Greg Snider was recently interviewed by David Gregory,
a longtime critic of his work.
DG: You've been calling yourself an artist now for about 40 years, but in that time you haven't produced much, relative to some others of your generation. How do you explain that?
GS: Production is always relative, and there are always reasons some artists produce more than others. In my case, the biggest factor has been my deep skepticism about the entire project itself, the making of art. I've never been completely convinced that making so-called art amounts to anything, in spite of the mountains of art we are continually surrounded with, art which has obviously made a difference for a lot of people, and in spite of the fact that I've been teaching for 35 years. And this deep skepticism has been conflated with my ongoing "depressive illness", as Thomas Bernhard would say, which I feel every time I wake up and I'm constantly struggling to overcome. Even though I know depression is caused by a combination of genetic factors, social factors, environmental factors, the fact is I am often beat down by culture and find myself without the will to overcome my own situation. Successful artists have enormous ego and will, and accept the world as a given; I can't do that. The colossal brutality of the world, which one can do very little about, is deeply dispiriting. On the other hand, I'm not interested in losing myself in my art, as many people do, because that's a level of solipsistic withdrawal and self-indulgence I don't care to entertain. To me, there's something deeply irresponsible about that, in spite of the fact that the culture rewards it well, and I think that if there's anything redeeming about art, it has to do with responsibility, social responsibility. The artists that impress me the most are the ones who take this responsibility seriously.
To get back to your question, my low productivity may have more to do with the way artistic practice has been integrated into the culture, and I don't like the model; I'm interested in Marcuse's critique of the affirmative character of culture, where he suggests that if art is the place where hope and possibility show up, and these things are relegated to the museum, then that function has been hijacked from the social sphere and endlessly deferred to a never-to-be-arrived at future. This would preclude its becoming functionally meaningful in the here and now. The other problem is one of meaning; the obscurantist, arcane and unintelligible preference for private meaning in a lot of contemporary art always brings the conversation back to the artist, and a not-so-thinly-veiled concept of individual genius. The post-modern critique of the author and autographic mark-making, which photography suggested it could overcome, has lead instead to a fetishization of conceptual ideation, which is now the reigning aesthetic paradigm and just as problematic as any autographic gesture.
DG: But surely you then have an obligation to look for another model, to find another way of working, or to produce one, that would satisfy this dissatisfaction you seem to feel?
GS: There's no satisfying one's dissatisfaction. But yes, you're right, another model is worth pursuing. The only one that seems to come close is a concept of critical realism, as practiced by artists like Allan Sekula or Martha Rossler, or Krzysztof Wodiczko, or Gordon Matta-Clark. Thus I find myself continuing to work on projects in spite of a near-complete lack of attention to my work. When I was still at the university, I felt no need to produce work for a marketplace; I was never a serial producer of objects to choose from. I much preferred to work in an experimental or heuristic fashion, which is what I felt I was hired to do - the university offers an open research environment, in which the goal of the work is not immediately apparent, but the work seems necessary nonetheless. As a result, I've produced a lot of one-offs, prototypes, not production models. It's easy to make a lot of work when you know what you're doing; it's harder when you don't know. Even when interventions into culture may seem absolutely miniscule doesn't mean they're not worth doing. So I go on, as Beckett said.
DG: You showed at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1975, and then a couple of artist-run spaces since, but your work doesn't really seem to be out there.
GS: First of all Vancouver doesn't have the range and diversity of institutions necessary to support the breadth of artistic practices that actually exist in the city. The limited number of institutions means the number of artists who come to the surface is not many. And not only are there few institutions, their programming overlaps to such a degree that there's a lot of repetition and reiteration, so the overall impression one gets is that there's a monoculture here, with a few artists, which isn't true. So this is a misrepresentation of the cultural life of the city. It's not always a dearth of curatorial imagination, although that plays a part; often the curatorship is stymied by larger prerogatives that they have no control over. It's a frustrating situation, not enhanced by the hostility to culture reflected in the impoverished funding for the arts by the province. The Warehouse show, the October show - these were grass-roots efforts by groups of artists to represent themselves, after having been shut out of the larger institutions; the explosion of artist-run centres around the same time reflected artist's unwillingness to not be seen. The situation is similar now - the difference being that many of the artist-run spaces which started as independents have now become publically-funded, and when that funding goes away their reaction smacks of entitlement. Another response would be to re-invent the model. GLYPTOMANIA is an example of a show that cost very little money - it was my money - and had very little institutional support; these things are possible.
More to come.