interview with Tom Sachs
Tom Sachs in his studio, 2003
, Tom Sachs' latest installation currently opening at the
Deutsche Guggenheim, is a modern-day Lord of the Flies, the beach
transformed to a 1:25 model of an urban sprawl. And the boys, well,
they're still the boys – only this time they're holding remote control
race cars in their hands and sometimes they make hamburgers. Sachs' work
is about how the public buys into systems, including hostile takeovers and
corruption that causes power to tilt horribly forward. He's looking at how
we submit to and readily comply with someone else's rules and regulations.
Nutsy's is its own universe, loosely based on a real life character named
Nutsy who lives in Jamaica, where he runs a bicycle repair shop. The bike
shop is the perfect opposite of a
Tom Sachs workplace, where even the duct tape is filed according to color
and size. Sachs is interested in how we misuse things and how we ourselves
are misused. There are two ways to explore Nutsy's: one is by
entering a physical installation, the other is through film. In the three
days I followed Sachs, he was never alone. His assistants are more like
Duct tape cabinet Le Corbusier in bookshelf
Bahktin said: "The hero passes through life as would a man from another
world… he is a rogue, a man who changes his everyday personalities as he
pleases… he's a wandering actor disguised as an aristocrat, or a high-brow
gentleman ignorant of his lineage (a ‘foundling')." Sachs enjoys
de-stabilizing. He's at his best when he's unbalancing the world. I meet
with him shortly before his departure to Berlin, where he will oversee the
installation of Nutsy's. Sachs is also obsessed with flow charts,
linking names to activities and projects. Sachs is the perfect
organization man, and so is Casey Neistat, who calls himself Sachs' "Chief
Operating Officer." He's probably one of the few COOs wearing a Malcolm X
T-shirt.On the first day, we take a field trip to the movies. Everyone
Location: Tom Sachs' studio across the street
from the Police Department Building in Lower Manhattan. A skateboard is
wedged in the upper part of a shop window. So are tools. This is where the
Across from Sachs' studio, Lower Manhatten's Police Department Building
Cheryl Kaplan: Have you ever seen the 1963 British
Billy Liar –
Tom Sachs: Billy Liar's great,
I love it.
Kaplan: It's about a man who leads an
irresponsible life as a funeral director's clerk. He's a rogue, engaged to
two women at the same time. When things don't work out, he assumes the
role of a dictator ruling an imagined country called Ruritania. I thought
of Billy Liar in relation to Nutsy's. Like Nutsy's,
Billy Liar's rules are made-up rules. To what extent is Nutsy's a
volatile world – a kind of David Mamet House of Games, where
you don't know from moment to moment what's next?
That's a really interesting and complex idea. With Nutsy's, I
started as a creator, and now I have this whole team of people and I'm
this director. I create parameters, rules, and guidelines by which things
are built. Van calls it "to code." There are places where we break the
rules and the code takes over.
Van Neistat and Tom Sachs
Kaplan: How many people are working on the project?
Generally, the hard core crew is six. The idea of Nutsy's is that
when you're the only bike repair store in town, you're a monopoly. In
Nutsy's , it's our tracks – you can bring your car, but we make the
rules. You can do whatever you want with your car, but if you use our
tracks or our cars, you have to comply.
Unite has a tight ideological program for solving the world's housing
problems through architecture, and then greedy building management turns
everything into a corrupt way of extorting money out of a dwelling. The
viewer is in control. The operators are more in control. When you step
into our world, you are subject to our rules.
Entry to Tom Sachs`studio
If you play by someone else's rules long enough, you're in collusion with
them, and then you're dominated by them. You flip over to the other side.
Sachs: There's a bar in the installation, and one guy came every day to
drink. He bought a car as an entrée into this world. He should have been
the best with the car, but he just wasn't focused.
Why did you create two versions of the same place?
The original idea for Nutsy's came from hearing
Richard Wentworth's talk called
"Making Do and Getting By." He was my teacher at the
Architectural Association in London in 1987. It's about craft and
technology and the misuse of things. Richard finds the same kinds of
things all over the world: like the moon and NASA, he brings them together
by drawing associations. I was inspired by a man named Nutsy who makes do
and gets by.
Kaplan: Nutsy's also functions as
metaphor, working against the ultra-refined qualities of the original
Le Corbusier Unite d'habitation, the exhibition goes through daily
transformations – and probably another one will happen as it moves from
the Bohen Foundation in New York to the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.
Sachs: The word "Nutsy" is a little self-serving – if I could, I would
have given the work a much less interesting name, like "New Work." The
title refers to being nuts, crazy, but also nuts and bolts – and it also
Sachs` manifesto in studio
To what extent are you an imposter or a hero type?
I'm definitely an imposter. I've done all those things on that list
Kaplan: How much of your work is about craft
and screwing around with the technical part of the work?
That's the main focus – I only engage in social issues to do the technical
Kaplan: Nutsy is an alter-ego or a companion
character. Who is the Nutsy you've invented?
Sachs: Nutsy is
my alter-ego. I've created this contradictory system of building things,
where very low materials are processed to a high degree of refinement.
From Con Ed wood to found plywood. Foamcore is a perfect example, because
no one would ever make a model that detailed from a low material because
the stuff doesn't last. But we make a big effort to make it last. While I
was growing up in Bogota, Colombia, there was a gardener who lived in a
shack in the back house, and he had a radio he'd built out of building
blocks that might have been stolen from me, or found. Little toy blocks.
He made music out of nothing.