'city living' catalogue text
solo exhibition, Metro Arts Main Gallery, December 2004

Near the conclusion of his eight-month residency at Metro Arts, Brisbane-based artist Luke Jaaniste is interviewed by theatre director Nerida Jaaniste about the art of living in the city.

Well the very first question is, why did you call this exhibition 'City Living'?

I like the different meanings the phrase elicited. One of them is that being a resident at Metro Arts for the year has been a form of city living for myself as an artist who otherwise lives in the suburbs of Brisbane. It's been great to have a base camp in the city from which to make work and so in a sense I've been living in the city via my residency.

Secondly, there is also a sense for me in which my art practice is a form of city living, in that, what I tended to do in the past and what has solidified this year in my residency is that I'm really interested in various subtle interventions in everyday public sites, and usually in the city or in urban environments – so my art works are a form of city living.

I also like the fact that 'city living' almost sounds, especially when it's put on the front of an art catalogue, like a slogan befitting an interior design or inner-urban real estate or a furniture brochure; ‘city living’ being a kind of catch cry for modern life and chic inner urban dwelling. I like that connotation because I sense in my own work – and I think others sense it too – that my work either is or is very close to interior decoration or design. Not architectural design where you're building sites but the design that comes after that where you redecorate or renovate or rearrange the objects in the site.

I suppose that term for me relates to that yuppie, or post-yuppie sensibility that somehow living in the city and having access to resources and cash affords you a kind of aesthetic experience… you can be an aesthetic creature if you can afford an interior designer, designer furniture or the latest chic stainless-steel fridge. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, then, because my practice is clearly not about expensive goods. In a way I am suggesting that anyone can access an aesthetic of the everyday, an aesthetic of their immediate environments, because anyone can rearrange the simplest of objects in a way that are highly artful, aesthetic, beautiful, atmospheric, a kind of poetic…

You've used the word rearrange a number of times…

I've been rearranging items in the Metro Arts building all year. Dust has been a kind of revelation to me this year. Grill Dusting involved the removal of dust from the grilled inward-sucking air vent in the alley way which must have has dust pile up on it for maybe five or ten years. I simply cleaned and removed dust off a small square of the larger grid. That's rearrangement on the level of removal.

Another example is rotation of elements. In my Shopping series, unbeknown to shop assistants, I have been rotating various shelved products, such as rows of paint bottles or cat tins, so that the labels across a row shift from front to back.

Sometimes I also introduction something new into a site. This is what I have done earlier this year at The Cupboard Space on Level Three of Metro Arts. Small lego bricks were arranged on top of the red signs that exist above the studio doorways in that space, a work that is part of my larger Lego Blocking series.

You have also described your work as being subtle interventions, so I am curious to know whether you set out to make your audiences work hard at finding these so-called artworks?

I would say that in the moment of making work, I am not thinking about perceiver difficulties; I am not thinking about wanting to make it hard for people, but inevitably, without trying to, that’s the kind of thing that keeps returning again and again, so it’s a trait, a definite trait of what I am doing.

I enjoy this kind of subtlety; I enjoy as a viewer of my own work the kind of discovery process that is involved; I enjoy it when other people enjoy that way of working and perceiving as well. 

I used to say that “I would like to take up space without taking up volume” and that could be a motto that is played out in my current work. In creating little points in a site, little moments of rearrangements or moments of introductions of a material, this takes up very little physical volume, but in another way, for me, they enliven the whole space, because I am very careful to create intervallic relationships between the elements that are rearranged and put in a space. For me, this somehow echoes or shudders out into a space, and makes very small objects connect with very large objects. So, for example, Lego pieces that are stacked vertically have right angles, have horizontal and vertical planes, and so do the walls and floors in a room, so there is a kind of ‘boom boom’ between the micro and the macro. The use of regular repeated intervals creates echoes in my perception of a site…

In answer to your question I suppose the works might be acting as a kind of filter system, filtering out the kind of person that would walk into the gallery and says ‘hit me!’ Rather, the person that either wants to or is able to ‘stop and smell the roses’ is probably the sort of person that is more likely going to engage with my work, simply because they will have more mental space to take in something subtle in what is otherwise a quite busy and hectic city life.

There almost seems to be an inverse relationship then: you ask time of your audience to find, locate and see your work, but when you create work, you don’t even seem to put in that amount of time… that’s not entirely true though – if you look at your Ice Cube BBQ, that was actually a time-rich task in which you spend hours sticking ice cubes together in a freezer...

But that was an older work… Making my works does take time, but not usually as long as making a theatre work or painting a massive intricate landscape. So yes, relatively speaking, I put less time into making the work, and yes, in a sense I am asking for more time, a lot more time of those who experience the work, including myself… Maybe because the experience of the work is so important to me, I have developed a practice whereby I spend less time making it so I personally can spend more time experiencing it – I love big empty spaces, I love uncluttered cleared-out zones, whereas often in creating the work it’s cluttered: I’ve got Lego scattered around, I’ve got blu tac, I've got the Lego tub, I've got a chair, I’ve got a camera, but I don’t want to be in that sort of cluttered space for very long.

Do you think differently about interiors than you do exteriors? When you go into an interior space, do you ask yourself as the artist finding possible works different questions than you would ask in exterior spaces… Or, is it a matter of always reading lines, shapes and patterns?

I think outdoor spaces would generally have a different set of lines, shapes and patterns to interior spaces, but I don’t think I consciously ask different questions. I think different sorts of spaces are thrown up.

But, in fact, that whole inside-outside logic is something I have abandoned or am abandoning for a while now…

I would say that all of my recent works have set up some form of interior that is also exterior. The gaps between the elements that I’ve rearranged in my work – whether they are in time or space, the gaps between each lego block, the gaps between strands of sticky tape, the silent gaps between each articulation of sound in my sound works – those gaps are interior to the thing we see as the artwork. They’re 100% interior; they form a vital logic to the kind of grid that I set up. But they are also 100% exterior to the work because they’re the actual real physical space and time of the site.

So if the gaps of time and space in my work are both in the work and in the site, then the artwork and the site bleed and making distinctions such as where the artwork ends just falls apart. I really love that idea. There are obviously points of intensities where you can say: well, there clearly… there where there is no dust next to the dust, that clearly is where Luke has worked, that’s where the work is. But then, the dust next to the not-dust is part of the work too, because the removal works because of the fact that there is something to remove. And so where does the work end, you know? Using The Cupboard Space example, is it the Lego, is it the sign on the door, is it the wall that the sign is on and the door under it, is it the floor, is it the room or the level the room is on? Of course the work peters out to the point where you don’t see the point of intensity, but, it seems to me that theoretically and very practically that there is no end to the work.

So if you like to create this kind of ‘continuous presence’ of the work, this ‘ongoing resonance’, when you go into a gallery space can you have multiple interventions in the same space?

That’s a question that is interesting to me. In the past I felt like I had to empty out a complete room before I could make anything. And in fact, if I was working at home, I would empty out an entire room of furniture, bits of fluff, and I would vacuum it and clean it and dust it until it was as empty as it could be before I could start to put work in it.

But, nowadays that’s changed. Now days I am making work in spaces that are completely cluttered because it seems to have shifted for me a little in that, if my work and site are bleeding into one and the sort of distinction doesn’t carry anymore, then it’s quite possible to make a work that occupies the whole space of the site without occupying any volume. So if you notice the work, the work is the space and you notice everything, but if you don’t notice the work, then you carry on with your washing up or going about your business and it’s not there at all – it’s invisible. The works that we have around home are kind of like that for me… when I notice it, it’s like: ‘boom’ there it is. But you know, 90% of the time or more I don’t notice it, so it's not there.

Until recently I haven’t thought of putting more work in a space at once. The work I am currently doing for QUT Art Museum – in fact I’ve got four works in there - is for a group show, and I have thought for a while I wouldn’t be able to do group shows because of that fact of wanting to clear out the whole space – so we will see how that works…

You used the phrase ‘perceiver difficulties’ in the context of the audience finding the work. How do you think about the perceiver when you create the work?

I think a lot about the perceiver. I think I think almost entirely from the perceiver’s point of view – I mean me as the perceiver. It strikes me that some artists might make their work without thinking about how it will be once installed; the installation process is as second stage in making the work for them. But for me, in one sense I am a ‘pure’ installation artist in that I only make and design work in the moment of installing it. I am absolutely an ‘in situ artist’. I might have an idea to make a Lego piece for a room, but until I am there physically there taking in the Lego bocks to see which bits fit where, to see which bits create this kind of resonance or echo, if you like, it’s not until this happens that I have even designed the work.

So if it is absolutely installed, then I am reading and perceiving the work as a user of that space might, since I am making the work in the space, not in the studio. I stand, I work around the room, I try to do the sorts of things that I would do when I walk into a gallery or if I was going to use a space, see it from different angles, notice the shadows…