Lecture with Khristian Weeks
Thursday, November 7
Fulton Hall 111
Baltimore based artist, Khristian Weeks gives a lecture about his work. Who is Khristian Weeks?! Visit his website to see his work and check out the short video and interview below to learn more about him.
Sensing the Everyday: An Interview with Khristian Weeks
Khristian Weeks is an emerging artist and musician living and working in Baltimore. His work
sits at the juncture of many disciplines, such as music, installation, and performance. The
difficulty in situating his work in one particular genre speaks to the complexity and
unconventionality of what he does. Weeks’ work at first glance may seem like an incoherent
mess of sounds and sights, but it is actually a carefully choreographed chance operation where
composition is formed through a collaborative relationship between artist and phenomena. To
better understand his work, Elizabeth Kauffman posed the following questions to Khristian
Weeks about his history, influences, process, and goals.
Elizabeth Kauffman: How has your personal history influenced your current art practice?
Khristian Weeks: In college I took a few classes in “Non-Western Music”, South Indian
Classical, Persian Classical, and we had a TA that had just returned from a long musicological
stay with North American Indians in New Mexico. I remember the TA telling us about his
discussions with the elder of the community. The TA would ask a question about a specific
musical aspect of a ritual dance or event, and in trying to answer the question the elder would
invariably end up speaking about life and more general or fundamental things than those specific
to “music”. That had a big influence on me and my thinking. Music, Art, and other concepts are
really abstractions of a more mundane reality. When I’m able to accept and appreciate many
experiences at once—experiences that I might normally distinguish between—I am more free,
truly alive, and capable of seeing and experiencing life as it is. There are sounds, sights, feelings,
etc. and they are wonderful all together, without having to “understand” them or even “name”
them as separate entities. In other words, all things are connected. Try as we might to untangle
and make those “things” separate, we just end up killing them or perverting them.
I’ve spent a lot of time in and on public transportation, particularly subways. Long ago I became
aware of how powerfully affected I am in such situations. While sometimes the experiences
involve interacting (speaking, helping, etc.) with people, mostly they involve watching people in
their interactions. Greetings, goodbyes, the kindness of strangers, dysfunction and mental
illnesses, everything has a very profound effect on me.
I attended at an event once at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in NYC, which is arguably
the largest cathedral in the world. The space is cavernous with over 200 ft. high ceilings. The
event was attended by several dozen people, not to mention many visitors to the cathedral
walking around. There is a constant din in such a place, made up of the long reverberations and
echos of various hushed speech and movements of people, doors, furniture, etc. As the event
was commencing it became clear that the PA system was not working. I was seated about 50
yards from the podium where the speakers were addressing the congregants. There was muffled,
distant sounding speech. There was a thick atmosphere of growing frustration from the
congregants around me whose expectations were not being met from not being able to hear the
speakers. I just sat there spellbound by the beautiful sounds of the huge space, completely
uninterested in fulfilling those human expectations, combined with the palpable air of frustration
in the congregants, and the unconcerned milling about of the visitors. The experience was very
interesting to me and I think it has a lot to do with how I often approach setting up a performance
EK: What artists, musicians, and/ or thinkers have heavily influenced you and your
KW: Miles Davis – I vividly remember reading the Miles Davis Autobiography on my lunch
break at the child care center. His relentless moving forward into new and non-commercial
aesthetic territory along with a keen awareness and criticism of those that remain in a traditional
practice, repeating and trivializing the past, this was a revelation for me. Also important, in
addition to his playing and composing is how he surrounded himself with the youngest, most
progressive musicians he could find. He created powerful creative situations that transcended his
individual efforts. He seemed more interested in the big picture, the whole experience. I first
learned of Miles when I played Jazz, but by the time I read the autobiography I had grown bored
with playing it. I still love to listen to much of his music, and in regard to his ideas, I have to
consider him an influence, even now.
John Cage – While I knew of him, and knew and admired his early to mid-period pieces (string
quartet in four parts, music of changes) it wasn’t until I really read his writings that his immense
influence on me—and on everyone else too—became apparent. Just the so-called silent piece
(4’33”) does it for me: pure genius! Seems that it changed everything from then on. He is too big
of an influence on me to mention it all, but I think most influentially was his lack of concern with
doing things “correctly” based on external cultural practice. There is beauty all around us,
sometimes people are responsible for “making” it, but often it’s already there. And, not
necessarily related to what I’ve just spoken about, he said this: “is there a greater hero than the
least plant that grows?”
Fishli and Weiss – I saw a show of theirs at the ICA in Boston in the early 90s. I was not yet
aware that I would eventually move into visually-orientated work, (I was still thinking of myself
as a “composer”), but the show was deeply influential to my future practice. Too many specific
works to mention, but their clever sense of humor, use of the “everyday” and mundane, and my
projection of them and their aesthetic as humble, underdog personas was exactly what I needed
Wabi-Sabi – This is a Japanese aesthetic principle with roots in Zen Buddhist practice.
Basically it refers to the appreciation of things either coming into existence or going out of
existence. It favors the beauty found in things that are imperfect, earthy, humble, and
impermanent, as well as the sadness accompanied by nostalgia or the fading away of things.
When I discovered this concept for myself it resonated very strongly with how I approached the
world aesthetically and psychologically.
John Dewey (Art As Experience) – While I’ve not read the entire book, just the title and this
quote are very meaningful to me: “The work of the artist is to build an experience that will be
experienced aesthetically.” There is much in the book that also had a powerful influence on
Allan Kaprow, another artist whose works, ideas, and writings are important to me. Here is a
mash-up of quotes by Kaprow that sum up his influence:
“The line between the Happening and daily life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as
possible….the problem with artlike art, or even doses of artlike art that still linger in lifelike art,
is that it overemphasizes the discourse within art…lifelike art makers’ principal dialogue is not
with art but everything else, one event suggesting another.”
EK: How have things outside of art & music affected what you create?
KW: While taking a break from college I found a job working with children, infants specifically.
I had been fascinated with babies for as long as I could remember, and as I tried to think of what
I might do as a “day job” to earn some money I came across several “Infant Care Giver”
positions in the want ads. I decided to apply to one, and after an interview I was rejected, perhaps
because I was a male, and without experience…who knows. So I tried another place and they
hired me. I found myself in the company of a half dozen children under the age of one. It was
truly awe-inspiring! Of course there’s the adorable factor, but then there’s the day-to-day
experience of observing, nurturing, feeding, changing diapers and much playing. To watch a
child develop—figuring out how to move and roll over, then to sit up, to eat solid food, then to
creep and crawl, then learn to walk, and talk—this is a miraculous turn of events. And it all
happens within the span of about a year. Anyway, in my on the job training I was instructed
almost immediately that a best practice is to provide a “sensory rich environment”, for infants,
but really for all children, especially in the first 5 years of life. Providing such an environment
resonated with how I experienced life already. None of this was really conscious to me at first,
but while doing this kind of work each day in conjunction with what I was reading and otherwise
discovering for myself intellectually and artistically has a great deal to do with what I do in my
creative practice now. So perhaps one of my intensions is to provide an audience with, or to
make the audience aware of, a sensory rich environment, and not just in what I present to them,
but more importantly what is all around us all of the time, everywhere.
EK: How do you choose your materials?
KW: It depends on how formed the idea is for the piece I am undertaking. Sometimes I make
something abstractly (in my head) and then gather together the materials to realize it. Other
times I will just experiment with what’s at hand. A major interest of mine is in phenomena. I will
use materials, such as light, liquid, and a source of movement (motors, fans, magnetism, etc),
that lead to the production of a particular phenomena. Additionally, and as mentioned, I am
interested in an experience. To that end, the space where the experience takes place is important,
and in particular the character of the space as well as the things that are already there.
EK: Can you explain the use of chance operations in your work?
KW: While my original understanding of Chance (Operations) comes from Cage and extends to
Brecht, Kaprow, and others, my work seems to be more in line with something I read in a book
by Walter Benn Michaels (“Action and Accident: Photography and Writing”), “The replacement
of the desire to do something with the desire to see what will happen.” So chance for me has a
two-fold use: 1) manifesting in the establishment of a field of silence/inactivity (unintentional
sound/activity) which I use in a performance context; 2) as the unpredictability that occurs within
in limited range of variables, such as that of the movement of a region of water, it is constantly
changing yet always the same.
EK: When attempting to create a particular environment and/or experience what are your
main concerns related to the audience? Or in other words, what do you hope for the
audience to experience as a result of your work?
KW: The first thing that comes into my head to say is: themselves. And there’s truth in that, but
it’s also trite and even pretentious sounding, not to mention incomplete. The next thing that pops
in is to say: myself. Perhaps this falls into the traditional paradigm of the “artist” expressing their
self. I attempt to find a balance between these two concepts, as well as other specifics relating to
aesthetics. I wish to share—in general through the whole of the experience, and specifically
through particular phenomena that I present—aspect of everyday sensory perception that are
worthy of our attention. To invite mindfulness.
The majority of my work has taken place in a performance context, typically at venues that cater
to experimental “music”. So what I enjoy attempting to do is to keep the audience unclear as to
what they are to be paying attention to – what to hear? what to see? what is he doing? has it
Muscian, Erik Schoster from Milwaukee, wrote the following in an essay about my work earlier
this year that may better describe what an audience member might experience at a performance
of mine, and I think it does get at what I aspire to present:
“The result of this confusion is hard to describe: there’s a gentle onslaught of too much to pay attention to and no formal demarcation of a narrative to guide you through it. So you just pay attention to everything. The space becomes alive in every sense. It doesn’t matter so much anymore if Khristian is carefully encouraging an oscillating fan to blow a swinging laser light just so through a baggie of glass beads – if things go well, the result is mindfulness. The performance continues long after everything has been torn down and you head home. It has a way of framing everything. The lights turn on and you look around as long as you care to – or until you’re forcefully distracted and revert to a routine, linear focus. Unless you’re a monk or something.” *