No one remembers how this interview, originally published in BOMB’s third issue in the spring of 1982, came about. “It just felt like a continuation of my easy connection and conversations with Richard,” Barbara Kruger responded when I asked her.
It was not unusual in those days for artists or writers or musicians to come up to me on the streets of SoHo or Tribeca and say, “I’m doing an interview for the next issue with…”
“You are?” I would say. And we would set to work. The community knew that BOMB was their magazine, and I welcomed the anarchy.
I do know that this interview, which Richard Prince and Barbara have annotated for BOMB’s 40th anniversary, was the first to exemplify the structure I had imagined for BOMB’s interviews, transforming the traditional Q&A into a dialogue. In that regard, it’s iconic, and not surprisingly, prescient.
Cofounder and Editor-in-Chief,
Barbara KrugerWhat about all these recorded conversations we hear about these days?
Richard Prince Presidents, Interview, things like that?
RP I think if you know you’re being taped, it guarantees a certain amount of self-consciousness. An excessive amount of intention. An “on purpose” attitude.
BK What about without the tape?
RP Same thing, but without the guarantee.
BK Same thing? Is anything really “guaranteed”?
RP Well, right now there seems to be a serious lack of being uncaringly lost. And any condition under which one might be able to say, “The paramount concern is not the care,” really doesn’t exist.
BK Do you wish it did?
RP I used to. But not now.
BK How come?
RP I don’t mind the acting anymore.
BK What do you mean by acting?
RP It’s just not recorded conversation that sounds rehearsed or staged. You know, the way it can come off sounding truer than it really is, I mean, for some of us, even in day-to-day conversation we tend to sound like someone else talking, we’re so self-conscious already, so overloaded with information; we play-act with voices produced from sources other than our own.
BK Yes, this need to perform oneself in public becomes a constant demand that varies with our levels of neediness: whether that self performance is adored or dreaded. Does this have anything to do with the pictures you’re looking at? The fact that they look truer than they really are?
RP I think so. It’s one of the things. As long as the looking doesn’t become the subject. These pictures appear to know nothing about the practical and serious ways of a practical and serious world. They do reduce conflict to a triviality. Especially the advertising ones. That’s what I like about them most. It’s as if these pictures are a kind of mutation, an un-inheritable form of something.
BK You often use the term receivership. What do you mean by that?
RP I’m not sure. It’s an unusual feeling. It’s like a healthy conceit. Almost as if we already know the information we transport is going to transport us. This prior availability becomes wonderfully unnatural. We know the trap is baited. The control already out of our hands, but we take the bait anyway. I suppose it has to do with a willingness to be a sucker.
BK A sucker?
RP Yeah. It’s really that state of consciousness you know, a receivership. You’re there. You’re there and it sets up a certain degree of belief in a reality, a pseudo-reality whose effect, in some cases, can be felt really deeply, because you have this willingness, this desire, to believe in what is less true.
BK Where do you think the receiver is located and what about the idea of exchange?
RP Well … is located is difficult to say. Later, maybe, the receiver will be domestically located. In our homes, I suspect. We’ll be getting subscription pictures over the cable. It’ll change the whole notion of what’s “homemade.” It’ll be fun. It’ll be threatening too. A lot depends on who thinks they have control. Individual ownership of an orbiting satellite becoming increasingly desirous. Looking under rocks is on its way out. As far as exchange goes, I would imagine most receiverships to be subject to negotiation.
BK Negotiation meaning?
RP Open season, as far as I’m concerned. The degrees between amateur and professional will possibly become quite indistinguishable. Anyway, there’ll be a lot more ripping off or at least a contesting of each other’s territory.
And what about Paul Outerbridge’s territory? You like h His later work.
RP Yes. A lot of people still see those productions, the ones he did for Maxwell House Coffee, as abnormal. But I think they pretty much transcend pathology. At least now, anyway. They’re some of the few things I can look at and point to and say, “That’s it.” I could sleep with those pictures.
BK “That’s it” being a standard?
The idea of the avant-garde has changed for me. I’m not interested in John Cage sitting down at a piano and not playing. (4’33”)
I need a stranger trip.
BK And sleep with?
RP Just more Tarzan talk.
BK What about your own work and process?
RP The first things I took were texts. They got published in
Tri TracksMagazine in 1976. They were called Eleven Conversations. The texts were taken from the back of Elvis Presley bubble gum cards. The next year I started taking pictures.
BK Tracks Magazine was really good, but Tricks would have worked also ☺️ What was that like?
RP At first, it was pretty reckless. Re-photographing someone else’s photograph, making a new picture effortlessly. Making the exposure, looking through the lens and clicking, felt like an unwelling… a whole new history without the old one. It absolutely destroyed any associations I had experienced with putting things together. And of course, the whole thing about the naturalness of the film’s ability to appropriate. I always thought it had a lot to do with having a chip on your shoulder.
BK What about now?
RP Now it’s harder to talk about. Appropriation had a lot to do with being faithful, beating yourself up really. Now it’s become more sophisticated, more adulterated. I have this feeling the pictures I’m taking look like they’ve been sent away for… you know? Like Battle Creek, Michigan. I don’t know how else to put it.
RP What about all these recorded conversations we hear about these days?
BK Presidents, Interview, things like that?
BK Well, in most cases, recording seems to offer both the curiosity of replication and the resoluteness of evidence.
RP Does this have anything to do with the pictures we’re looking at?
Yes. I think in some ways their definitions are interchangeable. Yes and no. Replication is no longer a curiosity and the resoluteness of evidence has been weakened.
RP Fiction feels good and recanting causes stress. Like lying, in the physiological sense, the telling of a true story is an unnatural act. Do you think fiction has anything to do with replication?
BK Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions.
I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction…. Well, they used to be. Now, the constant repetition of anything makes it “true” to susceptible believers. I replicate certain pictures and words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.
RP Some people think that things that sell the most are the best. How do you feel about being seduced by popular culture? Or are you?
BK Being socialized within similar constructs of myth and desire, it is not surprising that
most some people are comforted by popular depictions. Sometimes these images emerge as “semblances of beauty,” as confluences of desirous points.
(But whose beauty and whose desire?) They seem to locate themselves in a kind of free zone, offering dispensations from the mundane particularities of everyday life, tickets to a sort of unrelenting terrain of gorgeousness and glamour expenditure. If you and I think that we are not susceptible to these images and stereotypes than we are sadly deluded. But to have some understanding of the machinations of power in culture and to still joyously entertain these emblems as kitschy divinities is even more ridiculous. And for some women it’s an extreme form of masochism. But it has also become a perpetual crash site: the online collision of narcissism and voyeurism.
RP The fact that we use things that have possibly been observed or unconsciously collected by people other than ourselves, things that have previously been available to anyone who cared to use them—that kind of thing, given these conditions, do you think your work is produced or reproduced?
BK Well, given your criteria, it would seem that all work can be called reproductions to some degree since it incorporates certain styles or codes which preceded it. I think the difference lies in the acknowledgment of previous production within the work. This acknowledgment can function as a device which removes the “original” image from naturalness, perhaps suggesting either an implicit or explicit commentary.
In my work, I am’m interested in an alternation between implicit and explicit, between ingratiation and criticality. I also think about assumption, disbelief, and authority, but there are no “correct” readings. Only reproductions and possibilities. And your work continues to intensely question what is given and taken from that crash site of narcissism and voyeurism.
RP A while ago we talked about “cool.” I remember saying something to the effect that cool was a prehistoric style. A little like being a dinosaur.
BK If you think about words like primary and secondary, you could say that cool is mired in the secondary address. It is self-conscious without the presence of cameras and tape recorders. It has internalized their promises and threats. It is totally subsumed by style. Often, its repertoire is composed of gesture. It is celibate, but in an emergency, it can fake pleasure pretty well. Its language is not of words but a kind of physical short handing, a verbal withholding. It wants you to think it’s detached. Do you think a lot about style?
RP I’m misinformed about style. I always thought it had to do with being able to wear the same kind of a jacket for ten years. I don’t know. What I wonder is—is it possible to have style and be unreasonable at the same time?
BK I think unreasonableness can mean any number of possible locations nearer or further away from the idea of reason. (Duh) Because many of these positions are already coded, their shock value is tempered by style. A lot of times the idea of transgression really turns on a romantic conception of otherness; of a rebellion already tolerated. You know, the charming rogue, the picaresque cuteness of the bull in the china shop and in the art world, badness invades the atelier. Driving limos through heavy
neighbor(other)hoods to look at the graffiti. Unstylish unreasonableness may be limited to the categories of the insane (which can also be monetized) and the unpleasant (the poor, the unbeautiful, the unempowered). The non-romanticism of these kinds of otherness makes them unsightly and “vulgar” considerations for the polite and white company of international bohemia.
BOMB cover #3 by filmmaker and writer Mark Magill, who was BOMB’s first designer.