Contemporary Art @ Boğaziçi - Interview Project, 2010

Timothy Stanley

Timothy Stanley requested that I meet him at a Beyoglou Café. I wandered down a windy side street of Istiklal to an unnamed café. Inside it had the vibe of a dark coffee shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with it’s own bit of Istanbul character melded in. It was the perfect place to interview an artist who had been raised in New York and calls Istanbul one of his favorite cities. Stanley speaks softly but with conviction giving the impression of an easygoing person but principled person who isn’t easily pushed around. His steadfast pursuit of art through a deconstructionalist perspective of writing further evince this. Most writers tend to adhere to preexisting formats of writing, staying within the confines of preestablished writing formats: novels, short stories, plays, etc. Stanley belligerently and diligently demands more out of writing. His work is usually performative stemming from something he has written, or in some cases, things he has written about writing in an unusual manner though certainly shouldn’t be limited to that. He has made sculpture and pieces of art worthy of explanation beyond a single word like “painting,” or “performance.”

By Ali Breland

Ali Breland: Is art you primary job right now? Do you have anything on the side?

Timothy Stanley: Art is my career. I guess you could say I’ve been working fulltime for two years. Two and a half years. Before that, I was an art fabricator, which means I made art for other artists. I’m at a strange point in my career because things are happening. Things are going well, but it’s based on my traveling around, kind of hustling and not living in one place. I think it’s in it’s very early stages. I’m getting the kind of receptions that I want. The work I do, some of it can be extremely hard to show. It’s hard to become a studio artist because I don’t have a studio and it’s hard to sit and work on a piece for a really long time. That’s why I fall back on writing a lot. That’s the kind of creative outlet I have. When I do find time to work I can look back at the writings and find what I have there.

AB: There’s a four-year gap between your first art stuff and your graduation. You were an art fabricator in that time. Were you doing other things in that time?

TS: I graduated after having done a lot of creative writing classes and I decided that I didn’t want to write anything for two years, so I was a teacher and I did a lot of odd jobs. That was great because I learned that I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t want to work in restaurants and do retail. I wanted a career. I worked in an art gallery in Paris for a year and I met an artist who’s represented by this gallery. He needed help in his studio, so he asked me. I worked for him for about two or three years as his assistant and his fabricator. In that time I showed some works at small shows. I was making things and writing a lot, but it wasn’t until I guess, 2010 that I started taking it seriously in terms of a potential career.

AB: What happened in 2010?

TS: I started to collaborate with the artist and architect I was working for on pieces. I was working for a dance company, and when I started to do those things my creative eye was more in demand. I realized I was very good at that because it was incredibly satisfying.

AB: What significance did the specific two years have?

TS: I don’t know. I was at Columbia doing writing. It was incredibly intensive because there are only so many options for writers. I felt like my options as a fiction writer were short-story then a novel. I had problems writing short stories. There were things I was really good at and things that I was bad at, and I couldn’t finish a story. That wasn’t my strength. It was only after getting into art that writing was a medium I had that I could put towards a creative purpose instead of being strictly a writer. I write a lot but I don’t consider myself a writer anymore because I think writing fits under the art umbrella.

AB: Do you think there should be a bigger community of writing outside the standard, short-story novel paradigm?

TS: Absolutely. I think that my understanding of the history of art and literature used to be more intrinsically collected. Especially in the early 20th century in France. You had a lot of modernist writers influencing a lot of modern impressionists and post-modern artists. That relationship is my favorite time in art and literature history. I think it’s a shame there’s not as much crossover anymore and I think it’s time to change that. It’s strange, because text and art are very often linked. Most of the time when text is used in art it’s like poetry. It’s poetic. It focuses on the words. I was more interested in the story.

AB: You said you don’t consider yourself a writer anymore because the work you produce is art but a large amount of your art is predicated on writing and performing. If you had to pick one to be your primary medium to create in, would you pick, artist, writer or performer?

TS: I think the reason I pick artist is because I can be all of those things. I think that there’s temptation when you’re starting out in art to let people pick one for you. I think people want to say this guys a sculptor or writer, or dancer. I’m not anti-that. I just think it’s not the truth about the work I make. I kind of think of it as all the same thing. I think the process for writing a piece of fiction is a lot more closely linked to sculpting or painting than it is to journalistic writing for example. The way I start stories is more similar to a visual art process. So I think that if I called myself a writer I’d be lying. That being said, I’ve started to do a lot of creative non-fiction. It’s incredibly enjoyable.

AB: How would you encourage people who want go beyond the structure of being a normal writer to do it? What should they try to be doing?

TS: This happens a lot when people think about joining MFA programs for writing. I think it’s really good to have people’s opinion about your work and guidance. At some point, if you feel like what you’re doing works better a certain way, if it’s more abstract or experimental, it takes a huge amount of confidence to keep going with that but it’s important.

AB: Which specific format do you like seeing your writing in the most? You said you’re considering getting your novel published but at the same time you like the performative aspect of it only being in that moment.

TS: The performance work I do is a lot about the performance rocess and not so much about the finished product. Though the performance work I’ve done about writing hasn’t been a way of getting across the writing. I’ve been interested in online publishing just because I think there’s an immediacy to it that you have in art that people are afraid of in writing. I think there’s a lot of pressure to polish everything perfectly in fiction. To have readers and editors and to have anything you put out be as clean and perfect as it can be. That takes away a lot of the potential for that rawness of art. It’s all about immediacy. As cliché as it is to say, were living in the internet age. It’s a way to get things to people without having to jump over hurdles and polish everything. I read this creative non-fiction piece about the trip north to vardo. I guess in my vanity, I really wanted that piece to go to a really prestigious publication like the New Yorker or Atlantic, or The Believer was where I think I tried to publish it. I’d spend months and months waiting for to come back and I’d give it to readers and they’d say, “I really like this, but this needs to change.” I just worked this thing dead. I came to a final draft that had nothing that I wanted in it. It wasn’t me, it was the most polished, clean version of what I wanted to write. It was probably better but it wasn’t what I wanted. One day on a whim, I asked the editor of this online magazine called This Recording. I sent him not the original, but one of the more raw versions. It was really long and got an email almost instantly that say, “Hey, looks great. Let’s do it,” and within three days it was up online for everyone to see and to be honest more people probably saw it then if it were in a magazine that nobody buys. It’s a great magazine and a great thing to have on your resume. If I had the opportunity to publish with them in the future I definitely will. It’s nice though that there’s a place that I can put up a piece as a I want it without having to worry about it being completely perfect. That’s what’s available to us, and that’s what’s amazing. I don’t think print is dead. I hope it’s not dead, but we spend all this time fighting for the writers to get little indulgences. In the end, you just send it to people and I love that. I have a lot of ideas for things I want to do.