|Catherine Y. Hsieh: Your recent body of work turns ordinary household routines into chaotic little disasters. This desire to dissect what appears banal—does it come from a rebel kind of character within you? If so, how often do you feel the existence of this character? How do you interact? Lee Materazzi: A lot of my work is inspired by my pent-up love/hate relationship of living within the banal. On a daily basis, my rebellion typically comes out in the form of humorous cynicism, which eventually seeps into my art. I was once asked if I go around photographing myself spontaneously all throughout the day doing things such as making a sandwich out of my face. I love the idea of that, but the photographs I take are more premeditated.|
Lee Materazzi, interviewed by Catherine Y. Hsieh
Catherine Y. Hsieh: Your recent body of work turns ordinary household routines into chaotic little disasters. This desire to dissect what appears banal—does it come from a rebel kind of character within you? If so, how often do you feel the existence of this character? How do you interact?
Lee Materazzi: A lot of my work is inspired by my pent-up love/hate relationship of living within the banal. On a daily basis, my rebellion typically comes out in the form of humorous cynicism, which eventually seeps into my art. I was once asked if I go around photographing myself spontaneously all throughout the day doing things such as making a sandwich out of my face. I love the idea of that, but the photographs I take are more premeditated. My intention in creating the final work is to pose a question rather than create mere anarchy. What is achieved through photographing my mother as she pours chicken noodle soup on her head? The question alone is really my objective.
CH: Were you more in touch with your inner self when you were in the photo shoots or behind the camera? How was the transition going on the set and off the set? Which situation did you find more liberating? Why or why not?
LM: I enjoy both being the voyeur and then also the tortured performer. Taking pictures is something that I can get pleasantly lost in, and at times, can leave me in tears from laughing so hard. However, there is also this concern that I have for the well-being of my subjects. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. When I am in the pictures I have no problem sacrificing myself to any extent. It’s fulfilling to have that control. Both roles have their own liberating and restrictive elements. It’s the discourse between the two that I find interesting.
CH: Your work seems to reference Situationism, which holds that personality is more influenced by external factors than by internal traits or motivations. What is your take on this?
LM: My work parodies the Situationists through the manipulation of my everyday routines. I reference this movement and at the same time, make fun of my own reference. For example, in one piece I am pouring laundry detergent on my head as my mother photographs it. The action suggests a revolt on the everyday chore of doing laundry (something that was taught to me by my mother). This act of documenting something and having evidence of the occurrence was not a motivation of Situationism, and is the point in which my work turns on itself and makes fun of its own gesture. It leaves a trace for speculation.
CH: You exercise an attempt to break out of conformity, but in the end the work implies defeat. Do you somehow feel that human efforts are futile in the face of obstacles? Why or why not?
LM: There is definitely a defeatist characteristic to my work. A lot of the themes within the images are of people stuck or overwhelmed to a ridiculous extent as though, ironically, the mundane has gone too far. Rather than the rebellion itself, I think that it’s the humor left from the attempt that’s worth something. I don’t think that human efforts are futile in the face of obstacles; however, I believe that the real resolution is not always the one expected.
CH: How much do you think vulnerability characterizes people when it comes to their ability to cope with conflicts, even minute ones like what you portray in your photographs?
LM: I think that people displace larger struggles into minute ones. Personally, whenever I’ve had breaking points in my life it’s always something really unimportant that gets to me like taking out the garbage. I definitely think that increased vulnerability can make everyday spaces and actions represent so much more than their face value.
CH: What was the thought process behind the exhibition title, Feels Like Home? Any interesting stories?
LM: I like to use titles that are not only appropriate for the work on display but also for something happening in my life at the time. I choose “Feels Like Home” for this show because I have recently moved away from Miami, where the show was, to San Francisco. Miami is a place where I’ve lived for a large part of my life, and Spinello Gallery is where I had my first solo show in 2008. Aside from this, the body of work was a series made by my mother and I. One of the works entitled Mother was a working washing machine in the space with a clothesline, so the space literally smelled like a home.
CH: Repetition and time are recurring themes in your work. How important are these elements in your creative process?
LM: I am inspired, or rather motivated, to create work because of the repetitious routines within my life, the things that happen day in and day out. They are so familiar yet so mysterious because of the emotions that get lost or pent up within them. More specifically, a lot of the videos that I have been creating portray repetitive actions such as Spaghettios, where I have my mother playing catch with a bowl of SpaghettiO’s. The video is on a loop and never begins or ends; it just keeps going. I was looking to capture the discerning expressions on her face as the SpaghettiO’s hit the floor. I wanted for the video to have the same quality of a still image but with movement. Rather than being about narrative, the objective was to capture that one expression.
CH: What is your aesthetic philosophy?
LM: The aesthetics of the work go hand in hand with the concept. I try to photograph people and environments as they would naturally exist (besides the staged action of course). At times, extra objects are brought in or taken out to emphasize my intention, but I try to refrain from getting too stylized. I like for my work to feel as though it could be pulled out of anyone’s life.
CH: How does the relationship dynamic fluctuate between you and your mother when you are in a family context and when you are in work mode?
LM: It’s the exact same. There’s no real separation between our making process and our everyday lives. I could very easily be over at her house taking some pictures of her while my stepfather cooks dinner. One time, I photographed her with her head in a junk-filled purse while she conducted a business conversation with someone in the room. It was very impressive to say the least.
CH: What inspired the piece Mother? Did you provide detergent on site at the gallery? Did people actually do their laundry using Mother and hang their clothes on the clothesline installed in the space? What was the audience’s reaction to the piece?
LM: Mother was inspired by a couple of things. In my last apartment in Miami, the washing machine was in the garden. I really liked the displacement of the object and my routine. Along with this, I was inspired by the fact that my mother, by default, does my laundry whenever I come to visit. I’ve also witnessed this occurrence at a lot of friends’ homes. Even though you’re an adult, there is this humbling reminder of being a child. It’s both nurturing and exposing at the same time.
At Spinello Gallery, I had a washing machine installed with a little shelf above for storing the laundry detergent. Then there was a clothesline across the entire space. A lot of people reacted defensively in regard to doing their laundry there. However, there were a few participants. Spinello did his laundry throughout the course of the show, and then there was a friend who walked in, took off all of his clothes, threw them in the machine, and borrowed some of Spinello’s which were drying on the line.