Twenty years ago, when Harmony Korine first achieved fame as the hugely talented scriptwriter for Larry Clark’s Kids and the director of a strange indie film called Gummo, he would often fail to turn up to interviews, no doubt too busy taking illicit substances. Now in his forties and crowned with the success (unprecedented for him) of his 2013 movie Spring Breakers, the American angel-demon has become much more reliable. In an age when offbeat artists have rather a difficult time of it selling their new forms and ideas on the market, he has channelled his perpetual agitation into a flourishing creative force. Poet of a pop culture with its roots in the underground, Korine has almost become an institution, to the extent that Paris’s Centre Pompidou is currently showing a retrospective of his films, paintings, poems, music videos and adverts. It’s a consecration that’s thoroughly deserved for this indefatigable investigator of the American dream in all its darkest and most fascinating aspects.
Numéro : The Centre Pompidou is putting on a retrospective of your work, an honour usually reser ved for old people – yet you’re only 44!
Harmony Korine : Perhaps I’m a young old soul, but I’m okay with that. It’s the first time I’ll be able to see, gathered together in the same place, all the films, paintings, writings, photos, music videos, adverts and everything else I’ve done. A synopsis of my existence! Since I was a kid, I’ve had the impression that everything I do is connected and comes from the same idea. I’ve never really tried to find a precise meaning in all that, but a sort of coherence, yes. I’ve made art by letting my impulses speak, by having fun and creating chaos. I like that my work has a unified aesthetic, but I don’t believe there’s anything good or bad in art – even the not-so-good things have their value. The creative journey, the way you create, are just as important as the final result. My movies and paintings search for a certain singularity.
Your style is very recognizable, but it also seems to be constantly evolving. How would you define this “unified aesthetic,” as you describe it?
I try to experiment in different styles, but the heart of it remains the same: I manipulate truth, with the goal of producing a vibration that’s close to a feeling. A tactile feeling, or the idea of what’s real and what isn’t, of what’s true and what isn’t, of what’s manipulation and what isn’t… In fact everything becomes part of the same whirlwind, like a chain reaction.
At the beginning of your career, people identified you with the New York street scene because of the film Kids. Nowadays people tend to think of you as a man from the South. But you’ve also lived in California. Which bit of the US would you say you really belong to?
I feel like I incarnate the whole of America. I was born in a community in California, but I was brought up in the carnivals and circuses of the South. My father made documentaries. I grew up surrounded by bootleggers and kids who took part in rodeos, I ran into weird magicians. It’s an atmosphere I’ve kept inside me. I went to school for a bit in New York, now I live in Miami. In the past few years I’ve lived in Panama and Colombia. Right now I’m thinking of moving to Cuba. We’ll see. I get bored pretty quickly. I never thought of living in one place my whole life – I don’t really like the idea of comfort and familiarity with a place. What thrills me are landscapes, architecture, colours; I always want to know what’s round the next corner.
Hip-hop has become a major influence in American culture, as was clear in Spring Breakers.
The movie I’m making this fall has nothing to do with hip-hop or the South, but the one I almost made just before, and which has been postponed till next year, is called The Trap and is all about that. Music has been a big influence for me. Growing up in the South, in public schools, I was really exposed to it – I listened to groups like Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG.
Spring Breakers and the video you made for Rihanna’s Needed Me have a very strong aesthetic, both dark and wild. Do you think you’ve found your style?
In visual terms, everything is linked to a story and to a state of mind at the time. My next movie will be far from all of that. I’ve written a script called The Beach Bum, a stoner comedy reduced to its essence, without frills, like a song by Jimmy Buffett [a popular country-and-western singer], but perverted of course! Matthew McConaughey is in the cast, as well as Snoop Dogg.