In Conversation with Alex McKenzie

The multi-disciplinary artist on inspiration, process, and his latest projects.

McKenzie's Super G Gym, a public gym installation set up inside an international foods market.

McKenzie's Super G Gym, a public gym installation set up inside an international foods market.

What projects have you been working on lately?

For the last year and a half I have been expanding my practice to approach art making in a more interdisciplinary manner. My background is in painting but I often engage in performative, audio/video, and socially collaborative works. Focusing on themes of endurance, function, time, and social interaction the work has a structural basis. Every project or piece begins with a framework; rules are made, limitations are set and then what occurs in that space becomes the product, regardless of the result. The emphasis on predetermined structures is a way of removing myself, not entirely, but narrowing my influence throughout the piece’s development.

Lately I have been busy with two large undertakings, most recently my first show in NYC and before that a month long project entitled Train With Me: The First Annual Super G Marathon. “Train With Me…” was a project completed while participating as a resident at The Super G Experiential Residency Program in Greensboro North Carolina. It consisted of setting up a public gym inside of a international foods market and exercising 6 days a week for the month long duration of the project. The gym was intimate but adequate containing a treadmill, bench press, exercise bike, stability ball, a mat, and a small selection of free weights. Beyond my own endurance based display within the space the project had a social emphasis. Over the course of the residency 46 customers, vendors, and visitors to the super market joined the gym, some participated briefly as passersby while others began to frequent the space as regulars.

The project culminated with a marathon on November 2nd. The route of the run was a reflection of the social interactions and community within the market. In place of the standard 26.2 miles of a marathon I collected 26 home addresses of individuals with whom I had interacted, and then plotted the shortest route between them. It took close to 6 hours but in the end myself and 4 other participants completed the run.

What writers/artists do you find most inspiring?

I find myself walking a line between two worlds that often conflict, I have descended from a camp of object makers but have constantly been allured to artworks that don’t place an emphasis on material but rather action. That said, I am most inspired by artists like Francis Alys, John Cage, Allan Kaprow and anyone else who tends to admire structure, the power of chance, and social interaction.

What do you aim to achieve in creating artwork?

I am a young artist and a lot of the time I see my work as being about doubt; painting and repainting, building and rebuilding, creating scenarios for new experience and therefore learning. I am aware of how little I know and these “experiments in experience” are all just ways of questioning the standing structures in the world and my role within it.

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On your website, you said that each work in the collection of RBS drawings works to form a message, a sort of "formal language." Could you tell us more about this?

As I said I do have a diverse practice, and that does still include a visual body of work. The RBS drawings serve as a sort of foundation for the visual vocabulary that is used in my paintings. Each image is developed through a specific process of translation involving first creating a large image on a large 8’x8’ geoboard out of rubber bands. That image then serves as a stimulus and is elaborated, translated, or negated in the form of a small five by five inch drawing (the series is composed of 1000 total). These drawings then become the elements that are used within my paintings.

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What is Conversations from Yesterday?

Conversations from Yesterday is a body of work I have been sporadically developing over the last year and a half. For each piece I construct a social encounter between two individuals. Generally the participants are provided food in a public location and their interaction is recorded (audio only) for roughly 30 minutes. Exactly 24 hours later I return to the location and play the audio back via a portable stereo making that once private interaction accessible within the space it originally developed.

I think the main impulse behind the piece is quite simple. It’s a chance to revisit something that normally leaves little to no document. The process of creating, removing, and returning is a sequence that is recycled in many of my works. However when dealing with audio it doesn’t communicate the same metaphor of struggle and doubt. I think its much lighter, much more childlike akin to dreams of time travel and late night stories told to us in bed. The works enable us to play the role of the fly on the wall without ever having to fear the swatter.


See more of Alex McKenzie's work on his website.