Q: Where did you grow up?
A: A town called Sebastopol, California — Like an hour north of San Francisco.
Q: What kind of high school did you go to?
A: It was, uh, Neo Brick Gothic. It was a public high school, and it had an arts magnet program.
Q: Do you have any siblings? Are they artists?
A: I have a twin sister. She’s a counselor at the chemical engineering department at Stanford University. I’m still trying to figure out what that involves.
Q: What was your house like?
A: I grew up in a place that had been a little motorcycle garage. My parents turned it into a little house.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing someone has ever yelled at you on the street?
A: I can’t think of anything on the street — I remember one time I was at the river in the summer, in an innertube with my arms and legs all splayed out, and this guy yelled at me from the shore and told me I looked like a plucked chicken. And I told him he looked like a baked ham.
Q: What kinds of jobs have you worked?
A” Odd jobs. I worked as an art salesman at hotels — like, boutique hotels. This guy, the gallery owner, had a gimmick where he set up limited edition lithographs in hotel lobbies. And I stood there in a suit trying to sell them. Then I worked applying vinyl to signs for the interiors of gas stations and convenience stores. In between I worked with friends on carpentry jobs. I had a few teaching jobs too — but only short workshops at alternative high schools and things like that.
Q: Are you good at making money? Selling?
A Making Money? No, I’m not good at that. I was okay as an art salesperson for a very short while, but it got difficult for me after the novelty wore off. It was exhausting and it made me feel bad about myself. Eventually, the hotels initiated a policy where we weren’t allowed to speak to anyone unless we were “working” with a customer and I quit. But that was also very different from the kind of self-promotion that one engages in as an artist. I think it was easier — There’s less anxiety about communicating important details.
Q: How did you settle on being a painter?
A: I never really had any ambitions outside of being an artist of some kind. I’m not sure I’d call myself a painter per se. One of the things that appeals to me about being an artist is that we get to play with vocations and disciplines that are not really our own.
Q: So what are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a show in collaboration with some other students and faculty here. We are organizing an exhibition on the subject of work and work-systems, focusing specifically on the discipline of “Macroergonomics,” the question of subjectivity formation within the designed environment, and the representation of labor as a subject in art history. The show focuses on the work of the artist Darcy Lange and his documentary “Work Studies in Schools.” In terms of my own studio work, the show overlaps with an interest that I have in structures which are intended to facilitate the presentation or display of information. I usually think of my paintings in relation to this kind of environment — using the display of paintings as a way to identify bad thinking and looking habits and generate alternative conditions for encountering things in the world.
Q: You mentioned you made work this summer involving a simple jacket and pants designed by Vladimir Tatlin in 1924. How did you get interested in this?
A: I was trying to figure something out about our own post-industrial consumer culture, and I thought Russia in the twenties was a really great counter-model. In post-revolutionary Russia there wasn’t much of an industrial infrastructure, and a number of artists during this period identified a linkage between cultural production, industrial modernization and social progress. Ultimately, this manifested itself as an attempt to institute a kind of general creativity by abandoning the idea of art as a productive category and focusing on mass production. I wondered if some of the theoretical writing that came out of this period might help clarify my own questions about how I relate to manufactured things and how I relate to other people. The circumstances, of course, are totally different, but for me that difference is potentially very useful. For Tatlin, this suit design was a way to address a social issue — in his case, the re-emergence of bourgeois culture under an economic plan that was instituted by the Soviet Government at that time. I thought it was interesting that someone could think of their work in this way.
Q: Why did you choose Cambodia as the site of production?
A: A bunch of reasons. I was interested in U.S. foreign policy there, and the Nixon administration’s bombing campaigns, and the question of the status of modernity and modernization under the Khmer Rouge regime. And how a utopian social project can turn into something horrible. The Constructivists were focused on turning a rural population into an urban one, they took a position against traditional peasant culture in the name of social equality and modernization. In Cambodia, it was precisely the opposite — there was an active dismantling of industrial infrastructure and a policy of forced relocation of urban populations to rural locations. I guess at the end of the day, I was interested in the fact that Cambodia went through all this and then in the 1990’s developed a manufacturing base for apparel that gets sold mostly in the U.S.
Q: Why use history so directly, a history that is not yours or your culture’s?
A: I see these histories as being intertwined with American culture. Early on, Constructivism actually used the term “Amerikanizm” to connote technological progress! The American presence in Cambodia, of course, is another subject entirely. But, you know, dealing with ideas in a way that is excessively abstract can make it difficult to communicate. It helps to have specific examples. I guess that right now I’m trying to figure out what kind of examples might be useful to me. Sometimes it helps to go to extremes when you’re figuring things out– if my questions involve people’s relations with manufactured objects and ideological systems, what are two historical instances that present a clear program and documentation in this regard? I found two historical periods that were generative for me.
Q: If you could live under any communist regime, which would it be?
A: Yikes. I’d like to live in [reading from newspaper] the definitive office space of the twenty-first century.
Q: The paintings you have up in your studio right now look like stretched T-shirts. What’s going on there?
A: They are T-shirts. It’s a really cheap way to access surplus imagery, or waste imagery. Did you know printed T-shirts have only been around since like 1952? It came out of Miami Beach’s early efforts to cultivate a tourist industry. It was an attempt to turn a regional identity into a brand identity, and I think it was more or less successful. See the one that says ‘Personal Trainer?’ I kind of like to think of the stuff I make as “Personal Trainers.”