Interviews with Questionable Artists Series

Hello and welcome to the interviews with questionable artists series.  Today we have the pleasure of speaking with a groundbreaking artist who practically invented the medium of hunger art in the 1970’s.  Please welcome John Simmons.  John welcome to the show.

JS: Thanks for having me.  I’m usually not into to doing interviews and stuff, but there’s something about your eyes- they’re just really… what’s the word I’m looking for… inviting?  I don’t know- they make me feel good.

WJ:  Thanks, I get that a lot.  But let’s talk about you!  You’re a hunger artist.  Some people don’t know much about hunger art.  Tell us about it.

JS: Well I was a graduate student at New School in the 70’s.  There were a lot of people doing really cool things, but I truly  wasn’t one of them.  I tried painting and drawing, but I was terrible.  I didn’t have the patience for photography, maybe I would now that it’s digital, but back then you had to do all this stuff in a darkroom.  Anyway, I was pretty much talentless.  I was a graduate student with no medium and I needed something for my thesis.  That’s when I started meeting a bunch of people just like me- pretty much talentless, but would just do this weird shit and come up with a conceptual explanation.  It kinda worked.  There was Chris Angle, who would just walk around naked and masturbate in the galleries, people loved it.  I thought to myself I need to be doing something like that.  At the time I was fairly poor and hungry. I was thinking, what if my hunger is my art?  Needless to say the professors absolutely loved the idea.  Suddenly I was an artist, an artist who really can’t make art, just one that claims he’s making art- and that’s what I think is truly important.

WJ: Around that time you had your first opening.  I believe it was actually the first-ever installation of hunger art.  Am I correct in this?

JS: Yeah I did this piece called Deep Fried Christ.  It was in a small gallery in Brooklyn.  I decided I would live off a small amount of bread crumbs each day.  It was a symbol for Jesus and the deep fried food industry.  Needless to say it was a hit.  I was commissioned to expand upon it, and so I created Deep Fried Christ’s Last Supper, which actually made its way to MOMA.

WJ: So, what is it that you do for these installations, how do people experience these works?

JS: Well usually, I weigh in, take some before pictures to show them my current body weight.  I do some psychological surveys and what not, and then I basically get hungry, show up to the gallery.  As long as I give a somewhat vague explanation for the work, it goes over well.

WJ: You’ve found some followers in the hunger-art movement.  Many who accuse you of selling out.  They say you’re not really hungry anymore.  That is, your art allows you to afford nice groceries and such.

JS:  You know I try not to think about it.  I’ve got a wife and kids and yeah, we do sit down at night and have three course meals, but that’s my home life.  If I need to be hungry again I will.  The suffering is still there, my work is still authentic.  My upcoming piece focuses on hunger in the workplace, when you have too much work to do and can’t leave for your hour lunch break.  It’s a painful experience.  It’s interesting for me because my work is my hunger, and to be hungry during hunger is a metaphysical conundrum.  I hope that it’s confusing enough to be well received.

WJ: What inspires you?

JS: I don’t know.  Money I guess.  I have bills and stuff to pay, so I do need the money.  If people want to interepret my work in order to create meaning, they’re free to do so.  It makes me look good and it keeps their academic existence valid, but frankly that’s their job.  If you don’t buy it, someone does, that’s why I get grants to not eat lunch.

WJ: Some critics say it is irresponsible of you to profit off your voluntary hunger when millions of children in the world go hungry every day.  What is your response to that?

JS: Uhhh.  I dunno.  I mean, yeah it sucks that all these people are starving, but I gotta do something.  The art world is about niche.  I need to find some obscure thing that I can do, which in my case is hunger, and convince people that it’s somehow enriching their lives so that they will continue to give me money.  I mean, if I really wanted to, I can just say it’s to raise awareness for world hunger.  All those people will still show up at my gala and write me a check because their wives like to support the arts.  You know what?  My work is about raising awareness.  That’s cool, I’m definetely all about awareness.  All kinds of awareness, but mainly the hunger thing.

WJ: What’s next for your career?

JS: Well, I’ve been offered a teaching position at UT and I’ll probably do that.  I’ll teach some kind of class on integrated cultural design or something.  They really didn’t care about my work, they thought it was cool that my work was shown at MOMA, so that’s what counts.  I’d really like to teach, not teach, but have that job.  It’s art, so they should really just work on their art, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.  Anyways, yeah that’d be cool.  I’m pretty tired of getting hungry every 3 months so I can get paid.

WJ: Well, I think that wraps it up, thank you for stopping by- I wish you the best.

JS: Thanks for having me.  You know, I really meant what I said about your eyes.

WJ: I know.

JS: Cool.  Well, take care.

  1. November 10th, 2010
  2. December 5th, 2010
    Trackback from : Dancehunter

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