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Les Levine (b. 1935)
William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Timothy Leary, Les Levine, and Robert Anton Wilson (7:10), 1979
(from The Nova Convention)
2. Les Levine "Lose" (5:00)
(from Live To Air: Artist's Sound Works)
3. Les Levine "Hereditary Language" (2:54)
"You're probably going to tall off your chair and think that this is a ridiculous position," says Les Levine in his most casual voice, "but I do think that I'm part of the history of Irish literature I very much feel that my ancestors are James Joyce and Brendan Behan and those kinds of people." The statement is not so tar-fetched as if might seem. Levine - who was, after all, born in Dublin in 1935 - from Irish Catholic mother and a Jewish father - who worked as a cabinet maker - is known pre-eminently as a visual artist. But his billboards, photographs, posters, paintings and videos have always involved to some extent what he refers to as "an investigation of language" apparent to the casual observer in the presence of printed words is those works. The nexus of words and visual images sometimes give his creations the look of advertisements - indeed, his subway poster picturing an Oriental couple with the readout WE ARE NOT AFRAID could have been a teaser for a forthcoming film that never, in fact, existed.
Back in 1969, Levine began calling himself a "media sculptor," perhaps the first artist to use that terminology to imply that the media themselves had become a medium that could be worked with like metal or wood. "My work is primarily about media," he says now, "which I see as an extension of the body, a farm of extraterrestrial biology." Recognizing that "media is a real generator of major illnesses," he has used same of the tools of media to present alternative ways of thinking about information. "I'm one of those people," says Levine, "who's naive enough to believe that the world actually has been changed by art."
With his work for this record, he is "showing how kids respond to certain kinds of information. The piece is about the state your mind is in when you're a child and how that's affected by the kind of adult mind that's around you." The track concerns the way language is transmitted to the young and operates as a model in their lives, "the way kids become receptacles far information, and the kinds of expectations it creates and the levels of disappointment it generates.
Les Levine on Art By Telephone