At this year's Mix Festival, Quentin Crisp's East Village apartment has been recreated, brought back to life by Crisp's great-nephew Adrian Goycoolea and Crisperanto curator Phillip Ward. The installation, entitled "Personal Effects," is open until November 14. I talked with Mr. Goycoolea via email and asked him a few questions.
all photos courtesy of Adrian Goycoolea
Q: I remember seeing Crisp walking the streets of the East Village, sitting in the window of the Cooper Square Diner, and the sight of him made me feel that I was in the presence, however fleeting, of the extraordinary, not the mundane. What was it like to have this extraordinary person as your great-uncle?
A: Quentin was indeed an extraordinary person and his figure always loomed large in our family narrative. Personally, he was the closest thing I had to a grandfather as all of my actual grandparents had died before I was born or when I was very young. I first met him when I was six or seven years old, when we moved to the New York area (OK fine, I admit it, NJ) and I was taken by his style and wit even at that age.
While growing up, I often saw him at various family gatherings (weddings, christenings, etc.) and then when I was living in NY I would regularly have lunch with him at the Cooper Square Diner because I was working right around the corner from his house at Anthology Film Archives. When people find out that I am related to him, they often ask me "What was he really like?" He was no different with us than he was with strangers. He was always performing. It was who he was. This is partly what I was interested in exploring with this installation--the relationship between the public and the private.
Q: Your University of Sussex bio says that your work "addresses issues of location and identity." How do you see the location of the East Village as connected to Crisp's identity? Was it simply the place where he lived, or do you see the East Village (and its identity at the time) as expressive of something specifically Crispian?
A: The East Village was where Quentin spent the happiest years of his life. It was here that he felt truly accepted by the world at large. He loved the openness and personality of New York, particularly the Lower East Side. Although he is as English as you can be, New York really was his spiritual home. He felt a real affinity for the way New Yorkers express themselves, their varied and unique senses of style. Here he finally felt surrounded by others like him who viewed the city streets as a stage.
Q: How do you see that locational identity as changed, or not? Where might the "Crispian" still exist in the city?
A: Well, I no longer live in NY (I now live in England, ironically) and coming back to the East Village I am shocked by the changes I see. Whole Foods on Houston? The distinct lack of junkies on Tompkins Square Park or winos on the Bowery, no more CBGBs, etc. It has all become so much more gentrified and commercialized. It's a shame. Quentin would not approve. Since I don't live here anymore it's hard for me to say where you can find neighborhoods that have that old East Village feel. Red Hook perhaps? I suppose it would have to be somewhere that mixes immigrant communities with artists, but that still has not attracted the attention of the affluent.
Q: Tell us about your title--Personal Effects. What inspired that choice?
A: After Quentin died in 1999, I helped clean out his apartment with his good friend Phillip Ward (who is now the executor of his estate and runs Crisperanto: The Quentin Crisp Archives) and it was here that we first discussed collaborating on this installation. I gave this piece its title because the objects in this room are made up of many of his actual personal effects, and the video monitor plays a film loop I made that utilizes family home movie footage of him.
I felt that the title also referred to my great-uncle's lesser known personal life. I am interested in his apartment because it can be understood as being his backstage area, his dressing room. It also speaks to my dual understanding of Quentin as both an influential public figure and a beloved family member.
Q: In the photos, I see a plain room, a bit shabby, cluttered--there is nothing "extra-ordinary" about it visually. And yet Crisp always presented himself, sartorially speaking, as unique and eye-catching. What do you make of that seeming contradiction?
A: He strongly believed in doing as little housework as possible so as to focus that energy on self reflection and self realization. So although he had an impeccable self presentation, his apartment was filthy and disordered. But this is what I find fascinating about his apartment. In a sense one feeds the other. He would not have been the man he was if he did not live like he did. They are two sides of the same coin. He was not at all interested in interior decor, he was interested in personal decor.
Q: For the real-estate aware among us, we are often exposed to images of apartments in the "new" East Village--they tend to be spare, filled with modern furnishings, and various luxuries. I see Crisp's apartment as a vanishing "type" of living space in the East Village, and in the city as a whole. What might be lost as these bohemian living quarters vanish?
A: Yes, that's true. People who have viewed the installation so far have talked about how few of these sorts of living spaces are around anymore. They find it comforting to be in, as it feels authentic. I think that it's indicative of the overall homogenization of Manhattan. As these bohemian apartments disappear so do the creative personalities that live in them, much to the detriment of the cultural life of the island as a whole. In fact, Quentin saw this coming, he always said that eventually "Manhattan will one day become an island fortress for the rich." I think that this is what we are seeing now.