Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine ArtsON THE 31st ANNIVERSARY OF HER MOVE FROM New York to California, Eleanor Antin spoke to the Weekly from her home in San Diego.
L.A. Weekly: Professionally, you began as an actress and a writer. What drew you to conceptual art?
Eleanor Antin: The possibility of working in this free and open way — you weren't forced into some mode: painting or sculpture. And you could use text and image and whatever you needed, and that attracted me. Also that I could work with the poetry of everyday life — people, place, personal experience. I fell into it immediately.
All of your work, from the conceptual pieces to the photo narratives, evokes absent personalities. Are you interested in ghosts?
Yes, always. I'm interested in the evocation of what was once there — or could be or may have been . . . Except for my invented persona Antinova, I'm not as concerned [anymore] with the personal autobiographical as much as the invented autobiographical. The early conceptual work came out of my everyday experience. Now I'm into full-blown exploration of narrative and representation, and evoking times past.
As a feminist artist, who were your influences? How has your work changed along with the women's movement?
I read Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and I started looking at the internal politics of our daily experience differently. I still consider myself a feminist. But as far as my work, I was never trying to make a statement, I was making art.
Why black rubber boots as the “hero” of a narrative post-card series?
My initial image was always of 100 boots facing the sea — I saw sand, water and boots. I wanted a hero without ethnic affiliations. I didn't want cowboy boots or high-heeled boots. These read in a very general way. I was very strongly anti-war . . . so my boots have a military tonality. But at the same time, they weren't armies. They were people. They were us.
What is behind running the video opposite the ballerina photos?
It's always amused me to show the different truths, [in this case] between the moving camera and the still camera. It was a metaphor for the romantic and the beautiful, and I ã love to show the fragility of that, so it's mortal — like Antinova standing in the wings.
As in your new piece for this show, Waiting in the Wings.
Yes, Antinova backstage — she's kind of lost, because all of the days and nights are the same, dancing over and over in different places. Antinova is me; it's all the stuff from my studio: the drop cloth from one of my movies, the costumes from different performances and films. Through the mirror you can see that she and the skeleton are looking at each other; it's this meditative look at mortality. In a way, that's what the retrospective is for me, and I guess what life is: waiting in the wings. She was waiting to go on to the next theater, and the next work. And that's how I live.