Purple Art

[May 29 2015]

Interview with artist Lydia Lunch at her show “So Real It Hurts”, New York


PAIGE SILVERIA – So you’re here in New York for a month while your show is up?

LYDIA LUNCH – Mostly. I’m nomadic. I’m around a lot of places. I don’t live anywhere. I’m on a rent strike for two and a half years.


PAIGE SILVERIA – But your friends whom you stay with are paying rent.

LYDIA LUNCH – I know. They should stop.


PAIGE SILVERIA – How does that work?

LYDIA LUNCH – I don’t know; it’s tricky. If you’re on tour a lot, it’s pointless to pay money to sleep, especially if you don’t sleep that much. So I’m just on a moral rent strike. We pay for too many things. I’m attached to so many of my belongings. That’s an American disease. I’m trying to sell all of my archives. I want nothing. Actually, I want four things: a nice bedspread, a nice curtain, a good lamp and a box to hold all of my toys. That’s about it. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for so long. I wear a uniform: a black wrap dress, you have two, you can wash them; that’s it. Possessions, they’re traps. They’re like tentacles. They keep you tied to a place. My body is home to me. I like it for now.


PAIGE SILVERIA – So how did this show come about?

LYDIA LUNCH – I’ve been photographing since 1990 and Jane Friedman approached me about doing a show. She’s running the gallery and has been on the scene for a long time, working with Patti SmithJohn Cale and all sorts of people.


PAIGE SILVERIA – How did you decide what to include?

LYDIA LUNCH – It’s crazy. I’ve managed to hang on to everything I’ve ever done. I have 25 boxes in LA and 20 boxes in Spain. I just chose whatever made sense. The war montages are important to me because I’ve been speaking about war since Ronald Reagan. War is an exaggeration of man’s insanity. So the montages are just another language to get across my obsession with the violence that never ends. It’s easier for a lot of people to take than my spoken word.


PAIGE SILVERIA – Did you discover anything in the archives?

LYDIA LUNCH – A million things. I found a cocaine diary, which was very interesting. It had graphs, times, amounts of drugs, costumes, wigs, backstories … that was quite elaborate. It relates to the installation part, mainly because there were doodles and I don’t doodle. Taking notes about my insane transformation out of degeneration is one thing, but the doodles? Who did the fucking doodles? I guess that was me.


PAIGE SILVERIA – You’ve been spending a lot of time in Barcelona. Is the reaction to your work different in Europe than in the States?

LYDIA LUNCH – In Europe they understand that you don’t need to define what it means be an artist. There’s more opportunity to do all kinds of things there: art exhibits, spoken word, improv shows, hard rock. It’s a lot harder here because there just aren’t as many spaces. There, art still matters.


PAIGE SILVERIA – It doesn’t matter here?

LYDIA LUNCH – Of course it matters to some people, but commerce is the over-running thing. In Europe they have a better understanding of the history of trauma in general, and war, and a lot of art comes out of the trauma zone. Most art comes out of pain. Not all of course, not dance music.


PAIGE SILVERIA – They’re more in touch with themselves?

LYDIA LUNCH – Well they’ve had a longer history to absorb what reality is, what death means. Or what passion is. They read more, go to school longer, have respect.


PAIGE SILVERIA – When did you realize that you wanted to leave New York?

LYDIA LUNCH – When I left in 1980, I’d been here three years. Then I came back and left for good in 1990. I just found it too homogenized, commercialized, expensive, boring. If you’re writing from experience, it makes sense to travel. It’s not mandatory, but for me it’s important. Plus, there are hundreds of spectacular cities. New York is not the center of the universe. In Europe it’s known as the asshole of the universe. People get so trapped by the cog. They’re just part of what the machine is.


PAIGE SILVERIA – What you want exists only here?

LYDIA LUNCH – You have a very narrow vision then. I’m also always trying to break all of our habits and patterns. But also, because of Bush, the stealing of the second election and the becoming of the police state. Now here we are in fascism. It’s a fucking police state. Welcome to America, asshole.


PAIGE SILVERIA – You’re also pro-gun.

LYDIA LUNCH – I’m American, god-dammit. Of course I love weaponry. I think everyone should feel safe in their own home. When the enemy comes from within, well, I’ve been dissecting that idea for decades. But when the enemy comes from outside, everyone has the right to protect themselves, especially women. I can’t have any more of my nights stolen thinking someone might invade my room, my safe space.


PAIGE SILVERIA – Has that ever happened?

LYDIA LUNCH – Other than my father? I mean, the possibility is out there every day. Here seven million people are in the prison system put there by cops who probably should be there. So who knows what the outside force is? Any door can be broken into. I demand the right to feel safe in my own home. Ever since the Bronze Age when metal was turned into weaponry instead of jewelry. It used to be a matriarchy before the Bronze Age. I think it’s time to turn it around.


PAIGE SILVERIA – Are you constantly reading and educating yourself further?

LYDIA LUNCH – Sometimes I read a lot of books, sometimes 15 newspapers a day. And sometimes I don’t because it’s all the same. One of the lines in my war speech is, “Same as it ever was.” Every great disaster, every war, it’s just repetition. What more do you really need to learn? Like when Hurricane Katrina wiped out most of the population of New Orleans. I got really ill, just knowing why it happened. It wasn’t mother nature, who is always violent. It was man plotting to not repair what they knew was damaged and not saving the people that they wanted to get rid of. So sometimes I just don’t want to read anything. When you sit silently at a cafe, you can just exist in peace for a few minutes. The present enemy, the corporate cabal, has reduced people’s vision to the size of an iPhone. You’re looking at that all day, kids, and you’re not seeing the rest of the world. They’re not only breeding consumers looking at the little friendship-cog gossip, they’re reducing our attention span and making it impossible for people to just sit quietly alone and contemplate–maybe think about what’s wrong with themselves or what they’re not happy with instead of chasing after something that doesn’t exist.


PAIGE SILVERIA – Who influenced you?

LYDIA LUNCH – Hubert Selby and Henry Miller. I was attracted to these male writers because of the way that they dealt with reality and how they slightly fictionalized the stories. They didn’t glamourize or romanticise. They were trying to get to the point of something. And I, at 12 years-old, knew that there was a hole and that was the direction I had to go in.


PAIGE SILVERIA – So you’re just trying to wake people up all the time?

LYDIA LUNCH – Part of what people could never stand about me is that I’m very fucking intimate and trying to penetrate in. I’m never attacking the audience. You might feel attacked if you’re not listening to what I’m fucking saying. I’m using the language and the passion of the enemy to attack them, the enemy being the patriarchy specifically and the warwhores. I’m never attacking those in front of me when I’m crying with a fucking bull horn. It’s not pleasant; it’s not supposed to be entertaining. Truth is not a popular commodity; it never was. I’m trying to speak for those who are in pain and trauma. Give them the voice that they can’t articulate. You’re either awake or you’re not. I’m not going to change anybody’s fucking mind.


“So Real It Hurts” is on view until June 5th at Howl Happening! 6 East 1st Street, New York. Lunch will perform her “Conspiracy on Women” spoken-word piece on Friday, June 5, 7pm at the same space. “Conspiracy on Women” will be reissued on Other People. 

Text and photo Paige Silveria 

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