Installation Shot of IMOCA Exhibit by Brose Partington, 2010

American artist Brose Partington
In conversation with Leah Stuhltrager
Berlin, June 2011

Brose Partington @ DS Berlin Residency, 20
LS: You arrived in Berlin on the heels of making the decision to focus on your art career and leave your full time job. What is needed to succeed as a professional artist?

BP:  I would define myself as a contemporary artist who reinterprets ideas of the past to represent the now. To accomplish anything fully, one needs to focus all their effort to it. I am giving myself opportunity to be a full time, contemporary artist.

LS: Is there a difference between a contemporary artist, commercial artist and a fine artist?

BP: I think the reality is that a contemporary artist is both a fine artist and a commercial artist.

LS: How do you incorporate contemporary ideas or materials into your work?

Brose Partington @ DS Berlin Residency, 2011
BP: There is a history to the “Age of Technology” period we now live in that is pivotal to defining what is contemporary. In my work, I physically use older, antiquated, primal mechanisms that are the foundation of newer, advanced, modern electronics. This conceptually transports past technology ideas into the present and reconnects an object with its purpose.

Throughout all my works, I examine the disassociation of form and function in today‘s culture. Without understanding how a machine works fundamentally - its basic structure and what enables it to function - we only know what these machines do for us. Being disconnected from knowing how modern machines work means our society is reliant on something not understand fundamentally, let alone in larger philosophical terms.

LS: It’s true computers remove the human hand in ways their predecessors did not. Do you incorporate computer programming in your artwork or just use the actual mechanisms?

BP: My artwork utilizes the math, science, craftsmanship, techniques and materials used before computer programming recalibrated how society produces objects. I am not interested in programming. My work is about physically and conceptually reconnecting history, structures, functions, concepts to gadgets. 

Modern society becomes more adept at using devices each day while understanding their mechanisms less every moment. This escalated reliance on machines and distancing of human interaction is a major element comprising our “Contemporary Culture”.  As a contemporary artist reflecting the age I am living in within my work, disassociation is something I have to continually address and explore.

LS: You are 6 weeks into your 8 week residency. What have you created in your Berlin studio?

Brose Partington @ DS Berlin Residency, 2011
BP:  I’m creating a kinetic work inspired by a sewing machine I found. I have already hand soldered a pedestal and crane, as well as added an AC gear motor. The piece depicts technology as an idea that directly evolved from the industrial revolution. The work visibly references how machines have developed – how our society has changed.

I also used sewing machine parts in the work I completed at my studio in Indianapolis before leaving for Berlin. The previous sewing machine work was shown last year in my solo show at Indy MoCA. The Indy MoCA piece and the one I made in Berlin are related conceptually and physically. A sewing machine has certain particular motions that it does. It goes up and down. It pulls. The movements of the internal mechanisms define these two works.

LS: Where did you find the sewing machine 
in Berlin?

Brose Partington @ DS Berlin Residency, 2011
BP: At a salvage store. It was cheap. I am like a kid in a candy store when I see something that was constructed to move. This particular sewing machine would still have worked if it had been all there. It was not attached to the foot pedal but it had the moving parts. It was just the body / guts of the machine it once was.

In the Indy MoCA sewing machine work, I used just the stand and the foot pedal of the machine. I did not have the actual machine. So essentially with a body apparatus now in the Berlin piece, I have a whole sewing machine. Making a whole by uniting two distant, original, found pieces interested me.

The piece in Indy was large, brash. The piece here in Berlin is more delicate piece. The feeling of the artworks relates to the different pieces of the sewing machine in each of them.

Top & Bottom: Installation Shots of IMOCA piece by Brose Partington, 2010

LS: How does having the opportunity to work in a new / different country affect your work?

BP: In Indianapolis, I have a large shop and deep understanding of what tools I have. I go into my shop with an idea and everything aligned to execute it. In a residency – it is more in a state of flux. Of course you can find and buy anything but that takes away from the limited time to create. In Berlin, I planned to work more detail oriented, which in a way means focusing on smaller components. I needed to come prepared with an idea but also plans on how to create it given an empty studio.

The same piece gets different feedback around the world. In a residency situation, I am able to create without an audience. That is new and a special opportunity for me.

Early Artwork: "Meticulous Painter" by Brose Partington, 2003
Early Artwork: "Sooner or Later" by Brose Partington, 2002
LS: You are headed home to Indianapolis shortly. What indelible connection does your work have to your home town, the place where you were born and raised?

BP: My father was clockmaker. From a young age, I would look at sprockets, gears and mechanisms. My grandparents owned a blade company. They had huge machines that would cut, move and smooth metal. I can look back and see how these businesses fit into Indy’s economy among the corn or soy growing and being cut down by farm equipment. To me, it is all a large installation… And the many different machines I grew up with didn’t have computers.

Early Artwork: "Cracking Pavement" by Brose Partington, 2002
LS: You have exhibited all over the world: Shanghai Convention Center, Lincoln Center Plaza in NYC, Coachella in the California desert, The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, EHalle for Art Basel. How does experiencing different cultures affect your work?

BP:  It is easy to be sidetracked by ties to and familiarity with what one already knows. When I go to a place, I take ideas I already have. When I leave a place, for example Berlin, I will take ideas I did not have before and see things in a new way.

LS: Your work is not necessarily New Media, Installation or Kinetic. Where does your work fit into the larger context of Contemporary Art?

BP:  I don’t like categories.  I am fine with not fitting into a category. I use parts of machines that were already created, take away their original function, and place on them my own purpose. I make the preexisting function only as my whole new idea. My art has motion so it is kinetic.

LS: The word “kinetic” has so many connotations. How do you define it?

BP: I have seen successful kinetic artworks – pieces that define the word in history and allow me to use it - with hundreds of forced moving parts or just one small element blowing in the wind. Kinetic is a term that is wide open.

I look at artists like George Rickey. His pieces are what I would make if it was 50 years ago and he had not already made them. He did his work so well, there is no reason to explore that territory. Tinguely had such an element of surprise. He lived to see what his hands can do. He shared the joy of making and was a quintessential entertainer. 

LS: Do you consider yourself an entertainer?

BP: I like to be entertaining. 


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