Feature: An Interview with Olaf BreuningJuxtapoz // Monday, 01 Aug 2011
In the May 2011 issue of Juxtapoz, we interviewed Swiss-born, NYC-based fine artist, photographer, sculpture artist, conceptual artist, comedian, installation artist, and filmmaker, Olaf Breuning. The interview went so well that we wanted to share it with you again. The following is what appeared in the magazine...
“It’s like this and like that and like this, and a . . . ”. Maybe Olaf Breuning has something in common with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg after all. You may not see it yourself right now, but soon this creeping theme will make sense.
The Swiss-born, NYC-based conceptual artist, photographer, sculptor, filmmaker, and designer makes art that is, simply, a little bit like this, a little bit like that, and most certainly like this again. You can’t call it traditional photography, but that is a key element to the work. There isn’t a simple definition that would lead you to label it installation art, because there are handmade components that blur the lines. Even Breuning’s sculpture work is anything but conventional and definable. What can surmised is the work takes all the energy of new medias and technologies and the time-honored tradition of fine art, fused together in to a body of work that appeals to the most steadfast art enthusiast and the most die-hard potty humorist. The complete “how to succeed in 2011” package.—Evan Pricco
Evan Pricco: I remember the first time I was introduced to your work, I went to your website and immediately was into it. The idea of clicking through each frame from street to your actual studio space, as if walking organically into your art space, was really interesting. It gets to the heart of what you do: mixing new media and technology while never losing that tangible, hand-element to your fine art. How did you get to this point?
Olaf Breuning: Well, I would like to be perfect, but I think art shows me that whatever technology I use, my personality pushes through and there we are... something is not perfect. I like that. We are finally human.
What kind of artist do you consider yourself? When I show people your work, they say conceptual photography, some say installation artist, some say mixed-media. I know its cliche to ask, but what are you?
You know what, I don’t give a damn what I am. The most important is that I am able to speak about different things in this life. And to do that I just use whatever medium I can find. Maybe not painting, although I would like to, but I am just too untalented for that. (And maybe I would like, even when I give a damn, to call my self “a painter”).
A lot of this issue is about viewing and exploring new themes in the fine arts, whether creating bodies of work through bold concepts or by using new technologies to create the work. Your work can be construed as “different” or outside the normal fine art boundaries. Who are some of the inspiration points?
My inspiration is just life. My life as an artist, my life as a normal man. The art world is nice, I like it, otherwise I would not be an artist. But, in general, I always try to step so far away from it if I can, without loosing my ground as an artist. But I am very careful that I do not get sucked in that system which is not any different of any other system. I like to be free, and I think that is one of the positive things an artist can have.
How would you describe your personality? Or better yet, what would one of your studio assistants say about your personality? I assume you have a sense of humor.
To my advantage there are no assistants at my studio at the moment. Otherwise, I would ask them for you. But no, I don’t have a sense of humor.
What is the medium that excites you the most right now? A lot of us here at Juxtapoz are into the idea of remixing and reinterpretation, very similar to what you did with the food art. Who are you getting energy from?
My new work is called “Art Freaks,” which is about the remixing of art history. I think we live in a time where we see new productions with the mentality of: “It looks like, it sounds like, and it is like.” And because we have this constant archive nonstop on our screens, we just use all these signs without really caring about where they come from. This environment today gives me energy. I think it is a very interesting time: no one cares about the origin of things anymore. That is a new situation and I am sure this is how this era will be remembered later. We just don’t have a name for yet.
What medium or genre bores you the most right now?
Stereotypical art in general. There is an army of artists who just try to be good students, and they get on my nerves. Artists should try to be a little adventurous, but it seems a lot of them just follow the stream of what is right to do at the moment. But maybe that is how it has always been. Would I have a time machine and go back 30 years? I would complain then, too, I guess. I am a complainer.
There are a bunch of questions we want to ask you, but in discussions about your work, we were all looking at the Gardeners photos. When you take everyday objects and give them human qualities, do you have anyone in mind while creating them? For example, is the shovel your brother, and the rake your best friend? We know that may sound odd, but even in the simplest act of putting 99 cent eyeballs on the garden tools, they take on an amazing personality, and we wonder if you have stories behind them.
No, actually I don’t connect a shovel to a family member, (laughs), though maybe I should start doing that. This work is silly more than anything else. And that’s what it is... funny and silly. And sure, just adding some eyes makes them all look like a group of freaks.
You were born in Switzerland, which has a strong history of clean graphic arts, and yet you create messy situations in which your models exist. Is that the NYC-influence encroaching now that you are based here?
Ha ha! Yes, that is true of Switzerland but maybe that is the reason why I like it messy... because I am from Switzerland! I like NYC because it is not perfect. I like also Switzerland because it is perfect. Maybe I just fit better in a surrounding where there are big holes in the pavement.
On your blog, you sent out a message saying, “Blogger wanted: whatever you blog about... I don’t care so long it is an interesting story!” Is that your same approach to your art? Because you are so prolific, is your message simply “it has to be interesting”?
True, I do not make differences between stories. Sure, there are good and bad ones. I still have my ethnics and morals, but life has many colors and many people with different voices. And finally, we arrive in a time where it really does not matter anymore. My blogdragon stands for that. It will grow, always with more heads and always more voices. Who really has time to care about all that? No one....ha!
I guess we all think it is great, we can communicate, we all have a public stage to say whatever we want, but at the same time we realize that it is just a diary. Who has time to read a million peoples blogs in one day? Though, I do like it very much when people are active and open, and often very surprised when I read some blogs. It is really interesting what the bloggers write, and some of them become really famous with a lot of hits. Speaking about that, quality is now only defined by how many hits you get. It is already like that. No one is qualified anymore to say what is good and bad... and I kind of like that, even though it is sort of sad.
I read that you like people. Do you like them more pre or post-Facebook? I’m starting to think, although I like that everyone has a voice and you can tell the temperature of the masses quite well with Facebook, I’m starting to slightly regret being very interested in knowing everyone’s opinion and debate points.
People are people. We change a lot with our habits, like using a phone or other technologies, and sure, at the moment it all seems like we may go crazy. But in the end, we stay people. You can have an iPhone, but sometimes you have to fart! That never will change, we will have to fart even when we fly to Mars!
Does it take confidence to take a picture of natural setting and write,”Why Can’t You Be Nice With Nature?” That is one of my favorite of your pieces, simple, beautiful, exuding confidence in its creation.
I hope you saw that the letters in the photo are made out of migrating birds (Editor’s note: We did, but we still wouldn’t have thought to do something so simple and perfect). It is a message from nature to us. Just a strange message, since we always think that we can use nature to our profit, but then nature strikes back from time to time and we see how powerless we are. We forget that we should respect nature more. But hey, the world, and especially us, is not perfect, obviously.
Where do you think art is heading? I know that is a vague, big picture question, but with the Internet becoming more and more the distribution point for art as opposed to galleries solely owning a title, what are some of your ideas about how art is going to be viewed and created in the near future?
Well, I will tag along. I don’t care if I have to carve my art into a potato or show it on the Internet. So long as I can speak about my life and this world I live in, I don’t care. I am like a honey badger. (Editor's note: This reference to the Honey Badger came long before the viral explosion of Randall and the Honey Badger)
What projects are you working on next?
I am going to shoot Home3, a new 30 minutes movie this year. It will be an addition to my other films, Home1 and Home2.
Do you have any plans on directing a full length film?
I would love to do more of my art movies. I don’t want to work with a big crew. I think I am in an interesting niche with my home movies because they stay “artist movies.” A lot of artists do “professional” movies, and again, they are just to impress the art world, but would probably not even make it into a film festival! I just try to stay simple and take advantage of our ever-evolving new advanced technologies, which get smaller, cheaper, and more powerful. It is the time to do art movies!
I guess it always comes down to this: What is more important, concept or execution?
If I gave you a bear, a banjo, and a baby, what can you make for me? Draw it, preferably.
Sorry, no time to do art now. But you have some sick ideas!
For more information of Olaf Breuning, contact Olafbreuning.com.