The Observer interviewed Tim Griffin from the industry

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The Observer interviewed Tim Griffin from the industry

It was announced last week that longtime resident of the New York art scene, Tim Griffin, will lead The Industry, serving as executive director of the Los Angeles experimental opera producer. Griffin is an associate editor at Artforum, where he was editor-in-chief from 2003 to 2010, before heading to The Kitchen, the influential experimental space in New York, where he served as director and chief curator for nine years.

Griffin experimented with Ash Fure’s ANIMAL instrument at a recent Industry salon. Photo by Andrew Mandinach

The Observer recently spent some time with Griffin to hear about his new job.

What drew you to The Industry?

On a personal level, there are so many points of connection, people I’m familiar with in the organization in many disciplines, from visual artists to composers to choreographers who have collaborated with The Kitchen. This interdisciplinarity has become a point of attraction not only in terms of art, but also in terms of the communities with which I have a history. More generally, the artistic team, starting with Yuval, inspires the reinvention – and overcoming of many misperceptions – of the opera art form, which can cut across disciplines and communities quite radically. They put on an opera in Union Station and in a limousine! Their next production from Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade is set in an observatory. This is a unique opportunity.

Obviously, the Kitchen does productivity, but this job has more of an emphasis on productivity than you’ve tended to have before. How do you feel about such a transition?

It’s funny because I remember a lot of conversations I had when I first went to The Kitchen about how performance art shouldn’t be seen separately from ‘visual art’ – and this was even when performance art was already appearing more regularly in that , which was traditionally considered the visual context of art. These things are different, but the separation doesn’t necessarily make sense. Of course, historically, if you go back even to the beginning of modernism, these kinds of boundaries were not respected. Today, you might speak more meaningfully of distance between audiences than between types of artwork.

As for my own transition, I think that at The Industry, my experience working with artists from different disciplines and bringing them together – and bringing their communities together – remains a real focal point. At the same time, I think it helps make the art world more aware of interdisciplinarity, and the incredible model that Industry has created, using opera as a sharp lens for the kind of interdisciplinarity that we’ve seen in the art world for the last decade or more, will be real dimension to this forward movement.

In other words, it may seem like a transition for me, but ideally the industry continues to drive the transition for the art world as well, as long as we can all collectively look at how these media and disciplines have really changed relationships.

I think back to a decade ago when many reporters, myself included, had to write stories about how this was the art world’s performance moment because the Tate Modern was opening their fulfillment center and the Performa was really gaining popularity. We’re also moving into an interesting moment where Instagram’s dominance is fading and giving way to TikTok. In your experience at The Kitchen, how do you see performance changing over the past decade? In terms of how it’s made, how people consume it, and people’s attitudes towards it?

Wow, this is both a huge and small and very specific question.

Answer any part of it you want. Maybe just the smallest part.

I think over ten years ago there was a concern that the performance was being put into the white cube without considering the white cube…that different architectures were actually wanted for what was a changing relationship between your performance and your static art .

And so you began to see institutions try to navigate this—recently in MoMA’s Studio, for example—with an inherent, nuanced flexibility of the architecture itself to accommodate the real changes and developments happening in the artistic realm, charged by artists. This shift may even begin to shape what an audience is, what an audience is, what a collective is. The way people gather around your works and create kinds of collectives based on the way of artistic communication is something that institutions have to grapple with when it comes to what artists are trying to do now and what audiences are looking for .

But the change extends beyond the walls. For example, there are all kinds of interesting performances designed to be broadcast via cameras. So you might be seeing something in a physical space, but the work envisions a continued existence—perhaps through streaming platforms, for example—and reflects the awareness that there are these other modes of attention and other kinds of accessibility.

To return to Industry and opera, we can see historical precedents. For example, Robert Ashley, who starred in The Kitchen, did a TV opera in the early 1980s. Go back more than a hundred years and you’ll see all sorts of avant-garde artists looking to use other platforms for their work, going back to radio or futuristic operas.

One of the things that really drew me to the industry is that opera is an amazing place for all these different disciplines and different communities to meet. It allows artists and audiences, as so many emerging platforms do, to change your performance ideas. The organization has already dealt with this. They use the civic landscape of Los Angeles as a backdrop or as a location. You have music distribution through other technologies. Going beyond the physical confines of an in-person performance is something truly futuristic, even though it’s a historical setting. And I think if you look at its institutional flexibility, it offers a real way forward for anyone working in the arts.

Yes, that was a monster question. Thank you for thinking of this. I hear what you’re saying about being responsive to the audience and drawing them in. I’m curious what you think about the development of Los Angeles as a cultural capital in the last few years. What do you think about it and how did you see it yourself?

For me, LA has always been the place where ideas and new models come from. In terms of art, music and performance, the whole school network here has an incredible history – it’s incredibly fertile ground. So many of my nearest and dearest were based here, for that matter, from Baldessari to Silver Lotringer. And recently added this international profile with more galleries. There is a sense of momentum here. I’m new to the city, but one feels there is a great opportunity to grow LA’s native and greenhouse culture.

Many people have also expressed that there is an interest in Los Angeles in finding ways, at an institutional level, to bring together different aspects of the creative culture here. The music community is amazing. The artistic community is amazing. The film community is amazing. The dance community is amazing. There are so many different cultures here. But the question is: how do you actually bring all these amazing people together? How do you create cross-fertilization in Los Angeles? I think that having a flexible model in The Industry and in this interdisciplinary art form of opera actually has the capacity to bring all these rarely intersecting groups together. There was some limited opportunity that would find its moment, not only with The Industry, but in general.

Opera is the perfect environment for this. One last question, which we can sidestep if you want, but I want to ask about the current landscape of media in the art world. This is at a unique time.

The arts will always need platforms where people can talk to each other and start to understand what’s going on, so that you feel, rightly or wrongly, that there’s context and that you’re part of a conversation. You need dialogues where people have a sense of belonging and a sense of stake. And I think right now there’s still a lot of room for that to happen.

Over the decades, there will be some ebb and flow in terms of the number of platforms and the types of interests and the types of conversations that happen. But I sense that there is a hunger for it—a hunger for writing and a hunger for dialogue that has only grown in recent years. And it’s funny, when I first landed in Los Angeles, I ended up guest lecturing at UCLA, and it was really striking to me how you have 18-year-olds hungry to dive into critical writing. They wanted to read Frantz Fanon; they really wanted to dig.

So wherever things are right now, I wouldn’t be shocked if another generation comes along that eventually expands on the platforms we see now. Different generations have different reading habits and different attention spans, and these things grow and expand and contract, and you don’t see the same types of essays written at any one time. But then again, a hundred years ago the aphorism ruled the land, didn’t it? I think inevitably there will be types of writing and types of connections, and sometimes they won’t always use words. It can be in images that are sort of telegraphic that you communicate. It could be another kind of language that is not necessarily text-based.

Also, there are other types of writing that can still be impactful. You may see things that don’t work in magazines but do on other platforms. And I’m not talking about social media. Genres of writing emerge in dialogue with different cultural moments.

Completely. People want a shared universe to discuss these ideas, whatever it looks like. There will always be that.

Thinking aloud, perhaps another way to look at media is through the model of all alternative art spaces that have had continuous roles for decades. I think that in the last fifteen or twenty years, when there were all kinds of new transitions happening in art, such spaces became critically important, which helped to develop alternative models and new ways of thinking and gathering or collectivizing around art. And this can happen in the critical press as well. This alternative model that happened in spaces, I think is happening in art dialogues right now.

Main photo of a man with glasses
Tim Griffin now runs The Industry in LA. Courtesy of the industry

Industry's Tim Griffin on his new job, Los Angeles and Art World Media

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