Interview: Conrad Ventur for Garageland

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Fortune, I think, meant that I emailed the editor of Garageland Magazine, Cathy Lomax, at the perfect moment: just in time to slip myself into the upcoming issue on Collaboration. And fortune, too, meant that it was American artist, Conrad Ventur, who I ended up interviewing. Our exchange of emails has felt like another kind of collaboration: a fractured sparking of stories and sudden thoughts cascading through my inbox.

I usually like to interview in person, particularly if I want to be more than just a prompt and platform for an artist’s views. But Conrad is all the way on some other time zone and all we had was the black & white of emails. And yet, I feel Conrad’s character: by email, somehow, I have found I know him.

Here is the wonderful story of how Conrad Ventur came by his name, as taster of what’s to come in the next issue of Garageland:

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“My real full name is CONRAD MARCELLUS VENTUR. I go by CONRAD VENTUR, though there have been some flourishes over the years when I thought the middle name added something, so periodically, I used the whole thing. But that’s a bit over the top.

My father Pierre, came up with the name. For half my childhood he was working on a PhD at Yale, in anthropology: Mayan linguistics, with a focus on dying Mayan dialects and culture. When I was born, he and my mother had a specific name in mind – actually they were expecting a female baby, but it turned out, well I’m a male. The name they would have given me didn’t match my face, so for a day or two I just had a number assigned to me while my father thought of a name that worked with me. He’s said that one morning, after letting it fold around in his thoughts, he was brushing his teeth and it clicked, Conrad Marcellus Ventur. I think he’d been up for 48 hours – going from some kind of very long party then to the hospital for a protracted labour, then hanging around the hospital after I was born. He went home to shower and change his clothes, then returned to the hospital to give the nurse the name. He was exhausted. So here we go. It’s an equation.

The first name is German, as my Grandfather was born in Frankfurt (he immigrated to the USA when he was thirteen years old). His family going back to the 1600s resided in Silesia, and prior to that in France, either in Alsace or Lorraine – the surname is Huguenot.

c_ventur_m_montez_30_0_002e31ce2e31ceVentur is an extremely small family. I think there are speckles left in Germany, and a smudge in Australia. Just me and my father in the USA. I was told that there are land-owning Ventur in Panama by a guy last week who delivered flowers here. While I was signing for them [a dozen red roses], he said that they are “well respected”. This colonial trace I knew nothing about. The Ventur after the First World War were stripped of what property they had in Germany – after the Treaty of Versailles. This broke my grandfather’s family (he would never tell me about that period of his childhood during and after the First World War). So his father, rendered penniless, became a drunk or something – some kind of outcast but the how and why I don’t know. It was a violent tear in that relationship and connected with the history of that time in Germany – my great-grandmother left with the three children to Wisconsin on her own. Pretty wild when you think that was the 1920s.

The middle name conjures vague associations to the Roman Marcellus going back to 200’s BC and the Byzantine Marcellus 500’s AD – though specifically I should ask what the twist was. Marcellus was a common Latin name during the Roman Empire.

I just sent my mother, Ann, a Skype message asking about that middle name. She’s in Alaska though, so I doubt she’ll answer soon – she’s four hours behind New York. But when she does I know it will be Victorian – an expansive, poetic response (she is a poet after all), with a bit of ‘my broken marriage’ – a blocky 80s intrusion, fracturing her response. She’s like that. Oh wait, just now she’s logged-on. Let’s see what she says…

She writes that my father chose the middle name Marcellus for “a kind of quasi linguistic euphoniousness (e.g. it sounded good with the first name).” She explained, “Pierre  (God Bless his heart) is / was a linguist — so, steeped in Romance language roots. The unconscious has odd ways of coming out. It was almost like some creative spark could only come out when all his control and defences were down…. But your name was your father’s fugue, inspiration, fevered sounds of vowels.”

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