SEPT 10 – OCT 2, 2020

For the past two decades Darren Bader has challenged and re-pieced the expectations of what art, both conceptually and on a physical level, can be and do. In individual works and exhibitions gestures are exposed and twisted with an eye towards an openness and egalitarianism. His work is often absurd or humorous and I’ve always been attracted to the way that it achieves this without sacrificing any sincerity or intelligence. Character Study, his presentation at ACRUSH, picks up many of the threads that define Bader’s work in my mind: an expansion and confusion of the object nature of art, an appetite for the capacity of technology, and the way all of this is situated in our viewing world. Darren and I caught up over the summer to discuss the perils of ambition in new technology, how his work with augmented reality fits into his wider artistic world (ours) and a few other odds and ends I’ve always wanted to ask.

Mitchell Anderson: Your work with augmented reality really begins for the Venice Biennale last year, what happened there? And what’s changed in the past year?

Darren Bader: Too often unchecked ambition was met with technological limitations, as well as bureaucratic shortcomings. But that’s an imprecise, though not untrue, summary.

You ended up showing these poster advertisements and a kind of kiosk. Similar posters are here in Zurich. Did the technical limits, or maybe the lengthening of the process, create a new work? These projects now become launches, kind of like Steve Jobs’ Keynote announcements for the NEW pieces. So maybe what I’m wondering is if this is its own work, part of the project or a happystance where you’ve made omelettes out of a basket of broken eggs?

It’s definitely an evolution. But there are still a bunch of eggshell bits in the omelet(s). The omniscient voice/brand of Mendes Mundi certainly seems less essential than it once did. But I like to hunt for glue and umbrellas, so right now I’m feeling a bit exposed, but I’m also not super interested in hiring the king’s horses and men to bring Humpty Dumpty back to past pastures.

In other works over the past decade or so you’ve kind of dismantled, or made it seem like you were dismantling, the art object in its post Dutch Golden Age collectible form. I’m thinking specifically about those kinds of cancerous quotidian objects that a collector may endlessly replicate before disposing of the original. Bottle caps, segments of wood… Is the ideal end form of this project with AR an app? An app for everybody?

To be considered alongside the Dutch Golden Age (although I can appreciate the analogical aptness) smacks of vanity on my part, but thank you for the (fanciful?) throughline! “Cancerous” is funny, i.e. funny that you perceived those objects to be “cancerous”. Re app, the more the merrier yes, but there are approaches to sales that may retard/prevent this. The app will need to end up being a number of proprietary apps, each authored/owned by the work’s owner (with my tacit assistance). AR (and AR follies) proved exceptionally costly and there’s no good way to make an app for everybody without putting myself (a resident American, remember) at serious financial risk. I would like to make a bit of the money back in order to help very modestly finance my 40s. But in theory, yes, the more the merrier, yes yes yes!

Even when you deal with the capital format of art, there is a red line of generosity inherent in a lot of your work. Here, the possibility of multiple people “owning” an AR character, sculpture? Of yours. I see echoes between this project and your proposed sculptures, where if someone were to produce it you would provide the certificate for the piece. In one way it’s an outsourcing of the production of your dreams, but in reality how do you see these ideas operating?

“Generosity” is the word that feels right to me. I adore the endless heaps and bouquets of STUFF in the world: gewgaws, talismans, venerable goods, etc. They do have a certain magical “post-animistic” quality to me, and without the (hearty) surfeit inherent to (our understanding of) [C]apital. Collaboration, even if it courts/abides-by the absurd, semi-comic, etc, is a very important aspect of my work. It’s my way of Polaroiding the work into semi-perpetuity and realizing my language/thought may prove incongruous to/in the mind of another person. Language cascades imperfectly and I simply want to communicate. Sometimes visuals underwrite themselves visually, but sometimes the verbal is the only way to truly share, approximate a (hilariously) imperfect togetherness. I DON’T KNOW IF I’VE ANSWERED YOUR QUESTION

Answered! I think it’s interesting that you lump in these non-existent, or rather physically not here, characters with all the other stuff in the world. So many people forget that these ones and zeros cost resources to keep around, and I always appreciate when artists are at least honest about their connection to creating things that take up space in the world. How do you maintain a thingness in AR? Is it the same as IRL?

What a scrumptious question! For me, thingness is generally tethered to (im)palpability, where touch is desired but allowed only occasionally. What’s the occasion? What’s the rite? What’s the “might [I]”? Etc. Does one want to touch a moving digital form? I find I prefer to watch, much as I don’t (usually?) feel like touching actors or trees in a show I’m watching on the screen. Re lump[ing], the world (you know, “the world!”) is many things. Sometimes one finds one has lumped, and then has to live with that discovery. Humans are pretty decent at reconciling/assimilating in this way. Living with the lump becomes natural, until the world makes sure it confuses a human further. Re resources, every time a new art-work is made, someone dies (isn’t that the law of the contemporary social cosmos?).

An aspect of your work has been an update of the Combine as pioneered by Rauschenberg. I’m thinking about the standing eggplant with straw (Sculpture #1) or French horn with/and guacamole (or other ‘sauce’). This is continued with the AR characters and amplified in the model you’ll present in Zurich. On one hand when I look at this work I think about that installations of Ann Hamilton from the 1990s where an institutional space would have a ton of coins on the floor, a live peacock, a woman endlessly making balls of dough and pressing her teeth into them, red curtains, piles of horsehair and, or and, and… Of course the human mind is impressed with so much contrary information and searches for meaning within it. So, maybe what I’m interested in knowing is how you situate these forms personally and artistically?

“Combine” [noun] is still an exciting word for me. Rauschenberg is the (false) idol indeed. He, i.e. both the (performative) man and his oeuvre, is “contemporary art” par excellence. I was very taken with Hamilton’s work when I was a lad, thanks for mentioning her.

Again, language is key for me. I infrequently arrive at (combinatory) “objecthood” without language leading the chase. Yet works you “cite” above are very disparate in genesis, process, production. So it might be best (and honest) to say that this is my guiding light and creative “imperative” in a nutshell: “Of course the human mind is impressed with so much contrary information”.

It has to be noted that your characters have a very attractive quality I find hard to describe, but your work can operate as a form of institutional critique so perhaps as an art world viewer I’m afraid to read into these forms. To be tricked. And, that being said, the Hamilton installations still stun through pictures and everyone I know who saw one in person has said they were astonishing. Can cynicism and wonder exist in your work concurrently?

I don’t mean to trick in that way. I just have different aspects to my work, different roles, performances, if you will. It frustrates me that there’s no inherent unity to what I do, short of all these interests/ideas coming from a single human being (not much art(ifice) in that). But attractiveness is important. Like you I wish I’d been able to see the Hamilton halcyon in person. Installation art was not only de rigueur when I “came of age,” it was also what spoke to me most as a film student who wanted to leave the frame behind. My eye is very much that of an image (and framing) fetishist, so I’ve tended to question the immediate purpose of that “drive,” to find ways to speak about things attractive without letting them rule the day. Cynicism was never supposed to pilot anything. I’m not a cynic, I just look for wonder however I can. Sometimes the absurd is wonderful, and perhaps that’s why people have a hard time trusting me (I don’t blame them).

The world is absurd, and so I think your work forces situations which are inherently awkward towards something even further. I wonder how you keep all these pots boiling at one time in your head. When I consider you as an artist I imagine a strict line of thought, but when we go into each series or project they have their own personality, their own rules. Does it boil over in the studio, in exhibitions? Do you feel a pressure to contain yourself from the outside?

“Force” is a word I wouldn’t use and don’t really aspire to, but thanks for your thoughts (they’re most welcome). In my head there are too often too many pots for mental relief, but there’s often a thrill to tending the range. Boil-overs are not uncommon. A lot of my tendencies toward visual and verbal overload come about from a bizarre(?) pas-de-deux of paranoia and enthusiasm. Enough is never enough until it’s more than enough—you know the routine I’m sure (even if we might not live with the same cookware).