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Jesse Sugarmann

INTERVIEW: Jesse Sugarmann

Tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist. What is your practice like; how do you work?

My practice is fairly cyclical. I tend to commit to a lot of large-scale performance projects, which can be really stressful and usually will wipe me out. So after I finish a big performance project I’ll retreat to the studio to recuperate, focusing on smaller, object-based work. And then the objects I make will lead me to ideas for large-scale performance projects. I’ll get excited, arrange to do a large-scale performance project, get wiped out again, and then retreat to the studio. It goes on and on. It’s not the healthiest cycle, but it keeps me productive.

Please describe your work on We Build Excitement from your point of view.

In my recent work, I’ve begun to address the car directly as material, considering the car accident as a set of spatial problems and sculptural possibilities. I’m attracted to the way car accidents function as temporary monuments to traumas. That is, I think that we look at car accidents, when we pass them on the highway, with a lot of the same energy and expectation with which we look at a monument. The car accident, considered as a sculptural form, is a monument forged instantly by a sudden trauma.

We Build Excitement is an amplification of this open understanding of monument, a collection of individual acts of sculpture in celebration of the discontinued Pontiac Motor Division. Pontiac was such a cool, strange, and daring car company; I was terribly sad to see it go. Automotive design and fabrication is a process of building objects that echo and preempt popular notions of social standing and self-image. And Pontiac’s approach to this process was always so perfectly off, producing designs that were bluntly masculine, childishly fantastic, and sexy in a David Lee Roth sort of way. New Pontiacs felt so dated, nostalgic, and modern at the same time. I think that we lost something when we lost Pontiac, something innocent and goofy and uniquely American. So this project, We Build Excitement, is meant to serve as a monument to Pontiac, a remembrance and a celebration of its weird energy.

Who are three artists that influence your work and why?

I’m mostly influenced by the strategies employed by other artists, that is, by looking at the ways in which other artists navigate their way through the set of ideas that they’re working with. I’m specifically interested in the strategies of artists with bodies of work that smoothly cross media lines, moving in and out of video to object and performance while still maintaining a coherent and revealing thread, artists like Shana Moulton, Rashaad Newsome, and Jeremy Deller.

What is one of your favorite time-based artworks, or pieces of design, and why?

I’m perpetually obsessed with Bas Jan Ader’s 1971 short film Broken Fall (Organic), the one where he’s hanging out of a tree. It’s just so damn efficient, the way in which Ader builds tension through risk. Ader’s films offer a blueprint of what I want video art to be; they are the rawest and bluntest set of narratives I can think of. And Broken Fall (Organic) is, in my opinion, the most elegant realization of Ader’s ideas. It’s a wonderful film.



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