The en­dur­ing in­flu­ence of Chris Kraus

The en­dur­ing in­flu­ence of au­thor Chris Kraus


IM­PULSE-B: DI­VER­SION­ARY PLEA­SURES with RIRKRIT TI­RA­VANIJA, CHRIS KRAUS and SHEILA HETI at The Great Hall (1087 Queen West) on Wed­nes­day (Septem­ber 5). Din­ner event at 7:30 pm, lit­er­ary event at 8:30 pm. $20-$75.

Lucky Toronto. The city is get­ting a re­prieve from its ten­dency to­ward cul­tural am­ne­sia with a gor­geous book of in­ter­views, col­lected from a sem­i­nal 80s art mag­a­zine. Pub­lished from 1971 to 1980, IM­PULSE was led by Toronto artist/edi­tor El­don Gar­net and art di­rec­tor Carolyn White.

The book repli­cates the mag’s dis­tinc­tive style and fea­tures a mind­blow­ing col­lec­tion of archival in­ter­views that in­cludes rocker Deb­bie Harry, cul­tural the­o­rist Paul Vir­ilio and economist John Ken­neth Gal­braith. All of these fig­ures con­tinue to be in­flu­en­tial in to­day’s cul­ture. Equally in­flu­en­tial is the au­thor Chris Kraus, trav­el­ling to Toronto for the launch. A lot of her work, some of it made 20-30 years ago, is find­ing an au­di­ence to­day. Her ro­man à clef I Love Dick was re­cently made into an Ama­zon se­ries by Trans­par­ent’s Jill Soloway.

Kraus also has a long re­la­tion­ship with this city, in­clud­ing a col­umn in the art pub­li­ca­tion C Mag­a­zine, from 2001 to 2006. We chat­ted via email

about the im­por­tance of lo­cal art scenes and labour-of-love pub­lish­ing.

Is it fair to say you’re some­thing like a lit­er­ary Neil Young? You’ve man­aged to stay at the cen­tre of each cul­tural mo­ment you lived through by tran­scend­ing it? That’s high praise! But maybe not re­ally ac­cu­rate. I was pre­sent around the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in the early 80s, but mostly as an ob­server. And then again, around the ear­lier days of Semio­text(e). I didn’t start be­ing ac­tive un­til the early 90s, and it took a cou­ple of decades for peo­ple to take what I was do­ing then se­ri­ously. I think maybe some of the in­ter­est in my ear­lier work, like the films [19821996] has to do with the way they carry for­ward com­mu­ni­ties that no longer ex­ist into the pre­sent.

When you say it took a cou­ple of decades for your work to be taken se­ri­ously, you mean rec­og­nized be­yond the scenes you were work­ing in? Or rec­og­nized at all! Hardly any­one saw the films dur­ing the years I was mak­ing them.

You say the in­ter­est in your early films stems from a cu­rios­ity about the com­mu­ni­ties that pro­duced them. The IM­PULSE book def­i­nitely car­ries that charge. I like that El­don Gar­net left the ads in. That con­text is so im­por­tant. When you note these com­mu­ni­ties no longer ex­ist, is that just due to nor­mal churn, or is there some­thing about our cur­rent time that is less hos­pitable to this type of lo­cal artis­tic scene? Well, maybe both – although you should ask El­don. I don’t think IM­PULSE could ex­ist now in the same way as it did when El­don and his friends pro­duced it. It came out of a mo­ment and com­mu­nity of peo­ple in Toronto when Toronto was cheap. Peo­ple were also very con­nected to the cul­tural worlds in New York and Europe. IM­PULSE, like Sylvère Lotringer’s Semio­text(e) mag­a­zine, was a high­stakes/low-stakes game. It was a labour of love, very time-in­ten­sive and didn’t rely on grants or in­sti­tu­tional fund­ing. The peo­ple in­volved took the mag­a­zine very se­ri­ously, and it had a tremen­dous reach and in­flu­ence.

A high-stakes/low-stakes game is the per­fect way de­scribe most art en­deav­ours. From what you know of Toronto’s scene, do you feel it is sim­i­lar to other lo­cal art com­mu­ni­ties you’ve been a part of? Yes – it’s fa­mously provin­cial, but then, so is any art com­mu­nity! Even in a ma­jor city like L.A., peo­ple cre­ate lit­tle pock­ets of com­mu­nity, like Janet Kim and her friends did with their artistrun gallery Tiny Crea­tures. Every­one’s al­ways say­ing it’s over, but these scenes are peren­nial.

Its hi­lar­i­ous and rather charm­ing that, among other lu­mi­nar­ies, IM­PULSE did an in­ter­view with John Ken­neth Gal­braith, renowned ad­vo­cate for the Lib­eral eco­nomic order we still en­joy the rem­nants of to­day. Shows the mag­a­zine was fear­lessly am­bi­tious. Should to­day’s art mags try sim­i­lar stunts? Yes, why not? Ob­vi­ously, IM­PULSE had much less to lose than mag­a­zines like Art­fo­rum or Cana­dian Art. The work of El­don Gar­net and his col­lab­o­ra­tors was a great ex­am­ple of mov­ing with the free­dom that comes from op­er­at­ing at the mar­gins, rather than com­plain­ing about it. I mean, I think that’s how cul­ture hap­pens. | @rosemheather

Chris Kraus is com­ing to Toronto for IM­PULSE mag­a­zine’s in­ter­view book launch.

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