William Pope.L

Göteborg Crawl (2011)

Extracts from a conversation between William Pope.L and Patrik Haggren, Master student at Museion, Gothenburg University, and Production Assistant at Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art 

Patrik Haggren Having moved from solo crawls to group crawls, are you less interested now in, for example, estranging the viewer with the contradictory nature of the crawl than before? Is it more about the crawler, the experience of the people who participate now than it was before?

William Pope.L When I first started doing crawls, it was always about community. With the estrangement, if you call it that, between what people see and how they feel, the odd thing is that in 1979–1978 people saw people on the street all the time, lying on the street. What they did not see was that they moved in an intentional way. They just saw them giving up. Therefore they could give up with them. If you give up why can't I? They never stopped to imagine that maybe the person hadn't given up. Just because they were lying there didn’t mean that they were cueing them, I have given up, like it was a sign above that person's head that said, I have no more agency. Or further, just because I'm lying here does not mean I am passive. But that was a conclusion that I think most people came to. It was just easier than to ask, how did this person get here, do I have anything to do with that? Can I be like them tomorrow? All the answers to all those things was yes yes yes. I mean because it did happen to people. So I think that when you actually start to move and animate that image, that was really the part that bothered people. I think it was this person actually moving. You know you're not supposed to move. You are supposed to lie there and be inert and then I don't have to think about you. And the rule and the law of life is that as long as you are moving you are alive. And when you stop then you are assumed not to be alive. So I simply added this spark of movement to a situation, as it were, and I had a kind of insistence to it. What if I just kept on insisting and insisting and insisting that I am alive. I am alive but I am always horizontal and I am going to be alive and horizontal in a place that is insistently vertical. I am going to insist the other way. That was where I think the initial problem for people was. You are not supposed to be moving. And you are not supposed to keep moving. You are supposed to stop! And if you do keep moving what do I do about that? Because that means you are alive and you have agency. But then if you are, then why are you horizontal? You should get up, like I am. That was the initial problem. That's the problem you have even today. 

In group crawls, like the one we did, I really wanted the community aspect – the fact that you are always acting, even in a solo situation, within a community. I wanted it to be much more plain and apparent and that it is always overlapping communities that the piece is about. And you are crawling from one territory to another, so it is very messy. It is not neat at all. People can get very upset and tired that they are hurting their bodies when they do it and they want to get up, but they want to continue too. That kind of contradiction, it can be very upsetting to a person. Or I want to finish but I don't think I can. What is wrong with me? There are all kinds of feelings that are stirred up in there. And of course the person standing above them: why are you doing this, why are you hurting your body like this.? Why are you dirtying yourself or soiling yourself? This does not make any sense! In cities you're not supposed to let this much of your body touch the city at one time. 

PH If horizontality is capable of creating situations for some kind of recognition or exchange, how would you describe that process, what is it that is happening?

WPL I don't think that it does it by itself. You always have to have the two, horizontality and verticality, in concert. Without forgetting you cannot have remembering. Verticality allows us to forget. We take it for granted that some of our most intimate moments really are moments of vulnerability. I mean when you are making love to someone you're not thinking that someone is going to stab you in the back. It makes it very difficult to make love when you are thinking that way. Giving birth is very difficult. Death, great illness, birth and lovemaking, are all powerful nodes of being. But they need their opposite, they need the vertical, the forgetful to have any kind of meaning. It's not that the one is wrong and the other one is right, so much even though when we are vertical we tend to take for granted our rights, the rights that are »granted« to us because we are vertical. We think that because we are vertical these things somehow are always ours. It's only when they are challenged that you start to think about, well, that there might be an issue here, a problem. It's the physical thing that I'm interested in, this idea of the vertical and the horisontal. 

Biography Born 1955 in USA, lives and works in USA. Pope.L has studied at Pratt Institute, New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. He has a BA from Montclair State University, New York, and an MFA from Mason Gross School of Arts vid Rutgers University. 1990–2010 Pope.L was a lecturer at Bates Collage, Maine, where he taught rhetoric and theater. He has performed approximately forty crawls across the world. His work has been shown at Museum of Modern Art, New York, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, as well as the Whitney Biennial.

Photo: Hendrik Zeitler