Sonia Campagnola: When you think back to the early ’70s and your first actions and performances putting your own life in danger, what is your take on them now that your work moved elsewhere and the surrounding world changed?
CB: First, my early actions and performances were not suicidal, and did not put my life
in danger. Today, I am proud of those early works. They were important in my artistic
development and they have become a part of art history. However, I no longer have an
interest in doing performances.
VS: During the performance Jaizu in Newport Beach in 1972, you sat immobile in a chair wearing dark glasses. Visitors thought that you were looking at them and they refused to speak. Actually, your lenses were painted black inside so that you couldn’t see. After the action, you said that some people were aggressive and that a few of them even had hysterical reactions. Most of your performances feed on rage and hysical pain. Could you speak about these topics in relation to your work?
CB: No rage and very little physical pain.
VS: Early in the ’70s you often railed against the Vietnam conflict. Do you think artists
coming from countries that have been under a totalitarian government are more likely to realize extreme actions and performances dealing with strong political issues? Do you see a connection between these artists’ practices and performance practices in ’70s?
CB: Artists in totalitarian societies are less likely to be able to realize extreme actions
because they are usually jailed, and/or executed.
VS: In an interview in 1975 you defined art as “a free spot in society, where you can do
anything.” “Anything,” you would add, “that society will let you do.” Could you give any
examples of how social conditioning has restricted your work?
CB: There are always two sides to a coin. Society is usually fixated on only one side of the coin. For example, being shot is considered by society to be a bad thing and to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes it is of some interest to flip the coin and face the dragon head-on.
VS: A Tale of Two Cities (1981) represents a metaphor of war’s enormity. Five thousand toys created a large-scale installation where the act of repetition assumes a freaky atmosphere. Where does this obsession come from?
CB: A Tale of Two Cities represents two make-believe city-states at war with each
other. The big city is invading the small city. In this mythic world, the weapons for
both cities are bought from a separate armsproducing state. Thus, A Tale of Two Cities
is actually a model of the modern world. I purchased all the toys in A Tale of Two Cities, including the war toys, at different periods of my life. I still collect toys. Toys are
a reflection of society. They are the tools that society uses to teach and enculturate
children into the adult world. Toys are not innocent.