Thomas Houseago and Aaron Curry
Flash Art
in conversation
March 2010

THOMAS HOUSEAGO: Let's start with the fact that we just did two two-person shows. One was at the Ballroom Marfa (Texas) and the other at Veneklasen/Werner, Berlin. What did you think of these experiences and the idea of collaboration?

AARON CURRY: It was interesting how in Marfa we had to set up a studio in the exhibition space, leaving the comfort of our spaces here in L.A.

TH: And we also had to work in the same rooms.

AC: I've always thought of my studio as a sacred place, which is why I like to work at home. And I guess Texas was like going home because I'm from there.

TH: Yeah, but you're from San Antonio. We were way out west. It was the desert.

AC: Yeah, but it was good for us because it forced us out of our comfort zone. Which has taken a while to build up in L.A.

TH: I think it forced us to be very honest with one another, because we were watching each other constantly or trying to ignore each other, or whatever it was. But at certain moments, it was almost like a primal therapy kind of a thing. At times, it was very raw. And I think we could have either gone down a really dark road, or it could have been a triumph. You know John Lennon once said he could be given anything, and he would try and make art out of it. We were trying to make something out of a potentially desolate situation, where we couldn't even use a jigsaw properly or spray paint. So we had to dig pretty deep.

AC: Because there was no place within 50 miles to even buy a jigsaw blade. It's interesting to think about, say, John Lennon and Paul McCartney; they would probably noodle around on their guitars in their bedrooms and then get together at a certain point and say, 'I have this lick or this riff, what do you think? What can you add?'And I feel like we do that here in L.A., but in Texas it kind of broke down in an interesting way.

TH: Without the distance there was a lack of formality.

AC: In Marfa we had to work on top of one another without making pieces together. It was really strange.

TH: Yeah. I think people sometimes presume we are like a collaborative team, but I don't think we've ever actually made a piece together. Maybe because of our backgrounds, we don't have the hang-up about sharing ideas. I don't think we feel the need to turn this into a unique career where we come from some kind of void. And the art world seems sometimes weirded out by that.

AC: And what does that tell you about today?

TH: Well, I think that everything seems to be turning into a business model. And I'm really proud of Marfa because we really let it hang out. But I'm also glad that not many people went to see it.

AC: Maybe Marfa was like the sessions, and Berlin the recorded album.

TH: Berlin was really strange under the surface, but when you walked into the show it was incredibly elegant. But what I think was quite exciting and insane, particularly in Marfa, was that we had this dogged desire to make a sculpture show. And it was totally clear, after like 24 hours, that it was going to be almost impossible, and yet we decided to do it.

AC: We still do it. Maybe the alcohol helps make those decisions.

TH: And that takes me to the question: why do we make it so hard on ourselves? Sculpture is such a difficult and painful process. What is this thing about sculpture?

AC: It's interesting because I come from a background in painting. I was in Chicago throughout the '90s, painting in a tiny bedroom and working a day job. I'd get home around 6PM and paint till 4 AM every night. At a certain point, I started adding things to the surface, and before I knew it, I was making objects. It was that organic. But looking back, it does makes sense because I've always had this fascination with objects, whether it's guitars or things I grew up around, like skateboards or record albums.

TH: I should point out that you still collect these objects today. You still have a desire to have them in your life.

AC: I've always collected things like magazines and action figures, things you can touch and feel. So making collages and sculpture just seemed natural to me. That said, I didn't know what I was doing until I came to L.A. and started working with artists like Richard Hawkins and Liz Larner, who in a way taught me that sculpture can perform on its own. When I came to L.A. I was making things that plugged into the wall and created sound. I was taking apart guitars and amplifiers and making these sort of weird sound pieces because I felt they needed to be activated. I remember going to the Norton Simon Museum and seeing amazing Barbara Hepworths and this version of Henry Moore's Standing Figure: Knife Edge (1961), and realizing that as you walk around these things they come alive. It's like pressing play on a tape recorder or something. And I thought how amazing is that; this thing can sit here in this sculpture park, and someone can walk up to it and bring it to life. Interact with it. It does the sort of thing that's hard to talk about. It's a really beautiful thing. It's an experience.

TH: For me, when I went to Central Saint Martins in the early '90s, I really wasn't thinking of sculpture as being part of a tradition, and there was no formal teaching of sculpture there. I just saw the world in a very chaotic and Armageddon-like way. And I really felt the need to perform some kind of action. Sculpture was an act of defiant energy for me at the time. I suppose I was looking more to Beuys and how he talked about thinking as form, or sculpture as direct action. It wasn't until some time later that I began to look at the formal nature of sculpture itself, which has such a powerful relationship to time. As you described it, as you move around a form, there's a cosmic relationship between material, action and experience. And I guess that led me back to looking at guys like Moore, Rodin, Michelangelo and the histories of sculpture. And that was really exciting.

AC: Yeah, it sometimes surprises me how many young artists are unwilling to look deeper into the history of art. It stops at minimalism or the Pictures Generation. If I was in a rock band, or even some pseudo proto-techno band, I'd be listening to every kind of music, anything I could get my hands on. Whether it's Buddy Holly or Beethoven. I don't know why art should be any different. It seems as if people are making sculpture again, but only as props that fall under some conceptual umbrella, not taking responsibility for the things as sculpture. I mean, it's fine to have a complicated idea of your practice, and work in an interdisciplinary way, but why not to push every collage, every video, every painting, every little thumbtack to its full potential?

TH: I'm really fed up with looking at art that's like a Disney experience for a certain cultured crowd. I don't really feel artists should be court jesters. But maybe that's just my bag.

AC: I think I have the same bag.

TH: Yeah, that really fascinated me when I first met you. You were one of the first artists that I met, other than Amy Bessone, who wasn't afraid to admit to looking at Picasso or MirĂ³. There was a real freshness to the way you were looking at that history.

AC: Yeah, but I do it just because that work is really exciting to me. It's funny, when I first saw Immendorff and Penck back when I was in Chicago, I associated them with the Hairy Who, weirdly enough. I was unaware of their history or context. It was all just part of my mix.

TH: Sure. I totally get that. I guess this is the thing of being artists of the 21st century. The 20th century comes to us without this linear index. Where Picasso, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Hanna-Barbera, Star Wars and modernism, all kind of co-exist. We can make of it what we want. If you grew up in the '70s in Leeds or San Antonio, the world visually was a very strange place. And I still think it is a visually fascinating time that we are living in. I could never get my head around people who are into dramatizing this Duchamp vs. Picasso thing, or high art vs. low culture thing, because that seems totally absurd. The '60s are as far away or as close to me as I want them to be. It is my decision. All I want to do is to create a space in the world for art and the way I see it. What most frightens me is that the space for this kind of thought gets crushed under the pressure for everything to make sense, to become academic.

AC: Art should never make sense. That's the beauty of it.