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Small Collisions: An Interview with Adam Brent

Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

(Not So) Still Life, on view in Glyndor Gallery through July 4, 2016, presents novel ways that contemporary artists are transforming the still life genre to engage with current culture. Artist Adam Brent creates whimsical, domestic assemblages modeled on narratives of personal history, place and memory, using 3D scanning and printing technologies.

Danni Shen: Can you talk about material juxtapositions in your sculptural practice, such as, for instance, kitsch household objects, figurines of personal/nostalgic value, plastic 3D printed material, wood pieces?

Adam Brent: I have always included found elements in my work, but perhaps not in such a complete or fully integrated manner as I am doing now. I actually think that I have been building up to this work my entire career. It’s a synthesis of everything I have made up to now. It’s just a boiled down version where architectural or designerly precision meets the found object. When I carve away an element in a ceramic component, it serves to visually and physically blend and meet either the wood or printed plastic. The color does the same thing, and so on. I am composing with a series of players that have become an interchangeable palette of form: technology, nostalgia, some quirky surrealism and color. It comes from thousands of hours of intimately working with all of these components, including the fickle world of 3D printing. It comes down to fluency more than anything else. It’s this fluency that gives me the bold confidence to bring the odd elements together.

Small-Collisions-digital-rendering

DS: Your pieces in the vestibule niches of Glyndor Gallery combine built and natural elements that evoke a kind of bizarre cornucopia, or even classical fountains. In your process, how do you go about creating your final assemblages?

AB: With what I do, there is no constant. Meaning, on occasion, I’ll have an object in hand that inspires a complete vision. One that includes all elements—wood or metal, plastic, paint and epoxy—that will vary little from what I first imagined. Quite separately, I usually have anywhere between 10 and 20 drawings going in Google Sketchup or Meshmixer that I know will be part of something at some point, but I have no idea quite until they print and serendipitously find their composite pairings.

For Small Collisions, I initially employed a separate arm of my practice due to the precision with which they had to meet the wall or niches. I basically drew the entire vestibule or entryway in Sketchup, complete with accurate dimensions, and designed a prototype plastic foil, the waterfall-like element, that I used for each sculpture, or assemblage. I drew each niche and also made a contour template to verify my accuracy. The plastic elements were actually realized in virtual space before I sent the renderings of what I was proposing to Wave Hill. Meaning, the renderings were in real space and the ceramic elements in the renderings were scans of real objects, the organic branches were of a close diameter, and the plastic was already dimensionally accurate. So while I was waiting for a rendering to complete, I would “virtually” break the plastic into the 10 components necessary to print and then modify those shapes to play with them in the four, separate “life” themes that I was starting to envision. This “arm” of the work, as I would describe is my meticulous side, does stem from early works and the intense time with BroLab, the artist collective I’m a part of. As part of BroLab, we had to create so many detailed proposals and double dip constantly. By double dipping, I simply mean compounding time: why make a separate drawing that can take 100 hours for a printer or CNC machine to produce, when you can get most of it done at the proposal stage? I can spend anywhere from 50 to 100 hours on drawings and renderings, which seems excessive. But since every single element I draw is drawn to be printable on my printers, I don’t take any short cuts, and everything is a solid.  So in the end, that time spent is time earned.

Small-Collisions-1

DS: Some visitors have been wondering about the very visible pink epoxy that holds the pieces together. Whereas your works tend to be very clean-edged, these pieces seem to have a more organic and spontaneous decision-making behind them.

AB: The looseness seen in the epoxy is the manifold result of working so tediously on everything else. Those earlier installations, including recent public work and the bulk of the work with BroLab, involve a high degree of engineered precision. For example, the ballad of crook horn road consists of over 400 components that are stacked in ona huge shelf in my garage. I built that before I used cad to draw everything. If you were to ask me to set it up today, I would be able to do it without a drawing or guide because of the intense time designing its collapsible system. While each beam was screwed together, the assembled sculpture was only held together by small 1” stainless steel pins. In wood no less. Long story short, that was probably the only sculpture I made in 2008. That is not a great recipe for success. Shortly thereafter BroLab came into the world and my career started ticking up. I was showing more, personally, while still making insane, collapsible, large sculptures that involved glass and precision. By 2010, BroLab was launched. With a full-time faculty position and a young family, something had to give. The meticulousness for the most part transitioned to BroLab in projects like Bench-press, Humps and bumps and Stack and rack. Those projects all had to stand the test of time and withstand the elements; we all put our engineer hats for those and so many other projects. I loved sharing that burden, and for the first time that work became pleasure.

Ironically, after I de-installed from the Sunroom [at Wave Hill], I broke the ceramic owl from The Ballad of Crook Horn Road by accident and glued it back together. That small act was also part of what I am doing today, seven years later. Up until recently, the last large work I made was a project called Cold Storage. It was involved, but it was not satisfactory. BroLab was becoming demanding by 2013. We were everywhere and we got picked-up in 2014 by Freight and Volume. During this time, I was making small works with no outlet and pretty quickly, just to keep something of myself alive during our run. I showed them once or twice and then had a solo show at New Haven’s Artists Space or Artspace. Those pieces were close to those that I am doing now, but they weren’t as free. But I was developing a new body that was free-er. I was unsure about them, though. It was the two curator/artists Jenn McCoy and Jenn Dalton /artists who made me feel confident that the zippy, painterly compositions were real and meant something. And my show at their gallery, Auxiliary Projects, may turn out to be the most seminal in my career. That was where I knew that the balance of all my demands was a tool to make strong, fast and cutting work. It’s pure, in a way. I may do a lot of prep and pull from so many things—existing drawings, 3D scans, found things—but in the end, I slam them together in an intense fury because the epoxy only gives me five minutes. All of the sloppiness is part of it. It’s life.

Small-Collisions-2

DS: You mentioned your 2008 Wave Hill Sunroom Project Space project, The Ballad of Crook Horn Road. That was a very different project from your work currently at Wave Hill, which is more object-based. Do your larger installations often have an immersive and functional aspect to them?

AB: Yes. Those larger objects often do have a function. In 2004, I made a plant-based sculpture, Kalanchoe’s Corner, that included a bench to sit on amongst the work and the trays of plants. I made a public project that year for the art lot in Brooklyn. It was a structure of roofs and decks that grew vegetables, and a self watering deck/trellis at Casa Lin for Art Basel. At that time I was heavily impacted by my time learning from and working for Jackie Brookner. In fact, Jackie introduced me to Wave Hill when I helped her with “I’m You” back in 2001 or 2002. So I was making these crazy installations and stand-alone architectural structures that involved spraying water, living plants, sound and light. I was scratching at meaning through function. It was all too energetic and my obsessive side killed most of the meaning by polluting it with too much craft. I couldn’t help myself. Frankly, I had too much to work with as far as inspiration and skill. With BroLab, it was 90 percent function, as we became a fusion of creative and urban intervention, sculpture and performance. Everything we made was big and everything functioned. Its funny how collaboration lends itself to purpose and function. There is an art to that for sure. There is also design as well.

Ballad-of-Crook-Horn-Road

DS: You are a Professor at Parsons for Design Strategies. Do you also have a background in design?

AB: My father was a graphic designer. He is also an artist. Other than that, I have no formal design education aside from what I studied in my foundation years at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art]. I studied sculpture for both undergrad and graduate school. That said, during all of those years I was also a fabricator, furniture restorer, apprentice to a blacksmith and foundry worker. I came to my appreciation of design from making and repairing things that function in the world. You gain a quick appreciation for design when you have to make something that works, fits or holds something up, like a building. In between undergraduate and graduate school, I worked for an eccentric Romanian artist and lived on his commune/compound for several years. We made every connection and bracket, every bench, every balcony, every stairwell; we even made an entire copula. It was nuts and we probably broke every code. But it was a crash course in design as it intersected with art and that is probably where I met the split in my practice head-on. It stayed with me through functional work in graduate school and you know the rest. Jackie Brookner’s work is as much ecological design as it is art. Design is as much about research and understanding and defining problems as it is trying to resolve them through message and function. I came to design purely. I think that is why I have been relatively successful at Parsons. But that is an entirely different subject. Parsons is an idea. It is progressive and quickly evolving; the never-ending questioning of the place design has and can have in the world. Design being employed broadly. Parsons has informed my practice and I have informed it. (I direct the Integrated Design BFA.) If you count my time there at graduate school, I have been at Parsons for 18 years. It’s all fabric now.

DS: What about BroLab? Is that separate from your individual practice?

AB: Kind of. Depending on whom you ask, you will get a different answer. For years, I kept it all together. On my website, I intermingled BroLab and my work for some time. I saw no separation. But it wasn’t until years later that BroLab became such a natural evolution to my work. We started with a larger group fresh out AIM 29. There close to nine of us when we were brainstorming Pump 14. That was a durational work where we filtered each river with yokes and buckets along 14th street. We made our own yokes, but together we footed thousands of gallons of water for close to 30 hours straight. I walked over 42 miles. Each of us did. It wasn’t until we made Humps and Bumps that our public and sculptural design side really kicked in. But BroLab is also a sheer combination of so many things, multiple voices and separate circumstances. So its separate and it deserves to be seen that way. BroLab is totally unique.

DS: What are your inspirations?

AB: So much. I am nothing without having something to work for. I want new success because with it comes opportunity. If I weren’t motivated, I would probably just work on my yard or fix up my house. Purpose, drives me. So do new means and ways, progressions in material, materials alone. Also the imagined histories found in objects, movies and music inspire me in silly ways. I am learning guitar which is freeing me up a bit. I love challenges and the suffering that comes with doing something impactful.

DS: You were recently involved in exhibitions like VOLTA and Jamaica Flux. What’s next? Are there any other projects you are hoping to realize?

AB: I made several attempts to realize a public work for Jamaica Flux. But in the end we have some nice rendering and work that will ultimately live in proposal. I work with a couple of galleries. I have a group show coming up at Thompson Gioroux in Chatham, NY in July and a solo show at Slag Gallery in Bushwick in the fall. The show at Slag will consist of a lot of new work. I am playing with larger scales for that show. I’ll also be in Pulse Miami with Slag, and hope to complete a new body of stand-alone work with BroLab. Then there’s Parsons! There’s a lot to do there.

Pictured above, from the top:
— Adam Brent, digital rendering prototypes for Small Collisions, on view in the vestibule of Glyndor Gallery for (Not So) Still Life, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
— Adam Brent,
Small Collisions, 2016, wood, bark, plastic, ceramic, linoleum, epoxy resin and acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Image by Wave Hill. (Two images are included in this post.)
— Adam Brent,
Ballad of Crook Horn Road, 2008, multiple materials, 78″ x 129″ x 70″. Courtesy of the artist.

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