The Artist Interviews Himself / by Rick Araluce

Rick Araluce: Most of what you do seems to have a narrative component. Do you draw from your own experiences, or is it an invention? 

Rick Araluce: Mostly invented. Much of what I do comes from my subconscious; archetypes, images, ideas. I’m trying to provoke universal associations and emotions within the viewer. I more want to suggest a story, than foist. A few works have a direct tie-in to my past, though. One little work I did a while back referred to when my mom made me try to drown a mouse in a garbage can in our garage when I was a little kid. It’s called The Mouse. There’d been an infestation--

RA: That sounds traumatic.

RA: Yeah. It didn’t drown, though, for those of you worried. It swam round and round and escaped....

RA: So, with the content of your work, you’re wanting the viewer to create the story, give them clues to a puzzle, give them the leeway to imagine a narrative of their own making.

RA: Bingo. 

RA: You seem to have a preoccupation with certain items in your work. The light bulb seems featured an awful lot. So does the old-fashioned telephone.

RA: Yeah. These forms are iconic. Each possesses a configuration I find to be a certain kind of perfection, and they seem to embody so many possible associations and allude to so many images, thoughts, ideas and emotions. I often use the lightbulb to suggest a presence, a soul. Sometimes a celestial body. The old telephone is anthropomorphic to me; seems imbued with characteristics that are human. Its proportions. It speaks. Its shape is almost fetal. As well it embodies the mystery of communication--

RA: And the doors, windows--

RA: Yeah. All these have metaphor and associations. I think I’m using that word too much. A door is pregnant with meaning and symbolism for me, and I think for most people. Same for the window. Or the clock. Or the crutch. And so on.

RA: Lot of wires and wall sockets, too. What does that tell us?

RA: The mystery of the wires. We know that electricity comes from hydroelectric dams, coal-fired plants, nuclear reactors, wind turbines and so forth, but still it beggars the mind to think on how ubiquitous it is! Everywhere. A trillion gazillion wires, relay boxes, cables, on and on. It’s like the neurons in your brain, the nerves in your body. And it is mysterious. Where do those wires come from? Where do they terminate? How long has the current been traveling and from how far away? There’s such a sense of vastness with it all, of potential. The cutaways I do with the walls and subfloor spaces are like anatomical cross sections showing those nerves and--

RA: Here’re the muscles. Here the blood vessels and bones.

RA: Yes! As a kid I used to draw cross sections of the body and geology and such. Always was fascinated with what is not seen, what lies just beneath the surface. And of course the same goes for the plumbing in my works. There's a fascination with infrastructure. I spend time thinking on a lot of things most people gloss over or don't consider at all. Where does that drain lead to? Does it go all the way to the sea? Does it wind up in some subterranean lightless pool? What about that old painted over, barred basement window in that old brick building? What goes on in there--has gone on in there? The window is mute. But it hints and suggests. At least to my mind's eye. You get it... 

RA: So much of what you do is minute. Where do you find the components? Doll house suppliers? Plastic model kits?

RA: No way, dude. I make all that stuff. The clocks, chairs, light bulbs, doors, windows--the whole deal. Everything. 

RA: Really. How?

RA: Ain’t going to tell. Trade secrets. I’ve spent years thinking up special methods to make a thing and then trying to put it into practice. It’s part of the challenge, part of the fun.

RA: Fair enough. But surely in the large installation works, you use salvage doors and such--like in your installation environment The Stolen Hours-- and, of course, the pipes for your Suyama Space installation--

RA: Wrong! Create all that stuff, as well. In The Stolen Hours I built the entirety of the sucker. The walls, doors, double-hung windows, bricks, the lintels above the doors. Even the linoleum floor and bird’s nest on the window sill. Okay, I got the light fixtures, door hardware and such from salvage. But I made the door threshold straps that screw into the floor and the little shelves for the picture frames! And for Uprising, The Suyama Space project, I created hundreds and hundreds of pipe fittings of all sizes and configurations from PVC, wood, foam, cheesecloth and glue! None of it is cast iron! The pipes are plastic; PVC, ABS, and paint. I even threaded a bunch of them to add to the realism. Took me six months to make all those thingies!

RA: That’s nuts--

RA: Yeah, I made those too, from scratch. They're wood. Ha! And the bolts. Like I said: everything. It actually kinda blew people's minds, to find it was all fake, I have to say. Messed with their expectations. A good thing for a work of art to do.

RA: It all looks so real--so substantial. And the unearthly sound coming from the pipe ends all over the piece. Such an intriguing contrast to the earthy solidity of your work. Tell me about Steve Peter's contribution to Uprising.

RA: Sure. I've known Steve since high school art class, back in the late 70s. He found me on Face Book many many years later after I moved to Seattle, where he too lives--

RA: No way!

RA: Way! Yeah. A happy Face Book story. We'd gone our separate ways after graduating. Anyway, he's a composer and artist with sound. He's done a bunch of truly intriguing sound works, often subtle and--as even he would say--almost not there. For Uprising, he placed several mics inside some of the pipes we were going to use at the beginning of the install, turned on "record" and let them go for the night. So you're hearing essentially the empty space with some of Steve's sound studio wizardry. There were nine separate speakers emitting nine separate compositions throughout the piece. And an ass-load of speaker wire. 

RA: You guys got an awful lot of good press on that work. The arts community was really supportive.

RA: Yeah. We did. People were awesomely complimentary. Nothing's come of it, however. Sadly. 

RA: What do you mean?

RA: No offers from other institutions to submit proposals for other site-specific works. We thought surely someone would want have us submit an idea or proposal, or even re-stage the work. Right now Uprising's in storage.

RA: That's too bad.

RA: Just how it goes sometimes, I guess. Who knows about the future, though. An email could pop up tomorrow...

RA: Tell me about your latest showing, The Minutes, the Hours, the Days, at Bellevue Arts Museum. How's that going?

RA: Pretty great. Not a lot of press notice so far, but tons of ecstatic response from the public and the arts community. These new works are really reaching people, which gives me a great big smile. Seems anyone can find something to dig in what I do. Those in the arts, academe, and those who simply "know what they like," kids, and everyone in between. No one's excluded. I try to create work that hits on themes Universal and human.

RA: You're essentially  self-taught, right? High school art classes, a little bit of junior college--

RA: You forgot Yale. Joking. 

RA: Cute. The works at BAM are a leap for you, technically speaking. Talk on that.

RA: Yes. They all employ multidisciplinary elements; sound, lighting, mechanical movement--more. It was quite a gamble to create these. After all, what if they don't work? There was some real anxiety. There was a deadline. A lot of time went into creating weird little motors and gizmos to make something happen. A lot of thought went into insuring they will work for years to come. The Longest Hours has by now been operating for a full year, when you put together the three exhibitions it's been part of. I need to be an inventor and engineer, as well as a visual artist-- 

RA: Like the little crutch that moves around in The Strange Pilgrimage.

RA: Zactly. I had a bit of help with some of these, though. My pal Scott Bennett helped big time with the little lightning storm and flickering lights in The Longest Hours. 

RA: How did you guys do that?

RA: The short story is that Scott used a thingy called an Arduino. A little microprocessor that can unite different technologies to create a system. Lighting, sound, motion, video, different sensors and what-not. We only used a fraction of its potential, but it really works. He also helped with some of the sound hardware in The Blind Trance and The Ancient Dream. A real great creative guy.

RA: The Blind Trance... How did you guys get the doors to rattle? Was it--

RA: Ain't tellin'. I'll let people guess. More fun that way.

RA: Are all the works digital or computerized, like The Longest Hours? 

RA: No, actually. The rest are all analog. Motors, lights, sound hardware, clever gizmos I thought up and fabricated.  

RA: Cool. So, what’s next?

RA: More of the same, I expect. I'll continue to push my own personal artistic and creative boundaries to create more cool stuff. That's a certainty. I’m forever crafting proposals for new installations and projects, thinking of new angles and applications. It'd be cool to bring some video elements to future works, along with other technologies. We'll see, I guess.

RA: Well, great chatting with you. Thanks for sharing some insights. 

RA: Any time, dude.

RA: Wanna go get a beers?

RA: Great idea.