Ten Questions I’d Like to Ask Other People—Living or Dead—About Their Work, More or Less

(And My Own Answers About Mine, More or Less)

The answers given below are Jay Besemer’s alone, not the words/experiences/opinions of the people named in the questions.  Just to be clear.

For Robert Smithson: “Spiral Jetty” is notoriously hard to find.  Do you think lack of direct accessibility damages the viewers’ relationship to the work?

Only if they approach the work with the expectation that it will reveal itself—location, meaning—as they believe it should.  Ask if my work is deliberately inaccessible, and I probably won’t say no.  But I’ll ask you what you mean by “accessible.”

For Tristan Tzara: That hat you talk about, for the dada poem—describe it.

Mein Hut, er hat drei Ecken

Drei Ecken hat main Hut

Wenn der Hut hast nicht drei Ecken

Dann es ist nicht mein Hut

Blame Herr Paskuly’s unit on Oktoberfest songs for that one.  “My hat it has three corners, three corners has my hat.  If the hat doesn’t have three corners, then it isn’t my hat.”

For Andrea Zittel: Of all that happened during your month on your floating island, what was most unexpected?

One month passes at moderate speed.  One week passes almost too quickly to perceive.  A single day can last as long as a year.  It’s not that I don’t expect this, but I find myself surprised every time I notice it. 

Then there was the time when all of my pens turned into spoons, and vice versa.

For Julia Child:  Every time I see you, you’re whacking a chicken with a hammer.  What’s that about?

I’m a collagist, so I have a bit of a fetish for using tools on specific images and forms.  Chicken-images are pretty compelling; they have a sort of multilayered collection of meanings that change according to mood.  Sometimes they are sinister and horrifying, other times they seem a bit goofy and bumbling.  A violent collision between tool, object and alternative context: that’s a lot of what my work’s about.

For Moby: When you’re on a plane and you look out the window, what do you think about?  Are you a running-on-the-clouds person or a flying-alongside-the-plane person?

Running-on-the-clouds.  Actually, when there are visible clouds, that’s pretty much what I think about—running on them.  When it’s night and we go over a city, I like to look at the language defined by the clusters and lines of light.  I like to think about what it says about time, the sort of condensed historical commentary contained in those lights.  I also like to imagine living there, the people I’d know, what materials I’d find at hand.  Sometimes, if I have one of my cameras handy, I’ll make photographs.

For Edwin Land: Define “obsolescence” and “inspiration,” in your personal lexicon.

Obsolescence: the state of having been abandoned by those who are easily bored.  Alternatively, the circumstances of having options or resources forcibly denied or taken away.

Inspiration: a form of looking and/or listening that results in discovery and fascination.  Alternatively, a type of garment that accelerates change when wrapped and folded in a precise sequence.

For Kenny Goldsmith:  Excellent outfit.  Who’s your tailor?

Good question!  Any trans-friendly tailors in the Chicago area, please contact me! 

I have a bit of an obsession with tailors.  This probably has some connection to my collage work, but I’ve only recently begun to analyze it.  I think there’s a lot of similarity between the creation of a garment from multiple smaller segments, and a visual piece from multiple disparate elements.  There’s also the obvious sort of thing about self-definition, the integrity of identity, the ways of communicating selfhood through clothing, blah blah.  This has become very important to me now.  Of course, I think it’s also fair to say I just really want a couple of totally boss bespoke suits.

For Lady Gaga:  Where did it all begin?  Was there one idea that started it all?

I’ve always made art, books, performances.  I mean, ever since I learned how to write, I’ve made things out of writing.  I’ve made pictures all my life, starting just like any other three-year-old making egg-and-stick people on scrap paper (or walls…).  I just didn’t stop doing it.  So I’m not sure I can remember a single point of origin, other than whatever moment of self-awareness a very young person might experience, in which I realized that I was most myself doing these things.

My first memory of performing in front of an audience, onstage, dates back to somewhere around age seven or eight.  I think it’s safe to say that performing has always held great meaning to me, personally, on a deep interior level.  I don’t think I had the sophistication or wisdom as a kid to really put together why it was so important to me—I’m starting to be able to see it now, but that’s only as a result of re-exploring and incorporating/emphasizing performance as a working practice for my current poetics.

For William Kentridge:  You’re an artist whose practice spans many different arenas, media, “disciplines.”  You have spoken of the need to live and work in a sort of state of unknowing, that this is a necessary state for your work.  It seems to me that another way to describe this state is as perpetual “beginner’s mind”—a friendly relationship to your own learning, always being open to learning.  What are you learning right now?

I’m learning a lot more about printmaking and printing in general.  I am currently learning offset printing through an apprenticeship, and I’m taking my block printing work in more challenging directions.  What’s funny is that the “reverse” way of working, in drawing and carving out the blocks, is much easier for me than I expected it to be.  It’s also funny how intuitive the offset process is.

Also, I’m learning more about electronic music composition and video editing—not pro-level stuff, just consumer programs, what I call “vernacular” programs—for my video-poem practice.  (I have around ten new videos I am holding off on publishing for various reasons; some are reserved for a project in the works).

For Samuel R. Delany:  One thing (among many) that I love about you is that you have always loved poetry; more than that, you’ve always been committed to its makers and its continual evolution.  You are also incredibly supportive of other science-fiction writers.  Which poets and science-fiction writers are you reading right now?

I’m always reading a lot of both, but currently the books I have in hot rotation—like within reach—are by David Antin, kari edwards, Magus Magnus, Laura Goldstein, Iain M. Banks, and…Samuel R. Delany.



Hybrid artist Jay Besemer is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, including the brand-new A New Territory Sought and (as Jen Besemer) Telephone, Object with Man’s Face, Quiet Vertical Movements, Ten Word Problems,  and What Is Born. A new chapbook, Aster to Daylily, is due in March from Damask Press. Jay’s recombinant poetry projects are anthologized in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and can be found in Monsters & Dust, Aufgabe, Drunken Boat, BlazeVOX, e-ratio, Sentence and other delicious publications. Jay also curates the occasional poetry event, writes feature essays and reviews, and teaches art and poetry workshops in and beyond Chicago. To find out more, visit www.jenbesemer.com.