Susan Meiselas in Conversation with David Campany

by Luuk van den Berg on Nov 13, 2020

Susan Meiselas in Conversation with David Campany

Carnival Strippers, 1973

Written by David Campany
This article was published on American Suburb X

Susan Meiselas in Conversation with David Campany

DAVID CAMPANY: Much of your work seems to be based very much on process, particularly more recent work such as the Kurdistan project and ‘Encounters with the Dani’. Obviously work has to surface, one way or another, but do you have a sense of the likely outcome of things, or whether it’s important to not consider that at all when you are at the beginning?

SUSAN MEISELAS: That’s really interesting, I don’t go in with a concept, the concept evolves and becomes self-evident at a certain moment in the process. In time one accumulates ideas of what’s possible. With each of my projects I’ve come to the idea of what they should be in the midst of them. This has been so from early projects like ‘Carnival Strippers’ right up to ‘Encounters with the Dani’. And of course very often, between shows and books, they have slightly different forms.

DC: A book has to be finite, although you’ve recently reissued the book of ‘Carnival Strippers’ in a different format. And making one’s way through the book of the Kurdistan project one gets to the final page and realises this is by no means the end either of the project or of the political struggle.

SM: Quite often I find things are inappropriately fixed.

DC: Still, your working process is often so reflexive that the reader knows that the ‘endings’ of your work always strike one as pragmatic or highly contingent

SM: But it does feel definitively arbitrary. And infuriating. Actually with ‘Kurdistan’ I had a concept that I couldn’t achieve, looking back on it. At that time, in the early 90s I was thinking less about a book and hoped to make a CDrom, which back then was incredibly expensive to produce, around half a million dollars. There was no-one sufficiently interested in Kurdish history to invest at that level. But by 1994/5 just as the web was beginning to shift from being data driven to carrying images this notion emerged that a CDrom could have a link to the internet. The idea was that there’d be the book, with a fixed nature, a CDrom with everything from the out takes from the research as well as video material and then through the CD a link would connect to the internet to tie the reader via active websites to an ongoing history. It was the perfect concept for that project. But I could never get the sponsorship to make it happen. It was a problem of marrying this cutting edge information technology with the story of the Kurds, about whom people cared very little.

The Nicaragua project also had a natural parenthesis or point of suspension following the triumph of the insurrection in that I went back and made a film ten years later, as does my work from El Salvador and Chile. Books and films are by necessity finite and exhibitions are forgotten so what’s the perfect form? I don’t know.

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Susan Meiselas - Carnival Strippers
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