Checking in with Matthew Farrell

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What were you doing when we called?
I was working on an essay for an artist book that Lydia Moyer, a local experimental video artist, is doing. It’s a collection of photographs of old houses. Mostly she does experimental video, and this is a side project.

Hypocrite Press founder Matthew Ferrell says that he is not an artist. "I do things that are like art because it amuses me and because I think it torments people, who are actually artists, into doing better work."

What are you working on right now?
I just released a guidebook or handbook for local homeless street persons, slackers and train-hobo kids called street to forest. It was a community writing collaborative, based around survival, amusement and public tips for anyone without fixed residence in Charlottesville. It involved about 30 local collaborators. I came out with one edition, handed out 100 free copies to people around Downtown and now I’m working on a second edition just to refine the first one a bit.

The process was mostly just pestering the living hell out of a bunch of local artists, academics and social justice advocates and so on. Trying to get them to submit something to that theme. Then, of course, talking to a lot of buskers and street kids and homeless people about the things that might be useful to know or to have in a reference book.

Tell us about your day job.
I know people who work. I guess the quote is, “Some of them absolutely swear by it.” Mostly, I drink coffee and smoke nonfiltered Camel cigarettes. Sometimes I drive around and look at stuff.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
My first artistic memory is from 1990, when I came to Charlottesville, where I first became an arts person, a fop and a dandy. I went to see a Christopher Durang play, Dentity Crisis. Sian Richards was in it, and she was a Tandem student at the time. There’s a scene at the end of it where she starts to clap to keep Tinkerbell alive, like in Peter Pan. Except in this play, she’s clapping furiously to keep Tinkerbell alive and someone in the play responds, “You didn’t clap loud enough! Tinkerbell’s dead!” It made me realize the poignancy and power of live theater, of the actor or the interplay between script and acting.

Tell us about a piece of art you wish was in your private collection.
I would say probably anything by Clay Witt, a local artist. He’s a tremendous local artist and I wish he were more of a national one. I’ve known him for 18 years, and admired him the whole time. This recent strain of work he’s doing is mind blowing. You see the stuff in person, it takes your breath away.

If you had to give up one sense, which would it be?
Oddly, I did just give up one of my five senses. I’ve got some sort of degenerative neurological disease that has robbed me of most of my hearing. I don’t enjoy it, but it amuses me. That bit about your other senses compensating when you lose one is complete hooey. Unless, of course, my sense of smell has increased, which wouldn’t help me one bit.

Which of your works are you most proud of?
The thing in Charlottesville I’ve done that I’m proudest of is the Hypocrite Press. It’s a small, local press that does only work by local writers who are writing about Charlottesville. I’m proud because I’ve got 25 terrific books by 35, 40 contributors and it’s still going after 18, 19 years now.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I’d like very much to do a remake of the movie High Society, which has songs by Cole Porter and starred originally Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. I’d like to play Bing Crosby and I’d like to have either Cristan Keighley or Ben Jones play the Frank Sinatra role and Bree Luck play Grace Kelly.

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