Interview: A Conversation between Sara Nadal-Melsió and David Dixon, Founding Director Cathouse FUNeral / Proper

On the occasion of Cathouse FUNeral / Proper's fifth-year anniversary, arts writer and independent curator Sara Nadal-Melsió, led a discussion with artist and founding director David Dixon about the gallery’s anniversary exhibition. The conversation took place at Cathouse Proper on May 19, 2019. DL is pleased to publish the conversation below.

David Dixon, “Cathouse FUNeral” (2018) paint, ink, pigment, cement, plaster, shell on burlap on wood, 9x7 feet, installed at Cathouse Proper

David Dixon:          So, here we are. Thank you all for coming on this beautiful spring day. Basically, this is our fifth-anniversary conversation about the exhibition that we’re sitting in, “Cathouse FUNeral in Cathouse Proper: Life to Art to Life,” and also the five-year history of the space. We have Sara Nadal-Melsió here with us, who’s going to ask the tough questions. We’re not really doing much of an introduction as far as bios go, but if you Google Sara Nadal-Melsió you shall see lots of interesting articles about art and interviews, some of the people that you’ve written about are Glenn Ligon — I know that — Los Carpinteros, Allora and Calzadilla, and many others…

Sara Nadal-Melsió: So, the way I understood this is basically I’ll set up some scenarios so that you can develop them. It’s going to be very informal. The first thing is, I’m going to be talking about David as an artist, as a film-maker and as a curator, without distinguishing between the three very strictly. I was watching your film “David Dixon is dead” and there’s a scene that’s slightly comedic, that I like very much, and I thought we might start with that. In that scene, the character of the ‘father’ has just received a head — the character ‘David’’s head — frozen in a cooler, and he’s trying to figure out where to put it to drive off to Oklahoma to have the skull cleaned up and bleached for display… (as per ‘David’’s precise  instructions)

David:                     [laughs]

Sara:                       Yes, I know. It’s not what you were expecting, right?

David:                     No.

Sara:                       The scene is funny. It’s low-key. It seems like an afterthought. So, he is getting into the car, and the first thing he does is put the cooler in the back of the car, in the trunk. He thinks about it, he takes it out, and then he puts it in the back seat. He thinks about it, he takes it out, and then he puts it in the front seat. He puts the seatbelt over the cooler, and then sort of looks as if he’s going to start the road trip in good company, and then the camera looks up to the father from the point of view of the head.

                                So, the reason why I wanted to talk about this scene is because it seems to me that it captures three possible relationships to the artwork, and three possible narratives of how we relate to it. The first one — it seems that there’s a sense of archiving. Taking care of. There’s a sense of preservation. The head is in the trunk and it’s going to be delivered to wherever it goes in the end and it’s going to be worked on by experts, by archivists.

                                The second one is a little bit like the curator, you know? The driver is the father. The artwork is in the back seat. It’s being taken somewhere to be delivered to others.

                                In the third one, which I think is much closer to what David is doing: the artwork-head-corpse is now next to the driver, sharing the ride in a relationship of equality. But then there is a twist at the end: one is unsure of who’s actually doing the driving. You assume it’s the father, which chronologically precedes the son, right? In the logic of filiation where the father goes before the son, but somehow, because of the camera’s point of view, from the cooler, you begin to wonder who comes first and who is in charge.

                                 I wanted talk about this because it seems to me that the question of chronological precedence — of having the dead be next to us, sharing a space with us — is important. Also, in that scene, it almost looks like the cooler-head-corpse is being cradled and supported in this loving gesture by the father.

                                So, I wanted to start with that, and also your decisions in terms of not just the way you use certain objects in your artwork, but also the way you approach your relationship with spaces that have been occupied by others, and using objects that have been taken from other places, that have a previous history. So, does that make sense as a beginning?

David Dixon, “Museum/Mausoleum” (2007) paint, canvas, wood, mirror, skull, ashes, etc, 20x24 x12 inches 

David:                     Yes, that’s good. We could talk for an hour on that right there. That’s a really great question, and an interesting way to start the conversation.

                                 If you haven’t seen the film, Sara gave a great description of that scene where the father character is taking the son’s head to Oklahoma City in a cooler, to be cleaned to the skull for an art piece that the son wants to have done after he dies. It is an art piece that I do hope to have completed after I die. My father says he’s absolutely not taking my head to Oklahoma City! To which I said, “I don’t really expect you to,” you know, but someone presumably should, or needs to, to complete the piece. It’s interesting, you talk about the son coming before the father, forcing the father.

                                 I was brought up Southern Baptist, and there are elements of baptism in this exhibition, and narcissism — the idea of seeing oneself reflected in the pool, and then falling into the water, and re-emerging out of the pool. The father figure in the film is a minister, so, there’s a lot of Christian mythology latent in the film about, like you say, the son forcing the father, or if you think of the son sort of determining the father’s actions. To me, the father in the film is playing out what would be, ideally, the notion of Christian love. He’s doing it for the son, despite the fact that he doesn’t necessarily believe in what the son believed.

                                How that relates to the archive — we could talk about that scene for a while. It’s funny, because not only is the son’s head being cleaned to the skull, but his body is being cremated. So, the father picks up the head in a cooler to take to Oklahoma City…

                                 There is a place in Oklahoma, by the way, called Skulls Unlimited, that cleans skeletons. So, in the documentary parts of the movie, I actually do go to Oklahoma City, and I interview people there, and ask if they’d be willing to clean my skull after I die. I thought that would be shocking to them, but in fact, not at all, they deal with this kind of thing all the time, but not human remains. Mostly animal remains, like cleaning skeletons for hunters and museums. They have a museum there themselves of osteological specimens.

                                In part, the whole scene with taking the skull out of the trunk and putting it in the back seat, and then putting it into the front seat, and then seat-belting it in, was meant to be a criticism of cremation, because the father doesn’t take the cremated remains out of the trunk, because they’re decimated. They don’t necessarily relate to the son any longer, but the skull still possesses his identity, to a degree, so I feel like it creates a bond, having the skull. The film is a proposal for a new kind of death ritual that’s based on atavistic, now, ancestral skull-veneration, which the Kota — which is here in this painting — practiced in West Africa, but was stopped by missionaries — the Kota and the Fang — but also, ossuaries in the Catholic tradition would preserve bones, too.

                                I could go on, but maybe there’s another question in here, but we could jump to the death rituals that the Kota practiced? Because that movie is what began the gallery, in some sense. The notion of “David Dixon is dead.” is the end of what I call my youthful narcissism. You know, it’s sort of the ultimate narcissistic gesture to see one’s own death. So that, I felt, opened a space to deal with other people’s narratives, and what allowed me to start to conceive and think about running a gallery, which I never really set out to do. Like most artistic ideas, it just occurred at some point, due to circumstances and inspiration…but let’s have another question.

David Dixon, “The Artist in his Studio” (2008) silicon, ink, hair, tape, plastic, wood, paint 15x42x15 inches

Sara:                       I mean, these aren’t questions. I’m just giving prompts for you to think about. But you are clearly very interested in burial rituals, and coming up with new forms of mourning or celebration. I think the way you talk about “David Dixon is dead”  is interesting as the first step to begin the social work that will then allow you to become the installer/caretaker of other people’s work.

                                 I think there’s something about the way in which you approach the myth of Narcissus in this movie, and in all the works that we see here…the head that we see at the entrance [“The Artist in his Studio” (2008)] here in the gallery is the same head that we see in the film, and then you also have the different reproductions of that silkscreened on the walls.

                                Let’s go back to the death of Narcissus: he gazes hypnotically at himself on the water, as if he perceives the water as actually only a surface. Narcissus sees the reflecting water as if it could not be touched, cannot be penetrated, because he only sees it as a flat exterior. One of the things that you do when you push the myth of Narcissus to the end is that you transform the surface of the water into a medium, as something that you can swim in, something you can actually go through. So instead of avoiding narcissism, one actually traverses it, and discovers that in that very traversing narcissism is already filled with other things that do not belong to the self in isolation.

                                 Another thing that might be interesting in this context is that you also connect this with your interest in Courbet — especially in “The Burial at Ornans”, which is a very important painting for you. You’ve written and spoken about it — [addressing the audience] I don’t know if you remember the painting; the painting is often hailed as the beginning of the Realist tradition. It’s a painting where there’s a row of people at a burial, standing, and then, at the front of the painting, there is an empty grave, supposedly — a void that is the center of the painting.

                                 David has an interesting reading of the painting where he says that the grave is the place where, later on, will be occupied by the artwork [in the later Courbet painting “The Artist’s Studio”]. That’s one way of understanding it, but what’s really fascinating about the painting — and where I think we might have an interesting discussion — is that the grave is not really empty. In order to bury the corpse, they have to unearth another corpse that was there before, and that’s why you see an old skull next to it. The skull is not the skull of the person who is being buried. It’s the skull that was already there before.

                                So, this idea of precedence, of going into a space that’s already been occupied by others, and this idea that you acknowledge those precedents connects to the way in which you move from narcissism to this idea of becoming a container for, not just your work, but for other people’s work.

                                Let’s go back to the Kota reliquary objects and the way that you think about these monuments that sit on top of containers for the skulls of West African ancestors that have become both a source of magic and a sign of mourning. The Kotas were taken up in the beginning of the 20th century, by, say, Picasso and other people, but they were chopped off, in the way they’re shown here in the painting “Cathouse FUNeral I” (2018) — shown as artworks while the skulls were left back in West Africa. So, I think there’s something about this cultural beheading and the acknowledgement of the fact that the grave was never empty; that the grave is already occupied by other corpses, that I think connects the way you actually address those topics. Does that make sense as a thing to discuss?

Installation view, “Leaving Home: Cathouse FUNeral Migrates North” (2017) built and curated by David Dixon, Beacon, NY

David:                     You connected a lot in there between Courbet, for me, the Kota reliquary objects, and you mentioned the more recent ideas regarding “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Picasso.

                                 I’ve thought quite a bit over the years about Courbet’s “Burial at Ornans" in relation to his “The Artist’s Studio,” which is seven years of his artistic practice, where he fills the empty grave with the image of the artist in the centrally located elements of those two massive paintings, and then disappears into the grave, into the emptiness, in order to begin his landscape painting. So then, when you see a landscape painting by Courbet, for example, you’re standing in the place where he once stood when he painted the painting, and he paints with a lot of tactility, so we can also feel his presence.

                                 I’ve always seen that as a kind of transference. It speaks to the notion of immortality in art, where you stand in the position that Courbet once stood while painting the painting. Now, that’s possibly true in other paintings, in all paintings, or even when, say, you read a book, you assume the role of the author when reading, but I think in Courbet’s progression from “Burial at Ornans” to “The Artist’s Studio” to the landscape paintings, it illustrates that relationship between viewer and author.

                                So, Courbet disappears, and in doing that, he’s able to embody us when we look at the work, and that’s what keeps him alive, let’s say — his sensibility, or subjective point of view. You know, Courbet was considered a great narcissist. He painted a lot of self-portraits when he was young, and even called himself “the most arrogant man in France.” He’s the beginning of the self-made artist, without the sponsorship of the church or state

                                Everybody possibly knows that he built his own pavilion in order to counter the Salon which had rejected his “Artist’s Studio.” He paid for and built his own pavilion outside the Salon; his own exhibition space, basically. You can see for Cathouse FUNeral and myself, this was an interesting reference point of an artist that created his own context, or created the context for his work.

                                 How that relates to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which is my new thought in relation to Cathouse…so, of course, I named the place “Cathouse”. There’s a variety of reasons for that, but the most important one, I think, is that you sell yourself in a gallery. So, I saw some parallels in this capitalist system, where you try to put a quantitative value on a qualitative thing. There’s an uneasy relationship, let’s say, between money and art, as there is an uneasy relationship between money and love or sex.

                                One sells oneself in a gallery, and you can trace that from Courbet having to sell himself, or sell this image of himself, or this idea of himself, to his collectors, which the concept of the individual collector was developing at the time, too.

                                Flash forward a few years to Picasso and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Leo Steinberg has written about it in “The Philosophical Brothel.” Also, there was an interesting article recently in Art Forum about the show  that was in Paris of the Blue and Rose Period, about binaries in Picasso’s early work — binary identities. Using this new, contemporary notion and applying it to Picasso, and claiming that he had gender fluidity in his early Blue and Rose Periods, and then the writer claims this ends with “Demoiselles d’Avignon,” as that solidifies, as we now consider it, Picasso’s “macho” attitude towards women.

                                I would say “Okay,” to this theory, but as far as this binary reading of Picasso, one should include “Demoiselles d’Avignon,” because having thought about this idea of selling oneself in a gallery, in Cathouse…and even that painting behind you there has the coloration of “Demoiselles d’Avignon.” I had a picture of it on my desktop along with the Picasso, and I was looking at it, and that’s when I started to think about them together. Steinberg comes close to saying, but doesn’t completely…

                                When you’re standing in front of the painting, everything is addressed to you. The women are all looking outwards, which was innovative at the time. Early editions of the painting had male figures inside the painting. There was a doctor, one pulling back a curtain to reveal the women. But Picasso got rid of all them, and now no one in the painting addresses or looks at each other, they are all only looking outward. And then he used the fruit in the front, which is on a table, which is made to project outward into the space where the viewer is standing. And the painting is looking at you, and you’re looking at the painting.

                                Picasso painted a self-portrait in 1907 that uses the same Iberian/Spanish style that he used for the women. I’m jumping all over here, but the title “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was given by somebody else. He didn’t call it that. And “Avignon” is a street in Barcelona. Picasso called the women in the painting “Chicas” — “girls” in Spanish. They’re his peers from his youth, basically, is the way I’m thinking about it, he being from Barcelona, and he portrays them as he often does with portraits of himself, with big brown eyes, et cetera — the women in the painting look like himself.

                                My feeling is that he’s in this new generation of art entrepreneurs who have to sell themselves to patrons, and that that painting is about selling yourself, the painting is presenting itself to the viewer (the women are the painting and the painting is the women), and Picasso identifies with the prostitute as an art laborer who must sell himself, lay himself bare. Even maybe, more generally, about the brutality of the capitalist system that forces one to sell oneself.

Sara:                       That’s really interesting that you’re going back to that, and I want to connect these two paintings — the “Demoiselles d’Avignon” and “The Burial,” are crossroads paintings, in the sense that they are thresholds. I think that’s one of the reasons you’re interested in them. They mark a threshold, and both of them present multiples in place of just the lonely artist.

                                 In the “Burial at Ornans", you have for the first time the different classes represented as equals, precisely because the equalizer is death, right? The fact that the grave is in front of them makes them absolutely equal in the eyes of the person who looks at the painting. It also demands that you occupy that space at the center, again, to be able to look at it. 

                                In “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” you’re talking about this idea that at some point Picasso does not really abide by gender binaries. It’s interesting that he puts himself along les demoiselles d’Avignon. He does what they do, and they are on the same plane, so the other great equalizer here is the idea that we’re all for sale.

                                So, in these two instances, one is death, and the other is the idea of the market: cathouse and funeral house, those two things you’ve actually worked on in your work and as a gallery owner. Or if you want to talk about it in a different way, maybe as an installer of other people’s work within a space that has already been occupied by others — in this case by morticians.  You first occupied the space of a funeral home, and a new space that was once used to install one single painting. So, although it may look like a white cube, it was actually designed as an installation for one single painting. So, you could also see this as having another spatial history that you are now occupying.

                                 I’d like to think about this notion of your occupation of spaces. What does it mean to go into a place that is already embedded in history — that already has its corpses lying around? Its history, and the way that you position yourself vis-a-vis that history is really interesting to me.  There’s something about this idea of arriving to a place where you are not the first, but also somehow putting yourself in the place of another and basically, seeing the potential of the place precisely in the fact that it was there before you.

                                 I’d like to think about that, in connection to your idea of harvesting. The idea that when you install a show, that show is also somehow being viewed as a possible remnant that will be used over and over again to produce other future artworks. So, in a way, what was given to you as an accident has become a curatorial method of sorts. You arrived at a place that had been occupied by morticians, and you took that as a methodology, and it became the way in which you approach the space of the installation as such.

                                 You’re always addressing the thing that was there before, and you’re always harvesting and acknowledging that past, and we’ll talk about the question of temporality later, because I think it’s even more complex than that. It’s not just about the past. Do you think we could talk a little bit about these questions?

Installation view, “Final Harvestings” (2016) built and curated by David Dixon at Cathouse FUNeral, Brooklyn

David:                     Yes. The funny thing — when I moved into the funeral home to live, and eventually opened the gallery down the hall — that’s one reason it’s called Cathouse FUNeral is that it was originally a funeral home — but everyone would always say, “Oh, do you see a lot of ghosts in there?” and I was kind of hoping to, myself, but then I realized, “No. In fact, if you’re a ghost, you don’t haunt the funeral home. You haunt the place where you got killed,” so the funeral home itself is the most empty of places. I mean, it’s where the dead are, so you try to infuse the dead with life, and I feel like that related to the way an art object functions with its notion of an aura in a community of believers that give it purpose.

                                 So basically, it’s dead material, but in coming into the community it is inspirited, if that’s a word — the community of believers gives it energy and spirit. So, that’s the way I guess the gallery evolved. But with the harvesting — yes, there’s a resistance, and always a desire for a relic, a maintaining of history.

                                 Part of the impulse, for myself, anyway, of getting into art, coming out of a Baptist idea — and it’s typical of art — is the eternality of it, or the desire for remembrance and archive, as you say. So, the harvestings were made from the walls of the gallery and other architectural details. They were relics, or ways of preserving elements of the exhibitions. An artwork can travel beyond an exhibition, but the exhibition itself is singular. So, it’s a matter of trying to maintain some — other than, I would say, documentary photography — some real material consequence from the actions that were in the space.

                                 Then, coming out of having made these movies [“David Dixon is dead.” (2012) and “Unloosened and Root” (2006)] before I opened the gallery. I was thinking sequentially; I was thinking in scenes. Thinking in narrative, and doing one show after another felt, to me, like scenes in a film, so that the gallery itself was the movie, and the individual shows were the scenes. It’s much the same process. You know, you set up the mise-en-scene with the paintings and the artwork with the artist, and then all the people come for the opening. You take a bunch of pictures to document it, and then there is the post-production, and you put the images on Instagram or on the website or in this slideshow here for people to actually see. Being in Brooklyn, of course, there wasn’t a whole lot of foot traffic. So, the method seemed a lot like filmmaking.

                                 Then, the notion of “whitewashing” — the white cube has been talked about a lot. The Cathouse FUNeral space, started out as a white cube, but never went back to its original white walls. So, for example, if there was something painted on the wall for the artist, or if the artist did something on the wall, instead of painting over it, we’d either build a new wall in front of it, leave it, or cut it out…not everything, but when it seemed like the right thing to do. Not every show produced a harvesting. It was not systematic. That’s why I call it “harvesting”. If something happened to grow, I would just cut it out like a farmer. I wasn't trying to make those objects happen. It would just be kind of obvious, at some point, that this should be kept.

Sara:                       So, just to follow along with the question of the way in which you layer things in your paintings, and in your curatorial practice as well, by using remnants of previous shows. You use things that belong to the gallery — for instance, the logo — but you also use elements that have appeared in your films, and elements that are important in the ways you think about rituals of death, for instance.

                                 I wanted to think a little bit about the notion of the ‘crossroads,’ which seems to be very important for you. The way I understand it, you take crossroads as a way to secularize something that had been taken over by religion. So that the crossroads is actually a marker of a moment in-between spaces — the living and the dead. The crossroads is also a marker of the moment of the decision, the moment when one goes one way or the other, and the first time I heard you speak about it, you were really invested in the way that the crossroads is used in West African religion.

                                 You were also talking about the way it’s been used in Christian religion. And I may have mentioned this to you…I was also thinking of the way the crossroads is used in Greek plays — for instance, the most famous being “Oedipus King,” right? The crossroads is the place where the event takes places. It is absolutely a marker of when a person becomes more than one — when the one becomes many. Oedipus becomes who he is, and he is indeed many things: father, son, husband. His multiplicity is an effect of the crossroads which becomes a very important element to understand this idea of the self as a multiple.

                                I think there’s a connection there with the way in which you layer elements in your practice. I’d like to think about this idea of the one in the multiple, the crossroads has four different possibilities; four possible choices, but at the center of it, the point where the lines meet, they’re all layered in the same point at once. There’s no choice yet, and that’s the multiple.

                                I wanted to see if you could talk a little bit more about this, because it seems to be very important for you. We have it here, we have it there, we have it all over the place [signals depictions of the crossroads in Dixon’s paintings]

David:                     Yes, we have it everywhere, and it is everywhere. It’s a cross-cultural symbol. The crossroads, like you say…it’s in Greece. It’s also in the jade Congs of China, Hermes is the god of the crossroads, in West Africa…and the way you describe the center of the cross is interesting, because that’s exactly where the diamond shape comes in for the West African — if you think of kuba cloth that has come out of weaving. You have a combination of X’s. So, if you make a field of X’s, you end up with the diamond shape, so you have a dialectical relationship. The diamonds are the openings. They’re the conduit to the spirit world.

                                You can imagine that in the crossroads there are the four cardinal points: north, south, east and west, and that’s why it seems to be a universal symbol. It’s a way of trying to orient oneself in space, but in these kind of religious-based descriptions of crossroads, it’s orientating yourself in space, but also transcendent space.

                                So, in the West African, it’s the horizon line, up here is noon, and at midnight it’s down in the underworld, and the sun goes through the four points as it goes into the underworld and back up again creating the diamond shape. The Christian cross is the same sort of thing, and I’m wearing these Coptic crosses, which come from the fourth century in Ethiopia, where that’s the first images that we see of the Christian cross, which is, in my opinion, and a lot of recent scholarship, it’s the source for the Christian cross.

Promotional image for the Cathouse FUNeral/Proper fifth-year anniversary exhibition at Cathouse Proper (2019)

                                For example, when the Portuguese ended up in West Africa, in the Kongo, and they thought they were bringing the image of the True Cross to “the natives,” but they were actually returning the cross to its source. There’s a recent book titled “The Art of Conversion” by Cécile Fromont, which I highly recommend to everyone, that’s about this contact — this first contact between the Portuguese and the Kongo. They shared that ideology around the image of the cross, and immediately Afonso, who was the king of Kongo, converted to Christianity without coercion, because they recognized similarities in this cross image. There were a lot of consequences, obviously, out of that. So, there’s this deep, relevant history with this notion of the crossroads.

                                For me, though, it continues to come up in this notion of narcissism, too. There’s a great painting by Caravaggio that I know Anthony [member of the audience] here has been looking at, where there is, again, a horizon line, but Narcissus is looking down into a reflecting pool, he’s seeing himself reflected, and I used ouroboros in the promotion for this exhibition, where you have this cyclical relationship with the reflected self, the reflected self in the pool — you said it’s surface for narcissus, but I think of it as…you know, one can do what one wants with these myths, I guess…I think of it as, at some point, Narcissus exhausts the self-subject. At some point, he becomes bored of his own image, and falls asleep, or falls into it, and disappears into his own image — his own death image. He’s emptied himself, and is baptized — you know, where you’re submerged and then re-emerged as what I call a “Heroic Social Worker.” So, he’s lost this sense of narcissistic, solipsistic self-involvement, and can then engage in social practice — can engage with others, and when I say “he” — that’s something I think Freud and Lacan, and a lot of other people have had a field day with — but it’s something that I feel like is latent in all of our sense of self and identity.

Sara:                       You went back to this question of the movement from narcissism to the Heroic Social Worker, and I find it interesting that you actually use these archetypes, and the way in which you use them. It seems to me that one way to think about them is as empty containers. They seem to be very evocative, with very precise meanings, but you use them as a way to create a narrative that contains infinite possibilities. They remain possibilities not yet narrowed down to one single explanation.

                                 I was thinking about this notion of the container, and the reason I want to go back to this — one of the things that comes up, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this question…is appropriation, right? The question of how you deal with the fact that you’re using these elements from West African religions? How do you explain the fact that you’re actually taking the walls from another painter and incorporating them into your own work?

                                 So, the question of appropriation is one way to look at it, and potentially it’s one that walks a very fine line. It’s potentially very problematic, but it seems to me that in your particular case — and I think that’s why the archetypes really help — what you’re actually doing is transforming yourself into a container. You’re transforming yourself into a structure that contains others as well as yourself. In that way, it’s also a sort of an equalizer. In that first idea of youthful narcissism, you say that you exhaust the self, and to me, what I hear is: I empty it out, I empty it out so I can contain other things. I empty it out so I can become a vessel for other things to happen.

                                 I think that’s one possible way to think of it, and the way in which you treat your spaces as well. The idea that somehow the space has become a place where things can happen within four walls. And this idea of containment, not a source of restriction but as a source of possibility, might be worth discussing, too. Because, for instance, even the archetypes could seem a little bit constricting. Why do you label yourself with “Youthful Narcissism” or the “Heroic Social Worker”? Well, that label is also an empty archetype that you can fill with endless amounts of narratives in your films.

                                 I wanted to think about this notion of your relationship to this idea of being a container and your use of archetypes.

David:                     That’s great. You know, it’s funny, I was just thinking of the gallery as an empty grave, in some way. I had a line that I used quite a while ago in a performance: “Do not fill the emptiness of the grave with the cement of belief.”

                                 A gallery is built to be in rotation. It’s this whitewashed space. It erases time, but it’s one, consequently, that can be constantly filled with new and innovative ideas, and the white cube…you know, it’s not arbitrary. As soon as I started painting those walls at Cathouse FUNeral it became an issue with the individual artists. I mean, there was something that had to be negotiated: Do we leave this? Do we not? How does one know where my work begins and yours ends? The white walls keep that clear.

                                 The white space, you start to see why it works so well as a kind of machine for innovation. You bring something in, you take it out; you bring something else in. One can constantly be updating as a result. The FUNeral space was always trying to keep things, so in some way, that’s conservative, you might say. I mean, we’re trying to conserve things.

                                The funny thing is, as soon as opening the gallery…you know how Muhammad Ali or Dalí would speak of themselves in the third person? With the gallery, then, even though I was the only person there, I used the term “we” all the time, so I ended up with this royal “we” instead of “I,” and even that seemed modest! You know, I shouldn’t be attributing the work to myself. It was collaborative with the artists; it was also the conditions that the space itself was determining. It wasn’t just me motivating, right? So, it was a “we,” and it was plural. I think by having this container, this empty container of a gallery, that it became multiple in that sense, too. “I” became “we.”

                                 Appropriation: right. So, yeah, as a curator that’s pretty much all you can do. You don’t make the work yourself, so you borrow from others to construct your narrative, or what’s supposed to be, I guess, a reflection of the cultural moment. So, that’s an accepted norm with curating. As an artist, though, we have our ’80’s notion of appropriation, where you would take something and use it irreverently, and empty it of its former meaning, and use it against itself in many ways.

                                 I think of David Salle as a perfect example of just randomly putting one thing next to another, or Haim Steinbeck’s shelves. I think of Haim Steinbeck’s shelves a lot when I’m thinking about the gallery, because the shelf — you can put anything on there, and just due to the fact that they’re both on a shelf, one has to try and rectify why. It’s like putting anything within a frame, or anything within the gallery walls. You immediately have to try and connect the reasons that they were put there, assuming they were put there for a reason, and you try to deduce what that purpose is.

                                Then there’s the stickier issue, now, of cultural appropriation, which one steps into very quickly as a curator and as an artist, as a thinker and as a person. If you read James Baldwin, you assume his subject position in reading, so you appropriate, to some degree, his voice, and then, if, as it should, it transforms you in some way in the experience, you’ve appropriated James Baldwin to a degree.

                                 So, I think it’s a somewhat unavoidable aspect of knowing, and of experience, but of course, when the term is used pejoratively, it means you’re using — in this ’80’s kind of way of using a thing as an empty signifier, and in some way irreverent, or irregardless, of its source, and when it gets into cultural heritage, that can seem flip and inconsiderate, or even violent. I think of the cornrows controversy with Katy Perry, who did this horrible music video, but juxtapose with Alexander McQueen, who also did a runway show using cornrows on white models. To me, they’re not equivalent in some ways, because McQueen seems to be advancing, somehow, the discourse around “cornrows,” for example, as opposed to Katy Perry, who just uses them as an empty signifier.

Installation view of Tariku Shiferaw’s “This Ain’t Safe” (2018) solo exhibition at Cathouse Proper 

                                I feel like maybe there’s a line there, where you can… for example, say the black surfaces that are the silk-screened pieces in the entranceway for this show, they are from Tariku Shiferaw’s exhibition at Cathouse Proper, “This Ain’t Safe” (March, 2018). Tariku Shiferaw was born in Ethiopia and grew up in LA. He’s African-American. So, we did a show together in here, and we talked about what we should do, and what we should exhibit, how we should exhibit, what it meant — all kinds of things, and one of the things he wanted to address was the white cube. The white cube as a white cultural space. We thought, “Oh, we’ll make the walls black,” and his paintings are representations, to a degree, of black bodies. It seemed appropriate that a black body should be on a black wall, not a white wall; especially because the paintings actually look better on black walls, because the contrast isn’t as high between them and the wall. So, in the entranceway we applied a technique with black plaster and some paint on top, so it had texture. It wasn’t just industrial wall paint. It had some feel to it, and his paintings were hung on top of it.

                                So, after that show was over, rather than just throw away these walls, I cut them down into these 32-by-24-inch panels, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, but I asked if it was okay that I kept them, and he said,“yes,” and I eventually came to use them in this show.

                                 That’s a cultural appropriation of his work in a curatorial way. The work that I’m doing here — you know, we’re talking about these binaries of Narcissus looking into a reflection, which is his other — but similarly, the show has elements of the Kota being contrasted with my “Artist in his Studio” sculpture, that is my own white-man-dead-head in the studio. There’s one painting, especially,… in the main space here the Kota and “The Artist in his Studio” are facing each other off in their respective logos. But the other painting in the entryway, the two heads are actually opposite each other in the same painting. And the painting can be hung with either one on top, so it reverses.

                                 It seems to me that with Tariku — that was his show, obviously, but after I used those walls, it was a collaborative exchange to a degree. His show, I would say, absolutely was not a collaboration. That was his show. This is where the lines get blurry, but afterwards, when I was able to use his walls, and the conversations that we had that led to it, I don’t feel like that’s a cultural appropriation because it was collaborative, and I did it with him, and with his permission, and in conversation with him. As opposed to Picasso, for example, who gets often criticized for his cultural appropriation of the Kota, which is here in the Cathouse FUNeral logo.

                                The Kota reliquary object — Sara spoke on this a little bit — was the first African sculpture that Picasso collected. So, the first piece that he bought was a Kota reliquary object, which was cut off, like Sara said, at the neck or the legs, which would touch the “sacra,” which were the ancestral skulls kept in the basket below. So, it was cut by the missionaries or whomever, and shipped to Europe, where Picasso found it in the Trocadéro and purchased it, not knowing what it was or where it came from.

                                 I mean, culturally we can be to blame for that. I don’t know if Picasso specifically can, because what he does is invest those objects, which were being disregarded, with meaning and with value. They were his meanings, but he couldn’t have known the original meanings. The scholarship about these is very recent, as a matter of fact. There was a big show at the Met in 2007, which was incredible: “Eternal Ancestors,” where they had four of these baskets intact, with the skulls. You couldn’t see the skulls. They were very cagey about what was in those baskets, because it’s controversial. These are people’s actual remains. There’s only eight of those baskets, intact, in the world, with the sculptures still attached, which, to me, is mind-blowing. They have to be some of the most precious objects.

                                 Now, I can go on, because I should, about appropriation. Because this whole film project, “David Dixon is dead,” where I was talking about cleaning the skull, the reason I came up with that idea, what first struck me was that I was in the Quai Branly — controversial Oceanic and “Tribal,” as they used to say, art museum in Paris. They had Asmat skulls on display. Actual skulls. Ancestral skulls. I didn’t know that. I thought they were trophy skulls from war. I don’t read French. They’re decorated with all kinds of things, and they’re beautiful, right?

                                So, I go home, and then my friend says, “No, those weren’t trophy skulls. They’re ancestral skulls,” and my mother had just died, and I thought, “You can keep the skull of your loved one?” At first, this seemed creepy, but then it was just, “Yeah, why not? Why not?!” That is the most precious object one could have, and we just burn them or throw them away, basically, or bury them in the ground — especially if that ground is no longer holy ground, if you don’t believe in a transcendent soul, that material, that skull, is the most permanent thing of that person; it is that person after they’re dead, because there’s nothing else. And if the skull is kept with attached memory — and this is what that project, “Museum/Mausoleum” from 2006 is meant to do — as opposed to as a specimen that you use in science…we do that all the time. You know, you have a skeleton in a classroom, and they’re real, too. You’re allowed to collect them, frankly. There’s no law against it. And as long as it’s not connected to a person or a history, we don’t find it weird. It’s a specimen. But that’s the problem right there, because you’ve just made this person into base material — just empty, meaningless material to be “dispassionately” studied. That project was meant to keep the skull connected to its lived history, I would say.

                                I think there’s a lot about art, and the way that we think about art, and the materiality of art, in that project of keeping the skull.

Sara:                        The reason I was mentioning the idea of containing when I mentioned appropriation is because it might be a more generous way to think about the practice that you’re doing, in the sense that there’s something about the skull as a container. The idea that somehow what you do is cradle and sustain that skull. You sustain its memory as well. As you sustain the memory of the space. I wanted to talk a little bit about the notion of “relic,” and the notion of the way you use remnants in your work.

                                One of the things I was struck by when I saw the way you incorporated Tariku’s walls into your pieces — and I didn’t want to think just about appropriation, it seemed too facile, yet they seem to be relics and remnants of something. But the more I thought about it — and when I see your slideshow here today — I realized it’s basically about relationships: the people that you meet, the people that are in the gallery, and the situations that take place in the gallery.

                                The gallery also contains the situation that is made up of the relationships with other people: these conversations, what is happening here right now. It seemed to me that the relics you actually collect from harvesting, and I’m calling them “relics” now, are relics of  that unique situation that has been lost to you, so that actually what they’re commemorating is not the object that you have preserved or cut out. Rather they are relics of these unique, singular moments of relationships in this space, between people, that have been lost forever.
                                 I think this idea of mourning and its connection to narcissism, which is basically a yearning for wholeness, eventually becomes a source of emptiness and in turn a source of possibility (that’s when it traverses melancholic narcissism to become ‘social work’).
                                I wanted to think about this notion of your need to somehow commemorate and mourn this moment of community. I think that is something that sometimes gets lost in translation. I was really struck by the fact that you chose to use slides about the people that are in the space. I wanted to think about this notion. What are you commemorating when you take those material pieces of the walls that contained your relationship to others?

David:                     There’s a lot in there. The difference between a relic and an art object, I think, is significant. You can have a relic that is just, say, a historical object that has some sort of significance, and you keep it as a way to connect you to that past. The harvestings, as they were chosen, though, weren’t just arbitrary — like a ready-made by Duchamp, not everything works. So, the harvestings  were chosen on aesthetic grounds, even though they were also relics of the exhibitions. Like I said, not every show had a harvesting. An art object, I feel, is different than an historical relic because it has its own internal frame, it has its own inherent value beyond its object-hood as a relic.

                                I think that’s one way to think about the harvestings, as being relics, but more than relics, in the way that an art object is more than just a relic. It’s part relic, but it’s also fully in the present, that's the “something more” that’s in an art object.

                                The exhibitions with the people and the notion of community — I mean, everything has community in some way, football teams. People go to games. Church. People come together around a common purpose. Yes, art is one of those kinds of containers for community, and it’s certainly relevant, if not the thing itself that makes art valuable to us.

                                 I guess I’m Hegelian in the sense that I see art as a kind of religious practice, and the way that I engage with art is that it’s a way to fill that kind of meaning, that would be both historical and eternal meanings that the human spirit craves.

Sara:                       Would you say that, basically, in your work, the artwork occupies the place of the relic? There’s an undercurrent of a sort of religious discourse, in which it seems the artwork occupies a space that once belonged to religion, those are itineraries that repeat in your work. Do you think that would be accurate?

David:                     Yes, yes. I think these kinds of white-cube rituals we perform, repeatedly, in Chelsea, despite their commercial elements — which can be talked about, too, and usually is, unfortunately — it’s a bizarre behavioral and cultural thing that we do, and I don’t think we really think about it, in the same way that people went to church, probably, in the 12th century without thinking about it too much, either. It was just the world as you knew it, and it was a way to bring meaning to the world that we lived in.

Sara:                       You said something along the lines that there are communities everywhere, in all sorts of places. I’ve also heard you talk about the specificity of the artwork. Its distinctiveness from life is important to you. You talk about ‘art to life to art to life to art.’

                                I think there’s something about this. Yes, there is a community, maybe like any other community, maybe not. Yet this community only exists because of this other space, the art gallery. I wanted to talk about this notion of autonomy as a sign of resistance and of how that is important to you. Because you have mentioned to me, and I think I’ve heard you speak about this question of maintaining the difference between art and life — maintaining the separation is an important element, right?

David:                     Yes, definitely. The slogan which you see here [on the paintings] for Cathouse FUNeral is “Life to Art to Life”, which we can see is somewhat circular and off-center, which is something that implies that it’s partial, but it becomes cyclical: life to art to life to art to life, it’s the narcissism again, it’s the crossroads; it’s all of that, where, it probably should be “life to death to life to death.” If you think about death and regeneration and those kinds of ideas. Art is a stand-in for death, in the way that it’s being used here, and then this idea of a separation between life and art is something that I advocate for, although these lines are very blurry and difficult to define. One of the big 20th-century notions was that art should be folded into life, in a completing, in a contemporary political act, where art should directly relate to “the now,” and the second it is put in a museum — i.e. taken out of the flow of a normal temporality — that it becomes ossified, it became like a relic, and one that’s dead. So, the idea of a “museum as a mausoleum,” as Adorno talks about it.

                                So, as Proust says, when you come in contact with that dead object in the mausoleum of the museum, when your subjectivity comes in contact with that other subjectivity in the art object, you bring life to it, and that becomes the cyclical relationship of “life to art to life,” as opposed to trying to fold art into life, where art basically gets consumed by life and disappears completely.

                                 I mean, it’s interesting, if you think of animism and other kinds of, say, pre-modern religious performativity, or ways of thinking, where everything is infused with the spirit. Whereas with modern, and the development of the museum, and the way that we think about art now as kind of an extension… or somewhere when science and art separated, or with the death of religion or something like this. Art became that space, unlike (or like) animism, where you can step outside of life somehow, in some sort of imaginary way. This is where you go into the grave, or into that reflecting space of Narcissus.

                                Say, you go into a movie theater, and it’s dark, and you live someone else’s experience for two hours, and you forget yourself, and you come back out to reflect on that experience — that other person’s experience, and your own in relation. So, you kind of die in that moment to yourself, and you open yourself to another experience. You do that when you read a book, for example. You silence your own inner voice, and you let someone else’s take over.

                                That’s something to do with human consciousness, and the way that humans are able to think, and that would be sort of the art-death part that separates from the quotidian flow of time that I think we habitually do — without thinking about it — when we read a book or go to an art museum, it’s built-in. This is part of the way — I’m thinking about Courbet, too — it’s built into the way we experience art, as opposed to the way art would have been experienced by deeper, older cultural moments in which they didn’t perform in the same materialist way that we do today.

Sara:                       I think we are at about an hour now, and we should open it up for questions.

David:                     Yeah. Please. Yes. If not dinner!

Sara:                       Okay.

David:                     Okay. Any questions, or you’ve been berated enough? Yeah?

Audience #1:          So there’s this idea, these days for novelist to create “auto-fiction.” So they have their selves as a subject in a different way than biography or older novels, and I’m wondering how this “David Dixon” character seems to be a container, a self like you, but different.

David:                     It happens. It happens to all of us, when we think of ourselves, in time, as historical characters, which we can do — thinking of yourself in the third person as opposed to the first person. That’s a result of human consciousness. When you make a movie, for example, and you act in it — in the first film that I made, “Unloosened and Root,” I set up the beginning by saying in a voice over, “Oh, that’s my character, ‘Joe Johnson.’ It’s not me really, you know, but it’s based on my own experience,” which it was, so it’s partially autobiographical. But I don’t know this new literary movement you’re talking about. What are some examples?

Audience #1:          Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” would be one…

David:                     So, that’s thought of not as…like Proust’s narrator, or anything like that?

Audience #1:          Well, the main character is the author, but a little bit different than the person you might meet. There are several authors working like that, but its more a question of how you’re doing it.

David:                     So, after “David Dixon is dead.” — maybe this will answer the question a little bit — everything was like gravy after that, because the whole time I was making the movie, I was just trying not to die, you know? Because it seemed like it would be too absurd to die — like, cursing myself or something.

                                 After that, the movie, you’re sort of dead, so then everything else is post…I’m already in the afterlife. So then, yeah, maybe in that afterlife, you’re already corpse, or you’re already emptied, and that’s when you can start to put the quotation marks around yourself, and you reach some sort of meta-self. [laughs nervously]

Audience #2:          The is not a question, but the way you’re speaking about these historical paintings and how they relate to the space is very nice, to hear how the logic of the space comes from painting history.

                                I have a comment, too, in relation to how Picasso made the first painting behind “Demoiselle’s d’Avignon,” it is actually a sailor at the base, if you see the leg, its transformed into the figures, it’s the remains of a leg from the sailor.

                                Anyway, my question though is about the future, what will happen after these five years and you’re still alive?

David Dixon, “Life to Art to Life, 2” (2018) ink and paint on harvested, plastered and painted sheetrock, stained wood frame, 24x32 inches

David:                     Yes. Putting Cathouse FUNeral in Cathouse Proper, and then using the ouroboros symbol in the promotional material and everything — you know, really, ideally, the gallery should end, you know? It should eat itself and disappear, but I didn’t want to do that, because I want the gallery to keep going! But just for conceptual clarity, it should end, but it’s not going to. We already know what we’re doing next year, to a degree, so it’s going to keep going. 

                                I was thinking about changing the name, but that seems sort of silly, too, so we just have to think of it conceptually, like that. Yeah. the gallery’s going to keep going, but I am trying to think of some larger context, because, like the movies, the gallery became a larger context within which art could come out of for myself, and I like having these larger projects that smaller things come out of. But the gallery is  painting, and Cathouse FUNeral, especially…so, coming to this white cube, here, Cathouse Proper, you know, it has to be respected, by and large, so it’s the antithesis of what the other space was, which is why it’s really exciting to be in here. It was like collage, that other space, the FUNeral.

                                The other space always felt like collage to me, or a montage, in that each of the exhibitions, like I say, led into the other ones. So, you do something on the wall, and you keep it for the next show, and you erase something else, and then the next show would happen and we’d take something out, but put something else in, so the space itself felt like collage, but it’s also in time, so that’s why it had those cinematographic qualities of a montage.

Audience #3:          I noticed that in both of these large paintings you’ve been talking about the symbolism of the shapes and crossroads, and I’m noticing that you have a divide in the two pieces, and I’m wondering if you have a conceptual idea of why you put the separation in both these pieces where you put them?

David:                     It’s definitely a horizon, like with the four moments of the sun, where above the horizon is noon, and below is midnight, and the sun travels in this diamond shape, you know, through that horizon and into the underworld. I was thinking of it like that.

                                Then, practically, they’re 7-by-9 feet. They wouldn’t fit through the door, so they had to be cut in half, and that was somewhat traumatic. I mean, I was about to start working on them, and I was thinking, “Am I a fool? I can’t even get them in the studio door.” I mean, I wanted them to be what they needed to be, obviously, but…so, they had to be cut in half. In order to do that in a meaningful way, one was cut in half after I made it, after I made the whole image. And that one, the colorful one, I cut before. It was made cut.

                                So, you can actually see the way that the color and the paint and everything, the way the treatment goes up to that horizon line is different in the two paintings. That was to give it some variety. That cut is in the center, too, and this one’s not in the center. Then, of course, I wanted the severed Kota.

                                You know, I would say if you just saw these paintings and you didn’t know anything about the gallery and all that, they have to function in that way too. So, what is a “Cathouse FUNeral,” you know? So, it’s Thanatos and Eros. Thanatos is death, it’s death and sex, those two Freudian drives.

                                This one especially, with all the black, it’s almost like a devouring angel, it’s the death of the cathouse, if it’s a funeral for the cathouse. It’s the death of this kind of exploitation we were talking about — you know, putting a quantitative value on a qualitative thing. Basically, capitalism! A devouring angel for capitalism! The Kota are going to come back and get us — which they should, and they will — maybe you’ve seen the film “Burn,” by Pontecorvo…anyone seen that film? Marlon Brando?

                                 Anyway, at the end — just watch the movie for the end. It’s called “Burn”. It’s on YouTube, because the guy was a Marxist, so it’s free! There’s no copyright on the movie, or something. Pontecorvo is the one who made “Battle of Algiers” — the other movie he made is “Burn.” Just watch the movie, and in the last scene, just look at the eyes at the end. I feel like that’s what the Kota is doing here in this painting.

Audience #3:          What year?

David:                     That movie is from ’69 or something like that.

Audience #4:          I love this first comment that you made about the film of the beheaded “maybe-David” next to the “maybe-Father,” and that is very similar, I think, but almost in reverse, of certain cuts that you make in your work. I notice this beheading, decapitating. But what’s interesting to me is in the Kota relics, if we can call them that anymore, the ancestry is left behind when they’re cut, the familial skulls are left and what we know and operate symbolically on is this effigy of an actual effigy.

                                Those abstractions aside, I’m kind of curious if you think about the relationships that you have with the artists that you work with, but also with a lot of the people that are here, and that return here for every opening — the kind of kinships that happen at Cathouse — have you ever thought about that in relation to that kind of kin, or familial nature of the skull looking up, or the silicon head [“The Artist in his Studio”] — which is an effigy of an effigy also — looking up at your father or A Father while it’s driven somewhere to be preserved, or the beheaded objects that you make in terms of kinship? I’m wondering if there are examples of working with artists, or how you think of the family in terms of the gallery.

David:                     Yes. I love my family. As I imagine that we all do, but I do think, as artists, there’s something about trying to find family in the activities that we do, and for myself, that’s certainly the case. I mean, I feel a kinship with artists.

                                 William Burroughs in “The Cities of the Red Night,” I believe,— he described…there was the leader of China and Russia, and the leader of America, and they were at war or something, and he used the exact same paragraph to describe them all. They had a certain personality type, in other words: leaders-of-the-world type people, as opposed to artists who, you know, have a certain type of character. That’s one
                                 way to think cross-culturally, and across ethnicity, in some ways. Those are real kinships, as far as I’m concerned.

Audience #4:          But what about this moment when you…the film happens around the time of your mother’s death, right? And then, that’s also the start of how your work becomes more a carriage also for other people, rather than just of your own, it becomes “heroic social work,” and I’m wondering how you think of the film and those kinds of headings, to what degree do you think of it as your family growing at the moment of your mother’s passing? Is that something that you reflect on?

David:                     I hadn’t really thought about the gallery in relation to my mother, no. Sorry, no. More of this “youthful narcissism,” idea. I like throwing “youthful” in there. I’m glad you use it. It takes the edge off of it a little bit. [laughter]

Sara:                       I think this is a fascinating question, because there’s something about reverse filiation in your work, in which you use other artists as your precedents. And in the film, in the moment of the cut, the beheading, you become the one that makes the son into the father. You become the vessel.

                                There’s something about the idea that this filiation that doesn’t follow a chronological order. So, the idea of these cuts gives you the possibility of scrambling time, and I think — we haven’t talked about temporality — something that is going on there as well. When you take Tariku’s black wall, there, you make it the origin or the precedent, you play with it a little bit. You create alternative historiographies of the way the certification of the work works. Do you think that’s also there, maybe? I don’t know. Is it?

David:                     Yes, because we harvested the walls completely out of the first gallery space, and they were reconfigured in different… well, they were configured in different configurations, yes. And there is the slideshow here…one of the things I want to do is make a book this summer, to see how the gallery progressed, how it went from one phase to another phase in chronological order, this montage. But seeing everything happen at once in the slideshow — all the exhibitions constantly constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed is also illuminating, they go back and forth, linear time is upset.

                                There’s a lot to go into when you talk about the son before the father, because that’s the whole Christian idea which is a complicated one, about how the son dies in the father. If the father is God, and God is all, and Jesus — you know, the Trinity, the whole idea of thinking of the Trinity is the mortality of mortal man, and he dies in the all, creating a hole in the whole, but then he supersedes the father because he becomes God himself.

                                I mean, there’s a lot of that kind of mixing of temporarily like you’re talking about in the movie “David Dixon is dead.” In forcing the father’s hand to perform the act of love, even against his own wishes, by confronting the materiality of the dead son, it’s a power move, to force the father to be the hero that the son wants him to be, its an affront. Not very pleasant.

Audience #5:          I’m just ruminating on the gravity of the head and the flesh, and you also mentioned the rest of the body is cremated into ash. So, what happens to the ash, and do the head and the ash ever combine?

David:                     Yes. They come back together. The movie was made to live out the consequences of a piece that I made titled “Museum Mausoleum” (2006). It’s a self-portrait. I already made it. And my skull should sit inside after it’s cleaned, behind the portrait, and on the bottom behind the glass are the ashes.

                                In the film, the way to sort of make this skull preservation supersede this idea of cremation — you never see the ashes in any form after the father takes the head to Oklahoma City. They just disappear from the narrative, but they should all come together again. Right now, I have a plastic skull sitting in “Museum/Mausoleum” as a model or stand-in. The hope is that after I actually do die, that someone, whoever wants it, will carry this stuff out. You just have to go to Oklahoma City. Jay Villemarette is the owner of Skulls Unlimited, he’s in the movie, and he’s there ready for you!

Sara:                       The significance of the skull is always different in all these religious references that you use. The skull is different from the body.

David:                     Yes, and it’s true in the Asmat, too. This is not just mind-body, Cartesian separation, you know? They kept the skull, but no one knows…I don’t know what they did with the skeleton.

Audience #5:          But it’s serious. I mean, you have built a monument that will somehow…I mean, you fully intend for it to succeed you and be an artwork that exists in some sort of museum. So do you have thick leaded glass and a seal? Have you figured it out?

David:                     Yes. It’s not so thick, but yeah, it’s sealed. The idea of “What museum?” was kind of fun to think through. It seems like it should be with the Fayum paintings in the Egyptian section, you know, which are reliquaries, which were influences, or the Asmat with the skulls, but no! It should not be in an historical survey museum, where it can be with its brethren, which are these traditions; it should be in a contemporary museum, and it should always be in a contemporary museum, even in the future, when we have museums that are different than contemporary museums are now. It should be such that the dead is always brought amongst the living. That would be the ideal situation. So, it should always be in…

Audience #5:          It should be rolled out into the lobby area on every opening day!

David:                     Something like that. You know, the Egyptians…there’s evidence that the mummies were kept in the house for many generations, and then disposed of. They have evidence that they were maybe kept in the foyer or something like this, so you would walk by granddad and say, “Hey.”

Audience #6:          So, beginning with the end, how do you continue painting?

David:                      Beginning with the end…of this?

Audience #6:          Of your life.

David:                     Oh. Well, that’s…yeah…

Audience #6:          So, what are you painting today?

David:                     These works here.

Audience #6:          Oh. So, these are…

David:                     Yeah. Um…yeah. Uh…that’s a good question. I am still here. The selflessness that’s supposed to be the heroic social worker is an ideal of some sort, one that I don’t really…

Audience #6:          With the gallery?

David:                     Yeah, with the gallery, and I hope that it seems complicated. The narcissism is not completely gone, obviously. It’s even magnified in some way. It’s meant to be a criticism. I did a series of paintings with the text “heroic social worker,” but the title is “Narcissus,” so I’m definitely thinking of these terms as dialectical, and in the gallery, too. So, one still has to bring one’s self to the party, unfortunately or fortunately. So, that never really dies.

                                Is that good? Does everybody want to go eat now? Yeah! Thank you.

David Dixon, “Cathouse FUNeral Triptych Harvesting” (2017) plaster, pigment, graphite, paint on gypsum board with wood frame, 72x43 inches