What Playwright Jeremy O. Harris and Artist Jordan Wolfson Talk About

Photo: Alex Casto. Courtesy David Zwirner.

This week, the second season of David Zwirner’s podcast, Dialogues, premiered with a conversation between two provocateurs: the playwright, and budding fashion icon, Jeremy O. Harris, and the artist Jordan Wolfson. Hosted by Zwirner’s son, Lucas Zwirner, the conversation is an estimable pairing of controversialists. Harris’s Slave Play, a confrontational presentation of sex and plantation politics that was once a thesis project, is currently on Broadway, and he did work also on HBO’s Euphoria. Wolfson is a Zwirner-signed artist most famous for his lurid animatronic sculptures. At the Whitney’s 2017 biennial, his virtual-reality film Real Violence gave viewers an immersive taste of homicidal street rage. The venn diagram of interests between the pair would include a general preference for, let’s say, unlikely transgressive subjects, like Pornhub’s geographic data, being “queer for clout,” emotional biohacking, and the sexual erotics embedded in the 1980 comedy Trading Places. Some excerpts:

Porn is a portal…to the world? 

Jeremy O.Harris: I love watching porn for just like what’s happening in the world. Like, what are people into? I love looking at the most popular videos in different regions. Going to Pornhub in Berlin compared to going to Pornhub in London is so radical. Pornhub in Berlin is a lot more violent, just naturally and casually violent. There’s this weird French style of gay porn that — It’s all these Middle Eastern men with huge dicks, just finding guys that are just wandering around the city, and then they just beat up these guys —

Wolfson: They beat them up?

Harris: Yes, and then, they fuck them.

Wolfson: Oh, we don’t have that. We don’t have that with girls. We don’t beat them up.

Harris: You don’t know what you’re missing. Sorry, dark! I think it also has to do with the fact that there’s this deep eroticized fear of the Middle East in all of Europe, especially mainland Europe. But I think that they’ve made an object of that fear, an object that they can fuck and an object that can validate that fear but also validates the erotic.

Representation: the ultimate“bio-hack” 

Wolfson: The gallery is a stage that the viewer gets to walk on to. And I thought about that when I was in Daddy. Here is this contrived event, completely contrived, fabricated event. We’re watching it. There’s a pool and a house, and we all believe it. We’re all in it. I said, “Isn’t that fabulous?” We can have that part of our human experience, that we can get hacked by narrative, hacked by form. I think that’s an amazing part of the human experience, this idea of representation. How we are hacked by representation is really compelling.

Harris: It’s wild. I had this thing, where I was like, “Representation doesn’t matter.” I hated people telling me that I had to like something just because there were black people in it. I feel more represented than I am loved in a weird way. I am Tilda Swinton eating the prawn. But then, I saw the Spider-Man movie, and I was literally hacked by that movie. [Laughs] And I was like, representation does matter! I didn’t even want to admit it at the time.

The teenage erotics of the 1980s Dan Aykroyd comedy, Trading Places:

Wolfson: My go-to porn as a kid was Trading Places, the movie with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. There is a scene with Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays a prostitute. There’s this part where she changes in front of Dan Aykroyd. She gets naked and changes in front of him. And that was the most titillating thing for me and I watched it, and I would show it to all my other friends and it was sacred.

Harris: The film that unlocked my erotics was The Dreamers, which I think is a lot of people’s movie. Louis Garrel in that movie was the sexiest thing to me. There’s a scene where they’re talking about Maoism at [Jean-Luc Godard’s] La Chinoise. There’s a huge Mao poster and Louis Garrel and Michael Pitt are in these silk house robes. At one point Garrel grabs Pitt’s throat, and then slowly slides over and he puts one leg over his leg and his crotch is touching his butt. I would rewind that over and over and over again. It was so hot, but it always sucks because Eva Green comes in, and she’s like, “Boys, what are you doing?” And I’m like, “God damn it. Why did she come in and ruin that?”

A story involving the actor Michael Pitt, rat poison, and a sushi dinner: 

Wolfson: Whenever I hear about Mike Pitt, I just remember this weird traumatizing night with this middle-aged man who was peeing on himself. It was back when I was 19 or 20. We’d hang out at the house of this 65-year-old guy named Joe Smith. We’d go there and smoke pot in his loft on 20th street. Everything was maroon and all the windows were covered. There’d be all of these young gay dudes messing around with Joe. He was really cool and once he lent me money to buy a video camera. But there was one kid that Joe had a relationship with who had begun to slip him rat poison to get more money from him. One night me and Mike Pitt had to take care of him. One night I called Mike to see what he was doing, and he’s like, “I’m at Joe’s house; he’s dying.” So, I had this super-awkward night eating sushi with Mike Pitt over there. I remember stuffing money into this dying man’s pocket. I’m like, “Joe, I’m paying you back for this camera.”

On being “gay-adjacent” but not, of course, for clout

Harris: Whenever I talk about you, people are like, “He’s not gay, right? He feels gay.” And I’m always like, “I don’t know.”

Wolfson: I am a little actually gay.

Harris: What is a little actually gay? Because everyone’s queer for clout now.

Wolfson: I wouldn’t say it’s queer for clout. I have hooked up with guys. I have five good guys. But for the most part, I date women. I really, really love women in a way that I haven’t had access to men at this point. I’m open but women —

Harris: But gay adjacent.

Wolfson: Yeah, I would say so.

The struggles of working in an industry dominated by baby boomers:

Harris: It’s fucking annoying. I mean, I’m really interested in being in a conversation with a 60 year old about my play, or an 80 year old about my play. But working in the theater, the thing that sucks is that baby boomers run the theater, not just in the audiences, but behind the scenes. And every other industry, I think the baby boomers are trying to actively kill us by just not being like, “Okay, maybe let some new ideas come in.”

On the very safe, virtue signaling response of critics to HBO’s Euphoria:

Harris: I’ve been watching all the critics tiptoe around what their actual opinion is of the show, inside of the review. They were all giving non- reviews because I think they’re waiting to see what the internet’s going to say before they either championed it or not. They had the virtue signal. They were like,Guys I don’t know if kids can take this.” It’s really scary. I’m like, “Were you never a teenager?” Do you not remember all the dark shit you imagined, and all the dark shit you did, and all the dark shit and you hope to do? These kids are going to eat this up and then start glamorizing it. They’re going to be excited that someone’s representing part of their psyche — in some way, shape, or form. We’re in this moment now where people are afraid to even make tepid steps toward transgression because there’s so much fear that some phantom trouble will come following you.

Wolfson: There’s so much fear. Everyone is holding onto the seat and the table at the same time. I always felt that transgression lead to transformation. Go to any young hero story. There’s this point where the hero goes through a sort of transgressive situation to come out renewed, and that’s the viewer. In a way, we’re giving that to them, be it in the gallery or in the theater.

When Playwright Jeremy O. Harris Met Artist Jordan Wolfson