Aids3d: As an artist you’ve got a lot of different things going on. Do you think it’s important as an artist to have a seemingly cohesive body of work, or at least some kind of delineation between different sub-practices. Could you outline some structure that organizes your practice as a whole?
A3D: What for instance connects Brand New Paint Job to say Codes of Honor?
JR: I don’t think I will ever be able to settle on any one way of making work even if I ever have huge market success. If a Jon Rafman style develops it won’t be the result of a conscious effort. Although financial success would help make it easier for me to afford to make things that I would not otherwise be able to. For example, l would love to create a real life Malevich Ducati or make a feature length film. Money would allow me to be more experimental in that way.
We went to see an excellent Post Modernism exhibition at the V&A in London together and I remember you reached a point when you started getting depressed because it was so clear that so much of the stuff going on right now amongst our peers was a just a repetition of what had already happened. Now I think that gloomy feeling is valid because, on one level, repetition is a form of regression, for as we move further and further away from the original source our consciousness of the historical condition lessens. But there is also an emancipatory character to repetition if the repetition is made explicit. Maybe as artists we are continually driven to re-attain lost moments in art history but in new ways.
A3D: I can see how one might take the poignant and sometimes tragic subject matter of your Google Street Views as being a bit exploitative (clearly the people depicted have given no consent). Do you feel that you have the same responsibilities towards your subjects as a traditional street photographer might have? Does the technological mediation give you a free pass to depict whatever you find?
JR: I believe I advocate the total autonomy of the artist to capture or create whatever he or she may please, even though I know that this is an aspiration rather than an achieved state. I think it is important to be conscious of the potential exploitative nature of one’s art but I also think that, if you start making decisions based on political or moral correctness, your art ceases to be autonomous.
Yet, I think all artists have to take responsibility for their creation. And that it is very possible for an artist not to actually see the truth in their work, it is possible for a photographer to be blind towards what he is photographing. A classic example of this in film is in the movie Blow Up. At first, the protagonist does not see the actual murder taking place in his photo. In order to see the reality in your work, you have to be worthy of it and truly to committed to the your creations. The moral and epistemological perspectives are intertwined. For me, that means that in order to see the truth in my Street View photos, I have to be open to the inherent violence in them. I think whenever you capture something in art or writing you are doing violence to a certain extent because you are wrenching it from the constant flow of inchoate reality.
JR: I think if the streets had a coherent ideology with a revolutionary consciousness that assertion would be untrue, but the truth is that a politically effective Left has been dead for a long time now. I think this supposed renaissance of the Left can easily lead to a even further disintegration or splintering of what remains of the Left. But just to back up a little bit, I think it is important to talk about the roots of the #OWS movement and recent leftist history in order to grasp it clearly. For me, the #Occupy movement shares many similarities to the anti-globalization movements of the 1990s, most clearly expressed in the anti-WTO protests in Seattle at the turn of the millennium. For instance both movements were spearheaded by anarchist groups and have been supported by the labor movement. Both movements were “leaderless” and expressed a populist discontent. A major theme of the “post-New left”, “post-ideological” 1990s-era Left was, as in the current #Occupy movements, resistance/reaction rather than pressing for concrete liberal reforms let alone real revolution.The standard narrative is that the 90s anti-globalization movement faded out after the 9/11 attacks and became focused on attacking the Bush administration and Israel during the “War on Terror” era. But the #OWS movement is not objecting to neo-conservatism and US imperialism as in the 2000s, but to neo-liberalism and capitalism in general. While I do think that the shift away from a politics based on opposing US hegemony towards one that is based on critiquing capitalism as a whole is a good one, I do not think that any form of coherent emancipatory politic is guiding the movement. Over the past half century there has been a profound banalization and degeneration of revolutionary politics. All problems cannot simply be blamed on corruption or greed. The anti-intellectual strain in anarcho politics coming out of the #OWS movement is partly a result of the desire to reject the grand-narratives of the Old Left. There is now a conflation of lifestyle choices with political action and very little attempt to form structural critiques of capitalism. Micropolitics have totally supplanted macropolitics. I understand that there is an appealing optimism to the localist impuse, but I think behind the lightness of culture jamming and everyday politics of resistance lies something darker, a profound cynicism and sense that there is nothing ‘outside’ the current social order. There is a real despair at the failure of past revolutionary struggles which has resulted in a almost inescapable skepticism of any totalizing politics. The practice of everyday resistance (buying local/organic?) seems a lot easier and safer than methodological struggle of building a sustained alternative ideological world view. But that said, there is definitely a new possibility to articulate the current situation that I don’t think was possible while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging. Yet I have seen no clear articulation of the situation by any political leaders or movements. The #OWS movement is raising some issues that have been out of the public sphere for a little while. Like what would it mean to challenge the very structure of society? It is clear that we do not live in the best of possible worlds. Yet how could a new global political movement meet these concerns in practice? At this moment in time, I cannot imagine an revolutionary ideology good enough to meet the historical possibilities of our moment. Even conceiving the possibilities for radical transformation today is truly challenging for me.
A3D: Continuing from that, this work to me seems to be your most overtly political, if for no other reason than its engagement with the “real world.” Do you think we have any responsibility to engage with the political issues that the world is currently embroiled in?