STEVE INTERVIEWS SIMON
ST = STEVE Rushton
SB = SIMON Becks
[incoherent noise -- then we start]
ST: Where are you from?
SB: I grew up in the South of Netherlands near Nijmegen, but I moved quite early on to Amsterdam around my 16th birthday. Yeah, I don't really connect that much with that part of my self anymore. Rarely visit the town or the family. Maybe twice, three times a year.
ST: So what are you making now? What are you working on?
SB: I'm currently working on a new short film which I was very lucky of getting some funding for. This just happened before I started to study here.
ST: What’s it about?
SB: It’s a short film about a lesbian middle-aged woman who gets stricken by a mysterious sleeping sickness. [maybe put a brief synopsis of the film here, in a couple of sentences.]
ST: So is her condition like narcolepsy?
SB: No, not narcolepsy. Maybe more like that feeling when you have when you had too much Xanax again. Do you know that feeling?
ST: I can’t say I have.
SB: No, me neither. But I can imagine it brings you in a state where you’re neither awake nor asleep.
ST: Is it from her point of view?
SB: Still figuring that out. By telling it from somebody else’s point of view, the audience won’t really understand why it's happening. Which might be a constructive addition to the mystery. Throughout the film we see her being drawn towards a cave. We’ll follow that journey and try to get a sense of what this mysterious attraction and the sleeping disease might bring about.
ST: In what genre-field are you willing to place the film. In a spectrum from documentary to horror or comedy.
SB: [PHILOSOPHY OF HORROR PART] I want to say mystery, but that seems very genuine. I do try to involve dark-comedy elements in the scripts that I write.
ST: You mentioned your writing also. Are you a writer?
SB: I’m not sure. Maybe. My first memory of thinking I might be a writer, coincided with me being a criminal. In primary school I wrote a poem, which seemed to impress teachers and parents of mine. I became a poet in their eyes. Or in my eyes in their eyes. That’s a lot of pressure, so I started copying poems from obscure poetry websites.
ST: You plagiarised them.
SB: Yes, plagiarise them. Put my own name under them. I think that’s why I also really connected with Kenneth Goldsmith's book ‘Uncreative Writing’. In the sense that just by re-typing those poems I became more apt in writing them and coming up with them myself. Not any longer stealing, but understanding and making.
ST: I don't want to dwell on your life of crime, but did you did you get caught for that?
SB: I haven't told many people this.So I don’t think many people knew. Or maybe they just didn’t tell me. I mean the Internet was still kind of obscure. It was early 2000’s and I feel most kids were becoming more apt at the internet than most adults. I was also smart enough to not plagiarise from the greater poem-makers.
ST: But the current film that you're making now, how does it relate to previous work that you've done?
SB: I've realised over the years that most of my works are in one way or another all concerned with liminality. A couple year ago I built this large space of 40 square metres which was a kind of immersive set. The public would enter through the back of a filing cabinet. They would be sucked in and stuck in a unknown place. this idea for Marc Auge’s ‘Non Places’ where spaces exist without cultural or historical identity. So this I built was called General, General, Dull, Dull, Dull and the Humdrum Ho-Hum Commonspace and consisted of a changing room, storage space, waiting room, hallway. A type of Frankenstein construction. To capture that kind of liminality is something I've always been interested.
ST: So you see liminality as a kind of indistinguishable space between here and there. A space for everything and nothing.
SB: Of potential. Possibility. But i try to freeze that feeling. Capture it. Like the ghost in the shell of a snail.
ST: Is the liminal space the state of the woman in your fill, between asleep and awake? And also the cave?
SB: I mean these are all signifiers that exhibited that quality yes. But maybe I try to see liminality also more as a lens, to look through, than merely looking for the objects itself. Trying to find the potential of a cave or a chair or fuck or a book can function like a shaman or a priest, guiding or a ferryman, transporting us, ontologically, from living to dead, or from non-religious to Christian etc. But what happens if we free that moment, get stuck there. Is everything possible. Or nothing?
ST: So your earlier work was an installation. Was there any video element to it?
SB: I did have a lot of hidden performers. Which I often work with. Performers that are dressed up as audience members. Just as there are magicians that often put accomplices or shills in the audience, that are in on the joke or the trick.
ST: Plant’s I believe they’re called.
SB: I worked with plants later on also with Jules van den Langenberg, at the New Instituut, not far from here. We made an exhibition where we rebuilt like a, roadside motel. We curated a group of nearly 100 artists, designers, gardeners, anybody who wanted to show, present or do anything that they wanted. We pledged to exhibit them. The exhibit was videos up in different act, and we made a very rigid structure to facilitate very fragile, informal talks between all the participants. A large part of the audience were, unbeknownst to the participants, background actors with scripts. So it was this entire controlled production to facilitate and nudge people to have these very informal talks amongst themselves.
ST: Two things that remind me of. Nelson’s Coral Reef. I suppose you could describe them as liminal spaces also. In coral reef he makes a room that's almost identical to the other room. All his work has that feel, that weird uncanny feel.
SB: Gregor Schneider is a German artist, who works in a similar manner. There's so much effort put in to capturing something that’s so invisible or so ephemeral. They work very much, like that ghost in a snail’s shell, with negative and positive space.
ST: The other reference I thought of that could be useful is Being John Malkovic. You know where he gets into a middle floor.
SB: Yes, I think these are really great references that I was also working a lot with around that time. But then after two years I also did realise that I am ambitious in the projects and the scope is quite intensive and costly. The whole infrastructure around facilitating such projects isn't there in the fine-art world, unless for the most privileged amongst us. Combined with my interest in combining a sense of story and specific narratives led me up the hill to the point that stepping into film didn't feel so far fetched anymore as it once did.
ST: You know another reference I think is really useful that helps me understand what you're talking about is Tom McCarthy's Remainder. In Remainder the protagonist has an accident and he gets compensation for it. He got hit by a piece of an aeroplane, that falls on his head. Like every Auster novel. But now he's got a neurological problem and he wants to reenact moments perfectly. Full business. So he watches Robert De Niro in Taxi and he attempts to mimic how De Niro opens the fridge and takes out a carton of milk. He starts to reenact these things. He becomes obsessive about reenacting. He's loaded and he gets actors to act out parts of a particular moment in his life.
SB: That idea of re-enactment is something we also started thinking of during the development phase of this film. I do notice that in the films I've written, up until this point, that there is always a kind of meta fictional element in the things I develop. I like fictional characters playing with fiction.
ST: Or a real character becoming fiction as is the case with the Malkovich.
SB: I also have to think of Synecdoche New York, directed by the writer of Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman, where Phillip Seymour Hoffman wins the esteemed MacArthur grant. He makes a play where the play imitates the life he lives. It becomes like a map as big as the thing it’s trying to map or depict. I believe Borges wrote about it.
So these things are kind of all floating in my head and I do find that working in film offers me a lot of structure which is very helpful for me. It enables me to be together with people I do really appreciate to work in a team like an Ocean's 11. Where there is an Explosive Expert and Director of Photography and a Master of Disguise and a Director.
ST: it's incredibly collaborative so the person who pulls focus isn't the person who is operating the camera.
SB: It sometimes make me feel like a magician, like Alan Moore, famous cartoon writer from Swamp Thing said in his documentary. Where he proclaimed himself a magician at the age of forty, as now his words were so effective that he could alter reality. Being the writer / director in such a collaborative context. That by just saying words, I motivate others to alter reality. Like speaking a spell.
ST: So how many actors is this going to involve? You got the lady with a mysterious sleeping disease, who else?
SB: I think we'll have three main characters. Where the protagonist befriends a actrice, who she meets during her work as a dramaturg in the local theatre company. We’re currently pulling a lot of references of that world, as the person whom I co-direct with studied theatre-directing and is familiar with that field.
ST: It is also called Chinese box worlds. These forms of narrative structure are ones where you have a story within a story within a story. And after about two or three you kind of forget which one you're in. This is a very old form of storytelling and it originated probably before people could read and write. Therefore they invented those technologies so people would embed one story inside another in order in to remember it. Yeah indeed so clever. There are the Canterbury tales and the Decamerone, and 1001 Arabian Nights. Actually Borges was super interested in these Chinese box stories. Can you maybe tell me a bit more what things have currently changed in your practice?
SB: I found it quite hard to identify my practise. I had a bachelor in Fine Arts had some experience within that world. But felt more like a director without a camera. I’ve been to all the art places, but it never felt that we were a singular match. Though I also felt wrong saying I’m a director, without actually having work under my belt. Though I did read The Importance of Pretentiousness, and why it matters, which showed me, just like a magician with its spells, how important manifesting language is. But I think from maybe last year on, I started feeling comfortable calling myself a director and writer, that is luckily able to navigate within the realm of Fine Arts whenever I want. For example, I have an exhibition in February at ArtRotterdam, a very fine art dominated field, and I'm quite excited to figure out together with the curator and my editor, to develop a work that functions as a film and a film-installation, all derived from the same shot material.
ST: Has there been a change of mind that you have had when preparing the film.
SB: Is there a single thing that I haven't changed my mind on, would be a better question. Though on that question I’d also have had to answer yes.
We started off with the idea that we wanted to make a film, with only middle aged women. Not involved with heartbreak or sex but discussing professional and personal topics. And I wanted something mysterious. Maybe re-enactment is involved. And we had a scene in our heads (which we eventually cut out) about a women standing in a paleontological museum’s depot. Most of these things have changed. At a certain point the story takes over. Asks questions of you. And it’s quite fun to also see things shift and develop and change and let go.
ST: Do you have an actress yet?
SB: I’ve written the script with several actors in mind. They each have that particular reptilian, calculated look in their eyes.
ST: Good, so and then what after?
SB: I hope this might prove as a night entry into a new world, where I can engage with new and meaningful relationships. But I’m currently sitting on a new idea of a group of highwaywomen, cultured robbers. I imagine there was a lot of theatre involved in these polite and elaborate robberies. Also maybe a nice moment to circle back to my answer to one of your first questions about plagiarism and my criminal history. I am quite interested in this interplay between criminality and creativity. I suspect that they are two sides of the same coin, just found a different avenue of expression. [I'm not convinced of this claim, needs more explaination. In fictio, and in the popular reception of "true crime" or "Narco" fiction, the creativity of the criminal is never in question]But the urge to circumvent certain axioma’s or assumed truths, and an inherent need to come up with new or alternative modes of knowledge or dealing with things, seems to me quite similar. [this seems flip to me, because I'm not sure the creativity of certain criminal behaviour is in dispute]It’s like The House That Jack Built from Lars von Trier, where you follow a highly troubled, mentally ill man, with ocd. He’s a failed architect too. But treats the murders he commits as an artist. Which reminds me of this great pod-cast I listen to called Red Scare. Done by two east-european women in their thirties forties, director and actress i believe. Very smart, very hyperbolic. Lots of vocal fry, lots of zodiacs, lots of smart book references. [Sorry, this doesn't convey much- what is being communicated here?]They called the 9/11 attack one of the greatest performance art pieces of the world.[See also Slavoj Žižek who said it first, I think: https://www.e-flux.com/announcements/38455/issue-12-art-and-terrorism-out-now/] I feel that kind of links into that duality of criminality and creativity. It was a horrible event of course, but an interesting model of viewing it too.
ST: I was in the Jan Van Eyck Academy when that happened, and a friend of mine said "this is a sublime event". I remember thinking that's a bit much. But it was beyond understanding. it was beyond our ability to process what was happening. It was also sublime in the sense that relates to the terrible.
SB: Are we ending on 9/11?
ST: We don’t have to. I think my take-away of this conversation is you are interest in tricking people. I used to write with tricks too. Somebody then told me: ‘If you’ll tell somebody a lie, don't be surprised if they believe you’.
SB: That might take the fun out of it?
ST: Exactly. The subterfuge and trickery are fascinating methods for people to deal with. Now, we can look into the question why one would lie in an artistic context. I feel it might be the start of a great research question to analyse: what are artistic lies and why do we tell them?
SB: This seems like a better moment to stop than 9/11. So shall we.
ST: Thanks Simon.
SB: Thanks Steve.