The ‘Nervous State’: A Conversation between Jimmie Durham and Mick Taussig

Jimmie Durham, Michael Taussig


MICK: So, Jimmie, tell me about the mirrors in this piece behind me, and why some of them have writing next to them?

JIMMIE: I like mirrors in general, they’re kind of magic, and I have a long history in … almost all summer dances that we do, especially the men, you have a mirror on your dancing, because, if you’re dancing well, you might, kind of, be vulnerable. So if you have a mirror, any bad spirits that try to enter you while you are dancing, they will be reflected back and enter themselves instead of you (laugh).

So I have this nice background that way, but there is a similar story with the Aztecs. I just did a show in Mexico, and er, there is a beautiful god, named, what’s his name, he’s the plumed serpent … Quetzal… (MICK: Quetzalcóatl) Quetzalcóatl, he’s a beautiful serpent-god, he’s half bird, half serpent, a dragon, beautiful dragon. Every fifty-two years, his twin brother escapes from the underworld, and he has to escape really hard, just like in European mythology. He has to come up from the underground and he loses a foot in the process, and he burns himself very badly, his chest is gaping open, his heart is exposed. And his name is Smoking Mirror. He’s an obsidian mirror. He comes up and he gives a party for his brother, and they have the most beautiful wild party. And the next morning Quetzalcóatl is all drunk and hung over, and (chuckle) he’s a rough old … his twin brother holds up the mirror and says, ‘Look at you!’ And he looks just like his brother. So he goes into the underworld. And Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror man, reigns for fifty two years (chuckle).

And in the meantime, Quetzalcóatl is down there burning up so, he begins to look bad… but… I like mostly… when I make art, if I can put a mirror there, then I want you to say, as the audience, I want you to say, ‘I am part of this work. I’m not a spectator of this work, I see me, I’m part of this work.’ It’s a cheap trick, but … (laughter)

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