INTERVIEW: Nicolas Lobo and his Tacit Portraiture

By: Camila Álvarez

Cover photo by: Gesi Schilling

 

Nicolas Lobo, the same guy who once made sauce out of his own hair and who spent some time immersed in the Raëlian movement, sits on a couch at his studio in Little River. He’s wearing the same black baseball cap he was wearing when he spoke about The Leisure Pit, his solo show at the PAMM,  a similar v-neck t-shirt, and gray, dickies looking pants. I like his demeanor. He’s sinking on the couch as he talks, stretching his legs and rubbing his elbows with a cannabis-infused product he brought from LA. I can see about two dozen crates of Nexcite, the failed aphrodisiac energy drink he used to cover the floor of Gallery Diet for Bad soda/Soft drunk, one of his shows at the gallery, sitting against the back wall of his studio.

Lobo’s pieces make me think about music, about tracks that are made to be played after each other. His body of work is an album that is experienced better as a whole, as one continuous piece in which you start discovering his set of recurrent imagery and materials, such as panels made with XL T-shirts, or the use of household chemicals and substances that affect your body—a visual language that begins to give shape to his own mythology…“My hope is that all my work informs itself; that one body of work, or one piece of work will help you understand more about the whole thing,” he says.

Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia—a post-minimalist jazz record record released by the Brooklyn trio in 2013, uses complex rhythmic structures from African folk traditions to compose grooves similar to mantras. Even though they play acoustic instruments, their composition is influenced by electronic music. The tracks of the album are just like Lobo’s pieces; when heard separately they seem like fragments that end too soon without being supposed to, or like someone else put it in a review of the album… “From close up one may see only dots, but when stepping back an undulating image reveals itself.”

 

 

The image that Nick’s work forms is a multifaceted one. He is interested in cultures, in the processes of consumption, and in the invisible forces dictating the production of the objects we consume…“For example, why does this chair exist? he says as he points to a school chair with a wooden armrest and olive green upholstery fabric, as we sit and talk at his studio…

“Because there’s a history of chairs and people need to sit, and all this woodwork has motivations that have been repeated again and again […] This lighter exists because people need to light cigarettes and it fits in the hand and blah-blah. It had these motivations that already exist in the world. I’m interested in finding new motivations to make a thing, a thing that could never exist any other way,” he concludes.

Even though his pieces may seem like a joke at times, Nicolas Lobo is far from jest. He received a BFA from The Cooper Union in 2004 and he has exhibited at international venues including the MOCA, the Marlborough Chelsea, the de la Cruz Collection, Lisa Cooley Gallery, the NADA art fair and ARTIS in the Netherlands.

We chatted with him about a couple of his pieces, creative process, and artistic philosophy…

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Screenshot of Grape syrup action for Paul Octavian Nasca’s “U smile 800% slower”

Last year I helped Chris Oh with some stuff for Current State, his Art Basel exhibit, and I fell in love with your piece Cellphone figure.  I want to know more about the process behind it…

My studio used to be on top of a cellphone shop on Biscayne, by Latin Cafe. They sold cellphones and phone cards and stuff like that, oh and also Peruvian pottery.  Do you know the people who did the end/Spring Break? Domingo Castillo and Patti Hernandez? I talked with them about doing a show there, in the cellphone shop. One day Patty said “I talked to the guy and he said he was going out of business, so it’s either now or never.

We did a show that was like a flea market kind of situation for a lot of different artist books and records and stuff like that, but in the cellphone shop, and we were also selling the pottery that was left. So yeah, that happened, and it was fun. In the end, when we were taking everything out, the guy asked me if I wanted to have his stock of phones. I asked him how much and he said $20 bucks, I don’t know what was happening, but he was done, so I bought all the phones he had. I wanted to make something like a phone cover, like a silicone phone cover, and make it with a lot of phones in the same piece of rubber, so that’s what the piece is, some kind of rubber-phone-cover-collective-strip. The rubber that hangs from the metal frame is a machine that I can make sculptures with. I made like 10 of these play-doh masks as a way to just use the machine a little bit.

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Cellphone Figure, circa 2011 – Current State Exhibit, Little River

That is really cool. Where’s the Cellphone Figure now?

It’s in storage now, that’s an old piece, it’s maybe about four years old. Nobody really bought anything that I did until like two and a half years ago, and then all of a sudden everybody started buying it. So everything that I made before then it’s just kind of like in this other zone for some reason.

I had to look at that piece a million times. I didn’t really like it in the beginning, but it felt special to me, it was like a little cyborg that didn’t speak my language, but was trying to talk to me. That piece was what got me into your work. I find a lot of art in Miami to be very superficial, just like the city itself, and finding your work was really a breath of fresh air.

Then I went to the opening of The Leisure Pit, your solo show at the PAMM, and Rene, the curator, was trying to explain to the audience what your work was about. It seemed like you didn’t really agree with him. I felt you were being a little condescending sometimes with the whole academic rhetoric…

Really? Hmm, I didn’t feel that way at all, what I think my work is about is maybe not all that important in the bigger picture. I have to think about what it’s about to make it, but once it gets made, it has its own life, so then it’s up to Rene and others to think about what it might mean after it leaves my orbit. Of course it’s a good thing for Rene and I to disagree, I think that happens all the time with artists and curators. But Rene was there with me through the conception and execution of the work, he was more like a collaborator than someone who came in afterwards. Maybe thats where some of the energy you sensed came from that in a way we had both worked through the same project but from different viewpoints and had come to partially different conclusions about it.  The disagreements we may have are entirely intellectual, though, because working with him on the project was a really good experience, I would do it again.    

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The Leisure Pit, 2015 – PAMM Project Gallery

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I guess that where I’m trying to get to is that I want to know what you think about your work. What it means to you before it leaves your hands and goes to someone like Rene, or people whose job is to make up stories about it…

I want to know what it is that sparks ideas or concepts in your creative process. Is it a subject? A story that you like? Let’s say with the pool, the story about the “fake Atlantis,” the Greek columns they found, was it that story that got you interested, or was it the pool, or what was it?

That story was definitely one of the seeds of it, but I have two separate thought processes. One is the one that leads me to start making something, and the other one is the one where I see what I made and I think about what it is, or what it does.  So those usually are parallel and sometimes they meet a little bit, but even within myself I have two different stories, at least.

 

What you make is so weird, that it really makes me wonder where it came from…

Mmm…if I knew! [laughs]

More recently, I’ve been more interested in having one idea that just guides what you can call “my practice”, and that’s where the idea lives. I have this idea of what I’m doing in the big picture. But I’m less interested into putting specific ideas into specific works.

My work is about industries that have to do with the body and how they interact with the rest of the world and the economics of cities, and so on and so fort.

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But see, I think that that is a very general thing. I think that that is something that comes after you make the work and you look at it and you can talk about it from a more outside perspective, but I don’t think you think about that before you make your pieces, or I don’t know, maybe I’m completely wrong.

Well, I get ideas that I don’t know where they come from, they’re like beams from outer space for all I know, but when I decide whether or not I’m going to act on the idea, I try to see if it fits within the path that I’m interested in, which is that path that I just described—the economics of the body.

 

Is there a pattern you find in your work? I was looking at your pieces and trying to find if there was something that connected them all, and I couldn’t really do that, but I saw that one thing that was recurrent was the mechanization of the subject, like, you make a machine out of your subject in some way and then you create a new product with it, something funny, or weird, or absurd. And that product really talks about what you wanted to talk in the first place, a more complex subject.

Yes, I think that I do that, but on a personal level I try to operate less verbally. I’m not trying to put the ideas into words, I’m trying to use making as a way of thinking and then I get excited when other people come up with ideas about what I make that can be verbalized. Your idea sounds great to me, but I think I make better work when I try to shut out anything linguistic.

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Bad soda/Soft drunk, 2014 – Gallery Diet

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So you operate more instinctually…

Yeah, but also more visual thinking, or physical thinking. Yeah, it’s physical thinking because it’s sculpture. So it’s a physical thinking practice of gestures, materials, and activities. How do you verbalize martial arts or dancing? You really can’t. I mean, you can talk about dance, but the dancer doesn’t talk about dance, the dancer dances. So yeah, it’s about taking objects and materials, manipulating them, and relating them back to certain kinds of motivations that don’t exist anywhere else.

For example why does this chair exist? (Pointing to the chair) Because there’s a history of chairs and people need to sit, and all this woodwork has motivations that have been repeated again and again. Upholstery has these motivations, right? It exists that way. This lighter exists because people need to light cigarettes and it fits in the hand and blah-blah. It had these motivations that already exist in the world. I’m interested in finding new motivations to make a thing, a thing that could never exist any other way.

And the motivation for this lighter, for example, I don’t think was necessarily verbal in the beginning, right? It was more like this idea of holding a thing that brings fire to the cigarette. It was a visceral motivation.

And why is this lighter this way? This is the classic lighter shape, so it relates to industrial design in a way, you know, the way things get formed by forces that are kind of vague. You can call them forces or motivations. With the work that I do, I’m just trying to imagine other motivations that don’t exist and then make something. So there’s not a lot of words that creep in during that process in my mind. I try to shut them out.

 

Yeah, I get you. I was just very curious about the origin of your concepts…

My hope is that all my work informs itself; that one body of work, or one piece of work will help you understand more about the whole thing. But yeah, I do try to stay away from language, and I’ve found that the artists that I like are the same way…

 

Who are some of these artists?

Katharina Grosse, for example, not that I want to make anything like what she’s making, but I like her approach, the way she behaves. She does a lot of work where she takes a big industrial spray gun and she’ll make a big cloud of color on a piece of architecture, or she’ll make in a gallery, or museum space, she’ll make these giant piles of dirt and then she’ll paint the dirt with the spray and then it’ll go onto the wall, and it’s this huge mess of dirt and paint. You have to see it, it’s visual thinking to the max. I looked at her early work and it’s this little cloud of paint in the corner of a room…. it’s cool to see how she’s grown. She’s zeroed on a kind of physical, visual thinking that develops from itself, and that’s kind of what I’m interested in.

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Or someone like Charles Ray, he’s older now, I think he’s in his 70’s, but he’s settled in this kind of super figurative work. I looked at him when I was first starting out, like 10 years ago, and it was different from everything else. Very good stuff.

 

Awesome! Now let’s talk about A Modulor Broth, your last exhibit at Gallery Diet…

Did you see it?

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A Modulor Broth, 2015 – Gallery Diet

I did.

And what did you think, did you like it?

 

Yeah, I did. I think that the more I read and see your work, just like you were saying before, the more I understand it as one piece.

You can tap into the thought processes and stuff?

 

Yeah, I’m really into music, that’s where I get my inspiration to make the things I make.  You know when you have an album and you listen to all the tracks consecutively and they make much more sense than if you had listened to one or two randomly? That’s how your work feels for me…

That’s great! I always wished I could be a musician, but I never could. I can’t really play music. I want my work to function on a sub-language level. I think music, almost every piece of music I’ve heard in my life works on this level that is below language, you know, deeply into the brain, and I think art should function like that too. Some of the things that have happened in the last 50 or 60 years have kind of taken art away from that often, just like the way art writing has gone into a more linguistic thought process, which makes it more quantifiable.

Sorry, I got off track, we’re talking about the show at Diet. Anything you want to know in specific?

 

Yeah, why the Modulor Man? Were you looking at it in the beginning, or did it come to your mind in the middle of the making process?

Partly, it comes from the show at PAMM. Obviously that show was about something different—swimming pools, chemistry, and infrastructure. But in solving the problems of this show, you know, the main piece is these rings, and the rings are based on human dimensions. It’s the passage for a human. And then the panels on the walls, their size is based on the idea of how you can stretch a t-shirt. These 6 xl t-shirts create the dimension for this panel, so they got me thinking a lot about the quantification of the human body and how that’s a kind of economy.

I wanted to take the thought process I had started, which had been a little under the surface, and try to push it a little more with this show. So the Modulor Man I think is perfect for that because it’s this architectural measurement system that comes from the human body. The idea of architecture, especially in Miami, as a system of economics, always in the conversation, so you know, using the human body as a way to measure out money. That’s one way to think about it.

 

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A Modulor Broth, 2015 – Gallery Diet

Did you actually follow those measurements?

It was more just the starting point. Le Corbusier, who is shorter and smaller, decided that the Modulor Man was 6’ tall and blah, blah, blah, and I think that’s funny and ridiculous. So in this show it happens to be that I’m the Modulor Man and there’s also some of these carbon t-shirt panels, so it kind of starts where the museum show left off and it goes through a lot of ideas about material, for example the green panel is 70’’ instead of 72’’, which is 6 ft. It has to be 70 in because it comes in these units, in multiples of 14’’, so it’s either going to be 70’’ or 84’’.

 

But they changed the measurements of the Modulor Man anyway, it used to be less that 6’…

Yeah, he was 5’ 10’’, something like that…

 

Yeah, 5’ 9’’.

Yeah, which was Le Corbusier’s height. Did you read about how the detectives in the detective novels in England are 6’ and that’s why he changed the measurements?

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The Modulor Man by Le Curbosier

Yeah, ha-ha, before they were based on the typical French man.

It’s a ridiculous idea that he had honestly, I mean, it’s not completely ridiculous because the idea of using the human body to determine architecture is probably a good idea, but the idea of standardizing it is ridiculous to me.

 

Yeah, but it had his name, just like what they do with streets, like “Tony Goldman way” or whatever, it’s a way to immortalize them.

I’m going to get in trouble talking about Le Corbusier, he had a lot of supporters. I’ll be banned from entering France or something…

 

Yeah, and I’ll be banned from entering Wynwood!

Ha-ha. Le Corbusier was a national hero in France, but he was also a fascist, basically. So you know, it’s not all peaches and cream. This idea he had of one body determining all the architecture is very fascist. What if you’re not a 6’ man and you’re living in the world of a 6’ man? That’s just ridiculous. But this idea was thrown in the garbage a long time ago, and that’s were the idea from the show came from: The Modulor Man is dead, so we need to make soup from him [laughs].

 

Ha-ha. So you make soup with the dead things you find?

Well, the bones. Soup is boiled bones.

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next?

I’m working on a show that opens on February 20th, its called BIO:DIP. It’s curated by Neville Wakefield and it’s sort of two solo shows in parallel. The other artist is Hayden Dunham, who I’m so glad to have met through this project. It’s in New York at Redbull Studios, they have this art production and exhibitIon program that makes big projects possible. What I’m doing is casting soap in fiberglass swimming pools and stuff like that.  I’m pretty excited about it because it’s been a dream project I’ve wanted to do for a while that Is finally seeing the light of day.

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*Nick doesn’t like people to take random pictures of him, but I was able to get one of him at his studio. Here’s a very small version so he doesn’t get that mad at me.

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