Technically speaking, Brendan Fowler is a multi-disciplinary artist who makes intensely personal, self-reflexive recordings, performance, works on paper, and sculpture. But that sounds pretty vague, and Brendan is anything but: Fowler's practice is so weirdly unique and accessible, it's difficult to pin down.
Over the last eight years, Fowler has been best known and recognizd for his one-man-act Barr, a spoken word and sound project that has produced numerous LPs and singles (many of them are splits seven-inches, so it's hard to count) and toured internationally. While Fowler has always considered himself an "artist," only recently has he begun to assert the conventions of this identity more aggressively, with a one-week gallery show at Rivington Arms in New York, 2nd Cannons in Los Angeles, and his participation in the New Museum's Triennial "Younger Than Jesus." These works have included a campaign against the offensive name of the band "Aids Wolf," a series of "Cancelled" concert flyers, and framed computer screen shots blasting through one another.
Last week, Brendan launched his new book, ISBN-10: 0-9820559-3-5, at Los Angeles boutique Ooga Booga. Fowler can't be stopped: He launches the book (again) tonight in New York at Printed Matter.
ASHER PENN: How did the launch go at Ooga Booga?
BRENDAN FOWLER: It was really fun. I was going to do this really elaborate soundtrack situation but it was too stressful. After 45 minutes I turned off the soundtrack and just played music because I felt like I was supposed to be performing. It was too middle ground. It was like "press play and hang out." But I kept fucking with the volume and feeling like I had to tweak it....
AP: But how about doing a signing?
BF: I'm really into signing the book. There is the page in the book where I sign the page. You saw your page, right? I'm into it. It's a totally new thing for me.
AP: I like the aesthetic of the book.
BF: Thank you.
AP: How would you describe it?
BF: My aesthetic is pretty "pulled apart." Fairly stripped down. A lot of the images repeat. The piece that is on the cover is in the book eight times. It is always on the right side. It appears in three different formats. You can think about the piece. It's slowing down the looking process.
AP: Why did you call the book ISBN-10: 0-9820559-3-5?
BF: The thing with looking at a book is, if it's going to be a book, thinking about how someone looks at a book or thinks about a book. Let me back up. When I approach making things, whether it's object-based work or a performance or a record or an album, I think of the experience of looking at it. I really am super interested and feel engaged with trying to direct the experience. So, the book is almost a conduit for the book—an excuse to have the book. Then it's supposed to operate as a very stripped down field guide to all of these objects I have been making, which then are a response and secondary conversation to eight years of Barr [LAUGHS].
AP: So, it's "pulled apart."
BF: I mean, you get so tired of saying "deconstructed."
AP: I read the interview in the book. I was reading it as a way to generate questions. But it answered all the questions I had.
BF: That's a bootleg of the interview.
AP: Who did the interview?
AP: Is it a secret?
BF: I will say this much. The book is meant to function. Going back to the idea of directing the experience of looking at a book: Not every experience can be like sit down for 20 minutes to two hours. Of course. If you flip through the book it's meant to be discombobulating, like with most books where you flip through them it's discombobulating. But if you sit down and go through it in order it is designed to reveal all the things that didn't make sense the first time. I wanted it to be very clear. If you go through everything should, hopefully be revealed.
AP: So if I look again I should be able to figure out who did the interview?
BF: I'm into everything being very clear. I'm not into obtuse. I'm into people working for it, but at the end of the day if somebody wants "it" I want there to be as much as possible for them. Basically if someone wants to go somewhere with me I want there to be something at the end for them to go there for.
AP: I know that you buy a lot of books. Were you looking at certain books when you were making this book?
BF: I wanted to make a book I had never seen before. That's a big thing to me in general.
AP: So you can't really cite any influences?
BF: I'm such a fan, but at the same time because I'm such a fan I think I am aware of the excitement about seeing something new as an audience member. Or not new, but something really genuine... It would just make me feel like kind of a tool to be copying something. And reference is important for sure, and I'm into referencing things, and I think that that's something I'm starting to navigate. A lot of the work that I like is appropriation. How could you not? But I think that to me I can't feel ok putting something out if I can see where it directly came from.
AP: The book feels appropriate to its publisher, 2nd Cannons. Do you think the book is specific to the publisher?
BF: Yes and yes. Brian and I had been talking about doing the book for a while. I was really excited about it. I did a show at 2nd Cannons and it was really a huge honor and we did an edition. We talked about doing a book. He said "I don't do straight catalogue-style books. You can't just be like ‘here are all my pieces in order.'" I had been thinking, "This is my first book I want to have everything that happened up until now." Which in the end is what I did but I had to come up with a way to make more of a game out of it. And working within the parameters. I love the parameters!
AP: It's totally a catalog.