Dan Bainbridge, American b. 1976 in Dubuque, Iowa, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He holds a BA from Clarke College (2002) and an MFA in Studio Art from Illinois State University (2006). He makes mixed-media objects, assemblages, and collages, and is active as a performance artist; he co-founded collectives Monkey Mop Boy and French Neon (an artist collective, a salon, and nomadic gallery). Dan Bainbridge has had two solo shows at ART 3 Gallery in Bushwick (2015 & 2017) and his works have been featured in many group shows in New York since he moved to the city in 2006, including Casino Cabaret at Safe Gallery (2016), The Librarians at the Queens College Art Center (2013) and in Pyramid Scheme curated by Nat Ward in Brooklyn (2014).
Bainbridge’s interdisciplinary practice culminates in this exhibition featuring sculptural works that are interactive and meant to be played with. Stroke and pluck the mother unitars with their primitive single strings attached to their animal amplifier offspring by electrical umbilical cords. A vibrational birthing, producing, emitting, reverberating. Overhead, tiny, kinetic flies orbit and buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz to the point of delirium. Everything in the universe is vibrating and these artworks become one by joining in. One of the sutras of the Aquarian Age says, "Vibrate the cosmos and the cosmos shall clear the path". Clearing the path could be a mystical parting of the clouds—but it could also be an avalanche, a lava flow, a tidal wave, an earthquake. The pink bird, the cardboard dog, the suspended whale, the owl, the hyena bust, these musical sculptures set the stage for a potential performance. The bugs are the audience, the observers, bearing witness to the chaos and conjuring.
Interview with Dan Bainbridge
Questions by Emily Burns
Hi Dan! Can you tell us a bit about your background and what motivated you to become an artist?
After high school I went to the University of Northern Iowa to wrestle. I randomly took a sort of visual inventions course with Frje Echeverria where I fell in love with bamboo brush painting. After many more painting courses and almost getting a philosophy degree, I took a hiatus from college and ended up on the Big Island of Hawaii for two years. I was working manual labor for Graham Ellis who ran Hiccup Circus. He gave me the opportunity to build and perform a bed of nails act for an Arabian Nights theme party (this was my first taste of performance art and prop building).
When did you begin to make work that is reminiscent of what you are making now?
I went to Illinois State for my MFA where I started do performance art and props that were reminiscent of what I am making now. Gary Justis influenced me to start doing Kinetic art and I started to incorporate animal imagery and figurative realism into my work. I began to see the interactive kinetic sculptures as performative.
Can you walk us through the stages of planning and making an artwork of your choice, in terms of the evolution of the idea to the finished piece?
For Rotisserie Pig Drum, I was wrangling together a performance for a gallery opportunity and I was trying to coerce my nephew Carter Nyhan (whose was ten years old at the time) into being the drummer for the climax rock song part of the crescendo. He requested that the drum be a big plastic pig that has electrical sensors/pads on all sides of the pig. I agreed to make a pig but changed the idea to an electronic rotisserie pig drum that rotates around as he plays behind. I wanted the pig to look naturalistic so I referred to a couple of real pigs feet from a butcher and made some preliminary scale drawings based off of photos from the internet...google searching rotisserie pigs and studying YouTube videos and the movie Babe. I engineered the pig to rotate around but still be functional for the drummer boy.
How does sound function as part of the work?
A crescendo of sound is usually an important element in the performances. Some of the newer animal sculptures have speakers and amplification integrated within the forms. A recent sound innovation is the orbiting animatronic lightning bug that flies around in a circle. The motor is off an arm that extends from the top of a 8’ tall guitar. I found that the movement of the bug flying around can add texture to the hollow guitar sort of in the way a vibraphone works or wind coming out of a cave.
If a piece incorporates music, where does the music come from?
It depends on the performance. The last performance we did was at The Culture Club in DUMBO. All the music was electrically amplified. We covered The Amps - “Breaking the Split Screen Barrier”. Erin Lee Jones sang, Matt Shalzi played the baby drum set and electronic owl drum sculpture while wearing a monkey helmet (it looked like a little brown monkey was playing the drum set), and Wes Ulfig was playing the 1 string guitar (Unitard) with the lightning bug attached. Erin had a microphone underneath her costume and her mask had a mouth that moved like a ventriloquist dummy.
In Bushwick Daily, Kate Killary wrote, “For all their whimsy and absurdity, the works also appear vulnerable, unsettling and even repulsive, as if something is lurking.” Is this combination of often at-odds reactions to your work something you are seeking from the viewer?
Yes, the work I’m most proud of has an unexpected function...a secret agenda. I made a cat sculpture that is laying on its side with a plastic refillable dish within its torso. The cat itself is really cute but at my last opening I put bacon and dog food in the dish and visiting dogs to the show were actually eating out of the cats belly.
Are any actual animals incorporated into your work?
I don’t use actual animals in the sculptures but I sometimes feature them in my videos and soundtracks.
Are there any particular animals or mythological creatures that you reference often?
Yes. A lot of the animals I reference are pretty specific. Some lasting only for a series and some staying constant. Lucy is my friend’s chihuahua—she is an ongoing muse, Lyuba is a baby wooly mammoth mummy that stemmed a whole series of work, and I’ve used She-Wolf (Romulus and Remus) in my work on and off over the last fifteen years, Paco, is a twinkie-eating bison I found on YouTube.
The creatures are incredibly lifelike—how do you achieve this?
Material surrealism. Using paint to match, photo references, sensitivity to materials, using weathered found objects, not using them conceptually but using them in a painterly way. When I am able to get the various materials to blur—they create illusion (like in paintings) and there’s a charge that I am looking for.
Many of your sculptures or installation pieces contain quite a variety of different objects and materials. Where do these materials come from?
A lot of my materials are found...my friend Travis Krupka often brings me things he finds on the street or clothes his daughter outgrew. I once found a five pound bag of quartz crystals in a pile of junk...someone was moving out. Electronics, musical components, led lights, hot glue, paint, fake fur are all purchased. I love the guitar store Pentatonic in Greenpoint.
Are there any overarching themes that you keep returning to in your work?
Dark humor, vulnerability, power, psychedelia, intoxication, consumption, realism, mental dysfunction, friendship, feminism, Monkey Mop Boy.
Who are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
Ellen Cantor, Carolee Schneemann, Gavin Kenyon, Neil Hamburger, Erin Lee Jones, Travis Krupka, Bill Traylor, I just saw the Cathy Wilkes show at PS1, Gelatin, Rachel Harrison, David Altmejd, Pre-Columbian art.
What type of studio scenario do you need to get work done?
A huge chaotic mess and a muse.
Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio?
I really love loud music in the studio but my neighbors complain.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
I listen to Big Black, The Amps, Landed, Fugazi, Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon songs). Music is important.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Gummo by Harmony Korine. Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker.
Can you tell us a bit about your workspace? What are absolute necessities in the studio?
My studio is Hawkeye Crates. Paper and writing utensils for writing songs/poetry, hot glue, liquids.
How do you navigate distraction or lack of motivation while working?
I don’t. I’m often distracted and have a lack of motivation. Deadlines are what I use to accomplish things... I create in waves.
How important is the place where you live to your studio practice? This could include geographic location, city, neighborhood, community, etc.
I live in Chinatown and my studio is in Bushwick. Riding my bike over the Williamsburg bridge everyday is probably what keeps me relatively healthy.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
“Be true to yourself and you will never fall.” –Beastie Boys.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us!