In conversation with Craig Leonard

Edited by Valeria Federici, Art Editor –
All images courtesy of the artist.

Craig Leonard’s recent work includes handmade records for the Los Angeles punk band the Screamers, a collaborative project with the Maritime History Archive on Newfoundland’s resettlement program, an examination of the Cuban Independent Library Movement, and a bookwork consisting of obsolete concepts from the Oxford English Dictionary.

-What is your background?
Hessian-Mayflower lineage, Nova Scotia-born, Ontario-raised (Canada, Ed.).

Top: A Colour-Coding of Partch’s Ptolemy Keyboard Based on his Chromelodeon I, Craig Leonard. Above: Cristos, Craig Leonard

-You decided to spend some time in North Adams, Massachusetts (USA) while being included in the MASS MoCA‘s exhibit Oh, Canada. You told me before you don’t like to just pass through a place where you exhibit but rather to spend some time on site. You confined yourself in a sort of spontaneous residency. Part of the residency is about curating a storefront gallery space under the title Friends of Freiheit. How is it going? What impact do you feel this experience is having on you and what impact do you feel you are having on this location?

Biennials and blockbusters have turned large-scale exhibitions into trade shows oblivious to the culture into which they are inserted and commercial galleries tend to migrate (or materialize) in a handful of metropoli creating geographic exclusivity. Heterogeneous artist-run initiatives — specifically, that fundamental spirit at their historic origin (La Cedille qui Sourit, Western Front, A Space, Hallwalls,…) — are sites of resistance to these stultifying dominant trends comparable with the unrestrained dispersion of image-objects on the Internet. The intention of Friends of Freiheit has been to contribute directly to the culture of North Adams (while reciprocally drawing upon it) and to create its parallel existence on the Internet where its residue will continue to exist after its door has closed.


Above: Full Sails, Marie Lorenz

-Who are the friends, how did you pick them and why did you pick the word freedom (in German)?

Let’s say “Friends of Freiheit” is a cryptogram… “Freiheit” is the German word for freedom. Max Freiheit, the gallery’s director, is a composite character who figuratively and transliterally represents “maximum freedom”. You can see how this concept responds to what I stated about biennials, museums, commercial galleries, etc… The “friends” of Freiheit constitute Max Freiheit herself who is equivalent to the physical space in which the work is shown. “Friends of Freiheit” is a constellation. The space, the artists, the work shown, the activity done, and the Internet image-objects are all equivalent. To this list I should also add the audience attending the physical space and the far-flung viewers engaging through the website.


Above: A lot of what it takes, Faith La Roque

Friends of Freiheit involves some curatorial intervention and you curated other projects before. When you find yourself involved in a project at what point you decide to be engaged as a curator or only as an artist? Is any distinction necessary for you?

The main difference between a curator and an artist is institutional power. The differences are outnumbered by the similarities: selecting, combining, placing, juxtaposing, contextualizing, nominating,… Contemporary curators and artists are both complex collagists. However, the main distinction remains: the curator has access to space, to a public platform. An artist-run initiative like Friends of Freiheit is a response to this condition, as well as an alternative.

Above: White Visitor, Allison Schulnik

What do you look for when you start a project and how do you pick one? I guess my question is what are you interested in?

Excavation? Yet adding to the dig site after recognizing an absence. Or revealing what is concealed? Yet I can’t help but resist transparency. I need complexity (ambiguity, intertextuality, irony, wit). Whatever I intend to reveal naturally ends up as para-communication…


Above: Instruction for Open Participation, Michael Eddy

-Do you ever ask yourself who is your art for, who is your audience? Or better what would you like people to walk away with after experiencing your art?

Without pretension, I don’t distinguish between art and other activities. Is a smart turn of phrase art? Yes. Is the construction of a room behind a bookcase art? Yes. Is a large oil painting in a Chelsea gallery art? Yes. Of course these things are different in form, but the intention at the point of origin may be equal. Art is a meta-activity: activity about activity. Once that is acknowledged it can be forgotten. To answer your first question, art is for its initiator (the “artist”) and whomever comes into contact with what occurs or has occurred.


Above: Sunset Dub for King Tubby, Craig Leonard

-Which individuals have been or are of inspiration for you?

This is impossible to answer without sounding corny. Mina Loy? Alfred Jarry? Neal Cassady? Pierre Schaeffer? The Hollywood Ten? Tip of the iceberg…

Above: DNA’s Grapefruit, Craig Leonard

-In conclusion, I decided to ask Craig Leonard a question specifically related to one his past projects (although seeing the answer the project is probably still ongoing). Have you ever found out where and when the Grapefruit song by the DNA was recorded?

“No” (unfortunately…) Still looking!

More on Craig Leonard

Craig has exhibited at venues including A Space (Toronto), Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Artcite (Windsor), Eyelevel (Halifax), Gallery Display (Prague), Khyber (Halifax), Mercer Union (Toronto), Raid Projects (Los Angeles), Struts (Sackville) and YYZ (Toronto).

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