JESSICA ROBBINS [on] MORIAH ASKENAIZER

Moriah Askenaizer. Photo by James Huang.

Moriah Askenaizer. Photo by James Huang.

{As I try and make things clear, I seem to obscure.

The already problematic context of the artist interview…

What would Moriah want an interview to look like? How will this inform their subject? As an artist do they build one? Don’t we all? How do they choose to display themselves in language? Dress, in description? What would it smell like? Oh, subjectivity! It’s a failure already. This intangibility forces a focus on the mechanisms inherent in the interview, ways of information gathering about a subject and their constructing restraints.

Yet without solution, we submit with a taste for subversion on our tongues. Perhaps the interview itself creates “a space where the problem of identification and its laws, in all their force and impossibility can be experienced,” and maybe even pulled apart (Roland Barthes).}

Jessica Robbins: Tell me about where you grew up?

Moriah Askenaizer: I grew up in a town called Hollis, New Hampshire. It’s in the woods. We had really really cold winters, Yea, small, old, apple town. It smells like apples there right about now.

JR: And then you went to the Cooper Union to study art…

MA: I graduated this year and mama was proud!

JR: Now that you’re done with Cooper what are you doing?

MA: I am working on staying alive, getting a job, and writing a manuscript. I’d like to write 100 pages by at least this time next year. I’m trying to paint too. Little paintings.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: Tell me about what you’ve been writing lately?

MA: Well most of the writing I’ve been doing lately is based off of this passage in Willa Cather’s novel O Pioneers!. It’s a passage where the protagonist Alexandra is lying in bed and she is fucking exhausted. The worst has happened, but it’s a moment, when she… It’s during Sunday. She’s isn’t working and her brother Emil is blacking his boots down in the kitchen and the wheat fields are growing up outside her window. Everything, all of the language up to that point is very matter of fact. And Alexandra is lying down in bed and all of a sudden starts to incant this dream in which an other worldly being comes in and sweeps down and lifts her up and carries her across her fields. The person or being that Alexandra dreams of is too big. They smell like corn fields and are full of light and like in that passage I think there’s a lot of queer potentiality. Alexandra can’t see him but she knows he is a man but unlike any that she has ever met. So what are they? They aren’t anything, maybe they’re everything. But this book, or manuscript at least, that I wanna write is from the perspective of this other worldly creature. Which is weird because… try to even fucking write about something that is basically imperceptible outside of a fictional character’s impressions of a daydream. But it’s interesting because, I think you have to talk about the body in exhaustion. So…

JR: Well that actually leads me to some of the questions I wanted to ask you. What do the characters that you make look like and how do you build them? And also considering pronouns, how do you choose to describe this person or how do they speak? How do you choose to narrate?

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: In this passage Willa Cather uses “he” but the characteristics of that “he” imply that this being is beyond any pronoun that can be used to describe them. Sometimes when I sit down to write, it’s the most fucked up challenge, and so I’m trying to just tell myself to write. The reason I want to write this figure into a story is like… All the times I feel depressed, I think about them. A part of me needs this being to be real or a feel-able as active ulterior, just as much as perhaps Alexandra needs it in O Pioneers. But when you’re pulled by different extremities of your feelings it’s hard to will a specific idea or character.

JR: I feel this relates to the way Roland Barthes talks about “love” in A Lover’s Discourse. He seems to compromise with the idea of “love” in a way that feels like a submission or a constant submission. Would your character, similarly need to be contradictory and fragmented?

MA: Absolutely, and it’s cool that you bring up love too. I was reading bits, little bits, of Cruel Optimism and it’s about how optimism is a product of things we desire that are actually horrible for us, and I think about that when I think about exhaustion or disruption or paradoxes. (I am probably misreading or misinterpreting Lauren Berlant’s work but for the purposes of this interview…). This figure to me represents a capital W wanting that is met with something that is not reciprocated or mutually abiding. That is willing and wildly discursive. Fragmented, sure, or paradoxical. But that’s another thing that is hard about writing this; She’s asking this being to carry her in a lot of ways; emotionally and physically. She wants the being to carry the burden of her desire, too. She doesn’t want to want. But what I’m trying to write is a being into being. It feels like trying to reanimate a form of aggressive submission.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

What is exciting to me is that the being possesses all of these characteristics that misalign with human life but within the intelligibility of a body that can lift. The most amazing part to me in the entire passage is not that this being is being dreamed, but when they lift her up! and how the moment of their contact with Alexandra is expressed; I mean, wow! To be touched in the way that your lover or your friends or your family or who ever is most closest to you can never ever touch you. I have a working theory that’s it’s like two interiors touching. And Alexandra’s inner life, from what I read, is fortified by constant resistance as well as an expressed inability (or fuck no!) to abide female gender expectations. So two interiors touching that are beside themselves in resistance. I think its trans-historical too (I am animating this figure now! This figure persuades me to miss its touches from decades away).

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: Do you think the paintings and the writing talk to each other?

MA: Well the paintings I made with Alex for the exhibition If Less Than a Boy Were Fruit were secretly really about suicide, fatigue and exhaustion. Everyone thought they were about theater or performance or coyness or artifice. Which, they were, too. I suppose. But I mostly remember during that time not feeling like I could ever be a painter and then making paintings. I think those paintings and the character I want to write about were about negation in a similar way. Out of all circumstances that said no, something happened. Something keeps happening. I wanted to die but I am still here! That’s how I felt a lot when I was making those paintings. It was like everything I learned or talked about in my classes, in articles I read, was telling me that the ideas I was having about painting as a queer, dog, genderqueer thing, were constituted as not being valuable by “the painting canon.” Or those parts of me would only be valuable in really restricted fields that announced a “defect in painting”, that mouthed allegiance to “performance”, or were only appreciated in utter co-option. I just didn’t feel like I fit or that I could muster enough emotional strength to give a shit, but I kept making paintings. I align that with a *feeling* of my queerness and being inaugurated as a living being through the violent terms of Girl Lady Boy, whatever. It’s like most everywhere you’re denied. No, you’re not a body, you’re not human, no, no. And I think this fantasy character too comes out of the “no” or the flat, open landscape of Nebraska (where the novel is set), out of the cold winter, and the death, and perhaps too out of the “no” of human relatedness.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

I think Willa Cather’s work holds a lot of sentimental resonance from me too, because I grew up in a rural area. I was pretty isolated and alone.

JR: Can you tell me more about where you think this violence comes from?

MA: Negligence, negligence that comes from progress, stasis, sublimated rage, love of not being, abuse, open space, winter.

JR: This stance of negligence in the face of progress which you tied to this violence, seems to relate very much to your paintings from your show, If Less Than A Boy Were Fruit with Alex Velozo?

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: I think those are asshole paintings. Like I felt when I was painting that I was the ass that wouldn’t move with a carrot dangling in front of my face. I also felt like I was a self-condemning shithead for not moving. The carrot might have been “good, sensitive painting” or “passing”. I couldn’t move and I didn’t want to and because I didn’t want to, I couldn’t, and I think Alexandra and the daydreamed being don’t do what they ought to do.  Not happily though, or that’s the way Willa Cather writes it, I think. Cather writes that Alexandra punishes herself for her fantasies. The novel doesn’t glamorize or make that whole process of fantasy, punishment, and being a homesteader seem beautiful or easy or delusional or unbound, but it definitely doesn’t account fully for Alexandra’s fantasy figure. It feels like the whole brief scenario falls out of the sky. Its huge and impossibly opaque and lucid. It not a moment that reveals her weakness, that’s the spirit of her character and the character that Willa Cather writes and wills, taking priority of her bodies.

JR: It seems that that imagination comes from having a need to escape, from this exhaustion.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

MA: Its escape but it’s also a failed escape. The figure that she imagines, and I guess, when I feel like I am painting into the magic window, I make these dumb ass works. I think about how there isn’t a trap door out of what is complicated or what you love or what hurts you. You’re in the thick of it. I think thats the way that the figure comes about in Willa Cather’s text. Alexandra is in the thick of it, and she is going to be in thick of it until she is cold and dead in the ground. But there is something about that too. She can’t actually escape. There is a desire to do that but you’re never going to escape. I think there is actually something exciting about knowing that there is no escape, but the desire to escape is still present.

It’s a lot about the rigors involved in maintaining the unmaintainable. Or not being able to name, or maintain the unnamable and committing oneself to those presences. And not falling for something thats easy, like something that only half describes itself and just goes on with its stupid little life.

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Courtesy of Moriah Askenaizer.

JR: To always be at odds with oneself…

MA: Yea, it’s very hard. This paradox feels imminent and always.

*If Less Than A Boy Were Fruit is a title we adapted from a poem by poet Ari Banias entitled Solve for X.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

JESSICA ROBBINS: was born in 1988 and raised in Southern Virginia. After attending the Virginia Military Institute for two years she moved to New York City in 2007.  She attended Parsons’ the New School before transferring to The Cooper Union. She graduated in may of 2014 with a bachelors in fine arts. She is currently living and working in Brooklyn.

MORIAH ASKENAIZER: Moriah is a painter, writer, and occasional drag prince and dog from New Hampshire. They hold a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art and are currently working on writing a manuscript and becoming potty-trained.

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