"A Burroughs Quote" early WIP iteration
Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, 1953
My copy of Naked Lunch, purchased 1978
Burroughs 1975 by Richard Avedon
ABOUT A BURROUGHS QUOTE
Some personal backstory on the inspiration behind the project.
As a child I was a voracious reader. My teachers at school suggested putting me in an accelerated creative writing program, which my parents thought was a great idea. The class was filled mostly with kids who were a lot older than me, and through their friendship I became exposed to alternative literature. They suggested I read “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, which I fell in love with.
My family was working class. We rarely had extra money for things if they weren't necessities, but every weekend my dad would drop me off at the used bookstore. He would disappear for an hour or so, and when he returned would buy for me a handful of used paperbacks that I’d picked out. I tried to choose books that weren’t too expensive, knowing that it was a luxury for us. My love of “On the Road” led me to the other “Beat Generation” writers, and that’s how, at a young age, I discovered the work of William S. Burroughs. I still have the first novel of his I bought from that used bookstore, “Naked Lunch”, with the price still written inside the front cover: $0.75 cents.
I was a model student, spending most of my free time reading or drawing, and consequently rarely got in trouble. Because of this my parents trusted my judgment, and never questioned the books I picked out. If they only knew I was fully ensconced in a world celebrating society's outsiders. Criminals and junkies. Artists and queers. These became my new role models, (and perhaps did a good deal to shape me into the artist and queer I am today). My strict religious parents would have seriously lost their shit if they only knew what I was reading… My immersion in this alternative literature was one small childhood rebellion I couldn’t help but savor.
“The cut-up technique (or découpé in French) is an aleatory literary technique in which a written text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs.”
Over the years I’ve remained inspired by Burrough’s work - his writing, art and ideas. (While acknowledging Burroughs to be a controversial figure, I can’t help but judge his artistic output on its own merit, separate from the actions of its creator.) One particular inspiration comes from the “Cut Up Method” he often utilized. Incorporating stochastic techniques into art is certainly not new; in the 20’s Dadaist Tristan Tzara proposed creating poetry by picking random words from a hat. Burroughs, however, took the method to new levels in his writing, especially during the period he spent collaborating with artist/writer Brion Gysin in the 50’s and 60’s.
These days I can’t help but to make the obvious correlation between non-digital generative methods utilized by such artists as Burroughs, Duchamp, and Eno, and the code based work I’m creating with p5.js. As one of my favorites Vera Molnár has said, “There is this thing that can replace intuition. It’s randomness.”
I usually start all of my algorithmic art with something simple, only to find that the journey of discovery transforms my initial purpose into something entirely different. “A Burroughs Quote” started with a simple experiment: create something resembling textural image fragments, xeroxed or blown up from an old newspaper. Cut this up, randomize, mix, rotate, reassemble. Something entirely new emerges. There might be a blurriness of vision. Junk dreams. An obvious or indistinct path to follow. Or perhaps no path at all. I wasn’t planning on channeling Burroughs when I started my sketch, but was so happy to discover his energetic presence when it emerged. It felt like seeing an old friend again.
Postscript: I actually ended up meeting Burroughs in person in the late 80’s. He was doing a reading at COCA (Seattle’s Center On Contemporary Art) which I happened to be doing design work for at the time. Someone had a loft party after the show, and of all things I found myself standing in line with him waiting to use the bathroom. I tried to play it cool. We chatted about the show, some small talk about how waiting in bathroom lines sucked. I wish I could remember details… I was 21, meeting one of my childhood idols, and trying hard to not sound like an idiot. He was charming and polite, as was his reputation, and graciously accepted when I offered to let him cut in front of me in line.
Above: "A Burroughs Quote" early WIP iterations
A Burroughs Quote was part of the fxhash interactive minting experience at Proof of People, London 2022
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