Steve is a weird dude who makes great work. This guy has a killer collection of found mix-tapes and old art history slides, plays a mean accordion, rules at karaoke and once when he was my TA, nearly failed me. He is one of those people who is an infuriating mix of smarts, vision, tireless self-motivation and hustle. We met up over some bazooka bubblegum and talked about the show and what he’s been working on lately. Walking into his studio I immediately noticed ten bottles of black face paint and knew this would be a good visit.
Steve’s work is a toughie to sum up because it spans all sorts of mediums- weaving seamlessly in and out of video, performance and photography, but one thing is constant: it’s always, always clever as hell. For the show we’ll see a video titled Taking Myself Out of the Picture for which Steve has been obsessively painting a black square background on one of his walls for weeks (months?). In the video we see a true-to-scale Steve slowly slather himself with a roller of black paint (the face paint makes sense now) and watch him disappear. On the process: “I found myself painted completely black and needed somehow not only to turn my video camera off and stop recording, but also needed to walk outside and go find a bathroom so that I could wash myself at least to a state where I could go home and take a shower…I ended up bathing myself in the bathroom sink of the art building for a good hour…”. The piece requires patience and the anticipation of what you know the eventual end to the video will be is all a part of the work.
Another piece involves mechanical wiring and a doorbell hooked up to a box in the ceiling that suspends a long, thin strip of reflective mylar down to the floor. The machine twists the strip around and around, reflecting your image and that of the room until you think it may snap, then lets it loose again. It’s mesmerizing and fragile and the curvature of the material performs a neat perceptual trick that rotates your reflection 90 degrees. Talking about the piece Steve says “What’s interesting to me is…in order to see the piece, you end up becoming part of it and it becomes a portrait of whatever space it’s in, and as it gets tighter and tighter, you start to get this series of tiny reflections that start to resemble a film strip. It’s changing your own image and duplicating it endlessly.”
Past works of his include the aptly titled videos Trying to Cry About Something, Chewing Bubblegum and Attempting to Pull a Rug Out From Under Myself. A particularly memorable piece of his I’ve encountered from a past show titled My Body Hair showcases a pile of his body hair (duh) on a vitrine under a plexiglass protective cover. Keep an eye out for something else that he plans to include in the MFA catalogue called A Collaboration I Did (Not) Do- it’s an ongoing series wherein he sent letters to artists John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman and Ed Ruscha asking them to sign on the X if they agree to not collaborate on a project with him. Baldessari sent the letter back, signed on the dotted line, Nauman stole the paperclips holding the sheets of paper together and sent it all back without signing, and there’s still no word on Ruscha’s. Steve: “It’s great, Nauman totally one-upped me! I was kind of perturbed about it at first, but then when I looked closely, you can see on the carbon transfer paper where the paper clips used to be. Bruce Nauman stole my paper clips.”
Don’t be fooled though, it’s not just one-liners here. In his own words: “My work itself is in light of this investigation of false dichotomies of failure and success, productivity and mediocrity and…even of language and the body…mostly it’s coming from an interest in how you can define success, or work against defining it, or even start to define your own definitions…like in the case of these letters here.”
I’m really excited to see what he does next and I have no doubt it will be great/weird. He’s wicked smart without being annoying, and he’s always down to lose himself in conversation with YOU. Don’t miss the chance to pick his brain at the opening on Friday May 25th.
Find out more about Steve Sewell.
See you at the 2012 University of Washington MFA Exhibition, Friday May 25th, 7 pm.