A few weeks ago, Amalia Ulman and Dean Kissick met up with Milo Conroy in order to record a conversation in preparation for the opening of Tournament for Swollen Hearts Round Un, the inaugural exhibition of Galerie Yeche Lange in which Amalia will be exhibiting three unique NFTs.
Milo: Did you guys see those plates on the way in, the art plates? There's a stand in the entrance that has artist edition plates. On the way here I was actually preparing to show you guys these John Knight plates from 1983 that are just plates with numbers, like one of 556, two of 556 etc as an example of like a proto-NFT.
Milo: And there's like, there's those Duchamp spinning plates, in Paris, that he sold editions of on the streets. Those were early 1920’s and since then plates just keep coming back. That's really the context of NFTs, artwork on plates. Art served to us in the form of plates.
Amalia Ulman: How about the little decorative spoons? Because that's also a collection that people would love.
British people collect spoons, right?
Dean: Very much, so for the Queens coronation, wedding anniversaries, that sort of thing.
Milo: You have a spoon collection?
Dean: No, I do have a plate collection though. The only plates I have in my house are ones I got from the Performa gala a few years ago. They are artist edition plates, but I don't think they're numbered. And all my cups, I steal my cups, well I borrow little glasses, one by one from La Colombe when I get my coffee. Different La Colombes use different colored glasses.
Amalia: That's nice.
Dean: So yeah, but they're not unique editions either. They're very fungible.
[A small plate of pastries arrives on the table ]
Amalia: These pastries look fungible to me.
Dean: What kind of NFT are you making?
Amalia: Well, should I talk about the show or the generative one that we are making? [Amalia has deposited a half eaten pastry back on the plate] I didn't like this pastry. Sorry.
Milo: What is it?
Amalia: It's pine nutty. It's okay. I'll eat it.
Milo: You don't have to.
Amalia: Children are starving somewhere.
Milo: I don't think they would want you to eat it. It's okay.
Amalia: Okay. So in the show we have replicas of wire sculptures I’ve made. There’s a wheelchair and a tank.
And also the “cigarettes are back'' sign! Which I'm very excited about.
Milo: Can you give the backstory about “the cigarettes are back”?
Amalia: So last year on June 1st, there was (allegedly) a vibe shift.
I remember someone posting a photo that went viral on Twitter saying this was the sign of the vibe shift because it says “Cigarettes are back”. A few months ago I was walking down my street and I recognised the sign in a store near me. So I got really excited and I asked the guy to give it to me and he said, okay, but he needed to photocopy one. So he has a photocopy and I have the original. Which I’m happy about because I get to have it without depriving the neighborhood of it.
Milo: Is this the original sign from a year ago?
Amalia: Yeah. That's the original, yeah. I was just surprised too, that the sign was in the upper east side and that was the core of the vortex of the vibe shift. Yeah. I'm excited to make more works about New York and things that I find like the cigarette soup.
Amalia: Yeah. I'm excited about the cigarette soup.
Dean: Cigarette soup?
Amalia: Well, there's these Chinese men that hang out outside the backdoor of a sushi restaurant on my block. They throw their cigarette butts into this tupperware. And when it's been raining it becomes soup, and it's just such a beautiful object. I don't know when I first saw it, but the other day it looked so pretty to me. In my twisted disgusting mind, I found these cigarettes very beautiful. I don't know, there was something about it. The met gala was happening at the same time, so close by, but I was just focused on this cigarette soup.
Dean: It's very responsible to not just throw them on the street.
Amalia: Another local thing that I'm dealing with is that I'm supposed to get this Teddy bear from the Chase bank near me but I think I can only get it when the manager is in because she has the keys, but every time I go, she's not there and I think so far, there have been four times where I’ve gone and ask for my Teddy bear and it's getting very embarrassing.
Dean: Is this a Teddy bear that you are owed or is it just like a big teddy bear in the bank that you have asked to have?
Amalia: No, it's a small one from Chase bank and apparently, they have them in a vault that only the manager can access with this key and I keep on missing the manager.
Dean: Everyone gets one?
Amalia: If you want to, I think you can ask for one I don't know. I think they give it to you if you are a child. So I need to come up with a story of like “oh my cousin is very obsessed with this toy or something. It's not for me.”
Milo: I think the truth might set you free like if you just said…
Amalia: I'm retarded. I really want the bear. I can't stop thinking about the bear.
Dean: I just joined Chase bank.
Milo: You should go get this bear.
Dean: No one's even mentioned it to me.
Milo: Its secret utility for being a Chase bank card holder.
Dean: They wouldn't even give me a credit card. I'm going to go back and get a credit card and the Teddy bear.
But I digress. Remember when you did the big painting of all the eyes, and Stefan Simchowitz cut it up into a series and then just randomly sends them to people who've written nice things about him or people who he feels grateful for.
Amalia: Yeah. That was wild.
Dean: It's kind of an NFT.
Amalia: Yeah, that was funny.
Milo: I don't know this story.
Amalia: You don't know this story? So there were these huge paintings that I made. I remember I had to develop this pulley system in my room in Spain to be able to paint them because they were too big. Holga helped me. They were these paintings of blue eyes. One painting was like western eyes, and the other one was like anime eyes and the paintings were all the eyes together. On a trip, somebody introduced me to Stefan and I was completely broke. So I was very excited about meeting somebody that might give me something for my work or something like that.
And I remember at some point, well we met in person and it was funny because I remember that he didn't like me then personally, I think he thought I was too independent maybe. I don't know.
He only liked me once I was paralyzed from my waist down.
Milo: Many such cases.
Amalia: Many such cases! I remember later on when I was back in Spain, I took a meeting with him. I was very nervous. He called me on Skype at like 3:00 AM in the morning or something. I was just like, ready. Like, yes, I'll take a meeting whenever. And I think he bought the paintings, but he asked me if he could chop them up and multiply the paintings. They were like multiple eyes on each painting. I thought it was stupid because the work was supposed to be all the eyes together and it would look ugly, but I really needed the money. So, I was like, whatever, like you can wipe your ass with it if you want. Like I don't care.
Amalia: Which he might have done too, I will never know.
Dean: I know someone who has one. I know a journalist, great journalist, based in Vienna, teaches at NYU.
Amalia: I would like to have one back now actually, one of the anime looking ones.
Dean: You could get one back. He's probably still got a few.
Amalia: I have good memories of that show because I remember there was this budget allotted to it and I thought, instead of taking a flight directly to where the show is, which was Zurich, I'm going to take the interrail so I can go to Berlin and Paris. So what I hadn't thought of is that the works, which I was carrying myself, were extremely heavy. Because it's canvas, like huge canvases.
Oh my God. How are you?
Friend we just ran into: Good. What's up?
Amalia: We're just recording conversation so everything you say is on the record
[now we start talking about the wireframe sculptures]
Amalia: So, it's funny because I had to give this little sort of testimony for the New York Times recently about art school. But I didn't really learn anything from art school, and they asked me for some photos of artworks from that era and I remember this cabinet that had some wire figures in it. So I guess I started making them in 2012 or something. Originally they were very small because I didn't have any money for materials. (Years later) I started making wire frame sculptures again in the hospital because they were very easy to make there. I started making wheelchairs and then in one of my morphine induced hallucinations, I saw myself surrounded by larger versions of them.
Dean: You saw yourself surrounded by..
Amalia: Yeah, the bigger versions of the wire figures I was making and I thought, oh, that's cool. That's still like my favorite show to date.
Dean: It's like in Akira. Have you seen Akira? When Tetsuo is in his hospital bed. He has this hallucination and all his Teddy bears, kind of like the Chase bank bear, actually all his childhood toys become huge and come to life and they're floating around him in the bed. It's quite similar to what you described.
Amalia: One time in the hospital, I tried to escape on a wheelchair but I became exhausted very fast because I didn't have any energy. I mean, it wasn't like a real escape, but I wanted to go explore. Also, I had forgotten that you needed money in the real world because I was so used to having things brought up to me by nurses, and then obviously the first floor had the regular cafeteria and I wanted things, but I had nothing and I was like, oh I don't like this. I'm going back to my room.
[Interruption, now talking about the wireframe sculptures again]
Amalia: I made the first prototype, the larger prototype with Holga.
Dean: Your cat?
Amalia: Holga. Yes.
Dean: How does she help?
Amalia: Well, she would be very active and touching, moving things, being there for me, inspiring me.
Dean: How does she feel about NFTs then? A lot of NFTs are cats, most of them are animals of some kind. I had a cat NFT, a Tubby cat. I made some money on my Tubby Cat last year. Pretty cool.I wish I could sell a Tubby cat every week and I could make a tidy little living.
Amalia: Well Holga is old now. She's very traditional. I think she's veering more towards movies, because she's an old movie star. She likes that. She really wants me to do this portrait of the Seth Price boys. I want to make this video of Jeff and Willard and Alex Dolan. I just need the money to make a beautiful portrait of these men just like minding their own business. I’m titling this movie, 3 Men.
Dean: You know, I could probably get you that money from Web 3 as well. How much money do you need?
Amalia:I could make a very beautiful 35 ml Cinemascope portrait of Jeff going to Dunkin Donuts.
Dean: I'm sure you could.
Milo: You know, Seth has an NFT.
Dean: Does he?
Milo: A music NFT with our friends, Nina protocol
Amalia: Oh, because he makes music, right? Yeah. Forgot about that. I want to get one
Dean: Seth has a great record, not an NFT, a real record, multiple unique prints available from spikeartmagazine.com for very reasonable rates. Maybe you should pick up one of those.
[Discussing Amalia’s generative project]
Amalia: Well, the profile picture thing set me off.
Milo: Maybe these are kind of like the anti-profile picture. They are profiling, but not a profile picture.
Amalia: Yeah it is related to that calligraphy thing that I was working on. But it's more like a psychological profile.
We are gathering all the data from all the graphology books and the descriptions of each type of handwriting. Each note is a love note. For example, one would say, I love you, but written with different kind of handwritings; Psychopathic, Anorexic, Submissive, Oppressive, Depressive
I think I've always been fascinated with autographs or like signatures because I don't really have a signature myself. Like the one I have is still today after so many years, I consider it to be like a temporary signature. I was never fully happy with it. So at some point I'll change it.
Dean: No, I don't have one either,
Amalia: In China, it's very common to get your signature designed by somebody. It's like when you get a new name designed by a fortune teller. There are people in the street that will design signatures that are lucky, obviously because everything has to be lucky. I wish somebody would design a signature for me like that.
Dean: Okay but so if I go to the Chinese signature designer, they're not going to let me choose right and I can't tell them what I want.
Amalia: They look at you and they'll say what's going on in your life? What are you unhappy with? So this will counterbalance that.
Milo : A bit the opposite of your project which is like determining the persons emotional state from the signature. Have you seen Whistler’s signature?
Amalia: Whistler’s? No.
Milo: His signature was in this show that I saw at Kunsthalle Bern. It was just his signature torn from a piece of paper in a frame. It's really nice like a butterfly.
Dean: I can imagine. I'm not very good at penmanship. It's a real problem and this is a large part of the reason I didn't become an artist. It's something I've been pissed off about since I was seven, eight years old, I've just never been able to draw or write with the kind of control that I'd like. The uses of signatures are so interesting now, like the main thing I'm signing for is credit cards often on a tablet buying coffees or whatever. And now that no longer needs to have any relation whatsoever to your signature. It just becomes some weird formality. So, you can do whatever you want. I like to do all different things on the iPad screens. I like to draw little pictures.
Milo: You have a couple signed pictures from actors.
Amalia: I like memorabilia. Some of them are signed and I don't know if they're real or not. I kind of don't care. I hate signing autographs though. When people want me to sign autographs, I don't know what to do.
Dean: Oh yeah, you actually need an autograph, something different then your signature.
Amalia: I kind of write my name, like in a girly way. But the first time I needed to do an autograph it took me by surprise. It was when I was introducing the Excellences & Perfections book with Natasha Stagg at Rizzoli.
Dean: I was there.
Amalia: You were there and some freaks appeared with my photo printed and I needed to sign it.
Dean: There was a super fan. The super fan came with all these photos.
Amalia: But I don't know if like that was really a super fan, it seemed more like the people, who that's their job,to gather autographs
Dean: So, I don't think so. I remember, I think they were a super fan,
Amalia: The same thing happened in Venice. When I was in Venice, someone came up with my picture printed at the hotel.
Dean: They might be professional.
Amalia: They were outside the hotel because everyone was staying at the same hotel. So “fans” would wait outside
Dean: I don't know how much the Amalia Ulman signature is really worth. So we'll have to ask the autograph hunter.
Amalia: Well, the one thing that upset me about these guys is the photos, because it's not the nineties anymore. They're not like proper headshots that you get nicely printed. They're pixelated photos that they downloaded from Google. I was like may I give you real nice printed photos? I don't want to sign these.
Dean: Well you became famous, world famous, on the back of digital imagery. So it kind of makes sense.
Talk to your agent. Though, they can sort that out.
Amalia: I love my agents, for the record.
Dean: Okay. Well make sure you give them 30% of your NFT profits.