2008 Whitney Biennial artist Bert Rodriguez in Le Salon Des Beaux-Bains
2008 Whitney Installation
A native to Miami, Bert Rodriguez is one of the few artists who have successfully penetrated the international art market. Pointedly subverting the concept of the artist, Rodriguez’s conceptual practice relies heavily on process and performance. Operating largely outside traditional commercial art practices, and with shrewd yet playful wit, Rodriguez’s multifarious practice educates, amuses, perplexes, and enriches his audience while quietly commenting on the contemporary art world. For the 2008 Whitney Biennial, he conducted free therapeutic sessions inside a large white cube installed in the middle of an ornate room. In his bathroom however, stripped of his defenses, his comfy chairs and his tissues, ARTLURKER pins this slippery character to his own cold tile to find out what impact, if any, the luxury of modern man’s most modest moments have on his myriad methods.
God that’s filthy!
Yeah I know.
So, Bert, tell us a bit about your current situation.
Well, I guess I have no choice, I have to be a shower person for the moment but I do actually enjoy the bath, I grew up with one.
Is this present lack of choice through choice.
No, it’s as a result of having this apartment. I have thought about getting a claw foot tub for the space but it is a bit wasteful; I am sort of against the whole waste thing.
Actually, when we first saw this shower curtain we thought there was a tub behind it, but it’s just really a long shower stall. Kind of like a shower bus, do you lay in it?
I have yeah, I’ve laid in it. I mean there’s not much you can do except lay in it and paddle in about an inch of water but…
Have you decorated in here since you moved in?
No not really. The space is pretty practical. I mean it feels a bit like a hotel in here.
A bad hotel!
Well, I don’t know, it’s the only one I’ve got so…but yeah it feels a bit like a hotel bathroom because of the stall and the way it’s designed you know.
If you had the chance to design your own bathroom what would it be like?
Well, I was actually thinking of building a wooden frame around this, just to make it look nicer and get rid of the curtain completely. So it would look like a wood hot tub or something.
And it gets quite hot in here anyway I would assume.
Yeah it does.
But the water would only ever be a couple of inches high or…
No, yeah, it would never be used as a tub but it would have this nice look about it.
How God makes Snakes Cibacrome tryptich each 30″ x 20″
If you were to invent something for the shower what would it be?
Well, ideally I’ve always wanted this to be completely enclosed and just rain down water on me in very thin droplets along the whole length of the shower, so no matter where I am standing I am getting wet.
We have the same dream, but opposite, where the water comes from the bottom like a self-cleaning public lavatory.
That’s a nice one, I hadn’t thought of that.
Is bathing important to you?
Well, I think it’s the most intimate time we have with ourselves. I mean we’re literally touching every part of ourselves, that we don’t normally get to touch. And I don’t mean that in any sort of naughty way I just mean literally like a blind person, you’re actually like drawing yourself out.
And that helps you to relate to yourself better during the rest of the day?
I suppose, I suppose because you have that one moment of complete private intimacy that infects the rest of the day somehow, the rest of your experience.
Or resets you.
Yeah, it’s like a meditation, it’s like hitting the resent button. It’s like here I am, holy shit look that’s where the elbow starts.
Or the outlook! Do you have any little quirks that you do while you’re in the shower?
No, no, but actually when I am testing the temperature I’ll do a little…what’s the word?..It’s a bit of a Rockettes dance. I’ll stand here where I am standing now and kind of kick my feet at the shower like this and keep adjusting the temperature.
A wall I built with my father, 2008. Performance at Le Plateau, Paris
When you’ve got a head full of shampoo do you bend forward toward the shower to wash it off and let the soap run down over your face or do you tilt your head back into the water and let it run off down your back?
Oh no I lean back, I lean back for sure.
Apart from maybe your piece New Addition, though we haven’t studied it closely enough to be sure, we have not noticed any particular references to bathing in your work so what if anything does this have to do with anything?
Shit, well I don’t know, I’ve actually been caught up with the idea that I’m not really an artist anymore.
How long for?
Well, I’ve always sort of felt that way but it’s recently been more established in my brain that I’m really not an artist at all.
What are you doing then, just taking the piss?
I don’t know you know its sort of like an apple tree has to make apples so I’m just making what I am making. I don’t know what it’s called, it’s a fruit that hasn’t been named yet, but it’s not art.
What would you do if you decided to stop being an artist?
That’s the thing, I don’t think I could stop making
But going through the motions and not really feeling it on one hand its kind of sweet but on the other its just very evil.
Right, I’ve though about that quite a bit lately and I think the way to address it is to just not make a big deal of it.
You kind of already are.
What I mean is if someone is going to call me an artist I am not going to deck them or renounce my status.
So you’re just happy to coast along, hopefully unnoticed?
Yeah, hopefully unnoticed. Actually that sounds ideal.
A meal I made with my mother, 2008. Performance at Le Plateau, Paris
Your approach is wholly conceptual, almost to the point that it needn’t exist. Where do you get your ideas from?
Through hanging out and interacting with the world. Being at parties and whatever it is that I might be doing something will come up that will set off some kind of domino effect. It will trigger one thought that knocks into another thought and it keeps going until the whole things makes some pattern and it spells out this giant perfect idea. Its like, oh, OK, I need to do this.
So you haven’t had any Archimedes moments?
Yeah, I’ve had lots of pretty good ideas in the bath, because of that moment, because there is nothing else but yourself there you know. Like a lot of my work tends to come from that point anyway. I am always using myself as…not a metaphor necessarily because that’s a little corny but sort of like that guy that everybody else is, you know, I’m like the everyman or something – I want to be the Johnny Cash of the art world.
How did you first come to art?
I had always known about it but you always have a different idea about it when you’re younger because your family has bullshit hanging on the walls like weird flowers and things.
Yeah, that kind of shit. So you always assume growing up in that sort of way that that’s what art is you know, and then I’d always been a bit of a fuck off, a bit of a prankster or a class clown and when I finally got to high school my art teacher there started feeding me all this information that made me realize you can be a fucking shit head and piss everybody off or you can actually direct your energy towards something that you can actually live the rest of your life doing.
Were you obviously talented then?
I was a bit arrogant, sure, I still am, I can’t help myself.
Classified Ad for Clearance Sale, Art LA, 2008.
At what point did you realize that art was a viable career possibility?
Well, recently actually. I am only just starting to finally believe to a certain extent that I can actually do it. Up until this point I have felt that any minute someone’s going to stop me for a second and say “Seriously, just get a job, go do something, raise a family…”
Maybe through being an artist you eventually realize that you should stop.
I think a lot of artists go through that. I think the problem is that there isn’t really a well defined role for the artist today. Someone like me for example who doesn’t necessarily take the formal approach but more of an esoteric and almost spiritual mystic approach to things would have been a Sharman or a witchdoctor. In the past those people were completely integrated into culture, they were a part of it and they were respected for what they did.
They had a purpose.
Exactly! People would come to them for certain needs and they in turn would fulfill them. But all of a sudden that changed into this thing called art and then that for a time turned into craft. At that point it became all about the form and we lost all mysticism. Art became how good you could make something and now its gone back to a sort of perverted sense of the original thing but we’re still trying to stamp them (artists) out and now the majority of what they teach in schools is just “this is what an artist does, this is how an artist performs, I am going to teach you how to do it.” It’s like miming all of a sudden, like there aren’t any real artists anymore – it’s fucked up.
Well, maybe it’s because we live in a capitalist system and that our understanding of art is as a commodity based on romantic notions.
Exactly, I used to think Picasso was the artist. He of course was AN artist but not THE artist, he wasn’t the architect.
Of course these notions aren’t particularly new, but it’s nice to think about them.
Absolutely, I love it.
It was the best of times, c-print with gloss laminate 20” x 30”
So you aren’t planning on quitting anytime soon?
Well, that’s the thing; I am kind of avoiding the whole competition thing. I am not interested in that aspect because I don’t feel I have any. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. What I mean is that what I do can’t be competed with. Its just: “Here’s Bert, he makes this thing, there it is.”
And it’s not like you’re actually being put in the ring with anyone anymore. The galleries just crop up around you so there are always people vying for your attention as opposed to you having to peddle your wares.
I guess I’m lucky. I am hoping to just keep doing it and whether I am successful or not, whether people like it or not I will probably keep doing it.
Well, you are already quite successful – at least on paper.
I am not anywhere near the history books or anything…
You have a website!
I have a website, yes that’s true. I’ve got a website, I’ve got a gallery, I’ve got a significant museum. I’ve got a few feathers in my hat or stings to my bow or checks marked off but also I have never really had to figure out what success is because I’ve never had to make that choice. It sounds so corny but I’ve always just done what I’ve done and it just seems to keep opening up wider so I can do more of it.
I guess that might be the key to success, to never have to measure yourself by your own or anyone else’s standards, just letting other people measure themselves by yours.
Right, I don’t know what I am doing. I honestly just don’t know what I am doing and I can’t believe that there is a formula and that art schools think that there is a formula. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
Can you sum up your shower in 3 words?
It’s a shower.
Illuminating, frightening, self effacing and often distinctly hopeless, Rodriguez’s habits appear to have absolutely nothing to do with his art, just as his art really has nothing to do with anything other than an unnaturally specific interest in his own life. Despite his many doubts he remains true to and familiar with the one person who can truly assist him, himself. The unconventionality of his work continues to attract audiences and open up new opportunities and even though his successes, in light of his vocational insecurities, may seem to the hard working unsung heroes of the art world to be nothing more than shallow drivel, we at ARTLURKER believe he deserves every scintilla of attention, that his fears wash away and that the tide mark of his ambition never coagulates like scum on the fortune of his days. Anyone who disagrees can take a page from the book of Bert and unreservedly follow the advice below.
Energy Conservation, 2008. Neon with timer and transformer. 70 1/2″ x 55″ x 8″
In three weeks Bert Rodriguez will inaugurate Snitzer Arregui Projects in the Hamptons, a new extension of Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami. Performing his piece “What a tree feels like” the artist will be buried in the ground for 24 hours with only his head poking out. During this time the gallery will be forced to feed and water him and with any luck dogs will foul upon him. After which it’s over London in October for a commission by the Frieze foundation.
For more information about this artist please visit: www.minegro.com
For more information about this artists gallery please visit: www.snitzer.com