John Goto interviewed by Chloe Diski regarding 'Dreams of Jelly Roll' at the Freud Museum, London, for New Associations: Journal of the British Psychoanalytic Council, issue 9(2012)
* What drew you to Jelly Roll Morton?
JG; I’ve been listening to jazz since my early teens. Over the years I’ve delved further back into the music, through Bebop and Big Band jazz towards its origins, which inevitably led me to Jelly Roll Morton. For an artist such as myself a store of such interests, cultural enthusiasms and small obsessions is important. They generate ideas that incubate, sometimes over decades, and then suddenly re-present themselves sufficiently matured to work with. Giorgio de Chirico illustrated this process when in 1930 he painted a man going into a bathing hut, and thirty-six years later painting the same man coming back out!
* Images are soundless, but you talk about the ‘musicality of silence’. What do you mean by that?
JG; Pictures about a musician, as presented in this exhibition, might seem paradoxical as they remain forever silent. And yet music has been a recurring theme in the history of western narrative painting. As well as the symbolic and allegorical meanings to be found in musical pictures, within each viewer resonates a world of imagined sounds and rhythms, evoking what I think of as the ‘musicality of silence’.
* Morton is hard to clearly decipher. He is the self-proclaimed ‘father of jazz’, made wonderful music, recorded interviews in which he told tales that were often fabricated, and inspired many contradictory biographies. Why are your interpretations of his life informed by psychoanalysis?
JG; When discussing an artist I think you have to accept the whole personality, because good artists draw on all aspects of themselves when making work. Morton’s fabrications have given many critics a problem - some attributing them to an ‘immoral personality’, whilst others suggest they were a culturally specific form of hyperbole, of jive talk. But I sense that the membrane between Morton’s conscious and unconscious worlds was particularly porous, and this contributed greatly to his creativity. Rather than being the victim of his complexes, Jelly Roll was in accord with them and as Freud put it ‘they legitimately directed his conduct in the world’.
* You seem familiar with psychoanalysis. What sparked your interest in psychoanalytic ideas and why do you think they are important?
JG; Well, I haven’t spent the last twenty-five years studying psychoanalysis, but I am married to someone who has. Kitchen table conversations with my wife, Celia Goto, about her work as a psychotherapist and mine as an artist have been a great source of inspiration when making this series. But I should add that I have always paid attention to my dreams, sometimes noting them down and using fragments in pictures. During my childhood I often had hallucinatory fevers when ill, I remember the wallpaper moving, and such experiences shaped my notions of reality.
* The link between Freud and Jelly Roll Morton isn’t instantly apparent. What are your associations between the two ‘founding fathers’?
JG; The proposition is historically absurd, and all the more interesting for that! The disciplines of history and psychoanalysis often seem to me to be barely compatible. Histories of psychoanalysis are common enough, but in their approach shed little light on the workings of the unconscious. Psychoanalytic case histories, on the other hand, seem altogether more promising. This series is constructed using a great many historical ‘facts’ and documents, which have been rearranged to generate new associations in a manner akin to the dream. My aim is to take a creative approach to the possible meanings behind Morton’s daydreams and tall stories. Using clues found in his pronouncements, I mix people from his musical and social circles with significant figures from the world stage to which he aspired.
* You quote Bion’s distinction between ‘knowing about, and knowing’ in your introduction to the exhibition. Can you apply this distinction to the process you went though while making this series?
JG; The process was one of internalising the research material and imaginatively transforming it. Let me give you an example. ‘Jelly Roll and the Sirens’ is one of the more straightforward images. Morton declared that at the height of his fame “There was nothing under the sun that I ever wanted that I didn’t get during that time but two things. And those two things – one was a yacht, and the other was a cow.” The yacht I associated with Odysseus with whom Morton is often compared by his biographers due to his extensive travels as a young musician. The cow suggests a rural idyll, which was never available to him due to his tough urban upbringing. It maybe leads us to the Sirens who are based on his four most significant lovers. The Sirens lured sailors with their enchanting songs to shipwreck. Knowing this Odysseus had himself bound to the mast so that he should not escape their beautiful deathly music.