Over the past few months I’ve had the intriguing pleasure of interacting with Christina Conrad via email. She is a painter, poet, sculptor, filmmaker, and performer from New Zealand. A Renaissance woman and a mystic, Christina Conrad is independent and fierce. In the following exclusive Mad Hatters’ Review interview, we discuss her name, heritage, archetypes, bedtime stories, the soul, form, media, fear, obsession, fat vermillion chalks, the difference between acting and being The Fool, the cunt and feminism. GT, Chicago, Feb, 2011.
GT: By way of introduction, would you talk about your name? Who named you? How do you relate to your name as a person and as an artist (if indeed you see these as separate identities)?
CC: the nameless one they call Christina the sound of this word ignites a whirlpool of horror disbelief fear guilt body n soul trapped inside a glass bubble disguised as a child Christina obsessively shook this bubble until a snow storm obscured the isolated figure in the center of the bubble
Christina this name echoes all along the dark avenues of the soul it cries out to be fed
My real name is Shoshana Hayman born 1942 on the eve of a New Zealand summer before the cicadas shrieked i shrieked day n night blue vein twitching between angry eyes my Mother demented by my shrieks sought shelter in a Movie House where she saw the great Greta Garbo star in Queen Christina
My Mother captivated by Garbo as Queen Christina thought if she exchanged Shoshana for Christina she would stop shrieking she did not stop shrieking
Gene i have not been able to rid myself of Christina how how can I have any claim to Shoshana
GT: In an earlier interview, you suggest that part of the creating process for you means inhabiting the legend of the unjustly dead. What does this “legend” mean for you?
CC: We are the Legend reflected in its singular eye we try to possess it squatting on illusions hump we pitch into The Legends velvet womb giving birth to our own image in the seductive shadow
We seize the shimmering flesh of The Legend galloping to snatch the breast to suck the milk of The Legend we stare at our bloody reflection attempting to possess the singular Eye
the isolated Heart grinding its own monkey wheezes out broken tunes on Loves concertina
The Mind speculating on a distortion of The Legend laid out in a shroud of dust
GT: What story used to put you to sleep as a child? Would you tell us a bed-time story?
CC: hmmmmmmm strangely i cannot remember our Mother reading to us tho her house was filled with books i was acquainted with long before i could read
winged stories of legendary power flew in & out of dreams
day & night they streamed into the innocent Heart mind eyes ears drowning in waves of sound streaming over the silent tongue
flooding the shadow
On those light summer nights when my sister Amanda & i were sent to bed early for committing childish crimes we swung on mad applegreen curtains unhinged with excitement
Amanda 15 months older than me was an obsessed seeker of books - unusual
from an early age she read to me vividly enacting archetypal stories
inspiration vaulting thru her vehicles
she pointed to each word her finger becoming the trembling rod of a water diviner when midnight struck i longed to sink into the oblivion of sleep
my sister electing herself as my literary guardian
leapt upon my flattened image pulling back my closed eyelids
she loved Tom Sawyer Huckleberry Finn 2 eccentric char ladies Mrs Arris & Mrs M
i longed for cozy stories about girls in stationary positions
Amanda awakened my understanding of the written word
stories legends my slow acceptance of their life in a material form
i had been unable to unite them with the abstract pattern of words that flew
i played with them i heard their music in my tenuous fluid mind - heart
unable to express this i was afraid when teachers at school forced me to see what they saw i thought they were mad i could not recognize their words
Amanda gave me back my heart mind
how i ask you could i claim them if i did not know they were mine
ah the dramas enacted by Amanda leading actress
her narrow bed a stage in our applegreen bedroom
i the seemingly stunned yet vigilant audience accommodating Fear & his brother Torment in the invisible crimson plush box seats that they were accustomed to
GT: Is obsession a kind of health? That is, is obsession a way to rinse out the worrying mind and the burdened soul?
CC: As one of the Obsessed i cannot say Obsession in its raw un-conducted, unfocused state is a kind of health.
This apocalyptic energy must be recognized as a volcanic force Seething in the depths of the unconscious; this great collective eye of molten energy when stimulated ejaculates into the dark hood of the secret heart, the secret mind.
Stagnant patterns shaken for so long in the broken kaleidoscope of the mind erupt, spilling the black seeds of Horror who gives birth to huge translucent shadows of a jelly like substance, leaping, cavorting, hacking, at the haunted Soul of the Obsessed One, plunging her into total chaos frequently resulting in mental breakdown.
The Obsessed One as the inheritor of this energy must learn to focus the central eye; the white flame of inspiration must be channeled. Most of this work happens on an invisible level, for if the Ego-driven Soul sees what is happening she/he interferes. The Obsessed One becomes the conductor of the raw accumulated energy, an energy called up over many lives collected in an apocalyptic stream of inspiration.
The blood of the creator- the Obsessed One - must find a way to distill this energy, stealthily pursuing a passionate idea, focusing the oblique eye, that all-seeing eye, slumbering over secret terrain, conducting the deafening howl of voices thrown up over eons from the central EYE, the mystical mouth. The Obsessed One must journey round n round the Ancestral circle of stones, wielding the white mythical stick of the blind, conducting all the haunting voices the huge leaping translucent shadows, echoing in the collective memory of Desire spilling over the vehicles in a chaos of illusion seething gyrating hauntingly reflected in Egos black mirror Love Love in tight gloves striking her great gilded harp taut her strings blinding her light eclipsing her fetid dark The Obsessed one listens
disbelief circling the sublime ah ah Love calls
round n round LOVES circle.
Gene in reply to your question does Obsession rinse out the worried mind, the burdened Soul? Ah we must become "Great transformers" of the destructive energy of the Worried mind.
AH "The Great Wretched Worrier" is blinded by the grubby opaque veil she has created & worn in the dejected fashion of one caught in the fatal grasp of "The Great Insidious Devourer" a monstrous form spawned by "The Great Wretched Worrier" who has unwittingly created this gloating thought - form, energy sucker of the Inspirational Heart - the Inspirational mind.
When s/he sees that s/he has become "The great Wretched Worrier", the greatly desired long suck, the willing victim of "The Great Insidious Devourer" whom s/he has spawned from her accumulative habit of obsessive worrying, she must become the conductor of her dangerous thought patterns that "The Great Insidious Devourer" has lived on.
Once this obsessive energy is conducted & transformed by "The Great Wretched Worrier" the grubby opaque veil falls from her tormented head in a pile of writhing dust "The Great Wretched Worrier" becomes "The Great Transformer" of the black stream of worried energy, transforming it into a spiral of living energy bringing immediate death to "The Great Insidious Devourer"
GT: What metaphor would you use to describe the “soul”?
CC: A translucent sheath - this Soul sheath holds all the experiences, the imprint of every life lived by the individual; the Soul distills this imprint into the essence, the stench, the perfume of every life. As the bee gathers pollen, the soul gathers the essence. The Soul releases this essence into the emotional & mental body of the heart & mind - we are the sum total of our experiences , each life a different body, each life a different mask.
We act out life's dramas, tragedies, comedies, past, present & future, colliding, clashing, coming together on that mad, collapsible stage of Life & Death, the voice of the individual Soul echoing in the vehicles - in the blood - uniting with the collective memories of the group Soul - all the voices, apocalyptic, living, dead.
At night, the Soul, uniting with the mental & emotional vehicles, lifts up out of the sleeping body in a transparent sheath of ancient colours - the colours expressing the mood of the sleeping person, ancient hallowed colours, lurid, angry, hungry, desirous ------- ah, i have seen these vehicles lift up out of the body in a translucent sheath & fly, a kite on a long silver cord, an ancient scar on long dark nights when the body, oblivious of Souls flight, sleeps wrapped in dreams, where everything is created out of little sparks of spinning light.
GT: What new medium would you like to explore?
CC: ah un-materialized ideas spill in a torrent – the soul flies back & forth bearing news i cannot yet decipher i want to perform - speak create a new shape yea - i am ravening- for the birth of an idea ah how it gleams a mad mercurial opal nesting in an obscure chamber of the sequestered Heart - mind
GT: Arianna Huffington wrote: “Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an after-life.” What kinds of figurations of an after-life do you entertain, if any?
CC: entertain hmmmm i stare at the bloody floor of my collapsible stage
I am a timid child flung by an invisible force into the dark realm of my mother's long hallway.
I see myself on quavering legs, a mysterious power fills me, the white fire of my central eye penetrates the great looming shadows of life upon life, the masks - skeletons of those lives gyrate around me.
I become part of the ancient bodiless life. Each life the same play, different voices, different faces, stored in the bloody cage of the heart, the miser's vault - the mind.
I see myself in a schoolroom sharing a double desk of ancient wood with metal legs. On the lid of the desk, hundreds of names scarred in the wood. On the double seat next to me a girl sits. On her head above of her high polished forehead a blue bow trembles. She puts her hand inside my side of the double desk. The hand takes my fat chalks; the hand puts them in her side of the double desk.
Sitting next to me on the double seat she draws on a black board with my favorite fat vermillion chalk. I ask her if i can borrow the fat vermillion chalk.
She says, "NO, "these fat chalks are Mine." i stare at her high polished forehead, her quivering blue bow.
Who do the fat chalks belong to? are the fat chalks hers? or mine for one year i sit next to her the fat chalks lie inside her side of the double desk i watch her hand take the fat chalks out of her side of the double desk i watch her draw with the fat chalks i see this from my side of the double desk i see what appears to be me reflected in that which appears to be her high polished forehead.
GT: In other interviews, you have said that to create one must be willing to play the fool. Do you mean that one must be humble? Would you articulate one way (or trick) you use to get around the ego?
CC: hmmmmm Gene i do not think "one must be willing to play the fool."
One is the Fool or one fatally becomes "The fool".
i was born a fool, the fools feet sank into the floor, floor appeared to be made out of marshmallow
there were no sides no top no bottom.
All attempts to hide one's sliding mania, one's weird lack of coordination one's mad obsession with the self posing as a fetish, secretly parading as a million people squeezing in & out of Love's mirror studded with millions of haunted eyes.
I tried to find a way to squeeze inside the mirror to become one with the other selves crying out piteously to be fed.
Ah Gene the Fool has nothing to do with humbleness as we know it. One becomes or is a medium.
The white flame of inspiration shoots up into the miser's vault - the mind-heart. The flame devours extraneous knowledge, all the dross one has swallowed.
One becomes a slumbering mediumistic vehicle. One must conduct the white flame or die. ah i have been commanded by a hidden self to leap thru 7 hoops of white flame, wearing the weird attire of the Fool. For years i cowered unable to leap, covered in the suppurating wounds of Ego's vice, tailored to fit an ignorant state.
Gene you ask would i articulate one way or trick i use to get around the ego
alas we are the Trick, the Eternal Trick, tricked by the trick of the self in its monumental deceit. However the Trick in its crazy attire becomes horribly singed in the leaping flame of inspiration.
As for Ego we created Ego's illusionary realm, Ego oft appearing as a befurred monster we imagine we cannot live without so oft do we feed & stroke it. However the Ego is a mental concept we swallowed eon’s ago, rising & falling under the weight of that illusionary concept, that seemingly singular agonizing addiction we service. The universal Ego studded with millions of eyes eternally staring, plucking at the stuff of that gyrating illusion, that mad Juggler, that delirious effigy we perceive as the self.
ah Gene there is no recipe, no tricks to get around the Ego. The power of inspiration forces one to temporarily let go of one's image, to temporarily drop the bloody bone. However, one must pay an invisible toll. When this toll is exacted one loses that which one clutches blindly, layer upon layer of precious stagnation.
GT: I am not the first to parallel your work with that of Charles Simic. In his book “The Uncertain Certainty,” Simic writes: "All I know is that what I love in poetry is a kind of devastating simplicity and empathy, and that fortunately can be found equally in Shakespeare and in so-called primitive poetries." What would you like to say to members of your audience who cast you as an outsider artist or a primitive poet?
CC: The outsider artist hmmmm this takes us back to the role of "The Fool" drowning in his own juice, blind beneath her swirling mantle of darkness. Lo, an apocalyptic light sears the Fool, her central eye awakens, an arrow of light penetrates the Fool's heart, mind.
In a flood of mad longing the Fool raises the white stick of the blind, striking heart & mind, knocking them off their double dealing thrones. The Fool in her role of conductor takes up her white stick & conducts this whirlpool of fertile chaos. if this is what they call outsider art - the Fool is firmly labeled, hung outside the door of society.
Will the door open or will the Fool in her ridiculous hat, starve?
Ah Gene, Poetry the primitive Poet here is only one winged sound one winged word in its glorious flight it gives birth to sounds, shapes pictures - all existing within the one sound. Out of the flood the famine of tribal memory - we write, draw with instruments of divine ignorance, vomiting up an iron-gate leading to Justice, who dons the stolen wig of a million judges.
We place labels on those who dare to chalk up universal visions on that bleeding suppurating wall of life
GT: Do you consider yourself a feminist artist? If any, what role does gender play in your work? How has this changed over the arc of your career?
CC: Ah, the scandal of being a woman, one of the obsessed - a cursed artist - that creature who doth host a Cunt, that seat of emotions, that blood red throne. Those who mount it die. How, i ask you, can a woman who doth house the insatiably desired cunt, a woman who is born to serve within a circle of outdated concepts, how can she be a mother & an artist?
In the name of love she doth house orphans in warm fervour, in dappled shade of womb. She must host the multitudes who hunt the universal cunt.
Disguised as eels they slide in & out, diving swooning, seeding in her living waters. Possessed by un-conducted longings for love, unfathomable energy vaults thru her vehicles shaking her to the core. She must find a way to conduct this energy or die.
In her terrible longing - her mad obsession to birth ideas - she must become A Great Universal Juggler. Unable to become a Great Juggler of the clashing emotions of the primordial instincts of a mother versus the apocalyptic energy of an artist
ah, how can a woman, an obsessed artist, be a mother when she hath fallen into the whirlpool of living chaos - that apocalyptic light that quicksand of rampaging ideas crying out for the life, heart, mind of the creator, who must give soul, heart, mind, body, to invisible ideas, or die.
AH Gene you ask about the arc of my career.
Ah we are the Arc The Great Universal Arc falling, rotting-living, flaming.
A crucible. Ah, in a great rainbowed arc we flood our pastures with desire.
Christina Conrad has been called New Zealand's greatest living artist. She is certainly its greatest eccentric. An obsessive "outsider" painter/sculptor, filmmaker, poet/writer, Conrad lived as a recluse for twenty years without electricity or running water, where she "kept her paintings in cupboards instead of food." Her work is disarmingly original and not easily pigeon-holed, and the term "outsider" does not sit easily with her, suggesting someone who is untrained. Conrad's paintings and clay sculptures possess a focus that reflects a rigorous self-training.
"One must leave the ego at the door of the tomb, and create like a blind beggar who hears nothing and knows nothing," she explains. "In this way the painting has a chance to be born whole, without the insidious tampering that adulterates false creative acts."
Continue reading Christina Conrad's fascinating and unusual biography by clicking here.