David Horvitz: Giving it All Away

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From endless photography projects to social experiments, detailed zines to mail-order mischief, New York-based photographer and conceptual artist David Horvitz is a poster-boy for DIY prolificacy. “When I finished college, I got a job at a one-hour photo store in Hermosa Beach,” he recalls. “When the manager wasn’t in I would make my own prints, and then give them away for free at The Smell or other shows in L.A.”

Horvitz is deeply involved with the indie rock community, directing music videos for High Places and B.A.R.R., and curating and photographing a picture-disc series for Aagoo Records that includes contributions from No Age, Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, Sunset Rubdown, and others. He’s joined Oakland noise-pop weirdos Xiu Xiu on tour numerous times, and published a photo book and DVD about the band as well as conducting an experimental Polaroid project with their fans.

Still, Horvitz’s most fascinating work is his least conventional. He has spent much of 2008 photographing the sky every day and forwarding the shots to an online mailing list, stamping every dollar bill that crosses his path with the phrase “A small distraction interrupting you from your everyday routine,” and collaborating on bizarre projects like The Wikipedia Reader, a print edition of the ever-changing online encyclopedia. We caught up with Horvitz to understand his methods and learned a bit about Okinawan music and astral projection along the way.

XLR8R: Is there a central theme surrounding all of your projects?

David Horvitz: That anything is possible anywhere at anytime. And to give everything away for free.

Who do you consider your inspirations?

Rabble-rousers, mischief-makers, saboteurs, subversives, insurgents, tricksters, magicians, drifters, wanderers, the bored, the restless, the playful, the hopeful, the lost...

Do you take time to reflect on a project once it’s complete, or do you generally move on to the next thing right away?

I usually put a lot of thought and energy into projects before I start them, and while I am in the process. So, by the time they are complete, they are complete because I have fully articulated them, and everything I am doing and wanted to do has worked itself out. I will reflect upon my practice as a whole, and try to figure out what it is I am doing, and why. But for single projects, their process and completion is a process of thought and reflection.

Where do you stand in the debate of digital versus analog photography?

I think a lot of the argument is based around taste–preferring one over the other– which makes it a pointless argument because taste is so arbitrary and subjective. I think to resist digital is an act of Ludditism. Both are their own things, and have their own qualities and potentials. One thing I think is lost in the shift into digital is the role of waiting to see what is on the roll of film while the film develops and the prints are made. Waiting in the dark room as the print slowly appears onto the paper in the tray of developer. Waiting for the Polaroid to develop, for the photo-booth picture to drop out. These vacuous moments, these really beautiful moments–they are lost.

What kind of equipment do you use?

I use whatever I have. It doesn’t really matter. I feel I can make do with anything: a Polaroid camera, a small point-and-shoot digital camera, a throwaway camera. I don’t have a 35mm anymore because I was at the end of the Coney Island Pier at dawn one morning and the wind blew over my tripod and the camera smashed into the pier. For printing, I use my home consumer printers, or sometimes just take it to drugstores. I just did a project where I made an exhibition available at drugstores. I’d upload the files from my computer to a Rite Aid or CVS or Walgreens near whoever wants to see it; then they would walk in to their local store and buy it. I actually just saw the William Eggleston show at the Whitney, and some of his drugstore prints were there. I’ve also been doing newsprint the last few years. These are great because so many are printed, and then I can just give them away for free or sell them for really cheap. I feel that the quality of the material should have no say in the weight of the work. Something can be so light, yet seem so heavy.

Are you able to make a living from your art?

I don’t have a day job, so I am somehow able to live without working all the time. I get some money from advances, lectures, sales, and random small jobs… I personally don’t want what I do to have anything to do with the corporate world. However, I think you can be smart about it. For example, what if you did design work that had hidden subversive potential? I don’t mean corporatizing revolutionary politics or creating a “radical” aesthetic, but to actually infiltrate society with ideas of resistance and play via the corporate field. Or, what if some company gave you thousands of dollars to design their campaign, and you directly funneled every cent of it to someone or some organization that could actually use the money in a positive manner? I don’t think that would be selling out. That’d almost be like a form of volunteering.

If you had unlimited resources, what would you do?

I had this idea a few years back to take a skywriting jet and write “I’M BORED” across a clear blue sky in Los Angeles on a Sunday afternoon in the summer. I thought it’d be funny if all the people leisurely laying in the sand looked up and saw it. It’d be a total waste, and pointless, but a little humorous.

What music do you like to listen to?

When I work I listen to music to create a headspace to think. Brian Eno, William Basinski, Javanese gamelan, songs on repeat, Genevieve Castree, this great live recording of Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, and Zeena Parkins that I’ve had for years… I love Okinawan music. Right now I am listening to this amazing track by Infinite Body, which is going to go on one of my free downloadable collaborative projects with Mylinh Nguyen [Songs for the Arctic Ocean]. But to be honest, I find myself listening to sad, depressing music most of the time.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an artist?

This isn’t a lesson I’ve learned from being an artist, it’s just a lesson I’ve learned in life in general, and can be applied to anything, especially to artists: Nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

I want to learn how to astral project. This is going to take a lot of practice and patience, but I think I can do it. I got a book I found in a collective library at a DIY punk house in Santa Barbara that I have been “borrowing” for a few years now.