Kate Yoland: Maybe we could move on to discuss of how you’ve constructed the work. We have the painting behind us, we have certain ceramic objects around the space that resemble eyes, we have these silicon transparent guns that are bright neon-almost candy colored-which children would find quite alluring; can you talk about those components and how you develop in your studio those combinations that create the work?
Mai-Thu Perret: You read about people in the newspaper and you fall in love with them. You become fascinated and you want to know who they are and you admire them, such as women in Kurdish, Rojava. The show very much started with the figures and this inspiration, it was sort of a love note. These are people who are living through horrific things, and they’re courageous while we live in a fairly comfortable bourgeois Western 21st-century life. So I had this sort of admiration, maybe specifically I was especially disgusted by the politics of the world at the moment-this was a gut reaction to the events happening.
KY: For example ISIS and the threat they pose these women, perhaps?
MTP: Yeah, for example ISIS, or the bombs that are placed in Cambodian cafes, mixed working-class neighborhoods in Paris. We’re not living in a very pacified historical moment-just turning on the television it’s like watching a horror story. So I think this work in a way was quite linked to my discomfort, and so then I went about there was this inspiration on impetus and drive to make. From there you get into the problem-solving of what it is you want to make. From the very beginning these [sculptures] had to be compounds and collages and mash-ups. Maybe I was also thinking a lot of and almost Dadaistic aesthetic where some kind of uncertainty of the outside world is mirrored in a kind of discontinuity of form. I mean it’s a very simple formulistic way to look at things. And then I took apart, in a way, the photographs and videos of these women in Rojava and tried to think of how I could inspire myself from them to make these sculptures. I felt the guns were one of the major elements, I mean, you see them all the time. I try not to watch too many of the ISIS videos.
KY: I can’t actually watch them…
MTP: Well, the problem with them is that you think you’re watching something that is pretty okay to watch, and then suddenly it’s very gory; it’s some kind of horror porn.
KY: As you mentioned before, we’re living in this new chapter of civilization-this fact that we can go on the internet and see these things that were once only brought to us by a few journalists with rolls of film photographing from the trenches and the frontline. Suddenly, we can watch executions.
MTP: Yeah, and suddenly we can watch art-directed executions that are shot with Canon 5Ds-they’re beautifully edited and well-lit and credited. There’s a whole system of representation and an this aesthetic. That’s because these are recruiting materials, that’s why they make them this way. So I noticed that ISIS and the free state of Rojava put out a lot of the videos that have the exact same purpose-propaganda-only with Rojava it’s propaganda for the side that you like, instead of propaganda for the side that freaks you out. (Obviously, I find the Kurdish propaganda more palatable than the ISIS propaganda.) So these guns were a major thing, and I thought there’s such a fetish as well, and so making them into these regressive, candy-like things, it was quite immediate.
KY: Well, and also showing it in the United States. It’s one thing to show it in Europe, but in the United States, where guns are legal and there’s this constant debate about whether they should be banned after mass killings, it also resonates on that level. That children are playing with their parents’ guns and killing each other by mistake. So as you said before, you can come into this installation and read it many different ways…
MTP: Yes, this was a conversation I had with many of my friends in Europe saying “Oh, but you’re making this work for Texas. Don’t you think people are going to read this with a whole different lens?” But I think that’s all fairly interesting, that’s one of the things that interesting about exhibiting internationally, it’s that if I were to exhibit this in China, there would be a whole different set of associations that would be projected on this installation. So yeah, this material [for the guns] it was a definite kind of choice. I didn’t want to use real weapons, for example… and there are a lot of decisions in terms of what is real and what is fake, what is copied. For example, the shoes are made of bronze…
KY: Okay, and then ceramic and bronze…
MTP: Yes, I mean the ceramic pieces were kind of produced separately in a way and dressed the same way, but they’re almost autonomous in terms of fabrication, there’s a slightly separate process. Then there’s the rest of the works, but all of the other works wear the same bronze shoes. They’re hyper-real. I mean, I don’t think most people know they’re looking at bronze when they see them.
KY: But I’m interested in that possible double-meaning then, that they appear real but they’re made with this heavy material. Their bronze feet then mirror a monument to a figure, whether it’s a political leader or a fallen soldier.
MTP: Well, I thought it was important to have materials that were traditional sculpture materials and to mix them in a rather de-sacrilizing way. With materials that are much more mundane it’s much easier, like the papier-mâché, for example. And it’s not that making papier-mâché figures is easy, it’s more that it’s…
KY: More democratic, economically.
MTP: Yes, it’s domestic, it’s economically democratic and it’s linked to something in childhood as well; I mean, these are things you learn to do in school when you’re little. And I like that it runs… the range of production, from the extremely sophisticated and expensive, like the bronze, to the papier-mâché. So then it became this collage. I was trying to have a variety of the different media, and to have a gradation from the most real, like this figure which is entirely silicon. Everything about her that is visible is hyper-realistic, to his figure here which is entirely papier-mâché, to that figure over there that is a compound because it is made out of wicker but then is wearing a silicon mask, so in a way it’s a real chimera.
This interview excerpt is published in partnership with ArtThisWeek.com, a website dedicated to art education of the general public. Art This Week produces in-depth conversations with artists and curators about current art exhibitions at galleries and museums in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
K. Yoland, Interviewer
Born and raised in London, K. Yoland received her MFA from The Slade, University College of London and her BA in Philosophy from Bristol University. After working in theater and film across Europe, Yoland moved from London to West Texas, to be the inaugural artist-in-residence with Marfa Contemporary. Yoland was then recruited by Marfa Public Radio to be the host and producer for a daily full length interview program, where she interviewed over 170 diverse and prominent artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, environmental specialists and lawyers. Meanwhile Yoland’s own interdisciplinary art practice examines identity-politics, power struggles and the various borders in our society. Exhibiting internationally, Yoland has recently shown with The Lisson Gallery (London), Talley Dunn Gallery (Dallas) and Turner Contemporary (UK). Yoland just completed a one-year residency with CentralTrak and she is currently teaching socially and politically engaged art at UTD.