Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tom Sachs - A Golden Ticket

Tom Sachs
The studio entry way.

The Barbie slave ship is a mock up for a much larger version currently on exhibit in France

It contains a bar that employs a 'Cryogrog' system, involving Dust-off and agitated copper shot glasses to rapidly chill your beverage of choice.

Shots are dispensed through the stern of the ship via a network of matchbox car tacks.

Hand crafted ceramic 'NASA' bowls

Demonstrated here with BBQ chips

What  technology does this space-age capsule contain?

All the required sundry for a proper tea ceremony

Specimens from Mars

A subtle safety warning

This machine plays the Godfather and The Godfather II in a continuous loop.

Music starts automatically when you turn on the light.


Tom Sachs has been featured on D.A.D. twice before, first for his show “Work” at Sperone Westwater, and later for his incredible extra-planetary expedition Space Program Mars which was staged at the armory.  For more than a decade Sachs and his studio crew have steadily turned out an astounding array of objets d'art, everything from books, zines, paintings, movies, and sculptures to clothing, guns, vehicles, and even a spacecraft. 

In my aimless wandering of the city (as recorded on this site) I regularly walk by Sachs’ studio. Like an ersatz Charlie Bucket I have often tried to peek through the gate as I pass, hoping to catch a glimpse of just what was going on inside the chocolate factory.  Then a few weeks ago, a mutual friend (writer Sean Flaherty, who has known Tom for years) invited me to come through for a tour. I had found a golden ticket.

For Space Program Mars visitors were required to view a series of films and pass an 'induction' quiz in order to view all portions of the exhibit. I wanted to be properly prepared for my visit, so I began to study. I re-watched the entire Sachs studio film series (recommended viewing) and tried to memorize as much as I could. 

The movie “Ten Bullets” serves as both a training film and philosophical primer for Sachs studio employees. It is a highly entertaining introduction to Sachs uniquely transparent process of production. Somehow it both reveals the details of the studio’s inner-workings and helps to further mythologize it. While specific to his practice, the general themes of Ten Bullets could be usefully applied to almost any enterprise, and they have served me well as an aspirational model of personal discipline.  

Upon arrival I was a little nervous. I didn't want to violate the code. I wanted to show I was worthy of entering the sacred space. We were situated at the kitchen table with some Budweiser and BBQ chips. All around were the trademark custom-built and hand-labeled nooks for things. Everything had its proper place. The studio itself is like a giant installation piece, and in many cases the art and the tools used for its creation are virtually indistinguishable.

When Sachs emerged he set about preparing us some Cryogrog (rapidly chilled hard liquor) from an elaborate cooling system built into the hull of an enormous Barbie slave ship sculpture. The tour had begun. 

Throughout the complex Sachs crew bustled about. If Sachs is Wonka, they are his lithe and brilliant Oompa-Loopas.  Everyone seemed to carry their own quiet genius and was excited about their involvement in the work. Throughout the tour they would appear to explicate things they had helped construct and describe the bizarre requests they were tasked with, like procuring a specific make and model of van fender for use in a sculpture, or building a working stereo from scratch plywood. They shone with the pride that is unique to that rarest of qualities: competence.

Far from the taskmaster portrayed in Ten Bullets, Sachs, like his work, proved to be funny, complex, sincere, and brilliant. The strict discipline and obsessive organization of the studio seems to serve not only to maximize efficiency, but also as a protection against excuses, a way of keeping everyone (including himself) on task within a funhouse of creative problem solving. The studio serves as a sort of theater for a marathon performance of production. The process of making as much an art form as the objects themselves.

Every corner of the studio holds some amazing artifact with a storied provenance. Sachs lead us from room to room, demonstrating each wondrous contraption, explaining the hows-and-whys with reserved delight. Though humble and self-deprecating, he exudes an infectious enthusiasm that pervades the entire operation. There is a joyous satisfaction that comes with getting to put your full energy into doing exactly what you want to do, perhaps best captured in the words of Wonka himself: 

"Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.... He lived happily ever after."

For more on Sachs, I highly recommend you explore his website

Also, watch this great conversation recorded by Adam Savage for Tested.