Vivienne Dick has been making films and installations for thirty five years, though is best known for a burst of work in NYC in the late 70’s and early 80’s when she was part of what has become known as the No Wave scene. Together with an unruly cast of artists and musicians (notably Pat Place and Lydia Lunch) Dick helped create a vortex of nihilistic glamour that sustains the East Village to this day. Dick’s films, which often display a fractured narrative, stops and starts, off camera voices and rough cut production qualities, are suffused with personality, intimacy and political strength.These early works including Guérillère Talks (1978), She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) and Liberty’s Booty (1980) are regularly shown in international museums as exemplars of an era when a tough aesthetic was probably the only option available.
Having returned to Ireland in the 80‘s she continued to create films that somehow refused - and indeed continue to refuse - to comply with the rules, despite displaying a serenity that only superficially offers thematic resolution. Indeed meanings and narrative in Dick’s work (A Skinny Little Man Attacked Daddy (1994), Excluded By The Nature Of Things (2002) and Trisha's Song (2009)) continue to elude like smoke in the hand. Vivienne Dick very kindly offered us a preview of her latest work The Irreducible Difference Of The Other (2013) and the time to discuss her work.
Excerpt from The Irreducible Difference Of The Other (2013)
IM. Thank you for talking with us about your mesmerising new film The Irreducible Difference Of The Other (2013) which I think you’ve just finished. How do you feel now it’s done?
VD. Delighted it is finished as it took a while to complete. The shooting took place over several years and some of the footage it - anti Iraq war march and accompanying TV footage dates from 2003.
It was shot sporadically and I was trying not to have too much of a preconceived plan or script. It was scary when the time came to edit. Having a deadline helped to push it on. I was very fortunate to have so many wonderful contributors to the image and sound. It was especially wonderful to work with a great editor - Connie Farrell - as she gave so much to the project and became immersed in it so we were really a team.
This is a film about a very big idea - 'what is it to be human in the world today' ... I was doing a lot of reading in preparation - Judith Butler, Artaud, Irigaray, Virilio etc. I have also been reading a lot of material to do with the two world wars of the 20th century.
IM. Antonin Artaud famously arrived in Ireland bearing what he professed to be the returning staff of St Patrick. The Irreducible Difference Of Others features the rather remarkable Olwen Fouéré as Artaud and speaking lines from To Have Done With The Judgement of God. Why Artaud now?
VD. Artaud, like the paintings of Francis Bacon, seems to embody the pain and horror of the 20th century.
Artaud looks to other cultures for healing.
He is a seer and he keeps returning. Olwen had already performed him in a theatre piece called 'Here Lies" which played in the Imperial Hotel in Galway, where Artaud had stayed in 1937.
IM. Staten Island (1978) begins with a sequence of enigmatic protagonist Pat Place walking out of the East River, and The Irreducible difference closes with Olwen Fouéré returning into the water. Was that a conscious move to locate and define two points?
VD. Indeed, i never thought about that! I suppose the sea is indeterminate. It is the unconscious, meditative. It is also about possibilities, I think.
IM. Rebecca Solnitt in her wonderful book Wanderlust: A History of Walking defined the participants of protest marches as a superpower if the energies can combine. The Irreducible Difference has sequences of protest action in both Galway and Cairo, linking the global urges for a popular democracy. You have a rich seam of back catalogue to draw on, much of which addresses issues of equality both in terms of gender and capital. These wars are not won yet. Are we getting anywhere?
VD. Indeed, a good question. We must never give up. As fascism closes in we become more and more aware of the dangers. Like Artaud, we always have to look to other cultures and other times. History and remembering are important. Creating art is a revolutionary act. It is interesting to see an artist like Ana Mendieta in the Hayward today. There is perhaps a connection between what she does and Artaud.
IM. Your early films ie Guerillere Talks (1978), She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978), Liberty's Booty (1980) are quite rightly centre stage in an appreciation of a late 70’s NYC aesthetic - a bit a trash and a bit vaudeville - that shared a lot in terms of DIY aesthetic from the punk scene, which of course you were part of. That was a while back now, yet I have a suspicion you still feel the energy...
VD. I am trying to channel it, yes.
Excerpt from The Irreducible Difference Of The Other (2013)
IM. The Irreducible Difference starts with what may appear on first viewing to be a sequence of seemingly random situations and narratives which then begin to merge and accelerate through the film. For instance in one sequence sculptor Eileen MacDonagh describes the necessity of using heat/fire to work granite, a substance that is made from a very violent reaction with fire. We then see the protest marchers in Galway walking on granite, generating heat. How much are you aware of the films final structure before you start editing?
VD. Now you mention something else I had not noticed. of course the editing operates on an unconscious level. I try to enter into that state to allow it to speak through me.
You are right about the granite being all over the place in Galway - in the town and in Connamara. I grew up in Donegal surrounded by that rock and loved the warm feel of it in Summer.
IM. Can you tell us who you consider your peers and influences? Margaret Tait’s Colour Poems came out in 1974 and I wonder if seeing this was a direct inspiration to pick up the Super 8. What was your Damascene moment?
VD. Many influences. Clearly seeing independent American cinema for the first time in New York affected me.
I was affected by Fassbinder's film 'Fear Eats the Soul' which I saw when it first came out. I think I was influenced by music also - lots of it. A big one would be Robert Wyatt and later Patti Smith. I saw work by Margaret Tait later - yes I love her work.
IM. You’ve worked again with long-time audio collaborator Martin Wheeler again - what does he bring for you?
VD. I met Martin first when we were both living in New York. He and Rhys Chatham both live in Paris now. I left the decisions re music to the last minute I am afraid and called on Martin to help - knowing the kind of music he makes of course.
The budget for this film was not large at all. Next time I would love to involve him earlier on in the making of it. Martin has a very subtle granular understanding of sound manipulation and he listens to a wide range of music. I love also what Jennifer Walshe has brought to the film with her voice work. Jennifer is amazing.
IM. You reference Anna Akhmatova’s harrowing poem cycle Requiem, about the arrest and disappearance of her son into the Soviet prison system, which she the carried and formed in secret. We have been distant and passive witnesses to similar terrors in Iraq, Syria and to a thankfully lesser extent in Egypt, where you shot footage included in The Irreducible Difference. Summary executions, disappearances, war crimes. How can art reasonably respond to these extreme breakdowns of civil order?
VD. We have to try to understand it. One of the big things is people who have been oppressed tend to do the same when in a position of power. It is like the child abuse issue. We have to learn to break the cycle through education.
Irigaray believes that the issue of our time is the question of sexual difference. She talks about the need for an ethics of the couple ( inscribed in the legal code) which would act as an intermediary space between people and states and in her words, 'leading to a new age of thought, art, poetry and language'.
We have to imagine it for it to be possible.
IM. And last but not least, here’s a trainspotter question...the party sequence in Liberty’s Booty features Trixie Salke dancing in a cream and red ball gown. Was that the same night Nan Goldin - whom you spot briefly in this sequence - shot her famous image Trixie On The Cot, wearing the same dress?
VD. Nan was taking stills for the film I was shooting at the time (Liberty's Booty) - so, yes, it was.
NB: 'The Irreducible Difference of The Other' - 'The Other' being a philosophical term which reflects Vivienne’s long term interest in ideas around relationship - between the couple, between peoples, cultures etc and the importance to find a way to relate without dominating or swamping the other.
Vivienne Dick is represented by LUX, London