The Hugo Boss Prize Paul Chan
Paul Chan (American, born 1973 in Hong Kong) won the 2014 edition of the Hugo Boss Prize, a biennial award honouring artists who have made a visionary contribution to contemporary art. On the occasion of his show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, L’Officiel Art met with the artist who reflects on the idea of image-making in an expanded field, always seeking for a truer understanding of reality.
Paul Chan, Lilith Wes, We Love Lucy; Wednesday Black, How To Train Your Virgin; and Andrea McGinty, God, I Don’t Even Know Your Name, 2015. From the series New Lovers (New York: Badlands Unlimited). Three books, available as paperback and e-book.
1. Installation view: The Hugo Boss Prize 2014: Paul Chan, Nonprojections for New Lovers, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, March 6–May 13, 2015. 2. Paul Chan, Volumes, (detail), 2012, installation consisting of 1005 painted book covers (oil on fabric, paper, and synthetic leather), dimensions variables, Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, gift of the president, 2012, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel. 3. Paul Chan, Sock N Tease, 2013, Concrete, cord, shoes, and video projectors, with digital color video, silent, 10.2 x 358.1 x 229.9 cm overall. Installation view: Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, April 12–October 19, 2014. 4. Paul Chan, Plow Highness, 2013, Cords and video projector with digital color video, silent, 15.2 x 436.9 x 297.2 cm overall. Installation view: Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, April 12–October 19, 2014. 5. Paul Chan, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 20002003, digital video projection (color, sound), 17'20'', The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fractional and promised gift of David Teiger.
L’OFFICIEL ART / Your works take the shape of documentary videos, animated projections, charcoal drawings, conceptual typefaces, and public performances. Could you tell us what is the essence of your work, the common denominator, where it all comes from? PAUL CHAN / The common denominator is that I’m always trying to cheat fate.
You once said that art was “like a controlled form of trauma”. Does your inspiration come from your own history, your personal battles? I think when I said that I was being terribly melodramatic! But on the other hand, it’s certainly true that we draw our resources and how we think from our past. Whether it’s productive or destructive. Maybe that’s as close to an answer as I could come.
The Hugo Boss Prize is one of the most prestigious recognitions for an artist. How do you respond to this award and how did you work with the Guggenheim team to put up the show in this context? Well they gave me a call to tell me I got the award. I think the first thing I said was: “Oh, fuck”. I was so surprised and honoured. And then for the next couple of months I worked with the Guggenheim team on the show and that was a really good experience. However, this kind of recognition is complicated to deal with for someone like me because I have spent most of my adult artistic life doing things the way that I thought they should be done, and not whether or not anyone would ever recognize my work. So it’s a little disconcerting when people actually do recognize it. It’s like working in the dark and enjoying it and then somehow, all of the sudden, the light comes on. It’s a change. And one hopes that one will be adaptable. But it’s a change, and luckily we, human beings, are not that bright. We forget things very quickly. So hopefully the light will turn off soon and I can go back in the dark again, pretty. Maybe in a week or so… Your work questions the idea of imagemaking and visual projection, what do you expect the visitor to experience in the show? I’m pretty sure I don’t expect anything out of the public. I’m just happy that they are not in prison or dead and that they have found themselves in the room where my works happen to be. I’ve made something that confounds perhaps even me. And maybe the best I can hope for is that feeling of confoundedness in them.
In 2010, you founded Badlands Unlimited, an experimental publishing enterprise, which is part of your work. Could you tell us more about this project and about your new series called “New Lovers” that you are presenting here at the Guggenheim? Publishing is very important, it’s a way of “making a public”. A public is never found, it’s made, I think. Thanks to books, magazine, journals, things we read, we make our own public. That’s what I try to do. For “New Lovers”, me and the other artists who are in Badlands Unlimited have tried our hand at publishing an erotic fiction and to create a public for it. We were inspired by Maurice Girodias’s radical Olympia Press – founded in Paris in 1953 as a platform for censored works by such authors as Samuel Beckett, William S. Burroughs, and Vladimir Nabokov. We think the timing is right: the ideas about sexuality and pleasure are changing, as they are in art. New generations are coming, new ideas about what’s pleasing and what’s not pleasing. And we need new people to talk about this. Not the older people. There’s nothing wrong with old people – I’m an old person – but the new generation needs to talk about what’s pleasing for them and what’s not. Pleasure is very personal. The genre of erotica is a literary form with the potential to stir imaginings powerful enough to animate the body.
“The Hugo Boss Prize 2014: Paul Chan, Nonprojections for New Lovers”, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street), New York City, until May 13.
“The common denominator in my work is that I’m always trying to cheat fate.” PC
Paul Chan, promotional image for New Lovers. Pictured: Lynda Sheldon.