OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maskull Lasserre

Books, steel, hardware
40 x 8 x 11 inches

MASKULL LASSERE creates a profound mood of mystery through a combination of skilled material manipulation and the juxtaposition of disparate ideas and objects. Whether expertly unleashing carved skeletons from static everyday objects or merging the refinement of a well-crafted violin with the blunt violence of an axe, he leaves us to contemplate the tension between life and death, creation and destruction. Maskull has a BFA in Visual Art and Philosophy from Mount Allison University (2001) and an MFA in Sculpture from Concordia University (2009). He is represented by Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain in Montreal, Quebec, and his next solo exhibition Pendulum will open on March 6, 2015 at McClure Gallery, Visual Arts Centre, also in Montreal. He was a recent participant in the Canadian Forces War Artist Program in Afghanistan (2011), is currently in residence at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (2014-2015) and will be an Artist-in-Residence at John Michael Kohler Arts Center's Arts/Industry Program in the summer 2015. Maskull splits his time between Montreal and New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many works rely heavily on your impressive carving skills. Early works reveal the bones of animals and humans in industrially-produced objects like hangers, newspapers, headboards and tools. Could you talk about the nature of carving as a sculptural process?

Maskull Lasserre: I think a lot about the humility of carving, about the simplicity of it and about how honest it is. There is no magic, no technology, no disguise to this kind of subtractive gesture. Because it is so plain, it has this extraordinary potential to reveal unexpected truths about the materials with which it converses. 

Chair, axe
26 x 23 x 37 inches

OPP: Could you give us some examples of the materials you have carved from and what is particular about each one?

ML: I chose to carve materials I want to explore and understand as matter—as opposed to form. I have carved into a variety of objects from books to boulders, musical instruments to tree trunks. Each is unique in how it handles physically and in the potential it holds as symbolic or conceptual gesture when carved. My favorite materials to carve are those that are difficult and obscure. The process of negotiating between the material and the carved form is often what makes the finished piece interesting, and it is definitely what holds my attention during the process.

OPP: Whether it is combining a violin with a rifle scope, a grenade with a music box or turning a blade into a string instrument, you repeatedly conflate the tools of the disparate fields of carpentry, the military and music. There's something jarring about the juxtaposition of violence and danger with the refined skill of woodworking and music. What's the connection for you?

ML: I think that we understand things by their edges, by that contrasting line between what they are and what they are not. By conflating disparate elements—whether a technique and a material, a material and motif, or any other physical or metaphorical element of the work—the contrast is sharpened between the characters at play. Combining contradictory or unexpected subjects is like mixing elements from the periodic table. By testing the space between them, the nature of each can be observed and explored.

Installation view of Grand Narrative and Safe

OPP: In 2010, you participated in the Canadian Forces War Artist Program in Afghanistan. Tell us about this unique program and how this experience changed your work.

ML: The Canadian Forces Artist Program is a a voluntary program where artists of various disciplines are placed in the context of the Canadian forces in order to experience inspiring work representative of the forces' activities. I spent two weeks in Afghanistan where I accompanied members of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Regiment of the Canadian Forces and the Afghan National Army on various activities in and around Kandahar and the forward operating base in Masum Ghar. The experience really defies a short explanation. It was both an incredible challenge and a privilege to share experiences with the members of the service. It is something that I continue to resolve through both the work that deals directly with this subject and my broader practice in general. The consequences of this experience continue to uncoil through my work. In Afghanistan, I encountered instances of the Absolute—something that is greatly missing in normal, everyday life. My work is often a counterweight to my experience. Since my time in Afghanistan, a new weight has been added to it. I feel a new sense of necessity and responsibility for the life I get to live.

Functional steel-jaw trap / chair: steel, torsion springs, hardware, chain
32 x 16 x 18 inches

OPP: Could you talk about your use of trigger mechanisms in Progress Trap (Chair No. 1) (2014), the musical grenades from Beautiful Dreamer (2014) and Mechanical Equation for Determining Meaning given Mass and Velocity (2011). Are these works meant to be activated by the viewer or simply thought about?

ML: The potential suggested by these objects is much more important than the actual release of any of the mechanisms you mentioned. There is a sense of agency in suggestion that is lost when fully explained. Suspense is often more powerful and sustained than a simple fright, and an inference can be much more interesting—even more accurate—than an explicitly articulated fact.

It is important that each of these objects does function in the way it suggests, but this mechanical truth is only necessary to infuse each piece with the true potential that provokes the viewer into imagining the mechanism's release. The work itself is unfinished until this process is invoked in the viewer. While the physical potential of each mechanism can only be released once, the viewer can imagine endless variations to an implied event, and through this experience, many different completions of the same object.

Bronze, spring and stainless steel, patina
3 x 3.5 x 5 inches each (approx.)

OPP: This summer you will be an Artist-in-Residence at John Michael Kohler Arts Center's Arts/Industry program. Any plans for what you will work on while there? Which facilities are you most excited to take advantage of?

ML: I will be working primarily in the Foundry (Iron works) of the Kohler Co. Facility. It is a rare opportunity to have access to a resource like this, and I am excited to see how its potential translates into my work. Because I have never experienced working in an industrial context of this scale, I am cautious about putting too fine a point on the type of work I hope to make. I imagine some exploration of weight and mass and multiple iterations of cast objects would be a good starting point. Like most new experiences, the more open I am to the potential they reveal in the moment, the better the work will be as a result.

To see more of Maskull's work, please visit maskulllasserre.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.