Friday, June 02, 2006

The Roadsworth interview - part three of four


Back in November, 2004 L'affaire Roadsworth began, it seems to have come to a conclusion recently with Peter Gibson's community service being the subject of an article in Le Devoir this week. Back when this was all happening, Mr. Gibson risked serious repercussions, and came to Zeke's Gallery for a rather long and extended interview. He had been prevented by the Montréal police from stepping foot in the borough of the Plateau (imagine trying to live here, and not being allowed to be in an area from Parc Ave to Papineau, Sherbrooke to Van Horne). None the less, he successfully made it into the gallery without being arrested again, and we were able to record the proceedings. If you'd like to listen along, click here [39:02 minutes, 37.5 MB] I've chopped it up into four parts. Part One, Part Two, and Part Four, are all available by clicking on the links. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, try these two links to get up to speed: one and two.

First I'd also like to thank Jacqueline Mabey, she did an amazing and wonderful job of transcribing the interview. It started out at 20,915 words, and 2:43 hours in length, then a super spectacular job of editing was done by Stephanie McLean. So it ends up at 17, 656 words, or the equivalent of a short novel. I guess that it took about 80 hours worth of work to get it into this form, and I would like to thank both of them profusely and sincerely. I'd also like to thank Urbania Magazine for kind use of their photos (Peter took a bunch as well), and finally I'd like to thank Peter for agreeing to be interviewed.

Part Three

Zeke: One thing I wanted to get back to is that you said 9/11 was particularly significant to your artistic process, in terms of the stenciling. To preface it a little bit more, yeah, my opinion is that 9/11 has been blown up into something that is now approaching a joke, and I almost rebel against that. Given that context, can you explain to me how and why, because it is very much a process that never occurred to me, and I don't see at all.

Peter Gibson: Right. Well, it's a very personal thing, like you said. I don't know why you see it as being a joke -

Zeke: There, 3,000 deaths. At which point, Johnstown flood, which happened in 1889, was 5,000 deaths in a town of 20,000 people. 3,000 in a town of 30 million. There it was the robber barons of the railroads who caused those deaths. Why, suddenly, with 9/11 being this beacon of light when nobody knows Johnstown at all.

Peter Gibson: No, I fully agree with you. And believe me that was certainly... I'm not ignorant of the certain absurd aspect of this whole 9/11 and the patriotism which swirled up around it in the United States especially, but all around the world. Depending on your views on that, and I don't know how you feel about it, for sure... there is a feeling among any thinking person that there's something fishy going on with that whole connections between the Bush administration... I can't really answer confidently on what I feel actually was the cause of 9/11 -

Zeke: Oh, I'm not -

Peter Gibson: No, I know you're asking me how does it relate to what prompted -

Zeke: How does it relate to your art?

Peter Gibson: What prompted me to start doing this. It wasn't so much the event of 9/11 itself. Although, perhaps I was a willing victim, in that, if you view it perhaps as a manipulation, which many people have. I mean, if you look at what happened as a result of 9/11, it's given the Bush administration a carte blanche, and whatever interests wrapped up in that, to go about their business, to pass the Patriot Act... it hasn't hurt business, let's say. Like if you were to look at this whole thing from a detective, interrogative standpoint, there's something fishy. I'm not a detective and I haven't done enough research, but I think we all know there are a lot of dodgy connections. So, what happened with 9/11? And this is almost a part of the absurdity, that it is almost secondary to what it's brought about, and that's one of the aspects you're rebelling against, it's almost like we've been had. We've all been fooled, and we've all been had. And you know, terrorism and anti-terrorism is almost a myth that has been created it seems. And that is - I agree with you - but I can't deny that at the time when it happened, my first reaction was, "Oh man, this is the CIA that did this." You know, that was my gut feeling. Or "This is a fuckin' conspiracy." But it did burst a bubble, psychologically. I think the importance of 9/11 for me, and for its historical, global - for sure it's going to take an important place in history books. I don't think in a down-to-earth way that it does have a specific importance - you're right: thousands of people die every day, millions of people in Rwanda were slaughtered and we didn't bat an eye, things of that nature. And American citizens in the heart of New York, the World Trade Center got attacked. But it was important on a political level, whether the loss of life was important compared to other world events, it did have a profound psychological impact on the world. And me, to a certain extent, because the hypocrisy... and I think a lot of positive - this may sound strange - there is a certain positive element that came out of 9/11 as well. Aside from the hypocrisy it generated and - this is my very superficial view on it, because I don't know all the facts - it had a profound psychological impact, both negative, it's made a lot of people afraid, it's helped bulk up the whole security industry, it's created this whole myth... well, I don't know if it's a myth, but it's this dangerous, self-fulfilling exercise that this whole psychology has engendered. The more afraid we are, the more security we pile on, the more we decry the evils of terrorism, the more we encourage it. And this is, I think - I think I'm not the only one thinking this - for sure, if 9/11 didn't happen, would the Iraq War have been justifiable for example, that was the angle they were using, they went about it in a pretty stupid way. Who knows, who know what the levels of manipulation and Machiavellian... I don't know... Let's get back to the art, sorry.

Safety Pins by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson
Safety Pins by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson

Zeke: How does it relate to your art?

Peter Gibson: It just, to me, I perceived 9/11 as perhaps I was a psychological victim, at that moment, because it made me realize that a Third World War could happen. Anger is deep, and there are people operating behind the scenes who do not have our best interests in mind, and they're people at very high places. And this wasn't a revelation to me, for sure, I'm not naive, I wasn't naive before 9/11. It just that this event contextualized for me - well, one of the main sort of issues for me was the whole oil industry and the car industry, and my identification as a cyclist in this city and the whole sort of general trend... I don't know what you call it, what we call progress, a reaction to that. And seeing how these notions of progress which involved the automobile involve high speed, jet setting, being able to get around the world really quickly, technology and the glory of technology, all these elements. The more sinister side was brought out following 9/11. It made me want to respond, I've been having this feeling. So, the first thing I did was laying down bike paths in the city. I said, "damn it, I've been thinking about this for a long time." Cyclists need space, they need their space. Why is the car such king of this city, especially when we claim to be worried about issues of climate change. What real... there seems to be this double talk, these mixed messages. "Yeah, we're really worried, these things were happening over here." And yet, I don't know if you've seen on TV "The One Tonne Challenge."

Zeke: I don't own a TV.

Peter Gibson: Anyway. You know, they're always talking about, "Let's get Canadians out there using alternative transportation, let's get them riding bikes." And yet, at the same time, we're out there lying more pavement down, we're putting up more car ads. They're not really accommodating people so they can do that. I mean, most people can't stand the metro; it's just generally packed and unpleasant most the time. And old ladies have to wait out in the cold for hours 'cause they're waiting for a bus in traffic. Anyway, these are just my - just to kind of contextualize the wrong thinking of city planning.

Security Camera by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson
Security Camera by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson

Zeke: I'm now seeing the connection.

Peter Gibson: Are you?

Zeke: Uh huh, yeah. Now recognizing I'll summarize - and you can tell me if I'm right or wrong - through 9/11 you started thinking how global issues affect locally.

Peter Gibson: Yeah, how they are connected.

Zeke: At which point, that then became part of the background for the laying down of your first stencils - if I understand because I haven't seen them at all - but it would be almost making your own bike paths without the concrete barriers.

Peter Gibson: Yes.

Zeke: From laying down the stencils for the non-officially sanctioned bike paths, this then leads to the next step, this then leads to the next step.…

Peter Gibson: Yes. When I started I wasn't even thinking, "This is art." It was a very sort of, I mean, partly inspired by Adbusters, same sort of thing... done just that, you just put a line, wasn't the same style, but I found that kind of empowering, there was something empowering about seeing that kind of thing.

Zeke: Well, what kind of….

Peter Gibson: Well, you know a bike path is like a line, the edge of the street for example, just a painted line, I don't think he had a bike stencil or anything like that, he just created a line and wrote bike path on it, I don't know what he did. And he was like in his city, posing as a city worker. And the whole thing just seemed like brilliant to me on so many levels. So the whole 9/11 thing as an event in itself, yeah, like we said, people die every day, but psychologically for North America very significant.

Zeke: Uh huh, no, that I recognize.

Peter Gibson: And for me it contextualized - again, like you were saying - it sort of brought the global feeling to the local because I feel in a city setting, there's a mixed message going on, there's a certain bit of denial we have as a human race, dare I say, or especially in the West, although that's a huge generalization. You know, it's like, "We're on our way to progress and humanity's gonna be better." Whereas, I feel, the writing's on the wall to a certain extent. Now, that's fine, if you feel like we've had our day as human beings on this earth and it's time to bow out gracefully, fine, accept it. But don't - I feel if we don't make intelligent choices as a society, politically, I guess this is the political side to it, now or make some changes things aren't gonna get better. I don't know, I just don't think it's a sound sort of course to be on.

Zeke: There, from my perspective, I do my best never to generalize, 'cause I realize to try to take on larger things, consciously, is impossible. It's always very personal. And as I've told you before, people ask, "Do you have a recycling bin?" I say, "I don't need no stinking recycling bin!" At which point, that would just make my life very difficult so I do it very consciously on a one-to-one level, such as I'm doing now, where the main line in any of the quotes I say is, "We live in a city were they throw artists in jail and threaten artists with jail. That I find reprehensible." At which point, bam, I call some people fascist bureaucrats in the process, which they are if they're willing to throw your ass in jail [laughs].

Peter Gibson: Yeah, yeah.

Zeke: There I find it interesting that you are looking to change perspective, change attitudes on a larger scale, at which point it ties into a bunch of differences between us that you see globally and think large masses and so on, and I think individually -

Peter Gibson: Well, I don't really think globally... I said that didn't I?

Zeke: Yeah, uh huh.

Peter Gibson: I just see... I actually think the local is the global. What's going on here is occurring, and I find that we are thinking globally and we're not looking at our backyard.

Zeke: It is the sort of thing were when you use the word "we" and when you came out with the stenciling it was recognized the way that you're doing it and it will be seen by lots of people and it was part and parcel of what the whole concept is, to say, as opposed to buttonholing some stranger on the street and trying to engage them in a conversation about this. My way, if I had the same thought processes of you, I'd be knocking on the window of some guy in an SUV, trying to engage him in a conversation.

Peter Gibson: I was doing that too. I was doing stuff like that too. I was doing little acts of...

Zeke: But I'd be one-to-one as opposed to one-to-many. And that's fine.

Peter Gibson: Well, I mean, yeah, that's a difference in approach, you know. It's a little insincere of me to say I really think on a global level because I haven't traveled a lot. I've spent a lot of time in this city. I'd like to travel, I'd like to see what's outside of my window. No, deep down, my concerns are with this city. In terms of this project, it's more directly related to my city and my backyard then it is too the outside world. And I don't pretend - I wasn't thinking that I was gonna change the world by doing this.

Zeke: It just might [they laugh].

Peter Gibson: Well... what was I going too say? Yeah, I don't pretend to have the answers either. I'm out of my league in many respects and I know that. I'm not a political scientist, I don't have all the answers, I don't understand the economy well enough to.…

Zeke: Well, it can work. Lech Walesa was a pipe fitter.

Peter Gibson: Exactly.

Zeke: At which point ended up becoming Prime Minister.

Peter Gibson: What's that?

Zeke: Lech Walesa.

Peter Gibson: Oh right, yeah, yeah.

Zeke: The shipyards in Gdansk.

Peter Gibson: Well, fuck. Gotta stop swearing.

Zeke: No, that's OK.

Peter Gibson: But really, when you get deep down to it, it was a personal thing. It was a personal thing, but how my person, my self, and how I relate to my external environment and my external world. I was trying somehow to reconcile the two, because there's always been - and I think with a lot of people - we all have certain personal boundaries, but you see that in your everyday, you see that in public as well. There are certain places where it is acceptable to say certain things and there are other places where it is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to lie down on the subway but it is at the park. You don't hit on someone on the subway, you can't stare at them, but at a bar it's OK, it's accepted.

Zeke: I've hit on people on the subway.

Peter Gibson: OK, fair enough. Maybe these are my personal boundaries. No, but it's true, everyone's got their boundaries, and I think there are certain collective boundaries we have. Most times, when you're sitting on the subway, people are checking each other out, but it's secretively, everyone's checking each other out secretively.

Zeke: You don't clear your nose like a hockey player in the metro.

Peter Gibson: Exactly. So, it was part of that, just sort of getting to know my boundaries, but also just really wanting to play. 'Cause I feel like that space, just as an adult, but also in a city, is not encouraged. Our forms of play are very specific, like bars, #1, like dance clubs, movies, or entertainment. Basically, our form of play is a form of escape almost. So on some level it was a form of personal escapism... I could go on if...

Zeke: There it's, you bring up an interesting thing where it's the initial sort of idea of where the stenciling came from. Especially considering our conversation earlier about intellectual property and so on. You said you saw this thing in Adbusters about a guy ...

Peter Gibson: I didn't credit, I should have credited him.

Zeke: At which point, to almost try and repeat the conversation we had... oh, no, never mind it's not gonna work.

Shadow Owl by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson
Shadow Owl by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson

Peter Gibson: Given the intellectual...

Zeke: No, no, I gotta think about it for at least a week before you give me an answer.

Peter Gibson: You're like, "Oh no, don't got there, he's gonna talk forever."

Zeke: No, no, I want you to talk forever, that's why I'm recording, I couldn't write the notes fast enough. But more, to pick up on earlier, I'd asked if you were willing to go to jail, and asked for a yes or no answer.

Peter Gibson: I was thinking about that.

Zeke: Now, no yes or no answer... where, as far as the situation goes...?

Peter Gibson: Well, when you said, "Are you willing to go to jail?" I was thinking in general terms, I was thinking, I mean, jail could be three months, it could be six months, it could be five years, it could be twenty years. I know in my case that could not happen, but... I don't know what conditions are like in jail, I don't know if I'm willing to get raped. But yes, I am willing to go to jail because I accept responsibility for what I've done, I'm accepting it by being open about it and I guess I've taken that risk, I've taken that risk to be open. Well, I hope I'm sincere - well, it's my desire to be as sincere as possible. But I know that I'm human, and I have insecurities, and I'm subject to phony outbreaks and whatever. But hopefully I'm gonna be as sincere as possible and that includes me taking responsibility for it and if that means going to jail, well, yes, I'm prepared to go to jail.

Zeke: My opening experience with Luci, my girlfriend, where we had just started going out, no, not just started, we'd been going out, but it got to that point where, "OK, we don't have to go out and do an event when we get together," we'd been going out to bars, going out to dinner, going dancing all the time. "To be honest, I'm tired," she said. "Yeah, I'm tired too." "Would you like to just go home and watch a video?" I said, "Yeah, that sounds nice." And given that I don't have a TV, and I'm not used to doing that, it is a revolutionary concept. Normally, my life is four nights out, three nights sleeping, bam, do it again. So we go to get the video, she's a member. Have you ever seen the film Cool Hand Luke?

Peter Gibson: No. Is that like a cowboy film?

Zeke: No, it's a Paul Newman film from 1967.

Peter Gibson: It's like he's an oil guy?

Zeke: No, Cool Hand Luke is this Paul Newman film that I realized - 'cause I saw it 20 times growing up - that it was very influential in terms of my psychological make up. And basically, just to give you the plot in a nutshell: Paul Newman is drunk on the street one night, saws off the heads of about half a dozen parking meters, and then because it's the south in the 60s, gets thrown into a chain-gang…

Peter Gibson: Oh yeah, but keep telling.

Zeke: Now, realizing that it ties together in so many different ways.

Peter Gibson: I have to check that movie, Cool Hand Luke?

Zeke: Two movies will nail me in a nutshell: Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers and Cool Hand Luke.

Peter Gibson: I'll have to write that down. Who do you identify with, Paul Newman?

Zeke: Damn straight.

Peter Gibson: And in Lucky... what was it called?

Zeke: Duck Soup which is a Marx Brothers film, Groucho Marx. There it's ostensibly it's a 6-month term on the chain gang. Because he just refuses to buckle under, the first instance he gets he tries to escape. They catch him. At which point, what was going to be a six-month jail term turns into a five-year jail term. At which point, escapes again.

Peter Gibson: So is it trying to imply you try to escape what's...

Zeke: No, it's the power of the individual, he refuses to buckle under to authority.

Peter Gibson: He refuses to respect authority and look what happens to him.

Zeke: He ends up getting shot and killed at the end of the film, sorry that I ruined the ending of the film.

Peter Gibson: I don't think I'm Paul Newman. I think I would do my six months of chain gang work...

Zeke: But the line is, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." And it is initially spoken by the boss of the chain gang, implied that, "If you listen to me, if you follow the rules..."

Peter Gibson: Everything's going to be fine.

Zeke: And just realizing now, what I've been beakin' on you so much about, communication is key.

Peter Gibson: Well, that's what this whole project is about, communicating something. The whole question of authority plays a role in the imagery that I put out. I don't know, I don't think I fully resolved that issue for myself. I don't refuse authority... I don't refuse the concept of authority altogether because, I mean, it exists. You have a certain amount of authority from the knowledge you've developed as an artist, you have a certain amount of authority within the art world. Your father has a certain amount of authority... whatever, authority exists. It's not something, I feel, that should be blindly refused, just by virtue of it being authority.

Zeke: But to me, it should always be questioned.

Peter Gibson: Oh yes. Yes.

Zeke: 100% of the time.

Peter Gibson: Yes, yes, I agree. Yes, it should definitely be questioned, and that's what I'm involved in. I mean, if you have questions of authority of such-and-such an image, or such-and-such a law, or such and such a way of doing things, they all have a certain amount of authority, and there is an over-riding authority that exists in our culture, there is that underlying authority that we all seem to accept unquestioningly and willingly. And sure, I'm sure there are good reasons for it in many cases for that authority, but not all of it, no. I think there's a lot of things that have authority that shouldn't. That don't have real authority. There are certain things that... some people think God is the only authority, that's their authority, that's the only person - uh, person with a capital P - that they'll answer to. I mean, I work at a restaurant where people are very spiritual and religious and they talk about that question of authority, and they have different views, and we've had a lot of discussions about it, but in the context of what I'm going through now. But I agree with you, authority should be questioned. And if authority is a real authority it will be open to that questioning. If the authority is a bona fide authority it will want to field those questions, it will...

Zeke: However, to my mind, just because it is a bona fide authority at one point, at one time, in one aspect, it does not give it free reign for all time. I agree with you that if it is a bona fide authority, yes, it should be open, that's no problem. But just because it works this time doesn't mean you should stop questioning in the future.

Peter Gibson: No, I agree. I think we should be questioning constantly, I think that is a part of what art is about, critical capacity. Criticalness and questioning are one and the same, they're cousins, retarded cousins maybe. I say that jokingly, because I find criticism is another kind of authority, like art criticism, for example. And that's playing out in my situation right now, like, who's deciding what's art, what are the authorities that are deciding this is art and something else isn't. That question of authority is definitely a big one.

Zeke: I was impressed that T'cha could get Marc Mayer to come onside. That pleased me to no end.

Peter Gibson: What's that?

Zeke: Uh, Tcha's article yesterday? He got Marc Mayer, who runs the Musée d'art contemporain -

Light Switch by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson
Light Switch by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson

Peter Gibson: Yeah, that's cool, that was really... wow. I'm honored. It's funny, especially considering I worked there, I had a stint -

Zeke: Oh, cool.

Peter Gibson: Well, I was a security guard [they laugh]. Just add a whole other level of irony to the whole thing. But that also had an influence on my process, because it was around the same time that I was starting to think about these notions, and also thinking about the museum space. 'Cause I was there for 8 hours a day, I had a lot of time on my hands to think.

Ivy by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson
Ivy by Peter 'Roadsworth' Gibson

Zeke: So how did you get the gig as a security guard?

Peter Gibson: Well, my girlfriend's sister sort of hooked me up with it. She found out that Expo Sécurité, who I guess is contracted by various museums for security guards, was looking to - I've worked at several, I've worked at Musée des Beaux Arts as a security guard [laughs]. That had an influence on my view of what happens to art when it gets institutionalized, so to speak, and what, and how interesting that whole element of context is, and where something is, and why we worship something. And then, of course, at the end of the exhibit it takes you right into the boutique where they've reproduced Picassos a million times and you can buy your own Picasso.

Zeke: So you did the Picasso Érotique?

Peter Gibson: Not the Picasso Érotique, I did... that's why I got the job, they were short and needed to hire many people in one shot, for the From Renoir to Picasso exhibit that happened, what, three or four years ago?

Zeke: Did they rotate you through rooms, or did...?

Peter Gibson: Yeah, you get to change rooms, I mean, they were sort of aware of the insane...

Zeke: How often do you get to change?

Peter Gibson: You get a break every two hours - I have to admit it was quite demanding.

Zeke: Oh, not in terms of... I imagine that -

Peter Gibson: How often do you get to change rooms? Well, usually you spend the day in the same room. And then the next time you come you get to go to a different room, maybe. So often, you will be going to the same room. If you're lucky, you're one of the guys with more seniority, they get to move around and sort of monitor the other junior security guards. So yeah, I got that job for a summer, and had that experience under my belt. I ended up getting a job at the Musée d'art contemporain... subsequently, I was relieved of that job [laughs].

Zeke: Same company running the security?

Peter Gibson: Not the same company.

Zeke: Which museum is better for being a security guard, from your perspective?

Peter Gibson: Oh God, they're both very similar, they both have their own challenges….

Zeke: OK, what are the challenges?

Peter Gibson: Well, the challenges are boredom. It was cool when you go into a new room and check out a new exhibit and you check out the art. But after two hours, that circulating video installation really starts to get on your nerves at the some point. But there's also sort of meditative element, I mean, you're forced to, you have a lot of time to think, you're dealing with the public which can be rewarding, you get to talk to people, bounce views - I kind of regret I wasn't more... involved with the public. You're forced to, to a certain extent, people ask you questions and you try to answer them as best as possible. But it's hard to say, they were both very similar in terms of the job.

Zeke: OK, does one museum pay more that another?

Peter Gibson: I made a little more at the Musée d'art contemporain. Why?

Zeke: There it's just, one of my favorite things when going in to see an exhibit, is to talk to the guards in the various rooms, and ask, "Which one is your favorite?"

Peter Gibson: Well, I mean, the concept of the job already - the concept of the job at From Renoir to Picasso was to prevent the people from touching the paintings, understandably, these painting represent millions, I can't remember the figure, the value that they had, some ridiculous amount. So your job is to prevent people from damaging or touching the art - that's every security guard's nightmare.

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