Luke Armitstead

Interview by Robert Yoder


In your mid-term you mentioned the damaged body and the built environment. I’m really curious what a damaged body is.

A damaged body represents the work I’m making right now. I’ve had a lot of stressful health issues in my stomach and in my gut, so the body has has been sort of a good way for me to address my pain and then create a body, a damaged body, with the sculpture.

Are they self-portraits?

Yeah, I think they are self-portraits in a way. I’m tapping into building a damaged body that stems from my own sensations where this hurt and pain happens. Trying to manifest some of the pain into a sculpture and referencing bodily forms in the process. I’ve looked at the word sensate, which is being attentive to bodily sensations. I’m trying to build these sort of bloated features and to be descriptive and sculpt a damaged body.

It’s interesting you said bloated because so much of the work is so linear or skinny. For a lack of better words, it has a sickly appearance to it. And then there seems to be this whole secondary path where the materials that you’re using really do reference more of an object or an item, they’re not a human or animal figure whatsoever. Is there an ultimate goal to have the the two of them completely merge or is it nice that they’re on parallel tracks?

I don’t think that is important for me because I work with abstraction. I like what you said about them being linear, sickly, and skinny. I think it doesn’t need to be directly a body. I work with abstract expressionism, and these are expressions of internal bodily things rather than, you know, creating a figure.

There’s a lot of them that look like they have legs, and maybe more legs than necessary, but they do look like some sort of living creature.

I think creature-like, you know, using architectural supplies like discarded rebar from construction sites. It was nice using a lot of these items to create features of the internal body.

With the features of internal construction too. You never see rebar in the finished product.

No, no, same that you’d never see the muscles and the blood vessels. I think visceral is a good word. So I sculpt viscerally and use improvisation and directness with my own interpretation of what a body is. Maybe I’m in fantasyland thinking I’m creating bodies, but it’s really like more of my visceral understanding of what a body is.

And a weird hybrid of it all. You can be one or the other, or be a little bit of each, I guess. There was a piece I just saw you post maybe yesterday or the day before, it’s the Coca Cola bottle. I’m really attracted to that. I think that piece is probably pulling everything together concisely and in a way that this two year period has finally congealed to create. I’m assuming it really is a one liter Coke bottle or something like that?

It was actually a two liter Coca Cola bottle. So it was a manipulated cola bottle and then I wrapped concrete around it with some foam to make it lighter. I was thinking about concrete as this clogging material that’s sort of maybe cancerous or something. Thinking of my body and these things that clog things.

It’s a lovely piece. It seems that it’s so ambiguous as to whether or not it’s some weird artifact from another past that we’re just discovering, or some kind of item that will be an artifact 100 and something years from now. When I’m looking at it, I can’t pinpoint when it’s from or where it’s from, or anything like that, but it is totally a human made thing. It’s like this does not exist in nature, but it’s impossible to tell how it exists. And so that leaves a lot for me to go back and try and figure out over and over. And I think that’s the mark of something successful when you have to return to it and you get answers, but they just make more questions.

I took the heat gun and it shrunk it down and dipped it in that black tar like stuff. And then on the very end of it I put some foam and then I wrapped it in concrete with fiber around it and wrapped plastic around that so it suffocates it. I let it dry and the concrete hardened and so it’s just stuck to the end of the bottle.

So it’s almost like one of those Weeble Wobbles toys. There’s another one, some kind of gun, I forget.

It’s a rocket launcher.

That’s it. That has an ambiguous time attached to it, and it’s that kind of crusty thing that you would find randomly digging in the garden and not know where or how it existed. But it’s totally something that is man made in that it looks like what it’s supposed to be. But it doesn’t, so yeah, again, this disruption of what time period it could be from. Is time something that you were conscious of when you’re working on these?

Yeah. My main goal would be to be seen or heard, it’s like somehow, someway I sort of see them as messages. I hope to say how my gut feels with cola. So it’s like here, this is what a bottle could say you know, or with the rocket launcher thing. It’s sort of just be like, I can show the ridiculousness in weapons.

It can be a punch line.

Yeah, I guess. And it can be a poem or a story about just ridiculousness. But I’m also thinking about time. I’m definitely thinking about the past and also the future, I try to avoid thinking about the now.

It requires a different way of looking and a different way of thinking about your subject. If you’re not just going to react to “Oh my god, there’s a virus going around and I better make art about a virus” kind of thing. Instead, you can make art about a bigger issue that can be viewed from that viewpoint that has a more universal appeal or quality to it. If you’re making stuff about you, of course it’s important to you, but it’s hard to make that important to everyone else.


But if you’re making art about stuff that’s universal, then it becomes easier to make those connections and have conversations. Is that what “a” body versus “the” body meant?

I think I haven’t really thought about those two as separate. I think I would hope for it to transfer to paranoia. I think that there’s a lot of paranoia in creating a body. Being mentally paranoid about cancer or just health, it doesn’t always have to be physical pain. I hope to connect with other people because the more I talk about my body, then the more I hear other people say the same. I’m trying to be human with it.

Right. We all have experience with an ache or pain. There’s empathy involved. I can understand if your shoulder hurts and my foot hurts. It’s not the same thing, but it’s similar, so it’s easy to understand what that is. You had mentioned something about a truthful disgust of the body, and I think it’s an interesting thing to be in it and to be disgusted by it at the same time. It seems like you’re able to disassociate your physical issues with your creative issues. And that they can coexist and they can create a support system for each other. I think that’s the support system that you can use to produce one and use the other to discover answers about the first one.

I remember the first time I started making bodily artwork while at grad school. I sort of felt a little bit like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sure, I want to interact with architecture, but my work isn’t architecture, and so how can I be the most truthful? I was dealing with stomach issues, and I felt this deep resting sort of pain in my intestines, and I was like, am I feeling these things about construction and architecture and the state of the world? With all the issues with that and modern wasteful living, I was like, how can I describe this through my body? And I actually tried to draw and create a ceramic object that represented this pain. It was the flat specimen one that ended up droopy like, with a stomach thing that I put in it, and it was a direct representation of my stomach. Using concrete to represent the shit that I feed myself and for the allergies that are in my body.

This becomes work that recalls pain but you do it regardless,

Yeah, I’m just thinking about working in construction. You know there’s plumbing everywhere, there’s walls, and it really reminded me of a body and also the building systems that we use to produce a functioning building with electrical wiring and stuff. There’s so many connections between the houses that we build, the buildings that we live in, and our body. I just felt a truth in this relationship.

I think there’s a belief that the piping and the wiring and the interior construction of a building is some kind of really beautiful poem that’s elegant and concise. I think, not knowing how to actually do that, if I were to create it, it would not be that elegant, it might operate, but it would be a lot less perfect. And I think the same with inside your body where you’re not going to make the perfect nervous system or the perfect digestive system, but you will make one that represents what you think it must be. You’re going to make it adapt to the system that you need or the system that you’re capable of producing, so I think it’s an interesting way to think of the body and the construction because they’re both systems. And without that real education of how they operate, it’s kind of a free for all, you can put the water pipes wherever you want to.

I want to add something to this, too. I see something with internal recycling among these buildings; we knock them down and we put fences up so people can’t see, and no one sees us digging or shipping them off to the dump. So with them being hidden, like human forms, I’m trying to let it come out of the mold. These pipes and stuff are raw and I want to show a little bit more of the disgust. And maybe that’s like the truthful disgust of the body or the built environment. Articulated into more pain to be seen.

Right, there’s an honesty in showing it. We hide it or disguise it until it’s ready for presentation. That’s the way construction often works, you don’t see in because they put up fences or whatever so that you’re not seeing the interior. We don’t know the parts of it and then, suddenly, there’s a facade and you have a building. Let me ask you, where do these artworks show? Should they be in a strip mall or should they be in a huge field where there’s more or less nothing behind them, or in a white cube? Do they get made with the intention of where they would ideally be seen?

You know, I think it’s a little bit of everything. Right now I’m making this larger piece for my thesis. It is probably most likely made for the gallery. If I were to bring that outside, I don’t think that it would be the safest thing for it. I would love to interact what I’m doing now with architecture, instead of it being movable. What if I were to to set the bottom pieces in the concrete on the ground and have a piece stretching up and set it into a concrete wall or combine it with preexisting architecture?

I was just imagining that with the thesis piece; if it were in a courtyard, say, and just shoved right up against the building, almost as if part of it was going in and then the feet were going down. How would that interact or create a third space where suddenly you could walk under it and and be very enclosed because the existing architecture would also start pressing on you, in a way. I think attached to a building somehow could be really exciting. And if that’s just a white cube to hold it, that’s fine, because that would be just enough to support it. What are your plans after graduation?

I don’t have any plans, I’m going to be staying here but looking for work. There’s definitely teaching, but also I thought it would be cool to do landscape construction for design / build.

It would be a good fit for you.

Yeah, like learning how to do masonry and learning some gardening skills.

So how do you adapt those ideas to fit your studio work?

I guess that’s what the work thing will be: alright Luke, you’re still an artist, so how do you make enough money?

That’s great. Is there anything else you need to say?

You know, I’ve been very direct with this body of work. I’m excited to open my mind a little bit and open up my work again after school.

That’s excellent. Because I think that this two year period, the MFA period, is great for you to really focus on one or two things and learn to grow from those things. But it’s not something that should set the rest of your future.

Hopefully we all continue to evolve and do new things.

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