Interview: Jordan Azcune

Photo: Samantha Court

Interviewed by Meg Slater

Through his solo and collaborative practice, recent QUT honors graduate Jordan Azcune explores the idea of child’s play through a contemporary understanding of art and appropriation. Azcune takes a lighthearted approach to art making, often working with collaborators to make work revolving around games and the process of play, allowing audiences to approach the work with a sense of humour, excitement, and tension. Azcune has recently produced ‘lop sided landmarks’ and frequently returns to ideas of fragility and Utopia in his sculptural assemblages.

Jordan was selected to exhibit in the Hatched National Graduate Show at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art alongside local artists Kim Brolga, Laura Burstow, Callum McGrath and Gwan Tung Dorothy Lau. From May 1-8 Azcune took over our Instagram account @inresidence_ari and took us along for the ride while he installed his work 'Palace of the Soviets' at PICA.

MS: How do you compare exhibiting in a ‘white cube’/institutional setting with a more informal, artist-run space? Which do you prefer?

JA: I feel both have strengths and weaknesses. As much of a sidestep answer as that is, it’s true. Both settings try not to create unorganised, uninteresting events. I had a little jab at ‘the institution' while I was in Western Australia about loosing its ‘edge’, but it’s the same in Brisbane, and that was my point when I did my sneakers vs Marvel post during my Instagram takeover. In saying this, institutions aren't better than ARIs. Don’t a lot of them morph from ARI into institution later down the track? I don't have a problem with that if they do. But without ARIs, where would we (curators, writers, practitioners) get the practical experience and figure out what does and doesn’t work? ARIs have taught me a lot. I’m also trying to think of my experience as an audience member, and not as an artist, and whether I spend more time in ARIs or institutions. My work straddles informality so it would be easy to answer this question by saying ARI, but that would deny the references to Duchamp and Arte Povera.

Jordan Azcune's Hatched finalist work / Palace of the Soviets / installation view / 2016 / From the series Playtopia / Photo: Liam Marsden

MS: Tell me a little bit more about your involvement in Hatched at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA). How did the selection process work? Did you have to submit anything to be considered? If so, what did the application process entail?

JA: It was quite simple. The university contacted me saying that they had chosen a few artists to apply for Hatched as they do each year, and that I was one of this year’s artists. In response, I sent off the documentation I had relating to my work, an artist statement and contact information. PICA had insurance papers and examples of submissions. From there I was shortlisted and confirmed as one of the 35 artists. Brisbane was fairly well represented. Curtin and QUT were the only schools to have more than two students in the show. Kim Brolga Williams from Griffith was good fun on the opening night.

As far as setting up the work in the gallery, it depended on each artist’s preference. You either set up your work, or the sea of installers would take the reigns. I recreated my work in the gallery space and that was straight forward - well practiced but unperfected. I spent the rest of lending a spare hand when I wasn’t finishing my website. By the time I arrived a week before the opening, most works were in a rough position. Olivia Nichols (the exhibition curator) and Nadia Johnson (the exhibition coordinator) were running a tight ship. There were last minute changes but no major hiccups, which is what I call smooth sailing. (God I’m a dag)

MS: There are certainly elements of humour and playfulness to your work that I personally find makes it approachable. I believe it encourages interaction, thereby allowing visitors to have a more personal connection with each piece. Is this intentional?

JA: Of course! What you described about my work comes from the way I make. I usually skip the studio or idea drafting stage. I go into a space (usually the space where the work will be displayed) with my materials and play around until something works. The method is playful so I’d hope the result shows that somehow. I don't need to fabricate something quite yet, so the materials and size are appropriate to human scale and relation. They aren't fiberglass or aluminum sculptures just yet. If I did fabricate a work, it would probably take the form of a fiberglass obelisk of a cob of corn or something. What helps is the choice of materials - they are relatable. Maybe that’s something that draws the personal connection you're talking about.

I should also relate my answer back to your previous question about the ‘white cube’. Artists that perfect their work almost don't need the ‘white cube’. The slight imperfections become obvious, and the obvious imperfections become purposeful/deliberate. I have a feeling I might always rely on this idea.

Jordan Azcune / Exact Model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge / 2016 / Timber horses, red aluminium, pool noodles

MS: Why have you chosen to create sculptures and installations to realise your ideas? Have you ever considered delving into different mediums?

JA: Well I started drawing and fancied myself a painter, and through study I tried video art, which I haven't been bothered with since, unfortunately. I also experimented with performance, but over time I became too self-conscious and ‘posey’ in front of the camera, which was a turnoff for me. So instead I kept making along the same tracks and just left out the acting part and recording part. My sculptures and installations usually imply some sort of performance or act of making – simply called ‘play’. I have re-found works from an early collaboration The__Brothers, which might encourage some more performances or portraits - only time will tell.

MS: What prompted you to focus on the idea of child’s play in your art?

JA: My interest in play isn’t the result of being interested in child psychoanalysis. It stemmed from my early work, which consists of industrial found objects, and from when I used to create precarious sculptures using materials that I eventually realised weren't as colourful as I wanted, and why would I deny myself that pleasure? Play is fun. Colour is great. Neither have morality. I am sure that my upbringing and living with young children in a house of nine also had an impact. Stealing toys from my nephews and nieces was easy, and new things were always coming in and out of the house, so I parodied a lot of their work. Eventually I gave most of the toys back to them, with the addition of a lot of pool noodles. In short, I may have been concerned with making a sustainable creative practice that could continue outside of the art schooling safety. I took the easy route and tried to make the work fun as a way to bribe myself to continue. So far, so good, right?

Jordan Azcune / Umbrella Skeletons (nucleus) / 2017

MS: Colour, texture and form play (pun intended) a crucial role in forming the distinctive, somewhat soft aesthetic of your work. I think this can largely be attributed to the materials you use. How to you go about choosing your materials?

JA: Yes, materials are funny. They seem to land on your lap sometimes. I recently lucked out and inherited 30 or so umbrellas (thank you Sam Cranston and Co.). These have produced around 50 or so works, maybe two that are good. When something like umbrellas happens its good to experiment and see what comes from that. It becomes an on going process that leads from one work to another and back again. From my experience, you become a master, so to speak, of a certain material; you know what its capable of, its limits, and its qualities. I like that. When someone else comes in to collaborate with the materials, it’s pleasing to see what is obvious and what you've missed. My materials are usually easily accessible (cheap) and convertible in the sense that they can be small and big at different times. My hope is that they stack away easily just to be whipped out and shown again with ease. I haven't ruled out anything yet, but this is the way it is so far. From what I understand, I’m attracted to big colourful things, but I’ll take any observations people might have.

Jordan Azcune / Umbilical / 2016 / Pool noodles, wire, Playdoh, spray paint, fluorescent light, extension cord / photo: Cameron Bond

MS: I recently went to an artist talk and the topic of the completeness of an artwork came up. The featured artist, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, believes that a work of art is only complete once it has been presented to and received by a public audience. Do you agree with this sentiment? If not, when do you think a work of art is complete?

JA: So the tree doesn't make a sound if no one was there to hear it? Riddle solved apparently. Maybe it depends on the work. Propaganda art is complete when it has finished recruiting soldiers or electing leaders. Advertising is the same. Some people make art for themselves, which makes them their own public audience. I could just be jealous that Nathaniel Mary Quinn must have more shows than I do.

MS: Being selected to exhibit in shows that support emerging Australian talent like HATCHED and the Creative Generation Excellence Awards is wonderful, but how do you think the gap between the ARI and the institution can continue to be bridged throughout Australia?

JA: Fluke’d it. I think from Visual Art Creative Generation Excellence Award year I was apart of, I know only two others that ended up studying art - encouraging but maybe not encouraging enough for us young folk. If anyone were listening, I’d love to be a guest speaker as a QUT graduate for those students in the future. It’s hard - as an ARI or institution, I am sure that you want some sort of proof that this person can perform and create something interesting that will draw crowds; but on the other hand, you also want to be fair and show something ‘different’. I tell you, the pressure to perform is stressful and at times doesn't lead to something that impresses, but from my experience ARIs often take that great risk. That’s noble in my books. But I hope we don't become sellout crowd pleasers. If we do, I pray it’s ironic.

Jordan Azcune / Instagram Post / 2017

MS: Which artists and/or arts professionals (academics, curators, journalists etc.) have you studied, met or worked with that have influenced your creative practice?

JA: Where do you begin! The thing is, I’m very grateful for my community. Without it, I wouldn't have made it this far. I have an extensive list of artists and architects that’s always growing, and I'm happy to share it if anyone asks. I'm also terrified of losing it, so copies and additions of the list would be safe to keep. I’m very lucky that some of my favourite artists are my contemporaries - I’m unquestionably biased. Liam Marsden has a joke that he will be my favourite artist before the end of the year. Don't tell him, but he already is.

Jordan Azcune took over the In Residence Instagram May 1-8, 2017. Keep up with our Instagram Takeovers, news, events and new posts via @inresidence_ari
See more of his work at https://www.jordanazcune.com/