You have this appreciation for these curious things, and that appreciation could’ve been expressed in many mediums that are more convenient. You could’ve been a writer or a photographer or just stuck to filmmaking. But instead it’s expressed through this very inventive academic writing, and this questioning of what authority a museum has, and why—
Why a museum?
Yeah, or did it feel like you had no choice?
I don’t know that I could say that it felt like I had no choice, but when that choice presented itself, it was an enormous relief. Because I’d always been looking for that, but it took decades to find it. I had begun in natural sciences in college, but then I went on and did filmmaking, and so I was torn between these two worlds—the world of natural science and the just amazing wonders, the kind of incomprehensible wonders, of all of that; and then [the world of] display and putting things into the world and being able to have an impact on people with what you put into the world. I knew I really loved that as well. So I really, really struggled with that [dichotomy] for decades, and I tried all kinds of things and could never really find anything that felt right until one day it dawned on me, like being run over by a freight train, that what I wanted to do was have a museum.
Do you ever feel like there is nothing left out there that could excite you, or that there is a shortage of things worth marveling at?
[Laughs] Completely the opposite. I have never even had that thought. That thought has never formulated in my mind. [Laughs some more]
That’s very reassuring! I mean, I am a generally negative person, and I have to have a lot of energy to get my head to a place where I can keep an eye out for something that might be beautiful or might spark my curiosity. I have no doubt that there are amazing things in the world, but often my pessimism makes me doubt that I am capable of appreciating them. This sense of wonder that you possess: Do you have to nurture it? Do you have to actively wrap your brain around it? How do you keep from feeling jaded?
[Very long pause] I’m up in the courtyard, and all the doves are out and looking at me, and it’s great. They’re not usually…they’re all down low. We’re not open today, and so I think during opening days they usually fly up high ’cause they get scared, but now they’re all down towards the bottom, and it’s just great. I love the doves. [Pause] I think that everything in life comes down to, essentially, self and not self. In other words, understanding your existence or all of existence as atomized individuals versus seeing the whole—understanding your place, as an organism, in the whole great chain of being.
In my experience, singularity and isolation and jadedness are all parts of the same thing—they’re all reflections of being limited by an understanding of yourself as separate and isolated from things around you. The more [you experience] a more permeable relation to other people and other things, the more naturally that sense of wonder comes. I think if you allow it, it can happen naturally over time.
In a lot of ways, the age of [your readers] is one of the hardest times in a person’s life. I mean, they keep ramping up the difficulty in life as much as you can stand it, whoever has their hand on the dials. But [the period between the ages of] 14 and, depending on the person, 19 or 21 or something is excruciatingly difficult, primarily because of those issues—self, and having to establish a sense of self.
And feeling isolated in some way or another.
Oh, self and self-isolation are kind of synonymous. But I think you have to go through it. I don’t think there’s any way around it. And it’s hard.
Well, that’s the comforting thing. I just try to remember that everyone over the age of 20…I mean, it seems so impossible, but so many people have done it.
And most of those people have survived it.
I don’t know if I’ll leave this in, but I mean, for a while I was able to find my way around all of those general feelings, to keep myself busy, and then this fall, it just totally—
Went really hard.
Yeah. It was so strangely surprising. Like, I was always able to come home and read and watch movies and keep myself distracted, and suddenly it wasn’t enough. Then kind of two things happened. One, I started listening to Fiona Apple.
And then another was that I read the Weschler book, and I know you have ambivalence towards it, but—
Yeah, but I mean, don’t let that affect you.
Just finding out the whole story of what inspired what you’re doing, and the way that it all came together for you, and the sensibility that you bring to what you do, was extremely heartening, and…I don’t know, if not for those two things, I don’t know what would’ve happened. But thank you for what you’re doing.
Oh yeah, sure. It’s our job. But I think one of the best things you can do, is just, as much as possible, to give yourself over to those activities that, in the long run, are aimed at really and truly a greater good. In more than just a knowable, physical, superficial way. But that’s the most powerful way of doing it, to just work. Are you getting enough material to write anything?
Yes, thank you.
OK, and in case you’re writing it and you need something else, just call again. ♦