Q&A

12.02.08
Hudson interview with Mai Braun. published on featureinc.com website.

.how did you get turned onto cardboard and using found ubiquitous materials?

I like the ease and immediacy of working with cardboard. it has a lightness yet precariousness. And it made it possible to work large and afterwards fold it or pile it up in the corner for storage.
i used to get 4x8 sheets of cardboard and construct pieces out of that, prime and paint them with several layers of acrylic. they sort of looked like models for sculptures, like place holders. But the material got lost in that and I disliked the surprise effect - people initially assuming it was wood or aluminum until they got closer. It became too much about that. So i started eyeing the bundled up, flattened cardboard boxes that lined the curb on recycling days and hauled those into the studio. Those recycling piles in general are gorgeous. The boxes already have a volume, character and a familiarity. It cut out the dress-up part.

.what do you like about the process of building?

Putting it together and letting the piece grow. Keeping the hands busy while trying to figure out an internal logic for the piece.

.do you consider yourself a formalist?

Formalist sounds boring, so no, i’d rather not be one. There’s a focus on the object and i guess i just mentioned ‚internal logic’, but to me a piece works best somewhere in the in-between territory, once the frizz has been edited out but before the thinking becomes too linear. i tend to pull back at some point and leave some loose ends be, see where they go.

.will you comment on your involvement with information and decoration, concentration and distraction?

Are you refering to the collages in particular? I was reacting to the visuals and the content, which the newspapers have anyway. So i was veering between those poles.
Maybe the drawings have a decorative aspect. Making those is something i started doing first thing when getting to the studio. It’s a way to focus and complete a piece. Which is in constrast to the way I usually like to have various pieces in various stages of unrest in the studio, they don’t get finalized until a deadline looms. it keeps things open, but also gets pretty annoying, so i’ll start doing things to them again.

.what inspired you to use the front page of the ny times?

I would read the paper on the subway and then had it lying around the studio with the front page images staring out at me. they seemed like a small piece of grim reality from the outside world amongst the safe and self-obsessed abstraction of the studio, at worst a reminder of the inherent absurdity of sitting in a studio cutting and gluing together cardboard.
And there was a push-and-pull thing going on. However horrific the pictured situations – death, explosions, refugee camps – the images themselves were often disturbingly beautiful with gorgeous colors and dynamic compositions.
When i started doodling on the front pages, drawing and covering areas in tape, it was about trying to make sense of these conflicting emotions/thoughts, but also getting lost in the visuals. it took me a while to show them to anybody.

.are the balsa wood heads about particular people or types of people? are they about essential form? carving seems particularly different from most of your material uses; is this new to you? do you expect to continue to carve things?

i bought a pocket knife when camping last summer and carved up some tree bark, which probably started this off. But ultimately it’s about changing the volume, similar to when i work with boxes. In this case i’m carving into a solid but balsa wood is very light and malleable, again similar to cardboard. so i don’t really see that huge a switch, although people think of it as a more traditional image-making mode. In art school we had to take a class in wood carving, were given chisels and hammer and confronted with a large piece of hard wood that was set up outside in the freezing cold. It felt more like penance or survival camp, having to wrestle that block into submission. Working with balsa wood is different, more like peeling layers off an onion.
The heads are general effigies, abstracted characters. It wasn’t a conscious thing but looking at Cycladic figures probably had an influence.

.i’ve heard you mention that you find your work “funny.” would you explain more about how you use humor?

yeah, some of the work is funny to me but less because of some all-out humor in it. Rather it’s about the way i perceive the piece as teetering - it could fall apart but is still standing and balancing somewhere between precision and casualness, between presence and absence.

.is your work quietly addressing feminine and/or feminist principles?

Not consciously but i can see a link. What is usually ascribed to a feminine aspect – the handmade, the smaller scale, the imperfect does play a part. And even when the work is concise or larger scale, it has a precariousness that undercuts that. Clarity and consistency is great but I’m not really interested in absolutes.

.who are the historical artists that you recognize as having been a big influence on your work?

Historical as in dead and canonized? These things shift of course but the two years I spent in Texas and the work I saw there had a big influence, especially the work at the Menil Collection with ist combination of Antiquities, Modern and Contemporary art. I mentioned the Cycladic figures already, the masks from the pacific northwest. The Surrealist work - Ernst, Tanning, Tanguy and Magritte and the cabinet of curiosities, the Twombly blackboard paintings, Rauschenberg’s cardboard works. And the Chinati Foundation. Reading Judd’s writings and seeing his art collection, which also changed the way i looked at his work. Chamberlain’s foam sculptures. Reading the book on Bob Irwin ‚Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees’. Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings (which to me also have a funny aspect). I love that he made them impossible to reproduce. Helio Oiticica. Gego’s structures. Agnes Martin. Ken Price’s small sculptures. Louise Bourgeois drawings. Bruce Nauman’s early exploration of his studio practice. Tony Smith sculptures and the paper/cardboard models he made in preparation for them. Emma Kunz drawings. James Castle. Marcel Broodthaers. And there’s a Vuillard painting in the MoMA collection of the artist’s mother and sister, which i love. The sister seems to merge with the wall paper. It’s strange.

.do you find the world simple or complex?

Totally complex.