For the 20th aniversary issue of Dazed and Confused, out now, I interviewed some of Dazed’s past cover stars. Two of the people I was most excited to talk to–obvs–were Harmony Korine and Dan Colen, because I am a total mega fans of both of theirs. Above is a video of me interviewing them (although you can’t actually see me–boring!) and below are the interviews. I asked them if they had ever made out but they didn’t seem to want to talk about it for some reason…FYI: In the early 2000s, Dan Colen exploded onto the New York art scene, making provocative artwork alongside artist BFFs like Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow. Ten years and a solo show at Gagosian Gallery later, he is one of the art world’s most prominent figures.
In an early interview with curator Neville Wakefield, you said that one of your aspirations was to create “portraits of god”. How does that statement resonate with you now?
Dan Colen: You know, I think that’s still what’s I’m trying to do. That’s funny, I never would have remembered that I said that. What I’m working on now is I’m making paintings with garbage, and I think about them as a way of incorporating the universe into my work, and into my decision making. Instead of me deciding what marks make it onto the canvas, I go out onto the streets and pick up pieces of garbage. And I see a parallel in that to the portraits of God statement. I don’t know if that really makes sense… God is a weird one. But I think of it as picking up things that the rest of the world leaves behind, or that God leaves behind, you could say.
Are you still making art for the same reasons you were ten years ago?
My reasons are pretty similar, but I have more confidence in them now, and I have a better understanding of what those reasons are. Having the power to touch people is a weird thing to believe in or talk about, especially when you’re young. But I’ve become less fearful of embracing the reasons behind why I make art, and I really believe this is the most that I can give to the world, and that it’s the best use of my energy, so whatever that’s worth…
How do you form that sort of self belief?
I don’t know how you form it, it’s weird. And that whole thing people say that you’re “born an artist”–whatever the fuck that is–well, I don’t really talk about that too much, but I think whatever “that” thing is that you’re born with might be that ability to generate confidence in something that there’s no basis to believe in. The ability to believe in something that essentially has no function.
I like that theory.
One thing that I feel has developed in the past ten years in terms of my relationship to my work, and art in general, is that what my practice is, at its most basic, is me searching for art: What is it? Where does it happen? Is it in a material, in an artist, in a viewer? Is it in a relationship between two of those things? And what I feel stronger and stronger about is that where it starts, and what is most important to the art having a power, is the artist’s belief in it. So it doesn’t matter what I do, it just matters that I have confidence in it. It’s like a priest and his God: the more he believes in it, the more powerful and real it is to his congregation.
So if you call something art, then it’s art, as long as you believe in it?
Yeah. So basically all that I do is point at something and say “art”. That’s what my job is. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to make the thing that I point at, but that’s the nature of it.
You say art has no function, but do you also think that art can change the world?
Yeah, I think art can change the world, but the starting point is that art has no function. What’s cool about art is that people have decided to agree on this thing that we are going to maintain over a long period of time. We collectively decide that we are going to value this thing–whether it’s a soda can, or a painting, or whatever–and we are going to make sure that this thing still looks like this in 1000 years. There is value in that, and if something preserved and cared for so intensely, then it has to transmit some sort of energy to the people who come in contact with it.
So in a way making art is about being immortal.
Yeah, which brings us back to the portraits of God thing. But there’s a paradox in that also because a lot of my stuff is about decay, and so is being human. Much of my art is about me searching to escape my ego, but the whole thing is built on my ego, which is kind of ridiculous. There’s always going to be a massive paradox, no matter what tree you’re barking up.
What do you think happens after you die?
Shit, I don’t really feel one way or another. What do you think happen?
I guess I think nothing happens, but I realize that sounds depressing.
I’d say I don’t have an opinion on that. We will see. I like that question though.
It’s very “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”
Ha. Yes, it is.
Do you have plans for the near future?
I like to kick a ball and see where it lands rather than predicting what direction it’s going to go in. I don’t even really like to aim. Things develop in much more interesting ways than our imaginations can dream up. So yeah, I have no clue.
Your first Dazed cover was in 1998, alongside the release of your directorial debut, Gummo. Any memories from the shoot?
Harmony Korine: It was my first trip to London. I stayed with Jefferson – they were running the magazine out of his apartment back then. I showed up for the shoot super high, and I was running around the studio writing on the walls with a magic marker, and they were taking pictures. I was trying to mess the place up. Dazed was actually the first magazine cover I was ever on.
In the interview you talked about your approach to filmmaking as being a ‘mistakist art form.’ You said: “What I mean by mistakist is almost like anti-Hitchcock. When Hitchcock would make a film, before he made it, it was finished. When I make a film, the script is the script and that’s the bare bones and it’s dead. All the accidents, all the life that come to it, that’s the film.” Do you still believe this?
A large portion of what I said there is still true. I called it mistakism because I liked what would come out in the mistakes. I liked when things got awkward, and I saw a beauty in the randomness. Looking through the lens of a camera can feel like witnessing a chemical reaction, and I liked the idea of documenting the explosion. I still subscribe to that in some ways.
What was most important to you at that time in your life?
Crashing cars, smoking dope, robbing convenient stores and boning chicks.
In your films, as well as in the media, you seem to play with truth and lies. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction.
It’s all true, and none of it is true. What’s true about me or what’s made up in my movies, it’s all the same, and it’s perfect. The ultimate truth is boring, and it doesn’t mean anything anyway.
How have you seen the indie film scene change since the mid 90s?
It’s never been more democratic than it is now. It’s never been easier to get things out there, but it’s always the same as far as how many people at any one given time are actually making work that’s interesting, and it’s never all that many people. Most of it is just noise
Has your approach to filmmaking changed over the years?
When I was a kid I only ever wanted to do one thing, and I never wanted to be told what to do. I feel the same way now that I did when I was 14 making little videos on VHS. I try to tap into that same place, to not let life get too confusing, and just kind of go with it and not question things too much. I just like to make things. I enjoy the process of writing, and making films and artworks–it’s all sort of the same thing to me. The whole thing is that you just make a film and you do what it takes to get it done. I don’t really worry about anything. I just always feel like it’s all going to be perfect, like it’s written in the cards.
Your life sounds stress free.
It kind of is. Like, I always try to take advantage of things; if an opportunity presents itself in any form, it’s nice to do something with it. Life goes by so quickly so I always want to make everything entertaining. I just want to blow it up, just eat it up, lick on it. I’m a man on a mission, a possessed motherfucker.
What do you love about Dan Colen?
Dan is a really good friend of mine, and someone who inspires me. His work is incredibly beautiful. We’re making a book together at the moment. It might be called Pigs and Pigs and Pigs, but it might not.
Have you guys ever kissed?
Kissed… no. What do you think this is?
What do you foresee for yourself in the next 20 years?
The greatest of all time. I realize I’m on of the greatest that’s ever done what I do, so I just want to light it up, snort it down, lick it, love it. And I’ll probably start a rap career.