From Sea to Shining Sea: Justin H. Long at Twenty Twenty Projects
From Sea to Shining Sea installation view.
Here follows an interview with Justin H. Long on the subject of his first Miami solo show, From Sea to Shining Sea, currently at Twenty Twenty Projects. Long is an emerging Miami artist who has been a memorable contributor to and oftentimes elemental part of such Miami exhibitions as Boyz of Bazel He Men Woman Haterz Club, Schadenfreude, Hate, The Youth Fair Bro, Confection, and The Collabo Show. His latest [ad]venture, From Sea to Shining Sea, which takes its title from a line in the patriotic song ‘America the Beautiful’, contains an Assemblage boat named The Filthy Whore, a crafted and polished cannon dubbed The Ole 96er, an uncompromisingly interactive piece called The Upper Deck, and several videos and paintings.
From Sea to Shining Sea displays in Long’s work a new connection between the content and the constraints of the space. The nautical theme flows well on Long’s warm artistic currents and the many cultures and objects associated to a life on the seas are easily appropriated and infused with Long’s professionally reckless lifestyle, however, the fury of the work, and in a sense Long’s truly contemporary artistic power, lies dormant in a silenced cannon and a boat sitting on the gallery floor. Nevertheless, From Sea to Shining Sea is not a disappointment – there is a satisfactorily plumbable depth – although do we hope this mythical man, whom Miami is lucky to foster, doesn’t stagnate, but rather takes the successes within these works and discovers new territory for us to experience and participate in.
You and your friends and family appear to be living in a self made world, in the sense that what you fashion in your art and in your life appears to strive for a type of existence. How does the work you make and the way you live your life blur together?
A self-made world seems like a bit of stretch, the only thing we are striving for is a stress free existence. We enjoy the little things and as far as aesthetic choices I do what I know. Being raised in a vintage motorcycle shop, our life revolves around the rare and exotic. Cherishing items that have history and are different. We also race motorcycles, cars, boats and anything else we get our hands on, as well as having a hand in most extreme sports out there. So our idea of danger and safety is quite different from most of the world. The work is safe to our standards but that is difficult to accept for many.
Justin H. Long.
Your collaborative project “The Youth Fair, Bro” evidenced your ability to produce an art space with sculptures that lack physical boundaries. It seems that type of experience for the audience marries
them to the space for viewing and in a sense participating in the work. Is this a goal of yours? If so can we call the art space, your dominion?
“Hands on art viewing”, I really like including the audience as an integral part of the work. When they are allowed to participate, it becomes more of an experience rather than a pass by that is more difficult to forget if nothing else. The Upper Deck (fish tank piece) forces the toilet user into a life or death situation (for the fish) and then pits the gallery viewers against them. The confrontation that ensues is what I am interested in. The Youth fair was a success, but I think we need to do a few more before we can call the art space our dominion.
One of Long’s paintings, a self portrait (2009).
So where does question 1 and 2 get us? In question 1 (a to b) we spoke about how your life and interests relate to your work. In question 2 (b to c) we spoke about how your work relates to the audience. So question 3 (a to c) how does your life relate to the lives of your audience? Who is it for? How do we use it?
I do not see myself as so different from the audience, but perhaps I am. If my friends enjoy the work, then that is the first step to it being a success. Satisfying them is usually the toughest challenge. It feels good when I can open the eyes of a stranger to something new and broaden their interests, and if an art theorist can make sense of it too, even better. The only pieces designed for a specific audience were the paintings. They are geared towards the wealthy, yacht club crowd and surprising to even myself, actually were understood quite well by them. Without a vast knowledge of sailing, Americas’ Cup history, and nautical alphabet flags they are difficult to appreciate. How do you use it? Beats me. Try to have a good time with it, I did.
The Upper Deck (2009), toilet, PVC piping, fish tank, fish.
For us the piece in which a fish tank functioned as a cistern was the ‘best in show’ simply because unlike other works the amalgamation of space, meaning and audience into a ‘dominion’ in this instance was seamlessly natural. Beyond questioning whether this piece was devised as some kind of radical animal rights propaganda, an allegorical commentary on the impact of human domesticity on the natural world, we question whether this success is in actual fact indicative of a common
problem that your work faces in a gallery context. In short, the seamlessness of your concepts often rely on your sculptures performing physical work (fish – plumbing; boat – shelter and floating; canon – propulsion), however, due to restrictions imposed by the gallery setting (any gallery setting) much of the work was unable to perform physically. That said; do you feel that From Sea to Shining Sea is alive enough in this state?
Dealing with this safety issue has been a long and rather uninteresting debate for me. I am not trying to push some imaginary boundary, which is entirely subjective. By no means am I an adrenaline junky, nor do I want to hurt the audience. I do like a bit of shock and awe, but my idea of excitement is past a comfortable range for most. The Upper Deck did its job well, the audience participated, they took sides, and conversation ensued. What many did not realize is that the fish also need the water to be flushed to stay alive since there is no filter. So if you decide not to flush, then the fish have to live in their own excrement.
Detail of The Filthy Whore (2009).
The Filthy Whore (boat installation) is only meant to get the idea across “Could I build a boat to live on and cross the Atlantic?” It is a “hands on” model and in making it I feel one step closer to actually being able to build a working version. Many that entered the craft expressed their comfort and perhaps thought over making one for themselves.
The Ole 96er (cannon) is the only animal that had to be unfortunately caged. I am not sure that any part of that creation is legal. In purchasing the black powder and the wick, I was threatened with being reported to ATF. The test fire shown in the video was done at the side of a government owned bridge, which it actually caused damage. So in my mind, firing it at the opening in front of a crowd of peers would have been wonderful, but even I recognized the need to take a step back. From Sea to Shining Sea is plenty alive in the gallery and I am embracing this challenge now of adapting my work into such confines.
The Ole 96er (2009).
Regarding the craft of the constructs: The boat and the canon are very different. The paintings show you’re not a painter. The videos show you’re not a film-maker. The fish tank deals with a purer ready-made system than the boat by using relatively conventional plumbing. Which process is more rewarding for you in the studio?
All the pieces come from different places. The cannon is closest to my actual skill level as a craftsman. Using knowledge of material, tooling and finish to make a decently polished object. The boat comes from a different school of thought, the under educated craftsman of necessity. Using household building materials and found objects, and the knowledge of what actually works from experience. Think refugee rafter.
I do paint and make videos regularly so I don’t think I can be considered a non-Painter or Videographer. That is my aesthetic choice.
As the fish tank goes, it came down to pure function. All of the products already exist; it was just easier that way. I saw no real gain in making any of the parts myself.
As far as picking the one the suits me best, I can’t. Making a polished object that gets compliments on the craft is quite rewarding, but I am not trying to be a craftsman. I enjoy the concepts most, and when they are received well, that is the best[.]
Buck shot from The Ole 96er.
Well, there is definitely an audience in Miami that is hungry for his type of work and in that regard Long is a valuable facet of the arts community, nevertheless, our impression of this exhibition is that the artist is destined for greater things and we are itching to see what is next. No doubt showing in relatively conventional gallery settings – a label that Twenty Twenty Projects, despite its mission, has done little lately to shake – and attempting smaller more culturally relevant work is helping Long to develop his skills of conceptualization in ways that boundaryless objects can not, however, it seems that rather than adapt completely and risk taming his work, Long might be do well to instead apply what he learns from working within such parameters to ends whose scope exceeds both the physical space and intent of a gallery.
At The Youth Fair, Bro and The Collabo Show in particular, Long demonstrated an obvious flare for kinetic (and often potentially dangerous) sculptures, but currently the best parts of his art, reckless action and an innate dexterity with craft and ideas, are courting, but somehow not fucking. On one hand it would be interesting to see Long continue to grow from trying new things and blossom as some kind of art star, but ultimately we wait impatiently for him to gather what provisions he needs from the art world and push beyond it into his rightful dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth (Psalm 72:8).
There will be a closing reception for this exhibition on November 7th.
This post was contributed by Cassidy Fry.