I saw your work earlier this year at Gertrude Contemporary, I remember the precariousness of the work, a couple of your pieces were knocked over...
Oh yeah, on the opening night! A lot of the work is based on improvisation; some pieces are composed here in the studio but a lot is made in situ. I think my work has become more about an exhibition practice rather than a studio practice. Artworks I have previously made are usually packed up in these boxes. I have pulled some out and put it together to show you. When I have a show it's really more like activating storage, and setting up the exhibition is more like being in the studio except the stuff is already made.
Yes Carolyn Barnes wrote about you plundering old work to create new work.
She's very articulate - something I am not! She's a senior research Fellow in the Design Faculty at Swinburne and used to write for Art + Text magazine in the 90s. Carolyn knows more about my work than I do! I'm interested in the idea of recycling my own ideas. I mean - a lot of artists revisit old ideas but I am interested in actually using my old material again. By revisiting my own work, unlike painters or sculptors who transform material, I am using my own material as the material.
Do you use material from earlier artworks that are from a time when you didn't work in such a way?
A lot of the earlier work appropriates things like Japanese confectionery packaging and it can be as much about re-using the packaging as well as inscribing my own idea of packaging onto them.
At the exhibition I noticed the packaging material you used appeared custom-made, but still familiar - whether you had obscured their original use or whether they had been contrived, I didn't know.
Yes, that's really interesting - when you appropriate something, you are borrowing - I read an article the other day by Jan Verwoert, where he talks about appropriation as something that you never own. I guess it is the idea that true appropriation acknowledges the reference, while you inscribe your own signature which isn't just about the referencing itself. I have things in there like a Bauhaus notepad from the Bauhaus Museum Gift Shop which was a gift to me in art school. I like the idea that it is a souvenir from the 'Gift Shop of Modernism', an object that is attached to art history itself, I'm so interested in material by-products. Or in other cases, I am repackaging the packaging, where the interest is no longer what is inside, it is exclusively what is on the surface of things.
With old work acting as the source material for assemblage, is collecting also a part of your practice?
What was it Walter Benjamin said, about 'Collectors collecting themselves'? I like the idea of being a collector of my own work - and the idea of the already-made. I read something the other day about how Duchamp makes. It was something like 'Making is choosing and choosing is making.' I still don't really know what that means, but I wonder, while I work, how you make something that is already found, re-choosing again what you already chosen before. Very early on I related art school to method acting; you try out methods and techniques of who you want to be and who you want to be like because you don't really know. I made a virtue of it, through making in the styles of artists I like, doing cover versions of them, I suppose. Some early works from art school that have been reissued again that were taken in my parent's Japanese supermarket, where I made these plastic, fake abstract paintings in the style of Malevich and John Nixon, and placed them in the shop. I was interested in showing art history as a by-product of itself, or something people try before they buy the concept of 20th century avant garde practice, which to me is very much about selling the rhetoric of what it means to be above capitalism - I wanted to work with collapsing those two things, how to sell out without selling anything. The photos have recently been shown in a show put together by Fiona Connor- she asked for them specifically and she must have found them through a collector - one of the few collectors of my work, who isn't me!
When you 'plunder' something of your own, what happens to what it meant previously? Are there contextual hang-overs?
Every time the work shifts in context. I see new things happening through the different spatial dislocations. Something as simple as that is like re-collaging my own work from its original intentions. You literally see a new way of looking at it. It's like cubism - which is a bit of a stretch - like self-cubism. I was actually in a book and exhibition about cubism and Australian art with this piece, which is based on a fruit bowl from one of those high-end design stores, where I put off cuts from my studio, like a still life of my own work. In the catalogue it is described as a 'post-cubist still life' but it's really the idea of 'almost everything all at once' contained in this frame. A lot of the time I don't make things to last.
Does this affect how you assemble the same show in different locations?
Things are reassembled always in a different way, the travelling show idea, that there are different versions of the same thing. Or improvised dress re-rehearsals. Things come back, some things stay the same. Some things change. I have set myself up in this never-ending project, but I also wonder how far I can go before I exhaust it.
There are a couple of materials that appear as dominant elements, like the sliced foam board.
It came from the idea of making indoor sculptures, like outdoor pot plants and indoor pot plants. The inside version of outdoor public sculpture, using impermanent material that can be scratched and dented, folded and refolded, it's what is used in architectural models...
I was about to broach the subject of your architectural background!
For about a year, in 2005, I thought it would be a good idea to be an architect. But it wasn't. One of the longest years of my life. When building models I realised I would prefer to be doing that with my artwork - or I already was. But it was good as comic relief for the rest of the class. I would make things like upside down pyramids, these anti-gravity buildings, and when the lecturer would say 'What's the building made out of?' I would answer with 'cardboard...'
So were you consciously thinking of the models as buildings, or was it just the act of model making?
It was more about the models. I remember making model after model, the lecturer suggesting 'Where do you stop?' I didn't want to - I just wanted to keep going. I liked the process of it, the architectural processes, I think I liked the way their processes looked but not the idea of actually designing the building itself. Like method acting, I was trying out something, trying to inhabit that space, when you are an architect you find yourself designing these things that are supposed to be real, but they're not, they're a constructed fiction. With my art it doesn't have to work. It's whatever works, or more accurately: whatever doesn't work, works for me! Like with my model making now, I like to use whatever is at hand.
And I have seen mock-ups of your mock-ups...
I like revealing the 'making of', as well- literally seeing how something is made, I don't have to think about what it is going to look like. It's making do about making do. Like when cutting, you get tears, which other people might find annoying-
To a graphic designer, perhaps, it displays a blunt blade!
Yes! But marks like that acknowledge that you have been there, it's the process of mark-making, and I enjoy seeing that in other artists' work. The material also does what it wants to do. When you said some of the work fell apart at the Gertrude opening - it's happened a number of times at my exhibitions. Like you said - the work has its own will, it's letting the work have its own existence - letting the laws of gravity prevail. So it's probably good I'm not trying to design buildings anymore. Or what Matt Hinkley said while I was studying - 'It would be great to see your buildings but I would never step inside one'. I have models from the Gertrude Contemporary show which I constructed to show them what I was going to do and had to explain that the models were literally what I was going to do! So I like how models can be an idea representing itself. It's the generator for the work, and it also is the work.
Carolyn Barnes's text also mentioned the relationship between the vanguard and mass culture and I initially felt that this relationship was present in the value of cultural items and materials. But it's more figurative than that.
When you are an artist, you can't avoid placing a certain value on a material, whether it is found or salvaged or made, then crumpled or collected. Then of course there is the market value that is placed on work - which can also be ironic value when you look at castings and recasting-
Your work seems to cleverly avoid that, being a representation of your practice, rather than of its own source material-
It's like the work is reinserted forward in time - a constant remix or replay or re-sample - I often think of my practice like it is a 2 album iPod Shuffle on endless repeat - where one album is the greatest hits of 20th century avant garde practice, with references to constructivism, dada, pop minimalism, etc. The other album is the greatest hits of my own back catalogue. Architectural references, art history, art design history; it plays between the two. There is a reason why I don't glue anything down - it is like I wouldn't be able to make the next thing if I actually fixed something. The idea of what is new work - the mechanism of artists repeating the same things over and over, a trajectory of modernism where the artist makes the same thing, like a signature of the self where the artist has to do one style because it is repeatable, it is marketable and it sells, so I was interested in what happens when you start doing cover versions of your own work...
And imitating your own past decisions?
Like trying re-thinking a different way - re-seeing, re-doing, lots of re-, re-, re-. The original title of this series is what 'I Like My Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff'. I guess it could be a limitation, but I see it as an expanding form of seeing things. There are different ideas generated when looking even further back in my timeline - like the Steve Vai poster that Warren Taylor designed. Channelling The Face, it became an assemblage of versions, with text from Damiano Bertoli. I wanted to try to connect back to what I was doing before I knew anything about art - back when I was desperately practising guitar, wishing I was Steve Vai. It's that method acting thing again. Damiano's text describes the idea of the session guitarist, the idea of playing someone else's song with your own signature inserted. I think that's what artists do, and I wonder how well I can re-sample parts of my own signature, which is already borrowed or based on something else.
What is coming up for you in the next year?
I'm not meant to be having another show, I'm supposed to be finishing my Notorious PhD but I have one coming up in August at The Substation. I have been thinking about making more of my 'masatotems' - column structures like at Gertrude, they were smaller ones. I want to look at upsizing my own work - literally doing it with larger components. Maybe with a less model-like quality. With my PhD finishing in March trying to think through the ideas of why you are making or remaking in the first place is very difficult. It's like field work research where I am using my old work as material as the research. Ironically there is a rule in the PhD's fine print that you can't use any old material - it all has to be 'new', so in a way, this whole project is one big loophole.
Photography property of Double Days.