Monday, April 13, 2009

andy coolquitt interview

In the new issue of Tokion, I conducted an interview with Texas/ New York artist Andy Coolquitt. For those with elephant memories, he was profiled in the Sunday Times Magazine last year for his 'art house' in East Austin, though my piece focused more on his recent work with light and his forays into abandoned 'crack houses.'

Was the house in E. Austin your first convergence of art and abode?

Andy Coolquitt: No. The installations were tending towards interior architecture for a couple of years before.

When you were a kid, did you behave similarly with your room? Or was there anything you saw that made you snap to the concept?

No, it was a culmination of growing up in a series of unimaginative architecture: the houses, the church, the mall, were all designed from the same sterile worldview that most professionals had at the time. To add to that, my family although very kind people, had no education/exposure to cultural life. I grew up in a working class, Baptist, mostly white suburb of Dallas. Which I still consider as my handicap! My parents were just simply not interested in visual culture.

Lisa (Cooley, gallery owner who represents Coolquitt) talked about the idea of friends, a community, and most of the NYT photos arrange themselves as so. Which came first?

The house was initially designed for multi-use, I had the idea of building the kitchen in a separate structure in the middle of the property, from the beginning. I didn't know exactly how it would develop but the idea of creating an alternative to institutional community was key: the place or the need for a place?

Lisa also talked about the notion of 'crack houses' and I'm hoping you will say a bit about it. Is it the energy of the places, the way refuse is made to serve a purpose again, the desperation of living and consumption, etc.?

I'm not interested in crackhouses per se, but for lack of a better term 'crack spaces.' These are spaces that are outdoors, usually in the center of most American cities, usually these sort of non-spaces, undeveloped and undevelop-able, that exist next to public architecture. in-between spaces, especially in the south where density isn't an issue, or sometimes just overgrown neglected residential lots.

I'm interested in the residue of a gathering of people the night before who came together to share the crack pipe. There is always this intensely lame attempt at creating a living room. The most common solution is a piece of cardboard placed on the ground or against a wall to create a primitive sofa. Often a log will be positioned for a bench, and sometimes it's simply the markings in the dirt left from people laying down, the shuffling of feet, or a small clearing of debris.

Almost always there are 3 or 4 and sometimes up to 20 spent crack lighters. I call them crack lighters as opposed to cigarette lighters because they are used to smoke crack: the fuel valves are always removed to allow for a larger flame, and sometimes the plastic tops are melted and warped from holding the flame too long. They are always just left there, casually placed in these living rooms adding touches of color. I read this as well, as an attempt at domestication, the idea of creating comfort through collection and object fetishization.

Texas: where are you from exactly? How deep do your family roots go there?

My parents and great-grandparents grew up in East Texas, farmers and sharecroppers. My parents were the first to move into the city (Dallas) after they graduated high school.

Thinking of 'iight' (his last gallery show in NYC) and the way you have your objects lean, emphasizing the imbalance and disorientation of the pieces, I was curious if you were familiar much with Houston's chopped and screwed music or Texas hip-hop (and its vernacular) in general? Maybe I'm just coming at it as a music person...

Yesyes! Great connection: leaning against wall, speaking the bare minimum with utmost clarity, rethinking minimalism as chopped and screwed! You are brilliant. I will investigate this.

Can you compare scavenging between NYC and Texas? Did you do much in Austin? It's such a regular activity up here, from scoring terrible paintings, or records or household objects or what have you off the street corner and putting it in your own home. I have at least three paintings this way, dishes, lamps, etc. I don't really remember it much in Texas though (save for dumpster diving behind photomats).

Yeah, scavenging is really different in the two cities. It is a constant activity in both places, but in NYC it takes less effort. With this newer body of work using painted metal pipes, NYC is def a better place for gathering. There's just so much cheap furniture that gets put out. And like you say, it is so regular.

I love it when an old man will stop what he's doing and help me strap a huge load of crap onto my bike. Every old man in Bushwick thinks he knows the perfect way to tie down scavenged furniture. I think New Yorkers love to see someone re-using their trash. I usually get approving nods and sometimes cheers when riding down the street with a full load strapped on.

Of course, in Texas it's a bit tricky, peoples' notions of private property and all. And it's much more racist. When I'm in black or Mexican neighborhoods, I'm always perceived as an outsider and these negotiations sometimes prohibit the process.