My Time In Wassaic
This past year my studio has been somewhat nomadic between Austin, Mexico City, and Berlin, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I landed in Wassaic for a six-month fellowship. What I’ve found is a vibrant community of artists and thinkers who support and value one another in a way I’ve never witnessed elsewhere. The Wassaic Project has been a place where I can not only focus on my own practice and artistic concerns, but freely exchange ideas among a growing system of peers. With ample time and studio space, I’ve been able to expand upon previous projects as well as develop new modes of working and experiment with unfamiliar materials.
One of the more valuable parts of my experience has been a chance to reevaluate my own agency as a maker. What I consider “studio time” has shifted. Some of the preciousness of that term has been stripped away. I find that an afternoon spent reading Brautigan by the river or playing cards with other residents is just as productive as an afternoon working in my studio. I think it’s really important artists give themselves the freedom to step away from making for periods of reflection, or simply relaxation. For me, the Wassaic Project facilitates that sense of freedom.
with Joe Brommel, August 2018
I read in another interview with you that you've had shops in the South decline to print your work because it was too “sexually explicit.” How does that cultural suppression, for lack of a better phrase, play into your work?
“Suppression” may be a harsh way to put it, but it touches on something prevalent in my work. I think a lot about masking and alterity — about what it means to grow up in the South and inhabit a space of difference, and the performance strategies used to find congruence in those spaces. Modes of self-protection or preservation.
Interesting. A performance strategy is one thing, but it seems like another when it’s framed in terms of self-protection, self-defense. It's more reactive, not proactive.
Yeah, I do think of some of the more deliberate and constructed works (as opposed to found objects) as performing. I look at materials and objects that point towards traditions of masculinity, labor, authority, and trauma, and try to incorporate them into the work in a way that reimagines them. I also bring in elements from contemporary gay culture, which has its own issues regarding hypermasculine expectations. So maybe those elements perform, or maybe they are just trying to carve space for themselves in these different social and cultural milieus.
And in a lot of the works I end up bridging those elements together. I'm interested in finding the relationships between materials, between surfaces, between ideologies. Ideology is embedded into found objects a lot of the time, but I'd like to think that my combining of all of these different facets of my identity, or of different cultures, imagines a third reality that doesn't necessarily exist, but is maybe utopic.
That's very much what you're talking about earlier — that your work isn't about mining for inconsistencies, but about “finding congruence,” finding ways in which these materials and strategies can come together in something new.
Right. I'm interested in making all of my misapprehensions or curiosities visible in the work. I'm attracted to things that sag and bend or maybe don’t serve their function properly. And that falls in line with where I am in a familial lineage of blue-collar workers. I come from a line of truck drivers, carpenters, farmers, and, in some ways, the work is a way to carve space for myself in that history. What does it mean to be an artist, and a gay man, and the last carrier of the family name? Where do I fit into that history?
I feel like it bums people out whenever I break down what's happening in the work — I can't really separate it from my history or my experiences navigating the world. But I think there's a lot of humor in it, too. One night late in the studio I thought it would be a great idea to start a line of trailer-trash jewelry. I had all of these beer can tabs that I had collected from the residents and their recycling bins, and I started making necklaces and belts. That's where some of the humor comes in: when I let my mind wander and act upon any impulse I have.
The work is an artifact of the process itself rather than “here is what Zack Ingram has to say.”
Yeah. It's interesting that you bring up the word “artifact,” because I'm trying to think about how — if I were to install this in a gallery — I can create artifacts. I'm getting more interested in found object-based work, and it’d be great if a viewer could step into my work and build a narrative around those things. Treating the gallery almost like an archaeological site, where they ask themselves, like, “who ate all this fruit?” or “who was wearing this garment that looks like it was discarded so quickly on the floor?” or “what logic caused someone to piece together all these beer can tabs?”
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral