Wynne Greenwood, the performance artist behind Tracy + the Plastics, wants to chat on Hangouts
TRACY + the Plastics was a queer DIY indie electro pop band in which all three members were played by Wynne Greenwood, an artist based in Seattle. The project lasted from 1999 to 2006 and was the subject of “Kelly,” her recent exhibition at the New Museum in New York City. In the initial iteration of the project, Greenwood was already performing with—and to—herself. But she retained little to no documentation of the project then, so she decided to complete the archive by restaging it. She performed live as Tracy, the singer, to prerecorded video projections of herself as Nikki, the keyboardist, and Cola, the drummer.
This re-projection of what already was a potent, reflexive enactment underscores the levels of performativity, framing, and staging inherent in the project. Greenwood addresses not only the portrayal of the self to the world but the refractory potential of this portrayal. When we perform ourselves, do we also perform to ourselves?
To explore performativity through notions of the self, I proposed to Greenwood a dialogue that pivoted on the interview as medium. In essence, I proposed an interview about interviews. The conversation would be channeled via Google chat. Greenwood agreed.
In an email exchange prior to our chat I asked her if she’s ever interviewed anyone. She said in 2010 she interviewed several Seattle artists who have had an influence on her, including Kanako Wynkoop, ET Russian, and Matthew Offenbacher. She also noted, “I’ve definitely interviewed myself and parts of myself—my anxious instinct gut, me in my role as Professor Greenwood, me playing my own gallery representative, me as Tracy on stage—in ways that have both been made public and stayed private.”
She asked if I’ve ever interviewed anyone and I said I hadn’t, besides some local bands while writing for my high school newspaper in Pennsylvania. She asked how I think of the questions I want to ask, and I said I’m trying to think less about “smart” questions and more about answers I’d want to read. I asked about her favorite interviews and sent a link to a YouTube clip of Susan Sontag from 1992. She sent back a 1977 Screening Room interview with Yvonne Rainer, a one-minute James Baldwin riposte on The Dick Cavett Show, and an interview with queer artist K8 Hardy, adding, “I love K8’s ability to show up publicly, in conversation, as a version. I think I’ve continued to try to hold onto some kind of ‘real’ self in interviewing, and I find this actually stifling or fear-based, and maybe actually not authentic. There can be authenticity in performing.”
Then we g-chatted.
hey! here whenever you’re ready, no rush
Picture of Kurt Cobain, whoa!
ha, yeah. my aunt once asked my cousin if that was my boyfriend, apparently
funny i’m currently watching the K8 interview you sent and her screaming ‘ready!’ is fitting for this moment
I said I was ready, but really I’m wondering now what ready means. And what am I ready for?
yes i am wondering the same, from my end
Are you from Pennsylvania?
yes, i am! how did you know that?
You mentioned PA in one of your emails! On another note, I’ve been watching “Six Feet Under” and this is sometimes how the daughter character communicates with her friend/sometimes boyfriend/sometimes teacher/art instructor/muse, by Internet chatting. There’s several things about that show that have come to mind in regards to our impending conversations. Also, I wonder what you think I’m typing because I’m taking a really long time!
six feet under is my favorite show
claire and billy, their chats
Whoa! Yes! I have only just started watching it recently! Why do you like it?
And what did you think of the Edie character?
Too close for comfort.
well my initial reason for liking the
show is the quality of character development, in my opinion
funny, my message following your message up there
i care for the characters as if they are real people in my life, and i miss them. i attribute this to the skill of the creators. despite the occasional flubs
perhaps the way you feel about edie is the way i feel about her art school friends in general, perhaps anita more specifically
What are we missing when we miss fiction?
the scene in which claire has a day job and runs into anita on the street while claire is getting coffees for her coworkers—that scene really hit a nerve in me, perhaps not in a good way. on the other hand, whenever i describe to someone the closing scene (prior to the final montage), i cry.
i wonder that too, which is something i felt when watching the Tracy videos at the New Museum
I just started season 5, which I think is the final season.
you bringing up six feet under is tough because i could have an hours-long conversation on that alone ha
so the character of edie makes you uncomfortable?
I think the discomfort (and the thrill?) is that it (she/that fiction) feels close but so, so far.
It brings up pre-social media times when things felt co-optable.
Ways of living needing protection?
That’s a confusing question—I used to feel like my and my friends’ way of life and art needed protection.
mm yes. i have a similar feeling when i see ‘art school’ people or even just ‘artists’ portrayed in contemporary tv. less an emotional protection feeling, but certainly a territorial feeling.
fetishization comes to mind
seeing ‘yourself’ fetishized, or mocked, or often both at once
Is self-fetishization or self-mocking a strategy against that? Or a strategy toward … ? Ownership/authorship?
a friend of mine said he is able to like ‘Girls’ (the show) because he’s in his 30s and if he was in his 20s he’d hate it like everyone in their 20s seems to, because it’s about people in their 20s
i’m not sure of the way out, but thinking of your questions makes me think of what you said—‘there can be authenticity in performing’
Oh I couldn’t watch more than 1 episode of Girls because I couldn’t stand it. I’m 38.
But yeah, distance.
yeah not surprised to hear that that theory didn’t hold up
but distance is indeed a factor
Right the distance that gets created by the performance.
yes. i’m thinking now about 1. seeing yourself portrayed vs. 2. portraying yourself
being told what you are vs. stating / creating what you are
I’ve gained more capacity during this Tracy archiving process for both to be happening at once. They used to feel totally incompatible—being told what I am vs. creating what I am. Maybe I also now can see that what someone is telling me I am, it’s likely about them?
yes i think that is often the case
i’ve been wondering about that archiving process, like if you began to feel boxed in by your own impersonation / re-enactment of yourself. sounds like you developed a newfound feeling of ownership in it though?
So much to say...
by the way, i must ask—this chat will be edited—[Ed. note: the interview was not edited] you said you feel increasing anxiety about being interviewed. may i ask, do you feel anxious right now?
If someone had told me to make the Tracy archive, it could not have happened. But it came from me, and from a deep desire to reconcile that project. It could only have been a liberation.
i mean, i do
yes it seems it must be a liberation! i love that word for it
Yes, I do! I’m trying to mitigate it by being in bed, as if I was sick.
But also I’m finding this form surprising and playful.
And strange how the timing of typing works or doesn’t work.
i considered something similar, like not having clothes on (forgive the inappropriateness of saying that) just to feel like i was in an informal private safe state
That is very claire and billy.
Or maybe brenda.
even this gesture, this cultural ritual of
I watched the Susan Sontag clip you sent before this chat, and yes, it was striking!
is a fetishization of you, in a way. but, as i’m not accustomed to interviewing people, let alone someone whose work means so much to me, i’ve been thinking about who is more nervous, the interviewer or the interviewee
For all of her refusal and specificity.
susan bites his head off, yikes.
Yeah I’ve been thinking about who has the power in the equation, and it’s both and neither?
i think we can decide?
to both have it?
there seems such opportunity in interviews, which seems rarely taken, to be in the moment of it, as opposed to the usual call and response of already-determined points of view
I think we have decided to share power here.
Passing a microphone
yes i wanted to address the issue of power but wasn’t sure how i’d work it in. now it has naturally worked its way in
Exciting! What about power?
Did you want to address?
your questions of who has power, who doesn’t
And how does it get shared.
challenging that, asking about it in a wider cultural framework. yet in even this one-on-one situation, between two women, and two women artists, it exists. or we self-imposed it perhaps.
these questions in your work is something i admire. i think it’s something i don’t yet touch. acknowledge, perhaps, but not address the way you do.
Our culture really holds up fame as power.
and since i feel i’m not as adept at addressing issues of power, i felt powerless in speaking to someone who does address these issues.
I felt truly moved by your honesty, and the thing that felt right was to take a picture somehow.
has your nervousness decreased over the course of this gchat?
Suddenly also it was so strange to see Kurt Cobain and then a smiley face. That smiley face, in particular. And to be trying to seriously think about power and be in the process.
the picture is fitting, yes
the fact that it’s scary to be asked about oneself
OK this is what I’m going to write about in relationship to power and art right now: compromise.
and the liberation of acting, as you touched on in our email
both parties being willing to acknowledge the work, anxiety, effort, whatever, of being the ‘self’ seems an equalizer
I love that, and it feels like there’s safety there.
It also, though, makes me think about “corporations are not people.”
through relinquishing ‘self’, there is self?
In thinking about how power might shift on a structural level...
oh, corporations. yes the mass-scale factor is a tougher one
Cool, we’ve gotten zig-zagged!
that is the realm i am not sure how to touch
I’ve been thinking about being embarrassed, and how it feels like a cultural undertaking.
i suppose i feel that merely carrying on is a form of resistance, albeit a quiet one perhaps
i’ve come to feel that the more embarrassing a work is, the better it is, in its utter realness
but mass power ... i am still thinking about this
(also i don’t want to keep you too long, so this can soon when it feels right but let me know if you must go)
I think for me right now, in particular trying to figure out my privilege and power, embarrassment has come to be a sign of learning and un-learning.
i think a lot about branding
Am, there’s so much!
embarrassment seems a path to strength, but the trick seems to be that you can’t force it
somehow branding for me, active branding, is the utilization of the larger power structure
It has its own life and it can’t be forced.
it feels perhaps like the opposite of watching edie or anita
I like holding space for the spontaneous, living, embarrassing thing in the midst of the power structure. That seems like a good imagining to end with?
holding space for embarrassment, yes.
Maybe it’s like watching David when he was coming out and going on those wild dates in the dance club?
Or maybe when he was a coming out and was still the Deacon at his church.
coming out not a-coming out.
yes doesn’t he tell his church he’s gay?
And the priest is also gay.
Definitely let me know if there are other questions that come up as you are shaping this into a shape.
I thought more could have happened with that subplot.
That should be the title for this “interview.”
yes david definitely claims / reclaims space for embarrassment, which does indeed seem to be a move of power
i too thought more would happen with father jack.
thank you, yes i will let you know if other questions come up
you mean this as title?
Totally, that was a bit snarky but also serious. I have so enjoyed this, and think there’s some unearthing happening! Thank you!
The nervousness remains, but now it feels friendly.
that kind of title-generation is very up my alley. re: the nervousness, i feel the same. can’t thank you enough. i’m happy that this was such an in-the-moment exchange. thanks for being willing to chat!
Really lovely to g-chat, and I look forward to binge-watching the rest of six feet under and talking to you about the scene before the montage.
please do. goodnight!