Paul D’Agostino (sort of) in conversation (kind of) with Paul Gagner (basically) on the eve of A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy, the artist’s forthcoming solo exhibition at Guest Spot @ The Reinstitute, in Baltimore, Maryland.
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In the fall of the year 2015, self-proclaimed ‘Brooklyn artist’ Paul Gagner had the opportunity to meet his longtime hero and greatest source of creative inspiration, Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D.
A world-renowned neurologist and clinical psychologist who has been instrumental in shaping the public’s now significantly broadened awareness of his disciplines of expertise, Dr. Moseley is also a very well known author, the thrust of his acclaim stemming from popular self-help titles such as Coping With Imaginary Foes, Fortify Your Delicate Ego, Self-Delusion: The Pathway to Success, and Hexes, Curses and Spells for Your Enemies, among many others, including the forthcoming Soul Soup for the Chicken. Of additional note is not only that Dr. Moseley’s books have been translated into scores of languages, but also that several of them have even been translated into Tocharian, to the general benefit of essentially no contemporary readers, yet abundantly useful for the purposes of presumed posterities.
An ardent admirer of Dr. Moseley’s writings since the latter years of his postponed adolescence, Mr. Gagner had never imagined, much less actively pursued an actual meeting with such a living legend. As it turns out, an anonymous third party had arranged the encounter so that the artist could undergo preliminary clinical analysis with Dr. Moseley, if for no other reason than to ensure that the latter’s extensive professional archives would feature, also, thenceforth and forever, the former’s psychological profile.
According to the anonymous third party’s recently discovered deposition, required by the courts for reasons one must omit here per legal writ, the planned meeting was intended as a gift to Mr. Gagner, if not also, in the words of the aforementioned third party, “to clinical researchers, to Dr. Moseley’s eventual biographers, to Dr. Moseley’s patients past and present, and, perhaps, to humanity in general.”
The conversation between Dr. Moseley and Mr. Gagner was dutifully recorded. However, it was recorded very poorly, then partially destroyed, leaving much of it essentially incomprehensible, and leaving the properly audible portions far too intermittent and piecemeal to be of great utility for the sharing of said recording with the general public.
Some would call this loss unfortunate. Some, perhaps even Mr. Gagner himself, would call it awfully convenient. Some would call it devastating to the future productivity of clinical analysis and creative enterprise. Some would simply call it what it is: a most chilling act of reciprocally detrimental interdisciplinary treason.
At any rate, most people of sound mind would be wont to agree that the all-but-lost recording is a grave tragedy, at the very least, and one that should have been avoided at all costs. Further commentary or speculation thereupon, however, is at the moment strictly forbidden by the courts.
(Even so, it would be regretful to not not seize this opportunity to point out that the wrecked documentation of the momentous exchange between Dr. Moseley and Mr. Gagner does really make it seem as though the History of Art itself has had a hole punched right through the middle of its fucking face.)
What follows is a transcription of the remaining portions of the conversation between Paul Gagner and his hero, his inspiration, his divine interventionist, his all, Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D.
Nota bene: One can say for certain that the beginning and end of the following transcription correspond to how the exchange actually did commence and conclude. Bracketed ellipses (i.e. […]) indicate portions of the audio that are either missing or beyond potential comprehension by anyone, including you.
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Dr. M: What would you say if I said that this would be our last meeting?
PG: But this is our first meeting! Is that really your first question?
Dr. M: Yes, Mr. Gagner, that is in fact my first question. Incidentally, I’m not here to answer your—
Dr. M: What bag on my head? Again, I’m not here to—
Dr. M: I see. And yet, does it not bother you deep into the night, so much indifference?
PG: No, not really. I’m not sure I understand where this is going.
Dr. M: Are you still bothered by it over breakfast the next day?
PG: Bothered by what exactly? I didn’t understand the original question.
Dr. M: Do you have an opinion about French toast?
PG: French toast? Well, it’s ok, I suppose.
Dr. M: Your opinion is wrong. What about Moons Over My Hammy?
PG: Wait, what is strange? My answer or my work?
Dr. M: Perhaps you misunderstand the true meaning of the word ‘strange.’
PG: I don’t think so. ‘Strange’ is a fairly straightforward adjective.
Dr. M: Perhaps you should read more.
PG: But I do read! I have a wonderful book here in my bag. It’s a used copy of The Practical Pyromanic.
Dr. M: Lovely! That is indeed an excellent book, although—
Dr. M: Well, they also say your work ‘references the toyings around of the mind, yet is unbound by the same.’
PG: They do? I’ve never heard that before.
Dr. M: Yes, they actually say that.
PG: Who are they?
Dr. M: Who AREN’T they?
PG: What? That’s a weird question.
Dr. M: You’re right, that is an excellent question.
Dr. M: Again, what bag on my head?
Dr. M: I understand that you love all of my books equally, such that you find it basically impossible to name only one as your very favorite. Is this true or false?
PG: Uh, true?
Dr. M: Are you sure?
PG: Uh, yes?
Dr. M: Are you again answering with a question, or are you merely uncertain?
PG: No, there’s no question about it. But yes, you could say that I’m uncertain. Uncertain as to where this is going, and why you’re getting frustrated.
Dr. M: Interesting.
Dr. M: In fact, that was a question.
PG: It was? How?
Dr. M: Your argumentative tone—
PG: Are you high, doctor? Because that would explain a lot. Like the hood, or whatever that is. Again, why are you wearing a bag over your head?
Dr. M: Why, then, the cold wax medium? Why not, say, a tub of warm butter, small or large?
PG: Well warm butter would probably rot, right? That would be counterproductive. I wouldn’t want my paintings to smell. Although wax and butter do have similar consistencies. Anyway, I enjoy the dull, matte surface that wax gives the paint.
Dr. M: You must really enjoy throwing the word ‘matte’ around like that. So casually.
Dr. M: Interesting.
Dr. M: Interesting.
Dr. M: It’s not not a question, if that’s what you mean.
PG: Oh. Well, I just assumed you wanted me to elaborate on my history with trophy fishing. Did you know that the muskie is Wisconsin’s state fish? It’s true. I read that in a book.
Dr. M: Interesting.
PG: This is how I became interested in collecting fossilized dinosaur shit. It really just fell in my lap. One minute you’re trekking through the mountains of Nepal, perhaps in the fine company of a wonderful pygmy hog, and the next thing you know you find yourself—
Dr. M: War! Naturally! War is certainly an always looming, all-hands-on-deck kind of thing. Speaking of which, what color, in your mind, is war?
PG: Oh man, that’s a tough one. Mauve, maybe? Yeah, definitely. It’s such an ugly color. I imagine war to be mauve. Wait, can I change my answer? It’s more of a blue. Yeah, blue. Because everyone loves blue, but it annoys the shit out of me.
Dr. M: You’re clearly not taking my question seriously enough.
PG: I’m not?
Dr. M: So instead, what color is war in her mind?
PG: Her? Her who?
Dr. M: You know who she is. You know exactly who she is.
Dr. M: If you could bring 1000 CDs with you to a remote island, which one would you leave at home?
PG: Isn’t the question supposed to be, ‘Which one album would you bring with you to a desert island?’
Dr. M: I don’t really care how you think the question is supposed to go. The question I am asking is the question I have asked.
PG: Ok then, how about… Dark Side of the Moon!
Dr. M: Wrong.
PG: This is ridiculous! And for god’s sake, why are you wearing that bag on your head?
Dr. M: Bag, oh dear! What bag? You’re truly delirious. How marvelous!
Dr. M: Backing up, wiseass, why would you assume that there’s a CD player on the remote island anyway?
Dr. M: Yes, I’m aware that the great band Heart, the very great band Heart—the indomitable, the ineffably brilliant band that goes by the name of Heart—still tours. I’m surprised you bring that up.
PG: Whenever I hear “Baracuda”, it brings me back to that awful memory. I can’t shake the feeling that I brought all that upon myself. If only I’d stopped at the second helping of mashed potatoes.
Dr. M: Interesting.
Dr. M: You must be talking about Phil Collins. What a master!
PG: I’m definitely not talking about Phil Collins.
Dr. M: No, I’m quite sure you’re talking about Phil Collins. At any rate, you really should talk more about Phil Collins. Everyone should. He’s truly the—
Dr. M: And yet, aren’t we all underpaid?
PG: Sure, but no one is looking out for circus clowns. They really have it hard! What other job asks you to entertain and risk your life, all for minimum wage and no health benefits?! It’s terrible.
Dr. M: Well, I think there are plenty of jobs out there that—
Dr. M: In fact, diner coffee really is the best. Diner waitresses are also often the nicest. Which of course raises the question of what you think about the word ‘buxom’.
PG: How exactly did you make that leap? You want to know what I think about ‘buxom’?
Dr. M: Yes, I was asking you that. Again, the questions I am asking are the questions I ask.
PG: I don’t know. I’m not sure what to think about ‘buxom’.
Dr. M: You mean it doesn’t even conjure—
Dr. M: Nope, I’ve never heard of it. It must be something stupid.
PG: Well, it’s simply divine. A once in lifetime opportunity, if you can get past the smell, which is truly awful. Everything you’ve heard is true. It smells like death.
Dr. M: It’s true! They’re extraordinary! Unwaveringly so, and so ageless. And yes, Repentless really is a great title for the new one. It’s at once yet another classic bit of linguistically invigorating semantics on their part, as well as an almost consummately timely—
PG: And now of course I can’t go within 50 yards of a merry-go-round. Can you believe that? In America! Aren’t we all free here? Just because I might have more ‘enthusiasm’ for merry-go-rounds than others doesn’t mean I’m a monster, right?
Dr. M: Hmm.
Dr. M: Yes, but that’s not necessarily indecisiveness, nor even necessarily a problem. For example, I like to ponder my own existence as an inquorate meeting of the self. It’s a mode of thought that grants me a completely liberated state of mind, at times for hours on end. I find this to be quite analogous to you “just putting all that shit on shuffle or whatever,” as you say, rather than “selecting one album or playlist” when working in the studio. Agree you not?
Dr. M: Still, it’s strange you call me your hero.
PG: Well, after this conversation, I would have to agree with you on that.
Dr. M: As if you have any room to—
Dr. M: Not really, why?
PG: I just thought it was an especially touching moment when Richard Gere overcomes his fear of heights by climbing the fire escape of Julia Roberts’s apartment. I got a little choked up.
Dr. M: Interesting. Very interesting.
PG: Really? Very interesting? More than just interesting?
Dr. M: No, it’s not any more interesting than the things I might have previously described as interesting. The adverbial phrase merely seemed like the natural thing to utter as I uncrossed, then recrossed my legs.
PG: Wait. What? You’ve been sitting perfectly still for the past hour.
Dr. M: Well, not quite, for I most certainly did just uncross, then recross my legs. Your failure to notice is itself quite interesting.
PG: But you didn’t! You’re just fucking with me, right? What I find interesting is the circuitous nature of this interview.
Dr. M: No, actually, that’s not interesting. That’s appalling.
PG: Right. Wait, what? Are you agreeing with me, or just fucking with me more?
Dr. M: Cookies? What kind?
PG: Chocolate chip, of course! What other kind is there? Oatmeal raisin? Ugh, worthless. Disgusting.
Dr. M: Interesting.
PG: Well, it was a long time ago. I’m a changed man now. Look, you can barely see the scar where the hook entered!
Dr. M: Usually, yes.
Dr. M: In other words, one should refrain from holding Carlo Gesualdo truly and ultimately accountable for all those alleged ‘deeds’.
PG: I don’t even know who he is.
Dr. M: You know damn well who he is, surely!
PG: No, I truly have no idea.
Dr. M: Google much?
PG: I’m not going to Google right here in front of you. That would be so rude! There aren’t even any paper towels anywhere in sight.
Dr. M: Yet it isn’t necessarily the case that the paintings are lacking ‘minds,’ one could say. So explain your claim.
PG: It’s true. I’ve deliberately removed all intelligence from the paintings. My hope is to achieve a sort of ‘ultimate mindlessness,’ where basically I’m blindly painting while simultaneously doing menial tasks that are completely unrelated—driving, talking on the phone, playing Scrabble, etc. I want the paintings to reach a lobotomized nirvana.
Dr. M: That’s a terrible explanation.
PG: Really? I thought it was pretty good.
Dr. M: Well, you’re wrong about that. About that too, I should say.
Dr. M: Well for crying out loud, in the long and rich history of my entire professional—
Dr. M: Fine, be that way. In fact, I too am often that way.
PG: Be what way? Doctor, you’re being obtuse.
Dr. M: What did you just—
Dr. M: Nope, no bag. No bag-o on the head-o.
Dr. M: Interesting. I hadn’t assumed that misandry was your thing.
PG: I’m not sure where you got that idea. Was it the statement about how all men are vile and disgusting creatures? I don’t think that necessarily equates to misandry. Or perhaps it was the story about dipping my balls in a cup of tea?
Dr. M: All of this does seem to suggest that, as it turns out, testicles are not your cup of tea, and as such, one could—
Dr. M: Oh yes? Well, you should know that I’m not exactly obligated to—
Dr. M: Never in the long and rich history of my entire professional career! Never!
PG: I would describe my oeuvre as Thomas Kinkaid on crack. No, more like Flemish painting minus the craft. No, that’s not right either. How about highly refined cave painting?
Dr. M: Funny you should ask!
PG: What’s funny? I didn’t realize that I had posed a question.
Dr. M: The last straw, truly the last straw. The straw, I say! And the last one! The very last straw in the long and rich history of last—
Dr. M: That’s unfortunate. Actually, I don’t even care.
PG: I find it highly unusual that a member of the medical community would care so little or be so insensitive.
Dr. M: Is that so? Please watch closely as I roll my eyes very, very slowly and very, very deeply.
Dr. M: What bag! Oh boy, you’re really—
Dr. M: Interesting. Very interesting.
PG: Indeed. Going back to a point you had made earlier, before your claim that—
Dr. M: But you’re still wrong, I did uncross and recross them. I never leave things uncrossed. My genius is undoubtedly formidable, but I still fear God.
PG: What? Wow. That was a peculiar leap.
Dr. M: And yet it makes perfect sense. You’re pagan, I take it? I’m fine with that.
PG: Pagan? I don’t think so, unless you consider my membership to the Aetherius Society as pagan?
Dr. M: Interesting.
Dr. M: Again with this! And now the last straw in the long and rich history of straws has truly attained a lastness of strawdom that simply—
PG: This has gone far enough. We’ve been rambling on for hours with no semblance of understanding. I’m done! I can’t take any more. You, sir, are in need of serious professional help. I’m leaving.
Dr. M: No you’re not. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t dare.
PG: Oh no? Well, first I’m gonna take that goddamn— What the— Wh—
PG: Oh god… Oh god no!
Dr. M: Ha ha ha ha ha! You’ll never—
Dr. M: Just where the hell do you think you’re going? Just where the? You can’t just—! Oh, the hell. The hell!
Nota bene: According to the aforementioned deposition, it seems to be true that Dr. Moseley was not, after all, wearing a bag on his head during his exchange with Mr. Gagner. Rather, it was a canvas, with small holes cut out for his eyes, and apparently no hole cut out for the inhalation of oxygen. The canvas was secured around his neck with a cord—a yellow one, it seems—and beneath that canvas was yet another canvas, and yet another one beneath that one as well. The horrors lying further therebeneath, ostensibly glimpsed by Mr. Gagner yet essentially unaccounted for in the deposition and remnant recordings, are believed to defy all modes and manner of description. It is also believed that Dr. Moseley and Mr. Gagner remain actively unaware that they do in fact know one another’s deepest secrets, and that their differences in opinion and experience alike are chimeric at best, or at worst. At any rate, it seems safe to assume that, had their exchange gone on to reach a logical conclusion, this gaping aporia would have been well resolved. It is also believed that the same resolution might have been achieved if Mr. Gagner had gone on to eat even more mashed potatoes way back when.
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A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy opens on 12 December 2015. The exhibition will be on view through 6 February 2016. More information about Guest Spot @ The Reinstitute here.
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Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.