2004_08_intdirkwest.jpgThe Basics
1. Age and Occupation:
40, artist/photographer. My show, “Piscoli Fabulosi,” is at Mixed Greens gallery through the end of the weekend.

2. Where do you consider home?
New York City, downtown—specifically Centre Street and East Broadway.

3. How do you get to work?

4. During the early ’90s you formed a collective called the NYC Militia, “in the name of art terrorism and good fun.” Then you began organizing New York Gladiators fight spectacles in places like the P.S. 1 courtyard. That was certainly a different era for the city, but what was this all about?
Several of us moved to the end-of-Centre Street area (around the Grand and Broome)—industry was changing more towards garment , and we took advantage of everything we could. My work was connected to the area and based on accessible materials and street sensibility. Our great landlord made it easy (in terms of rent, space, sponsoring our soccer team, deducting rent for dead pigeons…), and some of my friends (Tom Sachs, Callum Greene, and Alfredo Martinez and I seemed to be working in a similar vein, even though our final product was different. So we formed the NYC Militia and wrote a Manifesto (please link to http://dirkwestphal.com/bio.html) that laid out our basic beliefs. We favored things you might not expect from a group of artists, like early-morning physical training and complete accountability.

The New York City Gladiators were loosely related to the Militia—they were all about spectacle, a good fight, pretty girls, and some friendly wagering. It came about after I designed the women’s clothing line YGI—clothes made from orange mesh and plastic typically found around the city streets and construction sites. Since we needed a men’s line, I made these protective outfits out of the orange plastic barrels that serve as street barricades. I cut them up and used zip-ties, courtesy of Con Ed, to attach them, using armor as an inspiration. Since [wearing these] one could move quickly and absorb blows without serious trauma, I developed a fight with rounds, no rules, and halftime entertainment (that was usually dancing girls with fire). Judges were appointed from the crowd, and points were awarded for clean contacts and style—so you cold get the shit kicked out of you, but if you had style or flare, or made it look good, you could still win. A metaphor for life, perhaps, in New York City.

5. So how could any of this possibly segue to photographs of fish, which you’re working on now?
My work has been studio-bound ever since [September 11], when I happened to be in the studio working instead of running around on the street, as I had been. The orange of the street barricades and plastic to the orange fish in Chinatown (my nearest neighborhood) seems logical, and plus, it’s my favorite color. The fish photos started with pictures of fish I bought in the neighborhood. With my most recent project, I’m building special “posing” tanks, with sophisticated lighting through plexiglass, large-format cameras, high-resolution scans… The fish come from all over the world (in my last project, they were all Pomacentridae, a.k.a. damsels/clownfish), and I have to get them acclimated to their new home and to photography. Some of them turn brown when they’re nervous, which is bad for photos!

6. Since you were born and raised in Ohio, where the Bush and Kerry campaigns almost crossed streams this past weekend, let’s talk politics. We all know that in the last election Bush snagged Ohio by a mere four percentage points, but let’s get more specific: You didn’t grow up far from Columbus’s Ward 62, which Bush won by only 12 votes. Say 12 people from your hometown are going to decide the whole thing. What do the next four years look like?
I grew up in Columbus, and went to school there. But living there was a little odd. My mom made me feel that we would move back to Germany any time (they moved to the U.S. in the late ‘50s) and we even spoke German at home. And to confuse matters more, we had a summer cottage on Lake Michigan, and we all still go there. I think it’s a charmed place—perhaps the type of charm I think is missing from Ohio, anyway—so I always plugged Michigan. This is very provocative in the hotbed of football fanaticism…

So to answer your question, I’m not really so in touch. But based on a recent trip to the heartland, I’d say that Kerry has an uphill fight for sure. Plus, Bush is in there, and if we can believe what we read, he “stole” the last one. So Kerry will really need his spinach.

Remembrance of things pasts, or three tried and true, with thanks to Andrew Krucoff:
7. What era, day, or event in New York's history would you like to relive?
The time when the Rockaways had a wild frontier.

8. Best celebrity sighting in New York?
I asked to take Chow Yun Fat’s picture with a Polaroid, and he grabbed someone else and made them take a picture of us together.

9. Medication: What and how much do you take?
Recreational experiments only.

The rest of it:
10. In 1971, Professor Marvin Zuckerman of the University of Delaware published a Sensation Seeking Scale questionnaire—asking such questions as whether you LIKE to dive off the high board, or whether you get that funny feeling in your stomach and would rather come down. On a scale of 1 to 40 (40 being Evel Knievel), where are you? Why?
I think the high dive is fun and easy up to 10 meters, but I’ve stopped doing tricks from that height. But if I wore a suit and helmet I’d try just about anything, so I’m not sure how to answer.

11. What's the last thing you tried to read but didn't finish?
Baudrillard’s Seduction—most interesting snooze ever.

12. What are your plans for the Republican National Convention?
I’ll be about 100 miles away, at my mother-in-law’s house for a big party. Hopefully the hurricane season will have set in, and there’ll be big waves to surf.

13. Did you vote in the last election? If not, why not, and when's the last time you voted?
Voted stupidly, hoping for the best—couldn’t have turned out worse.

14. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “overrated”?
One r or two???