W a l t e r z A l t e r
p o r t f o l i o
a r t i c l e s
Gerry Fialka Interview
W- Same Here
G- OK, the first question is- What is the best thing for a human being?
W- (Pause) Wow, that sort of triggers a connection to the Bill Clinton interview where he was being grilled about Monica Lewinski and one of his answers was a savvy dodge where he said "That depends on what your definition of "is" is. Your question kinda depends on what the definition of "best" is. That can be culturally relative as hell.
I guess a curious mind, an inquisitive mind.
G- OK. The next question- What's your favorite form of information?
W- I'm an info junky, I don't care how it comes in. Optical is primary. a huge area of our brain is devoted to the optical cortex. Area 17 of the brain is so connected to a lot of other things, including dreams. I'd say the best form of info intake would just be eyeball intake.
However the best form of media to present info would be multi-media with lots of simultaneous stuff going on. It's the most instructive if not the most fun once you get it all sorted out but it's not for people who are anxiety ridden over info overload, people who go "I don't want to think about it, it's too much, I can't process that..." you know, that sort of thing. But we gotta, we're not smart enough for civilization basically. We created this monster that's running away with us and we're not smart enough to grab the reins, that's the problem.
You can't shy away from considering data of any kind you know, it's gotta be met with an ability to confront and confront realistically rather than flee from it. You know there's that old indwelling response...that flight of fight thing, either one is a little bit inadequate, but if your going to react, the best is to confront and I think that's a radical progressive standpoint.
G- Beautiful. Do you think this tendency for humans to collect information or gather information is hardwired or do we learn it?
W- Jeez, that just goes back to whatever research has been done on the dawn of consciousness. Who's that guy, Rupert Sheldrake, who says that we used to get info as audible voices in our heads. So trying to figure out what is foundational or what is derivative in that regard is kind of tough.
G- But what do you think off the top of your head, are we hardwired to gather info?
W- That's a tough one because we're hard wired to see in 3-D, that monkeys in the trees kind of thing. We have eyeballs in the front of our head for really good depth perception as a part of survival. We got an ability to handle that kind of information.
G- That is good. OK, so now what is your earliest memory you can conjure up?
W- (Laughs) I run this through my head a lot trying to figure myself out, that old "know thyself" thing that was over the entrance of some ancient Greek oracle. My earliest memory, believe it or not, I was looking up at my delivery nurse's face. I was a difficult birth, my mom was 72 hours in labor with me. I recall my relief at being held in something other than a vice grip so I remember the tactile sensation of the contrast of being held and being put from her arms into one of those old time basket scales that was hard and unyielding. For some reason I remember those two things. I may be hallucinating all this, but I also have memories of my mom in labor screaming. I remember the sound was very echo-y in the delivery room. That's pretty early. I don't know if that can be validated, but it seems real to me.
G- Do you think memory is a curse or a blessing?
W- (laughs) Unless you want to be the character in that film “Memento” where you gotta tattoo your own name, it's probably a blessing, though a mixed one. And certainly one we don't have a handle on. We don't even know where memory is stored. It might not even be stored in the brain. That's what that Sheldrake guy thinks and I think he's on to something. There's practically zero rigorous scientific evidence that the brain can contain little data sets that constitute memory. We may synthesize a lot of it, but memory may well be stored in the quantum physicists' "Dirac Sea"- a pure sub-quantal zone of pure vibration or whatever, it's almost beyond comprehension, and that's the problem, we're on a planet that requires more mental capabilities than we have to understand. But hopefully that is going to drive understanding rather than discourage and create a kind of defensive ignorance.
But memory, whether it's a curse or a blessing, is definitely a blessing and in fact the technology, the birth of writing was to memorialize land and property ownership and contracts, that was the birth of writing, those were mnemonic devices to keep track of all that infrastructure that was being created by early civilization. It was just too complex to commit it all to memory. You know the Druids, they were a serious sect among the Celtic tribes that were charged from birth to increase their memory power so they could remember their rituals, their legends, songs and sagas, the king lists, who had rights to what territories.
G- That was good. So who were your earliest role models within your immediate family, just briefly...and outside your particular family and what did you learn from them
W- That's a complex question, you know, different members for different things. I remember fondly in one sense that I had a crazy uncle who was eccentric, lived with my Italian grandparents in a small room in their cottage in Marin. My grandfather wanted to gravel the driveway. My uncle said no, we'll have none of that, it's a waste of money. He proceeded then, every night on his way home from work on the bus from San Francisco, to pick up a rock from the creek bed near the bus stop. Before dinner, we'd hear this "whack whack" from the back yard and he was there making little ones out of big ones, breaking these rocks up. He graveled the entire freaking driveway, all by hand. He was kind of compulsive and I'm kinda that way, when I get on a task, I stick with it. I got that sense of persistence from him
W- That's good. Now, any others within your immediate family?
W. I remember my dad was a happy fellow. He was always up and used to toss me in the air and catch me. I got an ability to clamber about, climb trees, feel comfortable with heights. He'd read to us which was good. He'd read fairy tales to us and I enjoyed that more than looking at the Grimms Fairy Tales book myself cuz it had creepy Gothic pictures in it. There were some negative influences from him later on in life when I became some sort of rival when I reached adolescence and he felt threatened in some way. We moved around a lot cuz my dad was in the Air Force in WWII, we were on the road all the time going across country. But his positive outlook was a compensation for not having a stable place to be brought up in.
G- How about just outside your immediate family? Who were your early role models?
W- I have shady recollections.,,there was a woman who used to take care of me in Louisiana, an old guard Southern lady who was very understanding of what a child was, you know, I just got that sense, even though I was just two or three years old. Her name was "Grandma Rowe" and I got the sense that I'm being looked after and in later life I could always draw upon that sense when things got a little scary.
G- So did they raise you Roman Catholic?
W- Yah, sort of half assed. You know they had this "Communion" thing that was a big deal, sort of a sublimation of ancient child sacrifice. And then there's this second phase when you reach adolescence called "Confirmation" and I just opted out of that. I just never felt that religion was necessary or important or worth contemplating other than overcoming its many shortcomings.
G- Do you think evil people exist or does Evil use people as a vehicle?
W- You know, one of the recent Popes said that the Devil actually existed as an actual thing in the world. No I don't think people are evil, they just sometimes get brought up like dogs, brought up wrong. Infancy is a strange fucking period, it's like helplessness expanded into the very fiber of the infant mind which can't do a damned thing yet is aware of pain. That helplessness is engineered in real deep and the compensations for it are where we get into real trouble. I can get a little Freudian if necessary. That's where the infantile complexes like narcissism and sadism come into play and that can be brought out given certain conditions.
I think people are born "tabula raza" basically. We got certain instincts and the right wing gun nuts like to talk about that sort of shit, you know, the instinct to survive and dominate. But basically we come in just ready to be programmed and it gets a little bit gnarly.
G- That was good. My next question deals with enemies and how you deal with your enemies and I'm going to read a couple of quotes from various thinkers and we'll go from there- Alan Watts says "If you acknowledge your enemies, you empower them" and Coppola says...
W- Is that Francis Ford or some other
G- No, Francis Ford stole it from the Mob- "Keep your friends close and your enemies...
W- "Closer"..heh, yah...
G- And JFK said "Forgive your enemies but don't forget their names" and lastly a Chinese proverb says, "If you can't agree with your enemies, you'll be controlled by them". Start with the first one just as a jumping off point, but the basic question is how do you deal with your enemies? What do you think of Alan Watts saying, "If you acknowledge your enemies, you empower them"?
W- I've thought about that a bit and my first take is to just convert them, and if you're going to convert them you've got to be able to communicate and if you're going to communicate, you've got to know who they are and study their moves and that's basically it. Without communication then all the confrontational sides of dealing with enemies come into play.
And it all depends on your level of insecurity. If you're so fucking insecure that you think you can't influence the mind of someone who wants to strangle you to death then you're powerless. You have to have the kind of confidence in your world view to make the good arguments for civilization that have evolved over all these years. You've got to have that ability and you don't get that ability by not acknowledging that there's an enemy there. But, in a way, in a certain sense that's true, I mean Alan Watt's take is great in the guise of street smarts. You can be on a bus and you feel some guy staring at you for some god knows what reason, maybe he's an ambulatory psychotic, then you kind of don't want to have eye contact. Eye contact can be dangerous on the streets in certain situations. In that case, Watts' advice is pretty savvy.
But in the realm of international diplomacy, I'd say it doesn't work. It's just an info dense era and we've got to handle that data, the info that our enemy hands us and work with it.
G- That reminds me of the American Indian saying that "your enemy is your best teacher"
W- That too, and, you know I fault the left and progressives quite a bit for not studying the thoughts and ideas and hopes and aspirations of the enemy beecause there's room for communication in a lot of that. I was living up on Oregon for the past ten years and some of them right wing gun nuts became my best friends. They've got some pretty good ideas about liberty and fighting for liberty and they've got some pretty savvy insights into who the movers and shakers behind the scenes really are and a lot of that old John Birch Society literature is great conspiracy stuff. I mean, if you are a 9/11 Truther, then you are a conspiratorialist and if you are into conspiracy then you gotta read some of that old shit about the 40 Committee, the World Bank, the Council on Foreign Relations, the CFR, the Rockefellers, the Bilderbergers...that's for real, man, those guys ARE the enemy, they are the ONES. It's not an easily identifiable cabal, but they do exist and they do meet and they do confer on our fates and subtly manipulate the traffic of raw materials and high finance.
G- That was good. James Joyce was the first projectionist in a theater in Dublin about a hundred years ago and he says I'm out of here, this is stupid, why should I go inside a movie to see a movie of a tree when I can go outside and see a real tree. Then Faulkner says years later "Sometimes the best fiction is more true than journalism". Why do we as humans have to recreate things in order to get them? Why do we have to go to a theatrical play of people acting out life, why done we just live life?
W- It goes back to ancient drama, you know, and ancient story telling. This is preserving our myths and our legends. That's where it began and then it evolved. And that process of evolution is a damned interesting study. It just shows how there was a change in human consciousness due to our capacity to handle more complex worlds, that ancient story telling morphed into morality plays, I mean theater before Shakespeare was all religious themes, presenting religious myths and stories, as well as controlling the population, then it became secularized in the era of Shakespeare and drama came into its own, not as a vehicle for religious ideas or tribal ideas, whatever, but now capable of acting free form and declaring its own priorities, what it wants to tell about human nature, the human tragedy, our foibles and ironies. But theater is also supposed to be a little bit didactic in some ways, instructive and help people cope with situations in life. And that whole side of it is of course different than the psychological side of it, the Aristotelian notion of catharsis in drama. You experience someone else being acted upon violently and then your fate seems to be mild in comparison. You life through it, you don't have to do it because you vicariously appreciated what it entails.
G- Very good. So Louis Hines published photos of child labor in the newspapers of the '20's and it changed the laws. His act was the tipping point. Upton Sinclair wrote a book called "The Jungle" and that was also the tipping point that changed the laws. I'm talking about printed matter as opposed to film, music, theater and art. Has any of them ever been the tipping point.
W- I think that after Gutenberg's revolution kind of settled down and became affordable and not monopolized, I mean anyone could obtain a printing press, like anyone could get a photo copier back in the '80's, then you had pamphleteers. That was like the age of pamphleting. That was huge. It got our American Revolution going. Bourgeoisie as it was, it was probably the only enduring, successful revolution that really occurred against the oligarchy, the aristocracy and overthrew that whole schematic of governing. But I'd say the pamphlets were pretty important back then.
G- You're saying anybody could be a newspaper like today anybody can be a network. But have any films or music been the tipping point?
W- Rodney King, the Rodney King video, man!
G- Did it change the law?
W- If change the law is the deal, I don't know, but it certainly changed shit!
G- Yah, we say that after the Rodney King video, the LAPD changed their motto from "serve and protect" to "treat 'em like a King"
G- Talk about intention now, in your creative process. A screen writer told me that he thinks a good film is when you can clearly see the intention of the maker. Then Kubric says the opposite, a good film is when you can not see the intention of the film maker. What role does intention take in your creative process?
W- Intention... It changes somewhat depending on what phase of a work of art I'm in. In the primary phase, the intention is just to start. That's the way I work, that's my style. I don't visualize on the canvass and then start filling in, you know, that paint by numbers thing. I learned early on from a meeting I had as an art student at UC Berkeley in '63 and '64, I went over to some student's place, he had a Kathe Kolwitz print he wanted to show me and basically what I got from our brief encounter was that a work of art should show signs of struggle. I took that to heart and I work that way.
It's what the hell do I do with the first markings I put down on a sheet of paper, canvas, whatever. It's not intimidating, but you wonder what the hell do we feel like today, you know...curvilinear...painterly...hard edge...? I work in a lot of different styles. Right now I'm painting cows cuz there's a lot of them up where I am. Although I work abstract, I can do naturalistic rendering.
G- Duchamp said "there is no art without an audience". What part does an audience play in your creative process?
W- Who was it that said anyone can be an artist? Practically none. I'm seething with anger inside over numerous things. My inner world is filled with a lot of disquiet. I have a lot of inner conflict and stuff and if anyone derives some benefit, or even entertainment- I'll go that far, from my inner struggles, that's good. I'm not a propagandist, I don't do agitprop. You probably wouldn't find me designing an Obama poster because basically it's just not as fun and not as free.
G- Perfect lead in to this- T.S. Elliot said "poetry is outing your inner dialog" So tell me what your inner dialog or inner consciousness, what form is it in?
W- (Snickers) Verbal. My inner dialog is incessant. And if I'm doing a task, it even becomes compulsive and repetitive. But I don't let it scare me or anything. Basically I'm trying to figure myself out so it's kind of point A to point B and logical. I try to be logical, I don't do intuition. Intuition is way iffy. I don't see it as the shibboleth that a lot of the New Age people do. Intuition is just logic that hasn't come to light. Our subconscious is an iceberg of which we are the tip. It's fuming and boiling and simmering in realms of simultaneity that we can't conceive because we think in a linear fashion.
I mean, if in a flash you saw your subconscious in all its panoramic panoply at once, you'd be struck dumb, you'd be turned into a catatonic, cuz there's some powerful stuff in there, there's a whole universe and it's all potential with derivative spinoffs of every thought...that's that Dirac Sea thing happening again, the virtual particle universe, it's sub quantal, it's there and on a firm scientific basis. But I do distrust intuition because A. people who are highly intuitive don't do any better at the lottery or gaming tables than anyone else and B. you can have wrong intuitions.
G- That just reminds me of two other things- artists sometimes try to create things that there are just no words to describe and then Tony Conrad said "The role of the artist is to break laws that haven't been made yet".
W- Yah, yah, and McLuhan talks about the artist as being a societal antenna and perceiving the actions of media that are unperceived.
G- What first attracted you to pursue art? Did your parents take you to art museums...
W- Oh fuck no.
G- How did you see art first, in books? Did you do kid drawings and then see some artist and say I want to do that?W- Well, back to this nature, nurture, tabula raza thing, there are some things that may be programmed in and Rupert Sheldrake talks about these meme patterns that may be transferable and I may have picked up some things from my ancestors cuz on my dad's side of the family my grandfather was extremely creative. Although he was an aircraft mechanic, he made these cool things out of metal from his shop- little boxes, table legs, lamp bases, out of airplane parts. On my mother's side there was a couple of artists, some painters, and we had their paintings in our house. There might be a genetic predisposition.
G- But besides that, when did you first see an artist and go "ooh, I want to do that"?
W- I used to enjoy watching craftsmen. If a plumber came to the house, I'd be over his shoulder watching everything. I remember watching a glazier fix our window with putty, the old school thing. When ever we got the car repaired I'd be as close as they'd let me get.
G- But Walter, here you got a piece in this article for a multimedia installation and it looks like a tree with a bunch of TV's hanging off it. Did you see some video art guys like William Wegman and say "I could do that"?
W- There was Nam Jun Paik and he was it. Nobody touched video because everyone in the art community were technophobes, you know. Somehow the video medium simply was never approached. I mean there were some rich established artists that could have messed around with it, the equipment was expensive and esoteric back then. But even as the equipment became available it was that "kill your television" generation. An I'm going, no don't kill your television, watch more than one simultaneously in a multi-screen array...
G- When did you first come up with that term? Did you see it in "The Man Who Fell to Earth"?
W- That was in there working subconsciously, but not consciously. I got involved in this Inter Dada '84 event. It was a big convocation of mail artists, stamp artists, neo-Dadists.
We had a big performance at the Victoria Theater and Terry McMahon wanted me to do something with the stage and I thought I'd put some TV sets up there because I really did love television, it was a big influence on my formative years, and I thought well, maybe I'll just line the front of the stage with TV.s and have them on, maybe a theatrical lime light arrangement. So I asked all the participants if I could borrow their TV's. I had this old VW bus that I'm still driving that I stacked a couple dozen TV's in and I was driving past this mom and pop store that had a stack of milk crates in the alley and I thought "Wait! I got some pedestals! I unloaded the TV's, sneaked back to the alley and snagged about 50 of them, my bus was full of milk cartons, I had to work fast and made a clean getaway and set them up on the side extensions of the stage.
And that was my first multimedia presentation. People told me it was cool and I thought I gotta use these TV's somehow. So they got involved with my sculptures, fused together because it was a natural.
G- So you would say you are a multimedia artist? You are a painter too?
W- Yah, I've done it all. I love crafts, I've taught ceramics, I've done jewelry making and casting...
G- Let's talk about painting just for a second. Marshal McLuhan says that everything we invent extends some human sensorium, so the knife and fork is an extension of the hand, clothing extends our skin...what does the paint brush extend for you?
W- He was way metaphorical with that, but he has a point there. Of course it extends the hand. The caves at Lascaux and other examples have these hands painted, the cave men filled a reed tube with pigment and blew it across their hands laid on the cave wall. But it's also an extension of the inner imagination of wanting to output an image and when I was first getting started, reality was the deal, but it was mostly pencil rather than paintbrush to begin with.
G- What do you think the motive of the cave artist was?
W- Boy, that's a tough one. This could get us into a whole other discussion about rock art and cave art because a lot of those images are other worldly. I'm not talking UFO talk. They may have wanted to gain power over the fleeing beasts they hunted, so they painted them on a successful hunt. The hunt was so freaking important to the survival of their tribe that hey had to immortalize it somehow. It might have been an incipient awareness of mortality because so they might have wanted something about the life of their people immortalized. I dunno, it's a hard one to figure. But then you get later cultures that left behind their artifacts that were decorated that may have had magical or ritual motivations, but eventually people figured out they could do it because it looked nice, maybe enhanced marriageability for example, like ritual adornment. It could have signified some sort of heroic deed or a ritual rite of passage like scarification. It's really speculative to try to wire that down because we done' have the tools yet to get into the minds of ancient humans. Anthropologists study them today and there are a lot of clues in the few surviving indigenous peoples.
G- Staying on that same line of extensions, the other medium you work in besides paint was television, what do you think the TV extends?
W- I'm with McLuhan on that that. It's an extension of our neurological wiring. It becomes an outering of our neural network. I see the salient impact of television, apart from what it might represent metaphorically, as being a little bit beyond it being an extension or what it might be an extension of. It's an interesting conceptual model that technology does extend, but how that works or what are the mental dynamics that are involved with that, as McLuhan implies, is open to research. The McLuhan Media Center at the University of Toronto is long closed and McLuhan has basically been forgotten.
G- Peter Greenway said that "Cinema is much to rich a medium to be left to story tellers." He's not trying to say that narrative is bad, he's talking about moving image art. Do you think that experimental film makers or experimental video makers are telling a story a different way or doing something completely different?
W- I don't know, but they are being effective because a lot of vanguard cinema techniques pop up in advertisements before they are incorporated in main stream cinema. I don't think it's story telling. I think it's more immediate. Story telling is more of a serial process. It's linear and with all the limitations of linearity. I think that what's happening with experimental film is what happened with cubism in its attempt to present more points of view at once. I think that experimental film tries to approach the simultaneous somehow. Not only that, but there is also a fascination with the ability of cinema or visual media to obfuscate the equipment it uses to present itself or the techniques used to bring it into being. The story is basically an overlay on all this incredible process involving all these technologies and decision making processes and aesthetic judgments and so on. I think that the experimental film makers are trying to bring us into the process. What was that Truffeau film, "Day for Night", where he played these cinematic jokes on us by getting us involved in the dramatic narrative and then zoom back and you'd see the stage sets, the workmen, the guy holding the mike and so on, all these taboo's. I think that that is totally enlightening, to have the process revealed.
G- Joyce and Zappa both said "All times are happening now".
W- I'm not sure that that defines or differentiates anything from the background, it becomes the background and becomes meaningless, like "God is everywhere", so why do you call him God, why do you even have him differentiated out as a category?
G- Marshal also said, "It's not a good or bad movie, it's a good or bad viewing experience". Any comments?
W- I can see what he's saying. Here I am starting to get all analytical but wait, TV, you know, you can use the toilet, grab some food during the commercial...that's one kind of viewing experience...that's a really cool viewing experience rather than being in the Orpheum Theater, this temple of ritual worship with these cinema gods and what have you. People tend to forget that there's like the popcorn and the candy at the refreshment bar and how would that differ from the viewing experience at the drive in theater where cinema is immediate to a sexual encounter.
G- I talked to the director Michael Apted about 25 years ago when MTV first started. I asked him why do the rock video makers feel so obliged to edit fast? And he said, "Because we can take in information faster". It was making Martin Scorcese cut his films faster. Can we actually learn to take in information faster or are we brainwashed to this rate?
W- Probably. What ever happened to Speed Reading? That was an excellent idea, should have been taught in every grammar school. We have to, we must! It's either that or civilization is going to implode into a new dark age. Because we can't handle the complexity and simultaneity of current info quantities. Definitely in that regard, experimental cinema was training. So are video games.
G- Walter, what's more important, conviction or compromise
W- The knee jerk me wants to go "conviction, of course" but it's a shared reality, so I'd go maybe 75% conviction and 25% compromise, OK, if you need a formula.
G- Is ambition based more on fear of joy?
W- Wow, ambition. I dunno. Depends on the resolution factor in looking at the question. Ambition is like this one word that describes a concept that we kind of know what it is, like "look out world, here I come", something unstoppable. But ambition might have some other senses to it. Seeing potential could be a side to ambition. Seeing potential in a pile of scrap metal that could be a sculpture piece. Is that ambition? Ambition also implies a sense of persistence which I think is good for people to have as long as you don't persist mindlessly or robotically.
G- That was good. Is perception reality?
W- It's pretty damned close!
W- The resolution factor of the human optical cortex and retina is way up there. So, yes.
G- (Laughs) OK, so I loyalty based on reason?
W- See these questions really really open up a can of worms. Are we loyal to "mom" when we're in her arms? So much of our psychological motivation goes back to these ancient layers from infancy. Is this loyalty or does it get Oedipal and over the top and you end up with pathological states of mother worship? If loyalty isn't based on reason, it should be. Let's just put a little imperative to that one.
G- OK. Now McLuhan also probed "Finnegan's Wake" by James Joyce. He said we all have creative powers that we use at night while we're sleeping. Everybody Dreams. Not to be elitist, but he says "artists dream awake". What roles have dreams played in your creative process?
W- Not that much. Dreams are really weird and mysterious. I'm pretty much a strict Freudian on interpreting dreams. It's all ultimately going back to these early biological, and yes sexual drives. The ability of the mind to synthesize such images in high resolution that defy the laws of physics. The freedom implicit in that ability of some part of our mind is pretty insane, it's incredible. I'd say a dream is pure hypothesis where any image can morph into any other image seamlessly and become a whole other little playlet, you know, for a little while and then it changes into something else; at least in my dreams.
Lately I've been having some longer dreams with a more developed plot (laughing) you know, at least they're not jumping like sneaking from one movie in the cinemaplex to another. But dreams are just an incredibly deep mystery and I've given up interpreting them. I'm more interested in the mental structures that bring it about. How is it that we can remember some and not remember others? Talking about that question on memory from before, why don't we all have a photographic memory? I mean that would be survival plus. Why didn't we all evolve with photographic memory? But maybe it's better to forget. Maybe life has been so traumatic at various junctures through history that people needed to forget.
G- Joyce says, "remember to forget"
W- (Laughs) He nailed it! But then you gotta select the right memories to forget and then you can't forget them so...
G- You said an important thing in your emails and I always appreciated how poetic, lyrical your emails are. You mentioned that Marshal said that our technologies have democratized us. He was also saying that we get addicted to them so they have services and disservices. So I mean that's what it's doing but it also does have disservices.
W- But ain't that just what fire is, you know, you can burn your house down, cook your meal, keep yourself warm...a lot of that is context driven.
G- So why is it so difficult for humans to consider the fact that life may be pointless?
W- (Snickers) If there was no God, we'd be forced to invent one, right? It all depends on your resolution factor again. How wide do you want to go with your point of view? I mean life is not purposeless when you're hungry and you gotta get down to the diner, right? There's purpose there. There's a lot of little purposes. Do they add up to a gigantic purpose? Who knows? Maybe life is just a big freaking accident. Although, I don't subscribe to the Big Bang theory, that we are somehow a bunch of atoms in Brownian motion and somehow we just clumped together. There are arguments counter to that. Things may not be as accidental as we think. I mean there that whole Steady State theory thing that says the Universe is not expanding and there is some proof that the red shift does not indicate age or distance in the Universe.
G- And also, Marx said that the purpose of the world was not to interpret it but to change it and Marshal said that's a high aspiration, we don't change diddly squat, our inventions change us.
W- Yah, that could be really true. Our inventions require training, they grow more complex. The engines of war and the engines of infrastructure like Roman roads and Colosseums and whatever, they required a different way of thinking about the world, required the ability to make calculations, mathematics and that sort of stuff. Hey Marx, you wouldn't have had an industrial proletariat without industry, you know. The capacity of humans to conceive liberty as their birthright, rather than peasant servitude as their birthright would not have existed without that industry. Without the creation of surplus value which then trickled down as industrially manufactured goods that were affordable by poor people. Like metal pots and pans, a decent kitchen knife, what have you. All that was no longer handicraft.
And interestingly, the reaction against industrial production of readily available tools for the everyman, was basically the handicrafts movement which evolved along with various guild organizations to unionizing and Marxism/Leninism. That began as an attempt ot protect handicrafts against the inroads of cheap manufactured goods. Even in colonialist scenarios, where manufactured goods were introduced to tribal areas the impact was quite severe on them as well.
McLuhan might have spent a little more time on investigating how that happened; tribal societies when they get slammed into an industrial milieu where they have the tools of industrial production in their hands. He describes another process of going from cliche to to quaintness to archetype. Our ability to handle a complex universe allows us to step outside of our cultural milieu, we became outsiders and that might constitute some form of psychological amputation that occurs where we actually look at our psychological limbs laying on the ground and can paradoxically come to understand them because they become accessible to analysis.
G- So how about this in the creative process- one creates what one resists.
W- That's dangerous territory because you can become what you resist.
G- You are what you hate
W- Yah. That's an ever present danger.
G- Moshe Feldenkreis said it's literally possible to identify a weakness and incorporate it to become a strength rather than trying to overcome the weakness.
W- Suddenly I'm thrown into confusion with that comment. Probably because there are so many and I can't pick an example. You know, I was always such a dweeb and an outsider, kind of dorky and nerdy. But I don't know if I turned that into a strength or if my background changed to the point where that became an asset in the computer era, you know.
G- In what element has your creative process changed over the years since you first started, and what have remained the same?
W- I dunno, I jump from media to media. I'm easily bored and I've tried so many things. All I can say is that I've become more philosophical and more all-inclusive in my art work, less excluding. I mean pretty much anything's good. I've always enjoyed working with found objects in sculpture and assemblage. I don't know that my approach has changed so much, just that I've switched so much between them. Right now I'm wrapping up some poetry and I'm doing some really fun Chagall like cow portraits...
G- So you're a poet too?
W- Yah, but free form
G- What do you call the function of poetry?
W- I like to create little detonations. I don't do narrative poetry that wants to prove a point. I want to prove many points so my stuff jumps around a lot like a remote channel tuner. I don't mind that, my work is anti-narrative.
G- You know, Rexroth said, "The purpose of poetry is to woo your love and subvert the bourgeoisie".
W- I can hang with that. But you know, subvert your own inner bourgeois as well, I mean learn from it.
G- A Warhol person said “There's nothing more bourgeois than dissing the bourgeois"
W- Hey man, from cliche to archetype
G- OK, how do you explain our culture's disdain for old age whereas American Indians respect their elders?
W- It's like we didn't respect primitive societies when we first encountered them, we just bulldozed them. But then after we laid waste to these many cultures, the anthropologists went in and and preserved those cultures and from that came a rather large movement to preserve these cultures. Maybe our rejection of images of old age and the utility of old age will be rehabilitated in the same way.
I'm 67 years old and I still do not like to hang out with old people. Most people simply haven't used their minds to explore and when you get old you kind of are pulling in and getting ready for death. But there are just incredible fountains of knowledge and wisdom in people who do have aware minds. Some of us took the rubric of "lifelong learning" seriously, we have curious minds, we just want to figure shit out. At that point I think that the modern era will respect and be more abiding of that side of old age. But there are no universities for old people, besides, old people are hard to upgrade and update, you know.
It's regrettable, but at the same time I think that ancestor worship has its liabilities and the guarding of tradition at any expense can be an extreme liability and create extreme conservative and repressive regimes.
G- Can anger be a productive emotion?
W- Shuh! It's like the engine! (laughs) Anger is for sure an impulse among propulsions. Not only that, but anger can get your focused so you're not thinking in a scatter brained manner. And anger, I've noticed, in the realms of transcendental phenomena, can work magic, it can.
G- Can satire be destructive?
W- Rarely (giggles). I wouldn't want to satirize Mother Theresa though, you know. But on the other hand go for it. Satire and Irony is a lens, man, a tunneling electron microscope.
G- Now Lewis Carrol said that "I believe in at least six impossible things before breakfast". Have you believed in any impossible things lately?
W- Um, I'm really a practical guy. I follow the dictates of reason. I'm more inductive than I am deductive. I don't have like these notions pop into my head and then take over. The fact that I'm writing this poetry and am going to self publish and have it on Amazon and maybe make a few bucks off it (laughs) I mean that's way impossible.
G- Josef Bueys says "Make the secrets productive"
W- Bueys? I've always wondered how to pronounce his name. Great freaking artist, man. I was in Berlin visiting an old girlfriend just this last Summer and caught this huge Josef Bueys exhibition and it just drove me to my knees. But "make the secrets productive", that's deep. But I'm not going to tell you any of my secrets. (laughs)
G- What's the most important difference between men and women, physical aside?
W- Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Them hormones do shit to your head, you know. Both that testosterone and that estrogen.They change the way we think. It's a brain chemistry thing. It's chicken/egG- ideas drive brain chemistry and brain chemistry drives ideas. There's no telling where it starts and stops but it's for real. I don't want to dis the feminist movement which I respect a lot, but my experiences with PMS-ing are...vivid. (laughs)
G- Why do you think women live longer than men?
W- I don't think they are under as much pressure to perform and bring home the bacon. That's traditional but that's changing.
G- Walter, how do you find peace of mind?
W- (Laughs) I don't find it necessary to have peace of mind! I don't get that peace of mind and bliss shit. I'm not a follower of the mystic of the Caucasus, George Ivonovich Gurdjief, that closet fascist and agent of the Tsarist Okhrana, but I do believe we need a little irritation, maybe back to that 25%-75% split. We need pleasure to pull us. Irritation pushes but I think it's very limiting because it has you looking backwards and reacting to a single point cause, whereas pleasure provides an array of choices and the fact that our volition can act freely, when you have pleasure pull is so much greater and that, to me, makes it far more important. But, you know, irritation keeps you on your toes.
G- Well you know Frederick Douglass said "There's no progress without struggle".
W- Yah, and I don't want it to be that way and it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe the kinds of struggles can change. Instead of brutal physical struggles for survival, we can dialog our troubles away, you know, have the struggle occur in cognitive realms in a gradient learning way so we can handle more struggle that comes our way with the force of our cognitive abilities.
G- If you were walking down the street today and you met yourself as a 12 year old, what would you say to yourself?
W- (Laughing) I am myself as a 12 year old so that's not going to happen.
G- Which way should the toilet paper come off the roll, over or under?
W- Aw, man, my last girlfriend made that a really big deal. It had to come over the top for her. For me it really doesn't matter as long as both plys are properly registered on the perforations.
G- So a publisher comes to you, Walter, and offers to publish your autobiography. Just off the top of your head, what would the title be?
W- The same as my book of poetry: " Engine of Didactic Beauty"
G- If there was a statue erected in your honor, where would it be displayed and what would it be made of?
W- (Laughing - can't talk) OK...um, it would be some place humble, some place ordinary. That's why I like found object sculpture, it ennobles the ordinary. And what would it be made of, um, yow, now that it's getting towards lunch time, I'm thinking some sort of food
G- Tell me something good you never had and you never want.
W- Oh, is the object of our desire necessarily good, then, is that what you're saying? I can't imagine that, you know, I'm a hedonist (laughs) if it's good, I want it.
G- So you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
W- Total optimist.
G- Where'd you get that from, your parents?
G- So if you were in a vat of vomit up to your face and someone threw a bag of shit at your face, what would you do?
W- Insult added to injury. I guess it would propel me to get out of that vat of vomit, then wouldn't it. Then I'd clock him upside.
G- What';s the healthiest cultural shift you see developing?
W- The Internet. Oh yah, it's a total godsend and a boon to all humanity. Look at that shit they just revealed, those military papers, them Wikileaks, gimme a break
G- Don't we have enough documents about the government,? Why do we need more?
W- It show how it really works. It gives us ammo with which to confront the government and its many tyrannies.
G- What gives you the most optimism?
W- You know, Franklin D. Roosevelt said this when the nation had been laid flat by the depression for ten years, Germany was threatening, war was looming, it was just a dark hour. And he said something to the effect that if civilization can be measured by a graph with its ups and downs, the line through the peaks in the graph is an ascendant one. I really believe that.
G- Another local animator film maker, Larry Jordan, said recently, "Human beings conduct their lives from much stronger sources than the rational mind". How do you react to that?
W- I don't buy that. That's just doctrine, man, from the '60's. Everything is rational. I mean look at the laws of physics, totally rational, totally wired. I mean light travels at that speed, period.
G- Walter, what moment in your life were you absolutely, totally loved?
W- My Italian grandma loved me, but I don't know about a moment. That was kind of ongoing, that wasn't a moment. But I remember several moments when my dad taught me stuff. He didn't do it very often, unfortunately, but occasionally he'd say, "Now son, this is how it's done" and he'd show me how to do it.
G- That led me into this parent question I'm working on. It's twofold. Zappa made an anti drug commercial in the 60's and in it he says "Don't do speed, it will turn you into your parents".
W- (Laughs) Zappa, man...
G- Why do males, as we turn 50 and 60 years old, why do they not fret turning into their parents? But females go, I see myself turning into my mother. Why is it the females fret and the males don’t?
W- It might be a rivalry for dad's attention. They may not want to become their ancient rival.
G- Oscar Wilde said this well, he says, "Women become their mothers, that's their tragedy. No man does, that's his".
W- Yah, you know I've spent many hours blissfully self-analyzing and she's still behind the curtain. I don't have as many memories about her and I have some conflicts over her. Was she enough protection for me as an infant?
G- OK, we're about out of tape.
W- Yah I'm starving and need to make a pilgrimage to the Shanghai Dumpling King. Thanks Gerry.
G- Thank you, Walter.