Q&A with Artist Claude Collins-Stracensky

March 10, 2010

The artist's Hammer Project in process. Photo taken from the Hammer lobby.

This interview was conducted by electronic mail. Questions composed by the Hammer’s new media manager Amanda Law. Look for information on Claude Collins-Stracensky's Hammer Project here.

AL: My favorite part of the installation was the line of sight from the Hammer lobby through your installation space out onto Wilshire Blvd. Can you tell me a little bit about how this came to be?

CCS: I’m guessing you’re talking about the spot at the top of the stairs where the cone of vision takes shape and the circles cut through the walls and the window film all line up? The Sight Line spatial intervention started with sitting in the space and seeing what it was doing, how it was situated in the context of the museum and the area outside. It’s a very peculiar space, I found. It’s sort of like two thirds of a white cube built inside a glass cube. There were all these things done to the space over the years to try to make it function like a white cube gallery space that were not working. My thought was to make it function in its best possible way by working with what was there, exposing what the space was by bringing out its inherent qualities, and to bring in the supporting systems around it. Visiting the site quite a bit and modeling it on the computer helped me realize the fantastic activity of the sun moving through the buildings there, and all the energy bustling on the corner of Westwood and Wilshire was just behind the walls. The idea was to project your field of vision (which is a cone shape) through the walls and windows of the space and direct it at the energy happening outside. Through that process, all these other amazing things presented themselves that helped bring out the sculptural and photo works in the show and a way of seeing everything as a whole.

AL: What was the construction process like?

CCS: That was pretty easy when we got down to it; the walls were just Sheetrock and metal studs so the Sawzall was very swift. The tricky part was doing all the computer models, the plan drawings and getting everything to line up correctly in the actual space.

AL: How did you envision the viewer responding to this part of the installation?

CCS: This was the part I was most excited by because there were so many variables that could follow from the initial models that would all be in line with its general purpose. Fantastic surprises I couldn’t model, to show me something new as well. I wanted to engage working with the space as I am working with the sculptures, so that they would inform each other, and would make a mirroring or simile of each other, of scales and of function within them. Like a Russian doll of sorts. I used the space as a larger expression of the works, where the viewer could potentially be able to see him– or herself in the space similar to the flora inside the sculptures, or to see the way of seeing in the photographs. Sight Line was an expression of the act of looking through, as the larger expression of the viewer’s potential experience of the whole.

AL: Is it okay that I feel like I am entering a spaceship when I enter your installation? I mean, what do you think of outer space?

CCS: I’m glad to hear you feel like you are entering into a very different and fantastic space when you enter the space of the show; this is good. I’m really into the ways sci-fi works to set a stage, a very creative, nimble and playful stage for the reader to engage with real questions or issues that they may be dealing with now, but because it’s set in another context, the reader is enabled a new perspective or is presented with new ways of thinking about a subject. It’s like looking at an issue from the other side of the curtain for a complete view of the show. As far as my cosmology, well this is something I’m still working on… but it’s of definite interest, and part of the process of the work.

AL: You use a lot of Plexiglas, no? Does a love for materials ever come before the idea?

CCS: I’ve actually switched up the Plex for glass because it’s less toxic to produce and for me to work with. In the process I’ve found glass to be a better material for helping tune a viewer’s attention when they are around it. When there is an incredibly fragile glass form perched on a thin base with two legs, your attention shifts, you become more attentive of what’s around you and how you are moving through a space –not to mention much of the glass is partially reflective so you also become very aware optically of how you are moving and are looking.

AL: How close are you able to make your pieces to what you have in your head?

CCS: I work more from a position of working with a particular situation. By slowly and carefully observing the particular nature of a situation, I am able to work in concert with that situation to bring out the innate qualities or aspects that end up showing me a more complete understanding of the world around me. The things I make are ultimately to share these things and their processes with others, and to have a little fun in the process.

The artist's Hammer Project in process. Photo taken from outside the museum on Westwood Blvd.