Purple Art

[November 14 2014]

Interview with Johan Kugelberg curator of “Cut-Ups: William S. Burroughs 1914 – 2014”, New York

“You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the unpredictable spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.” The Cut-Up Technique — the act of disassembling an artistic work at random and reorganizing it into something new — was first introduced to William S. Burroughs by his close friend artist Brion Gyson in 1959. Burroughs, who was thought by many in the literary cognoscenti of the 20th century to be the most influential of its members, widely popularized the technique throughout the ’60s with works like Naked Lunch and The Nova Trilogy. After moving from prose, the two experimented with other forms including audio and video. For the next month, Boo-Hooray in New York will be displaying the hand-edited typescript drafts of the aforementioned books alongside other Cut-Up-influenced ephemera culled from Emory University’s extensive archives including the original documents that Gyson sliced up, correspondence between the two friends, Comic-book collages and limited vinyl pressings. Boo-Hooray’s owner, publisher and curator, Johan Kugelberg explains the show’s conception, who he thinks this century’s artistic icons are and the importance of our conduct while in this “meatspace.” Cut-Ups: William S. Burrows 1914-2014 will be on view until the December 12th at Boo-Hooray, 265 Canal Strett, New York. Interview and photo Paige Silveria

Paige Silveria — What is the significance of this show?

Johan Kugelberg — The centenary of Burroughs’ birth needed celebrating by Boo-Hooray. Through our magnificent on-going cultural collabo with the Emory University special collections library, and the hectic amount of respect that I have for Raymond Danowski and the post-war poetry collection he has built and curated, this was easy! Kevin Young who runs the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library is a great friend and comrade in cultural arms whose vision I trust implicitly. We quickly came to the conclusion that showing Burroughs’ process through soup-to-nuts examples of the cut-up technique was where it’s at.

Paige Silveria — How did you choose and by what means did you obtain the components?

Johan Kugelberg — We went and visited Emory and spent the best day ever perusing boxes and boxes and boxes of Burroughs materials. We flagged items and made suggestions to Kevin Young who added more stuff, which was then massaged into a smoothly communicative narrative. This show is fucking sick. I can’t believe it is at Boo-Hooray instead of at one of the grand dames on museum mile.

Paige Silveria — What roles did you and Kevin Young, the show’s other curator, take on in curating the event?

Johan Kugelberg — Kevin’s multilateral mind is of a dude that simultaneously functions as a poet, a curator, a cultural commentator, and educator and a hepcat. I was Beavis to his Butthead.

Paige Silveria — What was it like handling pieces of work from an assemblage that’s been called “the most important collection of English-Language poetry in the world”?

Johan Kugelberg — I have for many years handled the most extraordinary cultural artifacts as a part of my professional trajectory and personal passion. Anything from Ian Dury lyrics to Guy Debord manuscripts to Afrika Bambaataa notebooks, and in addition, Shakespeare first folios and illuminated manuscripts. Born in the ’60s, and a life-long situationist, I believe in the creating of situations and the revolution of everyday life. I know in my heart that Bambaataa’s notebooks in a cosmic scheme of things are as important as a first folio. This means that on occasion I become the temporary custodian of the earthly remains of the glory of human thought. It always floats my boat through this here mortal goat-moat, and I never take it for granted. Philip K Dick writes about how objects can be infused with historiocity, where the air shimmers around them, and centuries are leap-frogged if even for only a moment. Joyce touches upon this in Dubliners too. Our beloved dead communicate with us. The permanence of ideas, all that good stuff. I take the honor bestowed upon me by Kevin and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Collection very seriously. We will do more kickass work together.

Paige Silveria — You have quite a diverse background and Boo-Hooray is certainly more dynamic than most galleries. What was the original plan for the space and are you continually expanding on its concept?

Johan Kugelberg — To create situations that translate the notion of self-starter DIY culture, the history of grassroots activism and the immediacy of Vaneigem’s revolution of everyday life to younger generations.

Paige Silveria — Do you consider yourself a collector? What do you collect?

Johan Kugelberg — I think of myself mainly as a curator, a communicator of postwar culture on the margins. I am 100% clear that at the edges of cultural thought and emotion is where edges overlap and where new ideas germinate, cheese-and-worms-style. I collect less and less stuff, more and more Loeb’s classics. Middle age means that you don’t feel that much desire to own stuff anymore, and that what you want to do instead is to transmit it to youth. I have and have had killer, killer mentors in my life. To honor them I want to be one. Saying that, I doubtlessly own too many deck shoes and too many dub 45’s.

Paige Silveria — Burroughs will endure as an icon of his time. Does anyone who’s working in the arts today stick out for you?

Johan Kugelberg — Alive: Bill Gibson‘s Pattern Recognition will be read 500 years from now. Raoul Vaneigem who is Obi-Wan Kenobi to Debord’s Darth Vader is someone who has written evergreen perma-au-currant texts for 50 years, and what he wrote last week is just as awesome as what he wrote in 1962. Dead: Dash Snow and David Foster Wallace (warts and all).

Paige Silveria — As an enthusiast, do you think that it’s your responsibility to keep others aware and informed of their past and present?

Johan Kugelberg — Life is other people. We all need to try to communicate. The screens in our life are ultimately fucked, as they are mirrors that flatter. Our conduct in meatspace is more important than ever. There’s a sacred war going on between connoisseurs and enthusiasts. We must be pyromaniacs of enthusiasm, trying to set hearts and minds ablaze where ever we go, and yes, I can hear Pomp and Circumstances playing in the background as I write this.

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