Stopping by with John Wilson
In September 2023, John Wilson, a Queens-based documentarian who had just premiered the third and final season of his HBO show How To with John Wilson, stopped by to answer some of our questions.
What is the last thing you read or watched that moved you?
This PBS documentary from 2007 called The Pursuit of Excellence: Ferrets about ferret owners and the events they compete in.
What’s a work of art that changed or greatly influenced your life? How?
Los Angeles Plays Itself by Thom Anderson is still one of the most influential pieces of art I’ve ever seen. It showed me how much possibility there is within the format of an essay film and strips away all the artifice of narrative to allow you to appreciate cinema on a much more material level.
What is your first memory of poetry?
My grandpa used to write a different poem every week for the church bulletin, and he would read them to us whenever he came around. They always rhymed and had a very basic structure, but they were funny and sweet, and you didn’t have to think too hard to appreciate them.
What’s an experience you had during the pandemic that has continued to influence your art practice in our post-pandemic world?
During the pandemic, I started to bike around a lot more, and I went up and down the same streets a lot of the time. It kind of forced me to notice new things to keep myself entertained. Now, whenever I commute to the city or whatever, I try to find a new way to look at the same environment.
What do you see as the role of art in public life at this moment in time?
I guess I like seeing art in public, but visually, it’s kind of useless to me. I like to reinterpret things out on the street that aren’t already considered art. Watching people interact with public art can be interesting, though.
If you were to choose one poem or text to inscribe in a public place right now, what would that be? And where would you place it?
One of the people from the last season of my show said, “Everyone has a vacuum,” and I feel like that would be cool to put up somewhere. Maybe one of those unused billboards over the expressway or just above a literal vacuum store.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I want people to think about cities as places they invest in emotionally—not just a vehicle for a career or something like that.
What are you hopeful for?