Interviews are some of our favorite content—and, we think, some of our most enduring. The ArtSlant “Rackroom” is an expanding public archive, filing away unfiltered insight straight from artists themselves. Over the years we’ve invited over 400 (and counting!) artists—emerging and established, some emerging who have since become established—into the Rackroom. These conversations touch upon urgent contemporary issues as well as the personal preoccupations of our interviewees, and they provide a resource for artists and art professionals of all stripes.
2015 was another great year in our Rackroom. From meditations on painting and utopias, to conversations about art school and emerging art scenes, this year’s interviewees brought tremendous generosity and thoughtfulness to their dialogues. And we were particularly excited that this year featured more artists working in digital registers than ever before. The list includes some perennial favorites and household names, as well as artists we know you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the future.
We had a terrible time whittling it down, but here you have our favorite interviews from the Rackroom 2015.
Cecily Brown Discusses Style, Insecurities, and Knowing When a Painting Is Finished
This interview with Cecily Brown, on the occasion of her CFA Berlin solo this fall, is a sincere and fascinating meditation on painting. We loved how much generosity and insight Brown brought to the discussion—including candid revelations about her fears as an artist—and weren’t surprised to learn that this was our most read interview of 2015.
Notable quote: “Because obviously the fear is that you are just spewing up this stuff and it’s all been done and you’re just wallowing in you own mind…”
Interview with Joep van Lieshout: Totems for the Neo-Industrial Tribe
ArtSlant has a long history of lowland correspondents covering Atelier Van Lieshout, or AVL, the sometimes-outrageous Rotterdam sculpture studio. So we were thrilled to get AVL mastermind Joep van Lieshout into the Rackroom this year—in our second most popular interview—on the occasion of the group’s latest dystopian project Blast Furnace.
Notable quote: “My work is also about the balance between the rational and the irrational. Wanting to produce your own steel is a rational desire, wanting to live in a blast furnace is not. Every one of my sculptures carries its own negation in its core.”
Interview with Hito Steyerl: “The medium is an information filter”
We think Hito Steyerl is one of the sharpest artists and theorists working today. So when she was awarded the first EYE Prize for art and cinema in April, we couldn’t wait to chat with her. She spoke with Edo Dijksterhuis about the blurring of writing and filmmaking, her use of music and humor, and how she “never learned to be an artist.”
Notable quote: “What we see is not an image but the medium itself. The medium is an information filter and it influences our perception.”
Arts and Letters: Lesley Dill in Conversation
When other New York artists were making neo-conceptual and postmodern art in the 80s and 90s, Lesley Dill was making work that questioned traditional notions of what women’s art was supposed to be. Lee Ann Norman spoke with Dill in her Brooklyn home and studio and their conversation covered a lot of territory: from reading and language to representations of the feminine and masculine in culture, faith, and mentorship in the art world.
Notable quote: “Most days I know I am a woman, but some days I feel as if I am a man, and I wonder if other people feel like that too.”
The Conceptual Entrepreneur: Martine Syms in Conversation
Martine Syms considers herself a “conceptual entrepreneur,” a moniker we wanted to know more about. She got us up to speed on the fantastic Memory Palace, the film she collaborated on with Khalil Joseph, her use of found photos and interest in science fiction, and how she thinks digital media can be a prosthetic memory.
Notable quote: “Lately I've actually been thinking about the idea of the film or the photograph as a sort of monument. Especially since within the black diaspora there's not so many monuments, but there is this archive from the beginning of cinematic, photographic, history to present black figures, black bodies, in that medium.”
Interview with Ed Atkins: Cadavers Telling You to Shut Up
Ed Atkins has had a bumper couple of years with big-time European solos at the Palais de Tokyo, the Serpentine, and the Stedelijk. We caught up with the digital video sensation at his Amsterdam solo, where we learned about his use of music, his avatar, and how he’s really a performance artist at heart.
Notable quote: “Imperfection is part of being human. The characters in my work are stuck, they are frustrated. The technology drives towards the highest level of reality but fails to do them justice. They are cadavers: part object, part spiritual but never alive.”
This interview was one of the year’s most unique and intimate. Interviewer Guy Parker went to film school with the Turner Prize-winning Laure Prouvost in the 90s, and we learned so much from their reminiscing about the rigors of their education in Structural Film and coming of age in the YBA era.
Notable quote: “Like teenagers, we wrote letters to all our family: ‘We are not artists anymore.’ We were really stupid. But… the YBAs were so present. It was all about that. That was the only way of working in art, so you felt maybe you had to go against it a bit… Art was becoming this sort of product. Bigger than ever before.”
Citing Decolonial Theory, Moffat Takadiwa Transforms Debris into Art
With talk in the media about contemporary African art being the “next big thing” for collectors, we were much more interested in hearing about these developments from the perspective an artist. Sculptor Moffat Takadiwa spoke to Natalie Hegert about the market, and also decolonial theory, his use of discarded materials, the Zimbabwean art scene and the gallery he founded in Harare.
Notable quote: “The born-free artists have a likely different way of seeing and tackling issues—you can see that most Zimbabwean artists today show advocacy for cultural freedom from colonial thinking.”
Shame, Narcissism, and Online Empathy: Ann Hirsch's Multiple Selves
In a recent addition to the Rackroom, editor Char Jansen spoke with “4th wave feminist” Ann Hirsch about her autobiographical solo at Smart Objects in LA. In a genuine and nuanced conversation, Hirsch discussed shifting (and conflicting) expectations for women, working through shame in her artwork, and how narcissism is still taboo in the art world.
Notable quote: “ I think it’s important as an artist to get as close to the “core” of yourself as you can, even if that means presenting yourself in a hypocritical manner or from multiple viewpoints that might appear at odds with one another. The more complicated we present ourselves, the more human we become.”
Zina Saro-Wiwa on Art and Authentic Storytelling in the Niger Delta
Coming in under the wire, the last Rackroom interview of 2015 was one of our favorites. Artist and filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa moved back to the Niger Delta in 2013 to make art and tell the story of the social and environmental effects of the oil industry in Nigeria. On the occasion of Saro-Wiwa’s first museum solo at the Blaffer Art Museum, Sharon Obuobi spoke with the artist about this latest body of work, the gallery she founded in Port Harcourt, and art’s critical capacity for storytelling.
Notable quote: “Oil and the battles associated with extraction have had an impact on art and culture. When this aspect of your life is diminished I believe it has a detrimental effect on your psyche, your health and on your economy. It was and is important for me to try and begin to find a way to tell stories again through art and to bolster the artistic muscle of the Niger Delta.”
Random International: Art & Technology's Magical Realists
Editor Joel Kuennen was positively giddy this spring after speaking with art collective Random International about a residency they did in collaboration with Harvard roboticists. Known for their magical (and Instagrammable) Rain Room installation, the artists talked art and technology and mused about the "weirdness" of the human-machine relationship.
Notable quote: “In examining the surreal nature of the man-machine relationship—the weirdness—through our work, we offer a different perspective from which to interpret, cope with, and retain control over people’s individual relationships with their increasingly automated environments.”
Frances Stark on Art and Hip Hop
Nadja Sayej caught up with Frances Stark in Venice after she’d won $137,000 to produce her dream project, courtesy of the Absolut Art Award. The project? A video collaboration with West Coast rapper DJ Quik to produce a contemporary interpretation of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Notable quote: “To work with DJ Quik is my dream project. I believe in him so much, he is tough. He keeps quitting the game but keeps coming back. We’re both middle-aged where we’re disgruntled.”
(Image at top: Hito Steyerl, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, HD video, single screen in architectural environment, 14 min. © Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York)