Other Investigations: Matthew Schlagbaum

Matthew Schlagbaum is a Chicago-based artist who has been featured on Make Space back in June. Learn more about his interdisciplinary practice!

On materials:

Materiality is inseparable from the conceptual aspects of my work.  I am very interested in the implied or socially understood context of materials, especially those that are considered cheap or low.  I am currently obsessed with “gold” and the gradient of colors and surfaces that carry that name.

I try to manipulate my materials in a way that creates a dialogue between my personal narrative and a larger social construct.  I often use found objects and easily recognizable materials in an attempt to create an accessible dialogue between the viewer and my work.  My use of paint and other artificial surface treatments is an attempt to create works whose unapologetic flatness still carries a sense of depth, and where dimensionality appears to resemble pure surface.

I am especially interested in these in-between spaces, where an object can simultaneously be one thing and another.  For example, the way a sculpture can utilize the language of a painting, or how I can manipulate the pigments of an inkjet print to make it both a photograph and a drawing.  By forcing the work to rest in these types of spaces I hope to complicate limitations surrounding interpersonal relationships, cultural indicators of value and success, identity expression, and emotional affect.

On process and collecting:

I do a lot of collecting as part of my practice, as both a direct and indirect tool for making.  The direct method simply involves collecting materials that I plan to make work out of, or that I am interested in and hope will spark an idea for a work.  The indirect involves collecting things that I like to look at or think relate to my work, but that I don’t necessarily intend to become the materials of a piece.  For example, I have a folder on my desktop full of images of interest pulled from the internet, and my cell phone is full of photographs I have taken for the same reason.

I sometimes fear I will become like those people on Hoarders because I get really attached to objects and have trouble getting rid of things that seem like trash to other people.  I think a lot about hoarding behavior in terms of my work, especially the simultaneous desire to hold onto and bury something.  There is an unusual sentiment there that I think often goes unaddressed.  Memories and emotions that one doesn’t want to let go of, but that are too troubling to confront directly or on a regular basis.  So the solution is to literally bury them under a mountain of other things, allowing the peace of mind that comes from knowing the thing is still there without ever having to acknowledge it.

I am usually working on a couple projects at once, and am always thinking about what to do next.  Sometimes projects seem to snowball, and the process or materials of one work will generate an idea for a new one.  The hardest thing is when I get really excited about a new idea.  I have to be careful to not abandon my current projects in order to pursue it.

On research:

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is probably my all time favorite.  What’s there not to like, really?  The work is so simple yet complex and emotionally charged, and he was incredibly intelligent and very concerned about audience and accessibility.  I read an interview where he discussed how he would converse with the museum guards about his work during installation because they were part of the audience, too.  I wish those kinds of conversations and concerns for accessibility were more present in the art world.   I also really like Lynda Benglis for her self-proclaimed embracing of bad taste and creation of forms that exist between two states (such as soft and hard, liquid and solid, organic and synthetic).  Her work from the 60’s and 70’s still seems incredibly contemporary in both its aesthetics and conceptual content.  I was also really into Letha Wilson’s work that was up at LVL3 here in Chicago recently, specifically her sculptural use of the photograph and her exploration of generic landscape and nature photography.

On space and site:

Space is always an issue in my work.  In the studio I am pretty messy, there is always a lot of clutter around and I constantly feel crowded and don’t have enough space.  The final product is usually something pretty clean and reductive looking, so when I get into the exhibition space it is like the polar opposite of my work environment.  I want things to have a lot of breathing room around them.  I really have to struggle with the desire to put too much work into the space, and sometimes it is hard to make that compromise of leaving a work out for the good of the show.

Probably the biggest influence my geographical location has had on my work would be in regards to the transportation of my materials and work.  Living in a city without a car means that I always have to take into consideration how I am going to get certain things to my studio, or how I can make the work more transportable.  Probably to the dismay of other passengers, I have carried a lot of large and unusual things onto the buses and trains.  For the first time I have been making a lot of wall-based work, and in addition to my interest in surface and flatness, I sometimes wonder if it is a subconscious solution to this problem.

Though I do occasionally create work in response to a specific space or location, it has not yet been a major part of my process.  Lately I have been thinking a lot about my time growing up in Florida, and am really interested in the beach and swamp kitsch associated with the area.  Think alligator heads, shark jaws, seashells that may or may not be from the surrounding waters, oranges, and palm trees silhouetted by a sunset on the beach.  I am kind of fascinated by those types of things right now, and am hoping to incorporate more of it into my work.

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