Roberts, Neil and Sullivan, Eve, radio interview about the exhibition The Grand and Bowery 1989|
“… He is looking for clues. A crime has been committed, but the evidence has become foggy with time, so he is resigned when the trail leads him back to New York. Each day he takes a camera onto the streets, back to the corner where he first began to notice that something was wrong, capturing images that otherwise might escape his distracted eye. These images, and the other evidence he finds each day, he sends home, hoping that the perspective of distance will help others and himself, put the pieces back together again…”
Neil Roberts catalogue statement
EVE: Can you talk about your (now) unpackaged work at the CCAS Gallery 3…
NEIL: The work started as a desire to look at the fathers and sons, and particularly at the moment where physical and emotional love becomes codified–where the transactions become invested in codes. I came up with the ‘Crime and Punishment’ scenario using the ‘Slain Boy’ headline as a metaphor for that sort of crime, a death of sorts which happens to young boys as they’re growing up. It’s about somebody in later life going back to break down those codes, to solve the mystery of their own detachment by looking for the metaphoric murderer. The photographs in this body of work, particularly the coloured photos are images taken from the perspective of a child–stolen, grabbed from the streets, of prospective murderers or perpetrators. It’s as if he’s lost or searching…
EVE: So the ‘Street Lives’ are important to the concept…
NEIL: It’s partly the chaos of New York, of the visual and sensory input, like reaching into one’s childhood or adolescent memory banks–there’s a lot of white noise around. New York is a very dramatic situation and that is brought very much to the surface. Going out into the streets each day, with a camera trying to snatch those images of passers by becomes an act of sifting through my own memory and trying to hold onto fleeting images.
EVE: You’ve collected ‘souveniers’, objects which comprise the Grand and Bowery installation…
NEIL: Each of the objects fit a part of that quest or search to unravel things. All of them have a degree of mystery or obscurity about them. As I was piecing them together a narrative began to emerge out of the white noise. The Italian book–information so codified–a foreign language. The image on the cover is obscure and unreadable, which in turn relates to the difficulty of reading the image of the man on the printing block situated underneath the book. A lot of what I wanted to say has been deflected by being in a place like New York and the narrative of this work is not as specific as I had intended.
EVE: Yes, I’d agree with that. This work is not laid out in any specific narrative.
NEIL: It wasn’t meant to be a jigsaw or riddle, and not particularly honourable of the ‘Detective’ genre in that it doesn’t all come together in the end. Like in the last chapter where all the pieces fit neatly together. I left it very open ended, in this respect it hasn’t cleared itself up in the way a good detective story is meant to…
[Neil Roberts recently occupied the VACB (Australia Council) Greene Street Studio in NY. This interview was conducted over the phone by Eve Sullivan, with Neil Roberts in NY for Community Radio 2XX (AM1008Khz), Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galleries Radio Program.]