Sue Coe/ interview by black dog bone

Sue Coe/ interview by black dog bone

there’s a kid on this beach and all of these jellyfish have washed up and they’re drying in the sun. The child goes along the beach and throws back the jellyfish into the water. Someone comes along and says, there’s millions of jellyfish on the beach; they’re all dying; why do you even bother? We have to bother because it matters to that one jellyfish. It matters to that one tree. It matters to that one rescued animal. It matters to that one person that’s incarcerated. It matters. they Google something. That’s another disassociation, where people aren’t living at all. They think they can just pick it up on a computer. But when you go out there and make yourself vulnerable and put yourself in that world then you get so much more information. It makes the artwork or the music or the poetry so much more vibrant. Any vision you had directly is more powerful than reading about it.

It’s changing now. It’s known now that global warming and meat production are very much interlinked. And that will change. We are moving in that direction. Factory farming’s been outlawed in Europe. It will be outlawed here. It will become illegal to factory farm here. It’s very slow going. At one time I wasn’t aware, and the awareness came slowly. I hope that the same will happen to other people. It’s what’s done to children in the school meal program. This is why children have A.D.D. They’re being fed sugar and processed food. It’s all very obvious to us. To murder your own children. If we could sum up this culture in America—it murders its young. It murders the young.

I’m lookin at these kids, these sweet kids in Murder Dog. It’s guns, it’s gold jewelry, but really their mum is doing the laundry somewhere. I want to see that picture. It’s not all guns and jewelry, it’s not all that. Someone’s doing their laundry, and that’s what I want to see in a picture. I want to see that in a painting. Who’s doing your laundry, you sweet boys? Who’s doing something so prosaic as going down to the launderette and stuffing your clothing in it? That’s seeing the whole picture. I hate to keep bringing the subject back to Sri Lanka, but the most important thing I ever learned was taught to me in Sri Lanka. They said, “Western people see everything through glass. They look at everything—it’s either through a computer screen or through a glass window or it’s actually a glass window.” What they were saying was, don’t keep looking through a screen. Look at it directly.


We’re surrounded by truth and energy all the time, but can we hear it and can we see it? When you’re ready to hear something that’s creative and truthful for you, you’re ready to hear it. It’s nothing to do with me or anyone else. When you are ready for something different and something challenging, you will listen a bit more. It’s the same with me. People have told me things, and I’ve been incapable of hearing what they were saying. When I was so political when I was young, I’m still very political but I was very angry, people said, “No, that’s not the way to talk to people.” I was full of anger and arrogance and rage.


like Art students, if I tell them “let’s go to a slaughterhouse,” they’re gonna Google slaughterhouses. Instead of getting up and going to one next door to them—cause there’s always a slaughterhouse next door to you or a prison—instead of trying to get in there and draw it or even draw that you can’t get in there, which is even more interesting,

Instead of looking at my eyes, I want you to look through my eyes. If you have a painting, I don’t want you to look at my painting. I want you to look through my painting at what I’m saying. If you look at my eyes they’re blue. I don’t want you to look at my eyes. Most art is saying: look at me, look at me, look at me. I think people’s art is saying: don’t look at me, look through me. For art to become a weapon for change it first has to be art. That’s one thing. Another thing is we’re living this type of populism that I find almost like fashion. Like Hilary Clinton when she speaks is almost like populist, but it’s not the truth. This has replaced any real questioning or real people’s culture. This is supposed to satisfy us. And I find it like proto-fascism, this type of populism, where we’re not walking away from it. We keep coming back like elastic bands to these same old tired—our disaster is a slow burn. If we had another sort of vision maybe like a non-human animal, we could see ourselves burning now. But we have the illusion we’re not on fire. We think we’re alright, but we’re not alright. I don’t know what it would take. Maybe we’re doomed for extinction, I don’t know. I don’t think so somehow. That art that you mentioned—the Mayan art, the Aztec art—is so powerful and beyond time and space, that there is something else. We know it, we know that intuitively.

What I’m working on now is about an elephant from Sri Lanka called “Topsy”. She was captured in Sri Lanka in the 1870’s and she was tested on by Thomas Edison for his new invention at the time, the electric chair. I want to work on those stories of how in Africa and India and Sri Lanka they plunder animals to fill the zoos and circuses. This particular elephant, and I knew she was from Sri Lanka because of the markings on her in the film. The film is on youtube. It’s the electrocution of Topsy by Thomas Edison. It’s changing now. It’s known now that global warming and meat production are very much interlinked. And that will change. We are moving in that direction. Factory farming’s been outlawed in Europe. It will be outlawed here. It will become illegal to factory farm here. It’s very slow going. At one time I wasn’t aware, and the awareness came slowly. I hope that the same will happen to other people.

It’s what’s done to children in the school meal program. This is why children have A.D.D. They’re being fed sugar and processed food. It’s all very obvious to us. To murder your own children. If we could sum up this culture in America—it murders its young. It murders the young. It’s the cultural propaganda. People say to me, “How do you get your protein?” And I say, “there’s more protein in a bean than in a steak. It’s a lot of lies and propaganda. I was just touring in the prisons—this was a year ago in Texas. You have no fresh fruit and no vegetables. This is in the women’s prison system. This is where people have HIV, they have hepatitis. They’re given fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, pizza…not fresh fruit or vegetables whatsoever. I said I’d eat what they eat, and I just had mashed potatoes. That’s all I could eat, just out of a packet. That’s what they’re feeding people. It’s another way of murdering people. They’re sick already because they’re locked in addiction. Then they get this diet in prison because it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper!

Every time we switch on an electric light it’s like murder. It’s a whole history of murder. What we’ve done to get that power. It’s filthy. What Thomas Edison did, which was to take one beautiful elephant and to kill her—and it’s on youtube. It was one of the first films ever made.

We keep coming back like elastic bands to these same old tired—our disaster is a slow burn. If we had another sort of vision maybe like a non-human animal, we could see ourselves burning now. But we have the illusion we’re not on fire. We think we’re alright, but we’re not alright. I don’t know what it would take. Maybe we’re doomed for extinction, I don’t know. I don’t think so somehow. That art that you mentioned—the Mayan art, the Aztec art—is so powerful and beyond time and space, that there is something else. We know it, we know that intuitively. It’s the cultural propaganda. People say to me, “How do you get your protein?” And I say, “there’s more protein in a bean than in a steak. It’s a lot of lies and propaganda.

We feel completely swamped by the negativity. We’re drowning, we feel helpless. But when you go to a really poor country you see how empowered the people are. How strong they are, how creative they are. They have creative solutions and they don’t believe human beings are all evil. They believe two people are but; actually they believe one is bad the he talked the other guy into it. It’s their understanding that gave me inspiration. I see what people have done in Costa Rica and in Sri Lanka. They’re way ahead of this country. Way ahead. How they’re dealing with the humans, the environment, education. Yeah, they’re in the middle of a war zone, but they’re dealing with it and moving forward. We can learn a lot from people in those countries.


We’re surrounded by truth and energy all the time, but can we hear it and can we see it? When you’re ready to hear something that’s creative and truthful for you, you’re ready to hear it. It’s nothing to do with me or anyone else. When you are ready for something different and something challenging, you will listen a bit more. It’s the same with me. I was just touring in the prisons—this was a year ago in Texas. You have no fresh fruit and no vegetables. This is in the women’s prison system. This is where people have HIV, they have hepatitis. They’re given fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, pizza…not fresh fruit or vegetables whatsoever. I said I’d eat what they eat, and I just had mashed potatoes. That’s all I could eat, just out of a packet. That’s what they’re feeding people. It’s another way of murdering people. They’re sick already because they’re locked in addiction. Then they get this diet in prison because it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper!

I don’t stress anything like that in this culture because it tends to go into a being a commodity. I feel like the mystic part is like a secret. It’s a secret that’s not there for everybody. I have to have the humility to keep the secret. That’s what I see in Sri Lanka in the art there. It’s very much of a mystery and it has a lot of power.


It’s so degrading for the human soul. We’ve reached this stage of complete degradation of our potential as human beings. It’s bullying. It’s starting them off in the capitalist society in these schools. It’s all about bullying and fear. Especially behaviorism—the behaviorism doesn’t work. That’s the content of the school, behaviorism. Do this and you’re rewarded; do that and you’re punished. That doesn’t work. It’s the same with the prison system. We have massive recidivism. We have the science to change all that, but we don’t because the political will is not there. In this society they want behaviorism in schools so they can have the army. You’re trained to follow orders. It’s training, it’s like factory farming of children.

What I’m working on now is about an elephant from Sri Lanka called “Topsy”. She was captured in Sri Lanka in the 1870’s and she was tested on by Thomas Edison for his new invention at the time, the electric chair. I want to work on those stories of how in Africa and India and Sri Lanka they plunder animals to fill the zoos and circuses. This particular elephant, and I knew she was from Sri Lanka because of the markings on her in the film. The film is on youtube. It’s the electrocution of Topsy by Thomas Edison. He wanted the electric chair contract and he wanted to show that it was so lethal it could kill an elephant. It was entertaining for people. The elephant was at Coney Island. They wanted to entertain people because it was off season, so they killed her with all of this electricity. I just wanted to do her story. Every time we switch on an electric light it’s like murder. It’s a whole history of murder. What we’ve done to get that power. It’s filthy. What Thomas Edison did, which was to take one beautiful elephant and to kill her—and it’s on youtube. It was one of the first films ever made.

It’s changing now. It’s known now that global warming and meat production are very much interlinked. And that will change. We are moving in that direction. Factory farming’s been outlawed in Europe. It will be outlawed here. It will become illegal to factory farm here. It’s very slow going. At one time I wasn’t aware, and the awareness came slowly. I hope that the same will happen to other people. It’s what’s done to children in the school meal program. This is why children have A.D.D. They’re being fed sugar and processed food. It’s all very obvious to us. To murder your own children. If we could sum up this culture in America—it murders its young. It murders the young.

It’s so degrading for the human soul. We’ve reached this stage of complete degradation of our potential as human beings. You know that old story. There’s a kid on this beach and all of these jellyfish have washed up and they’re drying in the sun. The child goes along the beach and throws back the jellyfish into the water. Someone comes along and says, there’s millions of jellyfish on the beach; they’re all dying; why do you even bother? We have to bother because it matters to that one jellyfish. It matters to that one tree. It matters to that one rescued animal. It matters to that one person that’s incarcerated. It matters. We’re surrounded by truth and energy all the time, but can we hear it and can we see it? When you’re ready to hear something that’s creative and truthful for you, you’re ready to hear it. It’s nothing to do with me or anyone else. When you are ready for something different and something challenging, you will listen a bit more. It’s the same with me. People have told me things, and I’ve been incapable of hearing what they were saying. When I was so political when I was young, I’m still very political but I was very angry, people said, “No, that’s not the way to talk to people.” I was full of anger and arrogance and rage.

For art to become a weapon for change it first has to be art. That’s one thing. Another thing is we’re living this type of populism that I find almost like fashion. Like Hilary Clinton when she speaks is almost like populist, but it’s not the truth. This has replaced any real questioning or real people’s culture. This is supposed to satisfy us. And I find it like proto-fascism, this type of populism, where we’re not walking away from it. We keep coming back like elastic bands to these same old tired—our disaster is a slow burn. If we had another sort of vision maybe like a non-human animal, we could see ourselves burning now. But we have the illusion we’re not on fire. We think we’re alright, but we’re not alright. I don’t know what it would take. Maybe we’re doomed for extinction, I don’t know. I don’t think so somehow. That art that you mentioned—the Mayan art, the Aztec art—is so powerful and beyond time and space, that there is something else. We know it, we know that intuitively.

We can’t despair, because that’s part of the program—we’re supposed to be despairing. Then we’re infantilized, and then we’re looking for a benign dictator. Our culture is one of despairing. It makes people helpless. Part of the people’s revolution of this country is crying. That’s how rebellion manifests here. That is a resistance. However displaced, however crazy, that is a resistance to being under constant pressure, just have the boot on the back of your head all the time.

It’s the cultural propaganda. People say to me, “How do you get your protein?” And I say, “there’s more protein in a bean than in a steak. It’s a lot of lies and propaganda. I was just touring in the prisons—this was a year ago in Texas. You have no fresh fruit and no vegetables. This is in the women’s prison system. This is where people have HIV, they have hepatitis. They’re given fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, pizza…not fresh fruit or vegetables whatsoever. I said I’d eat what they eat, and I just had mashed potatoes. That’s all I could eat, just out of a packet. That’s what they’re feeding people. It’s another way of murdering people. They’re sick already because they’re locked in addiction. Then they get this diet in prison because it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper!


We feel completely swamped by the negativity. We’re drowning, we feel helpless. But when you go to a really poor country you see how empowered the people are. How strong they are, how creative they are. They have creative solutions and they don’t believe human beings are all evil. They believe two people are but; actually they believe one is bad the he talked the other guy into it. It’s their understanding that gave me inspiration. I see what people have done in Costa Rica and in Sri Lanka. They’re way ahead of this country. Way ahead. How they’re dealing with the humans, the environment, education. Yeah, they’re in the middle of a war zone, but they’re dealing with it and moving forward. We can learn a lot from people in those countries.


All around us are these mysteries, very very powerful mysteries. What I said about burning, I do think we’re burning. I think us humans are burning. We’re burning like fire, but there’s such a time delay that we don’t know it, because we’re always looking in the past so we don’t know we’re burning at this second. Our species is burning up. Trees can see it, because they’re more wise and aware. There are trees that are 10,000 years old. They can see us, we’re moving so fast and burning. There’s all these different layers of understanding and I can only see a tiny tiny fraction of what’s going on. I can‘t even put it into words. I can’t.

I don’t stress anything like that in this culture because it tends to go into a being a commodity. I feel like the mystic part is like a secret. It’s a secret that’s not there for everybody. I have to have the humility to keep the secret. That’s what I see in Sri Lanka in the art there. It’s very much of a mystery and it has a lot of power.


What I’m working on now is about an elephant from Sri Lanka called “Topsy”. She was captured in Sri Lanka in the 1870’s and she was tested on by Thomas Edison for his new invention at the time, the electric chair. I want to work on those stories of how in Africa and India and Sri Lanka they plunder animals to fill the zoos and circuses. This particular elephant, and I knew she was from Sri Lanka because of the markings on her in the film. The film is on youtube. It’s the electrocution of Topsy by Thomas Edison. He wanted the electric chair contract and he wanted to show that it was so lethal it could kill an elephant. It was entertaining for people. The elephant was at Coney Island. They wanted to entertain people because it was off season, so they killed her with all of this electricity. I just wanted to do her story. Every time we switch on an electric light it’s like murder. It’s a whole history of murder. What we’ve done to get that power. It’s filthy. What Thomas Edison did, which was to take one beautiful elephant and to kill her—and it’s on youtube. It was one of the first films ever made. It’s so degrading for the human soul. We’ve reached this stage of complete degradation of our potential as human beings. You know that old story. There’s a kid on this beach and all of these jellyfish have washed up and they’re drying in the sun. The child goes along the beach and throws back the jellyfish into the water. Someone comes along and says, there’s millions of jellyfish on the beach; they’re all dying; why do you even bother? We have to bother because it matters to that one jellyfish. It matters to that one tree. It matters to that one rescued animal. It matters to that one person that’s incarcerated. It matters.



We can’t despair, because that’s part of the program—we’re supposed to be despairing. Then we’re infantilized, and then we’re looking for a benign dictator. Our culture is one of despairing. It makes people helpless. Part of the people’s revolution of this country is crying. That’s how rebellion manifests here. That is a resistance. However displaced, however crazy, that is a resistance to being under constant pressure, just have the boot on the back of your head all the time. All around us are these mysteries, very very powerful mysteries. What I said about burning, I do think we’re burning. I think us humans are burning. We’re burning like fire, but there’s such a time delay that we don’t know it, because we’re always looking in the past so we don’t know we’re burning at this second. Our species is burning up. Trees can see it, because they’re more wise and aware. There are trees that are 10,000 years old. They can see us, we’re moving so fast and burning. There’s all these different layers of understanding and I can only see a tiny tiny fraction of what’s going on. I can‘t even put it into words. I can’t.


By keeping the content before the form. I think when kids go to art school they try to be different, like you said. They try to have a different style. They try to stand out. Really the teaching should be: how can you best be a voice for that content. You always put the content first. Something I remind myself of every day is that the beauty of that human being or animal or tree has to come before my vision of them. They have their own vision. Somehow that has to come through. I also think art school is about not really making sure every student is very special. Because they have low self-confidence, which is why they think they can Google everything. I hate to keep bringing the subject back to Sri Lanka, but the most important thing I ever learned was taught to me in Sri Lanka. They said, “Western people see everything through glass. They look at everything—it’s either through a computer screen or through a glass window or it’s actually a glass window.” What they were saying was, don’t keep looking through a screen. Look at it directly. Art students, if I tell them “let’s go to a slaughterhouse,” they’re gonna Google slaughterhouses. Instead of getting up and going to one next door to them—cause there’s always a slaughterhouse next door to you or a prison—instead of trying to get in there and draw it or even draw that you can’t get in there, which is even more interesting,


they Google something. That’s another disassociation, where people aren’t living at all. They think they can just pick it up on a computer. But when you go out there and make yourself vulnerable and put yourself in that world then you get so much more information. It makes the artwork or the music or the poetry so much more vibrant. Any vision you had directly is more powerful than reading about it. If you tell me what you saw, you saw it with your own eyes, that can never be denied by another person. Instead of looking at my eyes, I want you to look through my eyes. If you have a painting, I don’t want you to look at my painting. I want you to look through my painting at what I’m saying. If you look at my eyes they’re blue. I don’t want you to look at my eyes. Most art is saying: look at me, look at me, look at me. I think people’s art is saying: don’t look at me, look through me. I’m just a vehicle trying to show you something. It sounds so simple but very few artist can do that. Because of the ego and their fear, they constantly have to try and be different. They have to have newness to stand out, instead of standing out by the content they choose. Let’s say I’m lookin at these kids, these sweet kids in Murder Dog. It’s guns, it’s gold jewelry, but really their mum is doing the laundry somewhere. I want to see that picture. It’s not all guns and jewelry, it’s not all that. Someone’s doing their laundry, and that’s what I want to see in a picture. I want to see that in a painting. Who’s doing your laundry, you sweet boys? Who’s doing something so prosaic as going down to the launderette and stuffing your clothing in it? That’s seeing the whole picture. It’s bullying. It’s starting them off in the capitalist society in these schools. It’s all about bullying and fear. Especially behaviorism—the behaviorism doesn’t work. That’s the content of the school, behaviorism. Do this and you’re rewarded; do that and you’re punished. That doesn’t work. It’s the same with the prison system. We have massive recidivism. We have the science to change all that, but we don’t because the political will is not there. In this society they want behaviorism in schools so they can have the army. You’re trained to follow orders. It’s training, it’s like factory farming of children.


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