Brendan Fowler is an artist with a cultural Midas touch. Everything he has done over the past ten years has garnered him serious respect – from exceptionally personal music performances as BARR to drumming for five hours in a gallery as part of Performa, releasing artist books and zines, and until recently coediting art magazine ANP Quarterly with Ed Templeton and Aaron Rose. Unceasingly enthusiastic, the Los Angeles based Fowler is now focusing on making physical works that are blowing up in the art world. Represented by the super-hot Untitled Gallery in New York City, Fowler is now focusing on creating unique installations made from a violent meeting of frames, photographs and feeling.
To me the performance stuff was really trying to solve a larger problem, which is how to communicate ideas
Dazed & Confused: There’s a real relationship between music and art in what you do. Have those two things always been connected for you?
Brendan Fowler: To me art is wonderful because it’s this big open field of problem-solving. I was never a musician. I studied music. I can play instruments. I’ve released records. I’ve toured. I’ve existed in that economy but I have always been identified as an artist. If you’re identified as an artist you have the most open spectrum, right? Some things lend themselves more closely to text heaviness, which could be an essay or a book or text art, or maybe you want an audience with people in the room and you want to be able to grab people by their collars. I understand people being specialised, totally, but it’s nice to realise we can mix it up too.
Dazed & Confused: How did you start doing BARR?
Brendan Fowler: To me the performance stuff was really trying to solve a larger problem, which is how to communicate ideas. I started doing the BARR performance in 2000. This is going to sound really naïve and ridiculous, but I wanted to make really political work. I found performance stuff around that time, this woman called Wynne Greenwood who did this thing called Tracy + the Plastics. Greenwood, in the late 80s / early 90s, was coming out of the northwest queer-punk experimental video scene and touring with bands, and dealing a lot with gender politics and transgender politics, queer politics, social politics. She was late, late, late feminism and I was fortunate to get to know her and experience that. I was in my early 20s, finishing school. It was like a rallying cry.
To me art is wonderful because it’s this big open field of problem-solving. I was never a musician. I studied music. I can play instruments. I’ve released records. I’ve toured. I’ve existed in that economy but I have always been identified as an artist
Dazed & Confused: Were your sculptural pieces an extension of what you were doing in music and performance?
Brendan Fowler: I started to feel the idea of how to play a venue had been solved already. I became really curious about what an object-based practice would look like, to try to make objects that would function in my absence. Records are records. Posters are posters. But how can I make an object that will function the same way?
Dazed & Confused: Your earlier pieces looked like a violent bang – frames literally crashing into and out of each other. Did you feel like that when you started making things?
Brendan Fowler: Yeah, I did. When I figured out the trashing pieces they captured something that was closer to performance. I was invited to do an exhibition in LA at this very small space called 2nd Cannons, maybe two-feet wide and six-feet deep. I wanted to show three images based on tour posters. I cancelled the tour to work on the show and this was the real transitional time in my life. From the start it was this process of building and taking them apart. It was like the fakest thing ever and I was really curious about it.
Dazed & Confused: This was around the time of the New Museum’s The Generational: Younger Than Jesus triennial?
Brendan Fowler: Lauren Cornell did a studio visit and she put one (of the trashing pieces) in the New Museum show. It was funny – we talked more about another piece of mine they used, a really long text piece explaining a super-long internet dialogue on the problematics of the name of this band, Aids Wolf. They had Aids 3-D in the show and it was problematic – the museum couldn’t really address it. Then after the 2nd Cannons show she was like, ‘Huh, OK, let’s do that.’
Dazed & Confused: Did music play into this process too?
Brendan Fowler: I studied and for a large part of my life was really involved in free jazz. Improvisation is still important. If you picture like, three or four or five people playing really discordant atonal music, that really magic moment does happen sometimes, where everybody hits together. I started to think of the sculptures as freezing that moment. All these planes crashing together.
Dazed & Confused: A bit of a staged experience?
Brendan Fowler: A tension between improvising and creating intentionally. There was a band when I was growing up called Storm & Stress. To me they were making fake, falling-apart pop music that sounded like free jazz, but they were really rigorously rehearsed. I think about them all the time. They brought up the idea of this really, really brutal falling-apart, like staging a joke. It’s like the Buster Keaton house falling.
Dazed & Confused: What do you find interesting about showing the backs of frames in your work, so you can’t see an image fully?
Brendan Fowler: I was trying to think of how to exhaust the content out of it. Take flowers – the ultimate exhausted signifier of aesthetics in the history of the world. Flowers also have all this death cycle, life cycle, fertility stuff, but definitely in the postmodern state we can say that flowers are exhausted. Flowers present, ‘Hello, I’m aesthetic, I’m formal,’ a feedback loop that obviously doesn’t work. Maybe flowers are so loaded they’re nothing, or maybe they’re so loaded they’re loaded. Obviously failure is important in the work and this like, fake-failure thing. To me in every part of every piece there’s some heavy, specific, rigorously determined decision. I can explain why every part is the way it is but I’ve realised that that’s not always useful and people don’t always want it.
Dazed & Confused: What keeps you motivated to keep doing so much? Artworks, publications, performances...
Brendan Fowler: I don’t really think about it. I don’t know... I just don’t know how much time there is. If you have the chance, you’re working your ass off because how can you not take all these great opportunities? It’s just that I’m appreciative and curious. I’m really, really fortunate.
Photography Sarah Piantadosi