David Brooks / interview
[Kwon] You have been very active in the realm of Public Art. I'd like to hear your view on public art.
[Brooks] Art that takes place in the public realm can mean a number of things. In its most advantageous and subversive modes it is a context for realizing artist gestures that work in relation to the real scale scenarios presented by the built environment – as opposed to a representational scale that one might traditionally associate with the rarified white box exhibition space; work in relation to the laws and policies that govern us collectively; work in relation to the flows of an unsuspecting non-art going audience – interwoven with an audience’s daily activities who are not necessarily making a special pilgramage to view art but rather happen upon it, and thus allows for an inclusivity of a viewing public that views the art together – perhaps even helping to define what a “public” might be through this togetherness. Though, I say all of this with the caveat that I do not engage in art in the public realm exclusively, for I adamantly feel that all spaces and contexts are of upmost importance in the artist dialogue, which precludes any possibility of a hierarchy.
[Kwon] Could you explain overall concept of the installation <Preserved Forest> at MoMA PS1?
[Brooks] Preserved Forest was a site-specific installation at MoMA PS1, in which I sprayed and pumped 20 tons of concrete over a cluster of 10-meter tall trees. It was conceived as a diorama that was both a living and dying approximation of a cross-section of the Amazonian rainforest, in which the overwhelming size of the installation would force the viewer to directly confront the devastating effects of deforestation and the ecological implications of our irrational dependence on unsustainable materials such as concrete, and how we shape our built environment. This work mused upon one of our oldest of stories – deforestation – by using the very materials that are radically altering the landscape of the world’s lungs: the Amazon. I viewed this sculpture not as a composition but more so as an action that could be witnessed over time, collapsing the notions of deforestation and mass road development with that of an organic abyss. Through decomposition and the fossilization of a forest cross-section drowned in concrete, the sculpture changed daily and resisted any sense of stasis inherent to composition, image, or monument.
[Kwon] What did you try to convey through the commissioned work <Desert Rooftops> that was installed in the center of New York City?
[Brooks] <Desert Rooftops> commissioned by Art Production Fund, was a project that tried to make formal and conceptual comparisons between the monoculture that arises from unchecked urban and suburban sprawl and over-cultivated landscapes. An undulating configuration of rooftops like those commonly seen in suburban U.S. “McMansions”, or typical ranch homes, gated communities, as well as strip malls, here conjoined in a composition reminiscent of rolling sand dunes in a desert. The onslaught of suburban sprawl is not a new story, but its speed and scale by which it devours more land and resources increases with each year. The outcome is analogous to the process of desertification: land degrading into arid areas resulting from over-development, over-grazing or overworked land. The result is a depleted landscape inhospitable to other forms of life. <Desert Rooftops> employed an absurd abundance of interconnected asphalt-shingled rooftops composed so as to create a vision of an overdeveloped monoculture. This was simultaneously a vision of normalcy, the picturesque, and the foreboding.
[Kwon] Were there any memorable responses to this piece?
[Brooks] There were many incidents and responses worth noting. Passersbys thought the construction was an underground night club, some thought it was a Santa Claus village in preparation for Christmas, the fire department wanted to use it for doing fire training on. But one of the most fulfilling incidents with Desert Rooftops was that within a week of its opening skateboarders were already blogging about the project on skateboard websites. On one site a skater posted something to the effect of: “I bet the artist that made this roof sculpture is an old skateboarder. I bet we could jump the fence at night and get at least three runs in on this thing before we get arrested.” In a funny way that was an enormous achievement for me because it combined the three worlds I’ve been invested in through various stages my life: 1) an artistic discourse and sensitivity to the built environment 2) looking at how we use the natural world and define its cultural relationships 3) and skateboarding! I actually thought I was going to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder earlier in my life. Joking aside, skateboarding has really shaped the way I see the urban environment because at its core it is a perfect synthesis between urban planning, athleticism, and creative performance. It’s a different way of getting to know the city off the beaten path. Skateboarders move through the city the same way the Situationists or “flâneurs” would wander the modern day city, sparking and reinvigorating wonder in all elements they would encounter, like a bench or a sidewalk. There’s this whole set of creative adaptations that happen and it’s a different way of seeing the urban environment. You have to maintain a fluidity and adapt to flux constantly. That Desert Rooftops so quickly reached skateboarding blogs was a more meaningful accolade for me than the laudatory Artforum review it received!
[Kwon] Among your recent works, you used the objects(mediums) such as Aluminum and Marble block. Do they have a meaning in those works?
[Brooks] Absolutely. The project you’re referring to is called Crates, Blocks and Mammals. This is a series of sculptural works fabricated from pieces of solid aluminum and marble that resemble enlarged children’s building blocks. Seemingly precariously, they are stacked in different compositions, which are loosely reminiscent of an animal - the way one might see shapes in a cloud - whilst also undeniably existing as abstract sculptures. Their compositions are determined by the amount of material needed to equal the exact weight of the animal they depict. I chose a number of animals off the current listing of the most critically endangered mammals on Earth. These are animals I have never seen in person, and based on the rarity of the animals and their impending extinction, it is highly unlikely any viewer of these art works will ever see them in person either. The sculptures will almost definitely outlive these particular species – thus, making them veritable monuments to the unknown and the soon to be lost. Like caged exotic animals on display or readied for export, the sculptures are displayed partially crated; with the species name, their average adult weight, and a graphic silhouette of the animal stamped on the crate’s exterior. The compositions themselves often rely on the crate as a support structure, which speaks to the energy exerted in the ongoing maintenance of our relationship with the natural world. The seemingly precariously balanced compositions of these works give the sense that the blocks could be rearranged into any other number of possible compositions – just as the way one might see shapes in a cloud lends itself to any other number of possible projections. It is that tethering to one verifiable fact that pushes the work into a world that is not representational but is an actual part of the world. Here, as I mentioned above, I’m looking to move away from an artist’s representation of an issue, and instead engage with the real scale of the things themselves – a differnet kind of realism of sorts.
[Kwon] How do you see your awareness in environmental issues will have affects in your next projects?
[Brooks] Currently, I’m working on a very big project for The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefiled, Connecticut. This project and its relationship to environmental issues is concerned with perceptual problems between the cultural sphere and the phenomenon of an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a detail of the biosphere and a process of the larger landscape. However, it is also a thing, and of course an environment, filled with an indeterminate quantity of details. This environment sustains itself and its sovereignty through the processes of its parts – its intra-active building parts (intra-active, meaning it was designed and formed together, to function together). These parts generate a process and this process generates products that are a service to people: clean air, filtered water, food, climate, energy, etc. These products, or “ecosystem services”, make our daily motions possible by providing the life-sustaining elements that support us through the world. We are intra-related to ecosystem services. However, it is virtually impossible to witness an ecosystem in its entirety, as if watching a train roll by, in its entirety, in one glance. An ecosystem is as much of a process as it is a thing; therefore it is an iterative activity, requiring ongoing observation, to eventually see it whole. Its entirety is beyond any one person’s singular perceptual capacity.
This upcoming project at the Aldrich, continuous Service altered daily, makes an analogy between the uncanny and unknowable quality of said ecosystem processes and the uncanny quality of a commonplace piece of farming equipment in industrial agriculture – the combine harvester. The combine harvester is a machine that portrays an idiosyncratic character, whether in how it moves, sits still or in how it operates. It has an alien-like formal quality by its very design and multifunctional use. It is called a combine because it combines multiple operations of the harvesting process into one machine – much like an ecosystem combines multiple operations of the cleaning and life-generating process into one system.
The installation will entail a used and worn combine harvester, which will be disassembled and displayed in varying degrees of disassembly. Every single piece will be taken apart, and every single nut and screw will be displayed. Some will be left in the condition in which they’re found, some will be sandblasted to erase its history, and some will be sandblasted as well as brass-plated. The brass plating is a method of elevating the objects into a contemplative space of art and out of the context of an artifact. They will all then be spread out in a progression, or rather a procession, through the entire first floor of the museum. It is a complicated project technically, but a simple gesture conceptually.
David Brooks is a New York-based artist who has exhibited internationally at the Dallas Contemporary; Tang Museum, NY; Nouveau Musée National de Monaco; Sculpture Center, NYC; Miami Art Museum; Changwon Sculpture Biennale, South Korea; The Visual Arts Center, Austin; the Goethe-Institut, NYC; and MoMA/PS1, New York where he had a large scale installation for two years. In 2011-12 Brooks opened Desert Rooftops in Times Square, a 5000 sq. ft. urban earthwork commissioned by the Art Production Fund. Other major commissions include the Cass Sculpture Foundation, UK and Storm King Art Center, NY; and current exhibitions at the deCordova Museum, MA; and the Nevada Museum of Art; with a major upcoming exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, CT. Brooks received his BFA from the Cooper Union and an MFA from Columbia University. In 2009 he received a Socrates Sculpture Park Fellowship, and in 2010 he received a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a research grant to the Ecuadorian Amazon from the Coypu Foundation in 2012.
Image Courtesy of David Brooks Studio
This interview was published in bob Magazine Vol. 133 (August 2015) pp.116-121