Robert Storr: You recently took part in an exhibition in London that placed you in context with Joseph Kosuth, and the pair of you in context with Ad Reinhardt. And I was struck by the fact that instead of trying to separate yourself from pre-vious generations, you joined with Kosuth in establishing an unexpected aes-thetic lineage. Could you talk about that a little bit because on the whole, younger artists generally avoid putting themselves in such close proximity to their prede-cessors, especially conceptualists in relation to painters?
Felix Gonzalez-Torres: I don’t really see it that way. I think more than anything else I’m just an extension of certain practices, minimalism or conceptualism, that I am developing areas I think were not totally dealt with. I don’t like this idea of having to undermine your ancestors, of ridiculing them, undermining them, and making less out of them. I think we’re part of a historical process and I think that this attitude that you have to murder your father in order to start something new is bullshit. We are part of this culture, we don’t come from outer space, so what-ever I do is already something that has entered my brain from some other sources and is then synthesized into something new. I respect my elders and I learn from them. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that. I’m secure enough to accept those influences. I don’t have anxiety about originality, I really don’t.
(Interview with Felix Gonzalez-Torres)
I really respect what FGT has to say about the past. Too many artists try to automatically sever their ties with their predecessors, taking for granted the opportunities that were given them strictly BECAUSE of those who came before. Part of these feelings of loyalty to the past may be because of his Cuban background (Hispanic cultures are statistically associated with strong cultural ties to their families and ancestry [in comparison to most Western European cultures], and artists can be seen as a pseudo family, let alone a cultural lineage), but I feel like part of this is tied up in his ability to see beyond himself and recognize where he has come from and where he is going has much more potential when seen in the light of the past.
Last year, I completed projects that were tied up in existence (in a permanent and temporary sense), the relationship between the individual and the other, and the dissolution of these boundaries. Part of this dissolution of boundaries would, of course, involve examining even the relationship between the creator and the viewer (as seen in the book i produced). However, I was also interested in the idea of originality and how being preoccupied with that concept and desiring to be viewed as “original” automatically implies a break between those who came before and yourself, rather than an integration, as well as [often times] a desire to be seen as autonomous, rather than culturally motivated.
From here, I decided to study a piece of work I was particularly interested in for both its religious and social implications, as well as its blunt honesty, entitled”Ich Habe Angst” by Rosemarie Trockel (see below)
This phrase, which was placed in vinyl lettering behind an altar in a church [St. Peter church in Cologne, who had to be restored after heavy bombing], translates into “I have angst”, or “I have fear”. These words, like the book I had previously produced, begs the question to be asked: who is speaking here?Is this the voice of the author/artist, of the viewer, of the church itself [as in the building], of the congregation, of Christians as a whole? Is this the voice of God? [The location [in being behind an altar] itself is loaded within the context of art history, particularly when examining how altar pieces had previously functioned, but I won’t get into that here]
By appropriating these words in English (because it is my first language, like German hers), allows me to explore these implications in different settings. Does the location of these words impact who seems to be speaking? Does it change the context? The short answer would be yes, obviously. We see this everyday. What we say in certain places, or to certain people, is not appropriate or accepted in others. The context of where you are is a determining factor in your speech and your behavior.
But I wanted to explore this further. HOW does it change the context? And how do people begin to interact with these words that most would be so anxious to deny (similar to the way I had previously chronicled moments in people’s lives in which they had “wanted to forget”). I Have Fear is not something we are often longing to admit to, regardless of how common it’s existence is.
I Have Fear also begs the question “Of what?”, which is open-ended and able to be answered differently, or similarly, by a number of viewers.
Technical Aspects: The letters were all cut out with a ban-saw out of 3/8″ plywood at 18 Inches tall. They were then painted white (four layers) and stakes were added to the bottoms.
I Have Fear (Text)
Marker on Paper
I Have Fear (Construction)
Ink on paper