Posted: June 17, 2013
interviewed by Chris Richards, June 2013
Roger Peet is an artist and printmaker in Portland, Oregon. He spends a lot of his time thinking about the tidal wave of extinction currently engulfing the earth, and what can and can’t be done about it. He unsuccessfully strives to balance the depressing truth of the homogocene with some sort of rage against the proverbial dying of the light.
Greetings, Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what you do?
I’m Roger Peet, an artist and printmaker. I make posters and prints, travel, collaborate, write, paint murals, illustrate, and complain. I’m a member of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative and of the Flight 64 cooperative printmaking studio.
What goals do you have with your art and its impact on the world?
My art is intended mainly as an outlet for my thoughts and opinions. Since those tend to focus on what is going on in the worlds of politics and ecology, my art tends to brood on wildness, domestication, predator-prey relationships, economics and their inverse, as well as the struggle between good and bad ideas. If what I make causes someone to chuckle or panic I feel that it’s done a good job.
Ideally what experience or impact would a viewer take away from your art?
I like to make people angry, and to make people laugh. I really don’t want to make anyone feel righteous or right, and if I’m validating something I’d prefer to be simultaneously poking a hole in it as well. Maybe the most important communicative goal I have is to annihilate hope while facilitating the abandonment of pessimism.
Do you have a favorite piece or experience you’d like to talk about?
I recently painted a four-panel mural about the history of Portland, Oregon’s water system. As I was engaged in the design and execution of it, Portland was embroiled in a titanic ideological battle over the introduction of fluoride to the municipal water supply. Both sides of the issue behaved with overwhelming arrogance, mutual contempt, general sponsorship of ignorance and such a surfeit of assholism that I was very pleased to emerge from the other side of it all with a mural design that did not reflect the position of either side. Apart from that, I recently completed the third in a series of prints that use tall ships or galleons to comment on civilization and its futilities. This one was really satisfying and ambitious and I haven’t printed it yet, so it might turn out to be really frustrating as well.
You recently spent some time in the Congo, is there anything you’d like to share about that trip?
Yes, tons. It’s often all I want to talk about. Right now I’m waiting, along with everyone else affiliated with the project I was a part of, for news about a village elder who’s been kidnapped from the tiny hamlet where I was staying for the three months I was in-country. The kidnapper is a local maniac and warlord who’s been the de-facto authority in this lawless and remote region since the midpoint of the big international conflict that burned through Congo for more than a decade and continues to reverberate in everyday life. The warlord lost four men to a military patrol recently, and has kidnapped the elder, whose name is Kapere, as he and his family were preparing to vacate the village for an uncertain future downstream. It’s a volatile and horrible situation- the warlord, known as Colonel Thoms, deposed Kapere as chief of the village in 2007, torturing him for a week in the village square and installing in his place a woman named Marie Longembengembe. She and her family have used their authority to oppose the conservation and anti-poaching efforts that the project of which I was a part have been promoting in the region. Thoms has a history of rape, murder, extortion, and general warlordism that makes us all expect the absolute worst- He went to prison for life for over a hundred rapes and escaped several years ago to remount his reign of terror. The ham-fisted and bungling military sent a column of men to unseat him but their advance was telegraphed so far in advance of their arrival that Thoms was able to take over and devastate Obenge, driving out the field-workers with whom I had worked, burning supply depots, and kidnapping researchers, some of whom who managed to escape downstream under heavy fire in canoes. It’s revolting to be sitting around here in the comfortable, well-lit and well-appointed antechamber of Portland, Oregon, waiting to hear the grimmest of news from the most remote region of the most incommunicado nation on Earth. It’s like watching the future being throttled by the past. Kapere is an articulate, generous civic leader who encouraged Obenge’s youth to engage with the conservation efforts and learn skills of terrain, survey, and documentation- for him to be poached by the murderous shadow of Colonel Thoms at just the moment of Obenge’s dissolution is the cruelest defeat of generous possibilities.
What place does art and creativity have within building a resistance movement?
Well, art does a good job of reminding people that they agree. I think that’s the best thing it does in this context. It’s really easy for art to be prioritized over less abtract from of action or interaction, and for art to become the point of mass effort, and I think that is a mistake. Art is easy, especially here in the West. It has no consequences, and if it’s just serving as a tool of ritual magic to evoke social change instead of engaging in the brutal, messy day-to-day of actually building new social relationships, then it fails. It’s important for shit to look pretty, but it bears remembering that a lot of the most beautiful art has been made by indentured servants or slaves.
How does Justseeds fit into all of this?
Justseeds is a way for a group of friends and collaborators to support each other and generate an infrastructure with which to promulgate their ideas and efforts. Doing things cooperatively is a lot easier than doing them by yourself, and if you are trying to make a go of it as an artist it helps to have a lot of friends promoting your thoughts and efforts at the same time as you are promoting theirs. More work gets done, ideas are shared and improve with retransmission, and people move towards making a living doing what they love to do. More weight is lent to work done in support of ideas or causes when that is coming from a group. We also legendarily do not agree with each other about a lot of what we think, which makes for a pleasing tension.
How important do you feel it is for artists to communicate and discuss these topics via their art, as opposed to spending their time developing sustainable personal practices? Can you do both?
You can’t separate the two, or you shouldn’t. You mustn’t encourage people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself.
Any projects current or coming up that you are excited about?
I’m taking a color woodcut class this next week which I hope is going to provide me with some new skills. I have a project on Alberta St. involving the wheatpasting of a bunch of multiples of running wolves that should be fun. I’m also going to be helping to make costumes, banners, and symbols for a “Funeral for Big Oil” that’ll be part of the Last Thursday Art crawl in July. I’m also trying to finagle a return to Congo. Lots of new prints in the works as well.