Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Chris Lloyd Interview


Way back in March of 2005, I sat down to talk with Chris Lloyd, he of the letter a day to the Prime Minister fame. Beyond that, he has also run the Kyber Gallery and now he is running the Third Space Gallery. If you'd like some background material, click on this. Remember this was done way before Stephen Harper got elected. And then, I'd like to thank Jacquline Mabey, Christina Malfi and Stephanie Maclean for their fabulous and wonderful help in transcribing and editing.

Zeke: What I know best about you is your letters to the Prime Minister. How, what, and why is the purpose to them? Can you give me some background, and I’ll toss in some stuff?

One of the marked up letters to the Prime Minister.

Chris Lloyd: I guess I started writing them as an improvisational gesture. I was working part-time at a laundromat in Halifax, while I was going to school at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I’ve done a lot of backtracking in my mind to figure out, “Why did I actually start doing that?” I handwrote it on a piece of paper torn from a journal. It was maybe a page long, and the whole idea was I just wanted to let the Prime Minister know what I was doing and what my life was like. Working at a laundromat can be one of the most mind-numbingly boring jobs – I was rolling socks. In fact, some of my daily activities at the laundromat found their way as subject matter into my letters. One day a guy came in with 140 pairs of wool socks that I had to try to sort and fold. He was probably an off-shore oil guy, or fisher. I think I was trying to find those weird little moments of the day where I think there’s a great deal of commonality between people. People always have weird little stories about things they run into, circumstantial things. I’ve always been interested in those things, and you never really hear about them from people in power. They always become fictions of themselves because they’re written about in such a journalistic style, related to matters of the day or pressing news. And these are the people making the news, the people in positions of great power. But you never really figure out what’s going on in their heads, because they’re so steeped in how to give sound bites, and how to conduct press conferences and scrums that they’re just puppets in a way. I think I was just trying to bring the raw, basic, unedited, stream-of-consciousness type of existence of information to a place where you do get that sort of information in return. Like it would be ridiculous to hear from the President or the Prime Minister…

Zeke: Not necessarily, it’s the sort of thing where after historical figures die, all this revisionist history appears. So was Abraham Lincoln gay? That sort of salacious gossip makes it fun and interesting. What I wanted to ask you is – have you ever gotten a response from the Prime Minister?

Chris Lloyd: Well, I’ve never had a personal response. I’ve received standard or procedural letters: “We appreciate your correspondence,” “The Prime Minister enjoys hearing the views of Canadians.” The wording for the standard letters changes a bit. I’ve had about seven or eight, and they’re always worded slightly differently. I’ve noticed changes in the two or three letters I’ve received from the PMO since Martin’s been in office. They phrase the second paragraph, which is one sentence, in really funny way. It says something like, “The Prime Minister appreciates hearing from Canadians, and being made aware of their views,” as if I’m forcing you to hear my bizarre tales. Thousands of Canadians write to the Prime Minister, mostly with pressing or urgent political matters, or just issues with whatever. Some people are probably compulsive letter writers like myself, the people who write the Editor letters everyday, the people who have an opinion on everything.

Zeke: I have opinions on everything, but I don’t write letters every day.

Chris Lloyd: Exactly. I often don’t express my opinions in every letter.

Zeke: As far as continuing on, because I have about three more questions with regards to you, and recognizing that you have a wider practice than letter writing–

Chris Lloyd: Although it’s not that wide at the moment. Again, it comes down to time management, where my focus is. If I’m still working on this correspondence project with the Prime Minister, I have to pursue other avenues that are still within the rubric of that project.

Zeke: Well, how would you see that? Because I understand the project as a personal, work-in-progress sort of thing. Although the blog is out there, you’re not putting the exact letters up.

Chris Lloyd: No, that’s because my mom reads them [they laugh]. I suffered for about two or three months, trying to think, “OK, it’s not so big a deal, mom has the blog address, she reads the letters.” Sort of in a voyeuristic sort of way, because the letters are so diaristic, they could be letters I’m writing to anyone. Sometimes I’ve cc’d letters I’ve written to the Prime Minister to friends as an update, to let them know “This is what’s happening.” Sometimes the letters are not all that personal. There is an internalizing process that always goes into writing a letter. So, I wasn’t too bothered about it for a while, then I started to realize that I was over-editing, because I had my mom in mind, and then my mom was telling me that a friend from school who is in her 50s and lives in Saskatchewan had stumbled across it, and was now reading my blog religiously. I just felt like “This is getting too weird.” Sometimes I just like to rant and accuse the Prime Minister of whatever. I play on weird tensions that exist between me not doing my taxes and him being Finance Minister, and me owing so much money for my student loans and him being the one who cut the deficit. I like to get into that, and into more personal stuff too. I like to play on the line of being embarrassingly personal with the Prime Minister. I’m not really comfortable doing that with my parents. It’s not really about them.

Zeke: Well, how's the project going? Is there a finite period of time you are working with or is it an infinite thing?

Chris Lloyd: I don’t know. Some background: after I started working at the laundromat, I was still a student at school, and I wrote letters for a year. I wrote hard-copy letters, not emails, either handwritten or printed off the computer and sent, because postage to the Prime Ministers Office is free. I sent them for a year, and at the end of a year I stopped because it was a nice round amount of time. I was still a student when I finished the project. No – actually, I’d graduated, and needed an extra couple months to fill out the year. I did it because I didn’t want to just continue doing it and have this student project going that extended past my actual student time. So I took almost a year where I didn’t do any letter writing. During that year I thought about the project a lot more. On January 1, 2001, with the coming of the new millennium, I thought, “This is a good time to revisit this project,” with some different concerns I had. And continue to keep it going but in a more open-ended way. I don’t have an end target, end date, or end anything.

Zeke: My next question – have you asked for your file?

Chris Lloyd: Not from the PMO, although from the first section of letter writing I lost a big chunk due to computer failure. I asked them for close to a month’s worth of letters, and they did it. At that time I had two unique responses because they emailed or mailed me a bunch of letters they did have on file. They had these nice 11-digit numbers, photocopied, stamped on the top, so they’d been filed in some boxes or somewhere. I got a long two-minute message on my answering machine from someone from the PMO apologizing because they couldn’t find all of letters. He said he found these ones, and he hoped that was OK. I needed them for an exhibition. It was sort of weird to have that engagement; they weren’t asking, “What’s the point?” As if they were just accepting that, “Yeah, you send letters to the Prime Minister everyday, and we file them, and we’ve had some bureaucratic mess ups and sorry. Here’s the rest, hope everything’s fine.” Business as usual.

Zeke: Did you ever look at the ones missing to see if there might be any particular reason why they were misfiled?

Chris Lloyd: I can’t think of any, but there were some pretty personal moments in that chunk. I don’t know why they were misfiled.

Zeke: Did you go back and say, “So maybe these are the ones that got sent off to the RCMP or CSIS”?

Chris Lloyd: Well, I did check with CSIS, because you can check CSIS’s nine databanks about different security. I had them run a check on me in six of them. The searches all turned up empty, but I was also informed that most matters dealing with internal security, like the PMO, are with the RCMP.

Zeke: OK, and you haven’t hit up the RCMP yet?

Chris Lloyd: I haven’t hit up the RCMP yet. Actually, I have an uncle out west who’s RCMP. I want to wait until he’s out of the RCMP and retired before I start messing with them as well. I don’t want to implicate too many friends or relatives, just in case the project takes a turn for the worse.

Zeke: OK. So you have exhibited the letters then?

Chris Lloyd: I have.

Zeke: Where have you exhibited them?

Chris Lloyd: The biggest show was almost two years ago at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. We tacked the letters up on the walls. It looked really good: all these white sheets of paper with black text, sort of curled up at the edges. To me it had a really nice zen feel to it, very peaceful, sort of like origami or something.

The letters on display in Calgary.

Zeke: Had you selected letters, or was it in chronological order?

Chris Lloyd: Chronological order. The curators and installers at the AGNS had a bit of a job with them, because they had a straight wall with some outcroppings. They had to measure and grid it all off to figure out how many letters they could fit in each section. Then they had to order and classify the letters so they could figure out where the letters would end so that more than one person could hang letters at a time. It took them a while to do it because they had to hang them all level. The letters have a bit of an impact. It was two-and-a-half years’ worth of letters at the time, and next time it will be four years’ worth of paper. It’s like a great big paper trail. It does have a dramatic look when you see it. I also hand-bind all the copies as well, so you have a book that you can leaf through. I’ve done versions of little chapbooks of selected letters, although I haven’t actively tried to get it published, though I have thought about it. Taking a series, maybe writing a marginalia where I can link elements in the stories. The thing is it’s like an anti-novel: there’s no real thread, no real plotline, there’s nothing that makes it literature in a sense. It’s a diary, so it’s linked to the here and now, it doesn’t necessarily follow anything else. It’s kind of weird.

Zeke: But to my mind, that’s one of the things that defines art, the persistence of vision. I’m certain there’s nobody other than yourself who has read every single letter.

Chris Lloyd: I haven’t even read every letter.

Zeke: You wrote them.

Chris Lloyd: Writing is different. It is! You write it, do some proofreading, and check for grammar every once in a while. The only times I’ve re-read them is when I’m preparing for exhibitions when I’ve re-formatted them, which is what I’m in the process of doing now. Every time I exhibit them I somehow manage to hook myself into scanning each one and picking up on the odd grammatical error I might have made the first time around. Or the odd time when I’m stone-cold drunk, and just like “Blah, blah, blah,” which is also fun to do once in a while, though I wouldn’t make a habit of it.

Zeke: So, you graduated in ‘99.

Chris Lloyd: In my last semester I was asked to join the board at the Khyber. That was my whole introduction to the board structure of artist-run centres, which is very chaotic. A lot of artists don’t have an understanding of corporate board structure, which seems like an odd play but it’s necessary. It was more necessary in the ‘70s when galleries started up and they needed all the proper incorporation documents. So they would follow Robert’s Rules of Orders. Hardly anyone bothers to read the handbook, and if you read it you think, “This is so boring,” but it actually does keep meetings efficient and rolling. Then the director left with a week’s notice at Christmas time, and I was an underemployed member of the board, so they asked if I wanted to take the position and try it out for three months. They made a call for a director and nobody applied because the salary was a pittance. A lot of people in these positions do it because it’s a labour of love. You don’t do it for the money, I’m sure you don’t do it for the money.

A picture Mr. Lloyd took on his last day at the Kyber.

Zeke: No, I do it for the beer.

Chris Lloyd: You do it for the beer. Khyber has a bar downstairs which leads to minor alcoholism flirtations, but I guess it’s part of the community. I did it for three years, and then on an artist’s residency in Baie St-Paul in Quebec in 2003 I made some decisions that I needed to shake up my life. I was in the process of ending a very long-term relationship, I left my job, I left the city, and I moved to Montreal. I was slow getting back into the art-making groove of things. I really needed a break. In fact the Khyber has a history of their directors going crazy, loony, going on weird benders, and I was flirting with that as well. I think, for my mental state, I just had to get out of that art scene. Halifax has an incestuous art scene in every applicable sense of the word.

A panoramic view of Baie Saint Paul.

Zeke: Any art scene or art world is incestuous just because it almost self-separates from the rest of the world.

Chris Lloyd: It does! I think it’s because of the nature of the investigations going on. It’s always art discussion; you’re really steeped in this stuff. It’s a specialized language. It’s like nuclear physicists getting together and talking about string theory and everyone else is thinking, “Huh?”

Zeke: But that’s what I'm actively trying to combat. It shouldn’t be so insular, and it should be getting out to the public in the same way that you have Britney Spears and people who can’t stand her. That is music; music is considered a cultural discipline. Why aren’t visual and performance art considered in that same manner?

Chris Lloyd: They don’t have the same mass appeal.

Zeke: John Cage does not have the same mass appeal as Britney Spears, however, there are certain things which will wander out to mass appeal.

Chris Lloyd: Laurie Anderson.

Zeke: Yeah, Laurie Anderson.

Chris Lloyd: It’s harder to market and it’s harder to sell to a public that feels put off by it somehow.

Zeke: Don’t put off the public!

Chris Lloyd: I’m not trying to put off the public! I’m very much about thinking that there should be way more integration between peoples’ daily lives and their experience of art. But that openness does require a bit of inquiry, investigation, curiosity, and some basic tools.

Zeke: So what are the tools?

Chris Lloyd: I guess a bit of history, a bit of art history.

Zeke: No.

Chris Lloyd: Yeah, I think so.

Zeke: Before I started the gallery, I knew diddley squat.

Chris Lloyd: But you had an interest.

Zeke: Personal interest, because a friend of mine made paintings that I thought were absolutely fabulous. So I just pressured him for five years to have an exhibition. He had the exhibition here. Everybody had a grand old time, and we sold two-thirds of the paintings. I said, “Yeah, this is wonderful, let's do it.” It was purely based on fun.

Chris Lloyd: There are certain markers where your interests coincide. For example I have a friend in Saint John who is the same way. She has a really keen interest in art but no education or background in art. But she’s developed a passion for it. She’s run galleries, done all of this marketing stuff, and is really about trying to get it out there. With openings and parties, being a part of the arts community has always been a really fun time. It’s fun. It’s sort of open to everyone. Of course, if you break it down the arts community forms little cliques.

Zeke: But with popular music, you do have an academic side to it. You have people doing their PhD theses on Madonna. Fine, I don’t really have to worry about that. You have the engineers who remix Britney Spears or Madonna who have a technical knowledge of what goes into it. They know the differences between a 120 beat-per-minute record versus a 140 beats-per-minute record. And in order to appreciate or not appreciate the music, you don’t need either of those.

Chris Lloyd: That's true.

Zeke: What strikes me about visual art in Canada is that everybody, from the general population down to the artists, has accepted that you need to have the equivalent of an engineering background to be a part of it. You have to understand 120 bpm versus 140, and you also have to be able to understand the academic implications of the difference between disco and hardcore techno, if it’s at 140 bpm. That is not required, you just toss it out. It’s like taking your letters to the Prime Minister as opposed to keeping them a secret for yourself. Taking every damn opportunity that you can to broadcast, “This is it,” making the public as aware as possible. There are going to be people out there who will think, “Yeah, that's the crazy-ass dude who’s writing a letter a day to the Prime Minister.” On the other hand, there are going to be 75 sixteen-year-olds who are gonna say, “Whoa, what a wicked cool idea!” And they start writing. It will not necessarily attract everybody, but instead make everybody aware so that it becomes more acceptable and more open. That way there is a dialogue happening, because you can’t have a dialogue by yourself. That's where I get so damn frustrated. OK, rant off now.

Chris Lloyd: Just by taking my letters and sending them there is a dialogue with something. Because I’m sure there are people in that office who have to read them, scan them for potential threats, potential whatever, and figure out if they have to respond or not. I don’t really know if there's a following in those mailrooms or computer rooms, though.

Zeke: Get the following out there to a larger public. With the blog you are doing that but it’s still limited.

Chris Lloyd: Other ideas I’ve had, like posting them as posters or leaving them around in envelopes, have this sort of weird, sort of happenstance quality.

Zeke: Why wouldn’t you want to be slapping your name on them, saying, “I’m the guy”?

Chris Lloyd: I’d slap my name on it. It would be there on the email address, too. So there’s always a potential. It’s more like leaving them out in the public and seeing if there’s a response. I’ve had that, where people are doing their MAs or MFAs in related fields and have stumbled across the project and have communicated with me. I’ve done interviews and little things like that. There’s a person in my French class who saw the show in Halifax two-and-a-half years ago.

Zeke: That's probably the thing. You say putting up posters and leaving letters and the like – that’s more like found or graffiti art, like with Roadsworth. As opposed to saying, “Nope,” and getting the damn publicity out. As opposed to waiting for the show in Calgary, organizing more shows, getting it out, and if you’re doing that, great. It could be my lack of knowledge, or my lack of background on your stuff.

Chris Lloyd: The project itself has had waves of publicity, which I’m interested in incorporating back into the project. Figuring out, how are some things news, and they’re news now, then not news. You know, when you are doing something every day, it can’t be news every day, right?

Zeke: Why not? The Prime Minister is news every day.

Chris Lloyd: There’s a photograph of him and his wife on the beach in Sri Lanka, it’s on the front page. He’s staring at an empty ocean! Whatever. It’s a couple having a vacation.

Zeke: Postcards from home. OK, we are to the point now where we are almost flogging a dead horse. What other sort of art stuff do you do?

Chris Lloyd: The other interest I have is making paintings that are rubbings of street surfaces. They tend to be pretty large and they’re pretty easy to do, but they have a really nice textural look. They’re direct analog copies of street surfaces. I’ve been focusing mostly on the aqueduct and the sewer plates and the sort of language that exists underfoot. I'’m interested in the foundry companies and how they stylized the manhole covers and incorporating them into larger designs that take into consideration cracks in the pavement. It’s sort of archeological and historical, but they’re random street corners. I’ve been trying to find different programs for myself to do certain locations based on historical events. Like, “such and such a thing happened here,” and I’ll go make a rubbing of it. The rubbings don’t look the same, but... you’re given no indication of where the space is or what has happened on these spaces before.

Two examples of the rubbings.

Zeke: Well, you could add that in.

Chris Lloyd: Again, it’s an issue of how do I build a structure to do it.

Zeke: It does sound like you’ve got a very vibrant career as an artist.

Chris Lloyd: But the last significant show was at the AGNS in May of 2003.

Zeke: Still, if you’re using the term “significant show” as the qualifier, you have to have the little shows, the bits and pieces, in between.

Chris Lloyd: Yeah, I’m taking part in some group shows and sending a piece off to the Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver because a friend of mine, Jo Cook, is a real dynamo. She’s someone who started pursuing her art career later in life; she’s in her 50s. She takes part in all of these shows. I met her through the Khyber because she was in a group show there. She does a lot of book work. She organizes as opposed to curates because she has a lot of open calls – I like her energy. I like the fact that she’s animated and really excited about art, she has good energy to be around so I’m sending her a globe. I’ve been dabbling in sculpture and found objects, and trying to assemble collage. I’m working on some of those for the show in Calgary. They are along the lines of curio cabinets where I can collect odd little Priministerial brick-a-brack and add my own personal inflection to things. I’m building little boxes. I like that element of the PM project: using it as a raw material and recycling it. I have a plan, it might happen for one of the shows in the spring where I’ll be doing some performance-based video work based on me engaging with the letters in different ways. I may be making spitballs or paper airplanes. Or I may be running them through paper shredders. And then using that material in other forms, like taking the shredded paper and turning it into a paper maché paste and making busts of the Prime Minister. I’d have to make a mold of the bust, and make a cast, and then use the letters as the material to form the mold.

The check at about 11 o'clock (next to the diploma) is so mine.

Another installation shot.

Zeke: Chicken wire is way easier.

Chris Lloyd: Yeah, I was thinking of just getting one of those Styrofoam heads and then putting clay over it to shape his head. Then I would make a mold and from that I would make the paper maché. I would end up with busts of the Prime Minister that are made of the letters that I’ve sent to him. The text and all that is eradicated so it would just be the raw material. Ways of recycling the project using different art forms is interesting to me. And then the paintings: I made paintings from the front page of the newspaper when he’s on it. Although I stopped doing them for this year because it was my imposed break from art. Residences and stuff like that are fun, it’s fascinating just to explore different avenues. I have applications out to other residencies. One thing that always gets to me is the climate in Canada because a lot of work that I would like to do involves posters or doing things outside. The street paintings go on hiatus for the winter because it's just too damn cold. I’m not gonna give myself frostbite just to make paintings, I’ll wait ‘til spring. Then I will figure out the logistics of it all, map it all out, and then just go out and do it.

Zeke: Then how did you decide on Montreal? There are warmer climates than Montreal.

Chris Lloyd: Lots of factors, I guess. I’ve been visiting the city on and off for a good ten years, and always enjoyed the city, always felt something really magical about it. Its culture and the fact that it’s a really unique place in Canada made me want to try it out. I’d met a girl who is from Montreal, so that factored into it as well.

Zeke: Yes, OK.

Chris Lloyd: I shouldn’t try to pretend it doesn’t exist, it added to my decision making. Once I was here I realized that my teenage obstinance about deciding to be unilingual, for whatever stupid reason I thought when I was 14 or 15 or 16, I’ve come to realize now it’s not the wisest decision I’ve ever made in my life or career path or anything like that. There's certainly advantages to knowing more than one language and being able to experience other aspects of the culture. I haven’t quite been here a year, but the eight or nine months that I’ve been here have been a real daily crash course in figuring out, “OK, their TV is different, their sense of humour is different, there are tons of music that is different.” And you don’t get that in the little anglo bubble outside of Quebec. It’s been really interesting just to tap into that a bit. Trying to learn French has also taken a longer time than I had thought. I’m trying to conduct more of my business in French, trying some translations of my work, and trying to incorporate more French into the letters. I’m realizing it’s like a subtext: all of our Prime Ministers have been bilingual, most have been from Quebec, Quebec’s the second largest province in Canada, and without it Canada would be drastically different. The history of Canada is based on a tension between English and French, and it’s really interesting diving into it more, and saying “this has become a subject of these letters from this anglo.” Trying to learn French later in life is difficult because it’s hard for people in their thirties to pick up new languages. But I’m stubborn. The letter-writing project is an exercise in stubbornness and possibly futility, but I don’t care. The whole plan of the project is to keep doing it. If I’m going to learn French, I’m going to keep doing it. As long as I’m in Montreal I’m going to keep doing it. I do most of my day-to-day interactions with people in French.

Zeke: Having run the Khyber, and using that as a middle ground between presenting stuff versus doing stuff, how did you find it? That's a nice easy general question to start with and then we’ll follow that path. Did you enjoy it?

Chris Lloyd: Yeah, I enjoyed it. It’s a really dynamic and prominent space. It’s part of that NSCAD community but it’s more geared towards graduates who are sticking around and trying to make a go of it. Showing good art and dealing with existence. There are all of these tensions that dictate its direction. It’s a really multifunctional space, they’re getting into showing a lot more theater and performance art. We were initiating artist residences to have the public see artists at work, see what they’re working on, and see the exhibition. That sort of thing was really key. We were trying to utilize the space.

Zeke: Did you try to take an active role in curatorial responsibilities or mostly administrative?

Chris Lloyd: It was mostly administrative work. A few times I demanded or found ways to do some curatorial work, which I enjoyed as well.

Zeke: How would you define curatorial responsibilities? That's also the one thing I’ve never really discussed with anybody. It’s almost been a given to me as to what I view it as.

Chris Lloyd: It’s a mutating practice. I’ve noticed a lot more artists taking active roles in curating. They are blurring the lines between art-making and curatorial practice, which is organizing work around certain themes. Fundamentally, it’s the act of getting work from a studio to a site of interaction or display and trying to place the work so it’s engaging with a discourse and a history. There’s usually a fair bit of writing and research involved. Sometimes it’s hoity-toity and sometimes it’s really grassroots. It’s an all-encompassing thing. Curating that I’ve done or that I would like to do involves alternative spaces to work. There are really interesting trends going on involving portable galleries. I’ve had shows in wallet galleries. There are suitcase galleries, truck galleries, and roving galleries everywhere. You can engage the public on a different level, certainly out of the white cube. The problem is if you can’t get the audience to come to your galleries, you have to bring your art to more public places. I’m interested in the mall’s function. It would be interesting to have more contemporary art galleries or kiosks or booths. Some of the work I’m planning to do with the Prime Minister letters involve dumping myself in a mall and presenting the project and doing weird forums.

Zeke: Now that you can do for about $150 a month. All malls will rent you space, and you get a little cart.

Chris Lloyd: Yes. I’d set it up with my computer, get an internet connection, have some questionnaires, forms, almost along the lines of petitions but they would be personal petitions. I would try to find out those weird stories: what would you like to tell, what would you like the Prime Minister to know, what do you think he should know? Kind of personal. I’ll be the conduit. I'm already writing to him every day, so I’m sort of like his right-hand man. Basically, anything you want him to know, I’ll tell him and see he gets it. That all goes off into the ether.

Zeke: From your curatorial stuff, because we’re veering dangerously back to the letters, was there any one show in particular that stands out in your mind as being an abject failure? Or just bad, misconceived, or not successful?

Chris Lloyd: There was a group show that we did at the Khyber which had Jo Cook and two other artists in it. The show was curated by committee. It was based on the submission practice where you strike a committee, they review the submissions, and they choose the shows for the available openings. You choose about 5% of the shows because you always get more applicants than you can actually show. To try to put together more bang for the buck and to give more artists more exposure, you stick a lot of artists together. In the committee, under the gun, you’re only meeting once or twice, people are donating their time, and you have to organize all that. You come up with what seems like a good idea that the time, and a year later when the show actually happens and the committee is nowhere to be seen, there's no one doing the writing, you need someone to unify the show. I think I was left trying to unify the show, and it really didn’t unify. It was just a disparate work. The show was interesting in its parts, but as a whole it asked “Why are these together? It doesn't seem to fit.” Selectively, I’ve only done three other curatorial shows. One was when I was in school and I was interning at the gallery. I curated a show that was well-received, and I think it was a good show. I did one at the Khyber, and I did one in Saint John. Saint John had a fledgling art center in the Carnegie Centre, which was a library for a long time. The library was shut down and empty for ten years, and then it was reinvigorated with funding from the Centennial Project. It turned into an art center, but never had great shows or strong curatorial forces. Then the municipal government took their funding away. A group of people was trying to keep it running and they were applying for grants and never getting them. I was asked to do a show, and I put together a show of works on paper, multiples, and object-type work. It went really well with the community because in Saint John they don’t have contemporary art centres, and they have a few commercial galleries. They have an arts community but they don’t really have an outlet – they don’t have that sort of space. The show was a bit controversial because members of the board didn’t like some of the drawings, and they were worried about the fact that kids were going to see it. I don’t have a problem with kids seeing weird art. That’s part of the education process. Kids need to understand it’s OK to be playful, use your imagination, come up with weird worlds, and weird reasons for making work. One of the artists in the show, her name was Hanna, did this project that was called “Brad’s Body Orbits.” She premised the work on having a close, personal relationship with Brad Pitt. Brad would give her things like toenail clippings, boogers, and hair, and she put them in little jewelry cases. She does an auction of the pieces, and does a mini advertising scheme around it. It’s sort of gross, but it’s sort of funny. I like art with a bit of humour too it, art that flirts with mass culture and popularity and the fact that we’re obsessed with stars. That show would be great now with the whole Brad and Jennifer break-up. It hit me by surprise. I kept thinking, “Why does everyone care? I didn’t even know they were married.” Simultaneously people are threatening to kill themselves because the Hollywood marriage has crumbled. I just think, “Well, what else is new?” They’re Hollywood stars, think about the pressure they’re under! They’re not normal people any more and they don’t have normal lives. So it’s sort of fun that art can be an arena for play and experimentation – for just having fun.

Zeke: To me, when asked, my definition of art is “what makes you think.” And as a corollary to that, it’s about forcing people to be aware at all times. You can take anything and turn it into art if you want.

Chris Lloyd: That’s based on your perspective, or your intentions. It’s fun to do that. The difficulty is when it comes to justifying whether or not something is art. The public can say, “That’s not art.” Well, why isn’t it art” To counter, “Why not? Tell me why you don't think it’s art, ‘cause I could tell you lots of reasons why it could be.” And in Canada it’s funny, controversies about art always stem from funding. “How dare they spend taxpayers’ money on this!” It’s funny because it’s a silly argument. It’s hard to be an artist in this climate.

Zeke: To my mind, it’s way easier to be an artist here than pretty much any place else in North America. There are various other countries whose art world I don’t know too much about.

Chris Lloyd: It’s difficult in a lot of places, especially if you’re not doing state-sanctioned or traditional art forms. The difficulty has become clear with some of my interactions with other artist-run centres. Getting more international artists in countries that have suffered civil wars or have different political systems becomes really difficult. We take for granted the fact that we can say, “Oh, yeah, that’s art,” we can make art and show it and not be ostracized or shot for it.

Zeke: That's why I’m so pissed off about Roadsworth, he’s being busted for being an artist.

Chris Lloyd: Exactly, and for silly, stupid reasons. From what I’ve read of some of the articles – which are pretty good arguments to have in the daily paper because it gets people to think – he’s been good at getting the focus to stay on this idea of public space. Dealing with how we interact in public space and how we’re letting public space be taken over by commercial interests. We don’t have an active role. We’re passive viewers of billboards. We can’t engage in urban planning decisions unless you have the time to go to these public meetings and try to speak up. You’re always against special interest groups and economic development is a huge interest group. It’s all economic: how much rent you can get for the place, or from a billboard, or traffic flow, or how do we get more cars into the city. They’re timely arguments, and I think it’s difficult for a lot of people to collectively engage them. It’s good that he's getting a lot of people to think about that.

Zeke: As a corollary to the bad show and getting back to when you were curating stuff, what is the show you thought worked the best? Is there one you’re most pleased with and proud of?

Chris Lloyd: Aesthetically, the show I did when I was a student really looked good. It had a good balance, and the art was well chosen. The different pieces in the show from the different people really complemented each other well. The show in Saint John was really good because it engaged the public. It felt very educational without being hit-over-the-head educational. It felt like, “This is allowed to happen, this is fun, this is a face contemporary art is taking.” It felt very satisfying for me to do that show in my hometown. My friend who’s living there now, who ran a gallery that we’d started together for a few years but on a shoestring, just burned out. She couldn’t continue doing it voluntarily, but she’s trying to convince me to move back and start a gallery. I’m really thinking about it because it seems like Montreal has so many spaces and things going on already. If I wanted to get back into doing art shows and having a space to offer something new, I would have a hard time thinking that I could do that here.

Zeke: Why?

Chris Lloyd: I feel like there are already so many things going on. I can’t even keep up with what’s being shown and what’s being produced. I feel like Montreal is OK, but in a place like Saint John where they don’t have any of those spaces a gallery seems more necessary. That’s where I could make more of a contribution.

Zeke: The way I’ve posited this gallery is a perpendicular gallery run in a very American frame of mind or Queen Street West way. Those are the two places I’m stealing from shamelessly in terms of promotion and making people aware of the gallery. Being a large fish in a small pond is better than being a small fish in a big pond. Although, to me, it would be way more fun out here, because I don’t have to truck out there to go see stuff on a regular basis.

Chris Lloyd: Exactly. That’s where you think again about audience. If I were to do gallery in Saint John it’s obviously for the local audience. There’s a thirst for it, because for cultural and art events there is really good turnout. People want that. I think it would be satisfying to do the sort of caliber of work that I believe I’m capable of. I’d like to raise the bar significantly for that area of southern New Brunswick. I’d like to bring in some internationally renowned artists and I know I could do that. I would have to give a gallery in Montreal more thought. I would have to figure out what my angle or niche would be. What would I or could I do that would be different or augment or complement or act as a fulcrum against other ways of art? I’m still waiting to see. Part of me wants to travel and do this whole gypsy existence and maybe carry an odd road show-type art experience through the southern U.S. or through Canada. Maybe travel in a van and do some research on how art is perceived in different areas. I think that’s an angle I could pursue as well – although other artists have done it.

Zeke: Just because they’ve done it doesn't mean it can’t be done again differently.

Chris Lloyd: You can do it differently, with you own angle, your own spin. I’ve enjoyed doing art in Saint John, and I’ll enjoy doing art here. I’ll wait and see how the shows go over in Quebec. I think part of my hesitation stems from not having had significant shows so far in Montreal. I feel a bit like a spectator, more like I’m just passively observing.

Zeke: Now you’ve said “significant show” twice. How would you define a “significant show?”

Chris Lloyd: Usually well-publicized group or solo shows. Just the fact that you know you’re going have a good audience, there’s gonna be some press, you know you’re gonna be able to engage in a dialogue with different communities and at different levels can make a show significant. It’s not going to happen and be ignored. You want to have some sort of impact. You want to engage on different levels. I think that’s what it’s like. To feel like you’re contributing to a larger community, like you have something to say, like you have something of value makes it significant.

Zeke: You have been mentioning various potential projects and potential ideas. At the beginning most of them were art-based with you as the artist. More recently, you’re talking about going into presenting and curating and administrative stuff. Do you feel you can do both, or one versus the other – how do they play off each other?

Chris Lloyd: Either through my training or my experience or the way I’ve balanced things in the past. I think the two can work really well together. I think they would infuse and inform one another. I am partial to art that’s engaged with the everyday, the momentary, the ephemeral. Art that taps into storytelling, something that’s almost community-based is something that I’d like to get more involved in. I think running a space and doing projects that inter-relate is a natural fit. I wouldn’t dive into one and ignore the other. I sort of carry my art practice around with me, like in a backpack, the back of my mind or on my back, thinking, “How can I make work about this?” And a lot of work, just by accident or by necessity, often ends up turning around the fact about the time it takes to do it. How do you make art when situations are such? I’m balancing. I don’t make much money, so I have to economize. I have to make art based on these things or certain factors. I never get grants, I’m the worst grant writer for myself. How do I engage more in a sponsorship or selling work? How do you get the show? It’s a dialectical relationship between making work and having the means to make the work, always sort of generating new things about your experiences. And how ideas sort of come to you organically, out of the blue. Or how I have creative droughts where I just don’t know what to make, don’t feel like doing anything – is that so wrong? Balancing watching other artists that have their big studios, and they’re sort of creative machines, just trucking the stuff out, really doing it. Finding that window of opportunity between midnight and two a.m. because of jobs and families, how do you balance it? Where is your commitment? Running a space it would just sort of merge seamlessly.

Zeke: Because I’m not an artist I always take the line that “The artist knows absolutely everything about their work; however, as far as presenting it to the public…” It’s sort of like underwear. Yeah, you know your underwear but most of the time it’s underneath your clothes. And being able to present to the public is a completely different concept. Also being able to take a step back, and to think, “OK, this is not personal to me.” Therefore, how am I going to be able to show stuff so that it gets shown in its best light. And I do view a very large split between the two, and I can’t recognize to believe that they cross over. To me it’s one or the other, and I definitely can’t stand self-curated shows.

Chris Lloyd: Yeah, they can be a bit too ego-driven. I can definitely see that. I don’t even think a lot of artists know completely what their art may be about. They’re doing the work, and they know they have ideas. For me, sometimes, I think, “I don’t really know what I’m doing my work about, but I want to do it anyway.” I’m just going to keep pushing it and see. When it gets to the time where you’re going to exhibit it or potentially exhibit it, you cross into all that other curated and juried stuff. Other people deciding “Well, this fits because of this.” Or, “This doesn’t fit because of this.” Or they just don’t like it. You go from there, that’s part of playing the game, and part of being part of the system. It’s funny, the thing I like about the show at the Masion de culture, “How to Become an Artist,” is very much a reflection... these are the concerns I have too. It’s not just the art, the final product, it’s all the little twists and turns, the navigations, and the decisions and the experiences that shape making the art. And how directly tied your final result can be to your everyday experience. Take a dedicated landscape painter for example, it's interesting to see how those artists have a different objective. It could be very similar to see how people who make traditional work, but how they go about making it, what routines do they set for themselves, what tools they use, how they survive.

Zeke: One last question. In a perfect world, where would you like to be in ten years?

Chris Lloyd: Ah, a perfect world. Gosh. That’s a tough question. Part of me wants to say that I’d like to be more stable, but I’m torn. I always have trouble with those “ten year” questions. I think I’d like to be producing a better quality of art and I think I’d like to have more tools at my disposal. I really think I’d like to be making art on more of a full time level, more than I am doing it now. And possibly just having the means to live or travel, more so than I have been lately.

Zeke: I always find it's extremely helpful for me, if I have this goal out there, to look at it and say, “Is this helping towards that goal or is this hindering?” And it never means that that goal has to remain, but it’s, “No, this is going to hinder that goal. But, oh, suddenly there is that one.” You can switch 180 degrees, but it’s about being able to fixate. To say, “OK, in the next five years I want to have a list of collectors this long, so that all the shows do sell out.” At which point, “Where and how do I pull that off?” And suddenly, two years from now, realize “I’m not getting there,” or “This is a much better opportunity for something.” Having something to compare it against is, to my mind, extremely helpful. As opposed to whatever is happening, “OK, what am I doing today?”

Chris Lloyd: I think getting to that goal of stability, in terms of being able to make art, whether it’s compiling or collectors or selling work or being more successful with research grants and travel grants or being able to follow threads of ideas through to their conclusion, would be a good thing as well. Just to be able to get into creative process a little more directly because right now I’m a little all over the placeness. It’s hard to say. I don’t really want to be stuck anywhere, so I would want to be able to be open to new opportunities and to go and travel. I think I’d like to be able to live in different places, here and there, for periods of time. Carrying your art career with you can cause it to be impacted, it can change or stall or be met with more success when you put yourself in different environments. It’s one thing to experience different areas in Canada and try to be an artist within that system, but then, what if I was to go to Europe, and just do a tour through some different countries, and plop myself down and work in a vineyard? What if I was to engage in the art community there or internationally, and figure out what networks are working, and how to build on things? Is being an artist just a career choice in terms of a job, you do work and that’s your thing, or do you have a higher responsibility to public good, as you ultimately want your work to be seen by people other than just your collectors? You want work that says something about the world. You want work that says something about what we're doing. Do you want your work to actually change something? Part of me flirts with the idea that art can actually help change. Part of me thinks art is linked to activism and social movements, and that it should have more of an outreach function. But part of me is still thinking, “Does that place too much of an onus on the artist?” Maybe they’re not prepared for it, or they shouldn’t have to be prepared for it.

Zeke: Well, you also have different levels of artists: good, bad, and indifferent.

Chris Lloyd: Exactly. You have different levels. There are artists who are very politically engaged but do work that is more traditional. You have artists who might be very conservative in their view but their work actually seems to be more out there. It’s a weird balance. The “ten year” questions blow me out of the water. I guess I have a hard time setting goals. I’d just like to have more shows. It’s not just about having the shows, it’s about building an art practice. Like building a business or just building something. That’s pretty vague.

Zeke: You did hit something there. Also, it's not supposed to be a “yes,” “no,” or “this is the answer” question. Well, thank you very, very much.

Chris Lloyd: Hey no problem, thank you. It was fun to think out loud.

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