Frank Plant is an American artist based in Barcelona with an amazing skill.. He has the ability to bend steel to his own liking. It seems like he can make just about anything out of steel wire! We were supposed to do an interview with the good man a long time ago, but never got around to it. Recently our interest was sparked again when we saw a very interesting interview with Frank at sweet-station.com. Realizing that this man is not only a very skilled artist, but also a good writer and smart political thinker, it was about time we'd ask our own questions!
Is it true that you have been influenced by africans making toys out of steel wire and coca cola cans?
Actually I've been more directly inspired by work from the Congo, the Nkisi Nkonde in particular, which are these nail fetiches which I've always found visually really dynamic and provocative. They were used by the village shaman to help provide for the needs of the villagers when necessary. Having said that I find most african art and craft beautiful and alot of the stuff they do with recycled tin and aluminum as well as tires and other materials are a testament to creativity and necessity being the mother of invention. References of african art in my own work can be found mostly in older work though.
How did you end up in Barcelona?
Previously to living in Barcelona I lived in Amsterdam for 6 years and at a certain point I felt it was time to move on, the climate had a bit to do with that. For a couple of years I had been visiting Barcelona on a regular basis and also had a Catalan girlfriend so it seemed like a natural step.
Can you tell us a bit about your time in Amsterdam?
I was in Amsterdam from 23 to 29 yrs. of age and it was a great place to mature personally and creatively. I developed and astounding community of friends of all shapes, ages and sizes and ended up working a lot in the Dance and theater world as sort of a handy Johnny on the spot. It was great to work in theater as it's a community based thing that involves the fusion of a lot of different creative minds as opposed to the largely individual effort of the visual artist. It had an impact in a practical sense on my work in the design sense. All that scenography and material has to go back into a van at the end of the night and off to wherever, so now I always create stuff with practical factors like transport and storage in mind. Not very romantic but extremely helpful.
We see quite a few works of you touching social/political subjects, why?
I grew up in an extremely politically conscious environment and have always felt it important to stay abreast not only of current political trends and events but also as a keen student of history. Personally I enjoy and give a lot of weight to putting certain themes through the filter of my imagination and creating things about them. I believe it's important for creative minds to lend themselves to the task of seeing social or political issues in an imaginative and innovative way. Not that artists should feel obliged to do so, I just reckon the more enterprising minds we have observing any given theme or situation the richer the discourse in theory should be.
Also, humour seems to be a key element in your work, how do you try and incorporate that in your concepts?
For certain, humor as well as irony are very important tools for me. If you can make someone smile and or laugh in combination with reflection I feel you are halfway there to creating a lasting impression and rising above the sea of visual cholesterol that we are inundated with everyday. I've developed this idea of Visual Darwinism, where the artists of today are struggling to compete with the worlds of publicity and mass media, to gain and maintain the attention of everyday viewers. I sense that a poignant application of humor or irony gives some works an extra edge. It's not to say that I employ them for the sole purpose of gaining said extra edge they are also vehicles for expression that come very naturally to me and that I enjoy tremendously.
What kind of reactions did you have on your fuzzy red AK 'till so far?
Yea great, it's a potent image and the first really large incorporation of flock that I've used. It's very iconic. I chose to work with that particular subject matter based on reactions to a handgun that I had done a few years ago. The handgun I did I did for the same reason I do a lot of the more iconic works of common objects because of the potency of it's composition as an object, in relation to it's social weight as a symbol as well as being the representation of the evolution of an idea. That of hurling a stone at an intended target, which then became a spear, which then became a bow and arrow, then a musket etc. etc.. The AK functions on the same lines a bit and it's titled "Something for Everyone", for most it would be just another symbol of violence but for a lot of people it is also a symbol of liberation and what a lot of Africans and peoples of the middle east used to either throw off the shackles of colonialism or defend themselves against occupation. The AK will shortly be going to a new Gallery in Cologne called Contain.
How do you keep reinventing yourself?
I don't really, what I do notice is a very slow yet methodical evolution, almost glacial. Incorporating new materials, tools, ideas and visual elements into ones working vocabulary is a slow process indeed. I've gotten to a point where I'm quite comfortable with the language that I use to express myself but you always get tired of it after a bit and get hungry for new elements to raise the bar technically as well as in relation to content. If you continue to work you will continue to develop. It's also about taking chances and sometimes I have to ask myself if I take enough chances.
Browsing your work, we determined that you can make anything out of steel wire. But what challenges you the most?
Technically I've developed a novel manner of expressing myself and I've gotten quite skilled at developing the "drawings in steel" that i do. Some people are doing similar things but it's normally realized using lasers or water cutters controlled by computers to do the heavy lifting. All mine are made by hand using hand tools and I enjoy the process tremendously. If I have something that really challenges me it has to be said that the most consistent challenge is trying to find harmony between an idea and it's physical manifestation. I imagine it's like getting a choir to sing in harmony but instead of different voices you have elements such as composition, content, color, contrast (all c's so far mind you) and a few other things that you need to fuse together to form a whole. This is tricky and I'll be the first to admit I still have a tremendous room for growth so I just continue to lend myself to the task.
On what foot do you live with Telefonica nowadays? (click for Frank his encouter with Telefonica)
Hehehe, I continue to think that they are rat bastards. I'm not naive about these types of structures but there is just a elemental conflict of interest as far as the basic consumer is concerned in relationship to companies like Telefonica, and Spain as a country, at least the federal government, I feel does very little to protect the rights of consumers here.
The development of watchdog groups here was very much undermined by Franco's dictatorship so one is left with the impression of being small prey for powerful companies like Telefonica to abuse. I go into more depth on my blog under the heading "Does your service provider make you feel your back's against the wall" and in particular the piece Telefuckyou. It's just obvious that there best interest is not that of the consumer and vice versa and the consumer loses and Spain, it seems, at least in the realm of Europe is always on the tail end of reform in relation to these things.
There is great documentary called "The Corporation" which notes that as structures they have the rights of individuals but they are not judged as such. Then they go on to do a psychological profile of said "individual" and come up with the diagnosis that they should be legally considered psychopaths. That's kinda how I feel about the position consumers are presented with today, lost in a forest of governmental sanctioned psychopathic institutions with a never ending and twisted hunger for cutting up the pie of the public in new and disingenuous ways. It's not to say that the consumer doesn't have any responsibility, we do, and must fight to stay informed and develop structures to inform those with less exposure. At this point we make it very easy for ourselves to be taken advantage of.
A lot of your work is 2d with a great sense of perspective, are you planning any big 3d works as well?
I used to do very similar works that I do but in 3 dimensions and using the same language and I really enjoy it. Some recent work I've been playing with A sort of relief type work but free standing 3d stuff not for awhile. Although I'd love to revisit it at some point.
What can we expect from Frank Plant in the future?
Next up is involvement in a collective show in Madrid at the gallery Mad is Mad, as well as the inaugural show of Contain Gallery in Cologne. Other than that just hoping to step up production in the studio and continue to enjoy the waning days of summer...