Between art and artefact

In 2006 you participated in the first Luanda Triennial. Was it your first visit to the African continent?

I’d been to Africa several times before – one of the first times I visited was when I was 11. We went to Kenya, Egypt, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. What made everything so beautiful was the newness of the experience, also the eerily familiar spectacle of places like Goree Island in Senegal, or the desert outside of Cairo when you drive to the Pyramids, or the packed market places of downtown Nairobi. They all washed over me as a kid, and left an indelible mark. My Luanda project is a kind of excavation of certain memories — of old NYC as a faint impression left on 100 years of cinema, and my own memories of an Africa outside of the flow of my life experiences.

They connected at the ‘happening’ that we presented. But hey, that’s what sampling and dj culture is about: you play with fragments, and make something new from the old.

What was the experience of performing New York is Now in Luanda like?

Well, tropical heat and computers don’t necessarily mesh that well. We had a flash rainstorm in the middle of the concert, and my computers almost got ruined, but beyond that, it was great to see how they responded to the downtown NYC flavaz. I love Angola! Hip hop there is all about bootlegs. DVD’s of stuff like The Lord of War drift off of cardboard box tops, where people sell everything from cigarettes — probably bootleg! — to the latest software patches for Hewlett-Packard laptops.

With bootlegs, anything goes.

In 2006, you collaborated with Berni Searle on RoseLee Goldberg’s Performa series of events. Can you elaborate a little on your impressions of working with Berni Searle.

Berni’s work is a kind of meditation on time. The piece she showed at Performa was a video that almost reminded me of blood flow and ocean currents. Her work moves at an elegant and slow pace. Mine is rushed and fragmented — a reflection, perhaps, of all the fragments we use to hold modern life together in the era of ubiquitous computing. I like being put in juxtaposition with radically different artists. The show was a conversation between different compositional strategies. My work is about a certain kind of pattern recognition — it stresses a deep and likely never to be resolved tension between art and artefact, between material goods, and the immaterial processes that we use to shape them. Like software!

Paul D Miller pictured in Luanda, Angola, November 2006. Interview Sean O’Toole. Photo Laurie Farrell

Paul D Miller pictured in Luanda, Angola, November 2006