Can you tell me what it is your work consists of?
Content-wise almost all of it is angry. It is either angry with myself or angry with whatever powers that be that may have caused me to have the position that I do. I hopefully bring a soft edge to it. The content has to do mostly with my military service. I think the most successful pieces deal specifically with these intimate moments that I have with myself. And using that I want to show everybody what military service does, I don’t want to celebrate the fact that young men and women are going to countries that they can’t pick out on a map to shoot and be shot at. I want people to see the despicable nature of war and what we bring home. It is an admirable thing to want to sacrifice and be a part of something bigger than yourself, but we need to be honest about what that bigger thing is.
What kind of responses to your work excite you?
Uh when somebody has definitely been moved. You can spend a lot of time in a studio working and being very confidant, and then when it comes to actually showing people the work I still have no idea, I don’t know how they’re going to react to something. When somebody is coming up to me after one of my installations and performance pieces, total strangers giving me genuine hugs, it’s really exciting and relieving and at the same time comforting because art allows me to connect with people in ways that I haven’t in over a decade.
What is it that is relieved?
That I am able to communicate with someone else. That they heard me. Did you go to the protest on November 11 2016? So, this was when they blocked the highway. Somebody told me to jump off a bridge for this. It was a Puerto Rican trump supporter. When this guy told me to jump off a bridge, he heard me, and he understood that I appreciated the right to protest. It was nice. That interaction. When he told me to jump off the bridge I just started walking away and when I turn back around I’m like dude we cannot have a conversation if you’re just going to be hateful like that. And he was like that wasn’t hate, I didn’t say how high the bridge had to be! I wish it wasn’t such a negative response, but he still felt a strong emotion.
I think my favorite reactions comes from a performance piece which has to do with these pillows. This pillow piece, a lot of people cried watching it. This terrarium piece, it made people want to run away.
What’s the terrarium piece?
So, the most horrific symptom I ever got outside of the suicidal thoughts that happened from PTSD, sometimes I get a thought that just becomes repetitive or cyclic. So, if I was having it right now it could be I’m talking with Delia I’m talking with Delia I’m talking with Delia. Or, I’m in my studio so I’m talking with Delia and I’m talking with Delia because I’m in my studio. It’s frightening, it fucks me up. Terrariums being a completely encapsulated ecosystem and these thoughts and memories can sometimes be that where you get stuck in it and you don’t really see a way out of that specific memory. So, I got up on a stage, and started making these terrariums and I would speak with that cyclic and repetitive talk. So as soon as I was getting ready to perform, as I was walking to the stage I was like okay I’m walking to the stage I’m walking to the stage I’m going to get on the stage I’m going to get on the stage I’m about to start performing I’m about…and I get on the stage, okay I’m grabbing a bottle, placing the bottle on the table so then I need rocks I’m going to put rocks in the bottle rocks are going in the bottle I’m going to put rocks in the bottle. Kept going like that with every ingredient, I did it like that for about 2.5-3 hours. It became almost a mantra.
Can you tell me what the pillow project is?
Its current iteration is titled “Hard Comforts.” I’ll set up a small installation in a corner that has a ton of pillows. I’ll be in military uniform and sit down, calling military cadences with an audio recording of soldiers marching. Sewing the entire time. I mean sewing is attributed to home-making. I really thought it was hilarious that a guy that looks like me, blond hair, blue eyes, muscular to be sewing. I thought it was even more hilarious to have a soldier make it. Just because we went over there does not put us on another level, we are still the same person, we are still American citizens. So the juxtaposition, challenging the assumptions of what a war veteran is, challenging the assumptions of what masculinity is, that’s what I really wanted to do. The cadences came in because the most horrific thing I saw in the army wasn’t the casualties, it wasn’t even the loss of friends, it was when you’ve graduated basic training and we’re all marching down the avenue and it’s lined by our parents and we’re singing these songs that on one hand are really gung-ho military, and then they go to ones that are like, I could die tomorrow, I probably am going to die, and they are these really incredibly depressing stories and the parents gave us thunderous applause when we stopped. It was fucked up. I mean they are cheering that people in this formation, possibly even their children are going to die.
And then after the fact, we’re trying to rebuild our lives, we’re trying to re-integrate and connect with civilians but we can’t really. And on top of that we had just this really close knit family that was on speed dial any hour of the day and people saw it as a moral obligation to help you even if they fucking hated you. The day before I was discharged I had almost 800 men at my disposal if I needed anything and the very next day, gone. And that is true for just about every person who gets out of the military. So we have no home. No family that we understand, no friends that we understand and we’re cut loose and then we get someone coming up and thanking us for our service which further alienates us from the community because they are like you’re doing something that none of us can do. While that may be praiseworthy, it may not be the best thing for some of us to hear.
When did you first identify as an artist?
Oh. 10/11. I knew that I wanted to be an artist the moment that I saw Jurassic Park. I saw the illusion of dinosaurs on the screen and was just in heaven. And then several things happened in life, with my mother passed(ing) away being the watershed. I shied away from the more technical stuff in art, I also wanted to make something more expressive. I could make a dinosaur and people would be like woah that’s cool but I don’t think people would be like, who made that? So from a young kid I wanted to make stuff, and I wanted you to know that I made that. Then when I got older I was trying to do art but didn’t know how to break it. And I had the opportunity to teach a class in Southern Missouri, to teach color theory to a bunch of incredibly right wing Christian people. I only did it once because they wanted me to teach from a Christian standpoint. I was like… I don’t know how to teach color theory that way.
Why did you want to teach them?
There are two things I think I am. I assume I’m an artist, but I know I’m through and through I’m a teacher. I have much bigger, grander plans for teaching. I wanted to teach them different ways of looking at the physical world.
What do you think you can bring to education?
Critical thinking. I think it’s sorely lost in our world, in our country. I think about some of the art education students here and they are completely boxed in to the rules. Technique is definitely important. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know technique.
Most specifically I would want to focus on five and younger and teach reading with kids and then have a course in scientific inquiry and artistic expression for toddlers and pre-k. Because that’s where a lot of our curiosities will be bolstered and maintained, before they turn five.
For somebody no longer 5 and younger, how do we get people to be disruptive in their work?
Quit being afraid. I’m going to steal something I heard Jim Carrey say. He said through that door there’s everything. I’ve walked through that door and several different doors and it’s always so liberating. There’s no need to be afraid. If you start making something with fear it becomes disingenuous and if there is one thing that every single human being catches is when you’re being disingenuous.
What do you think the greatest thing that art has ever done for you is?
Oh it kept me sane. And it kept me me. The first crack in the conditioning was when we were marching down the street in basic training, the final crack, I was stationed in Germany. I was complaining about the military, but I still had a very strict military bearing and didn’t really pay attention to anything outside of how to be a good soldier. Then I was stumbling back on the train from Munich and I got stuck in Nuremberg for three hours I’m like alright I’m going to go eat lunch. So I’m walking down the street and I look up and see a sculpture I’m like that looks like Albrecht Dürer. And I’m like that’s weird I don't know why that’s here and I turn into a plaza and there are all these sculptures that are dedicated to Albrecht Dürer I’m like this is weird. Well there’s food I’m going to go in there get some food, I’m half drunk. It’s ten o’clock in the morning. The waiter speak English, I go what’s with all this stuff? He goes “Albrecht Dürer is from Nuremberg, yeah you’re actually eating in his studio”. It reminded me that there is something else outside of the military and there was another passion that I had. So then I started working toward it again, playing with drawings, playing with writing, with whatever I could.