Fritz Haeg

Interview by
Richard John Jones
Photography by
Jop van Bennekom


Last Sunday, I dropped in on American architect Fritz Haeg who's spending the week in a dome-shaped tent on the roof of the brutalist Hayward Gallery. He's been invited to set up 'a rogue school within a school' as part of the gallery's Wide Open School program. The so-called Sundown Schoolhouse of Queer Home Economics is a kind of mobile classroom, and a continuation of the popular salons he hosted in his geodesic dome in L.A., California between 2001 and 2006. These days, most of his interventions happen abroad. He just planted his twelfth Edible Estate in Budapest, for instance, where he hopes to endow the modest vegetable garden with the cultural significance it deserves. Here in London, he's zooming in on a new vision of domesticity.

Richard: There are really nice acoustics in here.
Fritz: Isn’t it nice? It’s the same in my dome in L.A. It’s best when you’re directly opposite each other from the center.
It’s like your voice is inside my head.
Yeah, and also when you whisper into the walls.
Wow, that’s amazing! Will you start every day of your schoolhouse with yoga?
I’ll be doing yoga every day and working on this handmade rug that I’ve been crocheting out of old clothes and blankets and sheets that people are bringing. There’s a lot of good things in there. There’s wool tweeds, some chenille, some cotton, some chintz…
It’s beautiful.
It looks like some kind of rainbow flag kind of AIDS quilt.
So do you teach yoga as well then?
No, not at all, but it’s a big part of my life. I love to be a yoga student, I love to go into a room and be told what to do.
I really like Kundalini yoga.
Kundalini yoga is very popular with radical faeries. Like, for example, how bikram — that kind of global chain of hot yoga — is very popular with straight men.
I did that for a while and I just couldn’t take it. What kind of yoga do you do?
All different kinds. I have a studio that I go to religiously in L.A.
Are you into the spiritual side of yoga? Here in London I find, it’s always to do with exercise.
I’m kind of in-between. I’m not about aerobic or ‘empowered’ yoga — I hate that. I’m also not so keen on a lot of chanting and talking. It’s enough just to thoughtfully engage with your body in a room with other people, and go through these positions and movements that suspend you in a different kind of mind-space. For me, yoga is best when your body and your mind completely surrender.
I noticed there was some discussion on the EuroFaeries Yahoo group about the schoolhouse.
Oh good!
I’m on there trying to teach myself vegan baking. It feels like alchemy to me. Like how do you make a cake without all the ingredients that go into a cake?
People get really obsessed by that.
If you want to tap into an alternative queer scene in a city, you just have to find all the vegan places. On the Yahoo group, there’s this amazing vegan baker who lives in South London.
Why doesn’t he come do something at my schoolhouse?
He’s called White Rose…
Well, we have a lot of openings in the afternoons. It’s an open call. Anyone who wants to organize a workshop or a conversation is welcome to do so. They just have to be in touch and I’ll schedule it. I hope this becomes like a drop-in center.
Do you do much of your own cooking?
If I am at home, I only eat at home, and preferably straight from the garden. I’m vegan and don’t like wheat or sugar. On the road, I tend to find that one place I like in each city — which is usually macrobiotic — and then go there for every meal I can. In New York it’s Souen, in San Francisco it’s Cha-Ya, in Minneapolis it’s Tao Foods, in London it’s Vitao, in Paris it’s Grand Appétit, in Istanbul it’s Ficcin, and in Sofia, Bulgaria of all cities, I found one of my favorites, The Sun and Moon Cafe. If I stay some place longer than a week, I get an apartment with a kitchenette so I can cook and feel alive again.
What sort of meal really makes you feel at home?
A big pot of lentil, grain, and vegetable soup with spelt bread. I’ll be making some this week. Nothing charges a space like the aroma of baking bread or a simmering pot of soup.
Can I make a tea?
Yeah, just flip on the kettle. Do you want a tea bag? I’m so excited to have my first visitor over for tea. This was my idea, that people would take off their shoes, have tea, hang out… If we had some fabric, we could start working on the rug.
Who taught you how to keep house? Your mother?
My mom raised five kids, kept the house in order, knit our sweaters, and tended a kitchen garden out back, while also managing to have fresh baked goods ready after school almost every afternoon and home cooked dinners on the table every night. Growing up, I took the daily arts for granted. Rather than just pesky pragmatics, now I see them as more touching and urgent and personal and interesting than most of what is called ‘fine art’.
Do you think of yourself as someone with domestic skills?
I wouldn’t call them skills. I remember dramatically re-arranging my room every few days when I was young. My father found it very unsettling.
Are you tidy?
Yes! I am absolutely incapable of leaving a dirty dish in a sink. I really try to sometimes, because I know it would be good for me, but I just can’t.
What about when traveling? Are you good at packing, for instance?
I love packing! I do it super fast and super light, and only just before I go out the door. Right now, I pretty much only wear shades of blue, so I can throw anything in a bag without much thought and I still feel a sense of calm and order when I open my bag and discover what I packed. No matter where I go, I always bring my swimming goggles and speedo.
Since you’re traveling around so much, how do you negotiate your romantic life? Do you have a partner?
I don’t. I get like one-week crushes and then I have to leave town. I’m rarely in the same place for more than ten days. I love dancers. There’s a kind of engagement with the body which is really thoughtful. I like that culture of regular exercise and every day practice. Anyway, I find them terribly attractive.

The Sundown Schoolhouse of Queer Home Economics is part of the Wide Open School at the Hayward Gallery in London from June 11 until July 11. Volunteers get in free. For more info check out Fritz Haeg’s website.

Published on 13 June 2012