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A Conversation with Melbourne Video Artist Daniel Crooks

Anne and Gordon Samstag Museum of Art Publication, June/August 2013 | Thursday, Oct 10, 2013

A Conversation with Melbourne Video Artist Daniel Crooks

LW: So let’s start out by getting you born.

DC: Well, I was born in New Zealand in 1973.

LW: And your parents?

DC: My dad was a jack of all sorts of different trades, but when I was growing up, he was a printer with the New Zealand Herald. My mother was a high school art teacher, though she went to art school fairly late. I was at primary school when she was at art school. She was a printmaker and I had quite a fetish for those lithography stones: amazing, like big milk biscuits. She really was my art teacher.

LW: Did you stay interested in art into high school?

DC: When I was at high school, I was split almost perfectly. I took the maximum number of art subjects, so I did photography and printmaking. And then my other three subjects were chemistry, physics and calculus. It was almost a perfect split between practical art subjects and science.

LW: Would there have been personal computers around when you were growing up?

DC: I had an Apple IIci. My dad saw the writing on the wall early on.

LW: Which makes sense, him being a printer where automation and digitisation were fast making themselves felt.

DC: I hadn’t thought about it from that side, but definitely, he saw where computers were going. Actually he sent me on a computer camp, when I was 12, though the most exciting thing for me was building bivouacs in the bush. The computer stuff wasn’t really grabbing me at that point, though it definitely gave me an early taste of BASIC.

LW: And when would you have gotten the Apple II?

DC: That was ’91, my first year of university. My dad and I theoretically went halves (though I never quite paid in full). It was astronomically expensive. With the same dollars I could probably buy five of the computers I use now, which are a million times more powerful. His justification at the time was that I could use the computer to help him with his work. But really I think it was that he wanted me to have access to a computer, because he thought that was where the world was going.

LW: Before we leave high school, though, were you especially drawn to math? You were telling me earlier how besotted you were with sacred geometry.

DC: Well geometry is … It’s curious, because in fifth form (year 10), which was our first year of real exams, I had an inspirational maths teacher, and trigonometry was the only exam I ever got 100 per cent for. It’s the one and only time in my life where I have just known it, inside out. I think it also had something to do with the fact that it was very concrete. The next year things got a lot more abstract, with quadratic equations and the like, and I lost interest. Well, that and a new maths teacher, but at that point, photography was infinitely more interesting. Geometry, though, has always held a deep, deep fascination for me

LW: The reason I’m asking is, were you already walking through the world, slicing and dicing it, even before there was technology to do so? Would you just look at a wall and do its trigonometry, would you suss out the geometry of a random corner, in the midst of your average day? Or is it the technology that subsequently makes you begin to look at the world that way?

DC: That had started already, in primary school. When I was about 11, I had an exceptional teacher by the name of Rex Steele. He was into photography. He had us charging around with our cameras, and took us back to his house where he had a darkroom and we developed the film and printed the photos. But the absolute killer moment was a Christmas card he’d made. Each year he’d make a bespoke Christmas card that he’d send out, and he had one of them on the dresser in the lounge: a small black and white picture of him and his wife, sitting in various places around their lounge, multiplied. So there were about five of each of them, though it looked like it was a single snapshot.

And I was absolutely spellbound — like, what the hell? I kept drilling him, how had he done that? He explained it all to me, and that just absolutely blew my mind. It wasn’t until years later that I thought about that. It definitely planted a seed very early on, about how using this sort of time-recording apparatus could enable one to step outside of the continuum that we’re locked into, and offer alternatives.

LW: From early on you were also very into science fiction, and the sort of science fiction conceit of deploying the camera as a kind of time machine.

DC: Absolutely. Any time any kind of time travel gets invoked in any narrative, it’s always great — that is, up until the point where the holes start appearing.

LW: Holes being contradictions?

DC: Yeah, an impossibility or a contradiction. It’s one of my aims in life to make that perfectly sealed time-travel movie, that doesn’t have any glaring contradiction or holes.

LW: Good luck with that.

DC: Well, exactly. But there have been some great books, and actually one that really did blow my mind was Arthur C. Clarke’s The city and the stars, which is credited with the first-ever virtual reality sequence in literature.

My parents took me to Europe when I was 13, which proved one of the most seismic reality shifts in my life — apart from being completely removed from my peer group, there was also the fact that I could no longer watch TV. We were in a kombi van for almost six months, so I really started reading. I read some fantastic stuff, notably that Arthur C. Clarke. We also went to a lot of great art museums. I can tell you Hieronymus Bosch had a pretty large impact on a 13 year old! As did Dalí and Picasso. But the one that curiously really stuck with me was also at the Prado in Madrid: Goya’s Saturn devouring his children.

[download a pdf of the complete interview]