Checking in with Will May


What are you working on right now?
A number of things. I just finished a radio piece with Jesse Dukes and Greg Kelly called “Bond Fire,” which we presented at “Let There Be Light” at PVCC. We had created a voicemail line and solicited stories about fire from various social networks. People would call in and leave us stories, and we did a live radio broadcast. As with any piece, it changes when you present it. The actual presentation teaches you. We were pleased with it. I’m also getting back to my own work after three years of helping build LOOK3. There’s photographs, picture-making in various ways, but there’s also found art. I really admire a lot of sound artists, radio artists. I’m fascinated by the medium.

Will May’s most recent show was “Half Life,” a collection of photography, processed images and video at PVCC. After three years spent helping with the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, May is focusing on his own work.

How do you prepare for work?
There’s a certain ongoing preparation. It’s continuous. I gather things and many times in that process something will occur to me. As an example, in a piece in my last show called “Animalarm,” which was a group of excited animals from Dutch paintings in the 17th century pointing inward at a central figure of Glenn Beck shouting. That literally occurred to me while I was standing in the North Carolina Museum of Art and I just went around and photographed all the animals in every Dutch painting. It popped into my head. But it’s part of a process of thinking about media. You have to be willing to go with something that pops into your head.

Tell us about your day job.
My day job is partially being an artist. I’m looking at residencies, so I can go off and do work. Also being a photographer is generally what I do.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
Trying—and failing terribly—as the lead of a play about Groucho Marx in fourth grade. I was too shy and I spoke too quietly and the audience couldn’t hear me. In my mind, I was Groucho Marx. Apparently on stage, not so much. I was disappointed, but I got over it.

Tell us about a piece of art that you wish was in your private collection?
A collection of videos by the artist Roman Signer. You have to buy them—they’re the record of his art marking. He’s a Swiss artist, so it’s really hard to see them and I can’t afford them. He produces beautiful failures, or very transitory things. Sometimes he’ll blow things up, sometimes he’ll light things on fire. Often times they’re absurd activities, sometimes they’re even dangerous. But they’re often very beautiful.

What is a concert, exhibit or show that has recently inspired you?
Inspired is a strong word. I’m going to say Gerhard Richter’s show at the Drawing Center in New York. It showed a 30 or 40 year time span, and it showed a number of different approaches to drawing. This is a guy that’s really skeptical of the medium. Some of my favorite drawings were done with a pencil attached to an electric drill and what looked like an immediate hand gesture was actually done holding an electric object. He’s a pretty impressive artist, obviously, since he’s one of the top working artists working in the world.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?
There’s a whole bunch of people. It was great to work with Jesse and Greg, but maybe the Performers Exchange Project. I have no idea what we would do. I’m interested in the idea of performances, you know, the idea of radio. I think there’d be a lot of room to create something, without having to be tied down to a format like a standard play. There’s a lot of interesting potential things that could occur.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Maybe I would get back on stage, and be Groucho Marx. Probably more of a performance art piece—the idea of somehow making work that creates pictures in people’s imaginations without actually showing them something. So I don’t know what that would entail. I’ve had different ideas, but I don’t want to say what they are because they’re really just beginnings.