Nick Farr: „I’m not even an artist“

Conversation with Artist in Residence (MQ) Nick Farr about first dates and the Occupy Movement

Since 2003 seven studios have been available in quartier21 to international artists who do not normally reside in Austria. The objective of this program is to expand the role of the MuseumsQuartier Wien and to promote international cultural exchange. Nick Farr, who works as an accountant back in New York City, was MQ’s Artist in Residence for December 2011. On the 20th of December he presented his exhibition and dance performance “Occupy all hears” at the quartier21. “Occupy all hearts” consisted of digital photographs, collages, pencil sketches, installations and video art and was presented as an answer to the Occupy Movement. For his exhibition Nick Farr studied the online dating community in Vienna and undertook the quest to go on a whole range of first dates. He also asked people to reflect and write a love letter to their greatest enemy. But what really made him popular around the MQ were his dance moves. Whether in the metro platform or outside, in front of the Kantine, Nick Farr danced his way through this world.

Foto: (c) Alexandra Gritsevskaja

Foto: (c) Alexandra Gritsevskaja

Portraiting Nick Farr
Nick Farr is a short man who claims to always wear suits. Even under his white MQ jacket you can see a suit shining through. He says that he is more of an accountant than an artist and even though the suit, tie and the beard make the convincing first impression that this man is stern and analytic, everything changes when Nick Farr puts on his headphones. When we meet for the interview he dances his way into the restaurant, he doesn’t seem to take any notice of the people around him who are eagerly watching and discussing his dance. When the song ends, he takes off his headphones, bows, the customers clap and whistle, the show is over and he calmly sits down at my table.

mokant.at: You do get lots of positive reviews for that.
Nick Farr:
Yeah. Almost. Well, when I’m dancing, I’m just in a zone. I am only really aware of whatever my next move is. And I make sure I’m not blocking anybody. But I catch views here and there. I really like going out with some collaborators or some friends of mine and then they sort of say: “Oh, oh, there was this one lady on the train who said ‘He must be crazy! He must be schizophrenic.’” And actually the quartier 21 said I should put a logo on the back of my jacket and sort of explain what I’m doing. And I got my first tweet yesterday (excited)! One guy actually figured out who I was and was like “I saw Nick Farr dancing in the metro”. I was like “Yeees!” – Because everybody is taking pictures and videos.

mokant.at: Yes, I remember seeing this video of you on a blog the other day.
Nick Farr:
The funny thing about that is that Mags’ – Mags is your colleague, right? – her roommate is kind of … this is a little weird but she’s like my Viennese not-girlfriend. She is really heartbroken. And I am really heartbroken. She started out as an OKCupid Date. That’s quite a random story. I was talking with Michael, one of my collaborators there in Vienna, who is an old old friend, and I was instant messaging him: “How do people date in Vienna?” And he said: “I don’t know.” And I was just randomly working OKCupid because I thought: “Maybe I should try to go on dates, meet people, bla bla bla … And oh, there are people in Vienna on OKCupid.” And so I just start messaging all of my top matches. “Hi, I am in Vienna for an art project. I am not looking for a relationship. Bla bla bla.” And then I’m just doing all of this and talking with Michael on another chat and then Michael says: “Oh my God, you’re not gonna believe this!” “What, what? What’s going on?” And then he copied the chat log from Claudia who is freaking out because, she was telling Michael: “Nick Farr just asked me out on a date”, having no idea that he knew who I was.

mokant.at: So was she excited?
Nick Farr:
She was nervous. She’s very very shy. So she was excited, but more in a freaked out way. I think that was the initial response.

mokant.at: Were people usually freaked out when you messaged them asking them out on a first date for an art project? Did they believe you?
Nick Farr:
It’s interesting to see the evolution because at first people didn’t know me, now I’m getting a lot of responses saying: “Oh, I saw you in the U-Bahn. That was really awesome. I’m going home for Christmas tomorrow. Sorry.” (laughs) You know. But that’s cool. People that I had messaged way back then, are now messaging me back saying: “You’re that guy! We thought you were bullshitting!” One girl wrote a really long message about how three times before she’d been messaged by a guy saying: “Oh, I’m an artist. I do art.” And how it was just a ruse to try and get in her pants. That date actually got weird. In the middle of the date she said: “So really, is this all just, you know, a big ruse to seduce me?” (pause) And normally I’m very concerned about coming across as creepy, normally I would be all apologetic and shy and say “No, no, no, really. Here are my artist friends, to prove that”. But this time I thought: “Why not just say: Well, I don’t know. What would your reaction be if it was?”

mokant.at: Wow, that actually sounds quite creepy.
Nick Farr:
Because I was going for creepy. I was getting into the act of it. And she said: “Well, if it was, that would be totally hot.” And then I freaked out. (laughs) I just lost it. And I was like “Whooow!” The other creepy part was that we were in the apartment for the Artist in Residence. So we were in my apartment at the time and I was like: “How am I going get out of this? Am I going to be all: I’m gonna go to sleep now?” (laughs) But it turned to be all fine. She was also intentionally playing creepy.

mokant.at: What was the actual reason behind going on so many first dates in the first place?
Nick Farr:
The whole reason behind it, behind that first date thing, which I am slowly concluding, was not a good thing to try to attempt in Vienna, but my theory was, on a first date, especially on an Internet dating page, you are not presenting your real self. How can you possibly represent your real self on an OKCupid profile? If it was possible then what does it say about you as a person?

mokant.at: Then again a first date doesn’t really say anything about you as a person either. On a first date you are trying to come across as someone else most of the time.
Nick Farr:
Exactly. You are not really presenting your real self. Because you are more nervous than you’d normally be and at the same time you are trying to impress more. And the other person is doing the same thing. Before I got to Vienna I talked to a couple of people who are part of the generation that grew up during the Great Depression, who were kids in the 1930ies and 40ies. At the time there was no such thing as “the first blind date”. There is a whole different set of phenomenons I don’t know what happened here in Europe but at least it was like that in the United States: You’d be in a small town. You’d basically know who that other person was. You’d know their family. You’d maybe spend time with their cousins, their brother or whatever. You wouldn’t meet up with complete strangers. You’d at least have an idea who they were. You’d hear stories about them, whereas here – who knows. Total, complete strangers.

mokant.at: Might be a really nice guy. Might also turn into pretty creepy date.
Nick Farr:
Yeah. Or it might be a really nice guy who thinks he has to act like a total creep because his friends told him that’s what he has to do. That happens. Now, with Facebook and everything else, people are much more used to representing themselves like a product to be marketed. They are always producing content. They are always putting things out there. You can’t just go out with a group of friends, have a night out and then have the memories of that night out just be that. No, you take pictures. You send tweets. You write down the funny things that happened. You share with other people. You comment about it later. And I think that makes it a lot harder to think about love. And I don’t think people are thinking as much about love of their fellow man. Or love of art. Or love of music. Or, and here it’s a little bit different but, you know, love of country. Where, to the Greatest Generation, people in the 1930ties, love of country was not a love of the government or love of the structure or things like that. Love of country was: “Hi, we have this beautiful country called America and yeah, it really sucks right now, but it’s beautiful, there’s a lot of potential here, and even though maybe I can’t get a job right now, I am going to do something to try to make things better.” Which goes all the way back to the Occupy Movement.

mokant.at: What does the Occupy Movement have to do with what you define as love of country?
Nick Farr: I think everybody in the Occupy Movement really loves their country but they don’t know how to express that. And that love of country comes out as a reaction to everything that went wrong. It’s all about demonizing the one percent. All of this stuff comes out as anger. And while I believe that we’ve had enough. It’s time to change things. I also believe that Occupy is about dialogue. It’s not about: “How do we coopt to the political process to our own purpose?”. It’s saying: “No, that whole process is corrupt. There’s no way to engage that way. We have to just stop, take a step back, and talk.” But what I think is missing in that dialogue is love. Not romantic love. You know, every time I bring up love to somebody who is born after, say, 1970, love is about romantic love. It’s about finding the perfect someone. It’s about sharing a life together or sharing a passionate couple of years together. Maybe, sometimes, it’s love of whatever they do. But it’s not love in a mutual way; in a we’re all in this together way. At least in the United States – in Vienna it’s totally different.

Another funny thing about OKCupid: Once I was in a conversation with one girl who sounded interesting. And then I said: “Oh, I really love the MoMA. Did you go to see the retrospective that they have right now?” I was thinking about maybe trying to see it before I went for Europe so I asked her if it was worth going. And she was like: “Oh, yeah. The MoMA really has great bla bla bla … How often have you been to the MoMA? Did you know that there’s a Jackson Pollock?” And then I wrote back: “Well, actually, they usually have two Jackson Pollocks at any given time – but I guess, they have more than that, I think they have 8 or 9 in the collection but only two are ever on display at any given time. There was one Jackson Pollock that was painted after he started drinking again. And then another one, which was sort of right at the beginning of his creative breakthrough after his wife got him to stop drinking. And what he used to do was: He used to ask people to reflect on one of them and reflect on the other one and say which one they liked better. They always liked the one he painted while he was sober much more than the other one. And, you know, I’m not saying I’m a trained art critic, but I believe very strongly in art, not all art obviously, but some of it.

You know – it’s like with people – you could go on a hundred first dates with a hundred random people and after the first five minutes they are going to bore you or you’re going to know it’s not going to work out. But then there’s that one. And it might not hit you for a while. But then, suddenly, you’re like: “Oh, wow. Something happened there”. And I think art of all forms does that.

mokant.at: Why exactly did you pick Jackson Pollock as an example?
Nick Farr: The reason Jackson Pollock‘s so popular – just for a minute – purely classically aesthetic standpoint: There’s not a lot going on there. You know. Its paint dribbled onto a canvas. If you live for the hermitage Jackson Pollock‘s probably not going to do much for you. But if you just sort of open up your heart a little bit and just stand back and reflect, and just try to listen – I know it’s weird to say “listen” when you’re talking about visual art – there’s something there. I think that’s what separates great art from any other kind of art. Great art says something. Great art says many many different things to many many different people. I think that’s what I love about abstract expressions. It’s just allowing yourself to sort of open up your soul and listen a little bit. And I think that the Occupy Generation has lost a lot of that. And I’m not an abstract expressionist. I’m not even an artist.

mokant.at: You don’t see yourself as an artist?
Nick Farr: No, I’m an accountant. I mean, I say this to all of my friends. The joke was that the first couple of days that I started dancing, I’d never danced before. I never danced in public.

mokant.at: Not even when you were out with your friends on a friday night?
Nick Farr: No. At the club I never dance. There were a couple exceptions. When I was living in San Francisco there was a huge noise pop and noise punk scene. And I ended up at a noise punk show and there was something just about that music that I could not help but … It wasn’t even dancing, it was trashing around to. Everybody was dancing and trashing around as well and that was a huge, liberating thing. But that’s not even dancing.

mokant.at: Why did you decide to choose dancing as your form of protest?
Nick Farr: I knew that we had to find some other ways of protest. Because we can’t occupy a space anymore. They’ll just kick us out. Dancing is sort of the logical expression to that. And that’s what I’ve been playing with. The first couple of days I was dancing in my apartment by myself. But nobody ever sees that. That’s the funny thing: When I’m totally alone I was perfectly fine with dancing. But when I was living with my girlfriend, my ex fiancé, I never danced. And my ex fiancé was really nice, she was like: “Yeah, you should dance, you should sing. I really like it.” But just around another person I was too cautious about it and I thought, after this last breakup, which I think was the harshest of my life, I thought: “Fuck it! I don’t care anymore. I really don’t care what these people think or what they say. I’m just going to go out in the street and dance. I’m just going to try to work out all of this”. And as soon as I just started everything came out. I danced for two solid hours on my first day. I wouldn’t get back to it the next day. And the next day I was really sore because I hadn’t moved that way in … maybe ever. And I’m an old man. I was hurting. I was just in pain everywhere. I could not walk up the stairs. (laughs) I could dance TO the stairs. I could not walk UP the stairs to my apartment. I had to take the elevator. (laughs)

Titelbild: flickr.com/Jannis Andrija Schnitzer (cc)

Alexandra Gritsevskaja ist Geschäftsführerin von mokant.at. Zuvor war sie auch als Redakteurin tätig.

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