Too polished an environment doesn’t allow for chaos and messiness to meld with beauty and order, which is something very important to your work. Is that true for your life as well?
Living in places that are too comfortable is anticlimactic for artists. For example, I really don’t enjoy going to fancy, trendy, very expensive restaurants—there’s too much pretense. I like places that are rough, loud, crazy, chaotic, down-to-earth. It’s similar to why I like Bushwick: There are rats here and garbage there, but you see beautiful scenes of mothers holding children’s hands going to school in uniforms, or crazy-looking artists walking around at 3 a.m., and heroin addicts. You see life as it is.
As an artist, you need to be confronted by the good and the bad, the order and chaos. Too much chaos or too much order is problematic. I like something in-between. Trying to balance that, every day, keeps me on my edge and feeling like I’m still a young emerging artist as opposed to feeling safe. Every day is a bit of a struggle and a challenge—I’m addicted to it. The projects I choose are very ambitious and almost impossible at times, and they can be very painful. I think that I subconsciously put myself in places where I’m testing myself.
Limitations—like those enforced upon artists living under oppressive regimes—can also engender better art than comfortable environments.
I’m a strong believer that limitations lead to a very creative process. When you’re within these parameters, in which so many things are not possible, you become very creative and imaginative to find solutions. In my work, I always enforce a set of boundaries in terms of what I will and will not do, which helps me. If infinity were the limit, I would just be lost! I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but I think that’s forgotten by Western artists, because pretty much everything—from nudity to insulting political leaders and religion—is acceptable in art for them.
Critics often ignore work if it isn’t overtly political.
Even artists become conscious about what succeeds. But I often think about artists like Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films are not politically relevant but are existentially important. It’s a mixed blessing when you make art that has an acute relationship with political ideas. On the one hand, it’s sexy, provocative, sensational; on the other, the theme takes over the form, and the subject dominates the art. My work tries to keep a balance between deeply poetic, universal and timeless issues.
Poetry and music are means by which you’ve shown how limitations can be transcended. Why do you keep returning to those two elements?
Music is a kind of pure emotion. I’ve used it in most of my work because most of my subjects are very silent, coming from oppressive lives. To have a voice as a musician is very symbolic because music transcends reality and its issues. There is a way to be expressive with music that you cannot be in normal conversation.