Philadelphia artist Alex Da Corte loves taking pop products into far-off places and different media, from video and sculpture to photography and painting. Much of what he makes has the synthetic sheen of cheap capitalism, combining inexpensive products from 99-cent shops and WalMart. He loves 2-liter bottles of soda and decimating shitty chairs for the sake of sculpture. Even if he’s filming a crawlingly bleak video with a member from Passion Pit, he does so with a bright, poppy color sense that would match a formica kitchen set. Here, he tells us about his favorite places to shop and the virtues of suburban mega-stores.
I live in the city now, but your work really reminds me of growing up in the suburbs. Are you more inspired by the suburbs than the city? Yes, because I still live in the suburbs. I’m not fetishizing it in a way where I would go to a WalMart and feel like I’m putting these things under a microscope, as if it’s a natural history museum. I do feel like my work is anthropological, but I’m not so removed from it. I go and buy bulk toilet paper. If I were just living in the city and only eating at chichi little places, and then going to WalMart and looking at the stuff as if it were a zoo, I feel like that would be a problem. I think that I’m in it, and for my own sanity, when I go to these places and see the way they are laid out, and see the way they are lit, it’s depressing and completely overwhelming but at the same time it’s normal and nobody notices. At one point you kind of surrender to that too and you’re like, What’s the point of saying I’m not going to buy an XXL coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, because everyone else is. It would seem elitist to remove my art from that equation.
You’re more interested in the way the world really looks, not some idealized version. I just think that sometimes the art world in the city forgets that there’s the suburbs, or they say the suburbs are the armpit. But we need armpits. They’re good for sweating and all sorts of things.
Ryan Trecartin makes art about the suburbs, too. It feels like he really changed the way people’s eyes were turned, away from “well-designed” objects. I can’t give Ryan Trecartin all the credit. I think that there’s a million people who did that before him. Paul Thek, John Waters, Mike Kelley, Mike Smith, but yes, Ryan’s work is amazing and definitely different than a lot of other stuff out there.
Are your sculptures cheap to make? Yea, very cheap. I’m just always buying things.
Do you feel that you’re buying a lot of junk and turning it into something new? I’m not a humanitarian. I’m not trying to save these things—not in that sense. I think I’m just trying to think about them. When I’m buying stuff, I like items that were manufactured with mistakes, missing pieces and stuff, and they end up in a second hand store. And so, they are discarded, but still for sale.
And then you add value to junk-y things by making them art? Yes I do, but I think the thing about the work is that when I make something it has a moment of excitement when it becomes a form I didn’t know was there. And I’ve uncovered it the way someone would uncover a statue in a block of marble, but it can easily become junk again. If one of my pieces doesn’t leave the studio and I look at it too much, I just take it apart and put the materials back into the mix. I throw so much of my work out. Or I dismantle it. That’s why the studio is really this mixing pot.
You work across multiple media. Are they all easy for you to do? I don’t know if it’s about ease so much as it’s about whatever the project calls for. I’m still a big advocate of sculptures, because I’m a strong advocate of being in the world and not being in the digital world. Videos and photos and paintings all cater to just sharing and Tumblring. It’s all flat. So I think my favorite thing is a sculpture.
But everything is, in some ways, indebted to painting. I care a lot about the history of painting and color in that sense. I was watching the Olympics and I don’t think I noticed any of the sports, but I felt myself responding to the aerial views of all the players. Like the gymnasts were painted red, which was amazing.
What’s your favorite product? Can I say ketchup, or can that only be Warhol’s? I really think ketchup is perfect.
Does your taste in everything skew pop? Do you like Britney Spears over, like, Philip Glass? I love Britney Spears. I was thinking the other day, I love the Pixies, but I don’t think my work is like the Pixies. Pop is important to my work: I love the part in that Rihanna song where she just repeats, Cake, cake, cake, cake. There is no logic to it, but it doesn’t matter. I like the way in which these common, pop words are strung together to make something else. Repetition is important to me. If I listen to a Justin Bieber song, I’m going to listen 700 times.