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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Pat Oleszko, Performance Artist and Queen of the Ann Arbor Film Festival

When: March 28, 2024

Pat Olezsko
Pat Oleszko, circa 1971 and March 2024

In this episode AADL Talks to Pat Oleszko, visual and performance artist and Queen of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Pat came to the University to study art in the late 1960s just as the program was experiencing a countercultural renaissance. She talks with us about her journey as an artist, from the vibrant experimental and collaborative arts community that welcomed her, to the institutions and events like the ONCE Group, the city's film festivals, and the Ozone Parade that shaped her and that she helped shape in turn. Pat also recalls some favorite performances and clashes with both feminists and law enforcement as she charted her inimitable career.


  • [00:00:09] ELIZABETH SMITH: Hi. This is Elizabeth.
  • [00:00:11] AMY CANTU: This is Amy and in this episode, AADL talks to Pat Oleszko. Pat studied art at the University of Michigan from 1965-70, during a period of thriving counterculture at Ann Arbor. Pat was involved with several iconic Ann Arbor cultural institutions and events, such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival, ONCE Festival, and the Ozone Parade. Throughout her career as an artist, she's developed a portfolio of boundary-pushing performance art in which she addresses themes of feminism in politics through the lens of humor and absurdity. Well, thank you so much for coming, Pat. We'd just like to get a real rough idea of where you grew up and what brought you to Ann Arbor, presumably school, so just tell us a little bit about your background.
  • [00:00:55] PAT OLESZKO: I was brought up in Detroit. I say Detroit because it makes me sound cooler than the actual suburbs of Detroit, which was Dearborn. I was a rebellious child and my parents did their best to control me through intensive arts programming and music and art and I went to school at the Henry Ford Museum, and then I went up to Interlochen on a music and art scholarship. Then all my rich friends up at Interlochen went to the high-end places like RISD and Cranbrook and stuff. Poor me, could only afford the University of Michigan, which turned out to be the greatest decision in my life. It was an astonishing education. As for my friends, I've never heard one word about them. I came to Ann Arbor to go to school and I went to the art school and reveled in every aspect of it, which I will get into.
  • [00:02:16] AMY CANTU: Great.
  • [00:02:17] ELIZABETH SMITH: And what was Ann Arbor like at the time that you came here?
  • [00:02:20] PAT OLESZKO: Well, it was the mid-'60s so it was about the most interesting campus in the country, whereas, for example, Wisconsin was all politics and as was Berkeley, and also Harvard and so forth. But in Ann Arbor, at that time, we not only were the seat of contemporary policies and politics, socio-economic policies like Black studies and the first sit-ins and so forth, but absolutely the center of Ann Arbor was its arts faculty. They were extremely productive and original, and they worked collaboratively and so there was always something going on that was fascinating. It could have been in new music, it could have been in what became performance and of course, my two specific mentors, George Manupelli and Milton Cohen, as well as Joe Wehrer and Bob Ashley created a group called the ONCE Group, which was the inherent core of the intelligence and the creativity because they sponsored performances, they brought in their friends who were the famous artists of the moment as visiting artists to us lot, the great unwashed of the Midwest who could only go to the University of Michigan, poor us, and then got this incredible exposure. The visiting artists' entourage of their mates that they met while they were performing with the ONCE Group were Rauschenberg and Oldenburg and Morton Feldman and Alvin Lucier and Steve Paxton, and so there was all this stuff that was going on plus the ONCE Group was making the most astonishing performances that you can imagine. All of them had their own idiosyncrasies, which they built upon linguistically or movement-wise. It was an enormous combustion of energies that created, for example, the ONCE festival, which had performances on top of the parking garage and which Rauschenberg came to and performed a rather famous piece, and then they did their own using boxes and projections on the roof. There was this just incredible energy in the art school that was fostered originally by the faculty. If I may be so bold...
  • [00:05:48] AMY CANTU: Please.
  • [00:05:49] PAT OLESZKO: If one is lucky, an art school will have its moment in the sun, where just through the combination of teachers and students it becomes something much more than just an art school and it's also a product of the times. So, boldly -- and the Bauhaus, but Black Mountain and Evergreen College -- I say that the University of Michigan Art School in the '60s was of the same happenstance fortuitous and brilliant that there was just this group of people there that were astonishing. It was helped by the fact that the art school, which was now what is termed Lorch hall -- "Lurch" Hall -- which is oh, God, I think it's business or finance or math, nothing could be farther from an art school. Anyhow, so this building, which was six stories tall, very beautiful old building, and with a large foyer and stairs. There was no elevator, and photography was on the sixth floor. If you got to the sixth floor, there was always coffee waiting for you, but at that time, there were three times as many students housed in the building as it was designed for. It was a beehive of activity. There was no door whose lock we could not pick and so there was always something going on. Someone's always doing their project in the hall and trying to get you to help with them and so there was this great conviviality and collaboration just inherent, which is the way it's supposed to be in an educational situation, but is not necessary. I never wanted to leave the art school. Everybody was there. And if they weren't there, they were having coffee or stealing pizza off of the lawyer's tables at Dominick's, which was the annex to the art school. I had classes there. I had critiques at Dominick's. Dominick, for example, was the one... As George Manupelli was trying to start at the film festival 62 years ago, not taking his tin cup around to the university. They no, he just wanted to show a place to show his films and his friends films like Standish Lauder and various important, what have become very important filmmakers, Stan Brakhage Tom Palazzolo. He just wanted a place to show his particular films, and he was making longer films. He started the film festival, but University wouldn't give him any money. Dominick gave him $100 to start the film festival. It was started by the alternate dean to the art school, which now houses the Ann Arbor Film Festival Museum and food emporium, but that's a subsidiary of the front room, which has all of the incredible propaganda posters and various advertisements for the film festival and has a lot of pictures of me also because I appeared in print in many kinds of situations, but that's another story. Anyhow, and it's there, and his sons continued the support of the Ann Arbor Film Festival and bring their children since they were little and people would complain, "How can you bring children?" These are pizza guys, ok. Informed and intelligent and incredibly supportive. They got more support from outside the university than the actual university. For example, George, who was teaching filmmaking at the time, had a fraught relationship with the administration of the art school. He was a PhD, and they hired him and stuff, but he got the room underneath the stairs behind the auditorium, which used to be the cleaning closet. That was where we held our filmmaking classes. We had one splicer -- one manual splicer -- everybody was making films, of which some of them are going to be shown this week. We didn't have equipment. We didn't have money. Yet, it fostered all this activity and support. The film festival itself was not just about films. It was about art that was in the hall, in the cases, and people were doing performances in the hall. I, attending the film festival the first time, and its six nights of film at that time, it was 6 hours a night at 5, 7 and nine or 7, 9, or 11. Not too much viewing going on at 1:00 in the morning, but plenty of sleep. You got it somewhere. Anyway, so I decided, oh, well, and there's a big party at the end so it was this big focus of all the cultural intellectual activity. Anyhow, I decided every night. I will identify this moment. I'm an artist who uses my body as my platform to make my art. It was an idea that I will get back to and how I came to that point here in Ann Arbor. But I started you know, initially, the first year every night I was getting more and more elaborate costumes. Then the second year I did it, I decided, I saw all those films. I deserve my own chair. I would bring in my own chair, and it would be the same style inherent in what I was wearing. Got more and more complicated as the weeks ago, and then I started doing performances, non-cinemagraphic performances before each night's film. It was six new pieces. I just kept going, and even I kept coming back to Ann Arbor even after I graduated. I did not give this moniker to myself, but I became the film festival queen. I have carried it well. My reign has been long and impure. The film festival was a very important piece of the cultural atmosphere of Ann Arbor because it was the focus of all this activity. People they brought in judges from all over the country. It was the only place where people could at that time, there were only a couple of film festivals that people could show their works, and the filmmakers came. I was just an electrifying atmosphere. Even though it could be that we were stoned a lot, and it could be that some of us got drunk, but it was all in the service of art. That was what was great about Ann Arbor at that time, that there were many things going on. But the Weathermen were my neighbors, and I knew lots of folks that were in the Black studies movement there. But the art movement was really the thing that was unique and overwhelmingly present at all times.
  • [00:15:08] PAT OLESZKO: Milton Cohen with another teacher at that time, who taught a light color and light sound and motion class. As George was leading by example in his very productive but wildly unrestrained film classes and so forth, Milton was leading in a completely different way. Every single person that took his class, he changed their lives forever. He was an unbelievable person. He was quite European even though he wasn't. But he introduced us to the idea that life can be lived the fullest no matter how you achieved your ends. For me, he changed my life and he gave one of the assignments, it was at Christmas, you had to make a gift for him and have the wrapping inherent with the style of the gift. It was an idea I later used in the festival. I didn't get his name. I drew his assistant's name, who was a motorcycle rider. I made him this Hell's Angel belt. This is the '60s. Hell's Angel belt. With chains and whips and 10 penny nails and all this tough, lethal-looking object. I'm the girl from the suburbs. I made this, and then I built a small four-foot coffin, and I nailed it in the coffin, and I nailed the lid on the wooden coffin, and I buried it in the yard of Dominic's on a funny tombstone, and I gave him a be-ribboned shovel and told him to dig it. In that moment, I realized that how people thought could be reflected in what they wore. That was a singular moment for me, and it changed my life forever. A little bit more personal history here, but I wanted to make big sculptures and I couldn't actually manage to learn how to weld properly. Everything would fall down into my great humiliation and the laughter of my primarily male friends. I started working at home and I had a sewing machine and so I started sewing things and casting about for a structure that could withhold an armature. I realized I was six feet tall and I started hanging my stuff on myself. In that moment, I became pedestrian art. The sculpture walked out of the door and into the world. From that point, I became who I was born to be, which is an artist, a practicing artist that works in the world and uses very elaborate costumes and props to expand my ideas. That has taken me in the streets with parades and installations and so forth onto the stage and into making movies. Now I do installations and performances in natural environments, streams and waterways and on mountains and in forests. I also appeared using the costumes in terms of illustration, which is how I made a living when I first got to New York. That was an idea that I developed with one of my teachers here. I wasn't just a hired freak at a party. Anyhow, that's what I do. That came out of this very rich experience here where nobody was telling me "no" except for like the more traditional teachers. But my other -- Milton and George and Joe Wehrer -- were totally supportive. Anyhow, and I had all the energy in the world. I overwhelmed everybody with the amount of production things that I was doing, and so they couldn't fail me, even though they wanted to. It became this rich environment that was supportive in every possible way.
  • [00:20:07] AMY CANTU: I have a question. I'm curious about the timing. When you came to Ann Arbor, did you have one idea of the type of artist you thought you would be or the art that you would study, and then how quickly it sounds like fairly quickly, right away, and within a couple of years, you were on this other path.
  • [00:20:26] PAT OLESZKO: It happened almost immediately. I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew I couldn't be a musician. But as I was told when I asked one of my teachers in high school up at Interlochen if I had enough talent to be an artist, and she says, "No, but I think you have the character of an artist." That was fine. I took that and I came, and I had no idea. My mother thought that I would be doing Hallmark cards and when I got to art school and I started doing this thing which they didn't really understand. I mean, they loved me, supported me, blah, blah, blah. But it came to a head when I started stripping in Ann Arbor in Toledo as Pat the Hippie Strippy. They didn't understand that was just another platform for me to do my work. Why should they? They were immigrants. It wasn't fine art.
  • [00:21:34] ELIZABETH SMITH: I'm curious about the evolution of the concept of performance art and how when you first started, your art was referred to as a happening or an event or something like that, and the concept of performance art didn't exist. How do you feel about that? How do you think your work played a role in that?
  • [00:21:54] PAT OLESZKO: The nature, as you pointed out, was events and happenings. In the mid-'60s, I was coming in on the end of that. The ONCE Group was doing things that they were not happenings because they were pretty structured, very structured, as a matter of fact, it was like jazz improvisation. You have a structure and then you work with it. But then that died out and it was actually a West Coast thing anyway. Then there was a very long period where a few of us were doing stuff that didn't have a name. For example, Eric Bogosian and David Kale and Laurie Anderson. But people were doing stuff wherever they were and a lot of them were in New York, and it was a fertile ground to grow in because New York was wide open at that time. It was cheap and it was vibrant. People started doing things and I started doing things and I got early recognition for doing stuff at a few museums, had shows there. It started very organically with a number of people, and then the name of it came. I'm not sure when it came, but I think it was either '80, could have been the 80s or beyond that because then it became a laugh point on Saturday Night Live or something to be a performance artist. Now they teach it in schools, which I just find to be the most absurd thing I've ever heard in my life. But then I came at it from a different place. I mean, yes, in many ways, it's the idea of what the performance was in those days got co-opted by advertising, as they were delving into the culture that was bubbling up with graffiti and skating and hip hop and performance. That is the nature of capitalistic culture, and so they would go in and take it and then destroy it. That the young graffiti artists, for example, had their moment and then it was gone. They couldn't make that change into the gallery system, but they were certainly eaten up and discarded in a way that -- it wasn't necessarily the same way that happened in performance -- but people were figuring out what they could do on stage and ways to make money, doing what they were doing. It was more, in my opinion, more charismatic, more idiosyncratic, then that got usurped and now it's stand-up comedy. It's not a very interesting field at the moment, but it is pervasive. It's everywhere. I believe I can claim without hubris that I was one of the progenitors, on my tombstone. For all the money it's made for me.
  • [00:25:25] AMY CANTU: I want to ask you about the use of your body from the classic Ann Arbor Film Festival poster through today. Has your view of women's bodies and the use of women's bodies changed over time and how? What are your thoughts about that?
  • [00:25:44] PAT OLESZKO: Interesting question. Women artists go through a certain period of time where they have to reject to lesser and greater degrees depending on what their practice is or becomes the roles that society has forced them into. That was more prevalent than it is, which is not to say that it's not around now. But coming out of the 50s and 60s women had to look a certain way, had to act a certain way. There was a lot of rejection of that. I mean, the whole feminist movement, and I was observant and critical of it, but I worked through humor, which is different than everybody else was working in at the time. As a matter of fact, you have to be -- one learns this. You have to take yourself seriously. You can't make jokes about something. Otherwise, the rest of the world will not. Which is, in the beginning, feminist had no sense of humor. Ms. Magazine, no sense of humor. The burning bras. Jesus. If you're laughing at yourself, then other people are going to laugh at you. I understand what that was, but the feminist movement did not support me at all. Even though I was making all these huge and grotesque interpretation, interpolations of women's bodies and the roles that they played through the sexual organs placed within the fabric of the costume, which is if I may be so bold, again, not unlike Gaston Lachaise, who has enormous bronzes with breasts that are like four feet beyond a six-foot figure. Only, I was using fabric and making these comments. For example, when I got to New York, I was offered a show at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, which was the most experimental museum in New York at the time. They even had people living in the museum, making outsider artists, they would bring them in, they would work, and within the museum. The director there, Paul Smith, saw my work and engaged me to be in the show and so I did the new Yuck women and I had a really grotesque caricature of women that were hanging in the museum and I would go in every day and put on a character and then go out around the city doing whatever that person would ordinarily do. I was dealing with these caricatures but I was doing it with humor and satire. The Playboy Bunny, Sally Sexcretary, the upper side swinger, the model girl, the little old lady, the DAR and all of these characters had different responses on the streets in the New York. I was hauled off 5th Avenue for wearing Sally Sexcretary with the see-through dress, with the giant breast by the policemen who had issue with my aesthetics.
  • [00:29:26] AMY CANTU: Is that the word he used?
  • [00:29:28] PAT OLESZKO: No, but suddenly there I was with crowds around me in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral and blue-clad officers grabbing my appendages, dragging me off 5th Avenue because I don't know, maybe Jackie Kennedy was coming out of St. Patrick's instead of St. Pat herself. Anyhow. I work in extreme and absurdity. It was hard for the feminist to deal with me and it was hard for the traditional art milieu to also deal with me because it was humor. It wasn't, for example, like Claes Oldenburg who also exaggerated and created a different level of understanding of the objects in our world like Warhol. But even his work, he said we had a conversation once he said, "What's taken seriously with my work is like the white cardboard small machetes," not the big pieces that he's done. Of course, much time has passed since then and he's one of the eminence grise of the Whole Earth pantheon, but in the beginning, it took a very long time for people to take humor seriously. That is my realm. Every artist has their spectrum. Certainly in people that are performative, it goes from tragedy to comedy, and I happen to be over here on comedy happily, following my heroes of Keaton and Jaques Tati and Lewis Carroll and Miles Nakopaline any number of people. But all of these people took a while for them to get accepted because humor is very hard to take seriously as an art form, even though it works on many more levels in my opinion, than tragedy, or in the middle, a seriousness.
  • [00:31:53] ELIZABETH SMITH: But did you consider yourself a feminist albeit misunderstood one, and did you feel that your work was political all the way...
  • [00:32:02] PAT OLESZKO: Well, of course, it was political. I considered some of myself a feminist, but they didn't. I went to Ms. Magazine, and they said, "Why do you make these things?" Then they saw the error of their ways and I was on the cover as a Statue of Liberty, dropping the book, The Constitution and I appeared in a couple of things. But it took them a while. I don't blame them for that, except for. I had a piece, which was literally my bread and butter piece, which was a stuffed nude body and a stuffed stripper's costume. I had made a collapsible cake that was six feet tall out of fabric and it collapsed like a drinking cup that would leap out of after hiding underneath it for the length of the appetizers at, I performed this piece, this burlesque on burlesque of the girl out of the cake routine at innumerable openings and private parties and birthday parties and stuff like that until eventually became too politically incorrect for even me to do. They were everybody else would understand the humor that the realm that I was working in. But I was chastised and ignored and ferociously on occasion by feminists that were within viewing range.
  • [00:33:43] ELIZABETH SMITH: I'm curious about the reception of the media. You were using fabric and that's seen as a traditional women's art and how that played into how your work was received at the time.
  • [00:33:56] PAT OLESZKO: Good point. Yeah. They don't take it seriously because you're sewing. But in my case, I was actually sewing wild oats, okay? Yes, that was part of it, and there was a movement at the time, post-pop, where we were getting into minimalism, where people were doing software. Not the least of which was Claes Oldenburg, but but other people, like Joseph Beuys using felt and there were some elements of that. The difference was that I was using shiny surfaces. I was using things for the candy aspect of it, because it translated the idea better than I had. It wasn't all satin, but it was this combination of fabrics that added to the problematic aspect of the humor. If I had done these things all in white. I even tried to do that once and it just felt so weird. I couldn't do it. But, you keep at something and I had had some quite good luck, I would say, just because nobody was doing anything like what I was doing when I first got to New York. I just kept doing it because I had an enormous amount of energy and if I didn't have gigs, I was doing stuff in the Easter Parade or Thanksgiving Parade. As a turkey, I got kicked out, like arrested for being a turkey in a Thanksgiving parade? Yes, that's the way life has to be. I created moments for myself and using the costumes in terms of illustration in Esquire Magazine, I was Norman Mailer and other things. I had and I was a waitress at Max's Kansas City and the St. Adrian Company. Every night I was a different type of waitress. They were paying attention to me. I entered contest. I entered the Miss Subways contest. I was creating all this stuff for myself that was outside of the realm, but was in the world and the world did notice and eventually the art world had to eat it and die.
  • [00:36:53] AMY CANTU: I'm curious. Going back to Ann Arbor and that incubation period when you were here. I know you've already talked a little bit about the Once group and the Once festival. You've talked a little bit about the film festival. There was the Ozone Parade. There's been more recently, the Festifools parade. You keep coming back. Was there something about Ann Arbor that has continued to support this in a way that other communities don't?
  • [00:37:22] PAT OLESZKO: Well, it started then -- the populace support of all the culture, the bands, MC5, the White Panthers, the Ozone Parade. The Ozone Parade was based on a parade that I did first.
  • [00:37:44] AMY CANTU: Tell us about that.
  • [00:37:45] PAT OLESZKO: I will tell you about that for the record. My last year in college, in 1970, I wanted to be in the homecoming parade. I wanted to enter the homecoming queen competition.
  • [00:38:02] PAT OLESZKO: But that year they decided that it was irrelevant. 1969, finally, '70. The finally realized it was irrelevant. They kept the parade, but no more queens, which was perfect for me. I entered myself as a float and announced myself as the homecoming queen. Then I got as many people as I could in the art school to carry this idea. I had a big stuffed nude body and a giant stuffed rose and huge froth of hair and the thing and I was on the back of a convertible and we all had long hair. All the guys had slicked back their hair so that they look like greasers, mafioso and they were driving the car and walking alongside as protection. Then I had my six roommates dressed up in different ethnic gear, which everybody seemed to have as the beautiful losers. Then there was the Dort Mander marching band in kazoo outfit which was everybody else in the art school that responded to my flyer and explanation that we were going to have a funk homecoming. I had baton twirlers with flaming batons and the marching band and me and the prey did not know what to do with us. There was music also. People were playing things and a big sign, like two Mormons like Pat and Jesus walk hand in hand, which was like another controversy. They put us at the end, then there was the anti-Vietnam float also that was right behind us. Then, we're at the end, the floats, and all the Greek bullshit is ahead of that. Then, so all the Greek folks are watching this and they see us and they can't believe what they're seeing. Then they see the portrayal of the South Vietnamese on this float. It was just too much. We were, like, too much, and then it just put them over the top and they started throwing stuff at the anti-Vietnam War float and we were right there and it got into this Mali not the first one with this group, and anyhow. But anyhow, it was a free-for-all all at that time, and the whole thing dispersed at the end, that was the resolution. But up until the point where I guess we were going down south where all the frat houses are. That was when everything fell apart. That was the basis of the Ozone Parade. They did bring me back to do the first year or something like that. The people in Ann Arbor are having -- I don't know. it just had this aspect of New Orleans where, New Orleans, everybody is involved in music or the parades, either making music or they're dancing or they're making costumes or they're making food. That's the way it was in the '60s that you were involved somehow, you were involved in the bands or Commander Cody, or you were involved in the film festival. It was just or you were just part you know, and if there was a parade, you were part of the parade. There was many in addition to all the political stuff that was going on, there were many ways that you could participate in culture and culture was something that was -- literally -- came from the people. It didn't come from the top down, didn't come from an institution. Institution didn't particularly give a shit about the popular culture at the time. It was the 60s. It was also smoking dope and Ann Arbor Blues Festival, how many bands, and Iggy Pop, the Blind Pig and there was always something going on. It wasn't just a big film festival, it was all the small Super 8 film festival and the Cinema Guild. And Bible Bob, who, you know, ran one of the coffee houses in one of the alleyways, whose name I just forgot, whatever that place was. I don't know, there was a collaboration, a genial, congenial collaboration between people with various ideas. We certainly, if there was a sit-in, everybody went to the sit-in. If there was another event, not everybody did everything, but there was always collateral damage. It was a vivid time. I kept coming back because six new pieces a year that I could perform before an audience that sat through a lot of bad shit. But they were -- it was a great place for me to test out stuff. I kept coming back and then they kept bringing me back as well, which continues to the day where they also they bring me back for the big anniversaries. We'll see if the 65th brings me back.
  • [00:44:24] ELIZABETH SMITH: I was going to ask about a couple other examples of your work causing a ruckus out in the street. You've mentioned a couple of times that there were people throwing things at you. You actually got arrested. I think there was the Macy's parade. I don't know if you talked about that. Then there was also the time that you were arrested in Rome.
  • [00:44:47] PAT OLESZKO: That's true.
  • [00:44:48] AMY CANTU: Do you have any other examples?
  • [00:44:49] PAT OLESZKO: Well, the epitome of my arrest record, is being arrested by the Vatican police under the guise of impersonating the Pope as the Nincom Pope with an aqua pistole. Have there been any others? Well, I have been accosted. There was an article in the paper. It was about solidarity, the first visage of the opening of the wall in the '80s in Poland the article commented from the cultural reporter, saying that anything and it's direct quote, "Anything not officially authorized is suspect wearing a funny hat can be seen as a political act''. That just hit such a strong note with me because of my experiences because I have enough chutzpah to wear my work, to install to use the world, as I say, use the world as a stooge, to be bold enough to carry myself, my work into the life of the world. This is very frightening for a lot of people, particularly authorities, because you're challenging their authority, because you're not wearing that uniform or whatever uniform. The uniform can be a suit or normal dress, and that's what the challenge is. I'm not trying to particularly disrupt things as much as I'm trying to make people think. If that's my fault, if that's my criminal intent, to make people think through the laughter or bring people to me to ask me what the hell's going on here, then I'm guilty as charged. I don't mind that, but it has been throughout so many experiences where everything will be going great, and then all of a sudden, the authorities will descend upon me and move me on, move me off the premises because I'm not contributing to their particular credo, aesthetics or prosthetics or anything. But I understand that because I can see it myself when I see... This is is not a great example, but it is a valid one: When you see a person who is unhoused, which is a current term for people that are homeless, they don't look like they belong and because they don't belong, they're shabby. For example, in your library, I'm sure you have the problem as we do in New York, that it is a public space and so people who don't have homes come and use it as their temporary housing, and they're not of the same nature that the most of the public that uses or that they want the public because they don't have the amenities of home. They need a place as much as anybody else. But it's a challenge. I would imagine it's a challenge for you folks to accept that also because that can be disruptive by their very nature. But it's hard to hold that against people if you're at all sensitive, but it's difficult. I'm doing my stuff with thought preparation, enormous amount of preparation, a degree of fear, and a belief in myself to make people think. Then there are other people that are operating in the world that do this unwittingly, which is why we're also having a migrant problem. People are from "away," they're not of the same nature, and so they're seen as challenges.
  • [00:49:46] AMY CANTU: When you look back over the course of your career so far, at the works that you've done, I know you talked about that moment when you realized, I can "wear" my art. Has there been a particular event or a particular work that really stands out as, "Ah, and this is where I reached the apex of what I've always wanted to do?"
  • [00:50:16] PAT OLESZKO: Jesus. Aim high. There have been many. There have been many where I have happily, and joyfully even, led people astray. I have footage of hundreds of people following me down the street. I have gone into situations in various countries where I'm not using the common language, and I can communicate with my physicality and people will hang on my skirts. I know it's successful if...I mean, I can tell what people's response... I can see what their response is and I know that that's a successful piece. There was one that kind of stunned me. So I dressed up as a Christmas tree with hundreds of yards of tulle around me and completely laden with ornaments and stuff. I looked kinda snappy, if I can say so. How many times I've been in New York and New Yorkers famously, they're not giving you like a second look. Nobody could look away to see the Christmas tree on the subway or walking down the street. It's like, that's a kind of easy one. There are a lot more that were festivals in Europe that have been... I don't make a lot of money, what I do, but I create a lot of history. I create a lot of images that I believe, because people tell me this frequently, that they'll keep for the rest of their lives. I have people at the film festival describing works that I did like 50 years ago. I'm not flattering myself. I was like, Whoa, yo, yo! There's one piece, if you want a description that might work verbally: I have a character called the Padettes of P.O. Town, the primary color group, that newest swingin' sensation that ever hit this fair nation. I have always enjoyed making multiples like increasing my cast either in height or large or small or multiplication of myself. This was an incredibly successful piece because it was red, yellow, and blue, the primary colors. They were stuffed characters, I was completely enclosed in these three separate characters that for all the world look like the Michelin tire man. They were sewn together, so the red one was in the front and I was yellow and the blue guy was in back and we were sewn together. This was a tribute to my history of adoring Motown and the routines, like the Supremes and Martha and the Temptations, Oh man, so beautiful... Hill Auditorium. Anyhow, I love love love that, and so my whole life, I wanted to be a female vocalist, but failing that, I became the Temptations. To the performance on a stage is to "The Tracks of My Tears," and I dance, and we're in perfect sync because I'm sewn together. No rehearsal, I don't have to pay anybody extra. Anyhow so that's the performance, which was very successful. But when I did it in New York, I was making a little film and this costume is stuffed, it's heavy and I'm completely enclosed. You don't see anybody in there except for these three characters with big old smiling bulbous faces. I went up to Central Park and with a friend of mine who was filming it, and the kids in the park started following me, imitating me, doing as I'm striding along, bopping to inner music. It was this wonderful moment but then I was like Okay, I think the sweat is actually getting to the outside of the costume I think it's time to go, we have the film. I take the hat off, and I'm like, I guess we're going to get a cab because I can't get on the subway with her. Some woman's driving by in her station wagon. I don't even know if it was a station wagon, but she stopped, and she says, Where are you going? I said -- it was like a Fifth avenue in the park -- I said, I'm going downtown and she says, I'll take you wherever you want to go. She just stopped because I looked so beautiful. It was so interesting and so she got a little story. That happens. It happens a lot. That's my pay.
  • [00:56:15] ELIZABETH SMITH: What are you most proud of over the course of your career?
  • [00:56:18] PAT OLESZKO: That I can make a living off of doing this. I have no idea how I make a living quite honestly. That's a very facile answer, which is not entirely true. As limited in my viewpoint of what education was supposed to be, that I went to school to be an artist, and so I have to make a living as an artist because that's what I earned my money to pay tuition, which was extremely cheap at the time. I think I paid in-state tuition of $500 and $510 a semester or even for two, I think it was two semesters. Back in the day, I paid for my education -- my parents helped me a little bit -- but I was also waitressing and stuff like that. How can kids...? I don't understand education at all. In this town, I don't understand the University of Michigan or the art school or anything. I don't understand anything. But I do think that education is about making you pliable enough, curious enough, and flexible enough to figure out a way to make a living off of what you have been taught, where you have been led. What you have been exposed to in the college atmosphere and in the university atmosphere. What am I most proud of? There's that, but I think that's a secondary, even a tertiary aspect to it because I always expected that I would be able to do anything that I wanted to do. I was that narrow-minded. But I'm most proud of, I think, of the fact that I can actually reach people in a way that is unprescribed. I can cause an effect that I know will make them think or make them remember, or, you know... I'm just aiming for genetic damage.
  • [00:58:37] AMY CANTU: Thank you very much, that was enjoyable.
  • [00:58:41] PAT OLESZKO: Good.
  • [00:58:45] ELIZABETH SMITH: AADL talks to is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.