Chad and I met as he geared up to open his show, La vie en Rose, at SPACE that same day. As we dove into our conversation about art in front of the neon-lights of his exhibit, we touched upon his hopes to offer transcendence, pleasure and pain to the beholders of his exhibit.
How did you get started in art?
I went to college though I did not go to an art school. I went to a liberal arts and I studied art there. I was so naive then. I chose the college I went to because I wanted to participate in the music scene they had. But I don’t regret that at all. This was in Olympia, Washington in the early/mid-nineties with a very influential music punk rock scene. There were a lot of creative people who came out of that scene. That’s where punk-rock informed my art education. I had no idea about any kind of conceptual, theoretical, or philosophical art, it was just like “it’s punk-rock and you are just making it.” I am a teacher now, and a lot of the time I am thinking “fucking kids, you need a lesson in punk rock because everybody seems to think they need to move directly into some kind of institutional or career oriented job,” and I think “fucking make your own.” I find that kind of energy much more useful than hoping that the MoMA is gonna give me a phone call one day. You know what I mean, screw the MoMA. I mean, not really, I love the MoMA, but you either wait for that someone to notice you or you start making happen on your own.
I mostly did photography while I was in college, this was in early mid-nineties with the identity politics explosion in the art scene, which was very influential to my thinking, especially as a young gay man. Then I ended up going to grad school to get my MFA in photography.
So, if you were to describe your artwork in a couple of sentences or three what would those be? Who’s Chad?
I am interested in the sublime, in transcendence, the loss of the ego, which is essentially transcendence, and various kinds of ways in which to kind of achieve those states, but I often think of achieving this state through backdoor channels. This is the queerness that I am always putting into the work I do. I am often taking things that have a crassness to them and I am trying to elevate it into the sublime.
On the topic of elevating disgusting stuff into something exquisite, I actually saw the pee photos in your exhibit Together, We Dream Many Dreams. What was that about?
That’s a video where my partner would piss his underwear every day for a month. The pee video is a perfect example of that elevation of the crass to the sublime.
There are a couple of seconds where the pee begins spreads in the video, and I slow that pee down so that over the course of 30 seconds it blossoms, It’s like a firework or like a flower. Here is this activity that is usually shameful or humiliating and here it becomes quite exquisite, becomes beautiful.
You mentioned some of this already, most of your initial artwork was in the medium of photography (exploring masculinities, for instance), what made you take the jump into sculpture?
I just ran out of ideas with photography and for the first time I had a sculptural idea. If I learned anything in life it is you don’t shut those ideas down. I thought, “until I have another photographic idea, I’ll just now do this.” And as soon as I started doing it, it felt very natural, I just kept on having more sculpturally oriented ideas. It felt very easy and natural. From the outside world, it might look like I was making a large shift but ultimately I still think of these objects as images, to me sculptures are images. They can have a narrative to be teased out just like a photograph.
On that same topic, I have heard the sculptures (both the heads and the body) are molded off your own body, how did you live that process?
For the head, I had my beard shaved and I wore a bald cap. The body itself was a horrible process. It was just incredibly difficult. We had to create this support system so that I could hold the bent over position for over two hours. and my body went numb because of the body position. I should have taken a painkiller, I thought I could tolerate the pain but after 45 minutes in that position it became very painful. There was a point when I couldn’t feel my legs and my friends who were putting on the plaster bandages to make the cast, had to massage my legs to keep the blood flowing and work as quickly as possible.
Why a naked man bent down, on a small ladder, without a head entering a round portal of light? What’s behind this part of the exhibit? I mean, I have a reading of it but I’ll let you speak first.
These pieces on the exhibit are all related. That piece is like a guillotine. The head is being cut off. It’s entering into this neon sun, which is kind of like a halo, or a glory hole but also like a big anus. It’s supposed to hold multiple meanings simultaneously– to lose oneself in pleasure, to lose your head, get lost in one’s head. So there is a violence and a sense of pleasure. And sometimes the pursuit of pleasure is incredibly important but also incredibly selfish, like shoving your own head up your ass? And the bent over body is made vulnerable. A lot of my work deals with vulnerability, with vulnerability being this nexus between pleasure and pain. To be vulnerable and to be open allows pleasure to enter but also pain.
With the ladder I was trying to get it to a certain height. There is a sense of being higher, or a sense of trying to reach something higher, like Icarus reaching for the sun. I have explored these ideas of vulnerability before in my work but this is the first time I have used my own body to explore. I’ve placed myself directly into the work instead of my partner peeing into his pants, for instance. Or asking other people to do vulnerable things for me in order to make the work. It is a self-portrait in a sense, but it hopefully goes beyond that. The desire is to make something that is intensely personal and real for me, but without having to tell the my story. My hope is that you can walk in here and you can think of pleasure, pain, vulnerability and terror and you can think of your relationship with these ideas, not necessarily my relationship with them.
What is up with those heads?
I think about possibility. I mean, in here, we have another kind of reference to a sun with the rug. It’s this kind of 70s shag, fuck rug with all multiple colorful severed heads piled on it. I think about the multiverse, the possibility that you are simultaneously living multiple versions of your life. I think of all these different heads as possible lives. When I originally made this piece, there were 43 heads, one for each year I lived and I made it around the sun, which sometimes feels like an accomplishment. I chose sunset colors for the heads, so it becomes about a kind of a death, an ending. If you look around the piece, light hits every head differently and the slight smile I have on my face feels different. Depending on the angle, you can see the smile or not. Sometimes is a straight face, other times there is a clear reading of pleasure in them.
What is the you deserve it about?
In advertising we are always told what we deserve, and Americans are constantly told what they deserve in terms of rights, for instance. What is the “it” that we deserve? And there’s someone above us saying that we deserve (something), there’s a sense of authority, someone who is making the judgment of what you deserve. And like a judgment, the outcome can go either way, perhaps celebratory or perhaps more sinister. As a gay person coming out in the early nineties at the height of the AIDs epidemic, this statement has a completely different story for me. For me having sex was wrapped up in this intense fear of death, and conservatives were saying all fags deserve to die because of who they are. That was the climate in which I was coming out in and growing up in. This “YOU DESERVE IT.” And there was a point growing up in a conservative household, where I thought I did deserve these things. I did deserve to die. That is where power becomes such a tricky thing. It becomes internalized in a way, and you start to think you deserve certain things whether these things are good or bad. And those things shift as well. Does one deserve pleasure? Does one deserve pain? So that piece works as both as a praising and shaming simultaneously.
Is the video in the back room part of the rest of the exhibit?
I think of this room with the video as some kind of headspace. It’s where the head is going. This is my head. I want you to be in it. This video is to be watched by a single person so you can become an extension of me. It’s a works a bit like drugs, for the first 5 minutes nothing happens and then slowly it begins to take hold. You are just looking at this screen in blue, probably getting a bit bored and pissed off that nothing is happening. However, if you sit long enough, the tone starts to oscillate, and it starts to develop to become more complex. As the sound begins to shift so does the color. Slowly a figure starts to emerge, and it takes a while for that figure to come through. A lot of the video is about this kind of movement towards this figure, which is of my partner, and works as an anchor and is kind of a goal, an ultimate destination. The brain starts projecting itself into the future, starts imagining what will happen, what will be the outcome, which is an anxious way of thinking. There is a moment when the figure turns back to look at you. There’s a sense of authority to him. I’m interested in what will happen when my partner turns around and we have eye contact, in the fear usually attached to that penetrative eye contact with this person I love for they may look at you and not like what they see.
LuisDa Molina Rueda is a Maine-based (for now, anyway) Spanish wanderer concerned with arts, culture and the ga(y)ze. Originally from Spain, LuisDa is a current student at Bates College and summer Outreach Intern at SPACE. He works in the mediums of theater and writing.