As the first of a new series of interviews called “SenseCity”, Aisthanomai talks to NotArt (Boston, MA) about working outside of 4 white walls, inspiration, and rubber duckies.
“I met with NotArt at [blank location] on [blank time]. It was a success. It was so fun to talk to someone so passionate about his work and so open to speaking genuinely about it. After the interview, seeing NotArt on the street has another added dimension. It’s like this: the intrigue of positioning himself as a matchmaker between time and found object calls attention to the transitory nature of each installation, giving it a pulse, putting a finger on the process of decay and destruction over time, at once blunt, precious, humorous, and beautiful.
Hooray! Thanks for meeting up.
Tell me about your work. Does drawing attention to something that is not art make it…art?
I’ve always been really interested in (ways of) thinking and I find it fun. It always starts with an idea that I put into the world, but then there’s a whole process after that. The moment of inspiration for me is not the moment of creation but rather the moment the idea makes sense. I get high off it. If its good enough for me, its good enough for the world. As a critical person, I apply high standards to my work…I trust my “spark” and hope others will get that. Placement is total instinct. The best spots are locations that are aesthetically pleasing, a visual organization similar to a photograph. Rusted metal, disintegrating objects, there’s a component that I find interesting. These unsung little heroes that are corners, falling apart…places that are becoming more natural, man made but have been worn away by time and the elements. Are they natural now? There’s this tension for me. I’ve always been interested in the aesthetics of decay. As a photographer, my mom has been a big influence on this aspect too. Found objects, assemblage and collage, these are all influences that have formed my approach. It’s almost like time is the artist and the found objects are the art. This aesthetic is inherent in our city. My job is to find these places, adding my mark and leaving them.
Is it just me, or is the concept of NotArt poking fun? Sometimes I walk by an installation of yours and it makes me laugh.
If i can, I add an element of irony or humor, because its everywhere. NotArt itself is silly and ironic, so it really brings a lot of playfulness to my work which I didn’t have before, or I didn’t realize I had. Now its everything, not just dark haunted stuff (my early work) and I’m able to be much more playful. People can interpret it however they want though- I’m just giving them a space to think. They don’t need to understand me to be moved or intrigued by the work. I get a lot of feedback from people who interpret it differently than me, and that’s awesome too because it gives me a fresh perspective.
What is it like to be anonymous? Does it help your message?
I’m public with my private life and private with my public life. I’m happy to tell anyone that I’m the NotArt guy to their face, but when it comes to the media, thats not what it’s about, it’s not about me. Why would it ever have to be about who I am? To me, its irrelevant. Plus, its fun to be mysterious. There’s this offshoot of questions that people have when they imagine what the person is like that spray paints city walls at night… there’s so much room for imagination, I don’t want to kill that! When I go into a public forum I want to keep that sense of mystery and wonder, like a double entendre. To wonder “wow” and wonder “what?”.
[A rubber ducky is placed on the table during the interview without explanation. NotArt picks it up, churning it through fingers and says]:
If I put this ducky in an art gallery, it’s art. But if it’s just on this table, it’s not art. But what if I’m walking along and I find the duck, and somebody dropped it out of their purse accidentally, is it art? Give me a fucking break! It’s all art. It explains a lot about where we are in our history. If it weren’t for Duchamp and Rauschenberg and DADA and all the conceptual artists, we wouldn’t be able to see things this way (as clearly). They’ve enabled me to realize all this, and I’m interpreting that out on the street. This kind of work doesn’t belong (only) in museums, I want it to be accessible ideas that are available to everyone. You don’t need a degree to appreciate what I do, and that’s important to me. If I’ve provoked a response, I’ve done my job.
So, everything is art?
In coming up with my own conclusions about what is “art” or “not art”, I’ve realized that everything must be art. Any distinctions after that are completely arbitrary and kind of funny. I find it funny that I used to ask these questions as a young artist.
How closely related are Arting and Thinking?
I’ve never heard that term before!
I just made it up. In other words, is your creative process premeditated or spontaneous?
Its pretty random, I encounter things in my environment that cue me to do something with them. Even if I’m going to install a sculpture, or an object that has no purpose, it’s still about how to interact with my environment. I would think of that as me responding to my environment, instead of thinking of something ahead of time (I call that art-play, rather than art-work).
What kind of barriers do you encounter in the Art world, if any? How close or not close are you to all that (art critics, shows, etc)? Actually, how many worlds are you in?
I don’t believe in the art world; it’s closed off. Me in the art world would be like flying to the moon. I don’t think you need to be in galleries to achieve recognition. I used to want a blank white wall in NY, but I got over that and went a different direction. Ironically, I’m inadvertently knocking on the backdoor these days and it looks like they’re gonna let me in. That’s the magic of street art. I didn’t know that when I started, nor was it my goal. Now I don’t see any other way to make art other than on the street. The movement is still young and it’s really exciting to be a part of it. The city is a canvas…I don’t understand how other artists don’t use that! Yes, you have to avoid the police, but that’s easy.
Is it important to come up with something new, or is “nothing is original” ok by you? Talk about the importance of reusing material vs. fresh material.
It doesn’t matter if its original, it matters if its good. A real artist doesn’t want to steal, they want to make their own mark. If they wanted to steal they’re actually businessmen. There’s a lot of respect between (street) artists. And I have to say, Banksy is the master and deserves all the credit he gets. As i said in the interview with Callie Crossley on Under the Radar (WGBH), the difference between me and Banksy is he’s an Artist, and I’m a NotArtist. We (street) artists should try to emanate his integrity and effort.
Is street art inherently political?
Everything is political, so yes. I want to raise awareness of infrastructure, and ask questions like, is it ok to allow someone to “deface” property? what is defacing? and what is property? People who are smarter than me should come up with better ideas of how to create an interaction with a public space, and I hope that continues to be a discussion. I met a woman running for City Council who’s actually really into my work, which means a lot because I think it shows the answers to those questions are evolving. Nobody comes up to me upset with vandalization of property, or on the other side, demanding to legalize graffiti. It makes you wonder, who’s interests do the police represent, anyway?
Ok, last thing. I want you to give me your immediate sense responses to a series of questions. They can be within the frame of your work or not.
Sound? John Cage (laughs)
Pink or Magenta? pink
Circle or Rubix Cube? circle
Mud or Dirt? mud
Mozart or Kilimanjaro? mozart
Space or Universe? universe
This interview was conducted somewhere near 42.3736° N, 71.1106° W. Aisthanomai would like to thank the NotArtist for his time and responses. NotArt can be found around Greater Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.