SXSW Film 2015 Review/Interview: A SPACE PROGRAM

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

I must say that this film is unlike any other film I watched during the festival.  Director Van Neistadt’s movie is not really a documentary or narrative film.  This is more like an abridged presentation of the work of artist Tom Sachs and his crew that went into the presentation of his performance art/sculpture exhibition titled A Space Program. In the exhibit Sachs and his artists have constructed by hand a set designed to replicate a mission to the planet Mars. Sachs and his team constructed all of the pieces using plywood and other somewhat crude materials.  Even the space suits are handmade by the artists. The result is a film that is fascinating, intriguing, and even often amusing.

The film is actually a bit difficult to describe without spoiling too much of the joys of discovery, but I will say that Neistadt and Sachs have made a movie that art connoisseurs will definitely enjoy. The intricate pieces, the presentation and all of the behind the scenes discussions and revelations bring to light the amazing work of Tom Sachs and his team of “bricoleurs”.  The performance of the space mission displays a serious commitment to the art and reveals other sides of Sachs and crew, including their collective sense of humor. After the screening, I attended a premiere party which was held at the Contemporary Austin where another Sachs exhibit was showcased. Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective shows a wider range of Sach’s bricolage work.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Sachs at the Contemporary during SXSW.

Mark Saldana: My first question has to do with the Space Program exhibit. What inspired you to do something space-related?

Tom Sachs: I’ve always been interested in brands, in brand identity, in the values that brands apply to their products to create a mythology around them.  Whether that’s the New York Yankees or Chanel. There are a lot of sports team and fashion companies in the world and these brands are dominant in these fields. What brand represents the bigger questions in life? For me, the NASA logo represents sciencesand not just science, but the big ideas behind science. Are we alone? Where do we come from? The same questions that religion asks.  When I look at the NASA logo, it is the scientist’s equivalent of the crucifix. It’s a symbol of power, authority, and ultimately of faith. (In the Space Program Exhibition) We go to Mars so that we can understand our life here on Earth.  Mars is a lot like Earth–similar history. There was water and where there is water, there is life.  I’ve always been interested in science, but building my own space program is a way of exercising my athletic ability as a builder to engage my interests.

M.S.: I noticed that your exhibit here at the Contemporary, you made a particular sculpture which is a large replica of a package of Scotch Tape.  This struck me as reminiscent of the pop art of Andy Warhol.  Is he one of your influences? What other artists have influenced your work?

T.S.: An artist saying he’s not influenced by Andy Warhol is like saying you are not influenced by the weather.  Andy almost doesn’t even exist.  He is such a pure filter of the society we live in.  I chose the Scotch Tape painting because it is baby’s first hammer drill.  It is the first tool you can use safely.  It is also the symbol of bricolage.  It’s how grandma’s fix stuff.  Anyone can use it. My influences include the most important artist of the twentieth century–Louis Armstrong because without Louis Armstrong you do not have Frank Ocean.  He (Armstrong) invents jazz, rock, hip hop, and the solo. The idea that you don’t need a good voice to be the greatest singer ever. The virtuosity of soul over polished veneer.

M.S.: Please discuss your exhibit here at the Contemporary.

T.S.: Boombox Retrospective is a history of fifteen years of boom boxes I have made.  If you look at this show, you will see twenty pieces from different phases of my life.  Each one has its own different story.  Sound systems have laced through my life as they have laced throughout all our lives.  There isn’t anyone who hasn’t owned a radio at some point, or a Walkman, or boom box.  These objects that have brought music into our lives are a little nostalgic because we now listen to things on headphones.

 

The exhibit is truly remarkable and indicative of the great skill and meticulous attention to design and detail Tom Sachs and his bricoleurs put into every piece they create.  I must highly recommend experiencing his work in person and must also recommend watching Van Neistadt’s film.  If interested in Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective go to  http://www.thecontemporaryaustin.org/exhibitions/tom-sachs/ for all the details and photos.

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