Shift 2: Earnest & Son

Interviewed by Sarah Thomson

Earnest & Son is the collaborative art practice of Liam Marsden and Jordan Azcune who are both completing honours In Visual Arts at the Queensland University of Technology. Their predominantly sculpture-based practice explores everyday materials in unconventional ways, drawing from external art history influences and a desire to express internal anxieties in physical objects. I met with Jordan and Liam to discuss the development of their work for Shift 2 and the unique collaborative way in which they work. View more of their work here.

Sarah Thomson: Where did the name Earnest & Son come from?

Liam Marsden: When we first started making work we tried to figure out a name and we were going through so many different ideas and this kind of popped out of nowhere… it was nice in that it sounds like an architecture firm, a builder; it sounds like a company name.

Jordan Azcune: We thought about what our first works were originally about - in that way we wanted to convey the honesty of materials. My favourite play is The Importance of Being Earnest so we wanted to incorporate ‘earnest’ as a way of material investigation.

LM: We both make works individually that are pretty honest to the materials. We don’t like hiding how things are made; we like to be honest about the materials themselves…

JA: We display it for what it is.

LM: It [the name] also talks about our relationship together as well. Almost like father and son sometimes, or master and mentor. One will make a work and the other will try and one-up it.

JA: If Liam makes something, I’ll inherit that as an idea – as my idea – and improve it so in that way we’re master and apprentice and then that is switched. So Liam makes a work, I make a work about that work and the ownership is constantly changing.

LM: Jordan’s obsessed with Fabergé eggs and has been wanting to make one for so long and I’m planning on making one to piss him off, just because I can make it. I look up to him in terms of theoretical ideas…

JA: And I can’t actually make these works so I have to employ Liam to manufacture them.

LM: Jordan is the architect and I’m the builder.

ST: How does your collaborative practice differ from your individual practices?

LM: I look internally; I try to make objects that display inner emotions or ideas that I can’t articulate. I’ve found it hard in the past to be able to talk about feelings or works and I was never very good at writing in school. I make objects to show how I’m feeling and show emotions as a whole so it’s relatable to everyone.

JA: In that way, I’m the complete opposite. His work is internally focused, mine’s externally focused. Introverted and extraverted. I deal with the insights of a larger history and culture.

LM: You look at things in terms of history or significant objects or things that have happened in the past. You’re making works that are commonly referred to by Tom Sachs as ‘nuggets’- condensed, strong ideas that are implied through titling. He uses titles as almost short stories to hint at the conceptual idea. I think that’s why our collaboration works well. Both of these are combined – there’s the internal monologue but also the external factor as well.

ST: What work will you be showing in Shift 2?

JA: We’re making a set of kinetic sculptures that spin and try and escape a central vortex. But are trapped by the same thing that’s spinning them.

LM: Right now we’re both interested in movement, in ballet or figure skating how they continue the momentum. We watched a video on the physics of ballet.

JA: Oh we’ve watched multiple videos.

LM: I’ve always had an interest in physics and science as well. We’re both looking at the movement of objects and how they spin.

JA: I’m thinking right now – imagine that crane [points to crane] just spinning out of control, like a helicopter. Just wanting to run away but it’s trapped.

ST: And when does it eventually flip out? In your experiments they go crazy...

LM & JA: …and end up breaking, yeah.

JA: Most people are forced to pay attention but at the same time want a safe distance; just in case. It’s quite dangerous.

ST: You’ve taken a quite abstract approach to the theme of displacement…

LM: We use materials that wouldn’t normally be used in these impossible ways. No one who makes umbrellas wants them to be put on a drill and spun around. It is displaced from its original context. A lot of our work is like that.

JA: We compromise the material’s history as well. We have these connections or associations to what an umbrella does. But by taking that and using its history as an object, we displace it conceptually.

LM: Physically as well.

JA: By changing its use. Misuse.

ST: How do you select your materials?

LM: Convenience. A lot of materials are easy to find, you can bulk buy them from two dollar shops or hardware stores.

JA: It’s something that’s not serious as well. It’s colourful and it’s alluring; beautiful in those formal aspects of a material. It’s a little bit flimsy, a little bit not right.

LM: A bit lazy in a way. They’re ready-made. As we said, they bring their own histories and we’re just piggy-backing off those.

JA: It comes to the history of the object, if you already have an association like ‘that umbrella reminds me of my friend who owns the same one’ you already draw those connections involuntarily. And they’re different for each person.

ST: Your work often seems to imply the presence of a displaced body. There’s a shoe or a shirt or something very human contrasted with these almost industrial materials.

LM: Most objects need people to interact with them to make them an object in themselves. It’s all well and good having something to display but everything needs people to use them. iPhones themselves are a nice object but…

JA: It could be a paperweight.

LM: Unless you’re touching them or interacting with them, they have no inherent value.

ST: And what about the kinetic aspect?

JA: It’s the easiest way to get an emotional response and get the audience to empathise with the object.

ST: How does your collaboration work? What is the process of creating together?

LM: Often we think of what we want ideally then we have to look at our budget and logistics. For the works we’re showing in the exhibition [Shift 2] we came up with the idea, we thought through different variations of how to make it and I made a prototype with a cordless drill just to see what it would look like and we thought ‘bugger it, this is easier’…

JA: It’s nicer as well; it has an innocence rather than a sophistication.

ST: What are your art historical influences?

JA: From a material aspect, Arte Povera. The way they would use whatever they could get their hands on and through a little bit of skill they could make it into a beautiful object that also has a larger connection to political/cultural aspects happening simultaneously. This links back to where we are displaying the works as well. It’s not a cube…

ST: What is your ideal place to exhibit?

LM: I’m always partial to white cube galleries because it doesn’t distract and allows an object to present its ideas without being muddied up with other forms. You observe the object and nothing else.

JA: Well it’s an attempt to…

LM: I know for a fact Jordan doesn’t really like gallery spaces in terms of exhibiting work.

JA: I think it depends on specific works. I would love to make works for spaces like cubes but I would also like to display in really stupid places like a shed, a backyard or Versailles, you know?

LM: We both make site-specific works so we could exhibit anywhere, objects for any space.

JA: You’d just work with any space you can, any spatial eccentricities, take that and make it work for you. That’s what we do.

ST: How do you think a residential context will affect the work?

LM: I think it’ll make it funnier. The objects themselves are pretty hilarious but being so far away from art makes it a bit sillier. It is one thing to put these kinetic sculptures in a gallery space but then putting it in someone’s bedroom could make it even more ridiculous and shocking.

ST: What do you see as the role of ARIs in Brisbane?

LM: ARIs are important for young emerging artists. Many can’t show artworks anywhere other than uni. We have to make a work, display it in our gallery space, document it and uninstall it so everyone else can use the space. To have a place that we can exhibit work in and allow other people to see it is an opportunity that most people don’t get until you’re established or you write such a good proposal that a gallery accepts you. It’s frustrating.

JA: This is our way of problem solving that. 2015/16 was the beginning of so many new ARIs. It showed that Brisbane needs more. It shows a craving to have these platforms.

LM: Brisbane only has a small handful of galleries.

JA: But most of those started from humble beginnings as ARIs and grew from there.

LM: It’s important to think about because this is our career, this is what we want to do and electricians don’t just become electricians, they have to practice and learn from their mistakes and this is just like our apprenticeship for showing works in galleries. It allows us to experiment and make mistakes, which is really important, especially for young artists and curators.

JA: All these ARIs are interested in different things as well, different aspects of creative practices.

ST: Do you think you will stay in Brisbane to pursue a career in art?

LM: I like Brisbane as a place to live, but I’m really excited by the idea of moving somewhere else. I’ve applied for opportunities overseas. In saying that, I’m happy to stay in Brisbane. With the emerging arts scene it’s really becoming a hub.

JA: It’s really quite dynamic in that aspect. I think in trying to understand other places, we understand our home a little better. I’m so interested in artwork that’s coming from Germany, for instance. I want to go over there and see why. My connection as a Brisbane artist to art is maybe Eurocentric, why and how does that affect my place as a contemporary Australian artist? We live in such an interesting ‘mutt’ of a culture that’s worth a lot more than people give it credit for.

LM: I think travelling is really important for artists and being able to see works in person.

JA: I don’t think either of us will ever forget that we’ve started here. I’ll never lose my connection with a blue-collar background; whether I like it or not.