The son of a Belgian diplomat, provocateur Filip Noterdaeme credits his adolescence in embassies–where decorum ambiguates representation and reality–as his initiation into the theatre of the absurd. Parody and more pointed institutional critique, such as founding The Homeless Museum of Art, has been Noterdaeme’s tendency ever since. His memoir, The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart, is itself a work of subterfuge. But it is also a tenderly revelatory chronicle. The book hits stores tomorrow–get a taste today on HENRY, where Noterdaeme’s partner Daniel J. Isengart reads from the autobiography bearing his name.
When you began this project, to what extent were you aware that you would be alluding, in style and form, to Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas?
Noterdaeme: As with all my artwork, I conceived The Autobiography of Daniel J. Isengart as a work of appropriation. Using Stein’s book as a template was a bold choice but it turned out to be the perfect fit for my purpose of writing an anti-biography that would double as a stylized portrait of New York, the city that became my home 25 years ago.
Which previously unperceived aspects of your relationship did writing about Daniel illuminate?
Noterdaeme: I by myself am only complicated and Daniel by himself is only simple, but as a pair we are simply complicated. This is indeed the perfect combination in all things, but I had to write this book to become fully aware of it.
Did Daniel contribute to the development of the book?
Noterdaeme: Truth be told, Daniel did not know anything about any of this until quite recently. I had been shopping the manuscript around for half a year when, late last year, Outpost19 agreed to publish it. That’s when I told Daniel. I gave him the manuscript to read and, needless to say, he was awfully pleased.
Would you elaborate further on your concept of “real looking”?
Noterdaeme: Real looking means not just looking but paying attention. To quote Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
You and Daniel are both provocateurs in your own ways; do you consider this book a vehicle for your activism? What cultural or socio-political impacts do you hope it will affect?
Noterdaeme: By his own account, Daniel is too bourgeois to be a real provocateur (though he may sometimes be a tease). Only society outcasts and fallen princes like myself can afford to be provocateurs. Personally, I do not harbor any delusions of being able to affect change in the world. What Daniel and I have chosen to do is to prevent a corrupt world from changing us. My book is a testament to this choice and a celebration of the life we have created together.