Duplex: You just came back from Slovakia with another Duplex artist, Andrew Myers. How long were you there this last time?
Craig Goodworth: The Fulbright Project 2014-2015, was about a year. This last time was about two months. Two months in Europe, maybe about a month and a half in Slovakia. After doing family stuff in Europe I met Andy in Prague. I have this favorite hotel called the Zlate Jelena (The Golden Deer). It sounds too good to be true, you know, all this old world aesthetic around deer with really comfortable patios and terraces and a beer garden and all that. And it’s affordable for downtown Prague. So two days for him to get over the bulk of the jet lag. When he wasn’t sleeping we watched Euro soccer and visited the National Gallery. When my wife and kids arrived we all took a night sleeper train to Slovakia. He was in his cabin and us in ours. My kids kicked the shared wall. It wasn’t like two of us going out and doing it, it was us working and me bringing the family along.
D: Did you guys stay together for the full two months?
CG: We stayed in the same village. My family stayed in the same accommodation we had during the Fulbright year, it’s actually an empty parsonage. Eight houses down there is a little farm cheese making bed and breakfast where we got Andy hooked up. So we were eight houses from each other. We shared the pub and the little potravini for groceries. We shared a work car. It worked out well. Walking distance from the village is the Bella River and a cluster of barns. After the exhibition we did some on site studies with projections.
D: How did the kids like it?
CG: My son speaks all his mammals in Slovak, which I’m really proud of. He even likes his great grandfather’s peasant food – sheep cheese, potatoes, and bacon. He had some really tangible memories from the prior year. He’s four and a half, so we’re talking about a little kid. We had to leave his little toy pushka (rifle) in one of the cabinets. Of course he really wanted to take it back to Oregon but they’re hard to travel with – plastic guns. So as soon as we got back in there he went right to the cabinet and pulled it out. It was next to work clothes and a few books I had stored. So it was a continuity for us as a family.
D: That’s pretty incredible.
CG: Yeah, and even some of the folks in the village who were watching us unconvinced during the Fulbright year, you know unsure about these Americans living in their village– a couple of them saw us come back a year later and they were less cold.
D: That’s so cool. Do you have any direct family there?
CG: About two miles from that village is the village of my maternal ancestry. That’s where we spent time with blood and extended relatives. It was really wild because they saw online from material on the Gallery Bohuna webpage that I was planning to return. This was before I had actually contacted them. I was thinking after I work, I get to play. But they Googled the whole thing and came to the exhibition opening. I was thinking family is for after the exhibition, these are villagers and don’t need to see me doing the high art thing with all that culture/class complexity. And they ended up surprising me and coming to the opening.
D: Did they like it? Did they give you some positive feedback?
CG: Yeah they did. I read a poem during my lecture. One of my relatives is listening – you know everybody is listening, like arty people – but she’s listening intently to every word in translation. And then I got to the part where I said I want to do a zabjacka in Dovalovo, which is pig butchering in her village, with her and her family. She started tapping her feet and put her head up, teary eyed. She was right on it. Blood runs deep.
D: So you’ve only been back for not too long, maybe a month? Are you planning on staying put for a little bit?
CG: Yeah, my wife teaches, so that allows for summers when we can bite off a lot. And she grew up in Europe, so that’s another hook to visit grandma and grandpa over there. But there are no big pieces on the calendar coming up, other than of course this exhibition. Arizona is the place I grew up; I’ll likely be making a trip or two there. At present this summer is up for grabs. We’d like to travel overseas, but it’s a lot. I mean, two kids on these planes, trains and automobiles. Travelling is not as pleasurable as it used to be. The immigration stuff in Europe is touchy.
D: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got where you are in your art career?
CG: Well, I came late to art relative to some other artists I talk to. I was playing sports all the way up through college, and then I was supposed to play football at West Point, I didn’t necessarily seek it out, but generally if a guy can go to West Point he does it, just because he can. I probably made the right choice, not for the best reasons. After leaving that athletic world, I went to downtown Baltimore to the Maryland Institute College of Art. I show up in cowboy boots, and I didn’t know where I was, but I knew I was where I needed to be. I had some really great teachers in undergrad. One in particular was what they called him the philosopher-in-residence, but he was really a theologian. He knew Paul Tillich and he saw Bob Dylan play before his name was Bob Dylan. This guy was like 70 years old and he was a real gift to me. He opened up poetry. He gave me Rilke to read and we did several of these independent studies. Alongside making stuff. Poetry has become a viable language I make use of.
D: Did you ever feel during your sports career that you were drawn to art making, and you weren’t allowed to explore that?
CG: I was the guy that loved the hype of the game day but couldn’t stand all the practice and whistles and the locker room culture. In college, I was going nuts, I had no time. Like a beef cow, I had to eat certain amount of calories every day, lift weights and all that. I liked the physicality of football and made some good friends. It was what sent me to college, at least initially. During preseason football At Boise State, I was cutting out between practices and looking at books in the library, picking up George Segal and Manuel Neri. A lot of that figurative stuff that is really symbolic as well. But I was in two different worlds, even back in high school. I was the guy that was taking a high school art class at one high school, and driving to the other high school to finish classes and then start practice. I was just making sixteen-year-old art back then, drawing pretty girls and animals. I’ve been a drawer since I was a kid, I would say out of necessity. I had a hernia, a minor thing, when I was a kid. My mother tells me a story that once I had this gown on me waiting for minor surgical procedure and I was drawing horses and then they stopped being horses. The mark making became really rigorous, there were holes in the paper, and a lot like the way I draw now. I wished my mom had saved one of those things. Mark-making is a way of making sense of experience, of pre-rational stuff. That goes back.
D: Where’d you go to grad school?
CG: A bit after undergrad, I decided I wanted to see the world in other ways besides art. I began interdisciplinary graduate studies in sustainable communities at Northern Arizona University. It’s a mouthful, but it was the best choice I could have made. I was in a cohort with pissed-off activists and I was the only fine artist in the batch. There were some really neat folks. Then after I got traction in that program, I started missing making things. I started a low residency MFA through Azusa Pacific. So I was the guy living in a cabin working on two graduate degrees at the same time. I don’t regret it. I got to write my thesis for the sustainable community degree while living in a monastery in New Mexico and still keeping up with MFA because I only had to be in LA twice a year. It was like I got my cake and ate it too. I didn’t plan it all out, it just worked out. I wouldn’t do it any different.
D: How long did you live with the monks?
CG: A year.
D: Oh wow, were you there just as a guest or were you learning as a monk?
CG: At times I was called the artist-in-residence, at other times I was called an inquirer. Yes I was learning and I seriously considered leaving my bones there and doing the life. It was set up for me to write three hours a day, then I was doing manual work with the monks for the other three hours between services. I even worked with a guy in the canyon, unconnected to the monastery, doing some smaller scale logging. I got into some beautiful parts of Northern New Mexico. In the end, obviously I chose to get married.
D: When you’re working, is there always a relationship between literature or poetry and object making, or is it something that you start down one path and then create the other?
CG: Both. I have this schema that I use a lot when I lecture; it’s metaphor of antlers. A deer grows two of these in tandem, then sheds and grows them every year. The antlers mirror each other. They grow in proportion, and a healthy animal will have some degree of symmetry. The last five or six years in my practice, I think about writing, words, and language as one of the antlers I generate alongside the art making. They provide proportion, mutual clarification. I suppose I make art out of my gut instinct and rely a bit more on intellect when I write – words are a bit more conscious. Yet the language is still another iteration of art. Mostly I write poetry, not so much explanatory prose about what I make. It’s become my way, of generating meaning. With my poems, I’m starting to want them to live on the page, be able to hold their own in the published context, however I enjoy doing readings inhabiting the words (performance). At exhibitions, a lot of times I’ll read poems that were generated either prior to the art or after the art but connect to it, or extend it in some way. Again, it’s not a one to one match up. My antlers are not always symmetrical and balanced but I find it rich when there is language and narrative alongside materials and objects and they are all working within a kind of mythos.
D: Tell us about your choice of installation as medium.
CG: Installation is the medium that houses the various mediums with which I work. It allows for drawing, object and sculpture and it allows for explorations where I can bring the poetic in. I got a buddy who is a poet and we’ve done things with language and participatory installations that have this liturgical feel, where people are talking, or moving through spaces, stairwells, and language accompanies the group through space. Installation is spacious, it allows for all the ways of working to find a home. Drawing might be the closest antler tine to the body; it’s the most intimate, and then writing the mirroring tine – like literally keeping a journal or something. Installation is like the whole animal.
D: That’s such a great analogy, especially to have visual aid of a natural body as a way of explaining your work. It makes complete sense.
CG: Of course, deer shed them once a year, and exhibitions are like shedding, it’s when you release it, let it live its life in the forest. In a sense, they’re ornamental. You don’t need that much of an antler in nature to figure out who is going to mate or whatever. If an animal is fit enough in an ecological scenario, they can become grandiose. They have this excess life. The body is being given what it needs and the external skeleton can become ridiculous in its generosities. It’s sort of a little bit like art. But I don’t like to think of art as just ornamentation or a little extra thing that you throw ten percent on to the building fund, and plop art in front of it. The recent travels to Slovakia after four decades of communism makes me think. Ernest Becker has this quote that just intrigued me for years now:
“…the essence of man is really his paradoxical nature, the fact that he is half animal and half symbolic.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
You have to honor the animal and the symbolic life. You can’t just be a brut animal, or you’ll be happy with communism giving you a job, censored folklore and eating goulash all day. You’ll have no need to find alternative narratives. At the same time, if you live in just the symbolic life, you can get a little woo-woo, disembodied, and unaccountable to life as it’s lived in bodily ways (i.e. social body, the haves and have-nots). The symbolic and the animal, art and life, intellect and instinct, I really try to hold these two pretty close.
D: Do your kids, or your son at his age; have this instilled in them yet? Do you see him understanding that in the same way?
CG: I’d say it’s starting with my son. He loves stories. He’s making horses out of play dough, and putting saddles on top of them. Then it’s getting like… “I don’t want a saddle; I want a goat on top of it.” We spend a lot of time with David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. We watch that stuff and he’s kind of at the point where he’s trying to make peace with watching the little lion cub eat at the expense of the life of another. Some days he’s like totally okay with it, it’s what is. On other days he resists. Truth is, I’m still trying to work that out myself. I haven’t yet done daddy art classes. I haven’t got out the plastiline yet. There’s a day that he’s going to move from play dough and it’s probably coming soon. I want to ‘learn’ him, and see who he is, his particularity. He’s had this international exposure, which is really important to my wife and becoming more and more of a value to me. The other week he said, “I just want to get on a plane, and get on a train, and travel with you DaDa.” At present we live in a little compound with a privacy fence; I love the idea of having a nest and also like having real world contact at the same time. We’ve covered some real ground together. We’re lucky enough. It’s a privilege… and it’s work. You got to get the funding. I don’t do this on my own.
D: When you’re travelling abroad, when you went to Slovakia, what was your goal and material? You work a lot with raw materials; you must have to source them when you get to your location.
CG: My work is tied to place; Slovakia has an unprecedented scenario right now with forests being blown down. There’s always been wind there, but never at this scale. If you look at the Tatra Mountains, which are a part of the West Carpathians, in Slovakia and Poland, there are whole swaths of forests knocked down and enormous questions have come up as to what should be done. Replant? Tourism? A country like that has to ask these questions. The hunting traditions are tied up with that. The work out there responded to that evidence of grief in the land and then working directly with trees, and working with non-art people to get them. Really rich experiences going out with these logging crews, and saying, “Okay, there’s like five hundred trees. I want twelve. That one, and not that one, but that one,” and then figuring out how they get it up into the rig and we get it back to a log yard. Then suddenly, the log yard is my studio for four months.
Broadly speaking, working with the body has always been a concern. Even earlier on with the figure, they call it figure, but it was really about body for me. I worked with the carcass quite a bit during and after grad school. I did some work engaging the social body in Arizona. And then the tree is like a body. The specific tree that has a memory of a narrative that’s in it, encoded in the grain and such, that’s really interesting. The earth is a kind of body.
D: Then, is the process of death important to your material?
CG: Yeah, decay, time, hollowing and that other word, ‘hallowing’. And there’s something about grief and bearing witness. I think that’s a big one with land. These trees are re-contextualized in a gallery. For example this summer Andy and I collaborated on the installation Eco-tone Study #2: LIPTOV. I actually retrieved several of the logs I worked into trough forms from a former project. In a narrow hallway there were these two rotting eight-foot logs. I put all these staples, the same thing you do in day-to-day, rigging something up so it doesn’t keep splitting. Like village craft, but I did this ridiculous amount of stapling and binding these logs that are already rotted, and they are still going to rot even with my staples and clamps. All this triage binding starts to speak beyond practicality to the symbolic body and stitching. One of the log’s troughs was filled with salt; salt is tied to grief and tears. I haven’t ignored the context of my own body, knowing that I’m going to rot one day. I don’t just know it, I believe it.
D: What are you thinking about for October at Duplex?
CG: A while back I made a foal out of rope and steel about life-size. The other thing that’s always been intriguing to me is, well babies. I’ve got two of them. The fecundity of does having two or three fawns, in the likelihood that one or two would be lost, and that’s just a given in nature. When you see the foal, it’s hooded, there’s a sense of it being disempowered, but it’s a fully gendered little, animal that has this potential life. I haven’t been ready to part with this piece. I’ve had opportunity to sell it and I keep passing. Art generates meaning over time and this form still talks to me conceptually and formally as a kind of drawing. So, pairing the young horse in some way with a wall drawing or perhaps other objects from the desert would be the short answer.
D: Where did you come across the materials? Are they found objects?
CG: As for the foal, this is all the rope I could find on my grandfather’s farm in Pennsylvania. I’ve always had this curiosity, someday, maybe, I’ll take it apart uncoil it, just line it out and see how long it would be… I collected the animal skulls in Arizona and New Mexico and filled the cavities with beeswax, sort of re-enfleshing them. Some are dressed or swaddled with gauze, others more bound with rope. Later, I covered some of my writings with this beeswax. The text is like bones and the wax does the same en-fleshing thing. So these different works connect in different ways but I’ve never seen these works in a space together. While the foal piece fits within the Desert Works, in a way it references a place beyond the desert or a place that precedes the desert. I am thinking that it could make for an interesting ecology in the Duplex space. I mean in the specific space formally and that now all these bodies of work come together in Portland.
D: How much does object memory play into your work?
CG: When I was at the monastery, a monk let me collect a bunch of beeswax candles stubs. It’s like sacred, consecrated stuff. I feel like there’s some sort of… it’s endowed… like a responsibility, to not just be careless. I can’t just get rid of it or use it stupidly. So these boxes of it have been a burden, a pain in the ass to keep track of. Over the years I’ve used it in various ways in the works I just mentioned. Also, when my son was born I sculpted his head and made a series of casts in beeswax. There’s more to do. I don’t know yet.
D: It is nice when someone else can sort of give new purpose to an object and make it sacred for you. Especially when it is a little woo-woo, you can say, “Well, it came this way, I can’t dispute that.”
CG: Yeah, I like art that has some mystery and is spacious, that has room for the viewer. I do like the idea of the beeswax crossing a boundary from the monastery to culture. I think over-defining my work is really dangerous, I just need to know enough to know it’s to be offered, or shed, so to speak; and given back to the forest. Art has its own life to live.