Oscar Tuazon interview by Purple Magazine
Oscar Tuazon, Purple Magazine
Portrait by TODD COLE
Purple Magazine — S/S 2018 Index issue 29
Purple Magazine — S/S 2018 Index issue 29
Interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
All artworks courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris
EVA PRESENHUBER, Zurich, New York / LUHRING AUGUSTINE, New York
OLIVIER ZAHM — You were born Oscar Hansen on July 9, 1975, in a geodesic dome your parents built in the woods in Indianola, Kitsap County, Washington. Is that right? Can you tell us about your childhood?
OSCAR TUAZON — I grew up with the sense that a house is an experiment in living, and my parents were building a lot while I was a kid. We lived in a series of houses over the years in Indianola and rural Kitsap Peninsula, and my parents were part of a community of craftspeople, writers, and poets. A lot of them were out there in the woods experimenting with architecture.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you describe your memories of the American northwest?
OSCAR TUAZON — When grunge broke, I was in high school learning the Lushootseed language with the few native speakers who were still alive. Lushootseed has carried the traditions and literature of the people of the Salish Sea for tens of thousands of years, and the way it has done that is by always remaining contemporary — literally, because in the Salish language everything takes place in the present tense. The stories are efficient, funny, violent, and sometimes weird. They’re brief descriptions of complex family dynamics and sheer survival, kind of like the music that was coming out of Seattle in the ’90s. Northwest time is deep time. We were all in bands — I think looking for ways of compressing time into noise.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Commenting on your work Une Colonne d’Eau [Water Column], a large public sculpture on Place Vendôme in Paris and consisting of thermoplastic pipes, you said, “A sculpture is a hole in the world.” What did you mean by this?
OSCAR TUAZON — Sculpture is a space of imminence, a model of the possible, a potential space. And at Place Vendôme, this was very clear — these are spaces that people enter into, almost rooms, intimate vacant space in the center of the city, a series of voids. Sculpture makes a space; you enter into it. I make space for people. The material itself, the actual components of our water infrastructure, are these enormous thermoplastic pipelines, so the scale relationships are immediately physical. But these components are elements of a much larger water collection and storage system. We face mounting crises in providing the basic human right to clean water, so when you walk through these pipelines you experience the scale of civic planning for sustained drought, the scale of floods and hurricanes, extreme weather events brought on by global warming. Sculpture can do this — make a simple model of complex space.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your work has an affinity with Land art and cult artists like Robert Smithson. Would you tell us what he means to you?
OSCAR TUAZON — Smithson surveyed the territory and laid the map for a lot of work in the West. He really was a brilliant writer and a mapmaker who had an understanding of how space was changing. But like a lot of pioneers, he was misguided and sometimes lost in territory that he didn’t understand all that well. He had a grasp of geologic time but an aerial engagement with the land that he worked on. The kind of work he wanted to do takes an incredibly long time, though, and he didn’t have much time. Nancy Holt, his wife, understood the terrain, and her Sun Tunnels is a major artwork, a very distinct spatial relation of an interior space in the middle of a vast landscape, almost architectural. Sun Tunnels is like an inhabitant; it lives there. Most of these artists were from the East and didn’t acknowledge that the desert was also a social landscape. Holt understood that. There is a lot of interesting work being done in these places today, and if we learn from the land and listen to the water out there, artworks can do things, real things, in the middle of nowhere.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Gordon Matta-Clark used the word “anarchitecture” — a conflation of “anarchy” and “architecture” — to suggest his interest in voids, gaps, and leftover spaces. Can this word also describe the way you use architecture or deconstruct social architecture?
OSCAR TUAZON — It’s still a very potent description of the what artists can do with in-between spaces, and the necessity to undo architecture. The built world is, in a lot of ways, the outcome of bad decisions, political calculation, and greed. At the end of his life, Matta-Clark was working on air architecture, modeling floating structures with Peter Fend, another renegade anti-architect who uses the art world as an alibi. Matta-Clark and Fend treated the exhibition space itself as a leftover space, and these radical proposals were only possible in the art world. But they were never intended to be permanent artworks — yet they are very serious, practical proposals, meant to be realized.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You moved back to California after living in Paris. What do you like about it there?
OSCAR TUAZON — Actually, when I moved here five years ago, it was my first time to chase the California dream of an infinite horizon receding into the sunlight on the Pacific. It’s still true, as naive as it is. Space is elastic here.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that why you love Los Angeles?
OSCAR TUAZON — LA has always been a laboratory for new forms of life, and it’s fascinating to be part of what is happening here artistically. The landscape changes rapidly. There is a healthy feeling that nothing is built to last because in 20 years, it’s all going to be replaced. The interesting things that happening are in the moment.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you miss about living in Paris?
OSCAR TUAZON — Paris is an amazing place to see art and talk about it. There is a true enthusiasm for making and seeing exhibitions, artworks, clothing, objects, images. New ideas move quickly. People care passionately, which is really exciting when you encounter it for the first time.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Has the recent political situation in America changed your art?
OSCAR TUAZON — I think so. There is a real urgency now to work in public. The audience for public art in America is more participatory and more educated than ever before, and the range of spaces open to artists is expanding. I think in terms of what an artwork can do in the world, the possibilities have never been greater. I’m really busy, but ironically I’m not working in the studio. I’m trying to learn a few new tricks.
OLIVIER ZAHM — After major public sculptures by Vito Acconci or Dan Graham, do you think that it’s important for an artist to address the public in the street?
OSCAR TUAZON — Absolutely. Those guys were learning how to work with others. That was their project — getting out of the studio and into the streets with other people. Which is a radical act, and something that is still extremely challenging. First of all, you need to remove yourself and realize you’re not working alone — you work for other people now. An artist’s opinion about their own work is almost irrelevant in public. The only criterion is utility. That’s liberating.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you construct — using wood, steel, water, cinder block, and concrete — to deconstruct? If so, what are you deconstructing?
OSCAR TUAZON — My works are all models of some other thing. And yeah, I do kind of build to destroy, not always intentionally. You would think I know what I’m doing, but most of the time I’m still trying to figure something out while I’m working. But the materials and processes are all very simple and I approach the problem of sculpture from a pragmatic perspective. So, ultimately I hope the works function as models, too — objects useful in some context beyond themselves.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you explain to us why you do sculpture with pipelines?
OSCAR TUAZON — I started thinking, “Where does water come from?” It comes out of a pipe in the ground. That infrastructure, complex as it is, connects people and spaces across vast distances — Los Angeles depends on an aqueduct bringing water from the Sierras. I started by making a model of the Mulholland aqueduct, which brings water to LA. A pipeline is a way to see how water moves. By thinking about pipelines, you start to understand the hydrogeology of a place — you can draw a map of water. All that water is public space. It belongs to all of us, so we better get to know it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — In 2005, you were one of the founding members of castillo/corales, a now-defunct space for research, exhibitions, writing, publishing, and debate. How did this communal experience affect your practice as an artist?
OSCAR TUAZON — c/c was an experimental public sphere, meant to be temporary, that was sustained by a collective desire. We always talked about it like being in a band — the way that ideas were generated collectively, spontaneously, in performance, bigger than any one of us. The artistic thinking process tends to be solitary, esoteric, and nonverbal — you live in your head, the deeper the better — but to me, the most interesting work comes out of collaboration, when that process is shared.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are artists’ communities an answer to the overly capitalist art world?
OSCAR TUAZON — I’m not sure if that is a question that can be answered; increasingly art objects function as financial instruments. As distasteful as that sounds, the market has been used intelligently by many artists as a means to sustain and create communities — and not only communities of other artists. Artists are particularly sensitive citizens, and we have the tools to contribute to the world around us.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What is your favorite band?
OSCAR TUAZON — I still fuck with the Melvins pretty hard.