The following text was written and presented by Dr Anya Lewin to introduce Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present by Tyler Hubby at Plymouth University on 25 October 2016. The “I remember” format of this introduction was borrowed from Joe Brainard.
I remember the first time I met Tony Conrad. It was 21 years ago and I had moved to Buffalo, NY to begin my MA in Media Studies. I didn’t know much about Tony or the illustrious history of the program I had joined. I had applied because I had walked by a poster that advertised a funded MA with all fees covered and 8000 dollars a year for teaching one course per semester. It sounded a lot better than processing checks for the IRS on the night shift, so I applied right away.
I remember walking into the welcome meeting, and there was Tony Conrad in reddish pink trousers and a bright yellow shirt. I remember his effusive smile and his weird hehe laugh and how he said “I’ve been waiting to meet you” and started to immediately discuss the videos I had sent with my application.
I remember the first time I realized Tony Conrad was a cult figure. Someone I had met was enthralled that I knew him. I remember realizing that Tony was “Tony Conrad”.
I remember that Tony always kept his office door open. Now that I am not a student, and on the other side, I find this amazing. I remember that I liked to stand at the open door and chat when I walked by.
I remember that I met Tony in 1995 and that after Early Minimalism was released he began to tour a lot and had a new kind of recognition which continued to build and is still happening.
I remember going to Tony’s house and how it was completely full of stuff. Stacks of books and instruments he had made, video equipment, recording equipment and more. There were small pathways to walk through from one room to another.
I remember when he took me and Lara Odell to his loft which was also full of stuff. We sat in the jail cell he had built for the film that Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler were in.
I remember that Tony could be annoying, and that we would argue. I remember that he liked to interrogate authority and that it was funny when my authority issues were with him.
I remember Tony’s generosity and that he would come to almost every alternative art event in Buffalo if he was around.
I remember that when I showed Jack Smith’s film Flaming Creatures at my gallery, Tony did a live soundtrack using an old domestic record player that was in the closet. He had worked with Jack Smith on the film and done the original sound.
I remember that Tony was a nightmare driver and not much better as a passenger.
I remember meeting Tony in Leeds and driving in circles as he tried to direct us. I remember seeing him play at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins in Minehead with Jennifer Walsh and that the chalet they had given Tony was nicer than I expected.
I remember that in the last few years I only saw Tony on skype, on my television, which was in my room. When my daughter was very little she liked to bounce on the bed saying Tony Conrad, Tony Conrad, Tony Conrad over and over at him and he would use his web camera to make funny videos for her.
I remember watching his video In Line and understanding the camera and power in a new way.
I remember that Tony loved to encourage collective creativity. I remember that somehow, even though I am not really a group person, he got me to start a video collective with him in Buffalo. We had our first video shoot at my apartment. Halfway through I shut myself in my room and hid under my covers and that project never went much farther.
I remember that Tony’s brightly colored t-shirts were often stained and remembering this makes me laugh.
I remember that Tony was always ready to perform. He played Old Bandy Legs in a video I made with Lara Odell and later the Naturalist in another of our videos. I remember he said “I don’t know what you are doing but I trust you.”
I remember his video class where you got an A if you attended every session and showed 3 minutes of video that you had made. It didn’t matter what it was. It was a good class.
I remember that in the summer of 2003 Lara and I returned to Buffalo for a 6-week residency at CEPA gallery. We called it “The Summer Tony Conrad was our Best Friend” as he often came over to the loft we were living in. I remember that we shot his video “Grading Tips for Teachers” one night and I remember another day that Lara went over to his house to do recordings in a high pitched voice. I remember he was driving a beat up old station wagon and I remember his never ending energy and creativity.
I remember that this list of I remembers could go on for quite a long time. And I remember that there are many generations of Tony’s students who will have their own wondrous lists of I remembers.
I remember that Tony was a great story teller, and that although he liked to remember, he never was nostalgic for what was. I remember that he was completely in the present.