Sebastian Sommer makes street art and movies. I think we had a nice conversation about art, its value, and taste. I’m Dan Copulsky, and this interview is from September 2011.
You’ve been doing a lot of street art lately entitled Crispy Toes/Punk Ass. What is the value of this street art, for yourself or those who encounter it?
The whole point of street art, in my opinion, is to get people to stop and pay attention to their surroundings. After a while, particularly in the city, you get into this groove and everything just starts to blur. Some could argue that street art is supposed to be a social commentary… which is true if you look at guys like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. But then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, where you have street art like Jim Joe and Dick Chicken, and while they’re both amazing, the social commentary aspect becomes muddled. So I create this artwork in hopes that it will get people to stop their busy schedules and notice what’s around them. “What is this gorgeous artwork in front of my eyes?” they might ask. While viewing my street art, its normal to feel confused, shocked, and strangely aroused. I create the art myself, but I work with a group of people known as the “Punk Ass Crew” who help spread the art. They wish to remain anonymous.
I generally find myself bored by street art that I don’t perceive as doing something “new.” Do you think this is a fair criteria to judge street art by, and how do you think your work holds up under it?
I think it all depends on taste. If you see a piece of art and it tickles your fancy then that’s cool. I don’t think you should force yourself to like something you don’t care for. Having said that, you should also be open to try out new things. See if you like something, if you don’t, then move on.
You recently finished a short film based on the short stories of Tao Lin. This seems to be the way you generally describe the piece. Do you think the film can stand on its own?
Totally. I mean, it obviously helps to market the video if it has a “selling” point. People like familiarity. And it helps to reel the audience in. But there is an audience for every type of art. Somewhere, in this big world, there is a person that actually enjoys watching good films and doesn’t care about who’s playing in it. Weird, right?
If you imagined a person who did not know of or care for Tao Lin, is there a way you could describe your film to them without reference to him or his work?
I would describe it as the first “surreal” mumblecore film. Mumblecore films are known to be these low budget, reality based stories, about people in their 20s. I wanted to keep the basic principles but make it less about reality and more about the subconscious. Plot wise, it is about a man who wakes up to find that a weird family is robbing his house. But it’s so much more than that. The film is very metaphorical and each family member represents something unique in the main character’s life.
You like mumblecore. I don’t care for the mumblecore I’ve seen, but I think some art is much better appreciated when it’s intellectual context is understood. I started liking modern art a lot more once I read up on what the artists and critics were actually talking about and trying to express in their work. Is there anything you can say that might help me appreciate mummblecore?
I wouldn’t say that I’m the biggest fan of mumblecore, but as a filmmaker I do find it interesting. When I watch movies like Tiny Furniture or Hannah Takes The Stairs I feel so inspired afterward. I feel like I can make those kinds of movies! As opposed to when I watch some huge ass blockbuster with a 200 million dollar budget and enough special effects to make my dick soft. And when mumblecore films are done right, they can be very good. I’m a huge fan of Dance Party USA by Aaron Katz. Its so lo-fi but so genuine. Plus the ending is brilliant. But it’s true some of these films are boring. I would say that I like the movement that came before, Dogme 95, a lot better. At least the films within Dogme 95 were fucking crazy. Julien Donkey-Boy? Werner Herzog should have won the Academy Award.
You also really like the color green. I don’t like green much, and I don’t think anything someone said could change that. Maybe taste is sometimes just taste?
Taste is always just taste. But I feel like some people are scared to like new things until society says its okay for them to like it. There have been times where I’ve sent a song to my friends and they won’t listen to it until it becomes popular on the radio. What is that bullshit? I don’t know. I’m not going to try to convince you that green should be your favorite color, but you shouldn’t hate it. It’s a nice color. It didn’t do shit to you.
I feel bad about it, because I have nothing against you, and you seem nice and sincere about your work, but I don’t find myself particularly moved by your art. Do you think creators can be each others’ allies even when they aren’t each others’ fans?
Just because you don’t like the artwork doesn’t mean you can’t respect the artist for creating it. There are a lot of artists, especially the ones working within the “ready-made” movement that I don’t particularly like. But I understand what they’re trying to say and I respect that. If artists don’t like each others work, then they shouldn’t collaborate. But I don’t see why they can’t be allies.