Interview: A Conversation between Sara Nadal-Melsió and David Dixon, Founding Director Cathouse FUNeral / Proper

On the occasion of Cathouse FUNeral / Proper’s fifth-year anniversary, arts writer and independent curator Sara Nadal-Melsió, led a discussion with artist and founding director David Dixon about the gallery’s anniversary exhibition. The conversation took place at Cathouse Proper on May 19, 2019. DL is pleased to publish the conversation below.

David Dixon, “Cathouse FUNeral” (2018) paint, ink, pigment, cement, plaster, shell on burlap on wood, 9×7 feet, installed at Cathouse Proper

David Dixon:          So, here we are. Thank you all
for coming on this beautiful spring day. Basically, this is our
fifth-anniversary conversation about the exhibition that we’re sitting in, “Cathouse
FUNeral in Cathouse Proper: Life to Art to Life,” and also the five-year
history of the space. 
We have
Sara Nadal-Melsió here with us, who’s going to ask the tough questions. We’re
not really doing much of an introduction as far as bios go, but if you Google Sara
Nadal-Melsió you shall see lots of interesting articles about art and
interviews, some of the people that you’ve written about are Glenn Ligon — I
know that — Los Carpinteros, Allora and Calzadilla, and many others…
Sara Nadal-Melsió: So, the way I
understood this is basically I’ll set up some scenarios so that you can develop
them. It’s going to be very informal. 
first thing is, I’m going to be talking about David as an artist, as a
film-maker and as a curator, without distinguishing between the three very
strictly. I was watching your film “David Dixon is dead” and there’s a scene
that’s slightly comedic, that I like very much, and I thought we might start
with that. 
In that
scene, the character of the
‘father’ has just received a
head — the character ‘David’’s head — frozen in a cooler, and he’s trying to
figure out where to put it to drive off to Oklahoma to have the skull cleaned
up and bleached for display… (as per ‘David’’s precise  instructions)

David:                     [laughs]
Sara:                       Yes, I know. It’s not what you were
expecting, right?

David:                     No.
Sara:                       The
scene is funny. It’s low-key. It seems like an afterthought. So, he is getting
into the car, and the first thing he does is put the cooler in the back of the
car, in the trunk. He thinks about it, he takes it out, and then he puts it in
the back seat. He thinks about it, he takes it out, and then he puts it in the
front seat. He puts the seatbelt over the cooler, and then sort of looks as if
he’s going to start the road trip in good company, and then the camera looks up
to the father from the point of view of the head.
                                So, the
reason why I wanted to talk about this scene is because it seems to me that it
captures three possible relationships to the artwork, and three possible
narratives of how we relate to it
. The first one — it
seems that there’s a sense of archiving. Taking care of. There’s a sense of
preservation. The head is in the trunk and it’s going to be delivered to
wherever it goes in the end and it’s going to be worked on by experts, by
                                The second
one is
a little bit like the curator, you know? The driver is the
father. The artwork is in the back seat. It’s being taken somewhere to be
delivered to others.
the third one, which I think is much closer to what David is doing: the artwork-head-corpse
is now next to the driver, sharing the ride in a relationship of equality. But
then there is a twist at the end: one is unsure of who’s actually doing the
driving. You assume it’s the father, which chronologically precedes the son,
right? In the logic of filiation where the father goes before the son, but
somehow, because of the camera’s point of view, from the cooler, you begin to
wonder who comes first and who is in charge.
                                 I wanted
talk about this because it seems to me that the
question of
chronological precedence — of having the dead be next to us, sharing a space
with us — is important. Also, in that scene, it almost looks like the
cooler-head-corpse is being cradled and supported in this loving gesture by the
                                So, I wanted
start with that, and also your decisions in terms of not
just the way you use certain objects in your artwork, but also the way you
approach your relationship with spaces that have been occupied by others, and
using objects that have been taken from other places, that have a previous
history. So, does that make sense as a beginning?

David Dixon, “Museum/Mausoleum” (2007) paint, canvas, wood, mirror, skull, ashes, etc, 20×24 x12 inches 
David:                     Yes,
that’s good. We could talk for an hour on that right there. That’s a really
great question, and an interesting way to start the conversation.
                                 If you haven’t
seen the film, Sara gave a great description of that scene where the father
character is taking the son’s head to Oklahoma City in a cooler, to be cleaned
to the skull for an art piece that the son wants to have done after he dies. It
is an art piece that I do hope to have completed after I die. My father says he’s
absolutely not taking my head to Oklahoma City! To which I said, “I don’t
really expect you to,” you know, but someone presumably should, or needs to, to
complete the piece. It’s interesting, you talk about the son coming before the
father, forcing the father.
                                 I was
brought up Southern Baptist, and there are elements of baptism in this
exhibition, and narcissism
— the idea of seeing oneself
reflected in the pool, and then falling into the water, and re-emerging out of
the pool. The father figure in the film is a minister, so, there’s a lot of
Christian mythology latent in the film about, like you say, the son forcing the
father, or if you think of the son sort of determining the father’s actions. To
me, the father in the film is playing out what would be, ideally, the notion of
Christian love. He’s doing it for the son, despite the fact that he doesn’t
necessarily believe in what the son believed.
that relates to the archive — we could talk about that scene for a while. It’s
funny, because not only is the son’s head being cleaned to the skull, but his
body is being cremated. So, the father picks up the head in a cooler to take to
Oklahoma City…
                                 There is a
place in Oklahoma, by the way, called Skulls Unlimited, that
skeletons. So, in the documentary parts of the movie, I actually do go to
Oklahoma City, and I interview people there, and ask if they’d be willing to
clean my skull after I die. I thought that would be shocking to them, but in
fact, not at all, they deal with this kind of thing all the time, but not human
remains. Mostly animal remains, like cleaning skeletons for hunters and
museums. They have a museum there themselves of osteological specimens.
part, the whole scene with taking the skull out of the trunk and putting it in
the back seat, and then putting it into the front seat, and then seat-belting
it in, was meant to be a criticism of cremation, because the father doesn’t
take the cremated remains out of the trunk, because they’re decimated. They don’t
necessarily relate to the son any longer, but the skull still possesses his
identity, to a degree, so I feel like it creates a bond, having the skull. The
film is a proposal for a new kind of death ritual that’s based on atavistic,
now, ancestral skull-veneration, which the Kota — which is here in this
painting — practiced in West Africa, but was stopped by missionaries — the Kota
and the Fang — but also, ossuaries in the Catholic tradition would preserve
bones, too.
                                I could go
on, but maybe there
’s another question in here, but we
could jump to the death rituals that the Kota practiced? Because that movie is
what began the gallery, in some sense. The notion of “David Dixon is dead.” is
the end of what I call my youthful narcissism. You know, it’s sort of the
ultimate narcissistic gesture to see one’s own death. So that, I felt, opened a
space to deal with other people’s narratives, and what allowed me to start to
conceive and think about running a gallery, which I never really set out to do.
Like most artistic ideas, it just occurred at some point, due to circumstances
and inspiration…but let’s have another question.
David Dixon, “The Artist in his Studio” (2008) silicon, ink, hair, tape, plastic, wood, paint 15x42x15 inches
Sara:                       I
mean, these aren’t questions. I’m just giving prompts for you to think about.
But you are clearly very interested in burial rituals, and coming up with new
forms of mourning or celebration. I think the way you talk about “David Dixon
is dead”  is interesting as the first
step to begin the social work that will then allow you to become the
installer/caretaker of other people’s work.
                                 I think
’s something about the way in which you approach the myth
of Narcissus in this movie, and in all the works that we see here…the head that
we see at the entrance [“The Artist in his Studio” (2008)] here in the gallery
is the same head that we see in the film, and then you also have the different
reproductions of that silkscreened on the walls.
go back to the death of Narcissus: he gazes hypnotically at himself on the
water, as if he perceives the water as actually only a surface. Narcissus sees
the reflecting water as if it could not be touched, cannot be penetrated,
because he only sees it as a flat exterior. One of the things that you do when
you push the myth of Narcissus to the end is that you transform the surface of
the water into a medium, as something that you can swim in, something you can
actually go through. So instead of avoiding narcissism, one actually traverses
it, and discovers that in that very traversing narcissism is already filled
with other things that do not belong to the self in isolation.
thing that might be interesting in this context is

that you also connect this with your interest in Courbet — especially in “The
Burial at Ornans”, which is a very important painting for you. You’ve written
and spoken about it — [addressing the audience] I don’t know if you remember
the painting; the painting is often hailed as the beginning of the Realist
tradition. It’s a painting where there’s a row of people at a burial, standing,
and then, at the front of the painting, there is an empty grave, supposedly — a
void that is the center of the painting.
                                 David has an
interesting reading of
the painting where he says that the
grave is the place where, later on, will be occupied by the artwork [in the
later Courbet painting “The Artist’s Studio”]. That’s one way of understanding
it, but what’s really fascinating about the painting — and where I think we
might have an interesting discussion — is that the grave is not really empty.
In order to bury the corpse, they have to unearth another corpse that was there
before, and that’s why you see an old skull next to it. The skull is not the
skull of the person who is being buried. It’s the skull that was already there
                                So, this
idea of precedence,
of going into a space that’s already
been occupied by others, and this idea that you acknowledge those precedents
connects to the way in which you move from narcissism to this idea of becoming
a container for, not just your work, but for other people’s work.
                                Let’s go back to the Kota reliquary objects and the way that you think about these
monuments that sit on top of containers for the skulls of West African
ancestors that have become both a source of magic and a sign of mourning. The
Kotas were taken up in the beginning of the 20th century, by, say, Picasso and
other people, but they were chopped off, in the way they’re shown here in the
painting “Cathouse FUNeral I” (2018) — shown as artworks while the skulls were
left back in West Africa. So, I think there’s something about this cultural
beheading and the acknowledgement of the fact that the grave was never empty;
that the grave is already occupied by other corpses, that I think connects the
way you actually address those topics. Does that make sense as a thing to

Installation view, “Leaving Home: Cathouse FUNeral Migrates North” (2017) built and curated by David Dixon, Beacon, NY
David:                     You
connected a lot in there between Courbet, for me, the Kota reliquary objects,
and you mentioned the more recent ideas regarding “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”
by Picasso.
thought quite a bit over the years about Courbet’s “Burial at Ornans” in
relation to his “The Artist’s Studio,” which is seven years of his artistic
practice, where he fills the empty grave with the image of the artist in the
centrally located elements of those two massive paintings, and then disappears
into the grave, into the emptiness, in order to begin his landscape painting.
So then, when you see a landscape painting by Courbet, for example, you’re
standing in the place where he once stood when he painted the painting, and he paints
with a lot of tactility, so we can also feel his presence.
always seen that as a kind of transference. It speaks to the notion of
immortality in art, where you stand in the position that Courbet once stood
while painting the painting. Now, that’s possibly true in other paintings, in
all paintings, or even when, say, you read a book, you assume the role of the
author when reading, but I think in Courbet’s progression from “Burial at
Ornans” to “The Artist’s Studio” to the landscape paintings, it illustrates
that relationship between viewer and author.
Courbet disappears, and in doing that, he’s able to embody us when we look at
the work, and that’s what keeps him alive, let’s say — his sensibility, or
subjective point of view. You know, Courbet was considered a great narcissist.
He painted a lot of self-portraits when he was young, and even called himself “the
most arrogant man in France.” He’s the beginning of the self-made artist,
without the sponsorship of the church or state
possibly knows that he built his own pavilion in order to counter the Salon
which had rejected his “Artist’s Studio.” He paid for and built his own
pavilion outside the Salon; his own exhibition space, basically. You can see
for Cathouse FUNeral and myself, this was an interesting reference point of an
artist that created his own context, or created the context for his work.
                                 How that
relates to
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which is my new thought in
relation to Cathouse…so, of course, I named the place “Cathouse”. There’s a
variety of reasons for that, but the most important one, I think, is that you
sell yourself in a gallery. So, I saw some parallels in this capitalist system,
where you try to put a quantitative value on a qualitative thing. There’s an
uneasy relationship, let’s say, between money and art, as there is an uneasy
relationship between money and love or sex.
sells oneself in a gallery, and you can trace that from Courbet having to sell
himself, or sell this image of himself, or this idea of himself, to his
collectors, which the concept of the individual collector was developing at the
time, too.
forward a few years to Picasso and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Leo Steinberg
has written about it in “The Philosophical Brothel.” Also, there was an
interesting article recently in Art Forum about the show  that was in Paris of the Blue and Rose
Period, about binaries in Picasso’s early work — binary identities. Using this
new, contemporary notion and applying it to Picasso, and claiming that he had
gender fluidity in his early Blue and Rose Periods, and then the writer claims
this ends with “Demoiselles d’Avignon,” as that solidifies, as we now consider
it, Picasso’s “macho” attitude towards women.
                                I would say “Okay,”
to this theory, but as far as this binary reading of Picasso, one should
include “Demoiselles d’Avignon,” because having thought about this idea of
selling oneself in a gallery, in Cathouse…and even that painting behind you
there has the coloration of “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” I had a picture of it on
my desktop along with the Picasso, and I was looking at it, and that’s when I
started to think about them together. Steinberg comes close to saying, but
doesn’t completely…
you’re standing in front of the painting, everything is addressed to you. The
women are all looking outwards, which was innovative at the time. Early
editions of the painting had male figures inside the painting. There was a
doctor, one pulling back a curtain to reveal the women. But Picasso got rid of
all them, and now no one in the painting addresses or looks at each other, they
are all only looking outward. And then he used the fruit in the front, which is
on a table, which is made to project outward into the space where the viewer is
standing. And the painting is looking at you, and you’re looking at the
painted a self-portrait in 1907 that uses the same Iberian/Spanish style that
he used for the women. I’m jumping all over here, but the title “Les
Demoiselles d’Avignon” was given by somebody else. He didn’t call it that. And “Avignon”
is a street in Barcelona. Picasso called the women in the painting “Chicas” — “girls”
in Spanish. They’re his peers from his youth, basically, is the way I’m
thinking about it, he being from Barcelona, and he portrays them as he often
does with portraits of himself, with big brown eyes, et cetera — the women in
the painting look like himself.
                                My feeling
is that he
’s in this new generation of art entrepreneurs who have to
sell themselves to patrons, and that that painting is about selling yourself,
the painting is presenting itself to the viewer (the women are the painting and
the painting is the women), and Picasso identifies with the prostitute as an
art laborer who must sell himself, lay himself bare. Even maybe, more
generally, about the brutality of the capitalist system that forces one to sell
Sara:                       That’s
really interesting that you’re going back to that, and I want to connect these
two paintings — the “Demoiselles d’Avignon” and “The Burial,” are crossroads
paintings, in the sense that they are thresholds. I think that’s one of the
reasons you’re interested in them. They mark a threshold, and both of them
present multiples in place of just the lonely artist.
                                 In the
“Burial at Ornans”, you have for the first time the different classes
represented as equals, precisely because the equalizer is death, right? The
fact that the grave is in front of them makes them absolutely equal in the eyes
of the person who looks at the painting. It also demands that you occupy that
space at the center, again, to be able to look at it. 
                                In “Les
Demoiselles d’Avignon,” you’re talking about this idea that at some point
Picasso does not really abide by gender binaries. It’s interesting that he puts
himself along les demoiselles d’Avignon. He does what they do, and they are on
the same plane, so the other great equalizer here is the idea that we’re all
for sale.
in these two instances, one is death, and the other is the idea of the market:
cathouse and funeral house, those two things you’ve actually worked on in your
work and as a gallery owner. Or if you want to talk about it in a different
way, maybe as an installer of other people’s work within a space that has
already been occupied by others — in this case by morticians.  You first occupied the space of a funeral
home, and a new space that was once used to install one single painting. So,
although it may look like a white cube, it was actually designed as an
installation for one single painting. So, you could also see this as having
another spatial history that you are now occupying.
like to think about this notion of your occupation of spaces. What does it mean
to go into a place that is already embedded in history — that already has its
corpses lying around? Its history, and the way that you position yourself
vis-a-vis that history is really interesting to me.  There’s something about this idea of arriving
to a place where you are not the first, but also somehow putting yourself in
the place of another and basically, seeing the potential of the place precisely
in the fact that it was there before you.
like to think about that, in connection to your idea of harvesting. The idea
that when you install a show, that show is also somehow being viewed as a
possible remnant that will be used over and over again to produce other future
artworks. So, in a way, what was given to you as an accident has become a
curatorial method of sorts. You arrived at a place that had been occupied by
morticians, and you took that as a methodology, and it became the way in which
you approach the space of the installation as such.
always addressing the thing that was there before, and you’re always harvesting
and acknowledging that past, and we’ll talk about the question of temporality
later, because I think it’s even more complex than that. It’s not just about
the past. Do you think we could talk a little bit about these questions?

Installation view, “Final Harvestings” (2016) built and curated by David Dixon at Cathouse FUNeral, Brooklyn
David:                     Yes.
The funny thing — when I moved into the funeral home to live, and eventually
opened the gallery down the hall — that’s one reason it’s called Cathouse
FUNeral is that it was originally a funeral home — but everyone would always
say, “Oh, do you see a lot of ghosts in there?” and I was kind of hoping to,
myself, but then I realized, “No. In fact, if you’re a ghost, you don’t haunt
the funeral home. You haunt the place where you got killed,” so the funeral
home itself is the most empty of places. I mean, it’s where the dead are, so
you try to infuse the dead with life, and I feel like that related to the way
an art object functions with its notion of an aura in a community of believers
that give it purpose.
basically, it
’s dead material, but in coming into the community it is inspirited,
if that’s a word — the community of believers gives it energy and spirit. So,
that’s the way I guess the gallery evolved. But with the harvesting — yes,
there’s a resistance, and always a desire for a relic, a maintaining of
                                 Part of the
impulse, for myself, anyway, of getting into art, coming out of a Baptist idea

and it’s typical of art — is the eternality of it, or the desire for remembrance
and archive, as you say. So, the harvestings were made from the walls of the
gallery and other architectural details. They were relics, or ways of
preserving elements of the exhibitions. An artwork can travel beyond an
exhibition, but the exhibition itself is singular. So, it’s a matter of trying
to maintain some — other than, I would say, documentary photography — some
real material consequence from the actions that were in the space.
                                 Then, coming
out of having made these movies
[“David Dixon is dead.” (2012)
and “Unloosened and Root” (2006)] before I opened the gallery. I was thinking
sequentially; I was thinking in scenes. Thinking in narrative, and doing one
show after another felt, to me, like scenes in a film, so that the gallery
itself was the movie, and the individual shows were the scenes. It’s much the
same process. You know, you set up the mise-en-scene with the paintings and the
artwork with the artist, and then all the people come for the opening. You take
a bunch of pictures to document it, and then there is the post-production, and
you put the images on Instagram or on the website or in this slideshow here for
people to actually see. Being in Brooklyn, of course, there wasn’t a whole lot
of foot traffic. So, the method seemed a lot like filmmaking.
                                 Then, the
notion of
“whitewashing” — the white cube has been talked about a
lot. The Cathouse FUNeral space, started out as a white cube, but never went
back to its original white walls. So, for example, if there was something
painted on the wall for the artist, or if the artist did something on the wall,
instead of painting over it, we’d either build a new wall in front of it, leave
it, or cut it out…not everything, but when it seemed like the right thing to
do. Not every show produced a harvesting. It was not systematic. That’s why I
call it “harvesting”. If something happened to grow, I would just cut it out
like a farmer. I wasn’t trying to make those objects happen. It would just be
kind of obvious, at some point, that this should be kept.
Sara:                       So,
just to follow along with the question of the way in which you layer things in
your paintings, and in your curatorial practice as well, by using remnants of
previous shows. You use things that belong to the gallery — for instance, the
logo — but you also use elements that have appeared in your films, and elements
that are important in the ways you think about rituals of death, for instance.
                                 I wanted to
think a little bit about the notion of the
‘crossroads,’ which
seems to be very important for you. The way I understand it, you take
crossroads as a way to secularize something that had been taken over by religion.
So that the crossroads is actually a marker of a moment in-between spaces — the
living and the dead. The crossroads is also a marker of the moment of the
decision, the moment when one goes one way or the other, and the first time I
heard you speak about it, you were really invested in the way that the
crossroads is used in West African religion.
                                 You were
also talking about the way it
’s been used in Christian
religion. And I may have mentioned this to you…I was also thinking of the way
the crossroads is used in Greek plays — for instance, the most famous being “Oedipus
King,” right? The crossroads is the place where the event takes places. It is
absolutely a marker of when a person becomes more than one — when the one
becomes many. Oedipus becomes who he is, and he is indeed many things: father,
son, husband. His multiplicity is an effect of the crossroads which becomes a
very important element to understand this idea of the self as a multiple.
think there’s a connection there with the way in which you layer elements in
your practice. I’d like to think about this idea of the one in the multiple,
the crossroads has four different possibilities; four possible choices, but at
the center of it, the point where the lines meet, they’re all layered in the
same point at once. There’s no choice yet, and that’s the multiple.
                                I wanted to
see if you could talk a little bit more about this, because it seems to be very
important for you. We have it here, we have it there, we have it all over the
place [signals depictions of the crossroads in Dixon’s paintings]
David:                     Yes,
we have it everywhere, and it is everywhere. It’s a cross-cultural symbol. The
crossroads, like you say…it’s in Greece. It’s also in the jade Congs of China,
Hermes is the god of the crossroads, in West Africa…and the way you describe
the center of the cross is interesting, because that’s exactly where the diamond
shape comes in for the West African — if you think of kuba cloth that has come
out of weaving. You have a combination of X’s. So, if you make a field of X’s,
you end up with the diamond shape, so you have a dialectical relationship. The
diamonds are the openings. They’re the conduit to the spirit world.
can imagine that in the crossroads there are the four cardinal points: north,
south, east and west, and that’s why it seems to be a universal symbol. It’s a
way of trying to orient oneself in space, but in these kind of religious-based
descriptions of crossroads, it’s orientating yourself in space, but also
transcendent space.
                                So, in the
West African, it
’s the horizon line, up here is noon,
and at midnight it’s down in the underworld, and the sun goes through the four
points as it goes into the underworld and back up again creating the diamond
shape. The Christian cross is the same sort of thing, and I’m wearing these
Coptic crosses, which come from the fourth century in Ethiopia, where that’s
the first images that we see of the Christian cross, which is, in my opinion,
and a lot of recent scholarship, it’s the source for the Christian cross.
Promotional image for the Cathouse FUNeral/Proper fifth-year anniversary exhibition at Cathouse Proper (2019)

example, when the Portuguese ended up in West Africa, in the Kongo, and they
thought they were bringing the image of the True Cross to “the natives,” but
they were actually returning the cross to its source. There’s a recent book
titled “The Art of Conversion” by Cécile Fromont, which I highly recommend to
everyone, that’s about this contact — this first contact between the Portuguese
and the Kongo. They shared that ideology around the image of the cross, and
immediately Afonso, who was the king of Kongo, converted to Christianity
without coercion, because they recognized similarities in this cross image.
There were a lot of consequences, obviously, out of that. So, there’s this
deep, relevant history with this notion of the crossroads.
me, though, it continues to come up in this notion of narcissism, too. There’s
a great painting by Caravaggio that I know Anthony [member of the audience]
here has been looking at, where there is, again, a horizon line, but Narcissus
is looking down into a reflecting pool, he’s seeing himself reflected, and I
used ouroboros in the promotion for this exhibition, where you have this
cyclical relationship with the reflected self, the reflected self in the pool —
you said it’s surface for narcissus, but I think of it as…you know, one can do
what one wants with these myths, I guess…I think of it as, at some point,
Narcissus exhausts the self-subject. At some point, he becomes bored of his own
image, and falls asleep, or falls into it, and disappears into his own image — his
own death image. He’s emptied himself, and is baptized — you know, where you’re
submerged and then re-emerged as what I call a “Heroic Social Worker.” So, he’s
lost this sense of narcissistic, solipsistic self-involvement, and can then
engage in social practice — can engage with others, and when I say “he” — that’s
something I think Freud and Lacan, and a lot of other people have had a field
day with — but it’s something that I feel like is latent in all of our sense of
self and identity.
Sara:                       You
went back to this question of the movement from narcissism to the Heroic Social
Worker, and I find it interesting that you actually use these archetypes, and
the way in which you use them.
seems to me that one way to think about them is as empty containers. They seem
to be very evocative, with very precise meanings, but you use them as a way to
create a narrative that contains infinite possibilities. They remain
possibilities not yet narrowed down to one single explanation.
                                 I was
thinking about this notion of the container, and the reason I want to go back
to this
— one of the things that comes up, and I’m sure you’ve been
asked this question…is appropriation, right? The question of how you deal with
the fact that you’re using these elements from West African religions? How do
you explain the fact that you’re actually taking the walls from another painter
and incorporating them into your own work?
                                 So, the
question of appropriation is one way to look at it, and potentially it
one that walks a very fine line. It’s potentially very problematic, but it
seems to me that in your particular case — and I think that’s why the
archetypes really help — what you’re actually doing is transforming
yourself into a container. You’re transforming yourself into a structure that
contains others as well as yourself. In that way, it’s also a sort of an
equalizer. In that first idea of youthful narcissism, you say that you exhaust
the self, and to me, what I hear is: I empty it out, I empty it out so I can
contain other things. I empty it out so I can become a vessel for other things
to happen.
                                 I think that’s
one possible way to think of it, and the way in which you treat your spaces as
well. The idea that somehow the space has become a place where things can
happen within four walls. And this idea of containment, not a source of restriction
but as a source of possibility, might be worth discussing, too. Because, for
instance, even the archetypes could seem a little bit constricting. Why do you
label yourself with “Youthful Narcissism” or the “Heroic Social Worker”? Well,
that label is also an empty archetype that you can fill with endless amounts of
narratives in your films.
wanted to think about this notion of your relationship to this idea of being a
container and your use of archetypes.
David:                     That’s
great. You know, it’s funny, I was just thinking of the gallery as an empty
grave, in some way. I had a line that I used quite a while ago in a
performance: “Do not fill the emptiness of the grave with the cement of belief.”
gallery is built to be in rotation. It’s this whitewashed space. It erases
time, but it’s one, consequently, that can be constantly filled with new and
innovative ideas, and the white cube…you know, it’s not arbitrary. As soon as I
started painting those walls at Cathouse FUNeral it became an issue with the
individual artists. I mean, there was something that had to be negotiated: Do
we leave this? Do we not? How does one know where my work begins and yours
ends? The white walls keep that clear.
white space, you start to see why it works so well as a kind of machine for
innovation. You bring something in, you take it out; you bring something else
in. One can constantly be updating as a result. The FUNeral space was always
trying to keep things, so in some way, that’s conservative, you might say. I mean,
we’re trying to conserve things.
                                The funny
thing is, as soon as opening the gallery
…you know how
Muhammad Ali or Dalí would speak of themselves in the third person? With the
gallery, then, even though I was the only person there, I used the term “we” all
the time, so I ended up with this royal “we” instead of “I,” and even that
seemed modest! You know, I shouldn’t be attributing the work to myself. It was
collaborative with the artists; it was also the conditions that the space
itself was determining. It wasn’t just me motivating, right? So, it was a “we,”
and it was plural. I think by having this container, this empty container of a
gallery, that it became multiple in that sense, too. “I” became “we.”
right. So, yeah, as a curator
that’s pretty much all you can
do. You don’t make the work yourself, so you borrow from others to construct
your narrative, or what’s supposed to be, I guess, a reflection of the cultural
moment. So, that’s an accepted norm with curating. As an artist, though, we
have our ’80’s notion of appropriation, where you would take something and use
it irreverently, and empty it of its former meaning, and use it against itself
in many ways.
                                 I think of
David Sall
e as a perfect example of just randomly putting one thing next
to another, or Haim Steinbeck’s shelves. I think of Haim Steinbeck’s shelves a
lot when I’m thinking about the gallery, because the shelf — you can put
anything on there, and just due to the fact that they’re both on a shelf, one
has to try and rectify why. It’s like putting anything within a frame, or
anything within the gallery walls. You immediately have to try and connect the
reasons that they were put there, assuming they were put there for a reason,
and you try to deduce what that purpose is.
                                Then there’s
the stickier issue, now, of cultural appropriation, which one steps into very
quickly as a curator and as an artist, as a thinker and as a person. If you
read James Baldwin, you assume his subject position in reading, so you
appropriate, to some degree, his voice, and then, if, as it should, it
transforms you in some way in the experience, you’ve appropriated James Baldwin
to a degree.
                                 So, I think
’s a somewhat unavoidable aspect of knowing, and of
experience, but of course, when the term is used pejoratively, it means you’re
using — in this ’80’s kind of way of using a thing as an empty signifier, and
in some way irreverent, or irregardless, of its source, and when it gets
into cultural heritage, that can seem flip and inconsiderate, or even violent.
I think of the cornrows controversy with Katy Perry, who did this horrible
music video, but juxtapose with Alexander McQueen, who also did a runway show
using cornrows on white models. To me, they’re not equivalent in some ways,
because McQueen seems to be advancing, somehow, the discourse around “cornrows,”
for example, as opposed to Katy Perry, who just uses them as an empty
Installation view of Tariku Shiferaw’s “This Ain’t Safe” (2018) solo exhibition at Cathouse Proper 
                                I feel
like maybe there
’s a line there, where you can… for
example, say the black surfaces that are the silk-screened pieces in the
entranceway for this show, they are from Tariku Shiferaw’s exhibition at
Cathouse Proper, “This Ain’t Safe” (March, 2018). Tariku Shiferaw was born in
Ethiopia and grew up in LA. He’s African-American. So, we did a show together
in here, and we talked about what we should do, and what we should exhibit, how
we should exhibit, what it meant — all kinds of things, and one of the things
he wanted to address was the white cube. The white cube as a white cultural
space. We thought, “Oh, we’ll make the walls black,” and his paintings are
representations, to a degree, of black bodies. It seemed appropriate that a
black body should be on a black wall, not a white wall; especially because the
paintings actually look better on black walls, because the contrast isn’t as
high between them and the wall. So, in the entranceway we applied a technique
with black plaster and some paint on top, so it had texture. It wasn’t just
industrial wall paint. It had some feel to it, and his paintings were hung on
top of it.
                                So, after
that show was over, rather than just throw away
these walls,
I cut them down into these 32-by-24-inch panels, and I didn’t know what I was
going to do with them, but I asked if it was okay that I kept them, and he
said,“yes,” and I eventually came to use them in this show.
a cultural appropriation of his work in a curatorial way. The work that I’m
doing here — you know, we’re talking about these binaries of Narcissus looking
into a reflection, which is his other — but similarly, the show has elements of
the Kota being contrasted with my “Artist in his Studio” sculpture, that is my
own white-man-dead-head in the studio. There’s one painting, especially,… in
the main space here the Kota and “The Artist in his Studio” are facing each
other off in their respective logos. But the other painting in the entryway,
the two heads are actually opposite each other in the same painting. And the
painting can be hung with either one on top, so it reverses.
                                 It seems to
me that with Tariku
— that was his show, obviously, but
after I used those walls, it was a collaborative exchange to a degree. His
show, I would say, absolutely was not a collaboration. That was his show. This
is where the lines get blurry, but afterwards, when I was able to use his
walls, and the conversations that we had that led to it, I don’t feel like that’s
a cultural appropriation because it was collaborative, and I did it with him,
and with his permission, and in conversation with him. As opposed to Picasso,
for example, who gets often criticized for his cultural appropriation of the
Kota, which is here in the Cathouse FUNeral logo.
                                The Kota reliquary
object — Sara spoke on this a little bit — was the first African sculpture that
Picasso collected. So, the first piece that he bought was a Kota reliquary
object, which was cut off, like Sara said, at the neck or the legs, which would
touch the “sacra,” which were the ancestral skulls kept in the basket below.
So, it was cut by the missionaries or whomever, and shipped to Europe, where
Picasso found it in the Trocadéro and purchased it, not knowing what it was or
where it came from.
                                 I mean,
culturally we can be to blame for that. I don
’t know if Picasso
specifically can, because what he does is invest those objects, which were
being disregarded, with meaning and with value. They were his meanings, but he
couldn’t have known the original meanings. The scholarship about these is very
recent, as a matter of fact. There was a big show at the Met in 2007, which was
incredible: “Eternal Ancestors,” where they had four of these baskets intact,
with the skulls. You couldn’t see the skulls. They were very cagey about what
was in those baskets, because it’s controversial. These are people’s actual
remains. There’s only eight of those baskets, intact, in the world, with the
sculptures still attached, which, to me, is mind-blowing. They have to be some
of the most precious objects.
                                 Now, I can
go on, because I should, about appropriation
. Because this whole
film project, “David Dixon is dead,” where I was talking about cleaning the
skull, the reason I came up with that idea, what first struck me was that I was
in the Quai Branly — controversial Oceanic and “Tribal,” as they used to say,
art museum in Paris. They had Asmat skulls on display. Actual skulls. Ancestral
skulls. I didn’t know that. I thought they were trophy skulls from war. I don’t
read French. They’re decorated with all kinds of things, and they’re beautiful,
                                So, I go
home, and then my friend says,
“No, those weren’t trophy
skulls. They’re ancestral skulls,” and my mother had just died, and I thought, “You
can keep the skull of your loved one?” At first, this seemed creepy, but then
it was just, “Yeah, why not? Why not?!” That is the most precious object one
could have, and we just burn them or throw them away, basically, or bury them
in the ground — especially if that ground is no longer holy ground, if you don’t
believe in a transcendent soul, that material, that skull, is the most
permanent thing of that person; it is that person after they’re dead,
because there’s nothing else. And if the skull is kept with attached memory — and
this is what that project, “Museum/Mausoleum” from 2006 is meant to do — as
opposed to as a specimen that you use in science…we do that all the time. You
know, you have a skeleton in a classroom, and they’re real, too. You’re allowed
to collect them, frankly. There’s no law against it. And as long as it’s not
connected to a person or a history, we don’t find it weird. It’s a specimen.
But that’s the problem right there, because you’ve just made this person into
base material — just empty, meaningless material to be “dispassionately” studied.
That project was meant to keep the skull connected to its lived history, I
would say.
                                I think
’s a lot about art, and the way that we think about art,
and the materiality of art, in that project of keeping the skull.
Sara:                        The
reason I was mentioning the idea of containing when I mentioned appropriation
is because it might be a more generous way to think about the practice that you’re
doing, in the sense that there’s something about the skull as a container. The
idea that somehow what you do is cradle and sustain that skull. You sustain its
memory as well. As you sustain the memory of the space. I wanted to talk a
little bit about the notion of “relic,” and the notion of the way you use
remnants in your work.
                                One of the
things I was struck by when I saw the way you
Tariku’s walls into your pieces — and I didn’t want to think just about
appropriation, it seemed too facile, yet they seem to be relics and remnants of
something. But the more I thought about it — and when I see your slideshow here
today — I realized it’s basically about relationships: the people that you
meet, the people that are in the gallery, and the situations that take place in
the gallery.
                                The gallery
also contains the situation that is made
up of the
relationships with other people: these conversations, what is happening here
right now. It seemed to me that the relics you actually collect from
harvesting, and I’m calling them “relics” now, are relics of  that unique situation that has been lost to
you, so that actually what they’re commemorating is not the object that you
have preserved or cut out. Rather they are relics of these unique, singular
moments of relationships in this space, between people, that have been lost
think this idea of mourning and its connection to narcissism, which is
basically a yearning for wholeness, eventually becomes a source of emptiness
and in turn a source of possibility (that’s when it traverses melancholic
narcissism to become ‘social work’).
wanted to think about this notion of your need to somehow commemorate and mourn
this moment of community. I think that is something that sometimes gets lost in
translation. I was really struck by the fact that you chose to use slides about
the people that are in the space. I wanted to think about this notion. What are
you commemorating when you take those material pieces of the walls that
contained your relationship to others?
David:                     There’s
a lot in there. The difference between a relic and an art object, I think, is
significant. You can have a relic that is just, say, a historical object that
has some sort of significance, and you keep it as a way to connect you to that
past. The harvestings, as they were chosen, though, weren’t just arbitrary — like
a ready-made by Duchamp, not everything works. So, the harvestings  were chosen on aesthetic grounds, even though
they were also relics of the exhibitions. Like I said, not every show had a
harvesting. An art object, I feel, is different than an historical relic
because it has its own internal frame, it has its own inherent value beyond its
object-hood as a relic.
                                I think that’s
one way to think about the harvestings, as being relics, but more than relics,
in the way that an art object is more than just a relic. It’s part relic, but
it’s also fully in the present, that’s the “something more” that’s in an art
exhibitions with the people and the notion of community — I mean, everything
has community in some way, football teams. People go to games. Church. People
come together around a common purpose. Yes, art is one of those kinds of
containers for community, and it’s certainly relevant, if not the thing itself
that makes art valuable to us.
                                 I guess
I’m Hegelian in the sense that I see art as a kind of religious practice, and
the way that I engage with art is that it’s a way to fill that kind of meaning,
that would be both historical and eternal meanings that the human spirit
Sara:                       Would
you say that, basically, in your work, the artwork occupies the place of the
relic? There’s an undercurrent of a sort of religious discourse, in which it
seems the artwork occupies a space that once belonged to religion, those are
itineraries that repeat in your work. Do you think that would be accurate?
David:                     Yes,
yes. I think these kinds of white-cube rituals we perform, repeatedly, in
Chelsea, despite their commercial elements — which can be talked about, too,
and usually is, unfortunately — it’s a bizarre behavioral and cultural thing
that we do, and I don’t think we really think about it, in the same way that
people went to church, probably, in the 12th century without thinking about it
too much, either. It was just the world as you knew it, and it was a way to
bring meaning to the world that we lived in.
Sara:                       You
said something along the lines that there are communities everywhere, in all
sorts of places. I’ve also heard you talk about the specificity of the artwork.
Its distinctiveness from life is important to you. You talk about ‘art to life
to art to life to art.’
                                I think
’s something about this. Yes, there is a community, maybe
like any other community, maybe not. Yet this community only exists because of
this other space, the art gallery. I wanted to talk about this notion of
autonomy as a sign of resistance and of how that is important to you. Because
you have mentioned to me, and I think I’ve heard you speak about this question
of maintaining the difference between art and life — maintaining the separation
is an important element, right?
David:                     Yes,
definitely. The slogan which you see here [on the paintings] for Cathouse
FUNeral is “Life to Art to Life”, which we can see is somewhat circular and
off-center, which is something that implies that it’s partial, but it becomes
cyclical: life to art to life to art to life, it’s the narcissism again, it’s
the crossroads; it’s all of that, where, it probably should be “life to death
to life to death.” If you think about death and regeneration and those kinds of
ideas. Art is a stand-in for death, in the way that it’s being used here, and
then this idea of a separation between life and art is something that I
advocate for, although these lines are very blurry and difficult to define. One
of the big 20th-century notions was that art should be folded into life, in a
completing, in a contemporary political act, where art should directly relate
to “the now,” and the second it is put in a museum — i.e. taken out of the flow
of a normal temporality — that it becomes ossified, it became like a relic, and
one that’s dead. So, the idea of a “museum as a mausoleum,” as Adorno talks
about it.
                                So, as
Proust says, when you come in contact with that dead object in the mausoleum of
the museum, when your subjectivity comes in contact with that other
in the art object, you bring life to it, and that becomes
the cyclical relationship of “life to art to life,” as opposed to trying to
fold art into life, where art basically gets consumed by life and disappears
                                 I mean, it’s
interesting, if you think of animism and other kinds of, say, pre-modern
religious performativity, or ways of thinking, where everything is infused with
the spirit. Whereas with modern, and the development of the museum, and the way
that we think about art now as kind of an extension… or somewhere when science
and art separated, or with the death of religion or something like this. Art
became that space, unlike (or like) animism, where you can step outside of life
somehow, in some sort of imaginary way. This is where you go into the grave, or
into that reflecting space of Narcissus.
you go into a movie theater, and it’s dark, and you live someone else’s
experience for two hours, and you forget yourself, and you come back out to
reflect on that experience — that other person’s experience, and your own in
relation. So, you kind of die in that moment to yourself, and you open yourself
to another experience. You do that when you read a book, for example. You
silence your own inner voice, and you let someone else’s take over.
something to do with human consciousness, and the way that humans are able to
think, and that would be sort of the art-death part that separates from the
quotidian flow of time that I think we habitually do — without thinking about
it — when we read a book or go to an art museum, it’s built-in. This is part of
the way — I’m thinking about Courbet, too — it’s built into the way we
experience art, as opposed to the way art would have been experienced by
deeper, older cultural moments in which they didn’t perform in the same
materialist way that we do today.
Sara:                       I
think we are at about an hour now, and we should open it up for questions.
David:                     Yeah.
Please. Yes. If not dinner!
Sara:                       Okay.
David:                     Okay.
Any questions, or you’ve been berated enough? Yeah?
Audience #1:          So
there’s this idea, these days for novelist to create “auto-fiction.” So they
have their selves as a subject in a different way than biography or older
novels, and I’m wondering how this “David Dixon” character seems to be a
container, a self like you, but different.
David:                     It
happens. It happens to all of us, when we think of ourselves, in time, as
historical characters, which we can do — thinking of yourself in the third
person as opposed to the first person. That’s a result of human consciousness.
When you make a movie, for example, and you act in it — in the first film that
I made, “Unloosened and Root,” I set up the beginning by saying in a voice
over, “Oh, that’s my character, ‘Joe Johnson.’ It’s not me really, you know,
but it’s based on my own experience,” which it was, so it’s partially
autobiographical. But I don’t know this new literary movement you’re talking
about. What are some examples?
Audience #1:          Karl
Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” would be one…
David:                     So,
that’s thought of not as…like Proust’s narrator, or anything like that?
Audience #1:          Well,
the main character is the author, but a little bit different than the person
you might meet. There are several authors working like that, but its more a
question of how you’re doing it.
David:                     So,
after “David Dixon is dead.” — maybe this will answer the question a little bit
— everything was like gravy after that, because the whole time I was making the
movie, I was just trying not to die, you know? Because it seemed like it would
be too absurd to die — like, cursing myself or something.
that, the movie, you’re sort of dead, so then everything else is post…I’m
already in the afterlife. So then, yeah, maybe in that afterlife, you’re
already corpse, or you’re already emptied, and that’s when you can start to put
the quotation marks around yourself, and you reach some sort of meta-self.
[laughs nervously]
Audience #2:          The
is not a question, but the way you’re speaking about these historical paintings
and how they relate to the space is very nice, to hear how the logic of the
space comes from painting history.
                                I have a
comment, too, in relation to how Picasso made the first painting behind
d’Avignon,” it is actually a sailor at the base, if you see the leg, its
transformed into the figures, it’s the remains of a leg from the sailor.
                                Anyway, my
question though is about the future, what will happen after these five years
and you
’re still alive?

David Dixon, “Life to Art to Life, 2” (2018) ink and paint on harvested, plastered and painted sheetrock, stained wood frame, 24×32 inches

David:                     Yes. Putting Cathouse FUNeral in Cathouse Proper, and then using the ouroboros symbol in the promotional material and everything — you know, really, ideally, the gallery should end, you know? It should eat itself and disappear, but I didn’t want to do that, because I want the gallery to keep going! But just for conceptual clarity, it should end, but it’s not going to. We already know what we’re doing next year, to a degree, so it’s going to keep going. 

                                I was
thinking about changing the name, but that seems sort of silly, too, so we just
have to think of it conceptually
, like that. Yeah.
the gallery’s going to keep going, but I am trying to think of some larger
context, because, like the movies, the gallery became a larger context within
which art could come out of for myself, and I like having these larger projects
that smaller things come out of. But the gallery is  painting, and Cathouse FUNeral, especially…so,
coming to this white cube, here, Cathouse Proper, you know, it has to be
respected, by and large, so it’s the antithesis of what the other space was,
which is why it’s really exciting to be in here. It was like collage, that
other space, the FUNeral.
                                The other
space always felt like collage to me, or a montage, in that each of the
exhibitions, like I say, led into the other ones. So, you do something on the
wall, and you keep it for the next show, and you
something else, and then the next show would happen and we’d take something
out, but put something else in, so the space itself felt like collage, but it’s
also in time, so that’s why it had those cinematographic qualities of a
Audience #3:          I noticed that in both of these
large paintings you’ve been talking about the symbolism of the shapes and
crossroads, and I’m noticing that you have a divide in the two pieces, and I’m wondering
if you have a conceptual idea of why you put the separation in both these
pieces where you put them?
David:                     It’s
definitely a horizon, like with the four moments of the sun, where above the
horizon is noon, and below is midnight, and the sun travels in this diamond
shape, you know, through that horizon and into the underworld. I was thinking
of it like that.
practically, they
’re 7-by-9 feet. They wouldn’t fit
through the door, so they had to be cut in half, and that was somewhat traumatic.
I mean, I was about to start working on them, and I was thinking, “Am I a fool?
I can’t even get them in the studio door.” I mean, I wanted them to be what
they needed to be, obviously, but…so, they had to be cut in half. In order to
do that in a meaningful way, one was cut in half after I made it, after I made
the whole image. And that one, the colorful one, I cut before. It was made cut.
                                So, you can
actually see the way that the color and the paint and everything, the way the
treatment goes up to that
horizon line is different in the
two paintings. That was to give it some variety. That cut is in the center,
too, and this one’s not in the center. Then, of course, I wanted the severed
know, I would say if you just saw these paintings and you didn’t know anything
about the gallery and all that, they have to function in that way too. So, what
is a “Cathouse FUNeral,” you know? So, it’s Thanatos and Eros. Thanatos is
death, it’s death and sex, those two Freudian drives.
                                This one
especially, with all the black, it
’s almost like a
devouring angel, it’s the death of the cathouse, if it’s a funeral for the
cathouse. It’s the death of this kind of exploitation we were talking about — you
know, putting a quantitative value on a qualitative thing. Basically,
capitalism! A devouring angel for capitalism! The Kota are going to come back
and get us — which they should, and they will — maybe you’ve seen the film “Burn,”
by Pontecorvo…anyone seen that film? Marlon Brando?
                                 Anyway, at
the end
— just watch the movie for the end. It’s called “Burn”. It’s
on YouTube, because the guy was a Marxist, so it’s free! There’s no copyright
on the movie, or something. Pontecorvo is the one who made “Battle of Algiers”
— the other movie he made is “Burn.” Just watch the movie, and in the last
scene, just look at the eyes at the end. I feel like that’s what the Kota is
doing here in this painting.
Audience #3:          What year?
David:                     That
movie is from ’69 or something like that.
Audience #4:          I
love this first comment that you made about the film of the beheaded “maybe-David”
next to the “maybe-Father,” and that is very similar, I think, but almost in
reverse, of certain cuts that you make in your work. I notice this beheading,
decapitating. But what’s interesting to me is in the Kota relics, if we can
call them that anymore, the ancestry is left behind when they’re cut, the
familial skulls are left and what we know and operate symbolically on is this
effigy of an actual effigy.
abstractions aside, I
’m kind of curious if you think about
the relationships that you have with the artists that you work with, but also
with a lot of the people that are here, and that return here for every opening —
the kind of kinships that happen at Cathouse — have you ever thought about that
in relation to that kind of kin, or familial nature of the skull looking up, or
the silicon head [“The Artist in his Studio”] — which is an effigy of an effigy
also — looking up at your father or A Father while it’s driven somewhere
to be preserved, or the beheaded objects that you make in terms of kinship? I’m
wondering if there are examples of working with artists, or how you think of
the family in terms of the gallery.
David:                     Yes.
I love my family. As I imagine that we all do, but I do think, as artists,
there’s something about trying to find family in the activities that we do, and
for myself, that’s certainly the case. I mean, I feel a kinship with artists.
Burroughs in
“The Cities of the Red Night,” I believe,— he described…there
was the leader of China and Russia, and the leader of America, and they were at
war or something, and he used the exact same paragraph to describe them all.
They had a certain personality type, in other words: leaders-of-the-world type
people, as opposed to artists who, you know, have a certain type of character.
That’s one
to think cross-culturally, and across ethnicity, in some ways. Those are real
kinships, as far as I’m concerned.
Audience #4:          But
what about this moment when you…the film happens around the time of your mother’s
death, right? And then, that’s also the start of how your work becomes more a
carriage also for other people, rather than just of your own, it becomes “heroic
social work,” and I’m wondering how you think of the film and those kinds of
headings, to what degree do you think of it as your family growing at the
moment of your mother’s passing? Is that something that you reflect on?
David:                     I
hadn’t really thought about the gallery in relation to my mother, no. Sorry,
no. More of this “youthful narcissism,” idea. I like throwing “youthful” in
there. I’m glad you use it. It takes the edge off of it a little bit.
Sara:                       I
think this is a fascinating question, because there’s something about reverse
filiation in your work, in which you use other artists as your precedents. And
in the film, in the moment of the cut, the beheading, you become the one that
makes the son into the father. You become the vessel.
something about the idea that this filiation that doesn’t follow a
chronological order. So, the idea of these cuts gives you the possibility of
scrambling time, and I think — we haven’t talked about temporality — something
that is going on there as well. When you take Tariku’s black wall, there, you
make it the origin or the precedent, you play with it a little bit. You create
alternative historiographies of the way the certification of the work works. Do
you think that’s also there, maybe? I don’t know. Is it?
David:                     Yes,
because we harvested the walls completely out of the first gallery space, and
they were reconfigured in different… well, they were configured in different
configurations, yes. And there is the slideshow here…one of the things I want
to do is make a book this summer, to see how the gallery progressed, how it
went from one phase to another phase in chronological order, this montage. But
seeing everything happen at once in the slideshow — all the exhibitions
constantly constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed is also illuminating,
they go back and forth, linear time is upset.
a lot to go into when you talk about the son before the father, because that’s
the whole Christian idea which is a complicated one, about how the son dies in
the father. If the father is God, and God is all, and Jesus — you know, the
Trinity, the whole idea of thinking of the Trinity is the mortality of mortal
man, and he dies in the all, creating a hole in the whole, but then he
supersedes the father because he becomes God himself.
                                I mean,
’s a lot of that kind of mixing of temporarily like you’re
talking about in the movie “David Dixon is dead.” In forcing the father’s hand
to perform the act of love, even against his own wishes, by confronting the materiality
of the dead son, it’s a power move, to force the father to be the hero that the
son wants him to be, its an affront. Not very pleasant.
Audience #5:          I’m just ruminating on the
gravity of the head and the flesh, and you also mentioned the rest of the body
is cremated into ash. So, what happens to the ash, and do the head and the ash
ever combine?
David:                     Yes.
They come back together. The movie was made to live out the consequences of a
piece that I made titled “Museum Mausoleum” (2006). It’s a self-portrait. I
already made it. And my skull should sit inside after it’s cleaned, behind the
portrait, and on the bottom behind the glass are the ashes.
                                In the film,
the way to sort of make this skull preservation supersede this idea of
— you never see the ashes in any form after the father
takes the head to Oklahoma City. They just disappear from the narrative, but
they should all come together again. Right now, I have a plastic skull sitting
in “Museum/Mausoleum” as a model or stand-in. The hope is that after I actually
do die, that someone, whoever wants it, will carry this stuff out. You just
have to go to Oklahoma City. Jay Villemarette is the owner of Skulls Unlimited,
he’s in the movie, and he’s there ready for you!
Sara:                       The
significance of the skull is always different in all these religious references
that you use. The skull is different from the body.
David:                     Yes,
and it’s true in the Asmat, too. This is not just mind-body, Cartesian
separation, you know? They kept the skull, but no one knows…I don’t know what
they did with the skeleton.
Audience #5:          But
it’s serious. I mean, you have built a monument that will somehow…I mean, you
fully intend for it to succeed you and be an artwork that exists in some sort
of museum. So do you have thick leaded glass and a seal? Have you figured it
David:                     Yes.
It’s not so thick, but yeah, it’s sealed. The idea of “What museum?” was kind
of fun to think through. It seems like it should be with the Fayum paintings in
the Egyptian section, you know, which are reliquaries, which were influences,
or the Asmat with the skulls, but no! It should not be in an historical survey
museum, where it can be with its brethren, which are these traditions; it
should be in a contemporary museum, and it should always be in a contemporary
museum, even in the future, when we have museums that are different than
contemporary museums are now. It should be such that the dead is always brought
amongst the living. That would be the ideal situation. So, it should always be
Audience #5:          It
should be rolled out into the lobby area on every opening day!
David:                     Something
like that. You know, the Egyptians…there’s evidence that the mummies were kept
in the house for many generations, and then disposed of. They have evidence
that they were maybe kept in the foyer or something like this, so you would
walk by granddad and say, “Hey.”
Audience #6:          So,
beginning with the end, how do you continue painting?
David:                      Beginning
with the end…of this?
Audience #6:          Of
your life.
David:                     Oh.
Well, that’s…yeah…
Audience #6:          So,
what are you painting today?
David:                     These
works here.
Audience #6:          Oh.
So, these are…
David:                     Yeah.
Um…yeah. Uh…that’s a good question. I am still here. The selflessness that’s
supposed to be the heroic social worker is an ideal of some sort, one that I
don’t really…

Audience #6:          With
the gallery?
David:                     Yeah,
with the gallery, and I hope that it seems complicated. The narcissism is not
completely gone, obviously. It’s even magnified in some way. It’s meant to be a
criticism. I did a series of paintings with the text “heroic social worker,”
but the title is “Narcissus,” so I’m definitely thinking of these terms as
dialectical, and in the gallery, too. So, one still has to bring one’s self to
the party, unfortunately or fortunately. So, that never really dies.
that good? Does everybody want to go eat now? Yeah! Thank you.

David Dixon, “Cathouse FUNeral Triptych Harvesting” (2017) plaster, pigment, graphite, paint on gypsum board with wood frame, 72×43 inches