Adam Chodzko interviewed
Habitat Artclub Magazine, Summer 1999
David Barrett: Could you describe for us some of your works, as they can be quite complicated? One of the ones I'm intrigued by is Flasher.
Adam Chodzko: Fasher is an artwork that no-one really sees: it's a method by which I disperse very bright signals - urgent communications - into dead, or surplus space. What I do is film marine distress flares in various dark locations. I just film them illuminating whatever environment they're in, for about 50 seconds - which is the duration of the flare.
Then I rent a film from a video store. After the credits at the end of the film you get this little section of surplus black tape, and I just add the sequence into that dead, marginal space. It doesn't actually interrupt any of the film or credits. It exists in this limbo space: only if you leave the tape running long enough do you actually come across the work. I don't caption it in any way, I just return it to the video shop so that the next person to hire it, whoever they are, might find it or might not.
What kind of films are they in? Do you go into the video shop with your eyes shut and throw a dart?
Yeah, and the staff say 'The pub's next door,' No; I just get out whatever I happen to want to see.
But they're not random?
They are sort of random, but retrospectively they always relate in some way. At one point I asked somebody else to select videos for me, and one they selected was Marathon Man. At the time, the Flasher sequence I was working with involved a figure running through a pine forest at night. So the running at the end of Marathon Man goes straight into this running that's happening somewhere else. Another time someone chose Adjuster by Atom Egoyan, which ends with a fire. And then it goes straight into this burning flare.
After the event it seems perfect...
So with Flasher you get this burst of light. It's the kind of communication which I've always liked the idea of: urgent and from a dark space. Whether this space is in the imagination or, more literally, on the periphery of the city at night - someone is trying to say something. And if we can perceive their signal, we ought to wonder what they have to say.
It takes that blankness at the end of the tape, and stops it being just a void. It's as if there was always something there, suppressed in darkness, and you just happen to have illuminated it.
Yeah, exactly. I do think it's like shining a torch into a cellar that you've avoided thinking about, but have decided that now is the time to go down and find out what the previous tenants left behind. It's treating that unused space as physical: an actual space rather than just a bit of dead tape.
There are similar themes in your new work A Place for The End.
Yeah; this also deals with some kind of end space. I'm preoccupied with what, in our culture, is the separation point between things that are obviously fictions and things that are obviously real, and what happens to perception as you move between the two spaces. I always think that when the credits come up in the cinema there's a weird feeling of embarrassment, because people have to re-engage with the person they're sitting next to, and the fact that they've been in a social space the whole time, sitting with a lot of strangers.
It's only when you leave the cinema that you realise everyone else has also been in that extremely personal space of fiction too: a place where you think you're alone.
I always love watching people coming out of the cinema because they have this look of having been somewhere else: they've just come back from holiday or something. This expansion and contraction of our perception into real and fictional space is a major part of contemporary experience. A Place for The End is about that awkward space of endings, and it began with a simple question: 'where should a film end?'
So what does the project actually consist of?
I put together a group of strangers and I asked them to choose a location where they thought a film might end. I don't know why they picked certain locations, but they tended to pick places that had some sort of emotional charge for them. Some of them are quite innocuous looking and some of them are quite dramatic looking, but they're all kind of non-spaces around the city that you probably wouldn't acknowledge otherwise.
Having selected these places, we filmed what looks like the ending of a film happening in each location, with the group of people disappearing off into the background of their own spaces. It's as though they're disappearing into these choices that they've made.
Another element of the work is a series of plaques at each location, which simply describes a widescreen rectangle. 'Two metres from this plaque, crouching down at waist-level, from the trees on the left to the tower block on the right. Imagine a widescreen rectangle' - that sort of thing.
So they're public works, the plaques?
Yeah, they're the kind of things people come across when walking their dogs. They create an auratic buzz around a certain section of space in the city, which the space around it doesn't have.
One unusual aspect of your practice is that you often work with strangers. Is this an attempt to access a kind of collective consciousness?
There's a number of reasons. For one it's the fact that generally, if people are asked to do something which they don't normally do - where they don't know the language and rules surrounding a particular practice - there's a way in which they can operate quite freely and imaginatively, relative to regular practitioners. Its like: the few times in my life that I've gone bowling, I've always gone with someone who's saying 'I've never done this before.' And through that freedom of just being able to toss something into space, they're able to win first time.
It's not because you're crap at bowling?
Erm... could be. No, but I mean generally that thing of how people can often quite successfully rely on some kind of intuition when they're not worrying about rules and structures.
In the end, though, working with strangers is about getting advice: advice on how things should look. It's all about producing a visual, whether it's how Heaven might be lit or what God should look like.
There's something mesmerising about people describing, in very steady, certain, pragmatic terms, something which is absolutely fantastic: like what Heaven looks like.
The two projects you just referred to are interesting: The God Lookalike Contest and the Heaven piece, Nightvision. What struck me about Nightvision was that you were asking professional lighting technicians how they would light Heaven, whereas I guess there's probably not many professional God lookalikes.
Maybe there are...?
Some of those evangelical Americans... And there was always David Icke, who I think was definitely a professional God lookalike. (I once wrote to him asking to borrow his purple shell-suit for an artwork... but that's another story.) Anyway, that's more a belief about actually being God, which is not the uncertain, fleeting belief that I'm intrigued by.
There's something more interesting about a belief which is on the edge of your consciousness - which you just about glimpse now and again as a possibility - compared to, say, the myopic conviction of being a fully-paid up member of the Communist Party or the Morris Minor Owners Club. Neither of those things particularly interest me. I'm more interested in people saying to themselves 'What if...?' Or, 'What would it be like if...?' And then they go, 'Nah...' Because they're not quite ready to think that.
Those two projects are both trying to describe the look of something that is a received, cultural idea, and yet also extremely personal. On the one hand you've put this open question to anyone, asking whether they think they look like God - which comes down to either physical attributes or egotistical belief. Whereas with the lighting technicians, these are people who are paid to construct whatever anyone asks them to do, and if you ask them to make something look like Heaven, then it's not so much about what they themselves think Heaven should look like, but about what everyone else thinks Heaven should look like because they're always working towards an audience.
You're tapping into a kind of communal consciousness of imagery: a bank of collective images. The lighting technicians will be consciously aiming for that, whereas for the God lookalikes it's much more deep-rooted. Both projects mesh together.
Yeah, while operating in significantly different ways.
I'm curious about the actual objects of your work. I mean, going back to Flasher, what's the final work? Is it someone finding it in their living room? Or is it documentation of the project? Or what?
The final work is imagining it appearing somewhere else. So I think it operates as a story. It also operates in a gallery context in terms of a contract, which is taken out between me and whoever wants to buy the work: they select the film, I add the sequence onto the end, and then return it to the video shop. So effectively someone owns a piece of work, but they don't have it: it's somewhere else and it's hidden. In a sense it's about trust, because it's in neither of our interests to expose the fact that it's there. So there's this thing that they own, but in order to take possession of it they have to go and rent it out. So actually it has a number of manifestations, all of which are glimpsed quite briefly - which is pretty much the nature of the visual footage itself.
What about the legality of some of your projects?
This idea of doing illegal things. I mean, they're not major offences, but these small-scale disruptions - are they an integral aspect of the work?
If you're working with marginal space... Well, one of those spaces is on the edge of the law. If all the works are attempting to play with what happens when you start operating in those spaces, inevitably it's going to end up that some of the works are... slightly not legal. [laughter]
So you see it as an inevitable by-product?
Yeah: of wanting to do things that aren't already out there. It always appears to the outside world that art is a kind of free space where people just frown a lot, do whatever they like, and call it 'Art'. And actually there's a very narrow space to operate in: a series of responsibilities, one of which is to produce something that isn't already in the world. And therefore you're always trying to reach beyond what is given, or what there is acceptability for, or where there is consensus about how things should be. And so therefore you're always going to be taking a risk in dodgy territory, ahead of yourself and out of your depth. And this is the marginal space my work operates within: a limbo land of possibilities.
text copyright david barrett
images copyright the artists