Landon O'Brien

The objects I make reference stage and film production, heavy metal theatrics, and naive/personal new age ideologies. Impotent gestures that border on meditative, sad magic tricks revealed. When making work I think a lot about renaissance fairs.

Landon in his studio.

Landon in his studio.

Interview with Landon O'Brien

Questions by Sidney Mullis

Hi Landon. What’s your relationship to renaissance fairs? How do they influence your work?
Seeing a person drink a Dr. Pepper while wearing a gauntlet just does something for me I can’t fully articulate. Beyond the obvious anachronisms, I am interested in the synthesis of historical and fantasy elements. The idea of condensed time is also really fascinating – medieval elements existing simultaneously with the late renaissance for example. Everything all at once is an appealing idea. Like an arcane sounding riff being played on electric guitar.

From the images (above), the objects all seem to have kinetic energy. I think I see electric powered motors, flame, smoke machines, and more. Could you describe the kinetic aspects occurring in the pieces below?
In the first image, motors removed from vibrating massage pads (Relaxzen) were attached to bamboo. Programmable variable speed motor controllers were used to create distinct vibration patterns that looped. The intention was to evoke the effects of a light to moderate breeze.

The second object incorporated a modified smoke machine (added timer and auxiliary fog juice container) that occasionally emits a small puff of smoke into the gallery.

The last piece used pneumatic cylinders to raise and lower the attached log, banner, and candles. I believe it was on a 3-minute cycle (3 minutes up / 3 minutes down). In retrospect it probably would have been easier to use hydraulics rather than trying to synchronize pneumatic cylinders. You live and you learn.

Can you talk about how you choose materials to work with? How do you decide pairings of machine with material?
I like found objects. These are usually interesting bits of metal or weird pieces of wood, stuff that’s uniquely aged or hard to recreate. I sometimes include natural elements as well – plant trimmings, green onions, seedpods. The arrangements are based on material associations and mood. Trying to create a general feeling I guess. The mechanical elements create gestures to service that mood or feeling. The mechanical components themselves are also part of the aesthetic. Nothing is hidden.

Untitled , 2017. Branch, vase, water, lights, plastic, frame, pump, dimensions variable

Untitled, 2017. Branch, vase, water, lights, plastic, frame, pump, dimensions variable

Have you always tinkered with machines and mechanical elements? When did they become an important element to the work?
Tinkering has always been an interest. Growing up I had a junk collection of mechanical/electrical odds and ends harvested from things my brother and I had disassembled. But I think a large part of my interest at that point was superficial. I just liked how it all looked in a sci-fi prop sort of way. I’m not really sure when mechanical elements started being important to certain pieces. I had already been using simple things that plugged in like lights and speakers. It was just an extension of that.

Fantastic handmade candles regularly appear in your pieces. Could you speak to how you began making those and integrating them into your pieces?
Thank you! I started making candles several years ago and have really come to appreciate the process. It's repetitive and mindless in the best way and often a good place to start when I don’t know what I'm doing. I was thinking a lot about old horror film sets when I began making them (Hammer Horror films, Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death) as well as their various holistic and ritual applications/connotations. They are often the most traditionally "handmade" component in a piece, which lends them some emotionality. I kind of think of them as performers.  

Tell me about the Free Beer Podcast. How did it is start? What is it about? Where can I listen?
Free Beer, although we aren’t currently putting out episodes, is an Austin specific contemporary art podcast started by several friends and I. The initial idea was to make a website where art shows were reviewed solely by the quality (and quantity) of drink selection at openings – hence the knuckle dragging name. For better or worse that idea was never realized and we started a podcast instead. It was basically an excuse to talk to people whose work we liked while incorporating some more free from elements. This often resulted in questionable editing choices and varying degrees of listenability - in a good way.

You can listen to past episodes on iTunes or our website.

Sconce , 2017. Candle, metal, dimensions variable.

Sconce, 2017. Candle, metal, dimensions variable.

8. Tell me about the Live Actions you conducted in 2015. They seem to circulate around food in particular. 
Community of Food was a continually shifting performance duo that generally existed in a concert setting. Live audio was a primary focus though we often incorporated visual components (projections/various objects). I am fairly sure we canceled more shows than we played.  

You are a part of the art collective Ink Tank. How did this collab generate? How many members are part of the collective? How has the group evolved? 
I became involved with Ink Tank while working as a guard at the Blanton Museum of Art where I met and became friends with several other members. I had never worked collaboratively to that extent before and it and it was really rewarding to see what 12 people could accomplish. Our main focus has been large-scale event based installations that incorporate performance and viewer participation. We have made several singular objects as well. 

This is a photo from  Finalcon  at The Museum of Human Achievement;   a convention/maker fair with heavy TED Talk vibes that devolved into ritualistic sacrifice to a malevolent hand god.

This is a photo from Finalcon at The Museum of Human Achievement; a convention/maker fair with heavy TED Talk vibes that devolved into ritualistic sacrifice to a malevolent hand god.

Talk to me about your Vending Machine. How did you, your buddy Dave, and the vending machine end up on Shipping Wars? What was that experience like? How did making television pair with handling artwork?
The Vending Machine was a public art piece commissioned by Austin Art Alliance. It consisted of a repurposed Pepsi machine that was wired to play guided relaxation/mediation tracks we (Ink Tank) wrote and recorded. The whole thing was tongue-in-cheek, but for some reason it got traction in a weird way. We were interviewed live on Huffington Post then got an email from Shipping Wars. They wanted to take it to Chicago on a completely fabricated premise, which we agreed to if we (Dave Culpepper and I) could accompany it. The whole thing was pretty surreal and stupid.

Watch the Shipping Wars video here.

Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I am considering opening an Etsy store to sell candles.

Thanks for sharing your work and talking with us!

To find out more about Landon and his work, check out his Instagram.