At home in Aspen: Anderson Ranch’s Virtual Art Salons
Tom Sachs took a virtual Anderson Ranch Arts Center crowd of 200-plus on a tour of his makeshift home art studio Tuesday.
Earpods in, phone in hand, from Queens, New York, the artist took participants around to the stations where — over the past 11 weeks — he has been making stuff with what he has. Viewers got a peak at the small box of materials Sachs took home from his studio in mid-March thinking he’d be back in a few days. They browsed his record collection (Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” was on the turntable) and glimpsed in-progress pieces from his ongoing stay-home project: a series of celebrity “portraits” on Styrofoam Cup O’Noodles containers (the new ones he shared with the Ranch audience included Jackie Kennedy and Steve Jobs).
“You can say you saw it here first,” he said with a laugh.
The Zoom- and Facebook Live-hosted event was the latest in the Ranch’s Virtual Art Salon series, running for free on Tuesdays and bringing together artists, educators and the Ranch community. Artists brings work to discuss, they talk craft and philosophy and quarantine creativity, and they take questions.
Sachs detailed how he used the concept of “in-situation resource utilization” (ISRU) in his work, adapting NASA’s practice of using found objects on other worlds for exploration. He showcased his Instagram-famous junk drawers and expanded a bit on his interest in them — he called them the place for things “too valuable to throw away but too worthless to put in its proper place” — and shared a video he cut during quarantine with his studio team. Part exercise video, part creative mission statement, part comedy, it details his studio philosophy of using ritual and routine to uncork creativity. The Sachs team, working separately at home, does push-ups to fatigue and then attempts to draw a straight line — a stay-home version of part of their studio routine — and he invited viewers to try it at home, growing the ranks of people who’ve been joining the Sachs cult during quarantine.
His online community-building initiatives are just beginning, Sachs indicated.
“I think this work will continue for years,” he said. “It’s bonded our studio team and it’s expanded it.”
Anyone who has attended any live virtual events — from happy hours to concerts to musical theater — during the stay-home period has experienced their limitations. But these salons are the rare virtual happening that can enhance the experience it’s replacing, rather than just approximating it.
The in-person artist talks of the past at Anderson Ranch generally followed the straight-forward format of an onstage interview or lecture, sometimes with a slideshow. Though you’re not in the same room at the Virtual Art Salon, the viewer sees the same thing they would at the in-person version while also, for example, virtually joining Tom Sachs on a tour of his studio, looking at his half-finished projects and his creative environment.
What you miss out on is a visit to the Ranch’s idyllic Snowmass campus, meeting new people in the audience at Schermer Meeting Hall, maybe a post-talk meal at the Ranch café — elements anyone who has experienced them surely misses now. And these virtual events are prone to now-familiar digital speed bumps — the occasional accidental muting, unsynced audio/video and spotty internet connections (Sachs’ event was postponed due to the valleywide outage earlier this month). But the Ranch’s virtual programs have their own unique joys and seem to bode well for the summer ahead, when the Ranch has dropped its signature on-campus workshops for virtual ones.
Upcoming salon guests include photographer Elinor Carucci, who has drawn attention for sharing a photo diary of herself in isolation over the past two months.
Preceding Sachs in the salon lineup was Simon Haas, who with his twin brother and creative partner Nikolai, has become a fixture on the Anderson Ranch campus in recent years.
Best known for the furry and playful anthropomorphized furniture he makes with his brother, Haas has spent the stay-home stretch focused on digital 3-D modeling and digital drawing.
“I’m finding it a great way to handle sculpture — to look at it as a picture,” he said.
At his salon event, the Los Angeles-based Haas shared recent digital drawings of Ben Affleck, continuing his interest in celebrity while directly responding to the stay-home coronavirus culture, in which paparazzi photos of a sullen Affleck smoking cigarettes and wearing a mask have bounced around social media and sparked daily digital discourse.
“I’ve been loving making pictures of him smoking cigarettes during quarantine, and I love making images of something that could only exist right now,” Haas said of the charcoal-like iPad drawings. “I am attracted to him, but I also find it sad.”
The experience with digital drawing has reshaped how Haas works.
“I’m finding the more I bounce back and forth between physical and digital drawing, the more I am training my eyes to understand the properties of an image,” Haas said. “It is changing my whole aesthetic, actually.”
Haas will be teaching a digital drawing class for the Ranch online this summer, building off his focus on them during the stay-home period.
“I was already introspective with my work,” he told the online Ranch audience. “But it’s going more that way. And more than anything it’s changed my medium toward the digital.”
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