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Series curator Kathy High conducted this telephone interview with Neil Goldberg in May, 1997.
The first question I wanted to ask you was are you high end, or low end? Do you work with any particular kind of equipment, or just what you can get your hands on?
Well, up to this
year I have been working incredibly low end. I shot SHE'S A TALKER with
a friend's borrowed camcorder, a friend's mother's VHS, and edited it from
VHS to 3/4" at Rafik -- rough cut only. So I think the whole thing cost
probably $200 to make. It was incredibly cheap. With the "Hallelujah
Anyway" pieces, I got a Hi8 camcorder, but still for those I transferred
them to 3/4", and not even 3/4" SP, and again edited them in a
rough cuts room, so we're talking super-low budget. This year I got a grant
from NYSCA, [New York State Council on the Arts] and so I have made the transition to Beta, and I'm still trying
to get comfortable with that. There's a level of forgiveness built into
low production values, you know. It's as if now I have no excuse or something.
I'm hoping one day to move up to digital.
The idea came out of a free-association moment where I found myself combing my roommate's cat and said out loud, "She's a talker," and I thought, "Oh God, gay men across the city are probably all doing the same thing." It was kind of a poignant moment, you know, you're single and you have a cat, and you can feel a kind of fraught moment of endearing affection, or something. So, it was based on that little epiphany that I decided to set out on the project and I kind of defended the scope of it. I wanted it to be a series of a second-and-a-half vignettes. I wanted to find gay men from all five boroughs, from diverse backgrounds, and I wanted each of them to be in their living room. So, a lot of it and a lot of my work is very process-oriented, but that process is sort of hidden -- or not totally revealed -- in the final piece, so you don't really see from looking at SHE'S A TALKER, the weeks I spent leafletting and going to different meetings at the gay community center talking to people. And a lot of it was based on a trust issue. I was basically asking people to let me come in to their living room and videotape them.
No, I would say probably 20 of them or less are friends or friends of friends, and then the rest were strangers. I put an ad in The Village Voice looking for gay men who have female cats. It was kind of limited that way. I put up fliers again at the gay and lesbian community service center and I introduced myself at various sub-group meetings like "Birth and Mirth" or "Gay Catholics," and that kind of thing. So, it was an arduous process.
I think it was probably a solid two months. I don't remember for sure, but I had a really beautiful matrix of a schedule, where I would try to do about three a day on days I didn't have to work. I tried to schedule it by borough, but it was not uncommon for me to be traversing from Brooklyn to the Bronx and to Queens, you know, in a single day. And in the actual interviews with the people, I did ultimately just have them comb the cat and say, "She's a talker" for the camera. But usually I spent something like an hour there just talking and taping them, because I wasn't sure if perhaps for the installation that this was originally intended for at The Kitchen, if I might not include other channels, so I just collected a lot of footage. And, you know, a lot of stories came out of that, different sort of intimacies from just talking with these people. A couple of people I still see on the street and chat with. You know, there was an element of flirtation in a couple of them, one or two have died, so there's a lot of stuff in there for me, personally.
It was at The Kitchen. It was part of the Mix Festival in '93.
Actually, it was pretty bare bones. It was the first installation I had done and it was just the tape playing on a loop on a small monitor on the floor. I still have a ton of other footage associated with it, and toy around with the idea of adding other channels, but that seems unlikely at this point, so it was pretty much just working with the loop.
Well, my roommate had this cat, Nancy, that was, you know, a talker. They found her eating out of a dumpster at a McDonalds in Louisiana and just adopted her, and so basically the piece is tied to Nancy -- I dedicated the piece to her. She's the meanest cat in the world. She's completely vicious.
Oh yeah, totally. Another big part of the project was, like, animal wrangling. You know, the cat didn't want to come out from under the bed, the vicious cat was hostile towards its owner. In the process of doing it, so much was revealed about these people by virtue of their relationships to their cats. A friend of mine, who's a waiter, says he can read people based on how they walk in and sit themselves down at a table in a restaurant. I kind of got to feel that way by the end of seeing, however many, 90-odd men with their cats.
I think in the final cut there were 70.
Yeah, and I got very Virgo-like about it. If there was a certain cadence, I wanted to create kind of a rhythmic thing going on, and some people wouldn't say it fast enough, or they were somehow off, and it kind of created a little glitch in the rhythm. One or two guys at the end of the interview, when I asked if they could sign the consent form saying it's okay to use their image said "Oh no, I could never do that." Meanwhile, we had spent an hour in there. And one guy was completely drunk out of his mind, and I just felt it wasn't a good idea to include him. I got a series of bizarre phone calls from him after our meeting, and I just felt like, "Uh, best to not include him in the final cut."
I have never had it quite laid out that way, which is very clarifying for me, because I think in an intuitive way. In terms of my relationship to the city, I grew up in Long Island and have that kind of suburban-gay-kid-growing-up-in-the-suburbs relationship to the city, where I still find myself walking down the street and feeling like "I can't believe I'm actually going to go to sleep in Manhattan." So, I mean, it's very uncouth and not very sophisticated to admit, but I'm still just sort of in love with the city and. . .
Yeah, totally. It
feels so improbable that my life and the city have meshed or become
In terms of how
I came to do it, a lot of those pieces that are part of this ongoing "Hallelujah
Anyway" installation have channels I'm still working on. One thing
that I'm interested in are "mundane activities" that have, for
me, a huge projective valence. I would notice when I pass someone
opening their gates in the morning that I would have totally different reactions
to it depending on how I was feeling that day. Like, "Oh, how depressing,
starting yet another day of selling, whatever, selling Drake's Cookies."
Or "Yes, okay, we can do it," you know, and feel ridiculous optimism.
And in fact, when people have looked at that particular piece over and over
again, they say, "Oh, you know, it's so energizing" or "Oh,
it's so depressing." So, I'm interested in the way that gesture is
projective. Also, I'm interested in dance -- that's the art medium
that I enjoy watching the most, and I have done a couple of collaborations
with different choreographers for stage sets. So, I love the particular
gesture of lifting those gates, and the way that same movement passes over
Six o'clock was the earliest. Of course, different places open at different times.
And would you shoot a lot of them in a day?
How did you come up with the name HALLELUJAH ANYWAY?
It comes from the poet Kenneth Patchin. He had a collection of poems called HALLELUJAH ANYWAY and I guess for me it was better than any title I could come up with. It describes an emotional relationship to the problematics of being alive that I was trying to explore. You know, we are all going to die, everyone's in pain to differing degrees, yet I feel . . . What does one do with one's joy and hope and optimism in the middle of that, so I feel like that's where the "Hallelujah Anyway" comes from.
Mechanics were pretty straight forward on it. I built a little stand that
I placed the small music box on, and just set it up in front of various
locations and framed it in a relatively consistent way. Then I got in with
a shotgun microphone on it, with a camera on a tripod, and I usually let
it run several minutes. And then I just edited the best background of it.
A big part of the set-up was just dealing with the sound issue. I had thought
about sweetening the sound afterwards or re-dubbing the sound of the music
box. But because the music box is strongly competing with the background
noise throughout most of it and often it is just overtaken by it, ultimately
I decided that that was something I wanted to preserve. That had gone into
my thinking about the project from the start: here's this kind of faint,
fragile element of continuity in the middle of all this assaulting noise,
and so I left that in. It almost reminds me of how one's thought processes
go when you're in the city.
Yeah. People are pretty nonchalant here. They're well-trained.
Yeah, we have a
lot of experience and, plus, it's that kind of sophisticated thing of being
Right. So when you shot this piece you had the camera on a macrofocus, which is what threw the background out of focus? The thing that's interesting about this one for me is it's really painterly. The colors are really outstanding. I'm sure that came through in the editing, but when you chose the locations did you think about that? How did you choose? And then you chose to place the last shot in a grocery, it looks like a Korean grocery.
It is, right on my corner, yeah.
And it was quiet. The ambient sound behind the music box was really quiet. You really heard the music box more than in some of the previous shots. And it had this funny sense of expectation that someone would come buy some lettuce -- but they don't. Why did you decide to make that the last shot?
Hmm, excellent question, and I feel like the answer to that would be weirdly personal and long for some reason . . . Supermarkets, food, consumption and eating for me, somehow, always is this intensely evocative moment. So looking at all this, you know . . .
Right, food makes you happy.
Yeah, totally, but also there's a sadness in it somehow. It just feels so poignant -- all this food kind of laid out, you know, and then we're going to eat it, and then we're going to live some more, and then the next day we're going to eat some more. It was something that as a kid, I mean -- here's where it gets unnecessarily sort of deep. I had an older brother who died of cystic fibrosis, and it left me very focused on just the mechanics of what it takes to live. Because when you have that kind of disease everything like eating and breathing becomes fraught with whatever. So I think I still have from that this odd fixation on just the mechanics of perpetuating ourselves. And to me the food, without even the implication of the consumer, feels very rich. And I just love looking at that stuff.
Do you have anything you want to add about the tapes, or the process of making the tapes?
I think that that really covers it, except I might add that I'm exploring the relationship between the single channel and the installation work. In fact, there's going to be a show up at AC Project Room where I'll be doing some stuff that works with that issue.
So do you find it harder to do single channel work in a way, because it's more specific, or narrows down what you have to work with? Because I know you've worked with multiple monitors in some of the installations.
Well, only really once have I started out intending to create a single channel work, and actually it's going to be part of an installation. Mostly everything I do starts out as an installation and then I toy around with the idea of presenting it in a single channel way. So, for me it's really interesting to see how I programmed the works as single channel things, and the way they have played in different places as single channel, versus my original conception of them as videos that are playing simultaneously, and provide viewers with choices and non-choices in a certain way about the simultaneity.
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