Moyra Davey (1958), lives in New York. I met her in Paris at castillo/corrales. Her text “The Problem of Reading” (2003) made a strong impression on me but I didn’t know at the time that she made films. Notes on Blue (2015), her latest film, describes her daily life. In her apartment, Moyra Davey films herself. Her voice talks about her readings and discoveries, and how these affect her life as a woman and an artist.
Moyra Davey (1958) vit à New York. Je l’ai rencontrée chez castillo/corrales, à Paris. J’avais été très marquée par l’un de ses textes : « The Problem of Reading » (2003), et j’ignorais alors qu’elle faisait aussi des films. Notes on Blue (2015), son dernier film, décrit son quotidien : dans son appartement, Moyra Davey se filme. Sa voix raconte ses lectures et découvertes, et comment celles-ci s’articulent à sa vie de femme et d’artiste. Clara Schulmann
1. In her autobiography, Kim Gordon reproduces a text that she wrote in the 1980s about a Sonic Youth tour and her place in the band. “I like being in a weak position and making it strong,” she said. How would you describe your position as an author and as a filmmaker or as an artist making films?
MD I love Gordon’s formulation – admitting weakness can be disarming – and I certainly identify when it comes to writing.
When I began to write and publish I knew I was coming at it as an outsider, completely unschooled. But I quickly began to combine words and images (of which I have a lifetime of experience), and to my happy surprise, my efforts were appreciated.
There’s a sense of freedom when nothing is expected. When I wrote and filmed Fifty Minutes, I was convinced it would be a bottom-drawer piece, but I so wanted a break from photography, to write and make video, that I didn’t care.
The other way to think about Gordon’s statement, is that it’s important to shake things up, risk, failure etc. PJ Harvey is an exemplar for me in that regard.
2. In general, writing is a solitary experience and making films is a collective experience. Is this difference important to you?
MD In my case both writing and filmmaking are solitary experiences. There’s actually nothing I love more than to be alone working, but as per the statement I make above, about changing things up, taking risks, I’ve started to inject some ‘collectivity’ into my video/film work. It can be fun, but also nerve-wracking. I have enormous admiration for artists like Fassbinder and Derek Jarman, who surrounded themselves with people, and thrived.
3. In an interview, the poet Lisa Robertson writes: “…as a very young reader, in the 80s, I constantly felt affronted that I could not find a point of recognition in the extreme masculinist philosophy and literature I was reading. To discover feminist thinking and writing was a recognition that gave me the will to write. That was a very relevant kind of pleasure.” Do you share her position? How did you discover feminist thinking and what difference did it make to you?
MD I was never a good student of anything but art classes. I read a lot, but only what I wanted, and because I had the good fortune of being a close friend of the writer, Alison Strayer, from the age of 15, she fed me authors: Jean Rhys, Colette, Jane Bowles, Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf, Violette Leduc. I read almost exclusively women writers for a long time, and did not have a liberal arts education and so missed out on most of the (white male) classics. I’ll give an example: I only just read The Stranger (because it was assigned to my son in high school), and of course I was struck and pissed off by the demeaning characterizations of women, but unlike Lisa, when I was young I was in my own world and a bit oblivious. I came to feminism via another close friend, Lisa Wyndels, now a lawyer, and the Canadian artist Nell Tenhaaf and the writer/translator Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. They ran a women’s gallery in Montreal called Powerhouse, and eventually I took a class in feminist literature and theory with Nell. It meant a lot to me, it pulled me out of a depression, helped me sort through the murk of a catholic childhood and got me working again.
4. This question concerns the link between your artistic activity and gymnastics. What kind of exercises do you need to do in order to write or to make a film?
MD I need to read, though I wish I could detach myself a little from that, be a bit more independent, less reliant on citations.
Note-taking: Recently I’ve been in hiatus, perhaps related to the fact that for the first time in my life I lost a note-book in progress. I was reminded of Barthes, who said: “When a certain amount of time’s gone by without any note-taking… I notice a certain feeling of frustration and aridity. And so each time I get back to note-taking (notatio) it’s like a drug, a refuge, a security. I’d say that the activity of notatio is like a mothering.”
A mothering. I love that, he utterly captures the comfort of the ritual.
5. Can you describe the family tree showing your sources, resources and references in both fields?
MD Chantal Akerman, Babette Mangolte, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jason Simon, Yvonne Rainer, Jennifer Montgomery, Peggy Ahwesh, The Kuchars, Sadie Benning’s videos.
I mentioned some early writing influences above. These days I’ve been reading Maggie Nelson, Karl Ove Knausgaard and I just began Doris Lessing’s first novel The Grass Is Singing.
6. Are cigarettes or other kinds of addiction part of your creative process with writing or moving images?
MD I need tea and coffee.
I once wrote an entire essay on the steroid, Prednisone.
7. Writing, like cinema, summons or awakens ghosts. Who or what haunts you?
MD Everything I can’t write about.
Moyra Davey at Murray Guy, New York