The town was built to house the workers of a mine that closed just a couple of years later. What we see in the video is the camera panning through empty streets and hallways, and living rooms displaying the comforts of suburban living. How do these images speak to you?
In terms of the town, I simply thought there was nothing else quite like it. Of course, there’s an attraction to looking at abandoned places and buildings—ghost towns are fascinating—but usually they are derelict and destroyed, and as a result it’s hard not to see them as places that are “gone.” But here was a town that was modern and intact, very little in it was out of place. It is a place that has life. And it doesn’t feel like people just left one day, because the personal possessions are all gone, all bar a few traces. That was the thing that struck me most, the blankness of it, in terms of human presence. The town seemed like a memory but one that is only half remembered. And even though it is a town without people, it’s not “gone.”
When you first began telling me about the town, you mentioned that you were born the same year the town was abandoned. You appeared to suggest an affiliation between the aesthetics and lifestyle of the town and your own upbringing. In fact, you are often drawn to a certain blankness that transmits a very specific lived-in sensibility that appears familiar, smelling of chipboard and wooden veneers—a form of experience (whether first- or second-hand) that entered a public consciousness with the mass production and availability of personal style, both generic and specific. How do you balance out the general and the personal in your work?
I was drawn to the town because through its blankness I felt it could be any town, or act as a substitute for contemporary society, relatively speaking. That ubiquity of personal space is something I am drawn to, but making the video about this town did feel quite personal. For example, one of the houses I was filming had the same 1930s Marcel Breuer dining chairs that I had just bought for myself a week earlier. I got these chairs, liking them on their own merit, but also knowing that my parents had them in the house I grew up in, when they were very popular again. That was a pretty strange feeling. It’s interesting to note that this chair design wasn’t ever patented, so most of the chairs are neither copies nor originals, and thinking about this chair in terms of a generic form versus a personal connection to it is something of a contradiction. I guess that’s how I think about balancing that feeling, that you have to have both in order to see one or the other. Speaking more broadly about the town or that sort of blank interior aesthetic that permeates my work, it is blank until you see a remnant of something. It emphasizes both the blankness and the person inhabiting it. The town was finished in 1981 and the inhabitants all left in 1983, so the aesthetic and contents of it really are pinpointed to a very specific period. I was born in 1983 and it’s odd to think that this town has been sat waiting for the entire time that I’ve been alive. The town, in the way I depict it, is very much alive, but it’s just not existing for people anymore. The mold and the moss grow and reclaim the driveways, the birds and animals live among it, the electricity flows through its veins and its buildings stay warm.
You repeatedly refer to a certain “aliveness” of the town despite it being virtually abandoned by humans. I wonder where you locate this persisting living quality.
The town is full of life: birds, foxes, bears, moss growing on roofs, grass growing, the wind and sound of that vastness was awe inspiring, and with the physical sensations of hearing electricity and the heat being on, there was a lot of energy there. As a town, it seemed relaxed, almost content. Things sagged, you could see wood succumbing to the elements, you could see nature and see how much within and around this town was literally living. It just wasn’t living for people’s sake. People seek this type of experience of being alone with nature by going hiking or camping, but rarely do you see or feel it happening within a town, which is why it seemed poignant. Seeing this small microcosm of society slowly succumbing to entropy, despite the loving attempt to prevent this, just makes you aware how vulnerable we all are. And in that respect the town felt spiritual to me. I don’t mean that in terms of a human spirit, in terms of absent people’s spirits, I mean it in terms of being aware of your own being. I was very aware of how insignificant I was in that location. But there is a vulnerability to both realities because, despite the ongoing changing of caretakers, the town won’t last forever. Some buildings are already gone, having burned down or succumbing to massive black mold infestations. I structured the video in a way that subtly shows things falling apart more throughout its duration. You see more of the moss on the driveways later on, and growing on the roofs, and the buildings get emptier.
A search for a sense of the living in objects and places aside from the presence of humans is a central aspect of your work. How do you attempt to address this phenomenon in your work?
I think there’s a duality in something that is connected to a person, but the person is absent. Avoiding using specific figures in the work means the viewer can step in. I think pretty much all of my work is existential deep down, which may seem like a big generalization, but I think that is probably the seed for a lot of thoughts, and that binary between presence and lack of presence is how it is expressed.
Found objects and footage is something that reappears in the work, although sometimes reproduced as facsimiles. What draws you to the found and how do you see it resonate with the crafted/produced elements?
I’m drawn to found footage in the same way I’m drawn to found objects, or just preexisting stuff. Primarily because my ideas are formed by seeing the object or video and then they’re tied to using that thing. The video depicting the town is my first video which is entirely comprised of footage I shot myself, and although the video is “made,” I equally see the town as a “found” or preexisting thing in this equation. It’s also actually quite similar to an old video piece called Meanwhile… from 2008, which was a compilation of establishing shots taken from sitcoms, played one after another, as a series of slow panning shots of buildings in New York City. There wasn’t any explanation for the locations, but a camera homing in on an apartment window, for example, suggests the significance of the place and hints at what may have come before in the past.
Taken from an interview with Anna Gritz, curator at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.