Bogdan Cheta

I meet Bogdan in the Knox United Church in Downtown Calgary, This is one of his regular workspaces, it’s one of those rare remaining places where you can just be, without explicitly being required to purchase a service of some kind. He shows me spaces he has found, rooms that he likes, and tells me stories of the people he has observed or surprised there while exploring.  Bogdan has always worked in a way that is nebulously located, sliding over and across boundaries, filling in holes and expanding into margins. I have seen his work morph from fiercely expansive and bright to whisperingly soft spoken, but in whichever incarnation it is challenging, and commanding of absolute attention.

I don’t actually conduct a formal interview with the people featured on this blog when we meet, the interview comes later in the form of a email, to give people time with the questions without the distraction of me invading their space. Mostly I’m visiting peoples work spaces because I want to have conversations, be fascinated, poke around and compare ideas, and I can’t help but search a little for myself too. All artists talk about the struggle, not just the practical things like how to pay rent, but the part about saying something and hoping that whatever you are saying will resonate, result in alchemy we know of as art.  Always, I come away with more questions than I could ask, so its fitting that Bogdan gives me questions created by yet another artist, the wonderful Sophie Calle.

That is how I find myself answering questions for him as we sit under a stained glass window in a mostly deserted church. Later, I realise I have to return the favor, Sophie’s questions have become the point of reference for our exchange, and they are good enough that everyone should be asked them at least once in life.

candles

When did you last die?

I die everyday.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I like getting up and walking to my studio. Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted time while asleep, and somehow if I wake up, make tea, and sit in my studio, I’m back to where I’m supposed to be. It’s not the act of making work – it’s more about being inside this room, surrounded by my books and lap tops and cell phones and colognes and hand creams, and ideas, that pulls me out of bed. And then writing emails, or reading a book first thing in the morning, is something I enjoy.

low light

What became of your childhood dreams?

I think that I am still working at overcoming those dreams. I’m not sure if it is true for everyone, but part of getting older is to gather a sense of one’s scale in the world. Perhaps my childhood dreams were always about an ability to imagine and re-imagine things. Right now, for example, I’m open to follow whatever detour happens in life. And things do happen, if you let go – which is different than failure. Letting things fall whichever way, learning from mistakes, making mistakes, doubting, questioning, second-guessing were always part of the mix for me. I am permanently questioning.

What sets you apart from everyone else?

Doubt. Doubting the veneer of first impressions, but at the same time, always ready to trust it. It’s kind of like falling in love, getting hurt, and then coming back for more, everyday, in an endless cycle, where stopping would not make sense. So I guess, not being afraid to look ridiculous might set me apart? Sometime’s standing beside one’s work is difficult – but I like when those moments happen. When being ridiculous makes perfect sense…because then you have to defend your position, and in the process, this reveals what one stands for.

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What is missing from your life?

Touch.

Do you think that everyone can be an artist?

No

Where do you come from?

In Vagabond (1985), Agnes Varda introduces Mona, a drifter, in the most peculiar way: she is naked, and walking out of the sea after a swim. Then Varda’s voice explains that Mona came from the sea, as if she was a non-human creature born that very day. Like the hypnotic rhythm of waves endlessly splashing to their abrupt death, Mona finds herself drifting from man to man – up to the point that like a wave, breaks down and vanishes – perhaps returning to the place from where she came from. I would like to imagine that I also come out of nowhere specific. But like Mona, drifting into men and their lives usually leads to a rhythm for a passivity with which life can unfold. I am interested in this kind of pessimism that allows life to fall, and then finding reasons to move forward.

What have you given up?

health, financial security, stable relationships.

What do you do with your money?

I buy books mostly. And teas in coffee shops – which also buy me a temporary space that I can use as an office. Also if I get lots of tips from work, I usually buy things at the flea market on Sundays – or expensive foreign magazines. Buying a good book is like buying a whole world – so it’s a bargain…

What household task gives you the most trouble?

I like household tasks because I live in my studio, and they’re a nice part of the rhythm I developed there. Perhaps the one task that gives me most trouble is not answering phone calls – or taking messages, or answering the door. This drives my dog nuts – when someone is at the front door and I don’t open the door, she starts barking in this violent manner, and I usually just turn the stereo louder, so I don’t have to leave the studio and lose track of my thoughts. If you want to get ahold of me when I’m home, please, just knock on my windows. Or even better, send me a text instead.

sink

What are your favourite pleasures?

shared intimacy, french food, a good book, art magazines, writing, being in the studio, gardening, driving, cemeteries, swimming, free time, listening to cd’s from the library, walking, running, cruising men, back alleys, secrets, churches & finding things.

What would you like to receive for your birthday?

any form of intimacy

Cite three living artists whom you detest.

this is hard. I like how you went in Lady Gaga’s direction.

I think I dislike situations where artists make art for reasons they don’t even know. It’s painful when you experience it because you can’t really do anything about it, but at the same time it also affects you in ways that shouldn’t, which I always find confusing – but maybe that is because I also want to help when I see someone in trouble. For me it’s always a challenge – to maintain this critical distance and at the same time to be friendly – but not in a superficial or sarcastic way – friendly, perhaps in a constructive way. I’m drawn to artists that can navigate through these kinds of friendships, where often the most caring thing to do is to be honest, and doubtful and frank, and emotional. A pat on the back is so boring, and it rarely accomplishes anything. I would much rather be challenged by someone on any day than be told that everything is great.

What do you stick up for?

excellence

What are you capable of refusing?

aggressive, or uncaring situations

What is the most fragile part of your body?

right now my left eye. I have developed a rare medical condition – called hemifacial spasm, which requires regular botox injections. Thankfully Alberta Healthcare covers them.

What has love made you capable of doing?

Learn how to share.

What do other people reproach you for?

I think a lot of times there is a disconnect I have with most people, because of my choice to be with my thoughts, and with writing and with books. I’m good at finding ways to disappear and just doing my thing – but at the same time, I think people associate that with something that is antisocial – or that I am purposely choosing to avoid them – when I am just trying to be happy, and spending time thinking about stuff alone makes me happy. Sometimes I also feel that when I have a million things going on in my head, it is better to work those things out before I talk to someone – which I think is a caring way to relate to others. Ultimately, distance is about a space of care, and sometimes what you see, is not always what you get…

What does art do for you?

It takes me out of this world.

Write your epitaph.

Thank You

In what form would you like to return?

a cat

stairs

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