MK: Matt Kennard
MK If you could say what you are planning to do in this London show, what it’s going to look like, and why London now?
SW Well, I’ve been meaning to do this show in London for a couple of years now, actually, and somehow it’s just now is the moment that it works, but basically, I am just… I’m adlibbing a lot, which there are a few different kinds of installations that I do, and one of them is where I get in a space and just go, and this is that kind. So it’s not like… some are sort of meticulously planned out and there’s this… but this one we’re just going for it. But I think that the way that I’m thinking of it is that that tunnel has got… it’s such a cocoon-like space, and I just want to… and I have these pieces, which are overlarge for the space, but I just wanted to make it feel like this hall of giants. The piece is called Murmuration, which means that kind of thing where the starlings just fucking fill the sky. Have you ever seen this?
MK Yes, I’ve seen that actually, a clip everyone was posting the other day. Did you see the recent one?
SW I didn’t.
MK Yes, it’s nuts.
SW Yes, it’s totally crazy. Maybe I did, actually. Was it women on a lake?
MK I think so. I think people were debating whether it was real or not.
SW Yes, well, I mean, that’s what those configurations look like. I’ve seen them not that big, but they’re really incredible. Anyway, I was just thinking how much I love that phenomena, how much I associate it with England, and then that feeling of creating something that’s maybe slightly overwhelming inside a space.
MK What do you think of the label street art? Do you use it?
SW When it’s outside.
MK But it doesn’t just describe outside, right? It describes in-the-gallery stuff as well. Do you refer to your own work as street art?
SW No. For me, I think it’s just a way to describe street installations. It’s a way to describe a process for working outside. For me, if I’m working outside, then fine; call it street art, but if I’m working inside, then it’s an installation. If I’m building a house, I’m building a house. It doesn’t seem that useful to me as a distinction.
MK What did you think of the scene in London? I mean, what do you think of the London artists?
SW I feel like I don’t have a recent view of it. I mean, I think that it’s got such a strong history, and definitely the first time I came to London, that was 2001 or 2002, and then I was like… it was something important to see British art at that time for me.
MK Any particularly artist that you’re into here?
SW Your dad, obviously. I feel like I have to admit a lot of ignorance right now because I get so focused on projects that I feel like I’m just in this crazy tunnel vision. People ask me what’s going on. I’m like, no fucking idea.
MK That’s the way to do it.
SW No, it’s not, though. It’s the way to do it for a little while, but then you have to broaden up again, so if you want to educate me on anything, feel free.
MK No, I don’t know that much, to be honest. Can you talk briefly about your career just to give a sense of where you came from? When did you start doing art?
SW When I was a kid. I think like most artists, I started drawing when I was very little, and I got quite serious really young. So I started very seriously studying painting and stuff for my whole life, and then I went to Pratt, and then while I was at Pratt, I started making stuff outside. Certainly while I think that the label of street art is not useful sometimes, it’s really useful other times, and it was certainly my total obsession at that point. Then I was working outside, and then I slowly branched out into many… it was this kind of seed of a thought process that branched out into lots of other thought processes, including making installations and making boats.
MK It’s unusual for you… the fact that you’re a woman, right? People talk about that.
SW It really was, yes, for sure.
MK I mean, when you were coming up, which was mid-2000s, right?
MK But you were by yourself, really, is that true?
SW Yes. Well, it was almost like I started this process by myself. In a way, I was not in a ton of context. It was like I had this project in mind, but it wasn’t that I was coming out of a community of artists that were working in that way even. I just was like, I’m going to think about working in this way. Then afterward, I discovered the community of artists that were working in the same way, but I felt in a way I just came out of left field entirely with everything. I was like, now I’m going to do this, so that it was unusual that I was a woman in this scene, but it was, I think, maybe… I don’t know. There were just a few different reasons. I think it was unusual for a woman to be working in this way.
MK Have you encountered any discrimination?
MK Do many people know you’re a woman, though?
SW Back in the day, people did not used to know, and I remember sometimes I would just let them not think that because I was just like, whatever. You’ll figure it out eventually. But I actually have encountered mostly the opposite of people just being really supportive and feeling like, rad, you’re doing this, you know? Every once in a while, back in the super olden days, the very strictly macho graffiti artists in New York would be dicks, but those guys are going to be dicks anyway. The not super-macho graffiti artists would be rad and totally embracing, you know? I never felt that it was about me being a woman in any way except for a supportive way.
MK When you were coming up, and still now, who are your main influences? I mean, who did you look to when you started to do… when you were developing your stuff?
SW Way back in the day, I was looking very classically at the Dutch Masters and stuff, you know? Then I think that at a time that was very formative for me, I was looking at William Kentridge and Gordon Matta-Clark were probably my biggest influences, and I think now I… you know who I really love now is this woman called Sarah Sze, and she’s one of the few people that I think has this way of embodying a thought process in form. It’s like you can see that her thought process ran through form like water in a riverbed. She just makes it grow. Anyway, I love her. She’s a big influence, somebody I love right now.
MK In terms of your style, how do you feel it’s developed, and are you going to continue doing the same sort of stuff as you’re doing now? Have you got ideas about switching up?
SW Okay, the way that I work is that I have this series of drawings, and I paste them outside, and I make installations with them, and that series of drawings I’ve been making for 12 years or something, and that’s this constant in my life. That style might change and grow, and it always does, but my thought process has a lot of arms to it, and they’re all always growing and changing and feeding each other, so I have a lot of projects. I’m working on a musical house in New Orleans. I have an ongoing project working on building structures in Haiti. I have this boat project that sort of happened.
MK I was just in Haiti two weeks ago.
SW Were you? What were you doing?
MK I was doing some stories there about the reconstruction, but what were you doing in Haiti?
SW We were working in a small village, and we were just working on some structures. We built a community centre and a house in a small village outside of Port au Prince. It was the kind of thing where we were a small group of artists and we were like, we want to be a small group of artists doing something that matters here. We were like, okay, tent cities… we can’t take on a whole tent city as five people. We were like, we really need something where we can have a direct link with a small community, and so we found this village that had lost some structures and people needed work.
MK The art scene there is crazy. I mean, everyone does art there. Did you notice that? It’s a highly creative.
SW Yes, creative, super creative.
MK Yes, even in the camps.
SW No, the village that we were working in, it was like 60% of people were stone carvers… amazing, yes. So we were like, okay, we learned this style of building and we want to share it with you, and very quickly, people were a thousand times better than us at it. We were like, this is so rad, just learning from stuff. Yes, it was pretty neat.
MK Okay, so you did that, and you’ve done this stuff in Venice, so you obviously are a political person, right?
SW Sure, yes.
MK Has it always been a big part of you?
SW Yes, I think that for me, working out… I don’t know how to describe it… when I started to become aware of the world at large in a certain kind of a way, in a more sort of politically aware way, was the same time that I started working outside, and that whole thinking process dovetailed and really spurred itself onward because once you start working outside, then you open up that whole conversation about public space and private space and the commons and that whole dialogue. So I think that working outside was the thing that got me more deeply into that thought process, and then everything else that I’ve done thereafter is just an extension of that rooting your work in the context of the world and then getting down into all the questions that that asks once you’re in that setting.
MK Do you think art can be a powerful force in such a movement, or do you think it’s just a garnish? Do you think you can change perceptions?
SW I think for me, I’m really interested in how art is a thought process, which also is something that affects change, that through enacting that thought process, you also are creating… so that’s why in Haiti, we built a house in a community centre. That’s what we did. We did this very concrete… but it was still for me, it was still the process of taking the creative transformative artistic thought process and applying it to a community in a desperate situation and applying it to a circumstance. So I think that for me, how that works a lot of times is about thinking about art making as that creative transformative thought process and how that can be applied in any given situation. So there’s the more specific question of do these drawing affect mind states, but then there’s also, how do we as artists bring that thought process into broader and more effective scenarios.
MK What do you think of the art world reaction to that sort of political art?. Do you think they’re allowing more in now? How do they take to your… what’s your reaction from the main stream art world? I mean galleries in New York, galleries in London.
SW Galleries in New York don’t touch me with a 10-foot pole. Jeffrey Deitch was the only one. I’m in official galleries or whatever. Tons of awesome young people who are piecing things together, love to organise projects, but the only person that I’ve ever… besides Suzanne Geiss, who I’m working with who is Jeffrey Deitch’s director, any legit establishment in New York is a miss.
MK Yes, it’s weird. Well, it’s not weird. I suppose it’s understandable, right?
SW And Jeffrey was just… when he left New York, which was my gallery in New York, he was like, you’re very particular. No one who doesn’t understand you is going to be able to get near you because you take on these huge projects, they’re really expensive, they’re time consuming, they’re intensive in all these different ways, and then they’re just out in the world, and what does that amount to commercially or whatever? So I think in a way, it’s almost just that simple. I don’t think it’s even necessarily a fear of taking on political content. I think it’s like it has to also fit into a certain kind of formula or something.
MK But do you think it’s also snobbishness…
SW I guess so.
MK … this is an art world that’s been the way it has been for decades, and then there’s a new form of art which is outside the gallery, and they’re deciding whether to let it in, and maybe they think this isn’t real art?
SW But I actually have done a lot of work with museums, which I would almost think that they would be snobbier, but I think that it’s institutions that are ready for experimentation have been like, hey, what are you doing? Let’s do the same.
MK Yes, and do you see yourself as just doing art forever? I mean, you manage to make a living of it, right? So it’s your one passion in life, right?
SW Right, always has been. The thing about it for me is that it sort of goes back to that thing that I was saying about recognising art making as the creative transformative thought process and then applying that however you see fit. It’s that for me, there’s not… I don’t feel at all limited by life as an artist at all. I feel it only makes a set of possibilities, so I definitely see myself as always being an artist because I feel like that can manifest in a thousand different ways.
MK What’s the scene like in New York now? Faile are pretty big, and who else is there, really?
SW Again, I’m like, uh…
MK But I mean you are one of the most prominent, right?
SW Yes, totally. No, you know, I’m not even home that much and I only go out pasting in New York less than… everywhere I go, I go out pasting, and in New York, once a year, so in a way I feel like I’ve neglected my home, and I can’t even answer that question.
MK Fair enough. All right, well, thank you. Oh, yes, one more question… you said you haven’t been in New York, so you don’t know much about Occupy Wall Street, right?
SW Very little. I just gave them a piece for… they have an office now, and then I was about to paint on some tents, and then they just got evicted two days ago, so I don’t really know what’s going on. But yes, some friends of mine are down there organising. I visited one time when I was there, but I haven’t really been involved in any of the organising and any of that real process.