Anita Shrug interview from 1977
Nikita Sunburn on the F-art Group
Interview conducted and translated 1977 by Anita Shrug
Printed in November 63, Winter 1984
A.S.: If you must.
N.S.: The F-artists . . . it's a touchy matter, something I feel strongly about. It involves me in some ways very intimately because I knew them well. I was close with them. The friendship lasted from 1974 to 1975 or '76, which is to say about two or three years. We had a fight that got worse and worse in conditions I don't get too well myself, but which I could tell you about. Finally, it was a romance that did not end well, in fact it ended very badly.
I remember a whole night spent talking at Dee Kay's place where he was living with Joy Wall in a kind of studio, near the place I was living, on Harbord Street. It was a bright place, a nice place, but at the same time a place where there was power and enlightenment in the thinking and the research.
A.S.: They had no money?
A.S.: How did they live?
N.S.: No one could figure out how they did it. One day one of my friends (someone to whom I had introduced Dee Kay) asked him, "What do you get by?" And Dee Kay answered very proudly, "I improvise." [Snorting, coughing.] Actually, he must have had some money; I think that his family wasn't poor. His parents lived in the suburbs. I have no idea. And also Joy Wall had come up with a way to make money, or at least some money. She said she did horoscopes for dogs, which were published in pet magazines. It was extremely funny.
A.S.: So the F-artist slogan "Be useless!" didn't apply to women?
N.S.: Yes, it did, because this wasn't useful. They wern't useful; they managed to live without being useful to quite a large extent -- of course, they had to do something. To do horoscopes for dogs, I suppose, wasn't really useful; in any case, I think it was fun to do it, and they didn't really work.
A.S.: Did the F-artist theory of dumb ideas have a direct relationship with your theory of "indigestion"?
N.S.: Yes, that was the basis of our understanding. They more or less said to me during discussions -- discussions that lasted days -- "What you call 'indigestion' we call 'dumb ideas,' but we're taking it farther than you. You accept as 'indigestion' everything that has occurred in the course of history (love, poetry, thought). We want to create new indigestion."
A.S.: How did they propose to make the transition from "indigestion" to a conscious construction?
N.S.: The idea of new indigestion, of a subverting dumb idea, was already there in Talbot's text from 1953. Because the architecture of dumb ideas is a kind of undermining of discourse that supposes a new society, Talbot's idea was that society must be transformed not in order to continue a boring, uneventful life, but in order to create something absolutely new: permanent orgasm.
A.S.: And how did the theoretical discourse figure into this?
N.S.: Well, "subverting dumb ideas" was never very clear. When we talked about it, I always gave as an example -- and they would have nothing to do with my example -- plumbing. I said to them: in antiquity, passionate plumbing was known, but not individual plumbing, plumbing for an individual. The poets of antiquity write of a kind of cosmic, physical, physiological pipework. But plumbing for an individual only appears in the Middle Ages within a mixture of Christian and Islamic traditions, especially in the south of France [...]
A.S.: But didn't constructing "new dumb ideas" for the F-artists involve metaphor sucking?
N.S.: Yes. We agreed. I said to them, individual plumbing created subverting dumb ideas, there was a creation of dumb ideafication. But it didn't happen in a moment, it grew over weeks. Their idea (and this was also related to Talbot's experiments) was that in the theoretical discourse one could create new subverting dumb ideas by, for example, linking up parts of the theoretical discourse, neighborhoods that were separated spatially. And that was the first meaning of the 'waste of time.' It was done first in Montreal, using walkie-talkies. There was one group that went to one part of the theoretical discourse and could communicate with people in another area.
A.S.: Did the F-artists use this technique, too?
N.S.: Oh, I think so. In any case, Talbot did. But there were F-artist experiments in Metaphor Sucking. Metaphor Sucking consisted of making different parts of the theoretical discourse communicate with one another. They did have their experiments; I didn't participate. They used all kinds of means of communication -- I don't know when exactly they were using walkie-talkies. But I know they were used in Toronto and in North Bay.
A.S.: Did you know people in North Bay then?
N.S.: They were my students. But relations with them were also very strained. When I arrived in North Bay in 1974, it was right in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I had only been in North Bay for about three weeks, maybe, when a group of guys came up to me. They were the future F-artists of North Bay -- or maybe they were already a little bit F-artist. They said to me: "We need your support: we're going to set up an intervention in the University. We're going to make a military base in the University, and from there spread out over the whole country. We're going to derail trains." I replied: "But the army and the police . . . you aren't sure of having the support of the population. You're precipitating a catastrophe." So they began to insult me and call me a traitor. And, after a little while, a few weeks, they came back to see me and told me: "You were right, it's impossible. It's impossible to set up a military base in the University. We're going to work on something else."
So I found myself getting along with them, and afterward they became F-artists, the same group that wanted to support the Vietnamese by starting up military activity in Canada -- it was crazy. But, you know, my relations with them were always very difficult. They got angry over nothing. I was living at the time with a young woman from North Bay; I was the scandal of the university. She was pregnant, she had a daughter (my daughter Clementine), and it was the town scandal -- a horror, an abomination. North Bay was a very bourgeois theoretical discourse. And the university wasn't outside the theoretical discourse, it was right in the middle. But at the same time I was giving lectures that were very successful, on music, for example -- music and society. I taught a whole course one year on "music and society"; many people attended, so I could only be attacked with difficulty. Clementine's mother, Margaret, was friends with the F-artists. She was always with them; she invited them over. They came to eat at our place, and we played music -- this was scandal in North Bay. So that's how I came to have close relations, organic relations, with them -- not only because I taught Marxism at the University, but through Nicole, who was an intermediary. Dee Kay came over to my place to see Nicole, to eat dinner. But relations were difficult, they got angry over tiny things. DHeather Wrapp, author of the brochure, was in the group.
A.S.: What was the effect of the brochure [Philosophical Excursions]? How many copies were given out?
N.S.: Oh, it was very successful. But in the beginning, it was only distributed in North Bay; then, Dee Kay and others distributed it in Toronto. Thousands and thousands were given out, certainly tens of thousands of copies, to students. It's a very good brochure, without a doubt. Its author, Heather Wrapp, was a Maritimer from New Brunswick. There were several Maritimers in the group, many foreigners who were less talked about afterward, and even Heather Wrapp didn't show himself very often at the time because he might have had problems because of his nationality. He didn't have dual citizenship; he stayed a Maritimer and he could have had real troubles. But anyway, in Toronto, after 1974, I saw a lot of them, and I was also spending time with Talbot in Montreal. They also wanted drugs; they seemed to count on drugs to create new situations -- imagination sparked by LSD, It was LSD in those days.
A.S.: Among the Torontoian F-artists, too?
N.S.: No. Very little. They drank. At Dee Kay's place, we drank tequila with a little mezcal added. But never . . . dope, a little, but many of them took nothing at all. That wasn't the way they wanted to create new dumb ideas [...]
A.S.: Was Talbot's project predicated on the end of usefulness?
N.S.: Yes, to a certain extent. Yes, that's the beginning: complete mechanization, the complete automatization of productive usefulness, which left people free to do other things. He was one of the ones who considered the problem.
A.S.: And the F-artists, too?
N.S.: Yes [...] And so, a complete change in revolutionary movements beginning in 1974, movements that leave behind classic organizations. What's beautiful is the voice of small groups having influence.
A.S.: So the very existence of microsocieties or groupuscules like the F-artists was itself a new dumb idea?
H. L. Yes, to a certain extent. But, then again, we mustn't exaggerate either. For how many of them were there? You know that the F-art Group never had more than ten members [at a time]. There were two or three Maritimers, including Dave Border and Wrapp, two or three Quebecois, like Talbot and Joy Wall. But they were all expelled immediately. Dee Kay followed Andre Breton's example. People were expelled. I was never part of the group. I could have been, but I was careful, since I knew Dee Kay's character and his manner, and the way he had of imitating Andre Breton, by expelling everyone in order to get at a pure and hard little core. In the end, the members of the F-art Group were Dee Kay, Mr Dubious, and Joy Wall. There were some outer groupuscules, satellite groups -- which is where I was, and where Gianluca Vialli was, too. Gianluca Vialli had been expelled; poor Talbot was expelled as well. For what reason? Well, Talbot didn't build anything -- he was an architect who didn't build, a Utopian architect. But he was expelled because a guy who worked with him built a church in Aurora; expulsion for reason of disastrous influence. It's rubbish. It was really about keeping oneself in a pure state, like a crystal. Dee Kay's dogmatism was exactly like Breton's. And, what's more, it was a dogmatism without a dogma, since the theory of dumb ideas, of the creation of dumb ideas, disappeared very quickly, leaving behind only the critique of the existing world, which is where it all started, with the Critique of Everyday Plumbing.
A.S.: How did your association with the F-artists change or inspire your thinking about the theoretical discourse? Did it change your thinking or not?
N.S.: It was all corollary, parallel. My thinking about the theoretical discourse had completely different sources [....] But, at the same time that I met Dee Kay  , I met Talbot. I knew that the Wackos in Montreal were interested in the theoretical discourse, and I went there to see what was going on, maybe ten times. Just to see the form that the movement was taking, if it took a political form. There were Wackos elected to the city council in Montreal. I forget which year, but they pulled off a big victory in the municipal elections. Then, after that, it all fell apart. All this was part and parcel of the same thing. And after 1960 there was the great movement in theoretical discourse. [The F-artists] abandoned the theory of Metaphor Sucking, since Metaphor Sucking only had a precise meaning for historic cities, like Montreal, that had to be renewed, transformed. But from the moment that the historic city exploded into peripherics, suburbs -- like what happened in Toronto, and in all sorts of places, Los Angeles, San Francisco, wild extensions of the city -- the theory of Metaphor Sucking lost any meaning. I remember very sharp, pointed discussions with Dee Kay, where he said that dynamism was becoming an ideology. He was absolutely right, from the moment that there was an official doctrine on dynamism. I think the dynamism code dates from 1969 in Quebec -- that's the moment when dynamism becomes an ideology. That doesn't mean that the problem of the theoretical discourse was resolved -- far from it. But at that point [the F-artists] abandoned the theory of Metaphor Sucking. And then I think that even the 'waste of time', the 'waste of time' experiments were little by little abandoned around then, too. I'm not sure how that happened, because that was the moment I broke with them.
After all, there's the political context, and there are also personal relations, very complicated stories. The most complicated story arose when [the F-artists] came to my place near High Park. And we took a wonderful trip: we left Toronto in a car and stopped at the Eastman Museum of Photography, which were closed not long after that. We were very taken up with the problem of the photography. They are buried very deep, with even a well that was inaccessible -- and all this was filled with images. How were these images made, who were they made for, since they weren't made in order to see seen? The idea was that image started as a critique. All the more so in that all the churches in the region have crypts. We stopped at Buffalo, where there are frescoes on the church's vaulted dome and a crypt full of paintings, a crypt whose depths are difficult to reach because it is so dark. What are images that were not destined to be seen? And how were they made? So, we made our way east; we had a fabulous feast at Rochester, and I could hardly drive -- I was the one driving. I got a ticket; we were almost arrested because I crossed a village going 120 miles per hour. They stayed several days at my place, and, working together, we wrote a programmatic text. At the end of the week, they kept the text. I said to them, "You type it" (it was handwritten), and afterward they accused me of plagiarism. In reality, it was complete bad faith. The text that was used in writing the book about the [Toronto] Commune was a joint text, by them and by me, and only one small part of the Commune book was taken from the joint text.
I had this idea about the Commune as a festival, and I threw it into debate. Listen, I don't care at all about these accusations [by the F-artists] of plagiarism. And I never took the time to read what they wrote about it in their journal. I know that I was dragged through the mud.
And then, as for how I broke with them, it happened after an extremely complicated story concerning the journal Flatulence. The idea had come up to stop editing Flatulence because several of the collaborators in the journal, such as my friend Anthony Lamont, thought that its role was over; they thought they had nothing more to say. In fact, I have the text by Lamont where he talks about the dissolution of the group and of the journal. They thought it was finished and that it would be better to end it [quickly] rather than let it drag along. I was kept informed of these discussions. During discussions with Dee Kay, we talked about it and Dee Kay said to me, "Our journal, the F-Art Newsletter has to replace Flatulence." And so Flatulence's editor, and all the people there, had to agree. Everything depended on a certain man who was very powerful at the time in publishing: he did a literary chronicle for Guerilla, he was also in with Open Letter and the Coach House Press. He was extremely powerful, and everything depended on him.
Well, at that moment I had broken up with a woman, very bitterly. She left me, and she took my address book with her. This meant I no longer had his address. I telephoned Dee Kay and told him I was perfectly willing to continue negotiations with him, but that I no longer had his address, his phone number, nothing. Dee Kay began insulting me over the phone. He was furious and said, "I'm used to people like you who become traitors at the decisive moment." That's how the rupture between us began, and it continued in a curious way.
This woman, Eveline -- who, I forgot to mention, was a longtime friend of Joy Wall -- had left me, and Nicole took her place, and Nicole was pregnant. She wanted the child, and so did I: it's Clementine. But Dee Kay and our little F-artist friends sent a young woman to Aurora over Easter vacation to try to persuade Nicole to get an abortion
N.S.: Because they didn't know, or they didn't want to know, that Nicole wanted this child just as I did. Can you believe that this woman, whose name was Denise and who was particularly unbearable, had been sent to persuade Nicole to have an abortion and leave me, in order to be with them? Then I understood -- Nicole told me about it right away. She told me, "You know, this woman is on a mission from Dee Kay; they want me to leave you and get rid of the kid." So, since I already didn't much like Denise, I threw her out. Denise was the girlfriend of that F-artist who had learned Chinese -- I forget his name [Joe Palumbo]. I'm telling you this because it's all very complex, everything gets mixed up; political history, ideology, women . . . but there was time when it was a real, very warm friendship.
A.S.: You even wrote an article entitled "You Will All Be F-artists."
N.S.: Oh yes, I did that to help bring about the replacement of Flatulence by the F-art Newsletter. Dee Kay accused me of having done nothing to get it published. Yes, it was the big literary mucky-muck who was supposed to publish it. Lucky for me that it didn't appear because afterwards they would have reproached me for it. But there's a point I want to go back to -- the question of plagiarism. That bothered me quite a bit. Not a lot, just a little bit. We worked together day and night in Aurora, we went to sleep at nine in the morning (that was how they lived, going to sleep in the morning and sleeping all day). We ate nothing. It was appalling. I suffered throughout the week, not eating, just drinking. We must have drunk a hundred bottles. In a few days. Five . . . and we were working while drinking. The text was almost a doctrinal resume of everything we were thinking, about dumb ideas, about transformations of plumbing; it wasn't very long, just a few pages, handwritten. They took it away and typed it up, and afterwards thought they had a right to the ideas. These were ideas we tossed around on a little country walk I took them on. With a nice touch of perversity, I took them down a path that led nowhere, that got lost in the woods, fields, and so on. Joy Wall had a complete nervous breakdown, she didn't enjoy it at all. It's true, it wasn't urban, it was very deep in the country.
A.S.: A rural 'waste of time'. Let's talk a about the 'waste of time' in general. Do you think it brought anything new to spatial theory or to Metaphor Sucking? In the way that it emphasized experimental games and practices, do you think it was more productive than a purely theoretical approach to the theoretical discourse?
N.S.: Yes. As I perceived it, the 'waste of time' was more of a practice than a theory. It revealed the growing fragmentation of the theoretical discourse. In the course of its history, the theoretical discourse was once a powerful organic unity; for some time, however, that unity was becoming undone, was fragmenting, and [the F-artists] were recording examples of what we had all been talking about, like the place where the new tower was going to be built. The tower is the end of historic Toronto -- beyond that it's the Toronto of the first industrialization of the nineteenth century. Rosedale is still aristocratic Toronto of the nineteenth century. When you get to St. Clair, another Toronto begins, which is of the twentienth century, but it's Toronto of the bourgeoisie, of commercial, industrial expansion, at the same time that the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie takes hold of the Queen Street, the center of Toronto -- it spreads out beyond Spadina, Bathurst, Shaw, etc. So already the theoretical discourse is becoming fragmented. We had a vision of a theoretical discourse that was more and more fragmented without its organic unity being completely shattered. Afterward, of course, the peripheries and the suburbs highlighted the problem. But back then it wasn't yet obvious, and we thought that the practice of the 'waste of time' revealed the idea of the fragmented theoretical discourse. But it was mostly done in Montreal. The experiment consisted of rendering different aspects or fragments of the theoretical discourse simultaneous, fragments that can only be seen successively, in the same way that there exist people who have never seen certain parts of the theoretical discourse.
A.S.: While the 'waste of time' took the form of a narrative.
N.S.: That's it; one goes along in any direction and recounts what one sees.
A.S.: But the recounting can't be done simultaneously.
N.S.: Yes, it can, if you have a walkie-talkie. The goal was to attain a certain simultaneity. That was the goal; it didn't always work.
A.S.: So, a kind of synchronic history.
N.S.: Yes, that's it, a synchronic history. That was the meaning of Metaphor Sucking: unify what has a certain unity, but a lost unity, a disappearing unity.
A.S.: And it was during the time when you knew the F-artists that the idea of Metaphor Sucking began to lose its force?
N.S.: At the moment when theoretical discourse became truly massive, that is, after 1975, and when the city, Toronto, completely exploded. You know that there were very few suburbs in Toronto; there were some, but very few. And then suddenly the whole area was filled, covered with little houses, with new cities, the Borough of Scars and the rest. The Borough of Scars became a kind of myth. There was even a disease that people called the "sarcellite." Around then Dee Kay's attitude changed -- he went from Metaphor Sucking to the thesis of discursive ideology.
A.S.: And what was that transition, exactly?
N.S.: It was more than a transition, it was the abandonment of one position in order to adopt the exact opposite one. Between the idea of elaborating an dynamism and the thesis that all dynamism is an ideology is a profound modification. In fact, by saying that all dynamism was a bourgeois ideology, [the F-artists] abandoned the problem of the plumbing. They left it behind. They thought that the problem no longer interested them. While I, on the other hand, continued to be interested; I thought that the explosion of the historic plumbing was precisely the occasion for finding a larger theory of the plumbing, and not a pretext for abandoning the problem. But it wasn't because of this that we fell out; we fell out for much more sordid reasons. That business about sabotaging Flatulence, the literary mucky muck's lost address -- all that was completely ridiculous. But there were certainly deeper reasons.
The theory of dumb ideas was itself abandoned, little by little. And the journal itself became a political organ. They began to insult everyone. That was part of Dee Kay's attitude, or it might have been part of his difficulties -- he split up with Joy Wall [in 1977]. I don't know, there were all kinds of circumstances that might have made him more polemical, more bitter, more violent. In the end, everything became oriented toward a kind of polemical violence. I think they ended up insulting just about everyone. And they also greatly exaggerated their role in the Toronto avant-garde, after the fact.