David Choe in conversation with Jason JaworskiJuxtapoz // Monday, 07 Mar 2011
Close friends David Choe (featured #112) and Jason Jaworski sit down for an exclusive Juxtapoz conversation about Jaworski’s most recent performance and film, DIE JUNGE DIE YOUNG.
David Choe: Let’s start with what the fuck is wrong with you. You’re a sweet guy, you know I love you and you’re very handsome, a handsomer version of the kid from 3rd Rock. You had this beautiful head of hair, and then the other day you show up at my door and you look like the Asian Gummo. You’re sitting here, you’re writing, doing your thing, and then I don’t know- why don’t you fill me in? Your performance art shit, where did all that come from?
Jaworski: [Laughs] It all came from me trying to figure out a different way to present what I do to where it would have more value. I think writing as just text on a page is kind of, I mean it’s already dying, it still has it’s mystique of being an interesting thing because writers and writing are always going to have that, but it’s not what it used to be and it’s never going to return to that. There’s too many distractions nowadays to just have a person sit down and read a book, and I think presenting text and writing in a different way through means of performance or some other medium gives it more longevity and value.
Choe: Do you still read?
Jaworski: Yeah, do you?
Choe: The thing I read the most is comic books, but I don't really read at all anymore. I have a stack of comics, I still get them every week, and I also have a stack of books next to my bed. All the books and comics that I should read, that I want to read though- they collect dust. And even the comic books which I used to read, it takes like ten minutes to read a comic book, even those I don’t read anymore. And I’m trying to figure it out- for me, when I write there’s a direct correlation of I’m reading good shit and I’m also writing good shit- it inspires me. But these days I don’t write so much, and I don’t read so much either. So I was trying to figure out what it is- am I getting laid more, videogames are better than they’ve ever been, they’re so distracting, everything in society is now distracting. We’re never present. I do a radio show now, there’s five guys in the show, and three of them will be texting the whole time we’re recording, you know? So how do you get someone to pay attention to read a book?
Jaworski: Wow, I could spend hours just talking about that one subject. There’s always going to be people that read, and now with the advent of the e-book and funny stuff like that, products are kind of tricking people into reading because they don’t realize that they’re doing it even though they definitely are.
Choe: The bottom line is there will always be a demand for writers because that’s content. We as humans like to hear stories, be read stories, we like to be entertained that way. Videogames, everything- they all need writing. I see what you’re doing with the zines and that’s cool for me because I love that kind of stuff, but who actually goes to a bookstore or even to find a fucking zine now?
Jaworski: Yeah, that’s a good question because even though I’m making zines, I rarely go out and look for others because there’s so much shit. There’s always going to be more bad art then there is good, and that’s the same with all art forms- writing, painting, film, photography, whatever. Yet, while the larger bookstores like Borders are folding, in New York at least, there have been more used and smaller indie bookstores that have opened up in the past five years than in any other time ever. And if I look at myself, I’m always buying books- it’s an addiction I have. For awhile I was even skipping meals to buy books instead, you know? With zines though, I have to sift a lot harder to find something that’s good and more often than not there’s nothing there. But it’s hard to beat a good zine. A good zine is like heroin for me.
Choe: So this is it for you- you classify yourself as a writer, and you want to make a living at doing this.
Jaworski: I would classify myself more in terms of an artist than a writer. What I do is art, not literature.
Choe: So this whole performance you did, you consider the whole thing an art piece.
Jaworski: Yeah, definitely- but everything is an art piece for me. Everything can be changed to be something else with just a label, so me being classified as an artist or a writer doesn’t change me, it changes the work. I’m always going to be making what I’m making. It all comes back to classifying the work which I think is more important than classifying myself. Who the fuck cares about me, you know? It’s what I do that matters.
Choe: You want to talk about that at all? The film that supported the performance was shot beautifully. It looked very uncomfortable. There’s a part where your eyebrows were getting shaved and [DenZolo] the guy that shaved you told me that there was no shaving cream so he smashed a banana into your head and there was completely unnecessary slapping- what the fuck is all this shit?
Jaworski: There was no shaving cream because it would have looked too silly, too playful, like Santa Claus with all of this white around my head. There was a scene I cut out where DenZolo tried to gag me with a carrot and it got to be too much. My direction for him, we had a long session of just talking and me explaining the whole concept and process of the film beforehand and, besides a long list of things, the most important thing I told him was, I didn’t want it to be super sweet because the whole film was really me kind of shaving off all of last year and everything from that year which was the craziest, most free and worst and best year for me and trying to get rid of all of that. After our preparatory session DenZolo came up to me and said how he was going to play the whole thing out, he said, “I’m gonna want to make love to you, I’m going to want to hold you, but really I’m just going to end up raping you in a way.” And that was perfect. It had to be somewhat aggressive for it to work, and he was gentle for a bit, but there’s a portion where he just starts slapping me real crazy and another part where he goes for my eye with a razor and actually cut a bit into my eyelid, but the whole film was a process for him too to get out all of his shit as well. Everyone in our crew is fucked up, you know? You, me, him and everyone.
Jaworski: So the film was more a purging than a performance, and the actual performance, the Noise Pop bit, was coming out of that purging and giving back every piece and part of myself to a stranger.
Choe: In society, the most offensive ‘fuck you’ you can do is to tattoo your face. I know more people do it now, but it’s still very shocking and still very crazy. What you did is not so permanent, but to shave your head and your eyebrows, you know, it looks very alarming and- I mean, I can’t even look at you in this interview- [laughs] It looks very- did your mom see this, what did she think?
Jaworski: Yeah, she saw it. She thought the make-up was done really well, she didn’t know it was real and then I told her it was real and she kind of freaked out a bit and then laughed it off. She’s sweet and even though she doesn’t understand fully what I’m doing she supports it. They’re in town right now and I’m actually going to have dinner with them later tonight so we’ll see what they say.
Choe: Also, you have a grandmother in Asia you haven’t seen in years that you’re going to visit for one last time? What’s that all about?
Jaworski: Yeah, she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's and dementia. Really old, really sweet lady, and so as a family we’re all going to see her sort of as a last time before she completely goes into her mind. It will be the last memory for her of us as her grandchildren and my mom as her child and so, initially, I wanted to do the film a lot earlier, but it took time lining it up with DenZolo and Lulu to create and then I got offered the Noise Pop thing and it seemed like a natural thing to do right before that.
Choe: So basically you don’t care what the affect is- you just did it for the art.
Jaworski: Yeah. That’s kind of an artfaggy thing to say, but yeah- I did it for the art.
Choe: So, that process of it was for you a rebirth, a baptism, getting rid of all that shit from last year.
Choe: And I heard the actual performance was this artist Monica Canilao built this church-hut thing and you were inside wearing mylar capes and costumes and typing people’s futures?
Jaworski: It started out with me typing futures, but I’m not an oracle, I don’t know the fucking future, I don’t even know what’s going on in the present. So it was more-
Choe: So you just ended up writing bad shit about them?
Jaworski: Well it almost started to get to that, ‘cause I wanted to be honest with every reading and there were some people that gave off a weird energy where I felt something weird was going to happen to them. And everything I do, I mean, you know my stuff, it gets dark sometimes and so I thought, well, if I do this, it’s just going to be about how much this person is going to do this and go through that and it’s not going to be good for them.
Choe: So you were insulting people basically.
Jaworski: It didn’t get to that. I left that method before anyone was really insulted, and I started to do more work like what Rhode and I do on the street where I would talk to a person and write something loosely based off of our conversation yet also incorporate a sliver of whatever reading I was getting from them as a person.
Choe: That’s amazing.
Jaworski: It goes back to that whole conversation we were having years ago in Chinatown with Joey in how you gravitate towards the things that you can see a reflection of yourself in, the things that make you feel less alone because you can recognize parts of yourself in something, you know?
Jaworski: So if I can do that quick on-the-spot shit that in some way has pieces of that then I’m happy.
Choe: Is that what you’re doing?
Jaworski: I hope so. If done correctly, when typing something for someone I’m giving them something that they don’t realize is a part of them, which in turn makes it universal. Paul Schrader told me about this experience he had after creating Taxi Driver and how he was getting the same letter from a bunch of different people that were saying the same thing about how “I can’t believe you made this film, it’s about me.” And people were identifying with the work so much to where a man even showed up in his office one day demanding to know who had told him about his life. He thought the film was a character study about himself and Schrader’s response was that, “what you’re going through isn’t terribly unique at all, it’s part of a pathology and one of the beauties of recognizing it is that you realize you’re not alone and that you can see yourself in context with other people instead of just by yourself.” And I think great art does that, it makes someone feel less alone, because they can recognize them self in something else other than them self. Henry Miller had the same thing happen with his Tropic series and a bunch of other fucking people have it. It’s when you create something that seems like it’s speaking to just one person directly, yet it actually translates to an entire populous. I’m not saying that I’m on that level yet, but I’m on my way.
Choe: So what’s the response to that, when you do something like that?
Jaworski: It’s a crazy insane intensely positive reaction, an explosion of smiles and hugs. Before everything though, when I was younger, I always wanted to do film. Writing was the first thing that spoke to me, that chose me, but I always wanted to make films. And so I’ve made a few small things here and there, but I was the weird kid growing up, you know? I mean even now, all my friends are at least 10 years older than me. Film is the most collaborative art form, you need a lot of people and a lot of minds on the same page to make a piece work. And when I was young, I thought I was never going to find those people. So I said- fuck it. I’ll make my strange Chris Marker bits by myself and go full force with the first thing that chose me- writing, which is the most solitary type of art. You have to be alone to be a writer. That’s not just something I’m saying, but something every great writer can be quoted as saying in one way or another, from Henry Miller to Blaise Cendrars to Knut Hamsun to even fucking R.L. Stine. You need to be alone to write, and for awhile I was alone, for a long while. I sort of settled in on being alone. It suited me.
Choe: Yeah, in general, art and writing are very solitary, and you may hear about people liking it after it gets out there but to do it live in front of people and have that immediate response like you’re doing now, it’s the same when I put shit up in the street. But, you’re a very handsome young man, and when you write stuff for people on the streets there’s an immediate response, you know, and you get pussy thrown at you. So what happens when you make yourself look like a mutant, shaving your head and wearing weird shit, but still write and create these things for people?
Jaworski: [Laughs] I guess I should say I’ve never created anything for sex.
Choe: Everyone always does something for pussy, but go ahead.
Jaworski: [Laughs] Well, it’s not something I normally think about or go after. Maybe I’m gay, who the fuck knows, but it’s not something that seems to interest me as much as most of my other friends. And with the majority of my friends that are women, we’re so close as friends because sex and things like that have never come up as an issue, you know? And it’s either a breath of fresh air for them or just a relief. Saelee was telling me I’m like her gay friend that isn’t gay. [Laughs] And I’ve noticed with almost every guy I meet, sex is something completely and almost entirely taking up their mind. I definitely love women, am attracted to them, and I think they’re beautiful, but I’m always working and writing. And I had love, a very complete love, but I tend to give myself up completely to what I’m in love with and right now I’d rather give myself up completely to my work than a person, even though that’s the saddest and loneliest avenue I could walk down. And so- what if I look completely fucking ridiculous while doing what I’m doing? Well, I definitely did look completely ridiculous, but it was still the same response. I was in San Francisco, so I had more gay dudes coming at me, but there were some women too.
Choe: So how do you feel, crossing the boundary from writing to performance art?
Jaworski: Breton said that the people who break walls and boundaries are the ones who don’t see them. I never saw any boundary between the two things. It all feels very natural to me where everything is going with myself and my work. That’s kind of a stupid catch-all thing to say that doesn’t cover everything, but it covers enough to where it’s somewhat valid and true.
Choe: Are you going to do more stuff like this?
Jaworski: I definitely have more performance ideas, and I definitely have more writing in my head too. The performance stuff I want to do requires money and funding to create, they’re large-scale projects, but the writing just requires a pen and a piece of paper. So it’s just buffering different things at the moment with what I can create in order to support other projects down the line. It’s all about finding the best way, coming back to what we were saying in the beginning, it’s all about finding the best way to present what I’m doing as something to where it will have more value and longevity so it can touch and affect more people. The film was made to heal me and the performance was done to heal others, you know?
Jaworski: And experimenting with different forms of creating something, performance or whatever, I started thinking about how people experience things. There’s painting, sculpture and the photograph and those are kind of the same in that you experience them just as a whole all at once and you kind of go through them afterwards, and then there’s film which you experience by sitting down for whatever X amount of time in darkness and that is sort of in the same realm as performance, and then there’s the novel- the book. And unless you’re crazy and for awhile I was crazy, you don’t normally read a book in one sitting. You kind of open it and then you close it and maybe you’ll go back and reread a passage and then skip ahead a bit and go back to where you were at, and then you take a shit and then you eat a bit and then you read some more and then maybe a week will go by and the whole time the work’s still inside you until you finish it and for a brief moment it becomes a part of you. It is this thing that you are carrying, physically around with you and your person, and it’s also something that you’re carrying around with you intangibly, inside of you. It’s a relationship, really. It takes more energy to expend to experience, but when you’re done it’s more satisfying than anything. And so I think it has more power than a film or a painting or a photograph. I mean, look at the fucking Bible or the Koran or the Torah- they’re just words and text bound together on paper in ink and millions of people have died and whole countries have been raised and felled just over these books and what some people see in them. That’s power. I’m not saying I’m trying to write the next Bible or anything like that, but that’s an example of a text’s grandeur over any other art form.
Choe: Definitely. So what do you do about getting someone to sit down and read a fucking book, what happens to a book?
Jaworski: Well, fewer and fewer people are willing to give that much energy to experience something anymore. “Books in our society are dead,” is something a lot of people love to say. And I’ve written books, I have other books in my head, but if you look at the old model for a book, books are dead. So how can I make this book, this thing that I’ve created and how can I give it life and present it to someone to where it wont just sit next to their bed and collect dust like so many books have done with you and with me- it takes a different approach. A book will always be a beautiful thing to me, one of the most beautiful things to me. But you need to work to experience the work and people hate to fucking work or spend energy on anything. Today, things have to be instant, from our fucking coffee down to whatever film it is that we’re streaming. And a book is so much more than anything else because it isn’t instant. It is the antithesis of an instant work. So it’s just trying to present it in a way to where it has more value. Like you said, you just have stacks of books chilling by your bed you haven’t read but want to and I do to, so how do you add value to something that is one of the oldest art forms-
Choe: Well, you know what another one of the oldest art forms is- dance. And how do you incorporate dance into what you’re doing, because you’re a wonderful dancer, one of the best I know, and you’re the best writer I know, so if you could find that impossible medium of presenting dance with writing without it being a joke-
Jaworski: Well, just the words ‘performance art’ are kind of repulsive to me. That might sound strange, but it’s kind of like the word poetry- it just sounds bad. If someone comes up to me and tells me they’re a poet, it’s kind of hard for me not to discount them completely. And it’s not a malicious thing, it’s a pretentious thing. No one can claim to be a poet- that’s a title you’re given, not one that is claimed, you know? There’s so much artfag air and stubbornness with both performance art and poetry that the two mediums as a whole now have so much pretension around them.
Choe: But yet, in those worlds, there’s good shit.
Jaworski: There are good things, definitely.
Choe: There’s this woman, someone was telling me about her, I don’t know her name, but she’s an older woman and her performance art is she just gets naked on stage with a wall and she just starts running at top speed, as fast as she can, slamming into the wall over and over again until she’s bloody and she wont stop and it’s supposed to be a metaphor for something.
Jaworski: Wow. That sounds like it would be awesome to watch and document or film.
Choe: Do you think you’re going to move more towards film? And how do you feel about choose-your-own-adventure books?
Jaworski: [Laughs] I love choose-your-own-adventure books. If I could find a good way to just write choose-your-own-adventure books I would probably just do that. [Laughs] But film- I definitely feel the film [DIE JUNGE DIE YOUNG] as a work was more powerful than the performance because the performance wasn’t a single thing, it was so many little one-on-ones, that it can’t really be distilled down into a single thing or object like the film. The film will always be the film, but the performance was more a collage of personal micro-performances with everyone that came by. But yeah, I definitely have plans to move more into film.
Choe: Okay, I have to ask you something.
Choe: So I’m 34, you’re much younger and we’ve both never done drugs ever in our entire lives. Then, a few weeks ago, we both did mushrooms together for the first time with my shaman… and then not long after you went into performance art and shaved your head.
Choe: Is there any correlation between the two or am I -
Jaworski: That would be an amazing funny ridiculous way to arrive at where I’m at, but no, definitely not. I had plans to do this whole piece months ago. When we were hugging each other and laughing and crying into each other’s faces on ‘shrooms I wasn’t trying to get anywhere. All this performance and art shit I arrived at when I was living in New York awhile ago. It was before we were living down the street in Chinatown from each other. I was still in Brooklyn, and I had the idea, not labeling it as performance art, but presenting the writing and text that I do conceptually as more a fine art product rather than just a book that would collect dust on a shelf. And I feel there’s a value to what I do, I noticed the lack of people reading and experiencing text and it’s sad, but you can’t change the way the world experiences art as a whole. However, you can change the way the world experiences your art and in turn, as a sort of trojan horse, have them ingesting something that they normally wouldn’t do due to its label. And every fucking kid that creates something will say it, but I’ll mean it because I’ve come close- I’ll die for this shit, you know? I’ve put a rope around my neck for this shit and I mean that literally. I’ve hung myself for this. And so, when I’m putting so much of myself into something, into my work, it can’t not be taken in as something more than what it is because it is a part and piece of me.
Choe: Well, good luck with that. That’s definitely something that sounds impossible, but if anyone can do it, you can. You have an insane work ethic, it’s pretty amazing, I’ve seen you work like crazy, days and days without stopping. You have these thousand page novels just sitting there that are ready to be put out and you’re also in your sexual prime.
Jaworski: I am, but I’m not fucking- I’m working. What’s up with that?
Choe: Yeah, what the fuck, that’s what I’m saying. The ladies need love too and you’re a very handsome sweet gentleman even though your head is completely shaved. How are you going to deal with that?
Jaworski: I don’t know, who knows. I fall in love way too easily, but that’s just who I am.
Choe: Well, good luck with that again and with the writing and with everything else. You know I love you and I’m here for you.
Jaworski: I love you too.
Choe: Want to get something to eat?
Jaworski: Yeah, sure.
Choe: Let’s do it.