Interview with Chad Stayrook

Pooja Kakar: What are you planning to present for “DiA on the LILAC”?

Chad Stayrook: I will be presenting “A Siren Song (in three parts)”. This will be a performance and installation in the engine room of the LILAC, consisting of a large functional lighthouse installed to appear as though it is growing out of the engine room’s controls. This lighthouse will be positioned to shine its light at head level for those standing on the engine room’s mezzanine.  On opening night there will be a performance involving three musicians who will play the role of Sirens, mythic creatures said to lure sailors into shipwreck by lulling them with their physical and musical beauty. Each musician will play two pieces in succession based on the rotation of the lighthouse light. The musicians involved are Ellena Phillips, Rowan (Shelley Burgon), and Unstoppable Death Machines (Michael and Billy Tucci).

PK: How are you planning on utilizing the unique space on the LILAC to showcase your work/create an experience for the viewer?

CS: My piece is conceived and built specifically for the LILAC. I intend for the installation to inhabit the engine room space as though it is actually part of the ship. This installation and its associated performative event pay homage to the history of the LILAC as a lighthouse tender and its duty to maintain navigational aides meant to keep other ships and their crew safe.

PK: Could you explain your process—from the inception of an idea to its execution in an exhibit, in greater detail?

CS: My work is often situational to the opportunity at hand. I am always working within the same lexicon, but ideas are usually conceived after seeing the environment they might be presented in. The first stage of any project is research. This could be researching concepts, historical events, persons of interest, exhibition sites, etc. The ideas for a piece are formed through this research. The next stage is experimentation. This involves working out what format will best present the ideas I’m interested in, and also how I want to present the research material (how much liberty I want to take with “fact”). The final stage is execution. This is a multi-part process that involves researching materials, coordinating with collaborators, officials, curators, building managers, etc., making the physical work, and designing and installing the final installation. Often, the majority of time in this stage is spent sketching building plans and getting permission from the powers-that-be to do something. Before I start physically making anything I have a very good idea of what I want it to be. The production of a piece usually happens really quickly. The same goes for the overall installation of the work in an exhibition setting.

PK: You’ve described your work as creating systems using ideas confirmed by, related to, or inspired by science, philosophy, and/or popular culture; can you elaborate on why you consider them as systems and how you facilitate a dialogue between these three areas in creating your work?

CS: I see the “system” as the multi-stage process I described above. This system draws ideas from those three areas and investigates how an idea is perceived through the lens of each. An “idea” often takes on different meaning or purpose when put against the backdrop of science as opposed to philosophy as opposed to pop culture.

PK: There is an element of humor, particularly in the titles of your work (for instance, “The boys absurd invention” and “GPS memes”) how does this come into play with larger themes within your work?

CS: Humor is very important to me in my practice. My work is very much about investigating and understanding the world I live in (the human condition). I find humor to be a very useful tool for representing the humility (and futility) of that process.

PK: Can you describe your studio space and how the different disciplines create your environment?

CS: My studio is more of an incubator than a production facility. I use it as a space to research ideas and experiment with materials. Final pieces are often outsourced to printers, or built directly in the exhibition space.

PK: You often collaborate with performers, artists, and musicians; how does this outcome differ from your original vision?

CS: Actually, the collaborative work is more recent. In my individual practice I often work with others but their roles are very specifically defined. A musician is chosen because his or her work relates specifically to an idea I am working on. In this instance, it is less about engaging in a dialogue with this person to inform the direction of a piece than utilizing this person’s skills to realize my vision. In this working situation the outcome of a piece rarely differs from my original vision. I have, in recent years, formed specific collaborative projects: Bandwagon with Jose Ruiz and Really Large Numbers with Julia Oldham. These collaborations were formed based on similar interests and working processes, and the work produced is the result of a lot of dialogue. Final pieces are created with heavy input from both sides and may very well differ from where I initially imagined an idea might go.

PK: What projects are you currently working on?

CS: For the last year I have been working on a project called “An Adventure (in three parts).” “Part 1: The Journey” involved canoeing up the Hudson River from my studio in Brooklyn to Peekskill, NY under the auspices of finding the sublime through a solo adventure expedition. “Part 2: The Narration” involved retelling this journey from memory while getting tattooed with a piece I designed mapping the route I took up the Hudson. “Part 3: The Commemoration” will be a celebration one year after the initial journey.

In August, Really Large Numbers (a collaboration with Julia Oldham) will start a 5 month residency on Govenors Island through LMCC. We intend to study anomalies we find within the island’s history through the lens of our individual and collective practices.

I was recently in residence at I-Park in Connecticut where I built a series of installations across the 450-acre property that collectively turned the land into a ship. I produced a video of me navigating and exploring this ship, which I am currently editing.

I am working on a series of photos, video, and performances that document the launching and recovery of a model rocket.

I am co-directing an artist-run space with Jose Ruiz and Brian Balderston called Present Company. We present a busy schedule of exhibitions and performances throughout the year and will be involved in a couple art fairs this fall.

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