Mat­thew Lutz-Ki­noy

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AN­TI­CHRIST VS LIT­TLE MER­MAID

MAX HOO­PER SCH­NEI­DER IS NOT YOUR TY­PI­CAL NEIGHBOR. PART MAD SCIENTIST, PART AMERICANA ANTHROPOLOGIST, HE SHARES HIS TIME BET­WEEN DEMIURGIC LAND ART PRO­JECTS, DEATH ME­TAL CONCERTS, AND MA­KING WEDDING CAKES WITH ADORABLE CREATURES.

IN­TER­VIEW BY PIERRE-ALEXANDRE MA­TEOS & CHARLES TEYS­SOU

L'OF­FI­CIEL ART : You are part of the Aros Trien­nial The Garden – End of Times; Be­gin­ning of Times, where you will present a mau­so­leum of trash in the fo­rest. Could you tell us a bit more about this pro­ject? MAX HOO­PER SCH­NEI­DER :

The work per­forms an au­top­sy of the present through the re­cla­ma­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion of what the present casts off and aban­dons as trash—and yet is orien­ted to­ward the fu­ture. The dis­car­ded com­mo­di­ties – non-cha­ris­ma­tic rem­nants of ca­pi­ta­list so­cie­ty's dis­po­sable eco­no­my, ha­ving ser­ved their pur­pose and ex­haus­ted the de­sires of their users – ap­pear to be corpses, ob­so­lete forms ca­pable on­ly of evo­king me­mo­ries or past lon­gings. And yet this is illu­so­ry: in their half-rui­ned and tran­sient state the ma­te­rials re­main vi­tal, ca­pable of ge­ne­ra­tive ac­tion, ser­ving as the ma­te­rial sub­strate and source of fan­ta­sy-ener­gy for an unk­nown fu­ture. Ge­nea­lo­gi­cal­ly akin to Wal­ter Ben­ja­min's Pas­sen­gen­werk, the re­fu­gium func­tions as a hor­tus conclu­sus that, like the Glo­bal Seed Vault in Sval­bard, or a ce­me­te­ry that ge­ne­ra­tions la­ter blos­soms in­to a wil­der­ness, or a time cap­sule that sends a mes­sage to a fu­ture eco­sys­tem or ci­vi­li­za­tion, in­tends the as­sem­bled ma­te­rials as com­post for what is to come. In their py­ra­mi­dal mau­so­leum the ma­te­rials are en­tom­bed in an oi­ly grave, but on­ly to slow­ly change and de­cay; they have not been as­sem­bled for per­pe­tual pre­ser­va­tion or nos­tal­gic contem­pla­tion but, fol­lo­wing Ben­ja­min, as an ex­hi­bi­tion of na­ture re­wor­king na­ture in the form of his­to­ry—i.e., in the form of hu­man pro­duc­tions be­co­ming na­ture's ruins. While its py­ra­mi­dal form and oc­cult glow, its la­va­tic mo­ve­ments, are in­ten­tio­nal­ly sug­ges­tive of the fol­ly-ar­chi­tec­ture of a tomb—a tomb whose fol­ly is to al­le­go­rize life ra­ther than death—the work is em­pha­ti­cal­ly orien­ted to­ward the fu­ture, in what Ernst Block calls an “an­ti­ci­pa­to­ry illu­mi­na­tion,” a Vor-schein, that “lights up” the event that a garden ul­ti­ma­te­ly is—not life be­co­ming death, but a site of un­cea­sing trans­for­ma­tion and mu­ta­tion, of rot and re­ge­ne­ra­tion, ruin and re­sur­rec­tion: of a heed­less fu­ture that is al­ways-al­rea­dy on its way.

This is not the first time that you have played with such a large-scale context.

Yes. I chose the MLA pro­gram at Har­vard pre­ci­se­ly be­cause I sought an ate­lier that consi­de­red all sites and scales, their po­ten­tials

as li­ving sys­tems, and which would ex­pose me to nuan­ced and fo­rei­gn ma­te­rials that would help me de­ve­lop a lan­guage for construc­ting a uni­verse. I've al­ways wan­ted my works to func­tion or exist as things in­se­pa­rable from the world “out there”, no mat­ter how dis­creet. The bulk of my ear­ly op­por­tu­ni­ties as an artist were out­doors, and exis­ted at a re­la­ti­ve­ly lar­ger scale to those works that pep­per po­pu­lar me­dia. One of the most, if not the most sa­lient examples was the 2nd Edi­tion of the Mon­go­lia Land Art Bien­nial, which took place over the course of sum­mer 2012. This pro­ject was the re­sult of being so­mew­hat ma­roo­ned in the middle of the Go­bi De­sert. About 15 ar­tists were hos­ted on a no­mad set­tle­ment for a month with ve­ry few re­sources for ar­tis­tic pro­duc­tion other than that which could be car­ried on our per­sons and ac­qui­red at flea mar­kets and through bar­ter. I clad a large gra­nite out­crop­ping with a phos­pho­res­cent ce­ment mix­ture that was si­tua­ted amid­st a `vir­gin' grass­land – a grass­land so ripe and un­trod­den that me­re­ly a few foots­teps would dee­ply tint one's shoes with iri­des­cent green pol­len, and pro­duce a thick aro­ma of sweet but­ter. Moun­tain goats, wild horses and birds of prey out­num­be­red our spe­cies ten­fold. Small erup­tions of purple ame­thyst punc­tua­ted the land­scape like ter­mite mounds. The iso­la­ted work, ir­ra­dia­ted by a po­wer­ful sun, be­came ac­tive at night. Free of any am­bient light-source other than the stars above, the gra­nite rock for­ma­tion gave off an in­tense, blue-hot azure glow, and soon be­came a bea­con for no­mads tra­ver­sing the re­gion. Upon re­tur­ning from Mon­go­lia, it was re­layed to me that sha­mans and pas­sers­by be­gan de­po­si­ting bones from their set­tle­ments at this glo­wing rock for­ma­tion as if the work had been in­car­na­ted as some sort of shrine. It had be­gun to do its own work; it had ge­ne­ra­ted its own eco­lo­gy out­side my au­thor­ship. That no­tion alone be­came the las­ting ges­talt of the pro­ject. This was an ex­pe­di­tion, a thing that rup­tures rea­so­ned cal­cu­lus; true field­work.

You were awar­ded this year's BMW art prize, which al­lo­wed you to ex­plore the reef eco­lo­gies of the In­do-West Pa­ci­fic, Rus­sia and East Afri­ca.

In­deed, I was - a tre­men­dous pri­vi­lege, a per­so­nal mi­les­tone. It still blows my mind that I am going on this me­ga-ex­pe­di­tion be­gin­ning this Au­gust. It is al­ways hard for me to be pi­thy, but ul­ti­ma­te­ly reefs are giant pe­tri dishes that pro­vide a lens for hu­man­kind's mu­ta­bi­li­ty. This, for me, is their al­lure. Un­til the ni­ne­teenth cen­tu­ry, no one knew what co­rals were—ani­mal, mi­ne­ral, or plant, “pe­tri­fied foun­tains'` or “char­ming un­der­wa­ter ge­nii ea­ger to mar­ry hu­man beings.” We now know that co­rals are ani­mals, po­lyps whose exos­ke­le­tons form li­mes­tone reefs, but this know­ledge doesn't di­mi­nish their ca­pa­ci­ty to

en­chant. The unem­bel­li­shed facts of their exis­tence are them­selves ex­tra­or­di­na­ry. Co­ral reefs are dy­na­mic, li­ving sys­tems and yet en­tire na­tions are made of them. In this and other ways co­ral reefs in­fluence the che­mi­cal ba­lance of the pla­net and its oceans; they func­tion as the first re­spon­ders in is­suing war­nings about on­going pla­ne­ta­ry de­gra­da­tion. I see this as a last chance to in­ter­act with the reefs, to bear wit­ness to the va­ni­shing of a life-form that may ne­ver come again. Ho­we­ver, if you think in terms of pla­ne­ta­ry time, or of a uni­verse in which things are conti­nuous­ly co­ming in­to being and pas­sing away, then it may not be si­gni­fi­cant if the reefs—or hu­mans—be­come ex­tinct. My per­so­nal pre­fe­rence, ho­we­ver, is that if so­me­thing has to go, it be hu­mans. Pe­rhaps most im­por­tant­ly, the BMW Art Jour­ney has af­for­ded me the op­por­tu­ni­ty to make fil­mic work for the first time – so­me­thing I've been ten­ding to­ward for years now – as well as ex­pand upon my dio­ra­mic practice with ma­te­rials culled from the tro­pi­cal aqueous fields and sho­re­lines.

The no­tion of the non-hu­man is fun­da­men­tal to your practice, and of­ten be­comes a tool to link na­ture to me­ta­phy­sics, in an al­most Leib­ni­zian way.

The first step is to see the world in a mo­nist way and to un­ders­tand that there are, in fact, real in­ter­ac­tive in­fluences exis­ting bet­ween all beings, all bo­dies, that we are not al­ways aware of. The pro­cess of mu­tual mor­pho­ge­ne­sis is dif­fi­cult for mo­dern wes­tern hu­mans to ac­cept be­cause they are conge­ni­tal Car­te­sians who be­lieve them­selves to be out­side of na­ture, mas­ters of na­ture. Hu­man beings are a consti­tuent part of na­ture and exist in a uni­verse with the to­ta­li­ty of other beings, from rocks to tide pools to com­pu­ters. All beings, in sim­ply exis­ting, mo­di­fy one ano­ther, leave their marks on one ano­ther in an au­to­poie­tic cho­reo­gra­phy; hu­mans leave their marks, as do star­fish and elec­tric drills, and these marks are not re­ver­sible if you be­lieve, as I do, that time is real and moves in on­ly one di­rec­tion. Re­co­gni­zing this fact aids the break­down of clas­si­cal taxo­no­mies and ma­te­rial bi­na­ries. I pre­fer the play of mixing and hy­bri­di­ty. I've al­ways had ab­so­lute faith in the po­wer of non-hu­man na­ture. So quite rea­di­ly my practice serves to in­cu­bate and pro­duce works that ad­vance my cri­ti­cal world­view, a view that en­com­passes ma­ny conceits, in­clu­ding strains of me­ta­phy­sics and those that are more ma­te­ria­list. My work func­tions not to re­present na­ture but exist as na­ture.

This bio-art di­men­sion in your work is of­ten seen through the prism of Ame­ri­can pop cul­ture, es­pe­cial­ly in your dio­ra­mas and ins­tal­la­tions, which are

po­pu­la­ted by death me­tal si­gns and theme park re­mi­nis­cences. As we've al­rea­dy dis­cus­sed, it's like a mee­ting bet­ween Lear­ning from Las Ve­gas and a dee­per eco-art tra­di­tion.

I take no is­sue with my work re­flec­ting dee­ply roo­ted per­so­nal or au­to-bio­gra­phi­cal ob­ses­sions and de­lights, whe­ther we want to clas­si­fy them as Americana, kitsch, scien­ti­fic/as­cien­tifc, land­scape ar­chi­tec­tu­ral, spe­cu­la­tive, ni­hi­lis­tic, etc. My ru­brics of clas­si­fi­ca­tion, to the extent that they exist, al­low for plu­ra­li­ty. The works and I are not one, and ho­pe­ful­ly the works are more ar­ti­cu­late than I am re­gar­ding their in­ten­tion of adhe­ring to no clas­si­fi­ca­to­ry law and or­der. While I re­co­gnize the clas­si­fi­ca­to­ry im­pulse—i.e., the bran­ding im­pulse—and its uses, I am ne­ver com­ple­te­ly com­for­table with co­ming up with la­bels to de­fine what I do. Dio­ra­mas, Ja­pan, ma­rine bio­lo­gy, death me­tal, ar­ti­fi­cial flo­ra, aqua­ria/ter­ra­ria, the va­rie­ga­ted sur­faces of junk, a taste for the ba­roque and the re­pe­ti­tive, are re­cur­rent tropes, mo­tifs, ico­no­gra­phics, and modes of ex­pe­rience that ap­pear in the works but they do not de­fine the works ca­te­go­ri­cal­ly—e.g., the works are not odes to death me­tal or ce­le­bra­tions of pop cul­ture—un­less im­pu­ri­ty it­self is a ca­te­go­ry a la Wal­ter Ben­ja­min, for example, and this may be what you mean by re­fe­ren­cing Brown, Ven­tu­ri, and Ize­nour. I went back and loo­ked at the book and I like the first sen­tence: “Lear­ning from the exis­ting land­scape is a way of being re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry for an ar­chi­tect.” By this they mean lear­ning to look at an exis­ting ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment “non­judg­men­tal­ly” ra­ther than being en­ga­ged in a conti­nuous cri­tique of what is there and how it can be re­pla­ced. I like the non-au­tho­ri­ta­rian, non-to­ta­li­ta­rian as­pect of the sen­ti­ment: aban­do­ning ur­ban mas­ter plans is si­mi­lar to aban­do­ning mas­ter-ca­te­go­ries. I al­so like what Ce­leste Olal­quia­ga says about kitsch—“eclec­tic can­ni­ba­lism”, “un­brid­led vo­ra­cious­ness”, kitsch as the “ori­gi­nal re­cy­cler” in its stea­ling and re­de­ploy­ment of mo­tifs and ma­te­rials with no re­gard for their ori­gi­nal context or use—which lends it an in­herent cri­ti­ca­li­ty vis-à-vis hie­rar­chy and clas­si­fi­ca­to­ry boundaries. I un­ders­tand how any gi­ven work of mine could be des­cri­bed as a land­scape garden, a construc­ted uni­verse or bios­phere, an ar­chi­tec­tu­ral or vi­sual mne­mo­nic, the strip mall sur­vi­vor of a bom­bed me­tro­po­lis, a ma­te­ria­li­zed re­pe­ti­tion com­pul­sion…I un­ders­tand them as fol­lows: as ma­te­rial worlds of­fe­ring, in the man­ner of the eve­ry­day worlds we in­ha­bit, a bom­bard­ment of the senses, mul­tiple as­so­cia­tions at dif­ferent se­mio­tic le­vels that will confuse and clash and re­main frag­men­ta­ry and ne­ver be re­du­ced to a sin­gu­la­ri­ty or for mac ohe­ren­cy— des pi­tethe illu­sion of their en­vi­ron­men­tal contain­ment and co­he­rence.

Max Hoo­per Sch­nei­der, The Dis­co­ve­ry of VHS, 2015, lec­teur de VHS et matériaux mixtes, 156 x 40 x 62 cm.

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