urheber schutz — das künstlerleben
You know, my whole life I’ve always made it a point to only speak to other artists, for interviews. I never wanted to speak to a journalist.
This won’t be part of the interview, right?
I never wanted to speak to a journalist because—well, you’re what, an art critic? And do you want to be an artist?
But you’ve made your whole life around art? You’ve made a life, centered around art, and all-things-“art”?
You see, that just never made sense to me. The way I see it, if you’re obsessed with art—so much so that you want to make a life around art, or whatever else it is that you become a journalist about—if you’re a political journalist, you create a life around politics, et cetera—to me, the whole thing of putting in all that effort to surround yourself, and identify yourself with, art; and then, not to actually become an artist: that just tells me that someone wants to be an artist, because they love art and are obsessed with it, but is too afraid to—so they just surround themselves with the trappings of “art” instead, and never have to risk anything, never have to put their life on the line. Or—the same with politics, with literature—with, let’s say you have a romance column: someone who writes about love, about romance—what have you. Becoming a successful art critic, you see, is a much different proposition that driving out and becoming a successful, whatever that may mean, artist. Much safer.
Oh, well you’re right, that’s not why, is it. The reason why I prefer talking to artists instead of journalists isn’t because they’re cowards or anything, it’s just because—well, actually, maybe that is why. Because they’re cowards. You’re cowards. I’m sure you won’t take it personally!
It’s just because with an artist, with another artist, you know where you stand. They desire to be an artist; they are an artist. There’s an equivalency. With you—with the general “you,” with all journalists, but sure, with you, literally you, too—I’m not really sure what it is that you want. From me. Why are you interviewing me, I mean? It doesn't make sense. It’s not two artists—or two people, on an equal footing—talking about things in a normal, conversational manner. I mean, this is your job. You’re getting something from me, you need something from me.
Sure, sure, I know, I know.
Sure, let’s get started.
Well, let’s see, I mean I’ve told it many times before. Now how did the whole thing get started...
I was in the East Village one day, and I passed by this beautiful glass storefront on
Second Street, right off Avenue A, and it had a sign on it saying “For Rent”—there was a sign, a real sign, that said “99¢ Pizza,” so I guess it used to be a pizza place. But the sign was posted on the glass frontispiece of the space saying it was for rent, and I wanted desperately out of my housing situation at the time, for other reasons, so I called the number for the landlord because I figured I could get it for cheap. I had this friend at the time who was living in this shitty little studio up in Midtown that wasn’t zoned for residence—zoned for office spaces, you see, or for a commercial purpose—and it was shitty, and it was little, no shower, no kitchen, nothing; but he got it for a song: he was paying, I don’t know, very little, rent-wise, and he “resided” in this space nevertheless and no one was any the wiser; so I knew it was a possibility, that if you wanted a cheap, shitty little studio this was one way to get it: find a space that was zoned for commercial and the landlord will rent it out to you if it’s not getting any traction otherwise, like, as in, commercial-wise—and for real cheap, way cheaper than your normal rates for a studio apartment in Manhattan, which are unreal, which were unreal for me at the time, and beyond any figment of my budget—but this, I figured, this way of doing things, of renting things out, could be an option for me. So I was in this habit of calling every number on every “For Rent” sign I saw—not if it was a normal apartment, but if it was a commercial space, you see.
Now, this 99¢ Pizza place—I mostly called out of habit, seeing the “For Rent” sign and all and being accustomed to stopping, taking down the number, and seeing what type of rents we were dealing with; but living there, actually living there, was clearly out of the question: this was a goddamn—I mean, as I said, this was a goddamn glass frontispiece, we’re dealing with here... You obviously understand where I’m coming from, a glass frontispiece, and all that entails. An unlivable space. “Inhospitable,” may be the word. Having one quarter of your four-walled living space be open to the public is all well and good, even preferable, no, necessary even, for a store, for a storefront—but out of the question for a human being “residing” in their little residential space. Anyway, so anyway I call the number. As I said—needless to say—I wanted desperately, desperately, desperately the fuck out of my current living arrangment—my living arrangement at the time. Clearly. Because when I called the number—and it must’ve been their office hours, it must have been during the day sometime, during the work week, because when I called the number—someone picked up; I gave them the address I was at: 150 East Second, as you know; and I asked what the rent would look like—or, no, I wouldn’t’ve, I didn’t, say “rent,” because rent is for houses, for “residences,” but I asked what the monthly charges, the monthly rent would look like—and the number, the cost, they responded back with, was so sweet, was so good, such a good deal—that I told them I wanted to take it. Right then and there, I’ll take it. I said, let’s schedule a viewing—because you always have to schedule a viewing first, you know how it is with real estate, you schedule a viewing—and I was booked for the very same day; I said, I can meet you as soon as possible, I’m in the area, and I think they sent someone down and I ended up “viewing” the place, the space, not half an hour later—after I made that call.
And I said, after a perfunctory, pathetic little walkaround (seeing nothing I couldn’t already see, since the space was so tiny and the literal front of the thing was glass, you could see right in at the whole sweep of it anyway), I said it looked like what I was looking for—meaning, of course, “inly,” that the rate that they gave me over the phone was so fucking cheap—and that I wanted to take it. I wanted to “move forward,” I wanted to “proceed.” The guy with the realty company asked me what I envisioned—“envisioned”—using the space for; I said (I had already conned up this plan from the very second the company told me how much the “rent” would be over the phone) that I was an artist—a performance artist—and that I would be using it as a “performance space.” I don’t know if he looked me up and down and flexed his eyebrows, or rolled his eyes or anything, but he basically said, in effect, Hey—fair enough.
I zoomed through the process, I figured, the rent is so good, there’s no way I’m the only person in this city trying to inch in on it. Zoomed through the process, I mean, filling out the required paperwork for the realtor company: now, my credit at the time was virtually nonexistent, but I knew, also from my friend I mentioned before, that you could always co-sign with one of those third-party guarantor services, so I made clear that this was a business investment—the real estate being zoned for business and all—and that I would be taking out a loan to get the business off the ground but that I was, wherewithal-wise, perfectly competent; and, I had the paperwork, the screenshots of my bank statements and my salary at the time and all that (because at the time I was working as a teacher); and that, don’t worry, I said, I’d be co-signing with a third-party guarantor service, not to worry. You had to pay them—the guarantor service—like a couple hundred dollars, fee, upfront; whatever. This was all standard procedure with the realtor and they knew what was what, and I zoomed through it. What didn’t “zoom,” was the whole process: where I guess the landlord has to review all the paperwork and what not. At first I thought it was from the surge of applications they must have been getting—but then I realized: the guy was just lazy. The landlord. He didn’t know his business, which was why the rent, the “charges” or whatever, were so cheap; and he was lazy, so he probably only had my application—I doubt he even had anymore than that, than just mine—and he was just taking his time with it, not really too pressed with “zooming” through his “reviewal” and getting the place rented-out. He was just easy-going.
About a month later, though, I finally heard back—by this time figuring it just didn’t work out, they had rented it to someone else (and me, not being too pressed—because as I said, I already had a living arrangement: unfortunate though it may be, I didn’t desperately need a roof over my head, so I was taking it easy too, still reviewing other places, still calling “For Rent”-sign numbers)—and realized I had gotten the place. Great. When can I move in?
I hired some Russian freelance guys and moved all my stuff, which I subterfugically stored in boxes over the couple of days beforehand, basically “in the cover of night.” I had roommates at the time—but I had the Russian guys come in at like six A.M., I took their first slot—and they were none the wiser: until, that is, when they eventually woke up that morning and found themselves waking up to an apartment with one room now suspiciously emptied; I skipped out on the rest of the rent I was on the hook for and skipped town.
Perhaps now you’re beginning to see why my credit was so bad, but I digress.
I had signed the lease, and reviewed it very carefully—or at least, as carefully as one does—and sure enough there were your stipulations that this was a commercially-zoned space, yada yada—but, importantly, nothing in there that explicitly stated they could kick you out for living there. Besides: I had already figured—my ingenious little loophole I had concocted—in the case of the performance artist—of me, in my new role as “performance artist”—my whole “performance,” and thus my work—my “commerce,” that for which I was “zoned”—would be living in a space that wasn’t zoned to be living in.
All my stuff arrived and I got to watch the broad-backèd Russian guys doing all the work as I leaned against the glass frontispiece—of my new “house”—and smoked a cigarette.
That’s literally how it all started. I had no grand plans, no grand gesture worked out—I kept working my job as a teacher and just kept on living my day to day life. I finally had my own place—a living arrangement that was more suitable for me because, you see, I really don’t like doing the whole “roommate thing”: I prefer to live on my own. The only quirk in the whole thing was that now when I locked up when I left in the morning, what I was locking was a big, broad glass door—with glass from sidewalk to ceiling. And you looked in, and there was my bed, my chest of drawers that had all my clothes in it—my dirty laundry scattered all over the floor because I didn’t want to deal with picking it up yet... and there it was. You looked in, anyone could look in, and you could see it. It was my place.
I wasn’t ever much of one for privacy, anyway.
I figured, you deal with it. The rent was so cheap I could afford a little attention. Besides, what attention was I getting, I didn’t give a fuck—no one gave a fuck, in this whole city: you walk by places—and you don’t give a fuck. No one gives a fuck. I figured no one would really care, no one would even fucking notice.
So it was the first of the month when I moved in—because I guess it has to be, when you move into a place: rent always must start at the first of the month—and it wasn’t until about six weeks, maybe five weeks later (pretty soon now that I think about it) when people did start paying attention. Usually it was in the evening time when I’d be in bed with my little bedside lamp on reading a book, and passerby outside would double back and gawk at me doing so behind my glass-frontispiece “storefront.” I found out immediately that the weekends were unbearable—the East Village is where all the hipsters come out to play on Fridays and Saturdays and get unconscionably drunk and prone to banging on glass frontispieces at the aquarium specimens inside. Usually when I turned all the lights out I’d be fine—would usually escape any notice—but something about the weekends: something about drunk hipsters on the weekends: something must happen to their eyes, maybe a heightened ocular perception (I’m talking out my ass here) awakened by the booze: for some reason, on weekends, even when my lights were out I would invariably be awoken, and multiple times throughout the night—at midnight; at two, three A.M.; all the way into the morning—by drunk hipsters peering through my glass, binocular hands, invariably banging on the glass.
And maybe that’s how it all started. Word got around. When you go out to [whatever hipster, East Village bar] this weekend, check out Second Street off Avenue A—there’s some guy who set up his apartment at a 99¢ Pizza place!
You’ve got to see it to believe it!
And then—He must be some sort of performance artist! Just like that: funnily enough—though I concocted the plan to move out of a living situation, and get a cheap deal on rent—pretty soon my harebrained scheme of claiming to be a “performance artist” became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
Not only did I not have any intention of such an eventuality occurring, I didn’t even have the slightest hint, the slightest inkling, to even expect that any such “eventuality” could even possibly occur in the first place! Who on Earth could even give a fuck? But—there you go... Like that—literally overnight—six weeks or so into my “lease,” the reporters started rolling in. Reporting on a “challenging new performance art piece,” from an “unknown artist.” The questions started coming in like mad. I was on summer break at the time, from school, so I was home most of the day; they would come—these reporters—and knock on my door; and I would be there to answer them. They’d ask me questions about my “piece”—in effect, my life: my fucking “house,” my living space, the place where I was living, living out my day-to-day, making food in a hotplate, locking up and going out for a walk or going out shopping—reading, writing, going on the internet—sleeping.
And when they asked me, I didn’t even need to give them the ingenious angles and lofty artistic-expressional “intentions” as per my “work,” this my “work”—my life. The reporters and the art critics all came up with them for me. Apparently, you see, what I was doing in my life here was providing “an essential critique of our post-privacy era.” I was “presenting human experience as a commodity,” “satirizing late-capitalist trends.”
Friends from work—not even friends: coworkers plain and simple, albeit coworkers I was friendly enough with (at work)—started dropping by—along with old friends that’d dropped into loose-ends ages ago. My very own roommates, my old roommates—who I had moved out on, rent-abscondingly, “in the cover of night”—they even dropped by; and not only were they not upset with me, they acted as if the whole thing had never happened: all they wanted to talk about was my “new piece,” my burgeoning (as they saw it) “new career”—as an artist, you see. They wanted to get fucking coffee with me, grab a drink—which, in fact, I took them up on: and never was the little peccadillo of my owing them thousands of dollars of absconded-upon rent even mentioned. It was incredible, it was like magic. Overnight, I became a sensation—a talking point.
I had become an artist.
Of course, there were also my “peers”: who arrived, dropped in on me at the ol’ gallery. To “talk shop” with a “fellow artist,” an “up-and-comer.” Who, today, know and refer to me as the “glass frontispiece guy,” the “guy on display.” I told them honestly—I told everyone honestly! (except my old roommates—for obvious reasons)—I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about, I wasn’t any sort of “artist,” “performance artist”—I was making the whole thing up! It was insane, I felt like Cassandra: if they comprehended the sounds being emitted from my mouth, they didn’t show it. They laughed and we all carried on our conversation—about other things, about little things: small-talk, essentially. Small talk, but just with some of the biggest names (I was later to learn, being then ignorant of this entire “scene”) in contemporary art—millionaires, most of them, mind you. They laughed—Just like a real artist, they must have thought to themselves. “Making it all up,” he says—classic!
Well, if the hat fucking fits... Pretty soon I was getting approached by the power-players, the big money-movers: first, it was that they offered to pay my rent—my “studio expenses,” they called it—my fucking rent; but then, next, there were people offering to put me on the payroll, flashing big, unimaginably big, numbers in my face: they wanted to be the patrons, I guess, of a Great New Artist; to sustain His Challenging New Work for as long as possible: and would the Great New Artist need any living expenses provided, they wondered? Well—everything since that first day when the reporters started checking in on me told me that the hat did indeed fit, so I saw no reason as to correct this very opportune mistake the ladies-and-gentlemen-with-the-cash-in their-hands had very opportunely made. Why yes in fact this Great New Artist does require one or two living expenses provided for.
This was about six weeks from the first of the month, from that day I first moved in.
I quit my teaching job about week eight.
It was unbelievably easy to coast after that. Much to my surprise. Was I anxious, is this to say, that I wouldn’t be able to coast off this hoax I had inadvertently planted? No, not really—not really ever: I got to where I got to just by trying to score as cheap as possible an apartment as I could on the isle of Manhattan—it was the last place I could think to look, that I could afford; and I quit my job because the only reason I had it in the first place was for some bum cash while I did whatever else it was I did, and teaching (in the paltry role I had: a non-licensed ad-hoc, adjunct type deal that would take anybody) was easy enough for me to stand it; so as soon as the type of money was being thrown around in my face that meant I could have my cake (of having enough bum cash to live off) and eat it too (not have to actually work in order to receive said bum cash), I no longer had need of the admittedly quite easy teaching job: sitting on my ass for all of the world to see was even easier, and it paid better. And the reason I got to the place I am today is because I quit that job and allowed myself to lean back and get ingratiated and drifted along into the so-called “art world.” So you see, each step in that whole process was kind of clunkily stepped into; it’s almost like despite my worst intentions, despite all my sloth and all my apathy and downright righteous contempt for everything that was happening to me and everyone that was helping me along in giving it to me—despite only wanting to do nothing—to live cheaply, and to do nothing—despite all this, I became who I am today. I had lubed up the cogs of the machinery the very second I signed that lease and moved in, and no amount of tar or anti-lubricant that I just couldn’t be bothered to sweep up, would stop that process once it was in motion.
Yep, I’ve switched contracts a few times—always upping the ante, you see: if a new one gets flashed in my face that promises more bucks in return for more exclusive rights to me, I take it—but I’ve pretty much lived off the art money ever since. And I’ve never had reason to want. Not only do I have enough cash to bum around, I have enough cash to retire for good—to retire for good, and with no income, to still be able to spend a million dollars a year for the rest of my life, and never have reason to want. I just can’t fucking be bothered. To “retire,” I guess, would mean to move out—move out of my “studio space”—my apartment, is what it is (is how I see it)—and, thus, to “stop the performance.” My “performance art.” But I just can’t fucking be bothered. I hate moving. It’d be too much of a hassle.
So... well, so I just keep on collecting the checks. I keep on reading, turning on my little bedside lamp. Locking up and going shopping, yada yada—only now there’s really no risk of anyone breaking in, because the art-players that pay my “salary” have put security up: I’m a big tourist hub, you see, and no amount of protection on that investment is too much. My “company” (the one that pays my bills, you see) bought the bike shop next door and set up a glorified merch counter for all the people that come from all over the world to look. Chinese tour groups, all hours of the day.
The only thing that’s changed, really, is that I can no longer masturbate at home. Can’t say I have much of a habit of it anymore, by this point—but that’s because it was trained out of me, you see—but at first (when the libido was more rampant) I’d always go to a Starbucks bathroom to “air out” that “business.” Right from the jump I just knew that now I couldn’t un-dignify myself to the point where I’d sit in bed and masturbate, right with all of Second Street, and all who knows who’s passing by, there to see.
It’s funny, just by way of a tangent, that it was right when girls started becoming amply available to me—what with my Great Art Career and all—that actually sleeping with them suddenly became quite the steep logistical problem. We always had to go back to their place. Of course, the few times I landed with someone of the more exhibitionist type (not my normal “type,” by any stretch) are all well documented—are all in infamy.
I guess you can add “porn star” to the list of careers I’ve bumbled my way into.
But most the time—we just went back to their place.
And my landlord, by the way: throughout this whole thing—from all the way back then, until now—I haven’t heard a single fucking peep, from the guy. The crazy thing is, with all the money I’m making—that this whole, what’s become an “operation,” has been making—he hasn’t even risen the rent a single penny. Don’t know what he’s up to, don’t know if he even knows about this whole scheme.
Well, and I think... Well, I think that just about covers it. The “artist’s life.” My “artist’s life.” What’s next?
What’s next for me? As in, do I have any plans?
Well—and this is also why I prefer talking with other artists—you see, I want to speak
freely—but, you’re not going to publish any of this, right? Because what I want to say is that I’ve actually optioned out the rights to my memoir, which I am supposed to be writing. Strictly speaking, those are my de-jure “plans.” But between you and me—and if you were an artist I was speaking to, on an equal footing, no skin in the game, I wouldn’t even have to say this—off the record, and if you publish this I can just say I was kidding: right now, I have no plans. I’m just sitting on the advance the publishing house gave me—which was healthy, needless to say. The most I’ve gotten in a while, pure sum-wise. A very hefty advance. But I have no plans to actually fucking write the thing. I told you, I just like to bum around. I like to hang out, to not do much. Who can be bothered with the whole thing—the writing of a whole memoir?
I have thought—and maybe I’ll swap this in for my memoir, when the publishing house finally gets impatient with me in a couple of years—of maybe writing a novel. Them asking for my memoir, and that’s what I’ll turn in, some novel I’ve been working on instead.
Oh, probably a love story.