Meet a NYFA Artist: John Menick

Meet a NYFA Artist: John Menick

NYFA speaks with 2008 Video Fellow John Menick.

NYFA: Hi John, Please tell us what are you working on and what’s coming up for you.

JM: There are usually several things going on at once, but the biggest thing I’m finishing up is a project I shot in Paris last fall called, “Paris Syndrome.” It’s a video about Japanese travelers in France. I read an article in The Guardian a few years ago about how Japanese travelers allegedly have a great amount of difficulty when travelling in France. There are all kinds of mental health problems, from depression, to paranoia, nervous breakdowns etc. A Japanese psychiatrist living in Paris called it “Paris Syndrome.” I found the article fascinating, but the whole thing seemed little hard to believe. So I was able to go to Paris this year and interview some French and Japanese psychiatrists about it. I’ve got all this footage and I’m currently trying make sense of it all.

NYFA: What is your biggest influence or inspiration right now?

JM: I get hung up on weird things, which makes answering questions like this really hard. I just wrote something about a book the RAND corporation published in 1955 called, A Million Random Digits with 100000 Normal Deviates. It’s just that: a 600-page book of random numbers. It’s as thick as the Brooklyn Yellow Pages. It’s like a work of conceptual art, only stranger. Something like that can keep me going for weeks.

NYFA: Do you collect anything?

JM: I collect books. Nothing special – not like rare books or anything. Paperbacks, science fiction, art book, computer books, whatever. I buy them compulsively. It’s a little bit of problem, actually. I also assemble things for my work. I’ve been collecting factoids for a project called Hearsay. One I just wrote down is, “New York is the most diverse city in the world.” Everyone in New York says that, but then someone in London told me, “London is the most diverse city in the world.” So both go in the collection. In the end they’re all presented in a video slideshow. No debate. I believe anything.

NYFA: How do you start on a project?

JM: It’s really hard to say. I find the best projects aren’t premeditated. If I just start working on something, I know it’s going to turn out well. If I’m forcing myself to start something, it’s a bad sign. Actually, finishing things is the hard part. I think Sam Shepard said something like, “Beginnings are easy. Endings are impossible.” Maybe he didn’t say that, but I like it anyway.

NYFA: What is an indulgence for you?

JM: Other than interviews? Late-night champagne and oysters in Paris with friends.

NYFA: What is one technology that you’d like to see developed?

JM: A cheap electric car.

NYFA: Is there anything that you’d like to see addressed more adequately by artists’ service and funding organizations? If so, how might this issue be addressed?

JM: Healthcare. It’s way beyond the scope of artists’ organization, though. It’s a national crisis. Healthcare shouldn’t be “affordable.” It should be free.

NYFA: What role has the Fellowship played in your life?

JM: It helped me live for a few months as I transitioned back to New York after spending the summer and fall shooting my project abroad. Without it I would have been lost.

NYFA: What is your workspace like?

JM: A large desk, small MacBook, too many hard drives, chairs. The books are all over the place: a study of the Tunguska incident, a biography of Charles Ponzi, a couple books on the history of tourism, a collection John Cage writings, a Robert Smithson catalog. Occasionally there’s a drawing on a table or wall or the floor. To my left there is a wall of clippings: a group of stills from Warner Brothers cartoons, an image of Antonioni talking to his actors while shooting Zabriskie Point, a bunch of cryptic scribblings that say things like “stage fright” and “inconsistency.” I put the scribblings up there when I get an idea, and then I instantly forget what I originally meant. It took me a while to realize the forgetting part was probably the point.

John Menick makes digital films, exhibitions, short stories, and the occasional essay on contemporary art. After graduating from the Cooper Union in the late 90s, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he currently lives and works. His work has been exhibited at the P.S.1 Center for Contemporary Art, New York; La Maison Rouge, Paris; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; CCA Wattis, San Francisco; Midway Contemporary Art, Minneapolis; Artists Space, New York; The Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, among other venues. John has contributed to several artist-run groups, including Nomads & Residents, 16 Beaver Group, and The Thing. He has previously taught art at the Cooper Union and SUNY Purchase, and lectures regularly about art and film.

For more information on John Menick, visit his website.

Amy Aronoff
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