I made two rooms. In one room, I dumped all of my thesis type of thoughts. In the other room, I made a space that is more vulnerable and mysterious. It’s not that I was intentionally trying to obfuscate or confuse anyone. But I was intentionally trying to show work that I cannot currently explain.
A thesis to me is a very specific genre. I had clear ideas that grad school would be a time for me to find or solidify my artistic identity, or at least get really good at something. The thesis comes from a place of research and argumentation. I am trying to show the world that I know, the world that I think I am part of. It has elements that are specifically targeted to the advancement of my field. All of these thoughts are grounded in a humanistic approach, but they are also underlined by a calculating ambition.
After the election I felt really exhausted. I became skeptical of ambition. I began to wonder if calculated, concise statements were going to get us anywhere. I began to get more in touch with a darker side of myself—not dark in the sense of negative or depressed but rather dark as in not much light is shed there. I found that the unexplained, fugitive creative urges had as much if not more power for me than my well-reasoned thesis work.
The second room is an attempt to shed some light onto this space. I think I may be able to understand my motives in a few years. I am hoping that I can expand my form vocabulary and give more strength to not-knowing. I feel deeply embarrassed by the things that are in the second room.
Artist biographies and artist autobiographies as well as artist statements in general often times make mention of some anecdotal evidence from the artist’s childhood which indicates or proves that the person in question is most definitely an artist. I’m not exactly sure how this functions, but I think the reasoning is that because the person was doing ‘art stuff’ from a very young age, or because the person had a grandfather who whittled soap, or because the person did something vaguely obsessive and aesthetic when they were too young to be self-aware, this anecdote proves that this person is a real artist and not just a fucking pretender like the rest of us.
My own childhood was not without art anecdotes. I remember identifying as an artist very early on. It seemed like an easy thing to do. Unlike being a doctor or project manager, the artist had only to work up the gumption to declare, “I’m an artist.” So I declared it, often. My dad gave me an old briefcase he wasn’t using anymore and this became my artist briefcase. I used it like a portfolio and en plein air travel kit. Anytime my parents, who both worked corporate office jobs, could bring home old supplies or paper, they gave them to me for my art. My brother always thought I was a little “faggy” because of my particularness with all this art paraphenelia. Ironically, I never actually made that much art or at least not the kind of obsessive, self-driven exploration that many artists engage; indeed, it was my brother who was much more focused and fearless in his material explorations, buidling once, for example, a nearly car-sized construction of 2x4s, nails, and spray paint under the deck behind our house. I was more content to collect things in my briefcase: markers and pens as well as mechanical pencils, images from magazines and books, and how-to drawing books which were often premised on tracing and assembling. I liked to trace a lot using that thin tracing paper that I thought was such a cool invention of humanity.
If there was one area where I had a stereotypical artist’s obsessive and compulsive tendencies, then it was certainly centered on color. I was born in 1983 and did most of my childing in the 90s, and, while I am not a historian of color or anything, I would think it is accurate to say that the 90s were a fucking great time for color. Everything was hot: hot pink, hot green, hot yellow. There were pastels mixed in and everything was heavily influenced by what I would later learn was Memphis design: formal, vaguely techy, and heavily vapid, but everything with an urgent sheen of newness. There was a set of roller blades from the early 90s made by the company that was also called Rollerblade. I remember these were some of the first not-only consumer products but also aesthetic objects that I lusted after. There were other rollerblades from that era that had comparable color schemes and more or less the same performance characteristics. But I had to have the hot blue ones with hot green wheels because clearly they were the best. If I could own those rollerblades, I would absorb the power of that aesthetic.
It was like this with a lot of things when I was a young boy. Maybe between the ages of six and eight, but I can’t remember exactly. I just remember that color had a power to move me, to make me really feel something. I remember having a folder or what the germans would call an Ordner, and it had a tiger on it that was done up in hot orange and hot pink, creating a kind of glowing, electric peach effect with fuscia highlights. I remember playing with micro machines and the white Lamborghini Countache was the absolute king of the collection. That one was a combination of color and form, but the other Countaches that I had in my collection held no power to the white one. Orange and red were my brother’s colors somehow, so I respected them but would never go after them. Blue was somehow the king of all colors, nothing that could be claimed for one’s own. But turquoise was all mine; turquoise was my home, and I owned it completely. Mint green and seafoam were sympathetic cognates but not as all encompassing. It went on and on like this with every single color. There were no neutral colors for me.
So you see, this proves that I am an artist. I have artist anecdotes from my deep past.
Koch & James is an artist duo that was founded at a time in which the concept of branding has never been more prominent within artistic production. Despite decades of research by artists like Michael Asher, Louise Lawler, and Andrea Fraser describing with pinpoint accuracy the mutational effects that market and institutional forces have on artistic identity and production, the overwhelming majority of artists working today continue to prop up their name as the main beam of their artistic identity, at the same time employing incredibly outdated thinking about how that name operates as and in relation to economies of image production: brands. Said more simply: how can so many artists continue to work in apparent oblivion of how their work relates to the world of design and advertising? Whether or not you choose to confront advertising has completely no bearing on the fact that the world of branded image production is waiting and ready to absorb your production at the moment it becomes profitable. >
> By positioning ourselves as Koch & James, we are declaring that we take this task head on. The name functions like other artist duo names (Gilbert and George, Elmgreen & Dragset) in disrupting the illusory continuity of the singular genius artist trope. But it also resonates with the ‘names-of-white-guys,’ titans of the old advertising world (Ogilvy & Mather, Saatchi & Saatchi), calling to mind a certain level of professionalism and mercenary ambition. The irony of this position should not be mistaken for cynicism. We take on the form of the thing (ad/PR/design world) that makes it impossible for us to embody our ideals (the revolutionary promises of the enlightenment/modernism/the avant garde), but in so doing, and in consideration of the spaces in which we show and the methods we employ, a glaring absence sounds an alarm for the thing in need of rescue.
This is why, for example, whenever we get a chance to participate in an art exhibition, we never approach it as a “chance to show our work,” but rather as an opportunity to serve the needs of a specific client. The “client” can be anyone from the institution that is hosting the exhibition to the curator who invited us. It’s also sometimes interesting for us to ask when we ourselves are the client. Working as a client-oriented agency of course belies the economic realities of service providers adrift in the gig economy, to which artist are also beholden. The position also calls to mind for our audience as well as our clients that we are not only providing “art works” but additionally helping to stage events and produce promotional materials.