IIIX9MEOW: An INTERVIEW WITH BRENT BIRNBAUM
If you've been in the SPACE annex recently, you may have noticed the stripes on the wall. Those are there thanks to Brent Birnbaum, the New York-based artist whose installation, IIIX9MEOW, is the colorful outcome of his collaboration with nine Maine artists. We asked Brent a few questions about his personal history as an artist, his creative vision, and his pants.
Please give us some background on your history as a practicing artist.
My first degree is in interior design. I doubt anyone will be surprised, after seeing my installation. I have always been obsessed with how a particular space can affect you psychologically.
My interests expanded into conceptual ideas and I then I started making objects to go in the spaces. Sometimes that object is me, as a performer. I have been exploring the relationships between performance, objects, and architecture as a practicing artist since 2006.
Can you describe your process and vision for the IIIX9MEOW installation?
I first made the Adidas sculptures in my studio. Originally, the pants were pinned to the wall. Then I decided they should be stuffed like pillows and sewn together as a giant snake. I'm still into the snake idea, but I happened upon stretching them over a cardboard tube that I was using to stretch Snuggies over. The Snuggie sculptures didn't work out this way, but the Adidas riddle had been solved.
I knew, for SPACE, I wanted to interact somehow with the community. It was a new way of working for me and a way to complete my sculptures. It excites me to come up with new ideas and have some risk involved in my process. I didn't know how my show was going to come out until the day before it opened. It was a performance, or a social practice manner of working, for me to locate nine Maine artists. My vision was to include local artists sculptures on top of my sculptures within a very energetic installation that matched the energy sources I view the combined sculptures to be. I feel like there are nine talismans in the space.
The sculptures that sit on top of your pedestals were made by nine Maine artists. Can you talk about how you selected these collaborators to work with you on your project?
Five artists were selected by there response to my craigslist ad. One student from next door approached me, and one SPACE intern was included. My final two sculptures came from The Art Department on Congress Street. I wanted a broad spectrum of objects and types of artists represented.
What is the significance of the Adidas stripes on the sides of the pedestals?
The stripes can be viewed a number of ways. I'm open to anyone’s interpretation, but this is what I was thinking: it makes the pedestals reference columns, which I like thinking I provided the architecture for other artists. They are also a surprise if you approach the work from the Congress Street entrance. The surprise is also on the viewer that not all the work is mine. These little tricks go together. It was just a formal choice as well and an interest to explore color theory to use the pants. Adidas track pants have specific cultural references which oppose each other. I wanted to play with this ambiguity. Are they for athletics or for getting up late on a Saturday and lounging around the house? Maybe it’s about 80s gangsters? Or maybe, I just wanted to expand my wardrobe once the show is over.
What do you hope that your audience will take from this work?
I hope people will think that the role of an artist is not defined. It is my job to explore boundaries and present new ideas to an audience. My audience will not take away an important aspect of the project, which was witnessing my personal encounters with the other artists in their homes and studios. But now you can think about that. I do want people to feel energized by the installation and leave feeling better, or different, than when they walked in.
How has your experience at SPACE been different from projects you've done at other galleries and art spaces?
I've never stayed at place with a wood burning stove. I love it and want one now.