Both Sides Now: In Conversation With Lorraine O’Grady


What music do you play when you’re making art?

Every artist I know who’s making visual art is listening to music, but because I’m a conceptual artist I have to listen to the inside of my head. Although I’m working on a piece for which I’m going back to my dancing days. From the early ’40s to the early ’90s, I was a big social dancer, and there’s a line in “Olympia’s Maid” that says, “I dance, therefore I think.” So I’m in the midst of making the biggest playlist in the world, with songs from all those decades.

When did you first feel comfortable saying you’re a professional artist?

Let’s just say I’m an artist. That probably didn’t happen until Mlle Bourgeoise Noire got a review in the Village Voice after the New Museum performance. And it was written by Lucy Lippard so, basically, that was it. It meant I had something.

Is there a meal you eat on repeat when you’re working?

I don’t cook. I heat. What I do is I order through Seamless, and I hate this idea because I can tell that they’re affecting the restaurants I like for the worse, standardizing them in some horrible way. But I order enough for a week from one restaurant all at once. That way I don’t have to keep looking at the menu and thinking, what do I want to eat now? I used to be kind of a foodie, passing judgment on every mouthful, but not anymore. No time.

Are you bingeing on any shows right now?

No because I haven’t had a television set in 15 years. There are two shows I’ve binged in my life: “The Wire” (2002) and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “The Dekalog” (1988). I also watched the first version of “Star Trek” when it was being aired — I got really hooked — and, in the days when you could buy DVDs, I bought a lot of films by Claire Denis. She’s my favorite.

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

The weirdest object in my studio is a sort of hexagonal crystal desk object, I guess you’d call it, that I use as a doorstop. It was a Christmas present from Hugh Hefner. I used to translate things for Playboy and for his private journal, which was also an archive of press clippings. He’d send me the three-ring biology paper he used for it.


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