Cold war missile base BMX bike race, starting gun. Jan, 2006
Miami: Industry of Luxury, Nicolas Lobo in interview with Thomas Hollingworth.
Nicolas Lobo is a Miami based artist. Like many artists in Miami today he mediates between high profile exhibitions and small group projects.
In the past five years he has been included in shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Miami Art Museum, and exhibited at internationally recognized venues such as Fredric Snitzer Gallery and SCOPE Miami. At the same time he has also instigated and participated in many more clandestine happenings such as the Cold War Missile Base BMX Bike Race (a bike race that took place between seven artists at an abandoned Cold War missile base); The International Noise conference (the illustrious tongue in cheek reaction to Miami’s Winter Music Conference);VAULT (an artist organized installation in Miami’s Design District); as well as destroying all his work in a wood chipper for the purpose of showing one piece at a friend’s low-key project space.
To paint him as an outsider would be misrepresentation; however, to label him as mainstream would be equally incorrect. Miami based artists like Nicolas represent a particular anomaly of the locale to facilitate a breed of inside-outers; neither underground nor mainstream yet permitted by a rare geographical and cultural incongruity to savor the fruits of either designation.
Sharing his studio with a group of other equally implacable yet prominent internationally emerging artists, Lobo is highly regarded in Miami as both a sculptor and a resource.
Refusing representation by a gallery and preferring instead to move autonomously between cliques, his work is perhaps as untainted by the mechanisms of the art world as one could hope for and yet, it finds its way into museums and high profile exhibitions as much as artist run projects - often devised and funded by himself and his piers.
In tracking Nick down I was unsure whether to start looking under rocks or don my black tie and cruise the members only previews at the local museums.
When I finally caught up with him at his studio in I wanted to ask him about the importance of the underground in the strata of Miami and how the opportunity to be free yet funded affects individuals like him and their work.
Previous work mulching machine event, Jan. 2008.
Tom Hollingworth: When I think of the term underground I feel like it’s totally ‘old hat’ and I am almost plagued by visions of Mad Max-style soap dodgers tinkering furtively in shadowy pockets of socialist extremism.
Nicolas Lobo: It seems like the rest of the world is well aware of the irony in calling something underground, but for whatever reason, Miami appears unresponsive to the subtleties involved with this idea. Maybe it’s because there’s only one layer here.
TH: As a result I guess that you’re in such close quarters with the mainstream that you become a kind of yuppie rebel; able to enjoy the affluence, exclusivity and high profile among both artists/piers and gallerists/collectors and yet still able to retire to your clique of cool emerging art buddies to discuss the state of it all in privacy, out of ear shot of the mainstream lest it’s fickle hand should take back that which it has so encouragingly given.
NL: Yes, but this is not the case only in Miami, it sounds like any ‘underground’ scene I’ve observed. I think if you want to be involved in cultural production you’re admitting that you are comfortable with the excesses of your surroundings. So to take an attitude of rebellion is not only naïve but laughable, unless you are using it as a device towards a more considered goal.
TH: So whose side are you on, if you had to choose a side?
NL: There are no sides; it’s all a part of the same organism.
TH: One bitch many heads?
TH: So the notion of a diamond in the rough; the marketable romance of the struggling artist working from the gutter, a real voice etc doesn’t apply these days as it did let’s say in the Eighties?
NL: What you’re talking about is authenticity. Ultimately, underground vs. mainstream is a marketing construct that falls apart at some point. I don’t know if you can compare now to the eighties but certainly art production now is about mediating between the mainstream and the underground; an infinity snake of studio process and culmination.
The underground lives off of surplus. The mainstream lives off of excess. I don’t think it’s the case that those who refute the status of ‘established artist’ are lower in the food chain but they inevitably live off of the table scraps of the mainstream. Two recipes for the same cut of meat.
TH: Do you sell much work?
NL: I try to make the support system for my work separate; rather than literally selling the project as a culmination of lets say ‘idea’ and ‘meal ticket’. I’m about being able to push an agenda without depending completely on obvious sources of financing. This is of course not new; many people have and do work [and think] in that way, which is an established, recognized … whatever, survival technique.
I think what is most interesting about that ‘strategy’ is that if you are ultimately successful then you inevitably create a new definition of commodity. This is why someone can buy a piece of carpet on which a performance occurred - post humus. It’s a moot point, because everything is buyable and anything is fundable.
Nicolas Lobo, Angle, 2008.Previous work passed through mulching machine, Plywood, 4′x4′x8″, 1/1.
Installation view from 'Replicator' at Twenty Twenty Projects, Miami. Feb 2008.
TH: How do you feel about representation? Is it better for development, in your opinion, to be pure or pampered?
NL: Generally I think overexposure is bad.
There is one model that treats the artist as an expendable resource, a fuel source for the now. The need for a new craze or something that’s ‘in’ just burns them up like a book of matches. Everyone has to find their own strategy.
TH: What was it like growing up in Miami?
NL: Being home schooled I never really belonged to any group but would have friends from all schools.
TH: At what point growing up did you realize the division between underground and mainstream was a fallacy so far as Miami is concerned?
NL: When I think about weird defining anecdotes I think about the time with the knives. Kids would always meet outside school on the last day of class and fight. My other home schooled or drop out buddies and I didn’t really understand why or anything to do with the dynamic but we wanted to get in on the action, so one day we strapped ourselves down with knives and went to see what would happen. Each of us had about 8-10 kitchen knives held on our person with duct tape. We got there way to early and ended up just walking around outside the school with all these knives under our clothes until the cops stopped us. We were totally on the outside, totally clueless and when the cops asked us what we were doing I remember having this incredibly clear moment of realization thinking: “what are we doing?” I realized then that the underground is often just a side effect of misguided attempts at joining the mainstream
TH: Do you think people in the underground would agree with you on that?
NL: I don’t know… the smart ones maybe.
TH: Where is your focus now? Do you have one?
NL: I want to be focused. The artists I look up to have a long trajectory. I think it’s possible to be out of the mainstream and very successful within it at the same time; successful both in terms of your work’s strength and the way in which it is received. Both tend to come hand in hand but not always.
TH: Let’s talk about your current project a bit – the recording studio.
NL: It’s going to be less of a theatrical thing than we had initially intended, less visual, in fact, not visual at all. What we are doing is going into a recording studio and playing live into party lines to cut a record, hopefully with some impromptu collaborations from other party line users. The idea is to make a record and get someone to invest in a limited edition pressing of it – failing that we’ll just pay for it ourselves.
The project goes hand in hand with a book I am producing of pirate radio transcriptions. But where as with the book I am kind of a clerk or secretary, the recording studio project is collaborative – but they are both products of the same line of thought.
Recording session for American Donut. May, 2008. Photo credit: Aiden Dillard
TH: Do these projects have titles yet?
NL: The recording studio project is called ‘American Donut’ which is the name of the all American party line we will be tapping into, it’s important that it's American. The book is called ‘89.5 FM in Dade County’.
TH: Why is it important that the party line is all American?
NL: This project is trying to reconnect with America. I think we’ve been taking the country for granted but it’s been growing while our backs were turned and is now nearly unrecognizable. We all have our little niche but I want to catch up with the bigger picture. The idea came from observing the way that Miami clashes with the rest of the State. Part of Miami is very cosmopolitan and trying to connect to the rest of the Americas in that way, then there’s the conservative faction that ventures “We’re America, not South America!” There’s this weird mix of big city insecurity and small town insecurity.
TH: So you have chosen Miami as the location for ‘American Donut’?
NL: Yes. Were recording it at Central Miami Studios in Alapatha, it’s a neighborhood west of 1-95.
TH: And I understand that originally it was intended to be a live stage performance. Why did you decide to ditch the event idea for just a record?
NL: It was becoming too amorphous as a project, spilling out over its edges like a bowl of spaghetti in kind of a search for something new – its kind of stupid at times. What’s nice about the record is its very acceptable; everyone knows how to play a record. Also there are plenty of ‘art records’ out there, its kind of a mainstream underground thing. I am also very tired of seeing performances that try to make me feel unsettled or to ‘question notions blah blah blah’.
TH: Who else is involved in the ‘American Donut’?
NL: Aiden Dillard who I’ve worked with in a couple of his Movies; and for the Noise Conference as Condoleezza Rice; Jay Hines who I share a studio with; collaborated with for the vault project and showed with for Replicator at Twenty Twenty Projects, Miami; and Danielle Steal, a romance novelist.
Condoleezza Rice at the INC (International Noise Conference). Feb. 2008.
Photo credit: Aiden Dillard
TH: What can you tell me about the hoops that Miami artists have to jump through and why some prefer to be branded?
NL: You chose to be in it or you choose to be designated as it. It’s good for selling. It breaks down into a discussion of wider sociological issues that can of course add depth to your work, even if there isn’t any. It’s convenient for some, intentional by most.
Generally I don’t feel like I belong to either the mainstream or the underground but I can cherry pick both, go diagonally through it. It’s a rich life, I do what I want. I think that is pretty specific to Miami.
TH: What else is specific to Miami?
NL: Liquor sponsorship. 10 Cane, Grolsch, Bacardi, Hennessey. Miami is a lab for lifestyle marketing. Luxury marketing strategies get tried out here early on. We are privy to a lot of strange product placement strategies. For example you can have a piss broke party, absolutely full of bums and its sponsored by blue label – its fucking weird, but, on the upside you never have to pay for a drink.
TH: Can you expand on the luxury marketing strategy? Would you say that it’s true for artists as well? That they can use the currents of Miami as career stepping stones?
NL: The premise of Miami, or its main product that we sell is luxury lifestyle.
Condoleezza Rice at the INC (International Noise Conference). Feb. 2008.
Photo credit: Aiden Dillard
TH: Isn’t that a bit superficial?
NL: No, everybody would say the same about LA but it’s actually a place where you can find good culture and good thinkers. The difference is that while LA has a legitimate industry – Hollywood – Miami’s industry is the idea of luxury - the million dollar condo etc. Anyone can come to Miami and pretend to be a millionaire; the ends become the means.
Its very easy for artists to get funding or attention for a catalogue but what at first seems official and well reasoned collapses when you look at the work – all the trappings of successful culture identity are easy to come by here.
Which is one of the reasons to love Miami. I like the single layer there literally is no underground here - no basements, no subways – the geography doesn’t support it. The underground is actually not possible because everyone is forced onto the same playing field; everyone has to eat from the same table.
At the same time there is no elevation either so it’s also very difficult to define your superiority. This applies socially as well since there is really nothing like old money here. However, there is lots of new money. Now that the boom has settled down there is a feeling of critical mass. All these artists, all these galleries. What next? Culling the herd maybe.
NL: I guess that depends on the herd.
TH: In light of this would you consider making art elsewhere and allowing someone else to take your place?
Thomas Hollingworth graduated with a BFA from London Guildhall University in 2003. He has since worked internationally as a freelance writer for art institutions such as The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin and publications such as Florida InsideOut, M/The New York Art World, map magazine, Miami Modern Luxury, NO MAD Paper, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Wynwood - The Art Magazine, and ARTLURKER, an online contemporary art newsletter/blog that he runs. www.artlurker.com
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