Monte Masi interviews Matt Huppatz
An interview in two parts. PART 1 was completed in advance of Work!, Huppatz’ solo exhibition at the Australian Experimental Foundation in May 2015, and was first published as the catalogue text for that exhibition. PART 2 was completed for issue four of fine print magazine and makes its debut here.
Monte Masi (jumping off a ladder): Matt! Thanks for bringing me down into your hole. It’s kind of mysterious. Boy, it’s dark in here, I can barely see. Thank goodness you had these miner’s hats lying around!
Matt Huppatz: Welcome, Monte! I keep the helmets for moments just like this. You look great in that! Your eyes will adjust in a minute but you’ll find the head torches useful for probing around in the dark down here.
MM: Matt, to be honest, I’m not sure where we are exactly. Before we jumped in, you described this, quite certainly, as a hole. But now that we’re standing in it, it feels more like some kind of tunnel, or passage. Is that light I can see over there? I suppose a hole could be just a passage that you haven’t found the other side to yet?
MH: Well, I certainly like the idea of passages or, as you say, holes with depth. And I like the idea of exploring limits and boundaries.
But let’s be clear from the start that I’m not being crude: what we’re actually talking about is the arthole.
When I think of holes, I don’t think of the kind of black hole that we find ourselves in here. A true hole need not have any depth. It could be a disruption in a surface, like a rip or a tear, or even a space between threads or materials. But the idea of hole often alludes to violation, something accidental or unwanted, or conversely, deliberate and intentional. A hole in a surface could also be a portal, like a window or a door, a way through, or out, or in. And you are completely right, Monte, a hole with depth could be a tunnel or a passage, like a rabbit hole, or a mineshaft, or in fact, an alimentary canal.
(distant sound of beats)
MM: Matt, what is that? A party?
MH: Monte, it’s house music! This track is an old favourite: LRC’s Work it to the Bone. It’s from around 1989 when I first started going out to clubs as an underage schoolkid. I play it all the time down here. In fact, it has become a bit of a theme for the AEAF show.
MM: Ok, terrific! (starts dancing)
Now that we’re moving down here, listening to this, I’m thinking about the relationship of your practice to dance music and nightclub culture, and the idea of partying in general. In the past you’ve used mirrors, disco balls and optical acrylics as materials in your sculptural works, and provided us with images of empty dance floors in the series Sometimes (I Want to Leave My Body). You have even given us the convincing appearance of an underground nightclub—in Sotterraneo, where thumping music played behind the closed door of a pump room set into the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide.
MH: Yeah, you’re right. I started playing with the idea of the party about five years ago and I’ve been toying with it ever since. To clarify, when I say party, I mean anything from a house party to a nightclub to a dance party, or a festival, or a rave. And yes, generally, but not always, I am referring to environments formed around, or shaped by, electronic dance music (EDM). But I’m also very interested in other, more hidden social sites that overlap with nightclubs in various ways but are more specifically related to queer sexuality. There is certainly something within the party, and within some of these associated scenes, that intrigues me. They are such dynamic environments, and there is such a complex interaction of forces and f/actors that come together to create the vibe. I think this complexity mirrors the intricacy of ideas and means that combine in the process of making art. In fact, I think there is a kind of art involved, and it relates to the way that music and these environments can make one feel. And what they can make one feel (on a good night) is: connected, alive, positive, liberated, and even loved.
MM: Ok, so how much and in what ways do these sites—the nightclub, the party—and their associated behaviours—dancing, drugs, the idea of “letting loose” or being free or even losing control—continue to influence you and your work?
MH: Well, I think the party continues to influence the work in much the same way that it always has, which is to say, in a formative way. It is not perhaps the dominant influence upon my practice but it informs, in some way, almost everything I do.
As a young queer person, these environments—despite their often (not entirely unjustified) reputations for being wicked and debauched—provided shelter and a space to explore alternative identities. In the literature, nightclubs are often interpreted as assemblages of dancers, djs, music and other technologies (sound systems, lighting, drugs) that provide opportunities for the individual to participate in a kind of restructuring of the self. I’m interested in the kinds of experience that we have in these locations and how they differ from—and potentially inform—everyday experience.
There are different aspects to the ongoing influence of the party, some which are quite difficult to articulate. Part of it is formal and related to material choices and a certain, loosely psychedelic, influence upon the aesthetic. Part of it is an attempt to revisit certain states of mind or perceptions that I then associate with other concerns. Often, it is a question of the desire to escape. What is it about life—or perhaps our particular late-capitalist, globalised lifestyles—that might make us want to escape?
MM: I have a few ideas! Earlier, you described Work it to the Bone as the theme song for this exhibition. The track makes me think of effort, energy, desire, and labour. Can you tell us more about your relationship to this song?
MH: Well, this is one track amongst many that could have been the anthem for the show but there are certain things that it brings together that seem particularly appropriate. The track refers to work, of course, but not work as we might usually think of it, as labour of some kind carried out in exchange for financial reward. Rather, work here is the labour of pleasure and interaction, between people and music, or more specifically perhaps, beats and bodies. It might relate more to the work of art, or art as we might idealise it, as a labour of love, a commitment to creativity and a desire to communicate. Work it to the Bone speaks of working towards the ultimate aim of ecstasy and liberation on the dance floor, towards sensations that are very rarely experienced in contemporary life. In states of trance, the body and the mind operate on completely different levels to standard everyday operation.
MM: Upon first encountering your practice, I perceived it as somehow melancholic. Is there a conscious expression of some generalised longing or nostalgia within your work?
MH: The idea that the work is melancholic, or expressing a kind of longing, perhaps to communicate, has often come up in conversations around the work. I’m happy with this even though it isn’t something that I deliberately cultivate. My feeling is that these things come through because I often deal with things that are beyond language, and therefore a certain stammering is to be expected. Or there might be things that, for various reasons, are very difficult to talk about directly.
Nostalgia implies a looking back, perhaps at things or states that might be irrecoverable. I certainly don’t long for the past but I do hope for the future. The party experience often reveals how nostalgia, memory, experience of the moment, even dreams and hopes for the future, mingle and act upon one another. Returning to influence, I think this blurring of time and warping of space—which might also apply to identities, histories and practices—is one of the most intriguing aspects of the party.
MM: I have the feeling that what initially reads as nostalgia might instead be a persistent feeling of interiority. To continue talking about the party, it’s as though we can never quite see it in all its transformative glory. We see either a preview of it, or a prolongation: an afterimage.
MH: A lot of what goes on in these environments, despite the emphasis on surfaces and the presentation of the self, is internal. As you say, if we think specifically about the party, or even about other spaces of transgression associated with desire or sexuality, there is a real difficulty in representing the kinds of states and experiences that one encounters or inhabits within these contexts.
Another problematic aspect of representing the party is that it sometimes seems that these things shouldn’t be exposed to the light of day. There are experiences that are so subtle that they become coarse through articulation, or lie so far beyond everyday experience, or so opposed to received systems of knowledge, that revealing them might leave one open to attack. Some things just have to be experienced. And it must be stated that these sites and states are marginal for a reason. They are not solid, structured, carefully mapped and regulated. That is why they are hedged around with so many proscriptions. They often have to be sought out. This is “dangerous” territory, but there is stuff here that you won’t find anywhere else. What I am proposing, and of course I’m not the first, is that it might just be stuff that we need, that we can’t do without.
MM: We’re actually talking about trips here: warps, bends, transformations. I think of the idea of the personal spiritual or psychedelic “journey” and its contrasting relationship to the social, in terms of collective efforts and group exertion. All this is leading me back towards the interior: fitting since we’ve been dancing here in your hole. To what extent can we read your practice as an ongoing investigation into certain kinds of interior space (including the psychologies of the self) and their relationship to what can be perceived (or experienced) within? Or could we say that your practice investigates the passages, paths and portals that one uses to move between these things?
MH: For a long time I have thought of my practice as an attempt to map myself, which includes certain interior landscapes but, importantly, also attempts to describe the pathways through which we connect to the world and other beings. Here we might think along the lines of Merleau-Ponty who proposed continuity between our inner lives and the exterior world. There is definitely a large part of my practice that is concerned with interiority and the complexities and sensations of inner life. These might be psychological, but equally they might be physiological. The/my body is central to my practice and not only as a vehicle for experience: I find it very difficult to think of the mind and body as separate entities.
I often think of individual works as thought forms that attempt to bridge or connect various ideas and experiences, or even think beyond thought, or what is known. That leads us to a different kind of exteriority identified by Foucault that includes everything that is beyond language, or yet to be incorporated into language. So, although I agree that my practice investigates interior relations, I would have to say that I am more interested in how this interior connects to the exterior, and how the interior and the exterior inter-relate. Perhaps this is where the passages, paths and portals are most useful. While our experiences of the worlds we inhabit, whether interior or exterior, are defined by language, language cannot and does not account for everything that we experience. This is where things become really interesting, and it is the territory that my work hopes to explore.
MM: (yelling) Matt! Matt! Matt!
MH: Monte! Is that you?
MM: Yes it’s me! Thank goodness I found you. I’ve been in your hole for months. Alone. I think I might have passed out from too much dancing. It can really take it out of you. I’d kill for some water.
MH: We got separated. The torch stopped working on my hat. It was really dark. I managed to get out just in time for my exhibition at the Australian Experimental Art Foundation though – Work! I’m glad I came back up here and found you: today’s the last day of the exhibition, you see.
MM: Oh, thank goodness I haven’t missed it! Please, take me to the gallery. I’ll be fine once I rehydrate. I’ll have an energy bar, too.
MH (after a long walk): Well, here we are, Monte – this is Work!
MM: Looks great. I can see that you’ve split the gallery almost equally into two spaces: one light, one dark. You’ve done similar things before with individual works – here I’m thinking of the 2D printed works Map of Man Mountain: Day and its corresponding, inverted Night version - but never on the scale of a whole exhibition. And you’ve referenced the concept of light within your work many times in the past- your 2009 Contemporary Art Centre of SA project space exhibition Shed Light Works springs to mind. Is this a continuing theme or obsession, to play with a light/dark binary? Or is it more functional here at the AEAF, a desire to separate out two bodies of work within one large space?
MH: Well, it wasn’t there from the beginning, it happened along the way. I had been thinking about either a very light space or a very dark space during the planning of Work! In the end the separation came down to the fact that some of the works needed to be shown in the dark and some of the works needed to be the in the light. It was pragmatic – it had to do with my choice of forms and materials - but I was very happy for it to work out that way.
MM: Is it fair to say that this interest in exploring a light/dark binary exists, though?
MH: It might be about inside and outside, actually. Or just difference, more generally: the different qualities of certain binaries. To take it one step further, I’m interested in what happens at night and what happens during the day, what you show and what you don’t show during these times, so maybe it’s about visibility and invisibility, concealing or revealing.
MM: In the centre of this first room we have a very simple rendering of a house, made from mirrored acrylic plastic, which sits in a small trailer. This house form seems to reflect the space- we can see the white walls of the gallery and the lighting system in the acrylic.
MH: This work is called Go West!, and it’s actually acrylic coated in a two-way mirrored film. This work is one of the reasons why we had to have a very light room; I wanted it to mainly reflect the surroundings and to be very sharp and clear. This is the second iteration of this work though, Go West was first exhibited as part of the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale #9. There, it was exhibited outside. During the day, it was very reflective. And at night you could see inside it, where there were coloured lights, a smoke machine and a disco ball.
MM: Your title Go West! is also the name of a gay club anthem, originally by the Village People, with a famous cover by the Pet Shop Boys, which reminds me that this sculpture is all about moving around. This idea seems to be reinforced by this repetition of the simplified house shape on the wall, where it appears as in proximity to Go West!
MH: That work is called Sink House Burn. The title is descriptive. The house looks like it’s sinking and burning at the same time.
MM: Burnin’ down the house!
MH: Exactly, Monte! Sink House Burn has had a strong response. This was a work that other artists in particular seemed to like. It’s a kind of “mistake” and originated from a failed photocopy. I recognised it as a powerful image and it said something to me about Go West! so I reworked it into a larger scale work for the exhibition. It relates directly to Go West! in that the original piece of paper with the house shape on it was a diagram relating to the manufacture of that sculpture. I thought it was a nice contrast, between this strong sculptural form in the middle of the room and this thing which is disintegrating, or being destroyed. But really, I’m not trying to say it means anything. I’m just putting them together and people can make what they want out of it. To me, it was just a poignant image. Is that bad, Monte? Can we do that, as artists?
MM: (laughing) Yes there’s no reason why we can’t do that. But you give us so much through your titles and there’s a lot going on, my mind goes places so quickly.
MH: I sometimes do give clues through the titles of works, but Sink House Burn is about a kind of wordplay rather than providing direction.
MM: Maybe that’s why you had such a strong response from other artists though? In that it’s quite open-ended, and has some of the process of its own making visible through the look of a photocopy that’s been overexposed? It seems to me that it is both a failed diagram for the sculpture, as well as a work in its own right. It’s provisional, it’s poetic, it’s an accident – but at the same time it’s completely your accident. The other works in this room are two smaller printed works- coloured, refracted, almost kaleidoscopic light images.
MH: Yes, one is called Hibiscus, because it looks like one of those candied hibiscus buds that you get in tacky cocktails. And this one’s called X-Factor…
MM: because it looks like an X?
MH: Yeah. I don’t know, is that stupid? I don’t really care. I was just intrigued by the images. I think I caught a bit of flak for these, and I knew that I would. They’re quite simple, perhaps a bit dated even, in terms of the aesthetic and the techniques used to produce them. They are based on a mistaken image from a photoshoot for something else entirely, actually the Sometimes series that you mentioned earlier. There’s just one image doubled and flipped and reflected in two different ways. I became interested in what else they communicated, completely by chance but nevertheless relevant. When you see them on the wall there’s a lot of bodily/x-ray elements suggested in their forms - hips or necks or orifices. It starts to become about all those new elements, which for me are deeply related to the experience of the dance floor, the location where the original photo was taken. So even though they aren’t really representational - they are mistakes, they’re more of a capturing of light - I found the nexus of all these things intriguing.
MM: Here we go back again to light! Everything in this front room has a particular relationship to light: the photocopy, the mirrored acrylic, this photographic mistake turned into a kind of patterned refraction of itself. And this leads us into the dark space...
MH: Yeah, come through here. (There is a dark passageway, a light trap, which separates the two spaces.)
MM: Ok, so there are three groups of work in here, all sculptural. Everything in this darker room is lit quite dramatically – like we’re in a club?
MH: Well, quite theatrically, yes. All spot-lit. The works in this room are titled Glorybox 1, 2, and 3 (a small group of works on stands), with a larger installation titled Glorybox Variations, and a single floor-based work called Solid. All of these works are variations on a particular form I’ve been working with and thinking about a lot: the glorybox/gloryhole hybrid.
MM: Is this space designed to invoke the floor of the nightclub? These works are more or less human scale, so you cast them immediately in a relationship to your own body in the space.
MH: Perhaps if people had been following my practice they’d pick up on the nightclub feel, but I don’t think this was as overt as it has been in the past. Some of the materials I have used are definitely reminiscent of a certain era of nightclub interior design though- the stainless steel, the tubing, the reflective surfaces, UV lights, the gold plated metal.
MM: Your mention of the gloryhole makes me wonder if what you’re invoking is a different, more specific kind of sex club?
MH: Again, if you’re familiar with those kinds of environments, you might have picked up on that. I think there’s a certain eroticism to the work.
MM: Do you find these forms erotic? What is your own relationship to this hybrid form you’ve been working with, the glorybox/ gloryhole hybrid?
MH: Well, I don’t know if I find them erotic, but they are kind of sexy, and they certainly have a sensuality. A glorybox is a chest (often figurative) used by unmarried young women to collect various items in anticipation of married life. It’s a collection of things to take to their new home, the basis for starting their new home together with a husband. I don’t how popular the practice is now, and saying this it sounds incredibly antiquated, but certainly when I was a kid, my sister, who was 10 years older than me, had one. So in the 1980s it was something still spoken about and a ritual that was performed, to a certain extent. But this work was actually inspired by a chance conversation in a coffee shop in Sydney a few years ago (a long story): that’s where I started to put the glorybox and the gloryhole together. As you know Monte, a gloryhole is a hole in a wall designed for two people to have anonymous sex. So we have two very different things that have a connection through language, and I could see myself positioned somewhere between these two things, having a relationship to both these things. There seemed to be so many amazing connections there. The glorybox is related to marriage, which is related to domesticity, straight sex, procreation, and heteronormativity and then the gloryhole is often associated with (its seeming opposite) gay culture, anonymous sex and the non-domestic. So when you mash them together it becomes an interesting thing.
MM: Some of these references - dressing rooms, partitions, plumbing fixtures and railings - are present in the forms themselves. Was there a desire to think about the glorybox as something you could stick your dick in and it would become a gloryhole? Like something that could shift meaning when penetrated, according to what was put into it?
MH: No, it’s not about that. At least not for me. But I like the idea of shifting meaning depending on what you “stick into it,” or depending on what the viewer brings to it. To me it was about more abstract connections between these two idea-things: the glorybox and the gloryhole. The semi-private back story to this work is that a number of years ago, I’d met a woman in Sydney, who was originally from Adelaide. She had quite a traumatic childhood and ended up in a children’s home, and had eventually become a heroin addict who was living with HIV at the time we spoke. She was a bit older than me. I met her in a café and we struck up a conversation. She told me that when she was in high school in Adelaide she’d started stealing pots and pans from her home economics class to put into her glorybox, but was eventually caught out. So at that time, she was this young girl, who’d already had quite a tough life, but had these hopes for the future and was working towards that future… There is a poignancy about when we are kids and the hopes and dreams we have, versus what actually happens to us. It struck me very strongly that although I was from a totally different background, I could’ve ended up in a similar position if I had made different decisions in life. Somehow I wanted to think about that all through a material form, a form that brought all these things together.
MM: I tend to think a lot of artwork might have its roots in that sort of highly personal story, but you don’t often hear it. I think a lot of artists worry about how much this might colour the potential reading of a work.
MH: It could potentially give it a lot more meaning though. I had people saying that they got stuff out of this show that they were looking for, things that they had been seeking but unable to articulate. I do hesitate to talk about my personal backstory because it might take away from their experience but on the other hand, I’m doing the PhD and there is a part of that which can be very much about opening up the creative process to observation.
MM: In the first part of this interview, we spoke about nostalgia. You bringing up this gap - between how our lives end up and what we might want for our future when we’re younger – leads me back to this idea. I know you’ve used the term ‘passing through’ and ‘passages’ frequently within your research, both terms having a fairly clear relationship with time. Then I begin to think about this fascination with boxes, they seem more like a hole; something you might fill in. With that we’ve come almost full circle, do you think there is any difference between a passage and a hole?
MH: When I was originally thinking about passages, and the idea of inside/ outside/ passing through, that was all connected to the liminal phase, as talked about within ritual, most notably by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner. So it was an in-between thing, you could say. With most of the boxes in the show, you can pass through the box but you can’t enter into it. They are sealed.
MM: That’s an example of a kind of resistance that is relatively common in your work, I think. For me, the fact you can’t enter is connected to this sense of nostalgia, or the interiority we spoke about earlier...
Uh-Oh Matt, Ken’s turning the lights off in the gallery – must be time to go.
MH: Damn! I feel like we were just getting to something!
MM: Well, I guess there will be other times. Matt, there’s one final question I need to ask you.
MH: Fire away, Monte.
MM: Are you a Party Leech? And if so, were you always?
MH: I probably can be the party leech but generally, I think not. The party leech is a tragic figure, and I hope that I normally stop just short of that.