An interview with Brian Lobel, by Student Ambassador April Tayshir

When one thinks of art they may think of a Turner painting or the ballet, but rarely do we explore the nature of civilization and our own modern ethos. Brain Lobel does this in his piece you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me. He explores the sanctity of everyday life through simply inviting you on a one-to-one session of watching Sex and the City in bed. I’m not really sure if it’s because he’s American, or super friendly – or that Londoners are just dazed by human contact and affability, but meeting Brian was a somewhat surreal and refreshing experience. He’s just so nice!

I enter the studio and it is a very simple set up; Brain, his bed, and his laptop. I hand him my survey. A survey consisting of questions from all the episodes of Sex and the City, which everyone has to complete in order to proceed with the show. He invites me to sit down and we begin…

What made you create this show? This show comes from two different points of origin. 30% of the time I sit in an audience and I think I would rather be at home in my pyjamas watching Sex in the City in bed, and I wondered whether other people share that feeling. So I’d thought I’d make this show. The second comes from the title you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me, which is a quote from Carrie Bradshaw Season 4 Episode 7, when she tries to get Aidan to take her back. When I first watched it I was twenty, and I thought “You fucking bitch, you don’t deserve any kindness from him, you’re totally terrible! You cheated on him while he was sanding your floors!” Then last year I was cooking while watching TV, and as soon as I saw her do that I burst into tears, and I was like “Oh my god! I know exactly how she feels! I feel exactly the same way! I am Carrie, she is me.” So I tell people that’s where this comes from.

And I’ve done one other project with a bed before in Hong Kong, about dancing to old musicals in your bedroom. It was an autobiographical piece about a young gay boy dancing by himself in his bedroom. I danced for about six hours at a time. By the time I finish my feet are bleeding, I’m sweating, I smell: I’m having fun but I’m exhausted. Which is [what this show is] about, this tension between the fun of being by yourself and the potential for it to be very traumatizing. So this show is about how it’s fun and comforting to be in a bed, but doing it for a very long time. It’s about an exhausted body. So I sit here all day eating shit food and drinking whiskey, sitting here with my box set. If you were to take a picture of me on my most happy days and a picture of me on my most depressed days I would probably look exactly the same: I’d be dressed in my pyjamas watching Sex in the City in bed. It might be really happy – or it might be really sad.

Do you think it’s a comfort thing? I think it’s about comfort, but I also think that comfort can sometimes hold us back. We’re so desperate for that comfort we can’t do anything else – we have no desire to do anything else.

So what happens in the show? People come in and I ask them how the survey was for them, and I just do a lot of little tricks to try and get them to tell me about their sex life and their love life. People talk about how they’ve been in love with a man for eight years who’s married to someone else, or women talk about moving back in with their parents again. And as they’re talking I’m getting ideas for different episodes to watch. So then I choose an episode for us to watch, and we cuddle and we watch it. We eat Dorito’s, they can go sweet or salty, and I’m often very good with the recommendations. Often I’ll ask people, “Do you want something that’s light and humorous or should we do some work today?” I try to get them to talk for a while so I can pick words from what they’re saying, and I match them with the words I know. It’s kind of like going to a therapist.

Out of all the TV show box sets and films, why did you choose to do a show on Sex in the City? Because Carrie was searching for answers. There are a lot of shows that deal with sex but I think the frame of these questions (which is stupid so much of the time) is the reason the show has so much staying power. It is about searching. We’re all kind of searching all the time for answers to these things but this show was literally asking the questions. I think that’s why I chose this show but also the survey. When the show started I was 17 and when it finished I was 23. In that time I’d gotten cancer, I’d come out, I’d had sex with a women, I’d had sex with a man for the first time, and 9/11 happened. New York City itself was a totally different place in those seven years. I think like my other work around the bed, in my bedroom dancing to musicals, it was autobiographical this is also very much about me. I think [this show] is self-selecting about who will come because not everyone will do the survey. A lot of people are really turned off by the idea of Sex and the City. But it’s most fun to perform for radical feminist who hate Carrie and her terrible feminism or her terrible consumerism or capitalism, or men who think Sex and the City is totally for women or gay men who want nothing to do with it. There was this guy who was miserable and he was like “I fucking hate everything about Sex and the City” but I knew he was a smoker. So I chose the episode when Carrie tried to give up smoking for a man, and then she was like, “Actually I’m going to embrace smoking” and he was like “I really love Carrie she such a great smoker”. I feel that I can always find something.

Yeah everyone can relate because everyone has sex… It was one of the first TV shows that really asked the questions… this was the third in the trilogy of shows about the ten years since Sex and the City finished. I think ten years was a fun way to think how far I have come since watching the final episode, sitting on a college dorm room floor with Mia White (who’s still a very good friend of mine). I know exactly where I was when I saw it ten years ago. I think how far have I come, or how far haven’t I come? Like, have I grown? Have we grown? I think it asked a lot of questions about us.

Why did you make everyone fill out a survey? This [what we’re doing now] is a very basic interaction and you can get nothing from it or something. [The survey] is a way to get people to invest some of themselves [into the show]. I also love the fear of giving something which has so much of yourself in it to someone else. I’m not interested in artwork that makes big gigantic claims. I’m interested in artwork that shifts us just a little bit, so that when you go home after the show you think a little bit differently when you’re lying in bed watching TV. That’s all that I’m interested in. The survey is related to all the Cosmo surveys or seventeen magazine surveys we’ve done, but these questions are little bit more open-ended. These aren’t ‘circle one choice’, but ‘give us a little essay’. The first time I wrote the survey, it was all open essay and people found it really overwhelming because it was too much information. They were spending four or five hours on it. Then they didn’t want to give it in for me to see it, and that was fine, but I think we’re kind of on a happy medium now. I collect them and I think eventually, I’d like to write a book which collects all the anonymised information together. I think it tells us a lot about where we are.

Additional information

you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me, you have to forgive me is a part of Ovalhouse's autumn season 2014 

Interview by April Tayshir, Ovalhouse Student Ambassador
October 2014