Interview with Jeff Huckleberry

This past November, MEME featured an exhibition of work by Boston performance artist Jeff Huckleberry. We’ve known Jeff for a few years now, seen his work many times in many different places, but never in the white cube exhibition format. You can see more photos of the show in the MEME Vault.

Sandrine: Who are you?
Jeff Huckleberry: I am a 40 year old white male living in Boston. I have spent 8 years total in art school, 23 years as a professional bicycle mechanic, 14 years as a father, (so far…If I can just keep him out of that car full of drunk high school friends doing 100mph on Rt. 2) and 15 years as a husband. I have had many cool but hurtin’ cars in my life, the most current is a slowly dying white VW Jetta from 1996. My father in-law collects Buick Roadmasters.

S: Where are you from?
JH: Originally, Loveland Colorado (0-17) though now, Boston. (17-40)

Phil:  How long have you been making performance?
JH: Fall of ’89…wow, 20 years.?

P:  I’ve noticed that in most of your performances/installations you have a similar set of materials that you work with. What brought you to these materials and what compels you to continue working with them?
JH: There are a few materials that really stimulate the brain/body/art/ connection for me: wood (especially saw dust), loud/low/abstract sound, some aggressive liquid that hurts when you pour it on your self, paint and dangerous tools. Those materials have become, over the years, things that I would be very sorry to be without.

I started working with lumber when I was working on my thesis show in 2003. I was exploring some of the “characters” that were/are directly involved with my development as a person, namely my Dad, his father (a master carpenter), and my Scout Master. Sometimes when I see my shadow on the street I get startled and think that my Dad is standing next to me. That shadow is often represented by pieces of lumber, or by the activity of cutting boards, or by the smell of saw dust, or most directly, by the sweat dripping off my nose while bent over some impossible task. The lumber, if it represents anything other than itself, is the hard work of making work. The lumber is also very much a kind of minimalist art project that could be viewed as separate from its possible meanings and interpretations (impossible?). Lumber, in all shapes and sizes has the potential for any number of possible physical relationships. Wood is one of those materials that will accept me no matter how ineptly or masterfully I interact with it. So, I keep using it.

I also often use paint and other authentic “work” and “art” materials in performances. One of my earliest performances in school involved painting myself different colors with acrylic paint, so I have been doing that for a long time. Using paint in performance (usually by painting my body or pouring it over myself) has a twofold utility; on the one hand, it visually joins (big P) Painting with (little p) performance by providing an entry point into a conversation about the location of art making, surface and object. It also has the added and not insignificant effect of feeling really great: this “feeling”, or physical sensation is a primary ingredient in structuring my physical and mental space to accommodate the process of performance. (I also think it looks really cool!)

P: In the last few pieces I’ve seen you perform, black and white paint?has been incorporated in a variety of ways. It seemed to reference some form of duality that you take on in the work, is that even remotely correct?
JH: Yes. And no. It is kind of an attempt to collaborate with myself (splitting myself into two people and then uniting again in the shared task of the performance) and also to have a conversation about grey. With respect to the activity of performance, it visually describes the “liminal” space of performing, though, to be fair, I don’t think it is doing a very good job of that so I am trying to figure something else out. The black and white paint primarily goes with my most recent performances, “broken(a.)” and “broken(b.)” and “Expected Outcomes” which will eventually become one larger performance.

P: In your most recent show at the MEME gallery, you started using color paints in addition to the black and white, why?
JH: They’re colorful! All of the drawings I had made of those little 2×2 frames had color paint in them. I just wanted them to be active and “beautiful”. When I went looking for paint at the art store, I was most attracted to the fluorescents, so I used those, and to that construction orange. Which by the way is the same color for the robes the Buddhist monks in Laos and Cambodia wear. Work = Worship? ?

S: How did the work evolve in “A beautiful Art Show for you”?
JH: It started by just bringing all of the materials I was interested in using down to the space, plus the usual assortment of performance materials I usually bring to events. Then I started to get involved in making a bunch of wood objects that I have had in my sketchbooks over the last couple of years. For some reason, I made a bunch of things that were roughly 2’x 2’. I worked on some video in the space, which I eventually decided did not really make sense with the rest of the show. I knew at some point that I would want to put paintings on the wall that would drip down onto the floor, so I made a bunch of those. I started concentrating on objects that would have some use, or be active while people were at the opening/closing and I worked out a couple of actions that could be used if I decided I needed to do something in the space while people were there. Then I brought that old black and white video camera down thinking that I could have a live feed of some of the boxes projected onto the wall. I think that worked to join some of the ideas I had together, especially the early 70’s style of performance and minimalist sculpture I was experiencing making myself.

S: Who was the Beautiful Art show for?
JH: You. (and me.) And Rose Hill.

S: At the closing, you created a performance that had a “soundtrack,” from the B-movie, “Bucket of Blood”.  How did you arrive at the decision to use this sound for your piece?

JH: I had run through a lot of sound options, and I was listening to some movies that I had recorded the audio from that I have used in sound performances in the past. I was listening to “Bucket of Blood” and laughing to myself about how it was so appropriate, especially considering I was really trying to be a real artist and make sculptures and paintings. So that just sort of happened during the opening/closing, I knew it went with that action.

P: Tell me about one experience that has influenced, inspired or effected your performance work.
JH: Watching my dad (and helping him) work hard on the weekends in the back yard. This is fundamental.

P: What is your favorite performance you’ve ever seen?
JH: Here is a list in no particular order:

• That Grey Wolf (Survival of the Fittest, 2007) performance by Marthe Fortun and Yoonhye Park at Contaminate2

• Julie Andre T. at One Gallery with the tea kettles screaming and her rolling on the floor and the buckets of liquid and all of the awesomeness, or her climbing the carpet up to the ceiling in Beijing, or any performance really.

• Persephone and Hades with Mari Novotny-Jones and David Miller, Directed by Marilyn Arsem, where I fell asleep and woke up thinking I was still dreaming
• A David Miller performance at Mobius in the 90s. (I can’t remember the title)
• “The Painter” video/performance by Paul McCarthy (one of my all time favorite pieces…)

• Some performances by Andre Stitt that I will never see in person, but would really like to.
• Three Ulay and Abramovic performances: where they walk into each other repeatedly, where they move the walls by walking into them, and where they stand naked face to face in the doorway of the gallery.
• A performance by Jamie McMurry that I have only seen on video where he topples three huge plywood pillars onto himself.
• Most bike races, but especially the spring classics.
• A performance by Arti Grabowski where he gets onto a chair and chops the legs out from under himself with an ax. Brilliant!
• Anything Alastair MacLennan does. I just like paying attention to him.
• There are more! I don’t have room and I am leaving people out! Sorry! I’ll make a longer list…Deva Eveland controlling all of us from the trunk of the car in the IBC parking lot. Anaise Nadair destroying that couch at TEST. Paul Waddell in anything he does, Kid Epicene making me scared for her life by crawling across a busy street in the middle of the night in a black plastic bag…And on and on and on…Travis Fuller Ghost Killa! Ahhhh!

P: Favorite death metal band?
JH: Cannibal Corpse, Kataklysm, Amon Amarth, a couple of Agoraphobic Nosebleed “songs”, new Celtic Frost…I tend to like it fast and aggressive. Sorry.

S: Final words/thoughts GO!
JH: WORDS!!!!!!