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Gene Tanta Interviews
Christina Conrad

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Art by Christina Conrad

The Stolen Wig of a Million Judges: An Interview with Christina Conrad

by Gene Tanta

Over the past few months I’ve had the intriguing pleasure of interacting with Christina Conrad via email. She is a painter, poet, sculptor, filmmaker, and performer from New Zealand. A Renaissance woman and a mystic, Christina Conrad is independent and fierce. In the following exclusive Mad Hatters’ Review interview, we discuss her name, heritage, archetypes, bedtime stories, the soul, form, media, fear, obsession, fat vermillion chalks, the difference between acting and being The Fool, the cunt and feminism. GT, Chicago, Feb, 2011.

GT: By way of introduction, would you talk about your name? Who named you? How do you relate to your name as a person and as an artist (if indeed you see these as separate identities)?

CC: the nameless one
they call Christina
the sound of this word ignites a
whirlpool of horror disbelief fear guilt
body n soul trapped inside a glass bubble
disguised as a child Christina obsessively shook
this bubble until a snow storm obscured
the isolated figure in the center of the bubble

Christina this name
echoes
all along the dark avenues of the soul
it cries out to be fed

My real name is
Shoshana Hayman
     born 1942
on the eve of a New Zealand summer
before the cicadas shrieked
i shrieked day n night
blue vein twitching between angry eyes
my Mother demented by my shrieks
sought shelter in a Movie House
where she saw
the great Greta Garbo
     star in
Queen Christina

My Mother captivated by Garbo as Queen Christina thought if she exchanged Shoshana
     for
Christina
she would stop shrieking
she did not stop shrieking

Gene i have not been able to rid myself of
Christina
how
how
can I have any claim to
Shoshana


GT: In an earlier interview, you suggest that part of the creating process for you means inhabiting the legend of the unjustly dead. What does this “legend” mean for you?

CC: We are the Legend
reflected in its singular eye
we try to possess it
squatting on illusions hump
we pitch into
The Legends velvet womb
giving birth to our own image
in the seductive shadow

We seize the shimmering flesh
of The Legend
galloping to snatch the breast
to suck the milk
of
The Legend
we stare at our bloody reflection
attempting to possess
the singular Eye

the isolated Heart grinding its own monkey
wheezes out broken tunes
on Loves concertina

The Mind speculating on a distortion
of
The Legend
     laid out
in a shroud of dust

GT: What story used to put you to sleep as a child? Would you tell us a bed-time story?

CC: hmmmmmmm
               strangely
i cannot remember our Mother reading to us
tho her house was filled with books
i was acquainted with
long before i could read

winged stories of legendary power
flew in & out
of dreams

day & night
they streamed into
the innocent
Heart
mind
eyes
ears
drowning
in waves of sound
streaming
over the silent tongue

flooding the shadow

On those light summer nights
when my sister Amanda
& i
were sent to bed early
for committing childish crimes
we swung on mad applegreen curtains
unhinged with excitement

Art by Christina Conrad

     Amanda
15 months older than me
was an obsessed seeker
of books - unusual

from an early age
she read to me
vividly enacting archetypal stories

inspiration vaulting
thru her vehicles

she pointed to each word
her finger becoming
the trembling rod
of a water diviner
when midnight struck
i longed to sink into the oblivion of sleep

my sister
electing herself
as my literary guardian

leapt upon my flattened image
pulling back my closed eyelids

she loved Tom Sawyer
Huckleberry Finn
2 eccentric char ladies
Mrs Arris & Mrs M

i longed for cozy stories about girls
in stationary positions

Amanda
awakened
my understanding
of
the written word

stories
legends
my slow acceptance
of their life
in a material form

i had been unable
to unite them with
the abstract pattern
of words that flew

i played with them
i heard their music
in my
tenuous
fluid
mind - heart

unable to express this
i was afraid
when teachers at school
forced me to see what they saw
i thought they were mad
i could not recognize their words

Amanda gave me back
my
heart
mind

how i ask you
could i claim them
if i did not know they were mine

               ah
the dramas enacted
     by Amanda
leading actress

her narrow bed
a stage
in our
applegreen bedroom

Art by Christina Conrad

          i
the seemingly stunned
yet vigilant audience
accommodating
Fear & his brother Torment
in the invisible crimson plush
     box seats
that they were accustomed to


GT: Is obsession a kind of health? That is, is obsession a way to rinse out the worrying mind and the burdened soul?

CC: As one of the Obsessed i cannot say Obsession in its raw un-conducted, unfocused state is a kind of health.

This apocalyptic energy must be recognized as a volcanic force Seething in the depths of the unconscious; this great collective eye of molten energy when stimulated ejaculates into the dark hood of the secret heart, the secret mind.

Stagnant patterns shaken for so long in the broken kaleidoscope of the mind erupt, spilling the black seeds of Horror who gives birth to huge translucent shadows of a jelly like substance, leaping, cavorting, hacking, at the haunted Soul of the Obsessed One, plunging her into total chaos
frequently resulting in mental breakdown.

Art by Christina Conrad

The Obsessed One as the inheritor of this energy must learn to focus the central eye; the white flame of inspiration must be channeled. Most of this work happens on an invisible level, for if the Ego-driven Soul sees what is happening she/he interferes.
The Obsessed One becomes the conductor of the raw accumulated energy, an energy called up over many lives collected in an apocalyptic stream of inspiration.

The blood of the creator- the Obsessed One - must find a way to distill this energy, stealthily pursuing a passionate idea, focusing the oblique eye,
that all-seeing eye, slumbering over secret terrain, conducting the deafening howl of voices thrown up over eons from the central EYE, the mystical mouth.
The Obsessed One must journey round n round
the Ancestral circle of stones,
wielding the white mythical stick of the blind,
conducting all the haunting voices
the huge leaping translucent shadows,
echoing in the collective memory of
Desire
spilling over the vehicles in a chaos of illusion
seething
gyrating
hauntingly reflected
in Egos black mirror
Love
Love in tight gloves
striking her great gilded harp
taut her strings
blinding her light
eclipsing
her fetid dark
The Obsessed one
listens

disbelief circling
the sublime
ah ah
Love calls

round n round LOVES circle.

Art by Christina Conrad

Gene in reply to your question
does Obsession rinse out the worried mind,
the burdened Soul?
Ah
we must become "Great transformers" of the destructive energy of the Worried mind.

AH
"The Great Wretched Worrier" is blinded by the grubby opaque veil she has created & worn in the dejected fashion of one caught in the fatal grasp of "The Great Insidious Devourer" a monstrous form spawned by "The Great Wretched Worrier" who has unwittingly created this gloating thought - form, energy sucker of the Inspirational Heart - the Inspirational mind.

 

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When s/he sees that s/he has become "The great Wretched Worrier", the greatly desired long suck,
the willing victim of "The Great Insidious Devourer" whom s/he has spawned from her accumulative habit of obsessive worrying, she must become the conductor of her dangerous thought patterns that "The Great Insidious Devourer" has lived on.

Once this obsessive energy is conducted & transformed by "The Great Wretched Worrier" the grubby opaque veil falls from her tormented head in a pile of writhing dust
"The Great Wretched Worrier" becomes "The Great Transformer" of the black stream of worried energy, transforming it into a spiral of living energy
bringing immediate death
               to
"The Great Insidious Devourer"

GT: What metaphor would you use to describe the “soul”?

CC: A translucent sheath - this Soul sheath holds all the experiences,
the imprint of every life lived by the individual;
the Soul distills this imprint into the essence,
the stench, the perfume of every life.
As the bee gathers pollen, the soul gathers the essence.
The Soul releases this essence into the emotional & mental body
of the heart & mind - we are the sum total of our experiences ,
each life a different body, each life a different mask.

We act out life's dramas, tragedies, comedies, past, present & future, colliding, clashing, coming together on that mad, collapsible stage
of Life & Death, the voice of the individual Soul echoing in the vehicles - in the blood - uniting with the collective memories of the group Soul -
all the voices, apocalyptic, living, dead.

Art by Christina Conrad

At night, the Soul, uniting with the mental & emotional vehicles,
lifts up out of the sleeping body in a transparent sheath of ancient colours - the colours expressing the mood of the sleeping person,
ancient hallowed colours, lurid, angry, hungry, desirous -------
ah, i have seen these vehicles lift up out of the body in a translucent sheath
& fly, a kite on a long silver cord,
an ancient scar on long dark nights when the body,
oblivious of Souls flight,
sleeps wrapped in dreams, where everything is created
out of little sparks of spinning light.

GT: What new medium would you like to explore?

CC: ah un-materialized ideas spill in a torrent –
the soul flies back & forth bearing news
i cannot yet decipher
i want to perform - speak
create a new shape
yea - i am ravening- for the birth of an idea
ah how it gleams
a mad mercurial opal
nesting in an obscure chamber
of the sequestered
Heart - mind


GT: Arianna Huffington wrote: “Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an after-life.” What kinds of figurations of an after-life do you entertain, if any?

CC: entertain hmmmm i stare at the bloody floor of my collapsible stage

I am a timid child flung by an invisible force into the dark realm of my mother's long hallway.

I see myself on quavering legs, a mysterious power fills me, the white fire of my central eye penetrates the great looming shadows of life upon life, the masks - skeletons of those lives gyrate around me.

I become part of the ancient bodiless life. Each life the same play, different voices, different faces, stored in the bloody cage of the heart, the miser's vault - the mind.

I see myself in a schoolroom sharing a double desk of ancient wood with metal legs. On the lid of the desk, hundreds of names scarred in the wood. On the double seat next to me a girl sits. On her head above of her high polished forehead a blue bow trembles. She puts her hand inside my side of the double desk. The hand takes my fat chalks; the hand puts them in her side of the double desk.

Art by Christina Conrad

Sitting next to me on the double seat she draws on a black board with my favorite fat vermillion chalk. I ask her if i can borrow the fat vermillion chalk.

She says, "NO,
"these fat chalks are Mine."
i stare at her high polished forehead,
her quivering blue bow.

Who do the fat chalks belong to?
are the fat chalks hers?
or mine
for one year i sit next to her
the fat chalks lie inside
her side of the double desk
i watch her hand take the fat chalks out of her side of the double desk
i watch her draw with the fat chalks
i see this from my side of the double desk
i see what appears to be me
reflected in that which appears to be
her high polished forehead.

GT: In other interviews, you have said that to create one must be willing to play the fool. Do you mean that one must be humble? Would you articulate one way (or trick) you use to get around the ego?

CC: hmmmmm Gene i do not think "one must be willing to play the fool."

One is the Fool or one fatally becomes "The fool".

i was born a fool, the fools feet sank into the floor, floor appeared to be made out of marshmallow

there were no sides no top no bottom.

All attempts to hide one's sliding mania, one's weird lack of coordination one's mad obsession with the self posing as a fetish, secretly parading as a million people squeezing in & out of Love's mirror studded with millions of haunted eyes.

I tried to find a way to squeeze inside the mirror to become one with the other selves crying out piteously to be fed.

Ah Gene the Fool has nothing to do with humbleness as we know it. One becomes or is a medium.

The white flame of inspiration shoots up into the miser's vault - the mind-heart.
The flame devours extraneous knowledge, all the dross one has swallowed.

One becomes a slumbering mediumistic vehicle. One must conduct the white flame or die.
ah i have been commanded by a hidden self to leap thru 7 hoops of white flame, wearing the weird attire of the Fool.
For years i cowered unable to leap, covered in the suppurating wounds of Ego's vice,
tailored to fit an ignorant state.

Art by Christina Conrad

Gene you ask would i articulate one way or trick i use to get around the ego

alas we are the Trick, the Eternal Trick, tricked by the trick of the self in its monumental
deceit. However the Trick in its crazy attire becomes horribly singed in the leaping flame of inspiration.

As for Ego we created Ego's illusionary realm, Ego oft appearing as a befurred monster we imagine we cannot live without so oft do we feed & stroke it. However the Ego is a mental concept we swallowed eon’s ago, rising & falling under the weight of that illusionary concept, that seemingly singular agonizing addiction we service. The universal Ego studded with millions of eyes eternally staring, plucking at the stuff of that gyrating illusion, that mad Juggler, that delirious effigy we perceive as the self.

ah Gene there is no recipe, no tricks to get around the Ego. The power of inspiration forces one to temporarily let go of one's image, to temporarily drop the bloody bone. However, one must pay an invisible toll. When this toll is exacted one loses that which one clutches blindly,
layer upon layer of precious stagnation.

Art by Christina Conrad

GT: I am not the first to parallel your work with that of Charles Simic. In his book “The Uncertain Certainty,” Simic writes: "All I know is that what I love in poetry is a kind of devastating simplicity and empathy, and that fortunately can be found equally in Shakespeare and in so-called primitive poetries." What would you like to say to members of your audience who cast you as an outsider artist or a primitive poet?

CC: The outsider artist hmmmm this takes us back to the role of "The Fool" drowning in his own juice,
blind beneath her swirling mantle of darkness. Lo, an apocalyptic light sears the Fool,
her central eye awakens, an arrow of light penetrates the Fool's heart, mind.

In a flood of mad longing the Fool raises the white stick of the blind,
striking heart & mind, knocking them off their double dealing thrones.
The Fool in her role of conductor takes up her white stick & conducts this whirlpool of fertile chaos.
if this is what they call outsider art - the Fool is firmly labeled, hung outside the door of society.

Will the door open or will the Fool in her ridiculous hat, starve?

Ah Gene, Poetry the primitive Poet
here is only one winged sound one winged word in its glorious flight it gives birth to sounds, shapes pictures - all existing within the one sound. Out of the flood the famine of tribal memory - we write, draw with instruments of divine ignorance, vomiting up an iron-gate leading to Justice, who dons the stolen wig of a million judges.

We place labels on those who dare to chalk up universal visions on that bleeding suppurating wall of life

GT: Do you consider yourself a feminist artist? If any, what role does gender play in your work? How has this changed over the arc of your career?

CC: Ah, the scandal of being a woman, one of the obsessed - a cursed artist -
that creature who doth
host a Cunt,
that seat of emotions, that blood red throne.
Those who mount it die.
How, i ask you, can a woman who doth house the insatiably desired cunt,
a woman who is born to serve within a circle of outdated concepts,
how can she be a mother & an artist?

In the name of love she doth house orphans in warm fervour, in dappled shade of womb.
She must host the multitudes who hunt the universal cunt.

Art by Christina Conrad

Disguised as eels they slide in & out, diving swooning, seeding in her living waters.
Possessed by un-conducted longings for love, unfathomable energy vaults thru her vehicles
shaking her to the core. She must find a way to conduct this energy or die.

In her terrible longing - her mad obsession to birth ideas - she must become
A Great Universal Juggler. Unable to become a Great Juggler of the clashing emotions of
the primordial instincts of a mother versus the apocalyptic energy of an artist

ah, how can a woman, an obsessed artist, be a mother when she hath fallen into the whirlpool of living chaos - that apocalyptic light that quicksand of rampaging ideas crying out for the life, heart, mind of the creator, who must give soul, heart, mind, body, to invisible ideas, or die.

AH Gene you ask about the arc of my career.

Ah we are the Arc The Great Universal Arc falling, rotting-living, flaming.

A crucible.
Ah, in a great rainbowed arc we flood our pastures with desire.

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Christina ConradChristina Conrad has been called New Zealand's greatest living artist. She is certainly its greatest eccentric. An obsessive "outsider" painter/sculptor, filmmaker, poet/writer, Conrad lived as a recluse for twenty years without electricity or running water, where she "kept her paintings in cupboards instead of food." Her work is disarmingly original and not easily pigeon-holed, and the term "outsider" does not sit easily with her, suggesting someone who is untrained. Conrad's paintings and clay sculptures possess a focus that reflects a rigorous self-training.

"One must leave the ego at the door of the tomb, and create like a blind beggar who hears nothing and knows nothing," she explains. "In this way the painting has a chance to be born whole, without the insidious tampering that adulterates false creative acts." 

Continue reading Christina Conrad's fascinating and unusual biography by clicking here.

 

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