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).