Radical Gestures? Alex Morrison and Mai-Thu Perret in
conversation, Anne Low and Andrew Bonacina, 2006

Q: In 'The Crystal Frontier' and 'Free Room' very particular
moments from history have been identified: the utopian
impulse encapsulated within the radical communities of the 1960s
and 1970s, and the revolutionary youth upheaval of 1968.
The commonality of these two moments lies in an inherent
desire to re-imagine society, its structure and potential. In
both of these projects, you have brought these moments into
a contemporary context despite the accepted failure of these
endeavors. What relevance do you feel these moments have
for our current situation, and how do your projects address
the repercussions of these failed ideologies.

A: The relevence as pertains to our current situation would
be that I chose to deal with notions of nostalgia and the
re-contextualisation of past events, of making past wrongs
right. I used the motif of collage to illustrate a sort of
piecing together of our immersive image culture in the face
of a political and cultural climate that uses history or
nostalgia as an authenticating device. Ah, the good old days,
the good old days…

Think of how a story is pitched to a film producer; the
writer might propose a contemporary narrative conflict, say
reproductive rights, and explore those issues within a
historical costume drama. In the case of Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake”
we have a 1950’s costume drama infused with issues not
normally associated with that time period. An uncanny
effect is produced. Similarily, the way I dressed the set in Free
Room, as a contemporary dorm room setting yet kept most of
the dated dialogue was an attempt to illustrate these
thematic and aesthetic collisions. In Spielburg’s “Saving Private
Ryan” we have the WWII film genre updated with contemporary
visual effects, editing and camera work. One might say that
it’s a WWII film shot in the style of a Vietnam war film
thus it is lent a gritty realism. While the realism in the case
of the Vietnam film is present as a sort of critique of
that war or war in general by liberal Hollywood (Coppola,
Stone, Kubrick), the realism of “Saving Private Ryan” is a
device used to garner sympathy for a whole generation of people’s
struggle to articulate the horrors of what most would
consider a just war. At the close of WWII film was still
considered entertainment or propaganda depending on your view. It
didn’t take on the custodial duties that is does today. Now
we have genres like “Documentary Fiction”. Perhaps the
realist impulse these days is part of the “desire to re-imagine

“…if” was released in a more parrallel fashion to the events
it was meaning to reflect. It was considered quite prescient
and was rewarded in kind. It is interesting that number,
1968, has come to signify a whole generation and it’s
struggle or as in Mai-Thu’s reference it’s “failure”. I sought
to create a work that would illustrate this sort of
phenomenom where events are dramatised quite soon after they have
taken place. The narrativization of tragic events, say 9/11,
have a placebic effect. The film event becomes the sight of
collective mourning. If, with it’s disassociatve montage
and surrealistic quality possessed the perfect placebic

The protagonists of my work have internalised this
“failure” . The are stuck in a loop, forever arranging and re-
arranging their subjectivity, in hope of constructing a cohesive
interiority. I meant to imply a sort of schizoid identity
crisis, the deck is being shuffled and re-shuffled. They are
always regrouping. As Mai-Thu says; “the time is always
now” and there is always tommorrow. The notion implied in
Conservatism is that there was once in some dim and distant
past a utopian moment of stabiltiy that with the right
balance could be preserved or rekindled. I could go on to say
that the traditional Left is guilty of the same sentiment.

Q: You both take creative license with moments that have
become accessible in their status of being in the past. The act
of writing and its capacity to slip between fact and
fiction features prominently in both of your practices. In what
ways do you make use of this slippage in order to question
notions of subjectivity and authorship?

A: I think that we use this “slippage” in our everyday
lives. It can’t be avoided. The act of navigating the self
through society forces one to constantly slip between fact and
fiction. We live through our projections, which in turn
illuminate and drive our will towards what we desire in the
immediate and distant future. Eternal romantics, we are forever
looking for what was lost, but never knowing what was lost
in the first place. In turn, we are in a constant drive to
authenticate everything that might help to inform our
current narrative and at the same time we practice a sort of
erasure. We enact an argument over the interpretation of past
events and their authenticity. In a work like “Every House
I’ve Ever Lived In Drawn From Memory” or “The Patterer’s
Diary” I sought to illustrate these discrepencies. Both works
attempt to map and articulate an individual’s past and at
the same time explore critically the biographical impulse.
They attempt to illustrate the mnemonic self in constant
flux and a building up and tearing down of the authentic self.

Q: The historical moments you have both identified
demonstrate two different reactions to the situation at the time:
abandoning the society which has become the cause of so much
discontent and establishing an alternative way of living,
or alternatively, attacking the situation by whatever means
necessary in order to affect change. Both of these could be
considered radical gestures that encapsulate the realisation
of human agency in times of disillusionment. How do your
projects question the possibility of radical gesture, both
in those past moments and today?

A: With Free Room I sought to question whether forms of
cultural production, say collage, were capable of carrying a
viable political critique. I have faith in both the forms of
direct action and cultural production and consider each form
to be viable and effective in practice. One in it’s
immediacy and the other in it’s more subtle effect upon thought
and dialogue. One might say that today, the importance put on
direct action’s thorough documentation and the editing and
production of it as a media product (both for and against
depending on whose side you’re on) pushes it further into
the realm of cultural production. The clear dichotomy
between these two forms and the political argument on the Left as
to which form is the authentic representation of the
movement is not so clear. The proponents of direct action’s
anticipation of their actions as “media events” and the lengths to
which they go to control their image’s dissemination
illustrates this.