interview with Noam Gonick + Luis Jacob
Conducted by Sean Robert at the PLUG IN Institute of Contemporary Art, December 13, 2007
published: Official Program at 58th Berlin International Film Festival
Sean Robert: What initially inspired you two to create Wildflowers?
Noam Gonick: I have a cabin out at Beaconia, the nude beach on Lake Winnipeg where I imagined doing a gay hippy cult. Luis had been a catalyst for collective actions: making sandwiches on subway trains in the middle of rush hour or sleeping in the Toronto city hall public square, everybody bringing a mattress. It seemed like a good idea to bring him to Manitoba and bring everybody together: cook communally, seeking spiritual transcendence, and at the same time make an art piece.
Luis Jacob: We asked: “Who are the Wildflowers of Manitoba?” We wanted to create a legend around it.
NG: We’re interested in the Radical faeries. They are the gays who wanted to pull out of urban environments and live in the country communally. They've been around since the ‘70s and Harry Hay, the Communist founder of the modern gay movement, went on to become a Radical Faerie. We’re not really members of the Radical Faeries but we love the idea of it, and we love the idea of a different interpretation of what “gay” could be, living off the land and out of the Capitalist structure.
LJ: Wildflowers of Manitoba is a world within a world. There’s a dome structure, and on the skin of it you see four projections that tell a cycle of the seasons. First you see woods in the winter, and then a cabin in the snow, and then a golden shower that metls the snow, and it turns into Spring – all the trees blossom.
SR: Ok, I do now.
LJ: It’s an old-school gay reference.
NG: It’s the golden shower that starts the whole cycle from Winter to Spring.
LJ: Yes, life coming back, and renewal. The first thing you see is four boys doing pagan rituals inside the cabin. They go outside and prepare food, commune with the horses in the field, and wash themselves in a stream. All these activities happen, and climax in a group wedding. Then the seasons go into Fall and Winter and the film cycles again. Inside the dome there’s a live attendant, a young man lounging, while the projections are happening around him as his dreams or fantasies.
SR: Other than a live attendant, how would you describe him? I read a curatorial description of him as a slumbering flower-child.
NG: ‘Flower child’ is actually a sixties reference, and for us the attendant is here and now – today. Hippies never died. He’s in his teenage bedroom in his parents suburban house. For me, it’s about listening to music, having a vision quest, and the way that youth in particular use music to mediate. He’s listening to Harmonium, Quebecoise prog-rock instrumental music, having a bucolic sylvan wooded fantasy, about animals and friends.
LJ: The boy is an amazing mysterious presence. He’s real but inhabits another universe of flowers and nature that is sensual and gorgeous.
NG: The audience are voyeurs, peeking through the windows of a teenage boy’s bedroom.
LJ: that is one of the wonderful things about installation art, as opposed to a painting or sculpture that exists outside of you. In installation art, you walk into the artwork and the full theatrics of the space. It really involves you physically when you walk in.
SR: How important are Winnipeg and the prairies to this work?
NG: Winnipeg has always been rather left-wing. Manitoba was founded in an anarchist uprising, and Winnipeg had the first communist mayor in North America. There’s always been an irregularly large arts community. It’s a good muse, a good palette, an endless source of mythology.
LJ: And being smack in the centre of Canada, it’s the heart of the continent.
NG: I’ve always thought of the bread basket aspect, that agriculture is the main industry. If you think back to ancient Priapus, God of Gardens, Fertility and Fecundity, there’s a correlation between eroticism and food. Priapus was depicted wit wheat and a huge penis. And I think of Dionysus with the wine and the grapes. That kind of agrarian radicalism informs Wildflowers. And I’ve also thought about the Native aspect in the way that the Native people of North America were beaten back to this part of the continent. The air resonates: this is a spirit country. Manitoba comes from the word Manitou, which means spirit. These boys are wild and they will strike back, like in William S. Burroughs’ The Wild Boys, as a cult of boys that live and fight together.
LJ: We traded inspirations. To produce this work we would send each other photocopied readings and images. Radical Faerie writing, William S. Burroughs, Buckminster Fuller, dome structures that the hippies loved so much and adopted as their own architecture.
SR: When you talk about queer transgression, what do you mean? Is it primarily about Radical Faeries?
NG: It’s also an anti-gay-marriage ethos, in the hetero nuclear-family sense. We’re depicting a group of people living together, getting married communally. It’s not about chattel, we reject that notion and we’re saying: No, we’re actually going to live together…
LJ: … and have a three-way wedding…
NG: … and get off the grid and commune with animals: no middle-class aspirations, completely separate ourselves from western civilization and private property, and share something that’s more anarchic. We’re putting these ideas out there with our work, in the general consciousness and seeing what happens.
LJ: That’s the kind of thing that “queer” has meant, as opposed to “gay.” Queer has always emphasized liberation and freedom. Whereas society is sex-phobic and body-phobic, for instance, queer people celebrate their sexuality and desire. As a community we've validated the things that the greater society tries to invalidate or push down, sexuality being the most obvious. There is a struggle of what our community is about: are we the same as everybody else or does homo-attraction open up different possibilities for relationships, friendships, property relations, relationships to nature, which throw the whole repressive system into question? The possibility of real liberation and freedom is very exciting to us, and so we want to kind of make this crystal…
NG: … this looking glass, or globe crystal ball that you can shake and look into different possibilities, shards facets of a possible future. As individuals we emerged in the ‘80’s with ACT-UP…
LJ: … Queer Nation …
NG: … when there was a radicalism to being gay. We watched as it became about gays in the military and the gay-rights agenda fixated on marriage. We’re a throwback, like the missing link to the Sasquatch, Cro-Magnon faggot.
LJ: Whatever world you want to use – gay, lesbian, queer – I think people desire a bigger horizon, and a more radical possibility for feeling good, feeling free, feeling your place in society.
NG: That is not completely pre-determined from the moment you’re born.
LJ: I think there’s something pagan about all this. For me, pagan suggestions not one but many gods, not one way of doing things but as many as you can come up with, and that’s why the idea of nature is such a wonderful model. Nature is about as many species as possible living together, as Noam said, fecundity, the richness of fertility and life.
NG: Manitoba’s greatest export is its youth. This place is not just breadbasket for food, but also for people. When they come of age, young Manitobans are like the fluffs of the dandelion: they go off to the East and West of Canada, and down to the States, and filter out and form networks. It’s in the moment of youth when, for a brief period, possibilities abound. That’s what I was getting at in my film Hey, Happy! The rave idealism, the moment when everything isn't locked down, and you’re not worried about your pension and anything can happen.
SR: With the myriad references to the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, do you worry about being labelled nostalgic?
NG: There’s a tendency to take the issues we've brought up and assign them to ‘the past,’ and say those ideas have been disproven, we've sobered up and the radical experiment failed. Luis and I challenge that. We say it’s here and now. It’s a continuous strand we’re tapping into that goes very far back, father than Jean Cocteau, back to magical mysticism, and continues in to the future.
LJ: The live attendant “grounds” everything. Ideas of freedom, sexuality, and living with others, weren't invented in the sixties and seventies. They’re very ancient, as old as humanity. It’s important to write your own history and create your own mythologies. The ideas of the past are building blocks that touch on other peoples’ memories, experiences and fantasies – but the point is what this all means today. We weren’t around in the ‘60’s. We can’t speak for people who were: but we can speak for our experience of the here and now, and present something not ironic, cynical, hetero-normative, or gay in the proper sense – but something that arouses the desire for other possibilities and freedoms, for pure desire itself.