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Questionnaire: Jeff Wall

What do you wish you knew? Why I like photography

Fred Herzog, Wreck at Georgia / Dunlevy, 1996 - 2006. Ink jet print, 50 x 76 cm. Courtesy: Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.

Fred Herzog, Wreck at Georgia / Dunlevy, 1996 - 2006. Ink jet print, 50 x 76 cm. Courtesy: Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.

What images keep you company in the space where you work?
Only my own pictures, the ones I am working on. Anything else is a distraction.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?
Probably Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Triumph of Death (c.1562), which I saw in an Abrams art book when I was ten years old.

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?
I get so much from looking at great works, but some days – or even some months – I get more from not looking at them. You experience the art also by being away from it and not seeing it. So if I chose a single thing, I’d have to be able to get away from it regularly. But then, the more exclusive the relation I’d have with it, since it would be all I’d have, the more I’d have to get away from it. Therefore, it might be better not to have anything. Then I wouldn’t have to live with it, and wouldn’t have to be faithful to it. Then I could visit it. And, of course, I could also visit others.

What is your favourite title of an art work?
Die Fahne Hoch! (Raise the Flag!, 1959), a painting by Frank Stella.

What should change?
I want to say injustice and suffering in the world, but that seems obvious and detached. So I will say I’d like to be able to change the things that disappoint me day to day: my troubles.

What should stay the same?
I’d like to see certain places remain as they are or, better, as they were when I first encountered them. Alleyways or open, unused or neglected spaces in the city of Vancouver (or any city), spaces that weren’t useful for whatever reason and got left in an in-between state – between nature and dereliction – and which I have always somehow associated with freedom. But they can’t stay the same and they haven’t; they’ve been built over now and built over with things I can’t associate with the happiness I’m looking for.

What do you miss? 
Friends who have passed away.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?
I think I’d like being a plumber or a waiter: I believe I could be good at either.

What music are you listening to?
I don’t listen to recorded music much. I prefer the everyday sounds around me, or I like to go to see musicians play their music.

What are you reading?
Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946), by Erich Auerbach. I’m reading it again after about 30 years.

What do you like the look of?
My wife Jeannette first, and everyone else I love.

What is art for?
It’s for anyone, but not for everyone.

Jeff Wall lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. He currently has an exhibition at Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris, France. A survey show of his work opens at the Albertinum in Dresden, Germany, in June.

Issue 130

First published in Issue 130

April 2010
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