Before Basements Became Gardens

 

Oh, how many times have I lounged in basements or stood in white cubes thinking about disco balls? Only about five or six times. While that notion undermines the sanctity of those containers of contemporary art, and even more so the efficacy of its art, it also hearkens to some amusing irreverence, but mostly, it affirms the kind of endless potential improvements that can be made to a basement, frivolously.     

 

When art appears initially alluring in a photograph then disappoints in person, it is the same full-bodied deflation of stepping into a basement suite that looked brighter in the Craigslist ad. The landlord will advertise, “It’s easier to have a moment in the dark.” By that he means my romances are not for the light of day. People attempt to perform magic by opening doors and telling me that this is a garden suite. I look on from Craigslist ad to Craigslist ad, from viewing to viewing. Show me a ‘garden’ with fluorescent lights and a water stain on the ceiling and I will know that I’ve come to an all expenses excluded purgatory. I won’t live here, but someone did and doesn’t anymore.

 

But before basements became gardens, they were castles for adolescent minds to be kept off the scary and untouchable grass, perfect grass, grass so perfect it was money. So, I took my time personalizing my computer and carefully choosing the colour and typeface for long correspondences over MSN Messenger. The pursuit of badness grows dull. I can convince you that nothing interesting happened, aside from weed smoking and waxing Wikipedia, Ping-Pong, working out, watching movies, YouTube, smoking weed, making out, playing video games, watching people play video games, because wasting time isn’t associated with converted warehouse lofts—romantic idleness is. While cognition raced in the arenas of virtual tact, stationary play, and kisses, you did not exceed the physical adventurousness of the occasional stray toenail trimming. Grooming in front of the television, as we were.   

 

Those are the rules; find your zone of idle stationary activity, and there are no rules.

 

Where do you want to show your work? I close my eyes and go even further to put my hands over shut eyelids, “Nowhere,” I say, “nowhere,” I say again, and then append quickly, facetiously and sharply, “the Internet!”

 

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Chad Patrick Murray: The whole process of making is a meditative time where you’re trying to think, “What am I actually doing, why is this a worthwhile pursuit, what do I ultimately want from a hundred different perspectives?” I kept coming back to shifts in the objects’ scale. It’s like the age-old question, positing ourselves in the universe, why are we here? Even though we’re sick of asking ourselves, they’re not any less valid we’re so distracted with the little things—busy navigating the world, survive, ‘make it’, chasing the dream.

Then the moment where you see the stars: I’m fucking small and pathetic and no matter what I do or don’t do or how I die, none of it makes any difference. I think it’s really beautiful. So we play Ping-Pong, so we go get coffee, talk to each other, do what we can in the mean time.

 

Steffanie Ling: Smoke a cigarette.

 

CPM: Smoke a cigarette, smoke a cigarette, smoke another cigarette, that’s a big one. 

 

SL: Ideally the meditation doesn’t stop when the making stops. 

 

CPM: That’s when it’s most intensive. That’s the time when you have an idea and you think it’s worth doing. To maintain that idea until it’s ready to show people is really hard, like the amount of times I completely run out of steam and realize I’m chasing…I don't know…a fucking plastic bag down the road or something equally useless. 

 

SL: Let's talk about the title of your show, Optimysticism—where does that come from?

 

CPM: The term? It was a genuine stumble in speech. I think I was trying to say optimistic and added another syllable, optimist-sis-tict. I was in a car and had enough time to think about it. The work in the show could be seen as shifts in scale, which has to do with the mood swing thing. If I’m in a good mood, I’m not even aware of myself so much as I am a vessel or a sensory being, and then when you’re feeling down, everything is more defensive—everything is happening to YOU—these two ways of feeling that shift how you feel the world was what I was interested in when I was making these things. 

Today I’m walking on air, with the universe. Everyone is doing their own thing and everyone has their own way of doing it and it’s fine—being part of the story of life, versus defending yourself from it. 

 

SL: Defending or attacking?

 

CPM: It’s more defensive because when you’re in that negative mindset everything feels more invasive. Everyone’s little neuroses are so grating, but you’re dealing with the pettiest thing: sharing the world with other people when you’re in a bad mood. I don’t know if I’m every going to get married, but one of my top requirements is spatial awareness. 

 

SL: I see that show as part of this larger impulse that, I think, is articulated by artists who come from a suburban background. You’re from where exactly?

 

CPM: Chilliwack. 

 

 

SL: Chilliwack. I’ve noticed this articulation of banalities in a way that is, as you say, existential, through things that you’ve encountered all the time as a suburbanite. 

For instance, the recreation room, did you have anything like that? 

 

CPM: The basement, as I know it, had more to do with my friend’s basements. Particularly this kid John Wood, we’d listen to Tool, we’d smoke some weird weed contraptions, always experimenting with the most decked out ways of getting stoned. Collectively trying to push the boundaries of your own experience to the point we’re you’re not with each other anymore, all so…brain dead, for a lack of a better word. It’s a weird way to hang out with somebody. 

 

SL: You’re never as existential as when you’re a teenager, and all you have are the Internet and drugs. Earlier we were saying, to call your work “stoner art” would be discounting the nature of the work, but it wouldn’t be so farfetched to say that it’s stoner friendly. 

 

CPM: I like the idea of being a “qualified stoner” because when you spoke weed it encourages a certain state of mind, you float through thoughts really easily, they’re these weird flimsy tired thoughts, though very interesting, they’re hard to retain and they don’t amount to much or make sense later on. So, I’m into immediacy, where some aspect of what you’re making is immediately attractive, typically with light. That was so much a part of the Avenue show, dealing with minimal, controlled light in a dark space is really seductive so I like that as an entry point; or my paintings, they have so much to do with light and shadow and space but it operates differently. How we read an object versus a depicted one on a painting, we pursue for different reasons. I deal with them separately for those reasons I guess. Immediacy is very important. In terms of making art, a stoner would appreciate, being a qualified stoner, as I was saying, has to do with that immediacy as well.

Also, the last time we spoke I was saying I'm really into making art like a ten year old, which is one thing, but then there’s making art that makes other people feel like they’re ten years old—that sense of discovery and newness, or something that is unexpected that uproots basic understanding. 

 

SL: Earlier you were saying how you became really frustrated because art was a toddler that was ignoring you.

 

CPM: I had said that when you’re given the task of babysitting a toddler, and for some reason they don’t approve of you and they want to give you a hard time so they’ll make intentional efforts to turn their back on you, you know, you’ll try to assert yourself in their space and they’ll turn away. Now I feel like I should retract that statement because there is so much intention in ignoring you, so it would be more like hanging out with a sculpture. Art is more like that, in the sense that it doesn’t care of you. It’s more like a sculpture of a pouty child.

 

SL: Oh, ok I like that. 

 

CPM: That’s actually maybe my new direction.

 

 

SL: It seems to me that even though something called “basement aesthetics” sounds so dreary, adolescent, or amateur or low brow, our conversation went down that path and now we’re just coming out of the forest of the obvious, the obviousness of what basement aesthetics might conjure, but what you really want to do is propel curiousity, right? 

 

CPM: Yeah, as a start, as a tool to draw people in. I’m really drawn to things that speak to our sense in the most immediate way, I’m into subtlety as well, but that comes later.

 

SL: I just wonder how you’re doing that with such pedestrian fixtures, like Ping-Pong tables, especially the Ping-Pong table. You’re playing Ping-Pong with the universe, but really the ball is just hitting a wall. The Internet is a lot like that, you think you’re really going somewhere, reading these articles on Wikipedia, but if you don’t do anything with that knowledge you might as well be staring at a wall. 

It’s interesting how you’re able to, or how you want to, use the things people use to escape, to make them feel like they’re not standing still. For instance, making miniatures is a little like playing God.

 

CPM: I think about all these things in relation to representational painting, in the sense that you’re looking at a controlled environment but instead of the window perspective of a painting, you’re given an omniscient view of a being that can move through and around. That might have been an initial reason to start making miniatures. Also the Ping-Pong…I don’t know the thought process that led to that being a worthwhile pursuit but I feel like it has a lot do with viewership in general. You, the object, and that ball becomes that relationship, it’s a much more active give and take.

I don’t believe a real conversation or exchange is happening between you and the art but even though you can see it physically happen through space I don’t think you’re going to be having real exchanges with art. Anything experienced is on your end. I’m suggesting the exchange, but always fall short of it because you’re too smart for that shit. 

 

SL: I think you try and deepen that dialogue, or psudo-dialogue, or almost dialogue? 

 

CPM: Yeah it’s super weird. On the one hand, I’m sick of irony, I don’t think you need to be sarcastic. I think a real genuine pursuit of beauty isn’t a tired one. 

 

SL: The pursuit of beauty isn’t just the pursuit of beauty. That’s just a really old way of saying you want to start a relationship.

 

CPM: I think I am interested in pursuing beauty because its always shifting, because beauty has so much to do with something you haven’t seen before, or seeing it as you haven’t seen it. Like I was saying earlier about how your frame of mind, or mood, determines how you feel about that person taking up too much space on the sidewalk, beauty is totally dependent on those moments. 

 

SL: You can pursue beauty but that doesn’t mean that’s all you’re pursuing, hopefully. I don’t think its tired, I think its easy when all you’re looking for is beauty. Well, maybe it’s not so easy.

 

CPM: I’m becoming more and more okay with things that are cheesy lately. Like, a sunset, a beautiful sunset when you’re most susceptible to its beauty cannot really be touched. Art that gets close to that—what is it doing? It’s not showing you a sunset, but it’s making you vulnerable.

 

SL: Art can only show you a sunset if it’s not a sunset.

 

SPM: Exactly, that’s what I mean but I don’t want to see an artist’s sunset. There are so many factors that make a sunset. I don’t think art can really do that. You’re dealing with beauty amongst humans at that point. 

 

SL: The thing about a sunset though is that it makes you feel small, and it’s okay. 

 

CPM: That’s it. 

 

SL: You know, nobody made it vast to make you feel small, that’s just the way [a sunset] is. But the problem with art that’s like a sunset, that has that effect, is that somebody did make it.

 

CPM: Did you go see Martin Creed’s room filled with balloons? It was so nice to move through, again, art that makes you feel like you’re ten years old. It’s an experience you don’t know about, you swipe some pillows out of the way and there’s a person there—your best friend! I had a really great time, but my friend who’s a painter didn’t like it. She didn’t like that she had to give up her agency to move through this person’s art. The artist who wants to make you feel small by making a sunset will fall short because the intention is there, but you will have had your guard up. 

 

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Chad Patrick Murray is an artist who exhibited his work at Avenue in August 2014. In an unlit gallery, he provided flashlight key chains to view small sculpture works—model hobbyist landscapes applied to ubiquitous objects—while the rest of his work, sculptures which included monitor or projector components portraying galactic content, lit themselves. We both grew up in the suburbs, albeit in different provinces, a unifying concept that amasses much commiseration.

 

 

 

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