Friday, June 22, 2007


Generation 1.5 is an exhibition of the work of eight artists who emigrated in their teenage years. The term “generation 1.5” is used in some communities to describe those who are neither adult immigrants nor American born – the in-between generation of people who moved from one country to another between the ages of 12 and 18. Already undergoing physical and intellectual change during these formative years, 1.5 generation individuals also experience a change in context, in language, in culture. The premise of the exhibition is that the relationship of a 1.5 artist to their adopted country is different than that of a person who immigrated when they were much younger or older. Generation 1.5 is curated by Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art, Tom Finkelpearl and Chief Curator, Valerie Smith. The exhibition will be on view at the museum from June 10 - December 2, 2007. The participating artists are: Ellen Harvey, Pablo Helguera, Emily Jacir, Lee Mingwei, Shirin Neshat, Seher Shah, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Nari Ward.

Some of the issues surrounding the 1.5 generation center on immigration, cultural dislocation and memory, hybridity, acceptance, exile and perhaps a certain type of transgression: critique of their native country or their adopted country, a freedom to be revolutionary or assimilated in both places. However, these issues are not explicitly addressed in all the works. In some cases, they are subtly implied. Generation 1.5 is a term that is contested and defined differently by sociologists, but the curators have taken the meaning that they first heard in Queens – those who came between the ages of 12 and 18. While many of the artists are classic “1.5ers” who came in their teen years, others traveled extensively throughout their lives. With the exception of Ellen Harvey’s, A Whitney for the Whitney at Philip Morris/Altria or I Can Be An American Visionary Too! (2003) all the works are new, reworked or never-before-exhibited in New York.

Generation 1.5 is made possible with funding generously provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Crystal Windows and Door Systems, Ltd., the Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan, R.O.C. in Collaboration with Taipei Cultural Center, TECO in New York, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Acknowledgments and Credits

We are deeply indebted to Ellen Harvey, Pablo Helguera, Emily Jacir, Lee Mingwei, Shirin Neshat, Saher Shah, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Nari Ward for their participation in 1.5 Generation both with their work and with their ideas with they have shared with us on several occasions, which contributed greatly to shaping the concept of this exhibition. While almost all the artists were well known to us when we began our research, one, Seher Shah, has become a new friend thanks to Jaishri Abichandani, artist, 1.5er and former staff member of the Queens Museum, who generously suggested we contact her to make a studio visit. We would like to thank Jaishri for steering us in Seher’s direction. We would like to thank all of Nari Ward’s wonderful colleagues who worked so tirelessly on his installation: Joseph Ayres, Claudio Blanco, Curtis Carman, Emmy Catedral, Sam Freeman, Marvin Hernandez, Martin Muñoz, and Steven Rose. Special thanks also goes to Paul Geluso who worked and the recording and post production often well into the wee hours of the night and morning on Lee Mingwei’s and Pablo Helguera’s installations. The Forest Hills Chamber Players: Krystof Witek, Violin I, Ragga Petursdottir, Violin, IIJunah Chung, Viola, and Katherine Cherbas, Cello all created a beautiful sound for Mingwei’s Quartet Project, which was skillfully captured on video by Kasia Witek.
Finally all the preparators and staff who worked on different aspects of the exhibition and closely with the different artists: Hitomi Iwasaki, Arnie Kanarvogel, Dominenick Di Pietrantonio, Eric Liu, Pete Pantaleo, Nancy Rattenbury, Jill Reynolds, Krista Saunders, Hiro Sato, Erin Sickler, Dan Spitzer, Louise Weinberg. A big thank you to the galleries who lent their support to the exhibition: Alexander and Bonin, Bose Pacia, Jeffery Deitch, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Lombard-Fried Projects, Luxe and neugerriemschneider, Berlin. 1.5 Generation could not have been realized without generous contributions from The Department of Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan, R.O.C. in collaboration with Taipei Cultural Center, TECO in New York and the Crystal Foundation.

Tom Finkelpearl, Executive Director
Valerie Smith, Cheif Curator and Director of Exhibitions

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Generation 1.5 - What's Your Story?

As part of Generation 1.5, the QMA would like to hear your personal 1.5 experiences. Are you 1.5? Do you know someone who is 1.5? How would you define 1.5?

Please contribute your item as a comment below. Selected contributions will be highlighted in the content area, and may even be published as part of the Generation 1.5 exhibtion book later next spring.

CONTRIBUTOR: Tom Finkelpearl

My grandmother, Emma Kerenyi Finkelpearl, was born in Koposvar, Hungary in 1896, moved to the U.S. and attended high school in New York City then moved back to Hungary at the end of high school, around 1913. There she was an English language tutor. She attended college and some conservatory in Hungary and Vienna, and moved back to the States in 1920 at the age of 24. Here she worked as a translator at a department store in Pittsburgh for the large number of Hungarian workers who had recently arrived to work in the blue collar jobs. She was not classic 1.5, but fit the bill in many ways as she made a couple of transitions in her formative years, and she was multi-lingual, able to attend conservatory in German and work as a translator and tutor in both Hungarian and English. Her love was the piano, and she earned a living teaching generations of mostly Jewish kids in Squirrel Hill how to play the instrument and how to behave. She always loved European culture and Mozart was her God. To me she certainly held the place of the transitional figure on the Finkelpearl side of the family. She was the link back to Eastern Europe. She loved to speak in other languages, if simply to discuss something in German with my uncle that she did not want the kids to understand. Certainly she thought of herself as American. She loved her adopted country, especially the progressive politics of FDR --whom she adored. But I could always sense her Hungarian nationalism as well – the underlying notion that Hungarians were smarter and sharper than everyone else (especially Russians). Her identity was clearly more complicated than my other grandmother – who could track her family’s American roots to before the revolutionary war. Grandma Finkelpearl was an Eastern European Jewish American, at a time where that identity meant outsider status. Don’t forget that America’s quota-based immigration laws were passed in the 1920’s with the intent of keeping people like her -- Eastern European Jews -- out. These laws were in effect until 1964. I think of my grandmother in relation to my wife’s family in which there are no 1.5ers. Her parents came from China as adults and she was born here. This created a very common cultural and linguistic divide between the Chinese parents and the American kids. In contrast, my grandmother was both/and.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Poets in the Galleries: Sarah Husain

Born in Elmhurst Hospital, Queens, with a slight heart murmur, I began to cross borders at the age of eight months. My mother in the late 70’s was a newly arrived immigrant working in some sewing factory, patching up those past dreams left behind of becoming a doctor. She used to say every crossing usurps a price paid by a severance followed by a long stitching. She went into labor at work and returned to those same machines the week she came home from the hospital where I was kept monitored for a month. Everyday she would take two buses from her work to see me thru the Plexiglas before making her way home. After spending seven months with various babysitters, my mother decided that I, too, should be sent “home” to Pakistan, where I would be better taken care of by her own mother and sisters. With a five, four and a three year old already at home it was difficult for her to manage a newborn and a life of stitching.
In Pakistan I grew up in an Indian haveli, those huge marble homes full of aunts and uncles and their children living amidst an open-air verandah. In the middle of this verandah sprung a well in which my cousins and I would take long showers full of laughter, splashing the cold crisp water abundantly at each other.
Who knew one day this well would dry.
This is the first time I’m trying to write this kind of a story; attempting to compose a linear narrative. Why I’m beginning at Elmhurst Hospital, I don’t know. Is it because I, now, thirty years later, live on the same street? But it’s not where my story begins, at birth. I go back before my own memory.
Both my parents were born in India whose families migrated to Pakistan during partition, part of one of the largest movements of people in modern history. Yes, it had costs. No land lets go of its cultivation without usurping a price—in this case it demanded blood. Why begin in blood? It seems to be all around, cheap, wasting, spilling, draining, forming, breaking, building—nations, cultures. Perhaps such histories still haunt us all the way here, seven worlds and seven oceans apart. My father couldn’t live up to his bourgeoning nation—Pakistan; his poetry was filled with poverty so he decided to move farther away, to become an international banker, instead. He would send money home every month despite my mother who couldn’t be bothered. This is where her children were growing roots; she had no desire to return. Her dreams of becoming a doctor she stitched her way to becoming a teacher. She knew the clay of her home would fill and heal the hole in her newborn’s heart, so she packed my bags with lots of powdered Similac and sent me on my way…home.
Yes, I grew up in a home with a well in the middle of our house and an outhouse without a flush. We had no refrigerator; my drinking water was cooled by the clay ghara and food was always fresh, just enough for every meal. Rice would arrive on camel backs and my aunt would milk her cow in the evening, before the sun set on her return home from the school she and her sisters started in the early 70’s. In Sialkott, that’s how I was educated.
At the age of eight I crossed yet another border and moved with my nuclear family who was living in Hong Kong. That’s another story. Later I moved to Sudan, that’s another dream. Seasons of migration keep coming; my mother has taught me well to stitch so I can keep telling stories.
By Sarah Husain copyrighted, August 2007

Poets in the Galleries: This is a textpiece

This is Textpiece 1
"Textpiece" is a new, short, species of literature-gathering object specific to museums, galleries and other sites that are dedicated to exhibiting works of art. It is a specific print-object that collects diverse literary writing in relation to exhibitions. This print piece is not quite a ‘journal’, a ‘magazine’, a ‘chapbook’, or any other in print genres already named and recognized. Nor is it a gallery guide, though for the time of the exhibition Textpiece 1 will made available to be experienced in the gallery space. It is, well, a textpiece: without the capital letter, it is the noun describing the type of work; but we have also used Textpiece as the name of this very first textpiece. This is the first textpiece we know of, not quite "artwork for the page," but rather literary work for the gallery. All the writings appearing inside are previously unpublished work.


Tatlong kalahati:
At saan sila magkikita
Kung hindi sa gitna?
Ang kabilugan nito
Ay hindi kabuluan--
Isang tanong na walang kasagutan

Katutubo, Indio, Native
Three halves: A trinity less than three, almost two, more than and always one.
Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial: the same space, the same body.
Devotee of Our Lady of Hybridity and vastly impure, I step into the streets of New York, and reclaim the self that lurks just beneath. What better thing to do than to be a magus in reverse and journey West, to deliver myself from myselves? Here in a frontier society unsettled by custom, perhaps the ancient within me would rise to reaffirm its existence, if only to protest.

Modern seems ancient, passé, and ancient is far off, gleaming like a distant star about to be named.
At this very minute, throughout the city, people are assassinating their old selves in preparation for their new personas. Entering this realm, I redeem my voyage. I do so as Magellan and his slave Enrique, seeing in other faces my own, hearing in their voices the murmurs of our common dead. When they speak, they sing, evoking the sense of the sacred, that sense that accompanies, is integral to, and without which that voyage of circumnavigation, without equal, would merely be the clock’s passage: childhood.
Elsewhere is an altogether intriguing country: it does not issue passports, has no government, is not on any map, and whose citizens, an odd and varied lot, are Everywhere. Every Elsewherean can be in several places at the same time; speak more than one language; consider several, even contradictory, trains of thought simultaneously, and navigate a river with distinct currents, at once glorious and dark, smooth and tricky, with rapids, unexpected twists and beautiful vistas, with benign and dangerous creatures. Ambiguity looms as both a permanent feature and saving grace, where my hybrid self predisposes me to curiosity and openness, reducing nationalisms to pieces of paper and borders to arbitrary fictions.
I never was a tourist, but a time traveler.

– Luis H. Francia

Brisbane, 1975

(i) Bowler – opening spell

All morning, this blistering heat,
oppressive even for one
black as me, and accustomed
to Caribbean sun.

My tail is up, and even
off a short run-up, I am
a rainbow of fire and movement.

Still, not a wicket.
My in-swinger is hostile
and I haven’t even rolled
my sleeves up yet.
The batsmen can’t touch me.
I have them beaten – all ends up.

In the stands, the sea of faces
burned to a pink under their wide-brim hats
is quiet and confused pretending
they haven’t heard
a fine edge, or detected the trapped
stance in the thud of an L.B.W.

(ii) Umpire

I couldn’t care less how much
this savage hoots and points his finger,
how many screamed howzats?!
at what he thinks is an out.
If this boy thinks he will win
an appeal from me with anything
less than licking the stumps
clean out of the ground,
then this black fool
must be more stupid than I first thought.

This is our game. We taught
these monkeys how to be dignified
how to play the gentleman’s sport,
how to be civilized. They’d still
be in trees if not for us.

Now they want to change the game,
embarrassing our batsmen,
coming to the wicket top buttons
undone, trying to frighten us
with their shiny black chests.

I will show them. We are still
their patrons in this game.
Good white wickets are not
this nigger’s for the taking.

(iii) Bowler – just before noon

So apparently, even an obvious
top edge is not enough
to give me my due.

I’m going back to the long run-up.
To hell with strategy and field placement.
I’m not even looking for the L.B.W.
or the catch amongst the slips and gullies.

This next delivery will be pressure;
from wide in the crease
up and in at the hapless right-hander.
Let me show these fuckers
who is Man here.

If I can’t get the wicket,
I’ll take the white boy’s head.

– Roger Bonair-Agard

Imperfect Utterances

no no, sino…

no no, sino sí

no sí, sino…

no sí, sino no

si no sí, no

si no sí, nono

si sí, no

si no, sí

sino, no

¿sí, no?

¿no, sí?

si nono, no

si nono, sí

si no nono, sí

si no nono, no

¿nono, no?

¿nono, sí?

no no no, sino nono

no sí no, sino sino


not no, but… / not no, but yes / not yes, but… / not yes, but no / if yes isn’t the case, then no / if yes isn’t the case, then the ninth / if yes is the case, then no / if no is the case, then yes / if it’s yes, then no / if it’s no, then yes / fate, no / indeed, no? / no, or indeed? / if the ninth, then no / if the ninth, then yes / if it’s not the ninth, then yes / if it’s not the ninth, then no / the ninth, no? / the ninth, indeed? / not two nos, but the ninth / not yes and no, but fate / fate

– Mónica de la Torre


"Change it, go farther,"
a savvy friend advises,
and I imagine my name
launched to pursue

rainbows of renown
too far to illumine
my gray marginality,
and oh how delicious

this rich visibility
in eyes and minds
forever forbidden
to my obsolete name.

– Julio Marzán

Mother Tongue

I can hear it.
In every utterance, in every breath
Every syllable, the sound each moment breathes.
I can smell it. Taste it. I can see it.
The whole house amidst converging winds.

I can’t read it. Not the country
The city, or its streets
Filled with men, their names painted
Across a sky, afforded with every color a marketplace creates.
I can’t write it. Can’t read it, or pronounce correctly
The sounds. Her words.
Or that saying she whispered before sleep,
That morning smile she woke me with.

I can’t write it. But I can feel it. I can imagine it.

I can picture it.

That hallway where all winds converge as they enter its corridor
Meeting the sounds of all my mothers laughing, singing
Praying. I can’t write them.

– Sarah Husain

– go, then, wanderer, go again, get along and gaze again, laughing bard now relishing your triumphant fall, architect of hallucinatory dances across tongues, stand and gaze again across the bloodied cities, across the desolate fields, across the forlorn landscapes strewn with the cadavers of your brethren and the corpses of the silences you long cultivated, go and climb the steel webs of the bridges and stand alone on the bridges and raise again your arms atop the bridges and cry again, alas, again: I will incite the fears and ignite more follies and drown in the flames of the strangest visions: I am a contortionist in the circus of multicolored words, a proud puncturer of all the tyrants’ and all the empires’ balloons, tracing and spreading again with ashes the liberated paths: all my eyes, all my selves launched across continents, across the seasons, across the elements – winds, fires, earths, waters: I have chased the perversions of the linguistic bestiaries, I have erected the fabulous alphabets and the secret temples of schizophrenic magnificence: here I stand again and I burn, step by step I build, step by step I destroy, one step build, one step burn, forging the name, the restless, traceless name, estranged from the tales of others and other tongues, exiled from the lands of others and others’ faiths, staring at the emaciated bodies scattered across the horizons: go wanderer, stand somber on the tops of the skyscrapers and gaze again, revered lord of the lost ones, mystic without a god, and peer silently into this and all the other stories you have collected, stand and twist and turn and hold aloft your arms and whirl again and with you the roofs of the buildings and the steeples and the domes, and the sounds of the streets and the roars of the passing cars and the whispers even of the secret-tellers hiding in the alleys, and the phantasmagoric play of the lights and the limbs and the letters thrust into the skies, see the cars go around the square, see the woman behind the wheel lost in her daze, the boy leaning against the lamppost watching, see the forbidden embraces and the murdered lovers, see the steps, the sounds of the steps they take, one by one by one, every day the motion of their lives, the moments of their lives, your lives, ponder in your sadness the fate of us, here below begging for the mercies of the gods: in your stillness forge forth and praise and abolish again the songs and the cantos and the sonnets and the rubais, usher in the overcoming, the final overcoming eradicating all – discourses, tales and myths, all prophecies even and all prayers, all wholeness and all fragments: and fashion the new vision, fashion the new refuge, the rites and the rituals, the new worlds, forging a new grammar of becoming, erasing the layers of slashes to your skin, the layers and layers of the marks of victorious assassins of your name naming you once again, issue the great proclamation, this the great spectacle, at last, of the poet prophet in the public square, unleash your ferocious laughter, the numbing cant, this great cry of otherworlds, otherplaces and othertimes: I walk along the cities’ dark alleys, the one abode I have known, the cherished sanctuary, clamoring: go now impertinent fool, stand and peer again into the abyss, at the edge of the abyss peer into the hearts of the truths before the fall, and venerate again your silence, cultivate your silence, protect your silence, animate your silence, defend your silence, hug your silence, yes hug it, kiss it, love it, roll around with your silence and caress it and kiss it again and hug it and fuck it, fuck your silence, and throw your silence defiant vessel of words and worlds at the disfigured visage of a humanity that, frankly, you’re having a real hard time standing, mister launcher of new eras, and whisper again, through the same pregnant pauses and gazes, on this and all the sidewalks of the cities you have longed to abandon, the cities you have dreamt of forgetting, the cities you have forsaken, real and imagined cities even, unreal cities and those known cities of sand and dust, with the vestiges of the new alphabets you have pieced together from the ravages illuminating the unmarked roads: in the new traces and the perpetual presence, I mask the absolute absence that I generate, that I cultivate, that I preach: said the traveler on the edge of the door on this path: all words are to me an enigma – and the timbre of his murmur, and the grain of his voice, were no less a mystery: go wanderer, go then and recite the verses of your Silence, the first through the last, go and sing once again the anthems of the poets – the only friends who will walk with you through the ruins: with the gaze again and silence, breathing, still, I write:

– Amir Parsa

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Poets in the Galleries: Writers Respond to Generation 1.5

Poets in the Galleries: Writers Respond to Generation 1.5 is a series of six events that utilizes the galleries as invigorating sites of exploration, investigation and interactive readings and discussions. Lively presentations and provocative intellectual and artistic exchanges will allow audiences new ways of accessing the resources of the museum, while simultaneously presenting visitors with various inroads into the exhibitions’ offerings. The Generation 1.5 exhibition lends itself especially well to the pilot version of Poets in the Galleries. This exhibit allows a wonderful springboard for the exchanges of ideas related to immigrant experiences, with the participation of distinguished voices on the national and international literary scene.

This Poets in the Galleries series is being organized by Prerana Reddy, the Director of Public Events at the Queens Museum and guest curated by Amir Parsa who is involved in education programs at QMA and is also a Lecturer at MoMA and at the Met. Mr. Parsa is himself a poet who was born in Iran, educated in France, and now lives in New York and will kick of the series on July 1st. Poets in the Galleries is meant to develop synergy between visual and literary arts, as well as provide various entry points for people to engage with the artwork and theme of bi- or pluri-cultural identity.

The Poets in the Galleries events will take place on select Saturdays in the summer and fall of ’07. There will be a cocktail hour at 5:30pm, followed by an hour or so of the interactive tour/reading. The writers involved are not necessarily 1.5’ers themselves, but have all experienced immigration in various ways, and beyond being accomplished authors are also engaging speakers. Each participating poet has been asked not only to read his or her own work, but to actively engage with art works from the exhibit in which ever way they choose as well as to engage with the attendees to create a truly interactive experience. A small publication for the series will be created, in which each of the poets will be given a space in which to present a sample of writing that addresses the themes of Generation1.5 and that will be available to gallery visitors along with general exhibition guide. Each poet will also be participating in the blog, submitting entries in the order of their readings with the first posted at the end of July. Stay tuned!

Poets in the Galleries Event Schedule

July 7th

Amir Parsa was born in Tehran in 1968 and grew up in Iran and the U.S. while attending French international schools. He is the author of Kobolierrot, Tractatüus Philosophiká-Poeticüus, the multilingual L’opéra minora, and Feu L’encre – Fable, among other works. In 2006, Editions Caractères in Paris published his three ‘atomic’ books Dîvân, Sil & anses and Erre, while Drive-by Cannibalism in the Baroque Tradition was published by Non Serviam Press in New York. His literary oeuvre – written in English, French and Persian – constitutes a radical polyphonic enterprise that puts into question national, cultural and aesthetic attachments while fashioning new genres, forms and even species of literary artifacts. His work has garnered the attention of critics and scholars both in the U.S. and Europe, and he was included in the anthology of new French and Francophone poets (Ed. Huguet 2004). Mr. Parsa holds degrees from Princeton and Columbia universities and currently lives in New York, where he is a Lecturer and Educator at The Museum of Modern Art and at the Met.

July 21st

Mónica de la Torre. Monica is author of Talk Shows (Switchback Books, 2007) and Acúfenos, a collection of poems in Spanish published recently in Mexico City by Taller Ditoria. She is co-author of the artist book Appendices, Illustrations & Notes and translator and editor of a volume of selected poems by Gerardo Deniz, one of Mexico’s leading exponents of Neo-Baroque writing. She co-edited the anthology Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry with Michael Wiegers (Copper Canyon Press, 2002) and is the poetry editor of The Brooklyn Rail. She is working on a doctoral dissertation on poetry movements of the 70s in Latin America.

August 18th

Sarah Husain was born in New York City and grew up in Hong Kong, Sudan and Pakistan. She is the editor of an anthology titled, Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War Faith and Sexuality. Her written and performance poetry is concerned with memory, nation, violence, cancer, (bio)terrorism and the female body. She is working on a collection of poetry on cancer and the affects of our metastatic environment. She is also currently creating a series of performance pieces titled “Invented Happiness: my body in a time of war and hunger.”

September 22nd

Luis H. Francia left his native Philippines at the age of 22 and now lives in New York City. Francia is the author of the semiautobiographical Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago, honored with the 2002 PEN Center Open Book and the 2002 Asian American Writers literary awards. A winner of the Palanca Poetry Prize, one of the Philippines’ most prestigious literary honors, Francia has two earlier books of poems--Her Beauty Likes Me Well (with David Friedman) and The Arctic Archipelago and Other Poems, as well as a collection of reviews and essays, Memories of Overdevelopment. He edited Brown River, White Ocean: A Twentieth Century Anthology of Philippine Literature in English; as well as Flippin’: Filipinos on America, with Eric Gamalinda as coeditor; and, along with Angel Velasco Shaw, Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999. He writes for The Village Voice and The Nation, and, in Manila, for The Sunday Inquirer Magazine as well as teaches at New York University.

September 29th

Roger Bonair-Agard. Mr. Bonair-Agard weaves living, breathing tapestries out of politics and the notion of home; a native of Trinidad and Tobago, Roger has lived in Brooklyn for seventeen years and his work reflects the struggles of a man in voluntary exile in a conflicted 21st-century America. He is co-author of Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press, 2000), and author of tarnish and masquerade (Cypher Press, 2006). He also co-founded the louderARTS Project (of which he is also Artistic Director), an organization dedicated to the evolution of poetry through the craft of writing and performance. Roger is also a Cave Canem fellow, studying with such luminaries as Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, and Cornelius Eady. In 1998, he was named the Nuyorican Poets Café Fresh Poet of the Year. That same year, he coached the Nuyorican team to victory in the National Poetry Slam. The following year he earned the title of National Individual Slam Champion while leading and coaching the New York City louderARTS team to the final four of the National Poetry Slam, a feat he repeated in 2000. Roger's work has been widely anthologized, and has been commissioned extensively through the multi-disciplinary performance troupe VisionIntoArt. He has also authored a successful one-man show, and chaos congealed (1998) and the acclaimed one-man poetry concert MASQUERADE: poems of calypso and home.

October 13th

Julio Marzán, Queens' newest Poet Laureate, is a native of Puerto Rico who came to New York when he was four months old. he is an Associate Professor of English at S.U.N.Y./Nassau Community College and has published two books of poetry, Translations Without Originals , and Puerta De Tierra, as well as his translation Selected Poems: Luis Palés Matos. His poems appear in a few college texts, among them the last three editions of the Bedford Introduction to Literature, in both hard and concise editions. In 2005, the University of Wisconsin Press published his novel The Bonjour Gene. He is also the author of the ground-breaking The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams (U. Texas). His poems have appeared in Parnassus, Massachusetts Review, Tin House, New Letters, and Harper's Magazine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ellen Harvey - Generation 1.5 artist

Ellen Harvey was born in the U.K. and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a teenager. A Whitney for the Whitney at Philip Morris/Altria or I Can Be An American Visionary Too! (2003) combines selected works from the Whitney Museum’s contemporary collection with scaled replicas of the works from the 2001 collection catalog American Visionaries. The images in Harvey’s artist-as-curator endeavor are hand-copied and rebuff traditional art historical practice (they are arranged alphabetically by artist).

The following is Ellen Harvey’s preamble to her conversation with her sister, the poet Matthea Harvey.

Listening to other artists in this exhibition talk about their experiences, I was struck by the wide variety of responses to the one thing we have in common: emigrating prior to adulthood, but after childhood. While there were similarities of course, there were also a lot of ways of using and experiencing what is, after all, a very personal and particular situation. Even in my own family our responses to the change were far from uniform. We moved as a result of my father’s work from Marnhull, a rural Dorset village in England of about a thousand people, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1981. I was fourteen and my younger sisters Celia and Matthea were twelve and eight respectively,

This interview between my sister and myself is an attempt to explore some of the similarities and differences between our emigration experiences and how that experience has influenced our creative work. Some useful background information is that our mother is German and did her best to make sure that we grew up bilingual in English and German and that prior to moving to Marnhull in 1975, our family had moved around between England, Germany and Switzerland following my father’s work, never staying more than two years in any one place. So Marnhull was the first place that we had lived for a significant (seven years) period of time. After we moved to Milwaukee, my mother and my sisters spent the three vacation months of each year back in Marnhull. As the eldest, I spent most of that time traveling elsewhere, but they really tried to live in both places sequentially for several years. Now our entire nuclear family lives in the U.S. while all our relatives remain in the U.K. and Germany.

Matthea Harvey is the author of two books of poems: Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). Her third book of poems, Modern Life, is forthcoming from Graywolf later in 2007. Her first children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is forthcoming from Soft Skull. Matthea is a contributing editor to jubilat. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.

This conversation between Ellen Harvey and her sister Matthea was conducted over May 25 – June 7, 2007.

Matthea: Do you have a good and/or reliable memory?

Ellen: I have a very erratic memory. Some moments from my past feel almost distressingly vivid while large stretches are strangely vague. In general I dislike thinking about the past because the things and people it contains seem so inaccessible. To think about the past is to think about loss – either the physical loss of the person or the place or the loss even of the memory itself. One of the great pleasures of becoming an adult is that you start to have some albeit imperfect control over what you get to keep in your life, although my memory sadly appears to be the exception to that rule. I find it very hard to remember people in particular. Maybe it’s because my childhood taught me that most people are only transient features in our lives – or maybe it’s just laziness. . .

What about you – do you see your past as a coherent narrative?

M: No, definitely not, which is sad because I adore reading long sweeping stories like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Sometimes I buy novels solely based on girth. I wonder – if I had a photographic (or at least more comprehensive) memory, would I be more likely to write fiction or non-fiction instead of poetry? I was relieved when I read an article that said that every time you access a memory your brain modifies it in some way. That feels true to me, because my memories are often distant or blurred (or entirely imaginary), as if I’m trying to see some original image through a number of different scrims.

In my poetry, I have a complicated relation to narrative. I love the arcs and through-lines of narrative, but I distrust that as a way of representing my own life. I think that short broken lyrics are the closest I come to conveying what it is like to be me, whereas my prose poems (which I think of as tiny stories on narrative steroids) tend to be more in the realm of the imaginary. My second book, Sad Little Breathing Machine, was very much invested in alternately battling then embracing narrative.

Moving divides your life in such a literal way. For me, there was suddenly an ocean between my past and me. I battled that for a while. When we moved to Milwaukee I learned how to finger knit, and I started a long army-green rope, which I hoped would span the ocean so my best friend (in England) and I (in Wisconsin) could communicate by tugging on either end. The logistics of how I was going to get this rope from here to there eventually made me give in.

In my memories of childhood, there is a dividing line at the age of eight. I still feel like my whole childhood in Marnhull may be a lie because so many of the memories I have can’t be real – i.e. chasing fairies in the hedges, or a Daddy-long-legs spider who waited outside school for me and would float alongside me on the way home. When I write children’s stories, they tend to be directed towards my eight-year-old self.

What are your first memories of Marnhull and of Milwaukee?

E: When we moved to Marnhull I had just turned eight, about the same age as you when we moved to Milwaukee. I remember being struck by the physical beauty of the place – the surrounding Dorset countryside and our house, a sandstone Edwardian, which was by far the largest we’d ever lived in. You have to remember that previously I’d lived in a variety of commuter suburbs – by comparison this seemed incredibly romantic to me, like something out of a book. I don’t remember missing where we’d been living in Kent previously, perhaps because we’d only been there for about a year. I’d been much more attached to our previous house near Frankfurt in Germany. I actually carved my name into the front door when we left, which I remember getting me in terrible trouble with our parents as the house was rented and they had to replace the door.

Since I never really managed to make any friends in the village during the three years I went to the village school, my attachment to Marnhull remained to the physical place itself rather than to the people there. I particularly loved the water meadows down by the mill, which is ironic as they were bulldozed away while we still lived there. I remember seeing the destruction and then vowing that I would never look at them again. For years I drove past them with my eyes shut tight remembering what had been. I think I was probably in my early twenties before I revisited them with my eyes open.

I did miss my friends at the all-girl convent school that I attended as a day pupil from age 11 onwards. Unlike the three years I had spent at the village school (where my lack of a Dorset accent, the intricacies of the English class system, and my general foreignness and lack of appropriate social skills meant that I inevitably ended up as the school pariah) the convent had a wider variety of students (most of whom boarded and had parents living overseas) and it was suddenly possible to transform oddity into eccentricity, for which I was deeply grateful at the time. This made me especially reluctant to move. My acceptance seemed like a fluke that I’d never be able to replicate and I dreaded yet another experience of social ostracism – with reason, as it turned out.

By comparison, my first memory of Milwaukee is of driving from the airport and being depressed by its ugliness and by the incredible heat. I found the flatness of the landscape oppressive and I disliked the architecture. The city was at once too big, compared to Marnhull, and too small, compared to London (the only other city with which I was familiar). Because I was so obsessed with history at that age, its relative newness also told against it for me. All of which is really quite unfair to Milwaukee. Lake Michigan is beautiful and the city has its own particular architectural charm as well as a great civic spirit that I really admire, but I never fell in love with it when I lived there. I feel very differently about it now, when I return to visit our parents: I have years of fond memories. But, at the time I remember painting some scenery green for a school play shortly after we moved and bursting into tears at the memory of how green Dorset had been. I suspect it was in the middle of the interminable Midwest winter when I hadn’t seen green for a long long time. The whole concept of seasons, so radically different from each other as to require entirely separate wardrobes, was a shock. The only thing I could compare it to was the description of Siberia in a book that I had read; I had been very surprised that Siberia could be hot as well as cold.

I also initially found the Midwestern social landscape difficult to navigate. After living in a village with a large variety of social classes, I found the homogeneity of the suburbs disconcerting. I also found it impossible to replicate the kind of saccharine affect that seemed to be expected from girls in particular. Suddenly almost all my friends were boys. After living in a culture that valued sarcasm, the incredible niceness and relentless positivism of the other students was very difficult to understand. On the one hand, people seemed so friendly and yet their friendliness didn’t seem to imply any actual emotional connection. It took me a long time to understand that their friendliness was perhaps more accurately understood as a form of politeness. At the time, my angst-ridden teenage self saw it as rank hypocrisy – all those meaningless compliments about sweaters. . . Again, something that I see very differently now.

Did you want to move? How did you feel about Marnhull and Milwaukee at the time? You also spent several years going to school in both places – what was it like living two lives?

M: I don't think I really understood what it would mean to move. My ideas about America were completely misguided – I remember my English classmates saying that I would have to choose to become a cowboy or an Indian and part of me believed that. When we left Marnhull I missed it not generally, but specifically. I missed the apple tree I liked to read books in. I missed Danny and Percy, our neighbor’s horses who lived in the field next door. I missed pussywillows and cow parsley and the ceiling in the living room, which I liked to pretend was the floor.

Initially I found Milwaukee very bewildering – I couldn’t understand people’s accents in the airport when we arrived. When we first visited our new house, it was nighttime and the floors had just been sanded. We took off our shoes and socks and tiptoed around. The next day we got a call at the hotel where we were staying saying that a gang of thieves had broken into the house – the carpenters had seen our footprints. That feels metaphorical to me: we were intruders in this new place. I pretended to be sick for the first week of school, and when I did finally go I got lost on the way home.

I always hated arriving anywhere – because the transition moment was awkward. I remember hesitating before making that first phone call to my friends when we first arrived back in England. When we went back to England for the summers, I would spend a month back in my old school (since their school year went later). Now that I look back on it, it seems like a strange thing to have done, but it was also pretty great: I could see all my friends and didn't have to do any homework. But, you can’t ever be a puzzle piece that fits in two puzzles – so as I started to fit in in America, I became exotic to my old friends in England. My English friends were always monitoring whether my accent was changing, examining my turquoise alarm-clock earrings and purple Esprit pants.

I think because I was younger when we moved, Milwaukee became home for me more quickly than for anyone else in the family. I already played the flute when we moved so in the U.S. I joined the school band and later a youth orchestra; I still think about what an amazing sense of belonging you can feel when playing a symphony with sixty other musicians. You’re literally inside the music together…

Do you remember a book we read as children about a girl called Charlotte who lived partly in modern-day England and partly in the eighteenth century? I just remembered how much l loved that book.

What did you think about my childhood in Milwaukee?

E: I remember feeling very worried about you. You have to remember that I was a horrible cultural snob at the time. I wanted you to grow up to be English. I also wanted you not to be so different from me. Remember how strictly I monitored your reading? All that Jane Austen! What a walking cliché I was. I suppose I was worried that I’d end up with a sister much like the girls at high school to whom I had such difficulty relating.

How was it for you, did you feel cut off from my past as well as your own?

M: I had your past in the form of you! You’ve always been a great storyteller. I think I romanticized your old life in England. Once I got to the age where you went to school at the convent I would think about what it would have been like to study Latin with nuns, to learn italic handwriting, to wear that brown uniform with beige knee socks. Part of me was relieved to have been spared the nuns and part of me thought I was getting an inferior education.

Because of those summer trips, I didn’t really feel cut off from England at first. But I didn’t stay in the U.S. for a whole summer until my senior year of high school. By the end, I started feeling like those summers in Europe were taking me away from my real life. After my freshman year at college, I spent the summer traveling around Europe with a group of high school friends, but after that I remember deciding to spend my summers in the U.S., so I did internships in New York and Berkeley. Everyone in our family thought this was very boring of me (why didn’t I go and work on a kibbutz in Israel like you and Celia had?), but I think I was truly exhausted by the idea of going to new countries and wanted to put down more roots here. Now that I’m so firmly settled in New York, I love traveling – never for more than two weeks, though!

How do you answer the question, "Where are you from?"

E: The short answer is that I’m originally from England, but I’ve lived in the U.S. for over twenty years and my accent is a historical relic. I try not to get into the details because they’re a bit boring to me. It’s like having to tell the story of how you met your husband for the millionth time. . .

Now that I spend a lot of time in Germany, I find myself having to explain why I speak such good German. In fact, I sometimes find myself making mistakes intentionally so that people won’t just assume that I’m German. And yet, in some way, our grandparents’ and now our uncle’s farm in Germany has remained the one fixed social and geographical point in my life. I spent so many summers there as a child. It’s such a small place – about 60 inhabitants – and it’s the only place from my childhood that’s still accessible to me. It will always be a special place for me. So maybe I feel as German as I do English or American – which is to say, not very.

What about you? You’re the only member of our family with an American passport and an American accent. Do you describe yourself as an American? And if so, when did you start thinking of yourself as American? Was it a conscious choice?

M: I finally became a U.S. citizen last year, but people always assume I’m American so I rarely get asked where I’m from. I think of myself as “american” now – in lower case, not capitals. I probably felt more divided about that as a teenager. What’s strange for me now is that my accent separates me from my nuclear family – I remember once we were all out at a restaurant and the waitress asked me who my guests were. People are always surprised when they first meet my family because I rarely remember to tell them beforehand that we all have different accents. I notice that when people do ask me where I’m from originally, I hesitate. The easy answer is Wisconsin, but that feels like it leaves out a lot and the other answer seems like too much information.

I remember my classmates in third grade always wanted me to say their names in my English accent, which they loved and I hated. On the plus side, it did mean that I was the automatic choice for Mary Poppins in the school play. That was my only starring role. I started practicing having an American accent early on – probably around fourth grade. I have a vivid memory of going into my closet (which had a mirror and a light) and working on saying my nickname, “Matty” with an American accent. I remember wishing my name didn’t have any “t’s” in it, because a name like “Louisa” wouldn’t have been a problem accent-wise, whereas making those “t’s” sound like “d’s” was difficult, and I didn’t like the way it sounded. That’s the reason I go by Matthea now.

E: So tell me about changing your accent. Was it hard? I remember that you had an accent coach after you won that essay competition and had to read your essay on television and they decided that no one would be able to understand you.

M: That’s true – that was right when we moved. I don’t think I had decided to change my accent yet at that point, so I was pretty frustrating for that accent coach. We spent an inordinate amount of time on the word “clock.” She would say what sounded to my English ear like “clawwk” and I would try to say it her way and end up saying “clack.”

Once I decided to change my accent, I didn’t find it that hard – I think I have a pretty good ear. And since we spoke German with half our relatives, I think my brain just accepted this as another language. What was hard was that I would speak in an English accent at home and an American one at school, so when friends called me at home I was embarrassed to have my parents hear me talking in another accent. I finally committed to my American accent (I should have had a ceremony!) when I went to college. It’s very nice to have some more Americans in the family (both of our husbands) because now my accent doesn’t stand out. I may need to write a poem celebrating that fact called “Our American Husbands.”

Do you notice people's accents? Do you find your accent changing according to the accents surrounding you?

E: Strangely enough, I’m pretty tone deaf when it comes to American accents. I can’t imitate them and I don’t really hear them. But when I listen to myself on an answering machine, I’m always faintly surprised not to hear an American accent, because I don’t think of myself as having an “accent.” Of course, now I hear the American accent as “neutral.” I do slightly change my accent sometimes in response to other British accents and German regional accents. I have no idea why.

M: Everyone in our family has a different accent. How did you end up with yours?

E: I think accents in our family are much like musical chairs; the music stops and whatever accent you have at that time is what you’re stuck with. It’s an imperfect analogy because you do have some control over when you stop the music and you can modify what you ended up with – to some extent. In my case, my basic accent reflects my time at St. Mary’s – a moment of content social conformism. It’s not the local Dorset accent, our father’s modified Birmingham accent or our mother’s faint German one. I remember being deeply impressed by how much less loaded of a statement accents are here than in the U.K. when I first arrived. It was a relief really. I think all that nonsense about class and the very fact that we’re spending so much time talking about accents betrays our national origins. Why are we talking so much about accents?

I did try to change my accent about ten years ago. I got really tired of having to explain where I was from and I worried that it just wasn’t “authentic” to me any more. But after thirty years of not pronouncing your “r’s”, it’s very hard to change. Also, there wasn’t any real motivation. There’s no denying that there aren’t exactly any social liabilities associated with having an English accent in the U.S. And an artificially grown American accent seemed equally problematic. At the linguistic level, I’m doomed to inauthenticity.

M: In what situations do you feel English? In what situations do you feel American?

E: I felt very English when I first arrived in the U.S. and for a long time after. I was quite ridiculously adamant on the subject. And, at the same time, I remember going back to England as an increasingly fraught experience, with people challenging my “Englishness” almost immediately. And that has only increased over the years. It’s as though being English is such a fragile social construct that any contamination would immediately ruin it and you. I spent a lot of time defending my Englishness before I decide to give it up. Which was particularly ironic in my case as being English was in many ways always a deliberate rather than an inevitable choice. I could have just as easily been German if I’d made that choice (German law then required children of German mothers either to accept or renounce German citizenship at the age of seven). My attachment to being English just reflected a desperate desire to belong. I look back and wince to think of my fifteen year-old self madly cheering on the troops in the Falklands. It’s interesting how seductive nationalism can be. Interesting and terrifying.

It took me until my late twenties before I relinquished the idea of myself as English. Now I feel more American in some ways, especially when I’m in Europe. I smile too much and I’m friendly in that American way that I used to despise. I’ve even become quite sentimental about the American constitution. At the same time, I frequently find myself becoming increasingly outraged by American actions. I think that the more I care about the U.S., the more upset I become. I wouldn’t describe myself necessarily as American, but I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as English anymore either. I’m much more emotionally invested in the U.S. now.

In some ways I feel more like a New Yorker than any actual nationality. This is the place I’ve lived longest in my life and it’s also the first place that I’ve ever lived where I feel that I belong. There’s something incredibly relaxing about living in a place where national origin isn’t as important as it is almost everywhere else in the world. There are so many national hybrids here that it’s almost impossible to seem exotic or alien. Anyone can be a New Yorker, that’s what I love about it. Even when I lived in London, the question of whether or not I was really English constantly came up. Here it just seems like a non-issue.

In an art world context, I’m very flexible. I don’t really care what nationality I get labeled with but it’s always interesting to watch people struggle to decide which is more important, residency or nationality. Does the passport trump the artistic context in which I live and work and where I’ve now spent the majority of my life? If I had my way, it would just say, “born in U.K., lives and works in New York.” After all, New York is where I built my career as an artist and I did it in a way that I’m not so sure would have worked equally well anywhere else. I just met other artists and started showing. It was all very informal in a way that really depended on the fact that New York is full of openly ambitious people networking madly – it’s very easy to meet people. Of course, actually connecting is just as hard here as anywhere – it’s just the first step that’s easier. I’m always amazed that in Europe you can stand next to someone for hours at an opening and they’ll almost never introduce you to the person that they’re talking to. It’s as though it’s just too risky. New York by contrast takes social connection very lightly – which is both good and bad. It’s all about weak social ties – quantity trumping quality –
some might say; and yet it does provide access. Of course, some might say that the increasing importance of MFA programs is changing all that. I’m more and more of a rarity in that I’m not a product of that system.

What about you, do you ever feel English? Or German? Do you think that nationality is meaningful to you at all? How does it feel to go back to England or Germany, now and earlier? How do you feel about New York?

M: I feel the same way you do about New York – it’s my home, and I never want to leave. I’m passionate about it, down to the hot flying trash that signals the start of summer. I’d like to say I’m a New Yorker, but you always hear that you have to have lived here a certain number of years before that’s really true. This is my ninth year here – do I qualify yet?

I don’t feel English anymore. In fact, when I go back to England now I tend to feel a bit uneasy – it’s a place where I once fit in, but don’t anymore. I remember feeling very English as a child (I was probably around twelve). I was in a store in London with my cousin, and an American woman came in and said, “Oh, isn’t that the cutest doll” really loudly. At the time, I felt disapproving of the way she wasn’t adapting to her environment, but now that seems silly. There’s also a tiny English child trapped on my tongue. My favorite foods are still English children’s food – English sausages, prawn cocktail crisps (See that? I can't call them potato chips even though I know that's what they're called here) and aniseed balls.

I don’t feel German, but since German was my first language (I was born there and we moved to England when I was two), I do have this strange tug on my heartstrings whenever I hear German out of context – on the subway, for example – there’s certainly some imprinting that went on with the language.

Do you think your relationship to nationality has had an influence on your work?

E: One of the things that really struck me listening to the other artists in the 1.5 Generation exhibition is how difficult it was for many of them to bear the burden of representation – the idea that they were inevitably seen as cultural ambassadors of a kind and that there was a lens of exoticism through which they and their work was perceived whether they wanted it or not. That’s not a burden that I’ve really had to contend with. In a culture where, for all its diversity, white Anglo-Saxon is still seen as the physical norm, I’m not even recognizable as a foreigner until I open my mouth. And even then being English is just not seen as being that exotic.

It may also have something to do with issues of center and periphery. If anything, Americans have traditionally had a feeling of cultural inferiority vis-à-vis Europe and certainly, Real-politick aside, there is no shortage of feelings of cultural superiority in the other direction to this day. There are also so many European artists dominating the international art market that the idea of being obliged to represent my culture seems utterly ludicrous to me – to say nothing of what a terrible representative I would be. This is obviously a very different situation from that of an artist who comes from an underrepresented country whose cultural traditions are not part of the Western art canon.

So, for me, my confused sense of nationality hasn’t been a direct source of inspiration for my work. And yet, a lot of my work has been about the impossibility of creating a coherent artistic persona – not just because I work on a project-by-project basis and so have entirely failed to come up with a “brandable” recognizable style but also on a larger more theoretical level. In general, I think failure is much more interesting than success. Art is so much about dreaming the impossible unrealizable dream – the constant experience of failure is what connects art emotionally to the larger human condition. My current project, The Museum of Failure, consists of an ongoing series of rooms that contain different kinds of artistic failure. There’s a room of Invisible Self-Portraits which are self-portraits in which I can’t be seen because the paintings are based on photographs taken by me of myself in a mirror so that the camera flash obscures my face. There’s a Collection of Impossible Subjects which consists of a mirrored wall rear-engraved and rear-illuminated to show a collection of empty frames hung salon-style. It’s the ultimate victory of context over content. The viewer sees only him or herself in the frames.

I’m also really interested in how the art world is organized – who gets to be an artist and what makes something art, which may be related to remaining a bit of an outsider in some way. The New York Beautification Project, where I spent a year painting small oval classical landscapes in oils directly onto graffiti sites throughout New York City without permission, is really an exploration of what makes people understand one piece of illegal pigment as art and another as vandalism. Is it the demographic of the artist (something that I think definitely plays a very large role)? Is it the aesthetics of the work (make something conservative enough and you can get away with murder)? What is it?

The piece in this show, A Whitney for the Whitney at Philip Morris (Altria) / I can be an American Visionary too!, also reflects this interest. In some ways it’s a bit of a joke about institutional validation and my frustrated desire to belong to a canon, to a nationality. It was originally made for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition space at what was then called Philip Morris (the name was changed to Altria during the exhibition). It was in part a response to the fact that Philip Morris had been supporting the space for twenty-five years and getting a lot of exhibitions of less established artists like myself – I thought that they might like to finally get the thing that they’d been paying for – the Whitney itself. I also kept encountering bewildered tourists wandering over from Grand Central Station who misunderstood the sign outside to mean that this was the Whitney Museum. I like giving people what they want – after all, isn’t art all about desire, no matter how ludicrous? But mainly the piece was a mad one-woman attempt to take on the entire American canon, as represented by the Whitney’s recent catalogue of its collection, titled American Visionaries. It was my attempt to say – see, I can be an American visionary (despite not being an American) – by copying all 394 images in the catalogue, I can be all the American visionaries. Of course, it’s also a ridiculous version of the canon in some way – it’s all painting – and not photo-realistic painting at that. Each image is painted just to the point where it should be recognizable to a viewer who’s seen the original. It’s a bit of an homage to those great old paintings of painting collections, like Zoffany’s painting of the Uffizi gallery, when painting was the only way you could document a collection; not that photography isn’t a problematic and unreliable form of documentation in its own right. It’s been interesting to try to install it as a painting here at the Queens Museum and I’m curious to see how it will work. Originally it was installed to form a walk-in painting. The viewer walked through a gold frame into a room made up of the painted panels. The seven artworks that the Whitney had bought immediately after publishing their catalogue were installed behind the openings in my painted panels (so that my museum would have an exhibition, and would compensate the artists who’d just missed their chance to be in the catalogue). Now those openings are filled with mirrors so that the viewer can be the next subject of the Whitney’s attentions. It’s a bit more inclusive that way.

As a writer, how do you think immigrating to the U.S. has influenced you? Does it have something to do with your interest in hybridity? Do you see yourself as part of the American or the English canon?

M: It’s hard for me to know how much moving here has influenced me. I’d love to be able to see what my life would have been like if we had stayed in England (like in the movie Sliding Doors, where in one version Gwyneth Paltrow catches the train and in the other she misses the train – you see how her life is affected by that one tiny difference). Logistically, the path to becoming a writer in the U.S. has clearer flagstones here: you can take creative writing classes, go to an M.F.A. program, etc. (not that this is the only path). I think there’s something a bit useful about feeling like an outsider when it comes to writing, but who doesn’t feel like an outsider? I certainly don’t think I’ll ever feel part of a canon, but I’ve been classified as an American poet (i.e. I was in Best American Poetry before I was a citizen). I’d like to get to know more English poets – there’s less crossover currently than you would think.

This month, I’m going to Germany to do readings for an anthology of young American poets translated into German (Schwerkraft : Junge Amerikanische Lyrik, edited by Ron Winkler). It was an intense experience to read my own poems in German, because what frustrates me when I’m in Germany is my inability to talk about poetry, about abstractions. Having these translations (by Uljana Wolf and Jan Wagner) was a bit like being given a key to my German adulthood, or to my German poet-self.

I think we can officially upgrade my interest in hybridity to an obsession. A favorite recent discovery is Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, which describes creatures sighted in Wisconsin and Minnesota lumber camps – The Hide-Behind, the Axehandle Hound – alongside animals that appeared in the dreams of Kafka and C.S. Lewis. Before this interview, I never consciously thought about my interest in hybrids as being a correlative for being between cultures. However, it’s definitely one of the main subjects of my new book Modern Life, which is populated by catgoats (my own invention), centaurs, a robot-boy and ship figureheads trying to figure out if they’re more head (human, animal, etc.) or ship. Halving in all of its forms has always been something I’ve been interested in. And isn’t everyone a fraction or a hybrid from the simple fact of having two parents? I’m half narrative, half lyric; half melancholy, half mischievous; half head, half heart. And so on. I love the part in Plato’s Symposium where Aristophanes talks about how “primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle” and that after they begin to attack the Gods, Zeus decides to “cut men in two, like a sorb-apple which is halved for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair.” This then becomes an explanation for the fact that humans fall in love, into pairs – that we’re just searching for a lost wholeness.

Do you have any particular attraction to hybrid animals?

E: Does really liking mermaids as a child count?

M: Definitely! If you were a hybrid animal, what would you be? (You can be made of more than two animals if you want...)

E: Actually I really don’t want to be a hybrid animal – maybe because I already am one. I would like to be a seal though – they seem to have a really good time living in two elements . . . .

And you?

M: What a good idea to choose a seal – I think that demonstrates being at peace with your own hybridity. I would like to experience being a hybrid animal so that I could feel what it was like right at the point where, in the case of the centaur, I changed from human to horse. Does the breath change as it crosses that divide? Does the head have ideas that the body won’t go along with? One of my favorite things is to stand in waist-high water and think about how that divides the body in two.


We halved them because we could. It turned out anything with four legs could wobble along on two, Anything with two could hop along on one. Leopards. Horses. Kangaroos. Front, back, it didn’t matter. Mostly it was teenagers with their parents’ Christmas knives who did the cutting. No one knew where the Keepers came from, but they favored covered wagons with billowing sheets tucked in at the edges, puckering like a healing wound. They tied scarves tightly around their chins—men and women—as if to hold the hemispheres of their own heads together. At first they hid the hybrids from us. Their first, clumsiest attempts were the most marvelous—front ostrich, back deer, wind ruffling through first feathers then fur. And the catgoat, all front, who patrolled the shop windows… When the sun hit at a certain angle, the battle would begin—cat wanting to see its cat reflection, goat wanting to see goat.
—Matthea Harvey

Pablo Helguera - Generation 1.5 artist

Pablo Helguera was born in Mexico City and has lived in Chicago and Barcelona. His piece, Everything in Between (2007), is a newly-commissioned, multi-media installation that functions as an autobiographical novel. Based on a küaut;nstlerroman-a novel in which the protagonist undergoes an artistic evolution—Helguera's installation depicts a 4-year transition (1988-1992) in 20 explanatory chapters and will soon be accompanied by the book The Boy Inside the Letter.

Emily Jacir - Generation 1.5 artist

Artist Emily Jacir was born in 1970, raised in Saudi Arabia and attended High School in Rome, Italy. In linz diary (2003), Jacir explores the complexities of surveillance by inserting herself into the frame of one of the Austrian city's multiple webcams. Thus, she asserts herself as a resident of both this space and the global network of images residing in unknown locations.

Lee Mingwei - Generation 1.5 artist

Lee Mingwei initially emigrated from Taiwan to the Dominican Republic, spent summers in a Chan monastery and attended High School in California. In his piece, Quartet Project (2005/2007), the visitor's movement dictates how much or how little of Antoine’s Dvorak's American String Quartet in F, Op. 96 can be seen or heard as the gallery space transforms into an audio-visual mechanism of desire and frustration.

Shirin Neshat - Generation 1.5 artist

Shirin Neshat moved from Iran to the United States to attend high school. Her piece, The Last Word (2004), is a DVD projection depicting the interrogation/condemnation of an artist and her threat to the bureaucratic establishment. The Last Word (2004) relates to the Iranian intellectual's struggle for freedom of expression.

Seher Shah - Generation 1.5 artist

Pakistan-born artist Seher Shah moved to London and Brussels and attended High School in New York City. In Shah's The Jihad Pop Progression Series (2006/2007), layered motifs derived from architectural references and religious imagery interact within iconic Islamic spaces such as the interior courtyard. These energized realms are at once utopian and nostalgic.

JIHAD POP An interview with Seher Shah
July-August 2007

Tom Finkelpearl: Can you talk about the title “Jihad Pop”?

Seher Shah: The work for Jihad Pop had initially begun after a series of dialogues and conversations that were surrounded by the issues of the differences between India and Pakistan, Islam and marriage to someone from another faith, and construction of identity.

Shortly after I had proposed my future plans to settle down with someone from the Sikh faith to my family, a series of debates followed in regards to my own childhood upbringing and identity from having lived in various cities. These debates took place over the course of a few years from New York City to Lahore and New Delhi. Shortly after this meeting, September 11th spiraled the media into a frenzy of images of conflict, terrorism and migration in the years that followed. I was dealing with a very private dialogue of what being a Muslim meant for me, whilst the imagery from the media was constructing narratives on Islam that were for the most part negative, stereotypical and fraught with propaganda for the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was in the midst of this that I had started creating a series of works that negotiated between personal photographs, iconic Islamic spaces, geometries and symbols. I wanted to be able to construct works that showed universal connections to certain geometric forms and massing.

The title Jihad Pop came about as a means to construct the idea of struggle of identity alongside images from pop culture and to form a new association with Islamic visual imagery. The meeting of these two words ‘jihad’ and ‘pop’ is the marriage of this exploration of identity and the simultaneous broadcast of imagery of violence, conflict and migration. Using associations and influences from media images, personal travel photographs, animation, graffiti and hand drawings to create the series that unfolds to explore the relationship of Islamic iconography and imagery. I kept the connection open to the meaning of both words, so as to interpret it in a variety of means. Using cultural elements I had grown up with from New York, Brussels, London and Lahore I started constructing and reconstructing images and symbols I was gravitating towards. The Jihad Pop works as of now are mainly constructed through a series of large-scale drawings and several print editions.

TF I know you lived in multiple countries and perhaps multiple cultures growing up. Can you talk about the childhood references in your work?

SS I think that for me it is essentially problematic to separate influences and places I have lived in. Yes, I have segments of time that I have experienced in a particular city and place but it’s hard to refer to separate influences. For example, a friend of mine when looking at one of the Progression drawings of the Interior Courtyard was reminded of the great hall at Versailles. I thought that this was a very interesting point as firstly this is a place where I have spent numerous weekends with my family in my pre-teen years whilst traveling near Belgium, and secondly because it was a way of constructing spaces that had geometric similarities in spatial cultural memory for me. The connection of time, architecture, memory and music all are fused together in a hazy state and sometimes can be distilled through images.

I had gone back and forth from Belgium and Pakistan several times, oscillating between severe gothic architecture and Art Deco, Flemish and French languages and culture to predominantly Moghul architecture, and a fairly liberal Islamic state, although this is a very subjective viewpoint. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are with my grandmother sitting in her Karachi home, making paper boats to float in the streets during the monsoon, and watching Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple during the time of General Zia-ul- Haq. Thinking back at this time with Zia trying to bring the legal and social institutions of Pakistan in conformity with Islamic law, whether for political reasons or otherwise, is still an ongoing debate and cause of severe problems to this day in Pakistan with the struggle for political dominance and control.

The exploratory Progression drawings from the Jihad Pop series are a medium to reconstruct imagery and spaces of iconic spaces like the Islamic interior courtyard and the universal geometry of the Cube or ‘Kaaba’ structure. These two images of the Courtyard and Cube are what I chose to focus on in order to explore the ideas of nostalgia and universal forms. The personal symbols that are depicted play out simultaneously with symbols of Islam within these iconic spaces as layered and organic compositions.

TF What are the architectural references? Are the spaces imagined by you or taken from the real world?

SS Visual memory of the architecture for me is a very intrinsic part of associations and familiarity with forms and cities. Because I was visually absorbing various types of styles from a very young age, I did not feel any type of cultural boundaries, as everything became a point to be experienced. There was definitely an attitude of openness for me from a young age. The architectural spaces that I remember the most clearly span from my childhood, in particular, vary from courtyard spaces such as Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque complex and the Moghul Shalimar Gardens, to the gothic Grand Place in Brussels to seeing the Alhambra in Granada. Based on this background, I found that I very naturally progressed into creating interior constructions in my works that allowed me to form my own narratives and take on the hybrid layers.

But of course the boundaries that I had not felt defined in my childhood because of the amount of travel and movement through various cities, started to define themselves for me through my teenage years. The international schools I was attending with a group of students who also had families that had international postings. But as I was growing up I was getting increasingly frustrated with the idea of the international school model. Groups of students were put together in highly expensive educational systems that centered on the American expatriate communities. The international school was definitely a model for ‘American’ values and culture, whether it was situated in Brussels or elsewhere on the globe. But to me, personally, it felt like a small bubble in the city that it was situated in, kept separate because of the self boundaries it placed on itself.

I think the idea of boundaries became an issue both as a personally defined interiors to be separated in terms of thought and values, and also viewing the cities I had lived in as to how they had socially separated parts and communities. All these various separations and hybrids went into forming the idea of image making in the print series, and also is the basis for the exploratory graphite drawings.

When I was invited to participate in the Generation 1.5 exhibit, I was at first apprehensive as to the definition of what the term meant and its defination in the context of the exhibit. I had lived in various cities and cultures, and was apprehensive that the cultural baggage that one comes with in all its nuances and precise experiences could only be viewed through the lens of a specific term. But based on the conversations with Tom Finkelpearl and Valerie Smith, the curators for the exhibit I was very excited in terms of the context for the show. It was kept open with each of the artists bringing in their own interpretation as well as a working blog to keep the definition in flux and broad based from a variety of sources. I was also very curious as to how the works would be received from a variety of viewers given the title and influences that went into the works from both an investigation and exploratory mode to creating works that stayed clear of miniature and calligraphic Islamic arts, but still at the same time trying to make connections to universal forms and symbols that could be interpreted in a variety of ways. It is an organic way of working, but I feel that similar to the Exquisite Corpse process, that working in this manner brought about connections and relationships that a pre-constructed methodology and image would have failed in.

TF There is no more loaded word than Jihad these days. Do you think that people get the way you’re using it? And, are you trying to push a particular political emphasis on the works?

SS I found that by combining the words I had defined a space for myself where I could explore a number of issues, images and forms. I was not apprehensive of the connotation of the words in terms of a negative reaction to the title, as I felt the works were investigatory in nature and more exploratory in their underlying basis. People would react in their own ways, and that has been one of the really interesting developments, as to see how various people have chosen to react to the imagery. In several of the print series I reconstruct media imagery with personal photography to establish the image. In the drawings geometric forms interact with architectural interiors and various symbols.

The works aside from a personal investigation also came about with the extreme ways the media was portraying events after September 11th. The war in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the corporate journalism that was coming out, still managed to find pockets of reporters, captured images and various collectives that were exploring the true nature of the war and its affects both in the Middle East and in America. The media itself though had by in large, become a corporate tool for electronic warfare, and that by mass reproductions and repetition, the idea of war itself and the reasoning was being enforced on the public domain.

Watching New York City change as well for the Muslim community was also a very difficult experience on a personal level. Communities such as the one in Coney Island that was home to a large group of South Asians, one that I had frequented with my family on various dinners and grocery outings have changed by illegal detentions and deportations.

Being a member of this community by virtue of where I was born, and also having lived in New York since I was a teenager brought about a very disorienting experience. An experience that definitely tries to separate you based on your nationality and religion, which is the worst possible divide in my opinion. The idea that these are the two main issues that would be a boundary for separation seems absurd and surreal, but it was the basis of an entire community fragmenting. The practice of ‘ special registration’, the Patriot act, illegal detention centers and invasion of all forms of privacy are enforced, and reinstates the differences between our collective communities.

Being an artist in this exhibit and the context for the works is one of having the luxury of both education and having a safe creative space of being able to express one’s thoughts. The extension of the phrase Generation 1.5 also for particular communities is a very difficult and divided space of existence. One can naturally fall into a no-man’s zone of neither belonging to your current country of residence, nor of any past links to your parent’s country of origin. It can be a very isolating experience and one that is fraught with issues of separation on multiple levels. I think that one of the positive ways this exhibit works for me is that it does provide a forum and platform to explore and create works that is exhibited in an open progressive space. The artist is the one to chose and decide the context for their works and are ultimately responsible for the outcome.

TF Who are you? By this I am asking how you self-identify. I know that for many people -- 1.5 or not -- this is a very complex question. For me I know that it is a question that has a fairly fluid answer. In some contexts I am a dad, in others a white man. In some contexts I am a museum director, in others an American. But I am asking in one particular context -- who are you when you are making art or representing yourself as an artist?

SS That is a very difficult question to answer. I think that identity negotiation when I represent myself as an artist is made up of fragments and pieces from an array of sources. I think the visceral quality of the fragments is the most important to me though. In fact for this particular series of works, it was about deconstructing images, relationships and forms of both personal and collective identity for myself, and reconstructing it in the works based on personal values and systems based on where I had lived and what I had experienced, as opposed to those that were given by a particular cultural or family parameter. But I do feel that it is from a viewpoint of an outsider looking in. That’s why I also feel that the works are all explorations, and it is as much about the process of working through the images and symbols and finding connections, as it is about the finished work.

In terms of who I am when creating works and representing myself as an artist, I work with all the fragments of the pieces that make up my identity. That maybe a simplified answer but it’s the only space I feel I can create for myself where I can define myself in a manner of my choice, and one that encapsulates how I want to explore the works. The idea that the fragments are not in opposition, but make up a whole is the most important part of representing myself as an artist.

Yes, I may be looked at as artist, architect, Pakistani, Pakistani-American, American, South Asian, Muslim etc. and be defined by the outside as these particular broad based categories. People will always identify you with how they feel best, and it’s really not something one can guide with a whole explanation to a simple question such as ‘where are you from’? I always felt that growing up, when I was asked that question I had to re-trace where I had lived in order to answer the question, as a simple place would not suffice and be accurate, and I never felt fully comfortable in answering the question without the explanation. I feel that these definitions can be opposites and set in their own boundaries, and I feel that when I work it’s the space I can create where they don’t have to be defined, in opposition and can meld into each other fluidly. In terms of the idea as an outsider, I don’t mean that in a negative sense where certain boundaries are necessarily created and cannot be entered, but as one that can absorb and pull out of several perspectives and places.

TF I know that for some people including my wife, the question "where are you from?" makes them angry because it is in some ways disingenuous -- i.e. it's not really the question. In the case of Eugenie the person asking usually wants to know "what sort of Asian" she might be. Her answer is generally that she is from Minneapolis, which is the truth. I know personally that I have come to say that I am from New York because the majority of my life has now been spent here, though I certainly hold onto certain loyalties like sports teams (I strongly favor Boston teams). So, the next question, which you already alluded to, is: Where are you from? ...and does this question annoy you?

SS I think this question would be dependent on who is asking me and why. I have never been bothered by that question, but have been very frustrated by people who ask the question with the answer already determined, by my having lived in New York or Brussels for the majority of my life. I think that for the most part if I have been asked that question, whether in the context of the works or otherwise, I have been comfortable in re-tracing where I was born and have lived since. But the question itself is frustrating when one’s identity is assumed by virtue of geography and movement. The issue of questioning how ‘real’ of a Pakistani I am has also been an ongoing frustration by virtue of this questioning. I just feel that this is no longer an issue to prove with anyone, but that question is the start of several assumptions. Choices of lifestyle, language and the accent and also mannerism have so much to do with people’s assumptions that it really is not something that I feel I want to prove. I think one finds the fluidity and ease with how one deals with assumptions, and it just becomes about what is important to you individually and that for me has very little to do with where I am from.

Rirkrit Tiravanija - Generation 1.5 artist

Born in Argentina to a Thai family, Rirkrit Tiravanija moved to Thailand, Malaysia and Ethiopia before attending High School in Ottawa, Canada. His work speaks directly to these changing contexts and the mobility he has experienced since youth. The third in an edition of four, Untitled 2006, (passport 3) documents his extensive travels since the production of the prior passport. Each one of Tiravanija’s hand-painted passports is meticulously composed and unique to a particular time and context of his life.

Nari Ward - Generation 1.5 artist

Nari Ward emigrated from Jamaica to Brooklyn at the age of twelve. His multimedia installation, Salvage Research Soul Training (2007), includes wheelchair puppeteers, an explorative video of movements conceived by dancer/choreographer Ralph Lemon and an oversized parrot puppet capable of reciting a litany of quotes, statistics, official pronouncements, and personalized reflections. Ward's piece explores notions of vulnerability, dependency, anticipation and resilience.

A Conversation with Nari Ward and Olu Oguibe

Olu Oguibe: A question about process. How did you determine the different elements that now constitute the Salvage Research Soul Training piece? How and at what point did you decide there would be a parrot diatribe piece, for instance, or that there would be wheelchairs and that those wheelchairs would levitate on stilts, or that there would be a performance element or ceremonial candles? How did you arrive at the formal and conceptual details of the piece?

Nari Ward: I am not sure how to answer this question since there are so many aspects to consider. There is the direct response which acknowledges the research of visiting the site, reading testimonials, press accounts, and speaking to individuals who worked at the facility. However there are other elements that have nothing to do with the site which I must discuss in order to give a fair account of the process. The one element, which I cannot explain but is essential to my process, is “faith”; the persistent belief that the choices and conditions I create will distill into an experience that is openhandedly poignant.

I believe that objects activate space through their physical presence as well as cultural references. Both of these states are malleable and susceptible to change over time but what that change evolves into is the subject. I chose certain materials because they are everyday objects slipping away through decay and or neglect yet have a history that seems to prompt questions. Such is the case of the wheel chairs which I recovered from the Mansfield Training School. They were each adapted for the needs of a particular handicapped individual and were left behind when those clients were relocated to group homes. I wanted these devices to be viewed as special so I decided to put them on stilts in order to give them an impressive throne like appearance. The John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope candles as well as the Diatribe Parrot came about as a result of my conversations with a former staff member, Arlene McNamara, who was generous to share with me her memories and scrap books of the Mansfield institution. The actual configuration of the installation with all the wheel chairs grouped together and facing the video monitor, was inspired by a question I asked Arlene regarding a particular sound or activity she remembered that would begin to capture the atmosphere of the various social spaces within the Training School. She immediately thought about the sound of the televisions constantly playing and patients positioned to view their screens.

Olu Oguibe: Following our conversation last evening, I was struck by a whole number of things, but I also thought a little longer about your title for the Sackler visiting artist project at UConn. Your work usually employs a salvage strategy, but we know that this has to do with what you've referred to as the "third world" element in your practice that is inspired by the retrieval culture in so-called third world societies. In the context of the Sackler project, however, it struck me that in its time the Mansfield Training School was not a salvage facility but a hold-all or stowaway for people whom society considered discards. It was an institution where people were put away so that no one in the community would see them, so that family and friends would not be embarrassed by their presence; a place where, albeit with much, [insert] certain individuals were put out of sight. In the Parrot Diatribe which is part of your piece, the bird repeats a particularly poignant line that says: you said you would get me out of here; it's been forty years and you never came. A very chilling line, indeed. How do you position your project as a "salvage" exercise, against this background?

Nari Ward: The Salvage aspect of my title is specific to the reuse of materials to construct meaning and indeed you are correct in aligning it with a “third world” strategy. However to be fair the original mandate of the Mansfield Training School was to offer opportunity or hope to individuals who were deemed mentally deficient. Unfortunately over time there was a lack of adequate resources to ensure such a result and it became a desperately debilitated environment. That same sense of failure or ambivalence is apparent in how the Mansfield Training School’s patient records have been neglected. Although the Training School is perceived as a significant social experiment no federal, state or local agency is willing to take responsibility for the personal information still sequestered inside the walls of its crumbling facility. In my mind the obvious oversight of this mentally handicapped population references past issues of neglected histories, exclusion, as well as deception which are essential points of inquiry and insight in my work. Thus the salvage discourse is intended to be one of empathy and a directive for conscientious social responsibility.