Daniel Arsham is an artist whose work traverses the lines between art, architecture, and performance. Challenging traditional notions by placing shapes in unexpected places and exploring themes such as intention versus coincidence, Arsham’s concepts lay mostly with manipulating what we think we already know.
In 2005 Hedi Slimane commissioned Arsham for an installation in the fitting rooms of Dior Homme. As the work required consideration of various practical and code issues due it being open to the public, Arsham enlisted the assistance of his friend Alex Mustonen, and their combined knowledge and skills led to the founding of Snarkitecture – a practice ‘operating in territories between the disciplines of art and architecture.’
We had the chance to fire some questions at Daniel, discussing his motivations, his modes of working for both his art and Snarkitecture, and what he has lined up for this year. Take a look below for the full interview.
What fuels and motivates you as an artist?
I am an archaeologist 1,000 years in the future piecing together the fragments of our current moment. I’m searching for answers.
Are your architectural designs driven by the same motivations?
Architecture is the most lasting and important thing that humans can make. I have yet to make architecture but I hope to before I die.
How important is the type of material used in each piece and what role does it serve beyond practicality?
My work pays attention to materials. When I am manipulating architecture, I am often using the materials of the architecture itself to create the work. This gives the sense that in a way I have not added anything to a particular space, rather I have altered something that a viewer might already know causing it to act in a different and new way.
What does your creation process usually consist of and how do you decide what to work on next?
I bring a lot of objects and materials into the studio and I often sit for hours looking at these objects. In the same way that I obey a certain material logic when I am working with architecture, these objects begin to tell me what they want within their own logic.
I am currently completing a body of work a few years in the making that involves an archeological mindset. I have slowly accumulated telephones, Rollieflex cameras, Canon 35 mm cameras, Bolex 16mm cameras, reel to reel tape recorders, point and shoot disposable cameras, and clocks of all sorts. All objects that are in some way used for communication and documentation but that have an ambiguous purpose in our current time. I am trying to look at these objects as if I don’t know what they are used for. I’m trying to forget their logic and then invent a new one based on other cues like shape and weight and gravity.
Have your ideas ever been limited by the strict building codes involved in public construction? How did you work your way around them?
Yes, my work often pushes the boundaries of building code. In the studio we like to think of this code as a material. In order to work with plaster, you must understand what it can do and how it can act. In some cases you can bend its rules a bit by convincing it that it’s still obeying its own logic. It’s the same for building code. There are a lot of nuances to it that can be brought out. This was particularly important for the public artwork that I did with Snarkitecture in Miami. The massive 11-foot tall letters at the stadium were positioned so that they appear as if they fell from above and lodged themselves in the ground. Their positions look unintentional and accidental but in reality every angle and degree of curve was calculated to meet building code.
Since setting up Snarkitecture, do you feel it has greatly influenced your solo artwork, or is it an entirely separate outlet?
Snarkitecture floats in the space between art and architecture while not really fitting into either. It has allowed me to expand some of my ideas into an architectural scale. Working with Alex and my team at Snarkitecture has expanded my understanding of materials and construction. As a child I was fascinated by a book called “The Way Things Work;” sometimes in the studio I feel as if I’m inside that book.
How would you describe the relationship between your concepts and the mediums you realize them in?
The medium of my work and the concept are integral to each other. I make architecture do things that it’s not supposed to do. In order to achieve that I have to pay close attention to the material of the architecture in order to manipulate it.
What are you currently working on?
I am further developing objects for a series of editions called Future Relics. I will also be releasing a book in the coming months that contains over a hundred paintings that have never been shown. Next Fall I will have solo exhibitions in London and Amsterdam as well as the premiere of a new performance work in collaboration with choreographer Jonah Bokaer.
Your work already spans several mediums – do you have any desire to work in others?
I would very much like to work in film. I have some ideas…
Any advice for young artists, designers, and architects?
Make your own luck.
Take a look at some of his recent work above and head over to his website for more information.