WE DON’T NEED TO INTRODUCE ANDRES SERRANO: THE CONTEMPORARY ARTIST MADE HEADLINES WITH THE NOW WORLD-FAMOUS PICTURE, PISS CHRIST (1987), THAT WAS ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY AND DAMAGED ON VARIOUS OCCASIONS. WHAT REALLY HIDES BEHIND SERRANO’S ART? FIND OUT MORE READING THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW ON REDMILK.
How would you explain your art to a child?
I would start by showing my work to the child and asking if they had any questions. Children are curious and open by nature and it’s important to address their curiosity. The most important thing about art is that it makes you think and feel. It can inspire you and enlighten you. Children need inspiration and art is a tool that can help them develop their minds and their imaginations.
You do not define yourself as a photographer, yet you chose this medium to express yourself. Why?
I enrolled in the Brooklyn Museum Art school where I studied painting and sculpture when I was seventeen. After two years of art school I realized I couldn’t paint or sculpt the way I wanted to. I was also too young to afford a studio but I lived with a girl who had a camera so I started using Millie’s camera to take pictures. I always saw myself as an artist rather than as a photographer. After so many years of making photographs my art practice I’m locked into it. Someday, I’d like to do other things, film, sculpture, even advertising campaigns.
What does Christ mean to you?
I accept Christ as the son of God and my Savior. Being a Christian means believing in Christ and His teachings.
Don’t you think it’s too easy to get angry about the photo of a crucifix immersed in urine (Piss Christ) to shout “this is blasphemy?”
It’s easy to get angry about many things, particularly when there are people telling you to get angry. Anything, even the news, is subject to interpretation. It used to be that facts were facts, there was no need to question things that bore the semblance of reality. Nowadays, truth is in the eye of the beholder.
I visited your show in Brussels in summer 2016: the white space emphasized the power of the images. How did you create the set-up, or, how do you handle that part usually?
I usually leave the installation of my exhibitions to the galleries and museums that mount the exhibitions. They know their spaces and make curatorial decisions based on their knowledge and expertise. It’s a revelation for me to see my work interpreted that way.
When you created “Piss Christ” were you truly aware of the work of art you were creating?
When I created “Piss Christ” I did it like I do any other work. It made sense and was consistent with what I had been working on. It was not a work that stood out for me in the way “Milk/Blood” had. The reason why “Milk/Blood” was such a monumental and radical step for me was because it was a work unlike anything I had ever done or seen before. In my previous work and in most photographs, you have a person, a subject, an object, a background, a foreground, and perspective. In “Milk/Blood” I flattened out the picture plane and created works that were completely flat and abstract like “Milk,” “Blood,” and “Piss.” After making other abstract photographs using bodily fluids I decided to immerse an object in the fluids and return to representation. “Piss Christ” is the first Immersion and it was going back to some of the religious themes I had been working on before “Milk/Blood.”
How did the idea for “The Morgue” series come about? Tell me about the creative and bureaucratic steps you went through. What did you feel looking at the corpses?
I wanted to take pictures of John and Jane Does but found out it wasn’t so easy to get into a morgue so I gave up the idea. John Does and Jane Does are men and women who die without being identity. Some time later someone I knew told me she had a contact at a morgue for me. I met the man in charge of that morgue and he told me I could work there. I set up a studio and started photographing the dead as people rather than objects.
Is there a work of art from any other artist that makes you think: ‘I wish I made that’?
Yes, several of Marcel Duchamp’s pieces including his urinal and Mona Lisa. Duchamp is a hard act to follow.
Are the bodily fluids (“Body Fluids”) you utilized only yours? Why did you decide to use them?
I decided to use the bodily fluids to make photographs that looked like painting. They were life’s vital fluids and I used them like paint. It was an aesthetic decision as well as a conceptual one.
You took portraits of many famous people (Donald Trump, Snoop Dogg…) but also of the homeless (“Signs of the Times”), two opposite sides of society. Why?
Why not? If you’re going to look at society, you have to do it from many perspectives. It makes sense for me to look at America (and everything else) from all angles. Life, and art, is more interesting when it’s not one thing or another but a collection of things.
Is there anything you would never dare to do in your art? Do you set a ‘limit’ artistically?
I wouldn’t do something that I felt was bad, that is to say not up to my standards. In the course of being an artist, I’ve developed my language and my aesthetic so I do what’s constant with that vision. Everyone has their own muse and rhythm to follow and it’s your conscience that tells you what’s right for you and where to go.
Would you ever have imagined that your works could become “fashionable”? I refer to the collab with Supreme. How did it come up?
They asked me. I was very flattered when Supreme asked to use my images because they’re a great company, super cool and super hip. I felt the same way when Metallica asked to use my images for their albums, “Load” and “Reload.” It’s good to run with the best.
Why you do not use the social media, not even Instagram, that may be seen as a social medium for ‘images’?
I see enough of my images on the internet, sometimes I even see them on Pinterest. I don’t go looking for them, I just bump into them. I don’t look at Instagram. I prefer press to Instagram.
You are a musician: what is music for you and what is it that you perform better?
I’m not a musician though I did make a record with a band called “Blow up Hollywood.” You can’t be a musician, or anything else, if you don’t work hard at it. I perform better as Andres Serrano, the artist, than as anything else.
Can dichotomies like god-human, man-violence, man-death be considered the constant thread of your production?
Dichotomies, contradictions and conflicts abound in my work. Good, evil, rich, poor, sacred, profane. You can’t have one without the other.
You know when you are watching a terrifying or upsetting movie but cannot take your eyes off the screen? Often people react that way to your artwork. Why is that, in your opinion?
I would be flattered if they were. I didn’t know my work was so riveting. You go to the movies to be horrified and terrified because it’s entertainment. It’s entertainment because it’s not real. It’s the same thing that happens when you see a car crash and everyone looks. We look and unconsciously say “Thank God it’s not us.”
What are you working on right now?
You mean besides this interview? I’m working on a book on Cuba.
If you were not Andrés, who would you like to be?
When I was young I wanted to be Bob Dylan but back then, we all wanted to be Bob Dylan!
Photos courtesy of the artist and Nathalie Obadia Gallery
Official website www.andresserrano.org
A special thanks to Irina Movmyga