It’s a warm and sunny day as I enter this version of inferno all dressed in black and with the phrase “Welcome to hell” I’m greeted by Alex Da Corte.
He’s in town for his first solo show in Sweden. The space is colorful and intense with a slight scent of mint. In this set are all the colors and objects that he works with on a regular basis represented, that vivid palette and those common items. In this maze of simulacra there’s a narrative too. A story presented and up for interpretation. I’m interested in the overall chronicles and symbols that Da Corte resides at in this practice as we sit to talk in a window ledge.
What’s central in your practice would you say?
I think a lot about the simple things. The way people dress, how people meet, how we run into things, how bodies meet, and how we use the things we run into. Awkward experiences. Music and how it informs those experiences. How cinema plays a part in how we shape experiences. How our lives become obscured into those things that we read or listen to. I try to tease out what to make of all those things. How your own life is some kind of a weird allegory. Because everything is sort of the same, the weird is cyclical. If you look at a painting by Titian and it seems huge and grand, I can’t relate to that. That’s different from now but then again you realize that it’s not so different. That portrait of King Midas is not so different from Kanye West. I think a lot of how all these things overlap.
Can you tell me something about your process?
My process is about expending my small experiences and thinking of them in terms of the universe and putting them into my pocket. Shifting scale and focus. Noticing how systems work. How that system of collapsing and expanding informs marketing techniques, politics, and religion. All sorts of special effects that are utilized by different systems refer to each other. They grow from noticing how something works and they invent a new way for something to work. My works are somehow linked into that system of thinking.
If you were to be a bit more specific, as to your subject matter for instance, what’s it about?
I have always been interested in frames. Framing techniques and costumes. How desire and fantasy is presented as one thing and then how reality of those things is different. That our expectations can sometimes fail us. The world is constantly shifting and our reality is constantly shifting. In a concrete way the things I’m referring to are materials that propose one thing and then deceive us. Patterns that are unreliable, colors that push you in different ways and moods, music that is both atonal and dissonant. I think about all those ways we shift and can be sensitive about.
Where do you think this way of seeing things come from?
A lot of that sentiment comes from wanting to express or embed emotion into things that are emotionless. Plastic is not very kind or sentimental. I’m not necessarily interested in sentimentality or nostalgia, but I’m interested in trying to see something that’s not there. Something that is hidden behind what’s mistaken for something utilitarian but is maybe more than that. I use those bits of plastic and cultural ephemera, thinking of it as a new anthropology where I see it as relics of our society. We are not seeing what they are right now because we’re using them or are too familiar with them. Those things tell something about what we are. Where we’ve come from. Where we’re going.
Is there an aspect of balance to your work?
Totally. I push something poised against something unnerving. At best my work speak to people as the uncanny might because of that switch of flipping of what we though something was and what it is. It doesn’t have to be spooky. It doesn’t have to be horrifying but it can be. It’s all about how you perceive it.
It seems to me that your work incorporate some kind of contemporary allegory.
It’s not about looking into the past, or maybe into a very recent past but It’ s an attempt to look at now. I find that I’m a little late to what’s contemporary. I can refer to Bosch and that’s not so very contemporary, I like to do that though because Bosch was making those paintings that seem crazy, mythological and embedded with allegory that to us now is very distant. We don’t know that a fish or trousers are emblematic for a certain thing. But back them people knew, at least some people did. I think that all these things that seem so familiar to us now will be so fucking weird in just a little bit of time. If anything my work is a testament to the time when I grew up, which is in some ways before the Internet. I didn’t grow up with this kind of technology. Waiting for a phone call still matters to me. It still troubles me thinking about phones, bodies and getting what you want. These are in some ways alien sentiment that we don’t have to embody as a culture now. We all get what we want because we can get it. Not to romanticize a time when you didn’t get it, but I often think about people that wrote about that in the past. The problematic with writing a letter or waiting for a phone call. That’s still here and present. I try to reflect about it and lay it out to make these kinds of theaters, stages or sets. Then people are in a position where they step slightly back in time or slightly into the future.
You have previously worked with everyday utilitarian objects and products such as shampoo. How does this set relate to your prior work?
This whole show is about the adaptation I make of Rimbaud’s “A season in hell”, a nine-part poem. This part is called “A night in hell”, the part I just did in Copenhagen is called “Delirium 1”. It’s an ongoing project until I adapt each of the pieces of the poem. It has been going on for a couple of years now and when I hit a certain part it all makes more sense to me. I understand it more. What’s interesting about this poem and shampoo is that Rimbaud writes about his lover that is gone away and he is devastated about it. He plots how he understands loss and his desire to regain what is lost through depicting what hell is, which of course is an abstract idea. Loss is also an abstract idea, as is love. In these beautiful tableaus and lush sceneries you go with him on this journey through stages of grieving and joy. Shampoo in some ways does a lot of the same thing. It proposes that there is an escape and you can go on this journey because of what it offers. It offers cleansing and Rimbaud describes hell like a cleansing experience. It also offers fantasy, lust, escape and exoticism.
Can you tell me more about the items that you choose? The found objects that you use in your practice.
Elements come together to propose some kind of new something based on former and known material, although these things are known in some ways these allegorical symbols that people call “found objects” there’s no such thing as found. They’re all around us and I’m just trying to see through it and reshape it. The word found gets a bad rep because it seems like it comes with all the things you need to know about that object. I think it’s a lazy way of approaching the world.
Do you think about the viewer in your stages? They come with there own experience and understanding of these objects that you use.
I want more than anything for a person to bring their set of memories. Their experiences. I’m not interested in talking about aboutness. All these things come from a physical and emotional relationship to things at hand. But I’m also seeing them how history has made sense of them. In that way they are free from my personal taste. I like to think that I have no taste.
Would you like to think or do you think that you have no taste?
I don’t think I have good taste or bad taste, I have taste but I don’t think it’s ever the same and I desire to surprise myself. Especially when it comes to those feeling that are beyond me. Like all things taste is changing. I like to think that their taste can change too. That’s exciting.
Your set of references is very western and middle class even. How do you think about that?
It’s very suburban. I think about my parents, my family, and people that are around me because these are the people that share taste and views of the world. That’s what you do, generation to generation. I think of where my mother came from, where my father came from, and what happened when they collided. The positives and problems of that collision am I constantly discovering. Yes, it’s western but I’m also trying to poke holes. The totalitarian views of the world. You smell mint when you come in, even if you don’t like mint. Tough shit, deal with it! This is life. I’m a consumer. I’m a participant. It isn’t completely Disney Land in my head. Everybody has their way of doing and I understand that a kind of color and gloss pulls people in. It’s just a beginning, a tactic to speak of something bigger.
I always thought that hell would smell like mint. There’s something biting about it, like when something good turns bad.
Tell me about your use of color.
In some ways it’s just another found object. They are not colors I’m mixing. I don’t mix anything. But I did buy that bright green velour fabric available to me at the store. I’m just putting it together. I also bought those Vanish, they are both beautiful and horrible. My understanding of color is another way I try to challenge my taste. Color is the most important thing to me. It’s a choice. It’s a language. It’s the most powerful tool I have.
Taste and class is in some ways coherent but what is so interesting about taste to you?
I think that’s how we build our world. When you first start to define who you are that is rooted in your taste being the same as someone else’s. That is how allegiances are formed and countries build, through shared taste. Challenging that in yourself is in some ways a desire to be outside of your body. A lot of my work has to do with the body. Having taste reflects your physical needs.
So you think that taste relates more to the body than the mind?
In some ways. I think having a mind is great, having a body is kind of a drag. Taste effects what the body wants or is determined by what the body wants. It doesn’t immediately affect you body but it will and it does. I think maybe having no taste means hovering outside of the body. It can be a feast for living in your mind.
The conversation between Alex Da Corte and Eleonora Ånhammar took place in Stockholm, SWE on May 20, 2014.
Text: Eleonora Ånhammar
Photo: Alex Da Corte, David Risley Gallery, Isbrytaren/ Carl Kostyál
|Name:||Alex Da Corte|
|Born:||1981 in Camden, USA|
|Education:||MFA 2010, Yale University in New Haven, USA|
|Info:||“A night in hell” at Isbrytaren in Stockholm and “Delirium 1” at David Risley Gallery in Copenhagen are on view till end of June (the show at Isbrytaren will be open by app. in July). Da Corte is also showing at White Cube in Bermondsey, London within the programme Inside the White Cube – a platform profiling work by new artists. This fall he’s taking part in a two-person show with Jayson Musson at The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia.|