Oscar Tuazon Interview
"I remain a bit abstract"
Seattle Born Artist Oscar Tuazon lives and works in Paris, creating architectural works that blur the line between sculpture, architecture and performance. Nabil Azadi caught up with Oscar to discuss solving problems, remaining abstract and his spatial responses.
Nabil Azadi: You often work between words and structures and so I was curious to understand how you saw them to complement one another. Particularly with My Flesh To Your Bare Bones [Maccarone Gallery, 2010] where recordings of your voice and Vito Acconci’s blared out in opposition to each other and seemed to sweep over what you had installed in the room.
Oscar Tuazon: That project definitely started with Vito’s voice. I read it and my initial idea was to take this unrealised project and to realise it as an architectural form somehow. That was the driving force that carried me through the whole project: this vague desire to realise the text, and to perform it and inhabit it. This idea of occupation or inhabitation is something I would always try to do. Sculpture in particular has to move in and take over a space and have a function. This is why I’m always thinking about light or water because I want to make something that has a living aura. So when you use your body or your voice it’s a natural progression. It’s something I learned from not only Vito but also Ariana Reines and Eileen Myles, the poets I admire. For me, to be a poet, is the highest ambition. That’s the craziest most hardcore and beautiful thing because it’s just about inhabiting your own body and that’s it. The text always comes from the voice and… it can’t exist without the poet.
NA: [laughing] Oh! Jesus.
OT: [laughing] But you know what I mean? This public performance of yourself and of the body. The act of speaking. Finally it…
NA: Someone described it as vulnerable and frightening.
OT: [laughing] That’s a good description of my personality.
NA: And they said your voice was more high-pitched than Vito’s.
OT: Well, that’s not saying much. Other than Darth Vader… [laughing]
NA: In the end do you like to have a distance from this kind of ‘occupation’?
OT: I always like to maintain the abstraction around the work. There are some people who can make their work reference themselves really well but I don’t want to have to interfere with it. Although I want to use the first person and speak in the first person, I want to have that ‘I remain a bit abstract.'
NA: Having that space for the viewer to fit into is incredibly important – it’s often the difference between someone taking vigor and optimism from a work or someone thinking that you’re self-centered and irrelevant to them.
OT: There was a really interesting show that Vito did in that late 1980s when performance was coming to an end because he had sort of exhausted it but the pressures and expectations of performing that role made it a difficult psychological experience. I don’t know if that’s true but in the work you see a weird fragmenting of the narrative and it starts to fall apart as a piece. This is part of the reason why I think sculpture should be onanistic – something in and of itself and maybe a little masturbatory. And funnily enough I almost find that to be the tragedy of art in general; it can only be one thing. It’s kind of like, “Really? That’s it?”
NA: There’s something about everything being as simple as that which makes sense to me. That attitude was one of the great strengths of Arte Povera – though at a certain point, maybe due to all the theoretical essays it engendered, the point that everything was a little incoherent and a little limited was lost.
OT: On another note, it’s also interesting that Arte Povera, as I understand it, functioned as a local scene. None of my friends are in Paris – and it sounds kind of banal to say that there’s a globalised scene – but I think the making of things has transcended any kind of aesthetic or formal interest. Could someone from outside of me and my group of friends I work alongside make connections between us? The things that we’re doing are so different from each other that there doesn’t need to be a party platform anymore. Some of us are painting, some of us are making big sculptures or films or political work or writing poetry… The ties are less evident.
NA: What do you think your starting point is generally – even without knowing what the parameters of a space?
OT: Just on a practical level, to work on something without having a particular space in mind means that it will almost always necessarily be a small scale. And then now there is also the experience of working with a group of people. So there are things that come out of nowhere or respond to a specific space. I think the principle is always how to fix or how to cope with a critical problem. So in a smaller piece it could be something as simple as how to make a piece of wood stand up at a certain angle and then that starts the construction process. It feels similar to what kind of process you have to go through when you’re designing a massive installation.
NA: It might then be the case that a limited toolkit would be beneficial otherwise there’s nothing to solve.
OT: Absolutely! That’s how things keep getting bigger and bigger. You know it’s something that I think about with painters is the blank canvas. Coming in every day and having nothing to fix. How the fuck do you do that for forty years?
NA: I guess the first mark on the canvas becomes the first problem.
OT: Totally. I place a lot of value on finding a place where you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s very valuable. Sometimes you get habituated with a certain material or a certain process and then you have to switch it up because either you caricature yourself or you lose the urgency of trying ad hoc. You can still solve big problems on a small scale.
NA: Do you see your processes changing as more people become involved in the projects?
OT: The confidence to work with other people has been one of the things that has developed over the last couple of years. So much of the earlier work had to do with solving things in the moment and working with my own two hands, and there was always this anxiety that when the work got larger I’d lose that fine grain control that I have when I’m alone. I like that with more people the problems change… How to communicate? How to describe something? I like that about the work I do now – that it can be really varied. I work from small scale to large scale and I work on some projects that take years while others take two days. [laughing] Sometimes we’ll be welding on one side of the studio and on the side we’ll be building a one-to-one-hundred scale model or bookbinding. I respect that feeling of making it up from the beginning every day.
NA: I wonder what you would have made of all of this work ten years ago.
OT: No, I don’t think I… I mean I might have had some kind of crazy dream but I really had… I don’t know. It’s hard to remember. I remember hoping to get into a group show. I never thought I would have a studio.