from them 100 years ago. Rather than oil on canvas, however, her cubism is constructed out of found scraps of wood to have the approximate appearance of cubism. Thus her work is both real (made) and fake (counterfeit), just as the original cubists' works' were both real (painted) and fake (bastardized African culture). Her works are mere shadows of the originals, outcasts lurking in the suburbs of art history, waiting for their big score. Her works are stolen goods.'

Third, I have been acting as a "front" for these works of hers, pawning them off as my own in the backrooms of various galleries but never showing them in the light of day under my name. So far, I have sold every work she has made, and this has allowed her to work at her own pace, in private, like a ghost.'

She has tired of this arrangement, however, and both of us feel it is time for her to break out. I think the Triennial presents the perfect opportunity, and so I propose that my contribution to the Triennial be the involvement of Donelle Woolford as a young black artist. She would need to show work, travel, attend the opening and be publicized to the same extent as all other artists in the show. She would have her marginal bio published just like everyone else will. And she would do her best to make her contribution to "Black Markets World" be as beautiful and subversive as possible.'