Alex Da Corte is young, and yet with group and solo exhibitions beginning in 2003 (and who knows what artistry before that), young and established needn’t be mutually exclusive — or impenetrable. A great part of his talent is owed to accessibility, or even, virtue — a sort of Golden Mean being struck like a tuning fork, at the one side impenetrability, and, at the other, ingenuousness. Simply: one needn’t fear attending one of his exhibitions and leave with the mind reeling for meaning or reference.
In The Grand Inquisitor’s monologue from The Brother’s Karamazov, he cites three forces: Miracle, Mystery, and Authority. The success of Da Corte’s work’s effects might be explained by a balance of these three attributes. And yet his affect (and attire) might have you thinking that rather than being a sort of arty-jet setter who has exhibited pretty much everywhere and whose awards and grants list is almost longer than his exhibitions list (quality > quantity) that he instead played Xbox, drove a VW Cabriolet, and worked at the golf course.
Tyler Sayles: Currently you find yourself in a group exhibition where the artists were to construct objects inspired by the late Roger Brown’s oddly compelling and never-before-seen-works right now at Maccarone Gallery — In response to the challenge you set upon a continuation of an ongoing “rug with a trap door” project, which you proposed would continue for 24 years… but you’re of the mind that it’s not necessary to talk about you-as-artist, and that information about your shows is readily available, as are previous basic interview questions, so, how’d your thumb get injured?
Alex Da Corte: I am not sure if you are referring to my bruised thumb or the tattoo on my thumb but both happened on accident. The former happened working in my studio and trying to pry open a bottle with a screw driver and the latter happened on the day Ronald Raegan died, coincidentally my brother’s birthday, June 5, 2004. It was my first tattoo and its for playing hangman.
TS: Both your Dad and your brother are named Americo, how’s it feel being Alex?
ADC: It’s funny, my dad is the first Americo of his lineage — he claims to have never met another Americo — which is probably why he named his first son that. I feel that my brother also feels the same kind of special alien feelings one has when they have a peculiar first name — like Tetris or Bucket, so he named his son Americo as well. Alex/j is short for Alejandro. I feel fine about the name. The name means protector of men or defender of the people, which is like completely hysterical, considering I’ve always felt more aligned with the wallflowers of the world… I miss Venezuela. I always think about the smell of mangoes when I think of growing up there.
TS: Speaking of progeny and you, an artist…
ADC: I think that everything deals with race and sex and politics in some social way. Everything has a skin, a surface that communicates on a basic formal level and also has a rich complicated history. All colors have meaning and history and psychological complexities that I think are worthy of unraveling and reevaluating, recalibrating. This week was a really rich and exciting week for the United States. Equalizing. I think a lot of my work deals with sex, gender, race, and religion — specifically how we can grow by destabilizing common misconceptions about these realities and equalize. Deconstruct hierarchies, place them on a tray to distill and reconsider the language and cultural implications embedded in each, and make new. Go forward. Even something like the vulgarity of the Confederate flag, still pervades in parts of our culture. How do we flatten the power of that symbol? Where and how do we grow in opposition to that? Bree Newsome did a wonderful beautiful thing this week to flatten that symbol.
TS: Why a palmtree supported by scaffolding originating from a stack of laundry hampers (The Loping Palm, 2012)?
ADC: That particular piece was part of a show called Magic Stick. The show Magic Stick consisted of many sculptures which pointed to illusions found in culture, ways in which materials can deceive us, and how familiar icons can fold in onto themselves in order to make better sense of the unfamiliar. The work, Loping Palm was one of three sculptures that told the story of the Rape of Persephone, a myth which helps humanize something like the changing of seasons, a change which although perceptible, is not as tangible as rape. The scaffolding for me was the intangible change (painted silver to signify mirrors which are in some ways invisible), the understanding that something is present but not meant to be “seen”. The stilts on which we suspend disbelief in order to cope with the complexities of the natural and unnatural world- specifically palm trees in California….
TS: Nietzsche say that the role of the artist in these — and all — dark times, is to give the participant “Supernatural Shivers” …
ADC: Ah, actually I am reading a book called Cronenberg on Cronenberg and it has been super inspiring. He says about the periphery,
“The ‘otherness; had solely to do with the specifics of what I wanted to do creatively, in that I wanted isolation. So at that point you’re talking about your own uniqueness; you need that alienness. You want the community — you don’t want the pain of feeling outside — but you are threatened by acceptance because it dulls the edge. It dulls the anger”
Shivers, one of his earlier works, is so progressive. It was borne out of a desire to create in a space that was the most conducive for the work to grow-outside of the center — specifically in Montreal, which at the time was decidedly not New York or catering to American cinema or Italian cinema norms. We grew up with the horror genre, but Cronenberg in many ways ushered in this genre, in the face of the films being taboo and tacky- because for him he felt it was the best way to confront the mysteries of love and death, albeit through slime and blood and alien gore. I believe in his desires — the desire to address the sublime starting from the bottom and the rot.
TS: Do you think it’s Soul Cycle or Pinkberry — or both — that makes Upper East Siders witches/evil/foreboding? Die Hexe, your haunted witch-mansion-thing in the UES packed a evocative punch.
ADC: HA, thanks so much. That show was a weird collection of very bad decisions all put into a pot and shaken, stirred, and boiled until everything smelled like Listerine. I think Luxembourg and Dayan is run by some great women, Amalia and Daniella gave me complete freedom to let that show grow as it needed to and it did. There generosity is something I am extremely thankful for. AS far as witches go, id say its probably the Pink Berry. I don’t trust that much sugar in one place.
TS: Why Die Hexe instead of using the English “The Witch”? Do you love Schopenhauer?
ADC: Die Hexe was a bit of a play on words. Schopenhauer is a dream. My grandmother on my mother’s side is German and a dream too. For me, Die Hexe was both the witch and also if translated literally in English, Die as in death of and Hex as in Pennsylvania Dutch symbol or icon. Death of symbol. My mother’s side of the family has a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch history, and these symbols are something I grew up seeing on barns and in farms in the countryside. Simple symbols used to communicate to people passing by. I imagined Die Hexe, the show, was trying to kill the familiar symbol, only to rebirth it into something new. Similar to how dementia works: there is a death of memory in some ways, each day, but maybe this allows for room to experience the new, and see again for the first time, jamais vu.
TS: The curtain at the end of Die Hexe might mean that you’re more into a presence as opposed to an absence — I’ve never watched the Wizard of Oz (the lion always scared me) but I hear that, in the end, there’s nothing behind the curtain — and in Die Hexe there is, well, something (as opposed to nothing) behind it, so… or no?
ADC: Wow, did I mention that the curtain and the room in the end of DIe Hexe was a replica of the wizard’s control room in The Wizard of Oz… I would agree that presence is my concern, although that comes from distilling absence or things that may be invisible — something like touch, or residual histories, scars- psychologically speaking. Fantasies and desires leave residue too. Just look at a VO5 bottle of shampoo and notice its shape, its color, its name. This is the product of someone’s understanding that desire can be shared and marketed and made physical. The residue of their desire is the bottle. There is residue of desire all around. The wizard is desire made physical too — even though there is some failure embedded in the big reveal- akin to the realization that VO5 Strawberries and Cream tastes nothing like it proposes it to…