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4th February 2014

Performance art is my ‘melancholy mistress’

Jasper Llewellyn interviews Clifford Owens.

Jasper: How do you feel your work has progressed since you first started? Have you changed you approach to performance or are your initial intentions the same?

Clifford Owens: No not at all. I started out on photography. Performance art is my ‘melancholy mistress’. I wanted to write as a child, but realised I need to be a good reader to be a good writer. I became interested in performance art through my interest in photography. And I’ve been making performances for about 22 years, and that’s including in college and grad school. I never wanted to be a performance artist and I don’t really like to be identified as a performance artist.

Jasper: Why? Do you feel there is negative stigma around performance art?

Clifford Owens: No, but I think it just presumes that I don’t do anything else. And that the presumption is that I come out of theatre or dance. Which I do not. I study art, I went to art school! So the progression has been very gradual and the work I’m doing now… you know, I really think… for me I think that my practice is a conceptual art practice. All art is about ideas but it’s the ideas in my projects that really matter. And the performances, I think, are ways to generate ideas. The progression I guess… 10 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do Performance With An Audience. Because I didn’t have the experience as a performance artist, because I didn’t have the wisdom to do the project. And the work I’m doing now is incredibly difficult… It’s very hard! I just don’t think that a decade ago I would be prepared to do it.

Jasper: You said last night that you hate actors? Do you not feel that your work has an intense theatricality about it? I feel that there is showmanship tied up in the performance or maybe you feel you hate yourself, as an actor?

Clifford Owens: What I said about hating actors – its more me hating a certain individual who is an actor! But acting is about affect and performance art is about effect. And that’s the distinction for me. I dont know anything about acting. But in the performances do I have a presence? Yeah, absolutely.

J: Do you have a persona?

Clifford Owens: No, I don’t. People have asked that before and I don’t. I mean I’m certainly aware of the fact that to MAKE the performance I have to…

Jasper: Maybe its just how you respond to a group of 30 people?

Clifford Owens: Absolutely, I mean, how do you keep a group of people engaged unless you are somewhat animated? And you bring a certain intensity to the experience. If I was monotonous and boring and limp, I don’t think that the audience would respond to prompts for the photographs. So you are right, a certain showmanship is necessary but so far as I’m aware of the showmanship, I’m not doing anything technically. I’m not consciously coming into a character. I mean, I’m an intense guy! I suppose that’s just my personality – and very emotional. And I suppose when you’re in a room of people talking about very emotional thing, its real for me. Its not affect. My response to your queries and the conversation we were having were coming from a real place.


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