Art Basel 42, Interview with artist Jimmy Raskin

written by Peter Duhon in Basel, Switzerland

Art Comments caught up with New York based artist and author, Jimmy Raskin, during the biggest art week of the summer, at Art Basel in their section devoted to important, mid-career artists, Art Statements. Raskin's work is being presented by the Miguel Abreu Gallery from New York.

Known for seductive confessions that expand the notion of confession and the work, similarly his art practice isn't restricted to critique alone, rather, it combines scholarly rigor with imaginative productive fantasy that captivates without appearing sentimental or too romantic.

Jimmy Raskin is an artist we 'bookmarked' awhile ago as someone to keep an eye on, so we were truly delighted to speak with him. His relaxed demeanor, coupled with his intellectual breadth were not overbearing but served as an example of what makes Art Basel a key event for curators, dealers, collectors and artists.

Art Comments: Your work looks great in the booth, did you create the work specifically for the space and this exhibition?

Jimmy Raskin: I think that most artists here do that, you have to submit a proposal 6 months in advance and you have to stick pretty close to what you propose. So I think that for something like Statements, artists pretty much have something in mind or make something specific for this project. The work here in Statements comes from work that I've had going on for a bit but I definitely made it for this exhibition.

AC: The press release for your presentation, The Burden of Display (The Return of the Drunken Boat), states, "Raskin posits that one must acknowledge these two crucial events - Arthur Rimbaud's epic Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) and Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra - of cultural history in order to strive toward the new artwork, and the new artist; a poetic spirit seeking to trumpet the sublime." Is this a form of a manifesto for you?

JR: It's interesting, this has been a kind of healthy debate that I've had with the gallery: one doesn't need to know these texts to get the work. They've activated the sculptures as an electric charge you might say but they're definitely functional without having to know those texts. With that said, you mentioned manifesto, they have that function because for me they act as essential doctrines more than manifestos. Because they both have in common that they test the poets relevancy as a kind of transitional figure or mode of expression. So for Nietzsche, it's specifically focused that the new being is combined with a poet and philosopher, and after the destruction of meaning based on non-meaning the poet becomes all the more relevant but the poetry more than the poet, meaning that Nietzsche very carefully through the story of Zarathustra critiques the vanity and false beliefs of poets in order to take on poetry in service of philosophy.

So what I've always been interested in is the poet as a sort of martyr figure in my work long before I even investigated Zarathustra. But I found it most potent in the prologue of Zarathustra that he goes through his own kind of lesson in the prologue where he was still too much a poet, he was still a bit too much on the side of nostalgia and the belief in the performance of poetry that kind of blinded him from foreseeing a critique by the audience. In the prologue I always see that as the last ground of this kind of more classic flamboyant poet who is not controlled by the philosopher or controlled by critical distance. That kind of flamboyant naiveté and vanity is kind of there. I did a lot of work on Zarathustra through my art, and through lectures, sort of like going back and making sure we understand the sort of martyr position of the poet that he critiques.

With Rimbaud, specifically, he's a dual figure of critique and inspiration in the sense that in his youthful kind of zeal, he believed in the poet as voyeur and as a seer in a kind of flamboyant belief of the poets function that way. On the other hand, he is sort of a precursor to semiotics in the sense that language became the focus itself and that the author moves into the background, but for every move he made to have a tension on language itself, he inserted a kind of lines vanity in his writing. So it is almost like the last call for the author before the author is destroyed.

For this show in particular, I bring back Rimbaud's The Drunken Boat poem which was created just before prose was really taken on, the structure poem just before the openness of prose. So I'm kind of bringing us back to that moment just before breaking through.

Jimmy Raskin, Miguel Abreu Gallery at Art Basel Statements

AC: There's a character you've created who is in this exhibition, Pinn, someone you've been working with for several years now. Has Pinn matured or grown throughout the years?

JR: No, as you can see, he's passed out, sleeping underneath the display case. But what he has gone through is like that stone that has been on the beach for awhile that gets smoothed over, simplified, and purified. He began as a rendering cartoon of what the poet performer might look like as a diagram but also there's always a fight between the diagram as a function and the cartoon that it becomes when it is not watching itself it gets its own legs and becomes flamboyant and exaggerates. So Pinn is sort of like the diagram that's been trapped in a cartoon. He represents a possibility of meaning and he is sort of there waiting to be filled. He's been consistent that way for a long time.

AC: Could tell us about the upcoming book, On Becoming an Ass: Jimmy Raskin's Poetics of the Misfire?

JR: That's a fun book, and what's interesting about it is that it is written by someone I've known for many years, a fantastic artist named David Colosi. We have a relationship over the years related to text, he's a writer and an amazing poet, and we've read together as long as 20 years ago. He sprung this book on me that I didn't know he was writing and the premise of the book is that he has documented crucial mistakes that I've made in my writings for over 20 years which are both grammatical and the wrong interpretations of other writers. But he calls them the right kind of mistakes. Meaning that the mistakes are aspects of leaping, a bit prematurely in some cases but cleverly, he is able to talk about my work through these errors. Which I realize that if anyone reads it, it is not a humiliating thing the way he cites them. For example, he references other errors that writers have made that they've learned to keep. There's the famous one with Heidegger where instead of saying, "think your way into being" he says, "thing your way into being". And it is hard to argue whether or not he kept it and then worked with it or it was just a mistake.

What he specifically writes about is a book that I wrote called The Poet, The Poltergeist &The Hollow Tree where I theorize that a character from Nietzsche's Zarathustra escapes through Pinocchio because there's a connection where a central metaphor in the beginning of the book is this tightrope walker that's the first metaphor used by Zarathustra publicly in front of an audience. The tightrope walker dies and instead of burying him he put's him into a hollow tree. And I theorize that this is the spirit that became Pinocchio as a way for this metaphor to become a real boy and to be buried appropriately.

Colosi diggs into my theory and disproves it because of the time of the two stories. But then again, he also says that the artist has creative freedom.

AC: Thank you for your time and the interview.