Anthony McCall and Lawrence Weiner

In the following dialogue, taken from a telephone conversation in April of this year, Lawrence and Anthony discuss the immateriality of their work and their contributions to This World & Nearer Ones on Governors Island. For the show, Lawrence’s textual piece, AT THE SAME MOMENT, appears on the wooden fender racks of the Manhattan ferry slip and Anthony creates an installation inside St. Cornelius Chapel exploring the temporal, sculptural, and cinematic properties of light.

AM: Lawrence, I recently saw a mock-up of your project for This World & Nearer Ones: the words “AT THE SAME MOMENT” painted onto a pier where the ferry leaves for Governors Island. It was a mock-up? This is something that is yet to be built?

LW: Yes it is just a rough mock-up—it’s an interpretation. In the end, its final existence will be determined by the skill of the people that paint it on.

AM: Oh, it’s painted? So will it just fade away eventually

LW: Yes eventually, I would hope, it will fade away. I’m not going to de-install it. – It’s a funny work because it’s for sale as well. So anybody that would acquire it would have to allow it to stay there until it’s not there any longer. I’ve done that in Dublin and in other places, and people have no problems with it. It’s an understanding of sharing what they have.

AM: Well, that’s an interesting idea really: the painted object isn’t the object. in a sense.

LW: No, heavens no—it’s not the content. But it would be the same with you: the machines are not the work, it’s what the machines bring about.

AM: And, in fact, the big riddle with my projections is, where exactly is the work? is. You can’t touch it. You can see it but then it changes when you move. And it’s moving, too. So it’s never entirely stable.

LW: Well, in the physics sense you could touch it, as theoretically you can touch light. But you’re not aware—you can’t tell yourself that you felt it.

AM: You touch it because of the paradox of thinking there’s something solid and you have to see if it is or it isn’t. You know it isn’t but you touch it anyway.

LW: That’s an interesting aspect of works of yours that I’ve seen and liked. There’s this problem as well about electricity, and light is very much like electricity. There are whole aspects of it we use and we don’t understand. Electricity is simple for people because you don’t have to get involved in the mythos or metaphors of it. And even though we don’t know how electricity works, we use it—our entire existence is dependent upon it.

AM: Right, we know things about it which enable us to use it, but we don’t deeply know what it is. Something like that, isn’t it?

LW: Yes, and I’m convinced it’s very much like that with artwork. People really probably could know, but they never take the trouble to find out.

AM:Well, you know, it may be with art, that ambiguity is one of its primary virtues. I mean, I find with light, people bring with them an enormous amount of associations. Many times, people expect that I had those associations in mind when I produced a piece.

LW: Do you like when they bring associations? I try to keep my work as materialist as possible, so essentially they can’t bring that much with them. And there is an immediate sensual response to what the meaning is.

AM: But you don’t own words, those are jointly shared by everybody. Patronage is the most interesting thing about them: However blank you think you may be making them. I don’t know if you even do think of them that way, but if you did, and I do, too, you must know surely expect that people are going to come with rich associations for those words.

LW: But in order to experience a work of yours or experience of work of mine, we find ourselves on the same side of the barricade. They don’t have to know anything.

AM: That’s right. And, in fact, children without any art history have a very good time with my work. But I do find that people assume that I must, for instance, have a spiritual agenda, to give one example. Because it’s light and it’s often light coming from above. And, you know, you get questions about the Eye of God and so on. I’m always a little nonplussed by these questions.

LW: The Eye of God? I was watching this Werner Herzog thing: In Antarctica, there’s a crater where you can see right down into magma. And that’s really rather the same thing as the light from above. Looking straight down into the center of the earth. So maybe that’s the next work…

AM: Ha! Very good, yes. Well, you know, once you’re going vertical, you can go in two directions.

LW:I still keep thinking, watching somebody dig in the garden, that they really will hit China. I did believe it as a child.

AM: Yes, in my case it was Australia, for some reason.

LW: When we were making work for this Governors Island project specifically, we’re in this difficulty that it’s out of the way. And people are going out of their way to go to it. And does that put the work into a context or contextualization of being a special event or is it that we’re just saying it’s their problem that it’s not on their normal route? It’s an interesting point for me.

AM: It is, isn’t it? Well, in your case, your installation is part of their journey.

LW: Yes. And I think you can see it from the Staten Island Ferry, too.

AM: So Or your piece can become a riddle for people who see it out of the corner of their eye and then catch sight of it; as well as a Lawrence Weiner that they see on their way to the show.

LW: Yes, today nothing is a riddle. We’ve accepted, at some strange point, that people seem determined to know when something is art. When they see a Keith Haring on the wall, when they see this, when they see a work, they say, “Oh, that’s art,” and they very often just walk away. But they don’t think of it as selling shoes or something. I’m totally, totally enthralled by that concept. It’s all over the world. You can go up to people, they don’t know who you are, and there’s something on the wall. You say, “What is that shit?” And people say, “What do you mean? It’s art.” And they walk away.

AM:Do they ever come across a piece of yours on a wall, where it’s in a public space so that they wouldn’t necessarily know the content context?

LW: There’s enormous amounts of public works, that nobody has any idea who did them.

AM: And they’re permanent? I think that’s interesting—things in public spaces are fundamentally different from those in our art spaces. They don’t have quote marks around them. And the last year or two, I’ve been conceiving public works connected to things like bridges or tunnels and so on. And I like the idea that they’re on a time scale that gets embedded in peoples’ lives. And they may never pay direct attention but it becomes part of the open fabric of the place.

LW: Well, a tunnel is ideal for you. Because essentially then, people can leave behind the metaphor of looking up into the heavens. They’re going from here to there. And it’s like what happens when you go from here to there? You turn a rosy hue.

AM: Yes, yes.

LW: Oh, that is a very bad joke. But other than that, I was just curious about how you felt about this idea of people just stumbling across the work. And this thing with Governors Island, they know they’re going there, they’ve even packed a lunch.

AM: And there has to be a special journey to get there. I think Governor’s Island is going to be seen as visiting a set of works of art. I mean, it’s contextualized that way. There has to be a special journey. But I think your work partly is in the public realm, quite separate from that because of the way you’ve positioned it.

LW: That was by luck. They couldn’t put it on the ferry. They can’t put it on the outside because of some maritime rules of signage. And to just put it inside, a parking lot, you know, the parking space and all, just seems to be decoration. Or provocation, in a sense. I mean, signs on boats are supposed to say “this way to escape.”

AM: The way visitors pay attention to your work, or people who don’t even know they’re visitors to it, is very interesting because you don’t necessarily have to give it the same sort of time that you might, say, for a sculptural work that needs to be very carefully walked around, gone through.

LW: Or a work where one has to decide to enter a portal, the door in your context.

AM: Oh, yes, we do. In my case, I mean, they’re slow works that the visitor has to construct. You have to build yourself in a way, by finding them and walking around. And also giving them give time to, because they’re not only sculptural, they’re also cinematic: there is a durational structure. So if you go in fast and leave immediately, you’ll have got really very little. I believe that the emotion that ’s generated or people report experiencing is generated produced by the structure in time, not by beams of light. In a way.

LW: That’s really all I wanted to know: if the idea of incorporating other peoples’ real time was part of the work itself.

AM: Well, the titles that I use, like “Between You and I” doesn’t only refer to the two forms and the idea of representing the body. It also refers to the relationship between the visitor and the work.

LW: And what is in-between? The physical reality of between. I meant “what” as a declarative statement. The thing about your work that interests me so much is there’s something going on in-between the point where you see the light and the point where the light is emanated. There’s a whole body of matter in the middle; that’s the essence, the sculptural aspect of it. The rest of it then is almost like the dressing.

AM: Well, the way I think of it is like I think of the projected drawing as the footprint. But the real body is the planes of light between the projector's projected ends and the projection surface…or bodies; There are two forms, and the installation describes a process of exchange that occurs between them. I think that’s because when I first made these in the 70s, they were looked at as part of the movement of expanded cinema and so on, and that was in a way oppositional to Hollywood. And it was a cinematic and political problematic.The sculptural part was realized later. It was realized immediately by me but only intuitively.It’s only this second time around, when I’ve been making more of these works that I thought more explicitly about the sculptural side of it. It’s quite interesting now to see how much it was fixated on the things like the relationship to the spectator and the work, the audience’s behavior, the projector, the materialist aspect of the projection was much more considered than this territory I stumbled into, which was sculptural and performative.