MATTHEW SCHLAGBAUM's sculptures, installations and photography explore the muting effect of romanticism and expectation on our lived experience. Various visual filters like frosted plexiglass, colored mylar, screens
obscure clichéd imagery of natural phenomena including sunsets,
rainbows, lightning bolts. The viewer is repeatedly viewing one thing
through another, which creates a frustrated desire to experience the
imagery directly, and this perceptual frustration is echoed in titles that add interpersonal, emotional narratives.
Matthew earned his BFA in 2009 from University of South Florida and his
MFA in 2011 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His solo
exhibitions include Don’t Stop Now, I’m Almost There (2012) at Vitrine in Chicago, It’s What’s On The Outside That Counts (2013) at Contemporary Art Center in Las Vegas and Wearing Myself Out Trying to Get There (2015) at Bert Green Fine Arts in Chicago. He is currently an artist-in-residence at the Arquetopia Foundation in Puebla, Mexico. Past residencies include Vermont Studio Center (2013), Hatch Projects
(2013) at Chicago Artists’ Coalition and ACRE (2011). Opening on
September 11, 2015, his work will be included in the upcoming exhibition
Making Chances at Gallery 400, which is part of the citywide program Platforms: 10 Years of Chances/Dances. Matthew lives and works in Chicago.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does longing play in your practice?
Longing is a major aspect of my work, but I am no longer very
interested the longing related to nostalgia or a yearning for the past. I
am interested in representing the desires of the present.
I often feel persuaded into believing that Love and Happiness are obtainable, permanent states of being. In reality, happiness is experienced intermittently, dispersed throughout a gradient of other feelings, most of which are probably pretty neutral. But I often feel the expectation to constantly exist in a high-key. There is a pervasive, erroneous notion that equates not feeling strongly with not feeling at all. Like, if I do not love you so much it makes me sick, then I don’t really love you.
These unrealistic expectations result in a constant state of longing for something more. Some promised state that is recognizable in others on the streets and in the movies, but that I find difficult to experience. Perhaps Marina and the Diamonds described this more succinctly than I can with their line “TV taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal.”
OPP: I relate to this so much! And, as much as I believe
that TV has many positive emotional benefits, unrealistic expectations
about the experience of love is a negative side effect. Pop songs
certainly play into this, too. Rarely do they capture love, but I do
think they are very accurate at capturing infatuation and calling it
love. Could the longing to feel more just be a symptom of semantics?
Does fine art play into this collective misunderstanding?
MS: I don’t want to give the impression that I am anti-television or popular culture. On the contrary, I’m actually quite fond of them. I do believe that this might be an issue of semantics, in the sense that I often feel disconnect between an emotional reaction and its cultural signifiers. This is a situation that seems pervasive in pop culture, but the Art World is not immune to this either. There is so much work I cannot fully relate to because it’s either assaulting me with its saccharine idealism or smothering me with the horrors of the world. It seems rare to encounter work that addresses the notion of emotional neutrality or explores an ambivalent viewpoint. In response to this, my work is about the person who feels guilty for not crying at a funeral or struggles to muster the level of excitement required to ensure others of their appreciation of a gift—in other words, the person who feels like they are not feeling enough.
OPP: Gold is a recurring color and symbol in your sculptural work. In 2013, you used imitation gold leaf in installations like Treasured, Everything and The Aspirations of the Yearning Individual in a Valueless World.
You've also used gold spray paint, gold scrapbook paper and found
trophies. What are your thoughts about the color gold and it's
conceptual content in your sculpture?
MS: My initial interest in gold came from my inability to convincingly mimic it for a project that I did not have the funds to create out of the real thing. It quickly dawned on me that I had never owned anything made out of gold and didn’t really even know what it was I was trying to replicate. After that I became interested in the value and superiority placed upon the material, its art historical references and the myriad of colors that attempted to imitate it. The imitative materials sort of had this drag quality that I found appealing. They are not convincingly mimicking the original, but that isn’t the point. The act of imitation becomes an exaggeration, and that exaggeration results in something altogether new.
OPP: Your titles often contain emotional content that is integral to the work. In some cases—Now You Change. Please. Don’t Make Me Change You. Must I? All Right I Will. You’re Changed Now. You Are. You Did It Too. I Did It To You But You Did It. Yes You Did. (2012), for example—I would consider language a material on par with physical materials. When in your process do you decide on titles? Does thinking about titles shape the evolution of the piece?
MS: Titles are incredibly important to me. They
are a way to add an additional reference, layer of content, or entry
point into the work. With that being said, titling usually happens after
the work has been completed. Like my imagery and materials, I
appropriate many of my titles from other sources. I keep a running list
of things that I read or hear that resonate with me. When I read, I do a
lot of underlining.
Once a work is finished, I comb through all my notes and books and sometimes search for quotes online using keywords or phrases that are related to the conceptual aspect of the work. I like mixing the sources of my titles, and have previously taken titles from movies, television shows, musicians, novels, critical theory, overheard conversations and self-help books.
The title you referenced in your question was taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel The Garden of Eden. The female protagonist convinces her new husband that they should have the same hair, clothes and tanned skin in order to be like androgynous twins. She is constantly altering both of their appearances to suit her desires. In the section this title is taken from, she is trying to convince him that they can switch back and forth between genders, and in that moment she wants him to be the woman and her to be the man. He doesn’t really understand why she wants this or how it would even work, but allows her to assert that this change has taken place anyway.
OPP: Please talk about the various obstructions/filters that you use to block out or mediate some romantic, natural phenomena like lightening bolts, rainbows or the sunset.
imagery I choose to work with is meant to represent an extreme emotional
state that I often struggle to relate to. Landscapes and natural
phenomena work well for this because they tend to be overly
romanticized— perhaps a little threatening, but also enticing. I want
the images I use to be so familiar that they are simultaneously potent
and lacking content. Stock photography has this unique quality of being
specific and generic at the same time. A stock image has to be specific
enough to anchor it into a perceived reality, but generic enough that
lots of different realities can be projected onto it.
The plexi, window screen, blinds, etc. that I use to obfuscate imagery are meant to create that sense of longing you mentioned earlier. It allows the viewer to know exactly what it is they are looking at while denying them that full sense of visual satisfaction. I want to manifest a sensation of desiring something that is always just beyond reach.
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.