Conrad Atkinson

by Yule Heibel on August 14, 2003

This is a story that Conrad Atkinson tells: “[S]omeone asked me to say something about culture, and I told them about an incident that occurred when I was in Moscow for the second time, in 1991. I was a guest of Moscow News [the English-language weekly newspaper of Moscow], so I got all the scoops and knew immediately what was going on. This was August 1991: There were barricades across the city, people were killed in street fighting during the coup. Boris Yeltsin was in the basement of the Russian White House that night. Nobody knew what was happening because of the ongoing coup waged by the Russian generals. Yeltsin wanted to listen to some music, so he went through his CDs, picked one out, and put it on. He didn’t play Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, or Russian folk songs. No, the CD he chose was ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ by Elvis Presley. It’s a true story. Later that night, Yeltsin’s aides were phoning around the world asking for endorsement and for condemnation of the coup. They didn’t ring George Bush senior, they didn’t call John Major: they asked for Mick Jagger.

This is for me the postmodern moment, with its mixture of cultures and traditions. After this anecdote you could say that you can never know when you’re going to need culture, you never know where culture is going, you never know where culture will come from, you never know what culture is going to look like, and you never know what culture is going to do.”

– from Antony Hudek, “Excavating the Body Politic: An Interview with Conrad Atkinson,” Art Journal vol.62 nr. 2 (Summer 2003), p.14.

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