Paul Perry interviewed by Sue-An van der Zijpp, curator of the Groninger Museum, November 2001.
Q: Who is Paul Perry?
A: That's a very good question. I've been asking myself this for years. You might even say that my work involves searching for answers to this question.
Q: Give me an example...
A: Good and Evil on the Long Voyage, a work I did in 1997. In this piece one of my own white blood cells was fused with a cancer cell of a mouse and exhibited in a sculpture.
Q: Where are you from?
A: My parents told me that I was born in England. I remember being raised in Canada. In 1982 I came to the Netherlands for what I assumed would be a three day visit. Those three days turned into a week, a month, a year. I have been here ever since.
Q: What are your main interests as an artist at this moment?
A: My main interests at this moment? I suppose you'd consider them quite existential: the 'will to self', the 'will to identity', the 'fear of death', the very real possibility of being or becoming 'undead', our mortal desire for the prolongation of our lives, and simultaneously, our rejection of radical life extension. Oh, and you might add to these an interest in how we, as mortals, perceive objects. All of these, in one way or the other, are the subject of the exhibition 'Immortality Suite'.
Q: And how did you become so fascinated by so many different fields of interest (eg. nature / science / philosophy / drugs / animals / technology / singularities etc.)?
A: I don't know. I'm just lucky I guess.
Q: But how do these subjects relate according to you?
A: They relate as patterns. The late Gregory Bateson once described a feeling for aesthetics as "being responsive to the pattern that connects." I'm much more fascinated by the relations or patterns between the subjects than the subjects themselves. And even more fascinated by the element of chance in the specifics of such encounters.
Q: How do you deal as a sculptor with these highly conceptual notions? How do you translate your ideas to the formal or visual level?
A: I don't believe I necessarily prioritize the concept or idea over the formal or visual, that the concept comes first. Actually most of the time the image seems to emerge first. In any case there is clearly a back and forth movment between the two, between what you might call 'the content' and what you might call 'the form'. As far as I'm concerned without this movement Lautréamont could not have described the moment of art as "the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella."
Q: To what extent can your work be considered an alternative to scientific investigations of life and death?
A: The writer Jalal Toufic has proposed a clear relation between art and science where both can be seen as existing within paradigms and where each proceeds by the discovery of a new fact which breaks the old paradigm and necessitate the production of a new one. Thus the science of any subject proceeds by the acceptance of a non-controversial or empirical fact and the art of any subject by the similar acceptance of a non-controversial or aesthetic fact.
Q: Do you have a mission within your art?
A: Yeah, I suppose I do, though it is still difficult to specify. Art for me is about liberation, a specific moment when we experience the law or the 'pattern that connects' and simultaneously realise that this pattern or law has been broken.
Q: Has your mission changed over the years?
A: In a way. It has taken me some time to understand it. At least I feel that it is slowly becoming more clear to me. Whereas in my early work, such as the macramé pieces, I was concerned with perversion, with perverting the relation between what others expected of me as an artist and what I expected of myself, with the more recent public art projects and proposals and the recent sculptures with animals I've become concerned with a more fundamental critique of identity.
Q: Can you say something about your exhibition in the Groninger Museum?
A: Sure. The title, Immortality Suite, suggests a lot. Immortality is such a strange notion. Traditionally it's been the sole domain of religion, but in the last decade it's been seized by futurists and techno-optimists as a very real post-human possibility. The three works that I plan on showing in the museum are linked together by the word 'immortality' and as such, form a 'suite of works' where hopefully each piece informs the other two.
Q: What are the three works?
A: 'Nuclear Garden', an extremely formal (you could say twice formal) rock garden containing a sub-critical nuclear reactor; 'One Thousand Deaths: Sortie 2', a film about my own staged near-death experience; and 'Afterlife, or Repeat After Me', a musical and kinetic work which explores the idea of 'self-liberating' objects.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I am totally interested in where our complex world will take us. So I have plans to stick around as long as possible.