Meeting in cyberspace with an anonymous, insomniac interviewer, the critic, artist and novelist John Berger discusses the language of drawing, Berlin, the body in art and the sense of place.
beta_Nzos@hotmail.com John Berger--you don't know me--but my friend Uli Seitz said she spoke with you yesterday about your exhibition of drawings ("Bodies--Places") in her gallery in Berlin. I think she mentioned that I might try to contact you by e-mail... I am an insomniac and a couple of nights ago I was sitting up in bed at 4am, laptop on my knee, earphones on, listening to an interview with you in Australia.
john_berger@ I don't remember any interview...
beta_Nzos@ But there was one. For a radio station. They must have called you long distance from Australia to that high place where you live (excuse me, I mean Haute Savoie).
john_berger@ Oh yes, there was a phone interview. So how did you find the interview?
beta_Nzos@ I'm into fiddling with my web-radio in the dark--can't sleep anyway and it suits my overall sense of disorientation ... bodies ... places ...
john_berger@ What now? Who are you and what do you want from me?
beta_Nzos@ Well, Uli said you would only give one interview about your show in Berlin--and I want to take a shot at this honour. It is true I am not a journalist, but I am an observer with a keen eye and I'm interested in the language of drawing. I have also already studied your drawings for the show and even felt them between my fingers with Uli's permission. I was allowed to spread all the works over the gallery floor (using protective tissue paper) and it formed a sort of land map of many various sized sheets of paper, a landscape of lines. After concentrating for a while I began to hear real motorbikes rumbling and smelt the hot rubber tyres. I see tyre tracks rip across the surface of the drawings--wonderfully aggressive.
john_berger@ You weren't imagining that, I did use real motorbike tyres to run over the drawing surface.
beta_Nzos@ Then the floor is surely the logical place for the drawings.
john_berger@ What does Uli Seitz say about that?
beta_Nzos@ She said maybe one drawing could be placed under shatterproof glass on the floor in the second room, if you agree with the idea.
john_berger@ What is your experience with bikes?
beta_Nzos@ Not much recently. But I do get a buzz from man-machine relationships--whether sitting on a motorbike or holding a power tool. Both are equally dangerous. Power and Powerlessness. Switching on and off. That's the way I feel with machines that I am close to--my laptop or my Black & Decker tools. Vibrations, heat and odours that produce nervous pulsating energy in a human's hand--the same hand that writes with a pen or draws heavy graphite or crayon lines. That's what I wanted to say to you: your lines are excited--and that's what's exciting for me--I retrace your charcoal and graphite paths like electronic vectors in my mind's eye.
john_berger@ You talk like an artist. Are you an artist or an art student? You are too unguarded to be an art critic.
beta_Nzos@ With respect, it's not important who I am. You're the famous art critic, writer and artist. I am just an anonymous observer. E-mail and the internet allows us to be what we want to be at any given moment. In this moment I am "beta_Nzos." (Beta is the term for test versions of software and "nzos" means "no dos," my opinion of a certain software company. Also, I know that Betanzos in north west Spain--the place of departure--has a special meaning for you.) Anyway I would like to be the one "journalist" to make the Berlin interview (virtual event) for Prospect magazine in London.
john_berger@ I love the "virtual" interview. For once an interviewer who is creative and alive!
beta_Nzos@ Thank you. What time is it with you?
john_berger@ It's 22:43 on the display of my fax.
beta_Nzos@ Good, then I am really "alive"--it's 22:43 here too. OK--the next step is to update Prospect and send you a list of ideas/fragments/short questions over several days.