David Horvitz Interview by Regine Ehleiter

One week before the open­ing of his solo exhib­i­tion ‘At Night They Leave Their Cen­tury I met Dav­id Hor­vitz at Chert in Ber­lin. Over cup of green tea and some schnapps we dis­cussed his plans to install an under­ground gal­lery inside Chert, best ways to syn­chron­ize slide pro­ject­ors and food mar­kets in Riga, where we had first met at an open­ing some months ago. For this inter­view on Artzines​.de we talked about his latest pub­lic­a­tion, ‘Water­col­ors’, which will be presen­ted togeth­er with Nat­alie Häusler at Motto on Sat­urday, Janu­ary 12th, 2013, as well as three oth­er recent pub­lish­ing pro­jects…

Regine: Dav­id, you are based in New York City but for your exhib­i­tion at Chert, the gal­lery behind Motto in Kreuzberg, you have spent quite some time in Ber­lin now. Look­ing at the self-pub­lish­ing scenes in both cit­ies, what is most strik­ingly dif­fer­ent for you?

Dav­id: To be hon­est, I feel I am part of an inter­na­tion­al scene. Though inter­na­tion­al seems to be the wrong word to use, it seems to evoke some scene of jet-set­ters. I mean a com­munity of friends that lives in vari­ous cit­ies around the world. If I do some­thing with Fil­lip or New Doc­u­ments, I’m work­ing with my friends in Van­couver and San Fran­cisco, though I may be in NY, or who knows where I am… I may print a poster in NY, but then it goes to Ooga Booga in Los Angeles, and to Motto, and to Prin­ted Mat­ter. So for the com­munity I feel I am apart of, I don’t think about geo­graphy. In regards to Ber­lin and New York, I feel sim­ul­tan­eously apart of Prin­ted Mat­ter and Motto, wherever I am, and wherever I am I am prob­ably in com­mu­nic­a­tion with both of them at that time. So it’s like I’m not there. So for me, the only dif­fer­ence is the dif­fer­ences of the cit­ies them­selves.

Dav­id Hor­vitz at the book launch of ‘Sad Depressed People’ that took place inside a Wal­mart. · Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2012

R: I agree with you. The cit­ies or places of pro­duc­tion are some­how becom­ing less import­ant, par­tic­u­larly as many of these pub­lic­a­tions now travel very far, to places we some­times would have nev­er expec­ted to find them in. But you also men­tioned anoth­er very inter­est­ing aspect: col­lab­or­a­tions. The book that you are launch­ing at Motto on Sat­urday is a col­lab­or­a­tion with the artist Nat­alie Häusler. Tell me a bit more about the book, and how you two decided to work togeth­er.

D: This book is a per­fect example of what we are talk­ing about because Nat­alie and I live in dif­fer­ent cit­ies. Nat­alie has a show open­ing on Fri­day at Sup­por­tico Lopez. My show was actu­ally sup­posed to be in Decem­ber, but I moved it to Janu­ary so that it can be syn­chron­ized with Natalie’s. So Nat­alie has a show, and a day later is my show, and since Chert is behind Motto, the book is launched the same night as the open­ing. The book is very weird for me to make, which makes me some­what a little excited – you should always be doing some­thing that makes you a little uncom­fort­able…

Por­trait of Nat­alie Häusler. · Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2012

When looked at it quickly, it looks like a book of water­col­ors. But if you know any­thing about my prac­tice, I am not a paint­er. Over a year ago I decided to try to teach myself how to draw, which lead me to try to learn how to water­col­or. I didn’t study art as an under­gradu­ate, so I nev­er took basic art courses. Nat­alie was in New York at the time, and she decided to give me some point­ers. One of my first les­sons from her was behind the Met in Cent­ral Park. We were try­ing – I mean, I was try­ing – to draw a tree.

Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2012

When she went back to Ger­many we developed an almost daily prac­tice of exchan­ging images over email. Mostly they were draw­ings or water­col­ors fin­ished only seconds before they were sent. Some­times they were of things we were look­ing at. A Courbet paint­ing in Ber­lin. A Van Gogh draw­ing in Wash­ing­ton DC. This was nev­er inten­ded to be some­thing pub­lic, we just star­ted it, and it just developed. It was some­thing two friends do that hap­pens on per­son­al time, and takes up space in per­son­al medi­ums like the email, the text, etc.

Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2012

At one point we thought of doing a book. The first ques­tion would be why to even make this pub­lic? This would be weird if all of a sud­den I just made a water­col­or book out of the blue… But when we thought about it, there was some­thing nice there. Since it took place over a year with no real reas­on to exist, no pro­duc­tion dead­lines, there was this nice per­son­al com­mit­ment that became appar­ent. And it does make sense with oth­er of my pro­jects. It isn’t just about these water­col­ors…

It is very much about the com­mu­nic­a­tion, and the tech­no­logy of that com­mu­nic­a­tion. It is about the low res­ol­u­tion digit­al image taken with a cell phone that is poor in qual­ity, yet because of its size, it can cir­cu­late fast. If I’m online  the same time Nat­alie sends me some­thing, I can ima­gine that she just did it, because the com­mu­nic­a­tion is prac­tic­ally instant­an­eous. Nat­alie might tell me to shut up, that it’s not just about bad digit­al images, that the water­col­ors are actu­ally good. Maybe they are… And that’s some­thing else inter­est­ing I like about this, that with­in the book itself, there are mul­tiple per­spect­ives about the very mean­ing of it… In the end for me it’s about art and friend­ship.

Nat­alie Häusler design­ing the book ‘Water­col­ors’. · Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2012

R: Dav­id, this was very nicely put. I was temp­ted for a second to end the inter­view here with ‘art’ and ‘friend­ship’. But I also want to talk to you about some of your oth­er recent pub­lish­ing pro­jects. Let’s start with a book you did togeth­er with Ed Steck, ‘Pub­lic Access’. It refers to a pro­ject of the same name. About exactly one year ago you took pic­tures of your­self in front of dif­fer­ent Amer­ic­an coasts and uploaded them onto Wiki­pe­dia. Many of them, I think, have been removed again. Is this book an attempt to pre­serve these images and doc­u­ment what happened in the pro­ject?

D: This is actu­ally the second ver­sion of the Pub­lic Access book. The first one is still avail­able for down­load on Rhizome. The pro­ject ini­tially came out of an exhib­i­tion at SF Cam­er­a­work. The exhib­i­tion was about writers and pho­to­graphs. My friend Ed is a writer from Pitt­s­burgh, and I wanted to do some­thing with him. But we didn’t really do a col­lab­or­a­tion, we just did two works we would nor­mally do in our own prac­tice, with some related themes, and put them togeth­er. So when you read Ed’s text, it’s his own text, and isn’t about my pro­ject. Or my pro­ject isn’t about his text. But they are bound togeth­er (lit­er­ally) and will stay togeth­er when Pub­lic Access takes on new forms.

Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2013

The book was nev­er really to pre­serve any­thing, but more of a doc­u­ment­ing of the pro­ject at cer­tain moments. There was no final end to the pro­ject. I put the images online, and then things happened… They cir­cu­lated, they were deleted, they were sourced, con­ver­sa­tions emerged, etc… So when new things hap­pen, they can get repack­aged and put into the pro­ject. And the book is the per­fect way to do it.

R: The pro­ject is still ongo­ing, is it?

D: Yes, I recently did a new set of images for a pro­ject by Laurel Ptak and Marysia Lewan­dowska. I re-did ‘Pub­lic Access’ on the East Coast, but instead of going to pub­lic beaches, all the pho­to­graphs were made on private prop­erty. So in a sense, they are all pho­to­graph­ic evid­ence of my own tres­passings. Most of California’s coast line is pub­lic prop­erty, and must have pub­lic access­ib­il­ity, which is where the name Pub­lic Access came from. Which was also a play on online com­mons, such as Wiki­pe­dia, which is a data­base of pub­lic texts and images. So in the new series, in a sense, it is private prop­erty that is returned to the – digit­al – pub­lic. When grow­ing up in Cali­for­nia I used to watch the sun­set in Palos Verdes on land that was being developed, usu­ally land on cliffs, above the pub­lic coast, know­ing that soon that vant­age point would become lost.

A view from the Palos Verdes Pen­in­sula coast from San Pedro, South­ern Cali­for­nia. Source: Wiki­pe­dia

R: That’s a shame. At least, there is a pic­ture of you on Palos Verdes still up on Wiki­pe­dia. It is prob­ably the first image that most people will see, if they google the place. And as 99% of these people will nev­er actu­ally vis­it Palos Verdes, it becomes cru­cial in how they envi­sion the pen­in­sula. So, after this pro­ject, which is to do with regain­ing access to images of the pub­lic sphere, maybe this more polit­ic­al aspect of your work brings us to the next book. It con­tains seeds from Honey Locust trees in Zuc­cotti park, the place where the Occupy Wall Street move­ment star­ted in 2011.

At Occupy Wall Street in Zuc­cotti park, New York City. · Photo: Marta Curry, 2011

R: What was the atmo­sphere like back then?

D: There was an amaz­ing energy there that I had nev­er wit­nessed before. At one point I found myself there almost every­day, rid­ing my bike over from Brook­lyn. And I was even eat­ing din­ner there quite often. They had so much pizza. In the US we have trees called Moon Trees. There were seeds taken on one of the Moon voy­ages, and brought back down to Earth to be planted. So these trees, as seeds, have been up in out­er space. I like to think of the Occupy Wall Street seeds as sim­il­ar, as seeds from trees that bore wit­ness to cer­tain events, who carry that memory and energy in them. Trees are quite amaz­ing and beau­ti­ful. They just sit there and grow in time.

Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2013

R: So, tell me a bit more about the Honey Locus tree seeds that you added into the book. You drilled holes into the pages and put the seeds in there?

D: I took them out of the pods, and it’s just the seeds. So they are pretty hard, and just wait­ing for the right con­di­tions to ger­min­ate. Honey Locust seeds are dis­trib­uted by anim­als. You need anim­als to eat and digest the pods. So, for these seeds, you either have to eat them and col­lect them from your toi­let before you plant them! Or, boil them or scratch off the out­er lay­er. All plants have evolved to have dif­fer­ent seed dis­tri­bu­tion meth­ods. Do you ever look up in the sky in Ber­lin and see the Linden Tree seeds fly­ing across the air like little heli­copters? Amaz­ing… Wind dis­tri­bu­tion… Through the air, like cell sig­nals and radio waves…

Photo: Dav­id Hor­vitz, 2013

R: That’s beau­ti­ful. But before we both get com­pletely car­ried away, let’s talk about one more book that you recently did. It is called ‘How to Shoplift Books’. Does it actu­ally com­prise of instruc­tions to shoplift­ing books?

D: The ›How to Shoplift Books,‹ which is com­ing out on Auto­mat­ic Books in Italy, and may also be out on Sat­urday, came out of an event I did at the NY Art Book Fair. It was in the classroom series, which is organ­ized by Dav­id Seni­or. Dav­id made it the last event of the fair because the sub­ject mat­ter could be per­ceived as a little ill suited for the fair. So it turned into a cas­u­al con­ver­sa­tion with drinks cel­eb­rat­ing the end of the fair. We went around talk­ing about book steal­ing stor­ies, or not steal­ing, from our past. We even talked about how does one steal a book that is sold online, which we dis­covered was pretty easy, but I won’t men­tion it here.

Screen­shot of David’s laptop.

But I don’t want people to be mad at me for bring­ing up this sub­ject, espe­cially since many of these people are my friends! But I did want to bring up some­thing that many of us can share stor­ies about… Most of my friends grow­ing up were all book thieves. Not from small stores, but from big box chain stores.

Four ways to shoplift books.

R: So how many ways to steal book did you assemble in the book?

D: The book that is com­ing out is about 80 dif­fer­ent ways to steal books. Some are actu­ally real, and some I’ve even used, but many are just funny. It’s sup­posed to be funny. Maybe people would steal this book, which I wouldn’t care so much about. But the pub­lish­er and the store prob­ably would, so don’t do it! But, if you see me selling my per­son­al cop­ies, go ahead and try… See if you are any good… I know all the tricks.