LA-based artist Nicholas Arehart channels his youthful punk roots into pointed critiques of capitalism and authority. Wonderland talks to him about his sculpture and video installation, and why he thinks IKEA furniture can work in art.
You’re from Florida but reside in LA. Why the move?
Well, my fiancée, Tatiana Vahan, and I came out here on vacation about 2 years ago and we were enthralled by the city and its experiences. We knew we wanted to come back and live here. But what really pushed us to make the move was my acceptance into CalArts.
What’s the art scene like in LA?
It has so many faces it’s hard to succinctly characterize it. There are the notorious galleries, important contemporary art museums, young start-up spaces, non-profit organizations, student-run spaces, the plethora of art schools and their openings and events, and the list goes on. I guess if I had to pick one thing that defines it would be its openness. Its not uncommon to see art students having conversations with well-known artists at gallery openings.
Can you share some highlights of your career to date?
One of the most memorable experiences I had was my solo show at the Christopher Miro gallery in Miami. It felt like Chris was really shaping a new facet of the Miami art scene at the time and it was incredibly exciting to be a part of it.
Your art investigates the hidden and the marginalized rather than the obvious and mainstream. What prompted you to do explore this?
I’ve always adhered to a rebellious, anti-authoritarian position; I attribute this to my fascination with punk music when I was younger. Bands like Crass and Dead Kennedys all sang about the questioning of authority in its various modes and I really related to this. I saw these issues they were addressing as not just fodder for song lyrics but as real world injustices being inflicted upon oppressed people. As I got older and began reading the work of authors like Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin that thinking just got reinforced. All of these influences just naturally emerged in my work at the beginning of my practice. Once I recognized it, I knew it would be dishonest to do anything else.
I found your sculpture in Salon Du Notre Societe quite powerful. Could you tell us more about it please?
That piece is IKEA Object 3 which is part of the larger IKEA Objects series. I attempted to use products purchased exclusively from IKEA and assembled them into sculptures. Through this limitation the works address issues such as the fallacy of equating freedom of choice with free will, alienation of labour, and late capitalism’s implications for the ready-made. I really enjoy the process involved in making objects. There’s something transcendent about seeing a concept that once only existed in your head or on paper occupy a three dimensional space.
How does working with video differ from other installations or sculptures?
Honestly, even though the process involved in my video work is almost completely devoid of any physical labor it often feels more draining than creating a sculpture. There’s something about staring at a computer screen for hours on end that can really suck the life out of you.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on a few new video pieces and I’m just finishing up a project called Untitled (Monument). The piece is a replica of a California Historical Marker. These are used to designate historically important places. In my version the usual text that explains why the place is significant has been replaced with a notepad and pen inviting viewers to write in their own histories. Ideally I’d like to show this in a non art space where the public can engage with it. I’m working on a proposal to do just that.
Words: Heike Dempster