David Horvitz

Brooklyn-based conceptual artist David Horvitz uses art books, performance, photography and mail art as mediums for his work – although he is probably best know for his extensive work with the “virtual sphere”.

Working within the realm of the internet, David is able to curate his practice easily using sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia as a validation of his work. In doing so, David challenges the authority of authorship, the manipulation of information as factual evidence, and the ownership of art.

To give you an idea, David’s oeuvre includes a book of images taken from stock photography sites, featuring sad, depressed people. He will think about you in silence for one minute for $1 and email you when he’s done. For $1,626, he will travel to the Okinawan island “Taketomi” and collect beautiful star-sand, then mail it in an envelope to you. The symbiotic relationship between the artist and the participant is exemplary, and often paramount to a project’s success. We speak with David to learn more about his work, the search for the miraculous, and Potato Salad.

Much of your work plays with the infinite and temporality, in the sense that certain pieces ask to be reproduced, distributed and shared amongst the wider audience, immeasurably, and other works are simply fleeting moments (For $1 USD I will think about you for one minute. I will email you the time I start thinking, and the time I stop). There is a constant play and exchange with your audience which is refreshing. How do you see your work developing in the future? Are there any avenues you’d like to explore?

A lot of what I do is unplanned and spontaneous, so I have really no idea what will happen in the future. How can anyone really know the future? I could end up doing… who knows… 

Your exhibition “Carry-On” at West gallery in Den Haag explored the notions of the travelling exhibition, and limitations of international customs. The premise of the show was to ask artists to submit works, all of which would fit snugly in your carry-on suitcase, which would then travel with you from Brooklyn to Den Haag. As an artist, you assumed responsibility for the works – which never left your sight. Were you nervous about taking on such responsibility? Were there any suspect objects that escaped customs by being deemed “art”?

I didn’t declare anything as art. That could be a whole other mess. And I wasn’t nervous. Or, maybe I was nervous for other reasons. Like missing the flight. Imagine if I missed the flight. It would be the failed project. I would come back to Brooklyn and return everyone’s artworks. The gallery would be mad that I didn’t show up. All the artists would be annoyed. The suitcase would be empty in my apartment in Brooklyn. Or maybe that would have been a better work! My suitcase was wired with microphones. I thought it would get searched because of this. But it didn’t… 

Is there a “Check-In” show in the making?
(This is a stretch, but in an attempt to revisit the concept it would be something if the check-in luggage was (un) intentionally lost and arrived at an unexpected destination. There the works would find their resting place and would have to be exhibited somewhere.)

There should be.

Like myself, you seem to share a deep admiration for the late Dutch artist, Bas Jan Ader. “Carry-On” also exhibited a – supposed – newly found film of his, which was exposed as your own fabrication.  The film also (eerily) foreshadowed Bas Jan Ader’s disappearance at sea in 1975, during his performance “In Search of the Miraculous”. The six seconds of footage was a stroke of brilliance on your part. Not only did it briefly excite the art world about a potential lost film of Bas, but even more so it raised questions about the authenticy and validation of the virtual sphere, and how the hierarchy of information can be quite easily manipulated and re-appropriated on the internet. Was this your intention? Do you see the web as a playground for artistic projects?

This was at a time when the gallery representing his estate at the time was getting criticized for making “authentic fake works.” Because they had the authority to stamp something with authenticity, they were pulling things out of his archives, and turning them into works, and then selling them. Most of them were works at some point, but a lot of things were missing, such as what Ader’s actual intentions were. In one case an installation was being sold that was based off a photograph of an exhibition in Hailfax. The piece was sold based off of producing what was in the tiny b/w photo. Later it was revealed that instructions that the artist had written were discovered that described how to produce the piece. It was a completely different piece. So the video I found and put online was playing in this discussion, and it used the internet to do it, where information can be reproduced and circulate at high speeds, exist as rumors, claim things that are not verified…. I sometimes imagine it in this kind of space of folk culture, where things can circulate by the viewers spreading it themselves. Like a rumor, or stories, or folk songs where no one knows who the author actually is.

Are you in search of the miraculous? If so, where have you been looking?

My friend Laura let me borrow her book on Blavatsky. I’ve never read Ouspensky or Gurdjeff. 

“Public Access” is an art project produced by David Horvitz in late December 2010 and early January 2011. For two weeks, Horvitz drove along California’s coastline from the Mexican border right up to Oregon. During his journey Horvitz stopped and took pictures of himself looking out at notable vantage points, reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic painting “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”, and Bas Jan Ader’s 1971 “Farewell to Faraway Friends”. The process led Horvitz to upload these photographs to the Wikipedia entries for the West Coast landmarks – adding new photographs or replacing the existing imagery with his own versions. This eventually sparked huge interest and mass confusion in the Wikipedia community.

People who consider themselves Wikipedia editors started taking the images down because they noticed that I was in all of them. They started tracking my IP address from San Diego to San Francisco, and the photos got pulled off or re-cropped so I was no longer in them. It became a debate amongst the Wikipedia editors if this was right or wrong; some thought it was a joke—that I was trying to trick them—and others didn’t care since I was obviously unidentifiable. I wasn’t violating any rules. I have documentation of all of the comments, and it’s fascinating. The threads don’t attack me, but instead they are all about trying to figure out if it’s morally right for Wikipedia, or if it was some kind of vandalism.

You’ve made a series of limited edition vinyl picture discs for numerous bands, including the likes of Sunset Rubdown (still looking for a copy). You also work a lot with Jaime Stewart of Xiu Xiu fame, and published book of polaroids taken while your were their Tour Manager (the original photographs of which were generously posted out to fans around the world). What are some of the memorable moments being a roadie?

I really don’t know where to begin. There are so many stories. Here is one. I was always on an extreme budget back then. One time I came up with this idea that I will eat anything if the band buys it for me. It was a way for me to save money, but also a means of entertainment while on the road. I walked out of this tiny diner next to a gas station to let the band order for me, so it would be a surprise when it came. What ended up coming was two orders of deep fried chicken gizzards. Xiu Xiu is all vegan or vegetarian, so it was weird that they ordered this. I ate as much as I could. But I could not eat two whole orders, so I took the rest to go. Later that night, who knows where, at some gas station, when everyone was insane and out of their minds, I got into a running chase with Jamie. I don’t know why. I was just running after him laughing hysterically in some gas station. It was probably 2 in the morning. I had the bag of leftover chicken gizzards in my hands. From about 20 feet away I threw the bag at Jamie. I hit him right in the back. The impact was so hard, but because he was not expecting this, it knocked him right on the ground. He fell straight to the ground, rolled over, and kept laughing like a lunatic. Around him there were chicken gizzards everywhere. 

Zack Danger Brown reached his Kickstarter goal of $10 to make Potato Salad. He eventually raised over $55k as the project went viral. What do you think about this, and the phenomenon of crowd-funding? I mean, you were basically doing the same thing years ago with “Things For Sale That I Will Mail You”, where you would fulfil specified tasks for anyone in exchange for a PayPal payment. Have you thought about taking advantage of Kickstarter or Fiverr as a platform for your art?

This is so stupid. But hopefully his potato salad is good. It would be such a pity if the salad sucked. Koreans make great potato salads. The key is the Asian Pear. Maybe some Spam would be good in there too. I have a SPAM project with an artist friend from Korea/NY, Taeyoon Choi. I don’t think I would use kickstarter unless the idea was really good or so dumb. Maybe Taeyoon and I could raise 55k to make Spam Musubi. Mmmmmmmm.

A set of found images from a stock library in which people are portrayed holding their heads in their hands. The book explores a bizarre tension between the status of these photographs as stock images and their supposedly emotional, depressed content.

Admittedly, I haven’t purchased a moment of your time, or a work (yet). Besides paying off your student debt, what can I do to own a David Horvitz?

Actually, you owe me $46 for this interview for thinking about you and your questions. I’ll send you a Paypal invoice in the morning. 

Berlin, Bears and Refugees