Sunday, November 05, 2006

david wojnarowicz: a definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side

[interviews by sylvère lotringer, edited by giancarlo ambrosino. co-editors: chris kraus, hedi el kholti and justin cavin. afterword by jennifer doyle. october 2006, 220 pp., 70 illus, $24.95 (cloth)]

in february 1991, the artist david wojnarowicz (1954-1992) and the philosopher sylvère lotringer met in a borrowed east village apartment to conduct a long-awaited dialogue on wojnarowicz's work. lotringer held on to the tape for a long time. after wojnarowicz's death the following year, lotringer found the transcript enormously moving, yet somehow incomplete. david was trying, often with heartbreaking eloquence, to define not just his career but its position in time. the subject was huge, and transcended the actual dialogue. lotringer then spent the next several years gathering additional commentary on wojnarowicz's life and work from those who knew the warrior best—the friends with whom wojnarowicz collaborated. among those lotringer solicited personal testimony from included mike bildo, julia scher, richard kern, carlo mccormick, kiki smith, nan goldin, and marguerite van cook. at the time of the taping, wojnarowicz was at the peak of his notoriety as the antithesis of arch-reactionary senator jesse helms—a notoriety that wojnarowicz alternately embraced and rejected. already suffering the last stages of aids, wojnarowicz saw his dialogue with lotringer as a chance to set the record straight. the two arranged to have that three-hour dialogue video-recorded by a mutual friend, the artist marion scemama.

emerging from these interviews is a surprising insight into something art history knows, but systematically hides: the collaborative nature of the work of any "great artist." this is especially true in the case of an artist as "compelling" as wojnarowicz. all these respondents had, at one time, made performances, movies, sculptures, photographs, and other collaborative works with wojnarowicz. in that sense, wojnarowicz was not only a great originator, but a great synthesizer.

founded 30 years ago, semiotext(e) has proven itself the most influential of american independent presses. widely credited for having introduced french cultural theory to america, its backlist includes avant-garde fiction and non-fiction by american writers kathy acker, cookie mueller, eileen myles, and shulamith firestone. since 2000, the mit press has been the distributor of new titles published by semiotext(e). co-editor chris kraus is a filmmaker and the author of i love dick and aliens & anorexia, and co-editor of hatred of capitalism: a semiotext(e) reader. index called her "one of the most subversive voices in american fiction."

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