I'm Dreaming of a Dwight Chrissmass
(the second interview with James Hugunin)

In The Dumb Ox #3 (1977) we ran an interview with this Polish émigré artist Dwight Chrissmass, formerly Dwitadeusz Krismasoski, transplanted to Los Angeles in the 1970s (where he lived in San Pedro, in view of the Cabrillo Marine Museum which Frank O. Gehry would later do an addition to). He later moved to Chicago, residing in a former Chicago firehouse on the southwest side until his recent demise -- unremarked upon in the art press -- from heart disease. In August 1997 I had decided to do a follow-up interview with him over a game of chess (I hoped it would distract him and I'd win). It was to be our last game (I still lost). Albeit highly edited for brevity's sake, I've tried to convey something of what was Dwight's demeanor and style of expression in the transcription. Dwight willed his entire estate to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles (whether they'll accept his gift is still under negotiation). Dwight, a post-Post-Marxist, was one of those artists we only hear about long after their (and their enemies') passing. He ignored the art world (as they ignored him) saying it was (in his peculiar diction): "By gar, ho corrupt'd 'n all so much middle class youth-think." -- J.H.

(Left): "Dwitadeusz: Pojeçie," performance, artist's loft, Warsaw (1969)  in
the now defunct Polish art quarterly Polska Sztuka Piekna  vol. 5, no. 3 (1970)
 reproduced in The Dumb Ox #3 (1977).  (Right): Dwight Chrissmass, Italy, 1995.

Re-Doing Kaprow Series #51(Port St. Lucie, FL, 1993) Dwight Chrissmass (artist
is circled in red)  restages a work by Allan Kaprow that was performed along a 
Northern California beach; therein, sand was systematically piled up and moved
pile-by-pile along that beach by people armed with shovels until the sand dispersed.

Hommage to John Baldessari (Pointing to the Picturesque) (Northern Italy, 1995)
This performance celebrates Baldessari's persistent use of pointing fingers in his art.

James Hugunin: What has been some of the most profound changes that you've noticed since we last chatted over twenty years ago?

Dwight Chrissmass: Besides losing most of my hair [runs a hand through non-existent hair] and nursing an enlarged prostate? Oh, yes! And besides being mistaken for a Mafia hit man while touring Italy?

J. H.:  Yeah [laughing].

D. C.: Then I'd say the profound connectedness and relatedness of things these days that has us awash in a plurality of ideas, styles, and new 'spaces' to exist in. Everything is analogous to everything and nothing is ever really new. By gar! That's what I was trying to say in my "Re-Doing Kaprow Series" [1991 - 94] where I was systematically restaging all of Allan Kaprow's best-known "Happenings" [see image above]

J. H.: Why do you pronounce "Doing" like "Boing" but with a "D"?

D. C.: By gar, what a dif one little old phoneme can make, huh? Well, Kaprow's peformances were, in my Polish mind, all about control. Very macho stuff, getting all these people to do what he wanted them to do. Very modernist, by gar! Had something to do with asserting the old male doing -- er -- dong! Get it? [Deep laugh.]

J. H.: But back to my initial question about this profound interconnectedness you mentioned.

D. C.: Yeah, that concept can be summed up in two quotes [holds up two fingers] I've pasted on my loft's  Zone V colored wall [middle-gray on Ansel Adams's Photographic Zone System]. The first is by noted ecologist Barry Commoner: "Everything is connected to everything else," and the second is by art critic Hal Foster: "Postmodern art occurs in alternative spaces." At first they may seem antithetical statements, Commoner's being inclusive, while Foster's is exclusive. But if you think that (what I believe anyway) is occurring is interconnectivity on an electronic level (the Internet, yes?) that mimics the interrelatedness of everything as one large ecosystem -- you know, where a butterfly flapping its wings in a rain forest, it is said, can effect things thousands of miles away -- then alternative spaces for postmodernist art are everywhere. For instance, I've found the postal system to be a space I can inhabit with my l'art postale -- it sounds more aesthetic in French, no?

J. H.: Oui, oui. . . .  Work such as your Hew:Yew:: ? piece which I've used in this issue, right?

D. C.: Yeah. I also think the Web is one of the most exciting of alternative spaces, an invaluable resource for the dissemination of, and perfect site for, aesthetic production [smug look on his face]. Why I permitted you to reproduce one of my postale pieces. By the way, more analogies here. Chicago's MCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] before it entered the big leagues was to the Chicago Art Institute as the Web-as-exhibition-space is now to the MCA.

J. H.: But some might say viewing artwork on the Net is at best an interesting surrogate for the real thing, even further removed from the auspicious original than print reproduction. What say?

D. C.: Well . . . [scratches his nose] I think as more artworks are done with the Web in mind as the alternative space most fit for its, how you say, venue? Well, then there will be a closer fit between type of artwork and space, between artwork and viewing context, yes? Postmodern art would seem most postmodern as art most fit for the Web.

J.H.: Already some artists are doing work that is exclusively for the Internet or CD-ROMs.

D. C.:  Of course, but let me continue. I see those who look down their nose at the Net as a potential site for artwork -- no matter how much lip service they give to being good 'posties' [postmodernists] by showing cutting edge work in their establishment galleries and museums -- are still mind-locked into the modernist paradigm. I think they feel threatened by it the way large corporations feel about the ecology movement -- its subversive of the status quo, yes?

J.H.: Well, it hasn't achieved yet the 'cultural capital' (to borrow a phrase from Pierre Bourdieu) that has accrued to the gallery or museum. But increasing those more traditional institutions are scanning their archives, putting up websites, commissioning works for the web, doing CD-ROMs. Doesn't that obviate your argument?

D. C.: Oby what? [Mops his face, it's hot in late August and in keeping with Dwight's frugality his studio is not air-conditioned.] My English is still never so good you know.

J. H.: Ah, I meant does that not counter your argument?

D. C.: Ho! Good observation, but no cigarillo -- er -- cigar. It shows those institutions wittingly, or unwittingly, trying to tame the new technology -- I think you critics use the word 'incorporation' or 'co-optation' or something like that. But this technology is heaps unruly, a 'rhizome' not so easily pruned into submission like the branchly tree. I'm right, huh? [Moves his Queen near my King] Checkmate, yes? [Look of triumph on his face, meaning he thinks he's won the game and our debate.]

J. H.: Let's see what our readers/viewers have to say on this topic, Dwight. They can use our BBS, e-mail, and guest book to comment. As you just hinted, part of the democratic possibilities of this new technology, Dwight!

D. C.: Ach, hoisted on my own pétard! . . . But . . . at least I've checkmated you, my friend!