Friday, November 12, 2010

Crisp's Effects

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.


Melanie said...

Interesting piece Jeremiah. I always greeted Crispin Crisp whilst walking in the EV. He always returned the greeting. He was a nice and colorful person.I remember him wearing colorful scarves.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of meeting him at a party once. He kissed my hand and said "Charmed!" As an EV neighbor, it was always a mini event to see Quentin on the street...yes, this part of the EV is disappearing, but so is the rest of "individual" NY. This new "Sanapple" is so faux indie. (Although some people don't clean apts. in their shiny new buildings either.)

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I saw him a few times, he looked no different from anyone who passed by. The yuppification and the destruction still loomed on the horizon, was very quick and rapid when it did come. He would never live in the EV nowadays.

Anonymous said...

I've been visiting this blog for some time now and find it disheartening to watch the dismantling of the character of Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn (which we have to admit are pretty much gone now.. all that's left are scraps and crumbs).

But more significantly and more telling, is how weak many of us voyeurs are.

We come to this blog, sit on the sidelines and bemoan the changes that happened in the last 5/10/15/20 years, but rarely does anyone here offer solutions.

I never hear of plans to offer "Mom 'n' Pop businesses" advice in how to be more competitive.

I never read suggestions of how to purchase real estate so that we can dictate the culture and shape of our so-called beloved communities.

Most of us seem to be resigned to be perpetual complainers instead of perpetual doers. That sort of attitude is DEFINITELY NOT what the city needs. It's not what "OLD NEW YORK" was about. I don't see anyone offering suggestions on how to fight for the character of the city that we claim to love so much.

Most of us would rather watch what we love die.

Isn't THAT sad?

Anonymous said...

"Manhattan will one day become an island fortress for the rich."

Just as the film "Freejack" predicted.

BaHa said...

Anon, 12:18. I fought and won a battle against an unscrupulous builder putting up an illegal building on my block. With the help and support of Jeremiah and EV Grieve, I might add. We are not supine, we are doers; we fight. No sidelines for us!

hartford said...

#1) i kind of agree w/anon 2:18 pm. but i dont hear this person offering any suggestions either. this situation i believe is bigger than all of us. most people oviously dont support moms/pops. #2) my friends knew quentin crisp in london way way back like 60s i think. they said his apartment was so disgusting you could not go inside. my friends are neat but casual (lots of books & stuff they like). hardly martha stewart, or decorator types. what was described to me is mental illness. this is not a bohemian apt. sorry to say. animals have more sense of cleanliness thin this man. don't glorify every freaky thing as being fabulous. i liked him personally & have his book. he himself builds a humorous case for not "doing housework". this is way way beyound not cleaning for a few weeks & leaving stuff around. if i was renting or buying in that building this would be the deal breaker.

hart said...

to add a 2nd comment re: quentin crisp- JM says his apt is "authentic" i can assure you there are hunrads of filth holes in NYC. lots of filth & squalor, what so cool about that? have you seen a crack den? have you seen an apt. w/an oviously mentally ill/demented/or senile person, that has not been touched in years? there exist on park avenue as well. jeremiah whats up?

Anonymous said...

Most of the changes the people here bemoan are the results of federal government policies that kept residential and commercial real estate prices high. Because of the high density, the effect was the most extreme here. The result is fewer interesting businesses and interesting people can afford to live here. Federal government policies that created a new superclass of the wealthy, many of whom are based here, also didn't help.

Really, there is absolutely nothing anyone here can do. As much as people complain about Bloomberg, there is little he could have done, as embarrassing as it is to live in a city where the richest person is Mayor (and who cheerleads for this stuff).

And to some extent this is happening around the globe. Just more extreme here. Not even leaving is as easy as it sometimes sounds over the internets, people have family obligations or may be in fields where they would have difficulty finding a job elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

response to anon 9:52- its NOT more extreme in new york. its actually slower. i live in the 3rd world. i am used to seeing entire colonial cities destroyed w/in a few years. i mean concert halls museums mansions entire neighborhoods. like cities 2'xs the size of the 5 boroughs, finished in like 20 yrs. totaled: rich & poor alike. they build factories malls highways etc. example: leon, guadalajara, mexico etc. look@ china what the communists did. dont forget, some of these cities had a strong cultural & economical base like new york. the most educated & high income people lived there. the area i live in was the countryside: farms, ranches, estates, & fishing villages. 80 miles torn down for fast food gas stations cheap malls tacky developments, box stores, massive parking lots, manufacturing, storage places, 100s of thousands of trees cut down-burnt down, dead animals etc. in 8 yrs it looked like the atomic bomb hit. toxic chemicals in the air people wearing masks, big stereo speakers everywhere as if all the billboards (which are as big as city blocks), are never enough. so they have constant throbbing music in front of the walmarts & fast food. the lake is brown. now they are building theme parks along that lake. 10,000 jobs they create will bring another 30,000 criminals to commit more crimes. the building & destruction is going in 4 directions. up the mountains too. which means more highways. they call it "the dream". they market this, yes it works! hard to believe @one time prominent politicians lived here. you dont really know about the global monster. (new york is a slow train). bottom line: people love this stuff, they come by the droves! its the off shore $ & one world takeover. don't blame marc jacobs or carrie bradshaw, or young professionals. grow up everyone. i dont think this will happen in new york in our lifetime. but as there is a one world government it may be later. when canada, mexico, & the united states become one, then its over!

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure Crisp would have been comfortable with having his personal living quarters exposed like this. Did he tell them he wanted them to do this, or did they just do it on their own?

Unknown said...

QC invited many people to his room, allowed himself to be photographed in his room. He had affiliations with Andy Warhol who saw the most ordinary things as art so I don't think he would be too put out! It's hard to say. His living space was testament to how unimportant a place it was compared to the social space he inhabited.