We Was Voodoo: a Conversation with Karsten Krejcarek

Matthew Ronay


I don’t know if it’s important, but Karsten and I meet at a bar in Williamsburg that is right by the BQE at 5ish and it’s nice and warm for October and we sit outside and have drinks. I stupidly have a list of questions to which I refer a bunch that seemed to me to ruin the flow of the conversation at times…now I know.

Matthew: OK. Let’s See. I’m just going to start at the top. What do you think the relationship is between place visited and work created for you?

Karsten: Place visited, work created. Well,

M: The second part of this question is whether you wanted to talk about Peru or anything like that. If you wanted to talk about any kind of those things. It’s an open-ended question.

K: I think the reason I recently decided to make video is because I was sort of dissatisfied with my studio practice as an outlet for experience.

M: Right.

K: The things that were really important to me, were all happening to me outside of the studio – like traveling to unusual places, meeting unusual people, seeing new things. None of this happens when I am alone making sculptures. I don’t believe I have a romantic process in that way – I don’t have that type of immediate experience with the things I make, as I do outside in the world. The thing about video that interests me, and the way I’m trying to use it, is that it gets me out of the studio and to have interactions with people and things, and at the same time I can make something.

M: Do you think that you would ever be interested in making a documentary?

K: Potentially.

M: But your relationship… I’m just trying to figure out… your relationship to your travel is not a one-to-one ratio. It’s not like you go, you see, you come back, you create it.

K: It’s not about reporting.

M: Yeah, it’s not about reporting. Cool. Interesting. And do you want to discuss your trip to Peru? I didn’t want to boil it down… Because as a friend I feel like you came back from your trip to Peru, kind of determined, for lack of better words, to turn it around. You seemed to be a more righted person. Like you seemed to have more focus or something.

K: The work I have been making for the two years since then has been a direct attempt to reconcile what happened in the jungle.

M: So for people who don’t know… You went to the jungle and…

K: I participated in ayahuasca ceremony. Which is a thousands of year old, magical, hallucinogenic plant medicine administered by healers named curanderos, or in my case curandera (mine was woman), in the rain forest of the Upper Amazon.

M: It sounds funny, but… My question is, do you find it frustrating that you don’t get up one day and have the ability to make things move with your mind or receive messages from beyond. Because I know I do. Or do you? – Can you move things with your mind? When you explained coming back and trying to recreate your “vision quest”, for lack of better words, it makes me think of my frustration with the way things are – waking up every morning and trying to kind of create an experience, similar to you, but do you find that frustrating? What’s your response to that?

K: My frustration of that nature was what sent me to Peru in the first place. And that lack was fulfilled in a way I couldn’t have imagined. What the frustration is now, is what to do with all of that information. Not that it’s an ability to move things with my mind, but it was unworldly. It was beyond the limitations that my reality had presented me up to that point. The problem now is how to assimilate that experience and how to let it function in my day-to-day.

M: For me, I find after making things and training, going to school, and thinking a lot about what it means to create works, and what they are about and stuff, I find for me personally it’s kind of repulsive, the idea of authoring it. Not repulsive… I feel like the authorship of like “I thought it, I’m going to make it…” is off-putting. That’s why I’m saying that I want to wake up and get the message from somewhere else. I feel like that’s the thing that attracts me so much to shamanistic stuff, and stuff like that – even though it has a responsibility to right things for the community or do things, I feel like the feeling to me is getting a message from something that is not you, that’s collective unconscious, or like, it’s like an energy, that kind of thing is generous and enlightening. So, I feel like trying to extend that to an art-making process can be frustrating, you know? I feel like art is so authored. And so maybe in its root it’s shamanistic and it has a message from beyond, but I feel like sometimes it can be frustrating to capture that.

K: Yeah, a lot of what I was doing in the studio in the past was being clever, or trying to one up, whomever, whatever else.

M: Me too.

K: One thing about ayahuasca experience is that it’s out of your hands. The information that is given to you doesn’t feel like it’s coming from inside you or even the person administering it to you, it feels like it truly is coming from somewhere else – and where that somewhere else is, is a whole issue. So, I’ve been trying to use that type of framework in the work, trying to grab out of what’s been mysteriously delivered to me, rather than what I am coming up with myself. So the frustration isn’t so much how to get the information, but how to use it.

M: My next question is, can you describe the process you use to create your new film?

K: Sure. It’s a little hard to slice that pie.

M: Of course.

K: But there are a couple directions I am approaching the video from. The initial incentive for the video was that I made a sculpture that was a funerary casket. I had made the sculpture shortly after getting out of school, during the whole terrorism fiasco here in New York. I kept it with me for nearly six years, transferred to a new studio… It sat there like this big symbol of some really heavy stuff. At one point I built a giant crate and hid it inside for a year. Then I decided finally I needed to get rid of it. In figuring out how to dispose of it, I decided I would take it to an island off the coast of Maine, set it on fire, and send it to sea with a silicon effigy of myself inside. And why not make a video while I was doing that? So the whole thing started with an object, a sculpture that I couldn’t reconcile. So it became a prop, and the video gave narrative to it. I’ve been trying to use the narrative nature of video, to organize the things I make. I am still making things (sculptures)…




Track 2

M: If you could briefly describe the characters in the movie. But also, I liked when you described the narrative… There are four brothers.

K: Right. The main, overarching project has four identical –– what I call brothers –– but they are just identical characters who are representative of four parts of one self.

M: Like a Jungian kind of thing. It is in a way. You have the anima, the animus, the shadow, the persona, you have the woman side… Anyway, go ahead.

K: What’s happened is that one of the four characters has gone missing. On the thirty-third anniversary of his disappearance, the other three characters get together and decide to go on an expedition to retrieve their missing counterpart. The story is about this expedition, and the problems they encounter along the way.

M: This is just your loose umbrella kind of narrative. But you came up with that organically, right?

K: Well, back to the influence of Peru. When I was working with this curandera in the Amazon, a lot of very peculiar things happened. One of which was, at some point during the ceremony she separated my body, or being, into four parts, and displayed them for me. She told me that one of the parts was going to remain in the jungle with her.

M: Oh cool.

K: And then put the remaining three parts back together and I came back to New York… And, my curandera died a few months after my return.

M: Your other part was released, maybe.

K: Or, is lost in the jungle on his own.

M: Awesome. I didn’t know this.

K: That’s the general description of how these characters and narrative came to be.

M: I have a question about make-up and stuff like that. I wanted you to describe physically what the four characters look like. Just so people understand – you write, direct, act, you play all the characters. Not every character, but you play the four main characters, because they are four parts of your personality, your being, or whatever. So, if you could describe those four characters.

K: Sure. As I said they are identical, so in appearance they all look the same. They are each wearing a two-piece white suit – which is somewhere between a minister’s garment, and a wizard. And somewhat colonial, sort of a Fitzcarraldo look. The characters are barefoot. They wear a jeweled cross that hangs from their neck. And they are wearing five-foot long, silvery-white Lady Godiva wigs.

M: From my point of view, there is the character that wears the long white wig, who also wears a cross… But then there is a blackface character or the make up character – can you describe that character?

K: That character is part of another project. It’s a little confusing, because I have two videos going that are interrelated, but one is an isolated narrative – a spin-off from the main project. In this piece there are two characters who further down the narrative actually combine to make the four brothers character…

M: Right, so you are playing a black man, a white woman, a white man… So my question was, I mean I guess it seems ridiculous to go back to what my questions are because we are having a good conversation… But I’m curious if your use of make-up has more to do with otherness, or more about the mask, like is it for me. I feel like, when I do performance, I like the mask, because I want to hide, I feel embarrassed, or I need that extra prop to get me out there. Yours is a film, so I guess it’s different, but is it about otherness? Like in the blackface? Or is it about a mask. Is the make-up more mask or more about otherness?

K: Otherness, for sure. And just to clarify, what I’m attempting to do with the make-up is play a character who is based on a real person. I haven’t set out to do “blackface,” as in the racist tradition –– but I do realize that it’s delicate territory.

M: OK.

K: Just to touch on the “otherness” briefly…. I believe that part of pursuing and engaging spirituality, or higher realms, is a process of othering yourself. It’s a practice of stepping outside conscious reality, and observing yourself and the world from a far.

M: Like having a foot in both places… Man, woman, me, it.

K: It’s a process of separation.

M: Non-duality.

K: Duality.

M: Duality. Whatever. Through duality, it’s non-duality, anyway? Or whatever. If you’re listening to a bunch of Alan Watts…

K: So, I think the characters are a way of escaping.

M: Experiencing both sides?

K. Sure.

M: In your recent movie you have an obsession with meteors. Where did that come from and what does it mean to you. How did you arrive at it? What is it?

K: What you are referring to is this spin-off project, titled Nueva Era. Just to explain what it is: two identical meteorites fall to the earth – one in a field and one through a shack. There are two characters, one of which is a black man, the other a white female. The characters are based on a Brazilian church named the Santo Daime. The male character is based on the founder of the church who was an African immigrant in Brazil, who combined native belief systems with folk Catholicism in a mish-mashed religion. The woman is based on a contemporary Daime follower. In any case, these characters both witness the crashing meteorites into the earth and they come together and meet with them. Through the power of their meeting, they transform the meteorites into a third and fourth object.

M: OK, so…

K: So, the question is what my interest in meteorites?

M: Yeah, I’m trying to boil it down for people. Of course when you watch the video, the narrative is compelling, but I’m trying to boil it down to the… The thing is about this meteorite – what interests you about the meteorite. Where did it come from?

K: I think they are metaphorical more than not. There’s a lot of stuff that surrounds meteorites… They come from beyond and intercept reality – but it’s not exactly part of our regular system.

M: Potentially dangerous.

K: Potentially dangerous, potentially metaphysical. The New Age has embraced meteorites as a powerful healing tool. And there is an entire cult around them – people who collect them, people who make fake meteorites – which are called meteorwrongs. The monetary values assigned to them is based on what they hit, whether their falling is viewed, whether they hit a person – to my knowledge it only happened twice, once recently. So they have this mystique around them. In terms of the video, it’s really just this other entering into a narrative, to allow something magical to happen.

M: This is a funny question, but sometimes I think of you as a kind of Eddie Murphy or Tyler Perry. Do you have any thoughts on that? On a lighthearted note… In that approach to making cinema and narrative, it’s kind of like a Vinnie Gallo kind of thing. You write it, act, play all the roles. And also if I can throw something else in there to think about while you are answering – is part of the aspect that you like about working on the movie is working with the crew and working with other people and stuff like that. You know? Is it? Can you combine that somehow?

K: I can try to answer this separately. To the later, and back to this idea of getting out of the studio, a huge part of the video is embracing other people and having experiences with others. Whether it be the people who are directly helping me shoot the video, or the people helping me find locations, or rowing me out to an island ….

M: Like it’s much more fun for you to spend a day going to look for a location, and talking to weird people and getting in your car and going out than sitting in your studio sanding MDF or something like that.

K: I would absolutely agree with that. And it’s been very good for me in that respect. To the first part of that question, there is an almost unintentional aspect of the videos that it is comical, it is parody… What I have been trying to do is let go of my preconceived notions of what the video is going to be. And when these things happen, embrace them and use the process of post-production to make them more intentional.

M: Or more contrived.

K: In the process of playing an older black man, or a woman, or a wizard, all sorts of unplanned residual effects happen that make it comical. Again, back to the difference between working as a sculptor and working as a video person – I have a lot control in the studio over what I make, and I seem to have no control over what happens in the video. I consider that a very important and beneficial aspect of the process of video making and for my practice at large.

M: OK. Well. I wanted to talk a little bit about your objects and some of the stuff you have been making recently. I’ve been thinking a lot about your use of the multiple –– your use of the multiple as a form of altered reality. Specifically the things you had in the show at Kate Werble Gallery. You made these multiple twigs. And so each one seems exactly like the next one and they were meticulously painted? or actually found?… I’m just curious, you know, what your relationship to the multiple is and to the uncanny? You know what I’m getting at here.

K: I think that example is a good one to use. In that piece in particular there are four identical branches that are representative of the four characters in the film.

M: Oh yeah, that’s right, you told me that.

K: Three of them are displayed in an upright position and the other upside down in another room, representing the missing character in the jungle.

M: Cool.

K: I think the underlying interest there is, again, this incident in the Amazon. The presentation of myself in four parts was a very overwhelming motif of the ayahuasca experience. So, the impossibility of being four things, identical, simultaneous, but as separate objects got me spinning. Making these things is representing that impossibility.

M: I think that’s good. I don’t know how it will come out on the tape, but I totally understand what you are saying. Let’s see, I have a couple of questions that are not exactly related to your work, but they are about your outlook and stuff like that. Do you mind if we go on to those?

K: Please.

Track 3

M: I thought I was at the end of the serious questions about your work. I have some other questions that are just general. They don’t have to be long answers, but… Or would you like to continue talking about the film – because I have other questions about the film?

K: Shoot away.

M: Casey said to keep it a half an hour. I don’t have many more questions, but… Should we go to a different topic? Or do you want to stay on the film and broach a different topic later?

K: Doesn’t matter. Your call.

M: I think we talked a lot about the film. It’s difficult to describe what it is. I’m sure it’s difficult to understand what it is. But I wanted to ask you, do you think there is a place for artists that are interested in the unexplainable, but honestly spiritual realm? Do you think there is a place for those types of artists in the art-world today?

K: Well, that’s a tough question.

M: I’m trying to figure it out for myself. So I’m using this opportunity to ask you.

K: I think we both are trying to figure that out. I guess what I can say is that I hope there is.

M: Me too.

K: But I also, maybe because I’ve been seeking it out, but I have noticed a slight shift toward these concerns lately, or maybe a return to these concerns. I don’t know if that has to do with the turning over of the economy and a desire for more primal material… But I have had a hint that it might be possible for artists to operate in this field. The other way I would answer that is that I am interested in promoting spirituality and mysticism as topics of concern, not just for the sake of my work, but for the sake of the subject itself.

M: Totally. Let me find this question because I worked on how I phrased it. Where the fuck is the question? Whatever I can’t find it. I think I crossed it out. I can’t find it on my list, but for you, how do you, in your fantasy world, how do you see the art-world functioning? (Perfect that these trucks are going by at this moment in the tape) But in an ideal world, how does the art-world function? I’m sure Casey won’t put this into the interview.

K: I hope not, because I don’t know how to answer that question.

M: I really worded it really good. We can skip it if you don’t like it, it’s fine. I just thought it was interesting because I think about it all the time. Like how should it function and… You don’t have to answer that question. I know it’s a difficult question – but I thought it would be good to ask a difficult questions.

K: I think about that as well. I’ve had feelings that you could re-engineer the system as a set of values, beliefs, or rituals rather than things. If there was some way to subtract the actual stuff out of the equation, and replace it with bigger issues, I think it would be quite beneficial. How that happens, and how art then functions as monetary support for creativity – I don’t know. It sounds lofty to say, but I do fantasize that there is some better to way to engage in and with art.

M: Well, my frustration is just that of course people benefit from selling objects and doing things and having exhibitions, but its like when I was reading Joseph Campbell and thinking about the role of the artist in society, I was like, man, this isn’t even our world. This has nothing to do with you and me and you know the people we went to school with – people are trying to make a living, or they are just trying to get to the studio to do their thing. I’m trying to say that in your fantasy world, you know what I mean, in your most insane fantasy, how does it work? For me in my fantasy world it’s… I agree with you. I wouldn’t use the world values – it’s definitely not about the plastic, but it’s about the immaterial. A little immaterial would be great for the NY art-world.

K: For people in general.

M: Exactly. For people in general. I know you and I aren’t out at parties trying to spread our gospel. But I feel like that would be our gospel. We’re about the immaterial even if you’re making videos, and I’m trying to do whatever I do. But it’s not about check me out, I’m on coke.

K: No it’s, check me out I’m drinking ayahuasca.

M: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. I mean it’s cliché, and I’m sure there’s no great word for it, for New Age, but I feel like art really missed the boat. I guess culture in general missed the boat. People could be interested in the immaterial, unexplainable, indescribable, and the un-everything. And maybe it would be different.

K: That’s a zinger.

M: It’s our collective interest.

K: For me, even just pushing a little bit outside of what is the normal routine in the studio by getting involved in narrative film, is an attempt to move outside of the expected art behavior. But also, maybe I’m trying to see if there is another, better arena for these ideas than the art one.

M: Totally. We’re going over a half an hour – but I think it’s good for you and me anyway. You have a little bit of time to get to your book club anyway. (laugh). I was curious, I know you’ve been doing a little bit of music recently. I was curious if for you there was a difference between you making a track, making an object, or making a film?

K: Well, the thing is, the audio work that I have done recently is part of the video. So the videos acts as an…

M: Umbrella. It informs all of the weird decisions. You can plug it all in.

K: Maybe it doesn’t inform them. It allows the weird decisions.

M: It facilitates all your decision making. Because it’s time-based, and visual, and audio, you could make an object, put it in your movie, make a track put it on your movie…

K: Yes, but the whole thing with the media aspect of this stuff, the video and audio, has been challenging because there is a learning curve – and especially so with audio because I am so unfamiliar with making music even fundamentally – I’ve had to fake my way through playing and singing – using technology to help me do those things.

M: But you kind of get off on that, the technology.

K. I do.

M: I only have a couple more questions. One maybe totally irrelevant. But most people don’t know about your experience with rave culture. I don’t know. I think it’s, like, when I think rave culture I think Terrence McKenna. Maybe not that many people know that about you, but your were not that far from Chicago, I wasn’t in Milwaukee, and I have no idea, but I’m sure it had a big rave scene and you were a part of that, and do you think that had any influence on your growth? I know it’s like 15 years ago…

K: It’s a somewhat embarrassing subject but I’m happy to talk about it…

M: Only because you’ve had a couple drinks?

K: I think you’re right. When I was in high school, I had spent a little time in London, where the rave culture was in full blossom, and shortly after returning to the Midwest, the scene was just budding in Chicago and the coasts of course. And Milwaukee had it’s own thing starting as well. My involvement with rave culture, led me to people like Terrence McKenna and thinkers who came out of the Timothy Leary tradition of promoting psychedelic mindsets, but who carried those ideas into all the things that were exciting at that time – cyber culture, the New Age, etc. So not only was I reading these people, but I was participating in this counter culture that promoted it and I thought a lot about the potential of these ideas. I mean, the first time I heard of ayahuasca was reading McKenna’s Amazonian adventures as a sixteen-year-old on my mothers couch. Then going off to art school, I for some reason let all that go as important part of my life. And it just got shelved at that point.

M: There were different interests. There was identity politics… Not that we did that, but I mean…

K: Sure.  And, for whatever reason, in the last years, these subjects, that I was introduced to then, resurfaced, and became something that I missed as part of my experience.

M: Like a comfort food. Like the Beastie Boys, the same way when they made Paul’s Boutique, they went back to their funky roots, all the shit they listened to growing up. I think about it for us that way. I mean I wasn’t a rave culture dude… but…

K: Well, what I’ve discovered now, in reconnecting with these subjects, is that, while all the same problems exist with them today, I’m convinced that there is a plethora of untapped knowledge and uncharted territory to discover in this field. And this domain is the closest one aligned with what I am concerned with as person and artist.


Links to Karsten Krejcarek and Matthew Ronay