Intertitle: Art and Violence

Robert Longo: …and I was younger— That thing, that quote, I make art for brave eyes,” usu­al­ly fol­lowed with the state­ment, I want to make art that changes the world.” I caught an enor­mous amount of crap for that, you know. It’s like real­ly weird. It’s like soci­ety basi­cal­ly wants artists to kind of be a cer­tain, you know… It’s real­ly dif­fi­cult being an artist when you real­ize your income is basi­cal­ly based on excess cash of the wealthy, you know. It’s a… I mean, I’m very for­tu­nate that I can do what I do. I mean, it’s like a… But, I think art changes the worl— Art has and will change the world in its visu­al mech­a­nisms of how you see the world. I mean, it just hap­pens that way. It just…it just… It influ­ences design, influ­ences fash­ion, it influ­ences even to a cer­tain point pol­i­tics at times. 

I think that for me what I’ve tried to do over the years is… I had the real­ly for­tu­nate oppor­tu­ni­ty to have my Men in the Cities images actu­al­ly kind of become icon­ic. At the same time, it’s a bit of a curse. Because then I spend the rest of my life run­ning away from this stuff. When these Men in the Cities draw­ings were showed at The Met dur­ing this big pic­tures exhi­bi­tion, they were shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they were hung in the lob­by. And they’re big drawings—they’re like eight by five feet, and they’re hang­ing up, and… I was there with my son and his friend, they were like 13 years old at the time. And his friend says to me, Did you get the idea for those draw­ings from the iPod ad?” Which had been out, you know—

And I said, No, those draw­ings are like thir­ty years old,” you know. To real­ize that the work had got­ten so icon­ic that its author­ship did­n’t exist any­more… Do you know what I mean? There are bands using the— If I look on the Internet, I can find bands using my images and stuff like that with­out any cred­it for it. And at first I got kind of out­raged by it, then I real­ized this is an incred­i­ble com­pli­ment. But the same time it’s like I’m the guy that made those goofy-looking fig­ures, you know. 

So, style has always been a prob­lem­at­ic thing to me, because the thing about telling—trying to deal with truth as an artist is you have… You can fash­ion the truth, or you could try to tell the truth. You know. I think I hope I’m try­ing to tell the truth, and in that sense styl­is­ti­cal­ly I’ve tried to avoid a style that is rec­og­niz­able as a kind of like…that what Men in the Cities encap­su­lat­ed. And I think that like, all these black and white draw­ings are basi­cal­ly reflec­tive of the land­scape of the world we live in. I think that my black and white draw­ings are… They exist some­where between tra­di­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion and mod­ernist abstraction—it’s almost like I trans­late pho­tographs or some­thing. I mean, we still see the world in pho­tographs, in that sense. And I think black and white is actu­al­ly high­ly abstract in that sense. 

But in that sense I mean… Someone jok­ing­ly said to me, they said that, Your ego must be so out of con­trol now because you think you’re try­ing to like own all the black and white images in the world.” It’s like when­ev­er you see a black and white image, you’re sup­posed to think of my work. And I find it real­ly flat­ter­ing that he had made that con­nec­tion, but I can’t tell you the end­less times that some­one says, Oh, I saw this pic­ture in the news­pa­per. It looked just like your work.” But it’s actu­al­ly the oth­er way around. My work is inspired by what I see. 

Intertitle: Violence of the Real

Longo: I’ve always thought the work has a kin­da… It some­how has to bal­ance itself between like, you know… It has that schizoid thing in between like, you know, falling off the precipice you know, to obliv­ion and hope. And like, the guns are a sim­ple exam­ple of that. 

My old­est son at the time was real­ly… He was play­ing bas­ket­ball on West Third— We used to play bas­ket­ball togeth­er on West Fourth St. in the cages. That after­noon he went with­out me. He was 13 I think at the time. And he was real­ly inter­est­ed in hip hop music and the whole… We had just moved here from Europe, okay. And he was just excit­ed about being in New York and stuff like that. 

And he comes home and he says like, Oh my god, I can’t believe what just hap­pened.” It was a fight in the cages, and it was between a white kid and a black kid. And the white kid bust­ed a bot­tle and was gonna cut him. And then this lit­tle kid reached into a gym bag, anoth­er kid reached into—and pulled out a gun. And every­body screamed, Gun!’ ” And this image of like when you drop a peb­ble in water and the kind of rip­ples— It’s like every­one ran away and went down the sub­way, dis­ap­peared. And this lit­tle kid put the gun back in his bag and he just walked real­ly slow­ly into the subway. 

And I real­ized my kid was excit­ed. He thought this was like the great­est thing he had seen. And it was like I’m going oh my fuck­ing god. My kids live in this fuck­ing crazy city? And it was all of a sud­den this point say­ing go that way.” And I start­ed to research guns. Got in con­tact with the FBI. And the FBI…I actu­al­ly asked them ques­tions, they’re actu­al­ly quite help­ful. I got a list of the most pop­u­lar hand­guns in the United States. I got a list of how many peo­ple died that year of hand­guns. And I had to go through a kind of ille­gal way to get the guns to pho­to­graph them? It was a whole com­pli­cat­ed sto­ry which I’d rather not go into. Because I could­n’t get guns myself, because I had no license. 

So, what was inter­est­ing about mak­ing the draw­ings of the guns is I was­n’t there to say they’re good or bad, you know. I was more like, the idea of I’m gonna rip them— I’m going to take this issue that’s both­er­ing me and rip it out of the cul­ture and stick it in front of you and say, What do you think?” What do you think about these things?”

And it was iron­ic that at the time, one of the draw­ings, the Museum of Modern Art want­ed to buy. And they took it up to the Modern, the cura­tors all want­ed it, but the board of directors—the head of the board direc­tors was a woman, I think her name is Agnes Gunn (which is kind of ironic). 

What had just hap­pened that week when they were review­ing buy­ing the gun, this man had shot a bunch of peo­ple on the Long Island Railroad, and they decid­ed not to buy the gun. That’s exact­ly why they should have bought the gun! Do you know what I mean? It’s like, it’s an issue. It’s an issue that you have to deal with and not hide it. Okay, well maybe not. 

So, I thought this was a real­ly inter­est­ing exam­ple of like how I’m not say­ing they’re good or bad. I’m ask­ing you, This is some­thing that’s putting pres­sure on me to think about, what do you think about it?” in that sense. And I think in that sense as an artist…I don’t like art that tells me about how crazy I am or neu­rot— I mean, we’re all fucked up. I mean, it’s like…it’s not worth it in that sense. I mean, I think we’re sup­posed to be…as artists we’re sup­posed to be anten­nas, and we’re sup­posed to somehow… 

It’s like when you walk down the street, and I remem­ber when I was a kid walk­ing down the street… I was with my friend and I saw this tree. And in the tree I swore I saw Jimi Hendrix’ head. And I said, Look! There’s Jimi Hendrix in the tree.” 

And he said, I don’t see it.” 

I said, Well look. Look over there, you can see the nose…” 

And he goes, I see it! I see it.” 

That’s what being an artist is like. It’s like say­ing like, Look. Do you see this?” you know? And maybe some peo­ple see it, some peo­ple don’t. 

Intertitle: Against the Banal

Longo: I think a lot of times peo­ple like to look down at art, you know? What’s inter­est­ing about some­body like Jeff Koons, is quite bril­liant about Jeff Koons is this idea of banal­i­ty, is that peo­ple like to look down at things rather than at things, or look up at things. I think that’s one rea­son why the Americans elect­ed George Bush. I mean, they want­ed… You had a choice of a smart per­son and a stu­pid per­son. Both times, Gore and John Kerry. And the American peo­ple chose the stu­pid guy because they did­n’t want a pres­i­dent that was smarter than them, you know. 

So any­way, I want­ed to make work that was aggres­sive to the view­er, for sure, in that sense. And I thought par­tic­u­lar­ly Reagan at the time, after all the kind of wishy-washy moral free-for-all of like the 70s and hip­pies and stuff like that, that kind of fail­ure to cer­tain extent, Reagan being elect­ed kind of drew a line in the sand and all of a sud­den you had to take a stance as to where you were on things like that. 

I also did­n’t like a lot of the art that was being made at that time. A lot of it was just kind of like messy expres­sion­is­tic art. And I thought a lot of that art was about what art was. And I think myself and most of the oth­er artists that I was hang­ing around with want­ed to make art that was what art could be. It was like what art was, and I was inter­est­ed in what art could become, in that sense I mean. 

Intertitle: Moments of Impact

I like vio­lence. I don’t like vio­lence that hurts some­one, I like the moment of impact, of smash­ing some­thing. I like punch­ing a punch­ing bag. I like the moment of impact. I have a young— My youngest son who’s 16, and we were talk­ing about this actu­al­ly this morn­ing. We were jok­ing about like how… Wouldn’t it be great if you could get to go into like, you, know Bloomingdale’s for one hour with a steel pipe and do what­ev­er you want. Just smash the whole place up. I mean, there’s some­thing inter­est­ing in that moment of high impact that I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by. And I think that my ear­ly work Men in the Cities is real­ly about that moment of impact. It’s about that split mil­lisec­ond of that moment of when it hap­pens, and I think that’s some­thing I’ve really…I’ve always been some­what inter­est­ed. I mean, as I’ve got­ten old­er obvi­ous­ly it’s changed and mutat­ed. I’m a par­ent and I’m deal­ing with respon­si­bil­i­ties and stuff like that. But I still very much have it. 

I think also it prob­a­bly comes from my eth­nic back­ground. I’m Italian. My par­ents screamed and yelled and you know… I mean, I mar­ried a German and a real big dif­fer­ence in our fam­i­ly is like you know, we live in a house that has three sto­ries, and when the phone rings on the ground floor and its for my kid on the top floor, I scream up and tell him you know, Come down and get the phone!” Whereas my wife will actu­al­ly go up the stairs and tell him he has a phone call.

Intertitle: Psychotic Impulses

I did­n’t want to tell you what this image was. I did­n’t want to say the guy’s dying. I did­n’t want to tell you he was danc­ing. I did­n’t want to tell you he was hav­ing an orgasm. I did­n’t want to tell you what was hap­pen­ing. I want­ed you to make the deci­sion as to what was hap­pen­ing in that pic­ture. And that’s kind of always been some­what of a posi­tion that I’ve tried to take with the work where I don’t feel like…I don’t want to preach, I think, or lec­ture, or… My work can be bom­bas­tic at times but it’s still I think try­ing to keep a bor­der­line on the edge of what the posi­tion is. I want you to make the deci­sion. And I think that in that sense it tells a lot about the view­er and reflect­ing of it.

Men in the Cities is also about psy­chot­ic impuls­es. It’s about that space of time that exists between when you reach for a cup of cof­fee, it’s between that thought of think­ing about reach­ing for the cup of cof­fee and actu­al­ly grab­bing. It’s that space in between. I was a real big fan of Robert Smithson, who dealt with the idea of entropy. And I want­ed to kind of go against that idea and try to take a tiny moment of time and turn it into for­ev­er as well, in that sense.

But also, they go back… I think that mak­ing art to me has always been about, if you remem­ber those old radios where you actu­al­ly would phys­i­cal­ly tune in a sta­tion? You could feel the sta­tion come in, like if you went one way or anoth­er you’d lose it. I think it’s about a bal­ance between some­thing that’s very very per­son­al, and some­thing that’s very much in the world. So, in that sense these draw­ings and all my work have kind of exist­ed in this kind of range where I can find the point that I think is real­ly per­son­al, and I can also find it in the world.

The Men in the Cities draw­ings were evolved out of watch­ing Sam Peckinpah movies. The way peo­ple died in movies was a rad­i­cal break in… Like, James Cagney would get shot and he would just kind of fall down, where­as in a Sam Peckinpah movie, the guy’s chest would explode and he’d go through the wall. 

When I was a kid we used to play this game call who could fall dead the best,” where one guy would pre­tend to have a gun and all the kids would run at you and you would shoot them. And who­ev­er died the best got to be the guy with the gun again. But at the same time I was real­ly inter­est­ed in the vio­lence that actu­al­ly exist­ed in the world. I mean, it was iron­ic that… I think artists tend to have a Cassandra curse? You know, we could see the future but we can’t do a whole lot about it. It was real­ly inter­est­ing when I… I was prob­a­bly maybe a year into the Men in the Cities draw­ings when Reagan was—the attempt­ed assas­si­na­tion of Reagan. And there were all these pho­tographs of these guys, the Secret Service guys get­ting shot. They all end­ed up look­ing like the draw­ings, you know. 

But in that sense it also had a lot to do with the way peo­ple were danc­ing at the punk clubs at that time. Like I said, there was a bal­ance between the social and the per­son­al that’s always been real­ly impor­tant to me. 

Intertitle: 9‍/‍11

What did—9‍/‍11 have an affect on me? I mean, that’s just a real­ly big ques­tion, I mean. The thing that— I live in Brooklyn. And I work here in Manhattan. I usu­al­ly go every— Almost four or five days a week I play bas­ket­ball in the morn­ing with a bunch of guys. It’s on the top floor of a Jewish syn­a­gogue, the gym is. And I could see the World Trade Centers when it happened. 

And… When I saw that smoke com­ing out of the tow­ers and stuff like that, it was this very clear moment when we were real­iz­ing that my world was rad­i­cal­ly going to be altered for the rest of my life. I did­n’t know how it had hap­pened, but the image that I saw was the World Trade Centers and this huge black cloud stream­ing across the hori­zon, the sky, for miles. And I remem­ber going home and watch­ing it on TV. Very bad recep­tion, the TV, because we had an anten­na. We did­n’t have cable at the time.

And a…a whole series of things occurred. I mean, one thing that’s the most inter­est­ing thing that I real­ized recent­ly about that, it hit me because after doing these draw­ings of Mecca and the burqas and things like that, is that 9‍/‍11 was like, the great­est crash course in edu­ca­tion in Islam for the Western world. It was like, I knew noth­ing about Islam. I knew they wore these real­ly weird things, and they wor­shiped Muhammad, but I did­n’t know any­thing about the reli­gion. And because of 9‍/‍11, myself and many oth­er peo­ple that I know now I have become quite edu­cat­ed in what Islam is. So it was like this real­ly weird form of like okay…here’s a quick [makes smash­ing sound] crash course—you got­ta know who these peo­ple are.

But at the same time, 9‍/‍11 was… As an Americ—America is like a… There’s a great book called Dangerous Nation. America is not this shin­ing light on the top of the hill any­more. Or, I don’t think it ever real­ly was. But America is dif­fer­ent than the rest of the coun­tries in the world because it’s the only coun­try I think that’s based upon the idea of team sport. Other coun­tries are based on race, reli­gion, tribe. The United States is the only coun­try in the world that’s based on the idea of a team. Because there’s all these diverse dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and we all work togeth­er for a goal.

The prob­lem is that America, because it is a team, its main objec­tive is to win. And every­one in America’s incred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive. And win­ning is this kind of…schism that exists that basi­cal­ly will ulti­mate­ly destroy us. 

So what hap­pened with 9‍/‍11 was…dare I say, this incred­i­bly bril­liant act of ter­ror­ism hap­pened, by using our own air­planes to fly into the build­ings To have these incred­i­ble mon­u­ments of American cap­i­tal­ism fall down. That it was like knock­ing out the front teeth of the big bul­ly. It was such an out— Americans were so out­raged by it, that some­one did that. It was as if— The reac­tion was like that anoth­er team had scored the goal that we thought actu­al­ly was a shit­ty team. And now we got­ta win the game, and we got­ta real­ly… So for every one that died at 9‍/‍11 you know, 10,000 have to die of you guys. 

But we did­n’t know who those guys were. I mean, it was like this total igno­rant reac­tion to not try­ing to com­pre­hend how much anger and hate and pain the United States makes in the world…to cause peo­ple to do this. It was like there was no attempt to try to under­stand it, which is real­ly kind of a fright­en­ing thing. 

At the same time, the aes­thet­ics of it were quite extra­or­di­nary. I mean, the images that came out of it. I mean, those guys falling out of the build­ings… I mean, I can’t begin to tell you how many peo­ple sent me pho­tographs say­ing, Oh, does­n’t this look like your draw­ings!” I mean, it’s like, well…

But the thing that was inter­est­ing is I was draw­ing these waves at the time. And the waves had slow­ly mutat­ed and were start­ed to look more and more like fire and smoke and stuff like that. And peo­ple were send­ing me images of 9‍‍/11 for smoke. And one image came out—I print­ed it out of the com­put­er, that I want­ed. I thought I could fuse some of this smoke and clouds into the waves. It was the image of the tow­ers falling down and the smoke. But when it came out, it came out upside down so it was the smoke and the tow­ers. And my reac­tion was oh my god, this looks just like an atom­ic bomb. 

And I grew up look­ing at Life mag­a­zine. And I did­n’t real­ly start read­ing until I was thir­ty, I was dyslex­ic and stuff like that. So pic­ture mag­a­zines are real­ly impor­tant me—National Geographic, stuff like that. And I saved a lot of these Life mag­a­zines. I took them home, and I was look­ing at them, at the atom­ic bomb tests and things like that. And my youngest son was maybe six or sev­en at the time, and I said, What do you think this is?” this atom­ic bomb. And he said, It’s a hur­ri­canes, it’s a tor­na­do.” And I had just been doing these waves which was like pow­er as an issue in rela­tion­ship to the force of nature. And see­ing an atom­ic bomb was like all of a sud­den real­iz­ing it was man try­ing to be God. 

And I was think­ing about Bush at the time and his reac­tion to the whole 9‍/‍11 thing, and I real­ized that my chil­dren actu­al­ly may have to live in a world where these things will be used. And I find a lot times in my work that some­times the sign­posts are right there; they say go that way.” And I stopped doing the waves and I start­ed doing the atom­ic bombs.

And I think those are all con­se­quences of this whole— I mean, I real­ize on a dai­ly basis the con­se­quences that 9‍/‍11 imple­ments on one’s life. You think about it all the time. I mean, you trav­el. You know, mak­ing art, how much— Like when I made the burqas, am I offend­ing peo­ple? It just becomes a whole issue of the whole kind of feel­ing of like, how to walk— It’s like walk­ing on thin ice sometimes. 

Intertitle: The Haunting

The struc­ture of the piece I can’t quite…explain how it hap­pened. But what I want­ed to have hap­pen— I’m very aware of the reflec­tions that occur because of the glass in my work. I’m very aware that you see your­self, or you see oth­er draw­ings in the work. I mean, I’m not igno­rant of that. And and I use that. I don’t know if in Nice, if you real­ized it, you could see like, in the shark’s mouth you could see the plane crash­ing. Or you could see dif­fer­ent things that were— The reflec­tions real­ly worked with each other.

So I want­ed that piece to have it so that when you stood in front of that peace, the air­planes were crash­ing into you. Because it was that big black sec­tion, and basi­cal­ly one kin­da goes into your head and the oth­er one kin­da goes into your heart if you like, my height, in that sense. So when you stand in front of it you see your­self in that mid­dle sec­tion, that black mid­dle section. 

Intertitle: Heritage

Ironically about work­ing in black and white for me is that I real­ize the impact of like, jour­nal­is­tic pho­tog­ra­phy had had on me when I was grow­ing up. I remem­ber Life mag­a­zine like, the col­or pho­tographs were usu­al­ly of Marilyn Monroe, or celebri­ties, or you know, the king’s house or some­thing like that. And then the black and white pho­tographs were like of Vietnam, or the earth­quake, or you know, pros­ti­tutes in Calcutta. And it was, all of a sud­den I start­ed real­iz­ing that black and white I asso­ci­at­ed with the truth. And col­or, I did­n’t believe. And somehow… 

So by turn­ing these images into black and white I was try­ing to like basi­cal­ly try to see them in terms of my own work, and to see what they taught me. And draw­ing them was real­ly inter­est­ing because it was like wait, I actu­al­ly got to alter his­to­ry. Like, if I did­n’t like the Guernica exact­ly the way that one sec­tion over here—I could actu­al­ly make it dark­er. I mean, not to com­pare myself any­way to any of these artists by any chance, but it was… It was more like a revis­it­ing of my own edu­ca­tion, in that sense. 

And the fact that those images have any kind of the­mat­ic ele­ment is also edu­ca­tion­al in rela­tion­ship, for me, to my own work. I mean, I love Caravaggio… And it was real­ly inter­est­ing the paint­ings that I like of Caravaggio tend to be the more aggres­sive ones like The Taking of Christ. 

Intertitle: Competition Nation

What’s inter­est­ing about American sports is that American sports is almost like a kind of like…a kind of tem­plate of American his­to­ry. Baseball was the first sport invent­ed in America. It’s an agricultural-based sport. It starts in the sum­mer, you know, and it goes into the fall. Which is basi­cal­ly kind of like the agri­cul­tur­al peri­od of time, when the har­vest­ing and the plant­i­ng… It has no time­frame. It’s sup­posed to be nine innings, but if the score is tied, it can go on for­ev­er. It could be like a hun­dred innings. There’s no timeframe.

It’s an agrar­i­an sport in that sense. There are dis­tances to how long the bases are, but how big this field is can be as—there’s no rules to how big a field is. It’s a team of indi­vid­u­als— Even though it’s a lot of peo­ple work­ing togeth­er, it’s a sport that occurs, and when the event hap­pens, it’s always an indi­vid­ual— Like, the guy throws a ball, a guy hits the ball, the guy catch­es the b— It’s a focused individual. 

Now comes the indus­tri­al age… Also what’s inter­est­ing about American sports is each jump in American sports cor­re­sponds to when there is a war. The American Civil War…after the American Civil War, baseball—had start­ed slight­ly before the Civil War, it kind of like explod­ed after­wards. American foot­ball hap­pens after the American Civil War, dur­ing the begin­ning of the indus­tri­al age. And what hap­pened is sports in America was the way that you know, American sol­diers, American boys and young men who went away to war, after they came back they still want­ed to have that atmos­phere. I mean, there’s some­thing quite unique about the cama­raderie of play­ing on a sports team or being in a mil­i­tary unit, that you have this kind of arti­fi­cial sense of friend­ship, and bond— Like, I’ll die for you. I got your back.” And then, after the sea­son’s over…you know, you nev­er talk to the guy some­times, you know what I mean? 

So, the thing is that foot­ball becomes like the beginning—it also becomes like, the indus­tri­al age. It’s like, in base­ball every­one has to be able do every every­thing. Everyone has to catch, hit, throw. In foot­ball, every­one has a spe­cial­ized job. This is the guy who throws the ball; this is the guy who runs the ball; this is the guy who blocks; all these very spe­cial­ized posi­tions. They even have rules where you can’t… Like, line­men can’t touch the foot­ball, you know what I mean? Only these cer­tain guys can touch it. The foot­ball fields have to be an exact size. There’s a clock. The game has to end at a cer­tain time. 

American sports don’t have ties, you know what I mean. Someone has to win. And American sports start to esca­late once trans­porta­tion got around. So then rival­ries did­n’t— Like in soc­cer or in Europe, where rival­ries were like the towns next door to each oth­er. Also, now you had rival­ries that went all over the United States, in that sense. So foot­ball becomes the begin­ning of the indus­tri­al age, where all of us work togeth­er, as a fac­to­ry or as a team, to win. You know? 

And then the idea of war­fare becomes more ampli­fied in foot­ball because now you have the bomb… You have the ground game… It just becomes all metaphor­i­cal towards war. I mean, the Romans used glad­i­a­to­r­i­al games to keep the pop­u­lace in a fren­zy of war. It kept the blood­lust always there, so that you know— You go to the Coliseum, watch a bunch of peo­ple kill e—okay, by the way next week we got to go and kill all these like, bar­bar­ians. So sports in America keeps us in this kind of con­stant per­pet­u­al state of war. 

Intertitle: Veiled Art

My wife in a burqa was real­ly inter­est­ing. My wife’s an actress. She’s a real­ly great actress­es. She’s far bet­ter at what she does than what I do, but. But she has incred­i­ble eyes. We were at the Louvre in Paris, and we’re going in, and stand­ing next to us, I look down there are these like, these incred­i­ble high heel shoes. And as I kind of fol­low this up, I real­ize there’s these young girls com­plete­ly dressed in like Chanel, decked to—just incred­i­ble. And then as I get all the way up I real­ize they’re wear­ing burqas. They’re wear­ing these black veils. And their eye make­up is like incred­i­ble, you know. I mean, it was quite beau­ti­ful and sexy. 

And I said to my wife, So what do you think of that?” And she says, You know, some­times I real­ly wish I could wear one of those.” She says it’s real­ly great to be able…“not have to wor­ry about my hair, not have to wor­ry about my make­up, just put a lit­tle eye make­up on, you know. Even the whole thing, it would be great. That way I don’t have to wor­ry about my clothes and—” 

It seemed like…something that, the West seems so shock­ing seemed actu­al­ly quite prac­ti­cal, you know, in a weird way. She said, That way men star­ing at me,” she said, I would­n’t have to wor­ry about that, you know, if they were look­ing at my boobs or whatever.”

And it was like, the dif­fer­ence, the line, between those two things seemed extra­or­di­nary to me. So I want­ed to do some­thing about this kind of image because I also love this image of the mask. I had used it before— Airplane pilots wear those weird kind of masks that cov­er their whole face except their eyes before they put the hel­mets on and stuff like that. I used it in a pic­ture a long time ago called Tongue to the Heart where I want­ed to look like— I used my eyes in a mask and I want­ed to look like an air­plane pilot that was going like so fast he was gonna see God or some­thing like that. 

But I think that the idea that on one hand it had this kind of like inter­est­ing idea of prac­ti­cal­i­ty, and the oth­er hand it had this real­ly fright­en­ing oppres­sive ele­ment to it. And I asked my wife to do a— I pho­tographed her and took a num­ber of dif­fer­ent expres­sions. Her eyes angry, sad… And then we found burqas on the Internet. The Internet has been an incred­i­ble tool for me because now I just like…I want a sub­ject mat­ter of some­thing, and I look on the Internet and… Like [Q?], my assis­tant, is like this expert on the Internet. He knows— He can go to Chinese Internet, he can go to like—he goes to all dif­fer­ent places. And we took burqas and we took them off, and we put them on, and we manip­u­lat­ed it all. So in that sense I— I also like that they’re so big. They’re like eight feet tall by six feet wide, that when you stand in front of them you see your­self in front of them.