Jason Waterhouse

Interview by Steven Winstanley
Artist portrait by Tara Moore

Experiencing a sculptural work by Glenlyon artist Jason Waterhouse is akin to experiencing a hallucination or waking dream. His pieces distort the everyday and commonplace objects in our lives, and it is through this distortion that new perspectives and ideas on the nature of reality and human technologies and constructs are created.

The playful twists on the familiar remind us that all is not what it seems, that everything is a banal mental construct waiting to be reshaped or even shattered, and that through this deconstruction enlightenment ensues.

Where does your love of sculpture begin?

Sculpture began for me when I was fortunate enough to blunder into art school, straight out of high school, with no idea of what I really wanted to do, but I was kind of arty. I was even more fortunate to stumble into a line of study that turned out to be my passion and has been my career since starting my degree in 1995.

The greater question for me is why my love for art? Art is vital. Art is the basis of ideas and innovation, and not just in the art world. Without the untethered freethinking that the arts allow, we would have no science, no architecture, no progress! Artists work like Gods, creating their unique languages and worlds from ideas, in the hope of offering a tiny grain of change or enlightenment for a passing individual. I think that is pretty fucking cool.

But in answer to your question, the reason for my love of sculpture is simple. For me, sculpture sits in real-time. In other words, it occupies space in the precise moment it is viewed, at that point in time, responding to and affecting the environment in which it is placed. Sculpture is brutally honest and can hide very little. You can walk around it, touch it, watch it change with the light. Best of all sculpture has the power to completely change, transform and affect the way we respond and move through space. There is no illusion in sculpture.

Some of the objects you use are quite familiar to the viewer - a cassette tape, Ozito power tools, a family car - but you render them as extraordinary, even psychedelic, dream-like. How do you approach an object and the experience you want to convey with it?

When making work, I always consider the audience, how they will respond and interact with the work. My job is to present an idea, but it’s the audience who provide the experience. I am conscious that for an artwork to be successful it needs to resonate with the viewer, and I guess this is where I cheat because the items I select tend to be everyday stuff. I have favourite ‘go to’ objects that keep coming back, but mostly objects are selected in response to the things that are happening in my life at the time, or are chosen in response to the site in which they are to be exhibited.

When it comes to the modifications or interventions that the objects undergo, things get a little more complicated. In essence, what I do, is to seamlessly modify stuff so they are doing impossible things. Branches melt, tools sprout crystalline growths, cassette tapes ooze, a Kingswood car starts climbing onto a plinth. Each intervention I do is consciously done as seamlessly and perfectly as my skills will allow, deliberately avoiding evidence of the hand of the artist. I like the idea that my work sits within the realm of impossibly possible. In the production line of life, the dude doing quality control nodded off for a moment and a crazy impossibility slipped past. Like a glitch in time.

As for what I want to convey with my work, that is up to the viewer. I like to think I make works for a broad audience. I try to steer away from lengthy artist statements and clear assertions of my intentions with the idea. By dictating my reading and intention within the work I run the risk of steering the viewer. I want my work to draw from the viewers' own experience of the world. But to answer your question, what I hope for the viewer is for them to question their relationship to the stuff around them, at times maybe have a laugh, but mostly I hope to deliver a little magic.

I find your installation ‘Tides (Exodus)’ quite confronting: something half-power tool, half biology seems horrifying. Have I misinterpreted the work or does the answer lie solely with me?

Great! I like your reading. We will go with that!

Your execution is masterful. How much trial and error takes place in the creation of a piece? Have you ever failed in creating a work?

I fail with every piece. It’s really hard, but that is why I keep making work. I am my own worst critic, and often doubt the success of what I do, but the failure in most works is small, and it’s probably only me that sees them (I hope). The illusion of the wonderful, free-spirited life of an artist just went POP!

When thinking about an idea for a sculpture, I build the work in my head, cover every detail and technique required, the process and stages clearly mapped out in my mind. I am a terrible sketchbook keeper and rarely draw plans or write stuff down.

The building of the sculpture is mostly just the process of making the idea tangible, and the majority of works don’t vary much from their original ideation. I love making, but the exciting bit is when it all comes together in my head. My partner Magali often makes comments when I make a new work about it just magically appearing, but in reality when I vague out I’m usually building something.

What piece did you find the most challenging and why?

Each piece I make faces its individual challenge. Some are logistical, some require huge amounts of process, expense or materials. Some ideas just fall together while others I have to wrestle into submission. As I touched on earlier, it’s just challenging to be an artist full stop.

Most of your pieces are singular. It is hard to find a common theme or motive that binds them. You seem to approach each piece with abandon. Would this be a fair comment?

This is an amusing question and one I have heard before, and to be honest, I find it hard to agree with (but fair as it keeps coming up). I’m very glad you asked it.

I see the majority of what I have done as a very cohesive body of work with a clear thread of ideas being explored. The common theme is ‘stuff’. Every one of my works offers the opportunity to rethink how we experience the mundane, the every day, our world. I take a situation, object or thing and turn its reading on its head, subvert it. Where this comes undone on the cursory glance at my body of work is that the approaches to this idea can be hugely varied or as you say “approached with abandon”. Each object intervention is unique and responsive to the object itself, but the theme or motive that binds them are the objects themselves and that through the modifications I make, I offer the viewer another reality, another way of seeing the stuff all around them.

Art is vital. Art is the basis of ideas and innovation, and not just in the art world. Without the untethered freethinking that the arts allow, we would have no science, no architecture, no progress!

What milestones are you most proud of in your career?

There are a few. I have been pretty lucky with my career. There have only been very short periods where I was not making a living from the arts. Straight out of art school, I gathered plenty of skills as an art foundry technician, working at Swinburne in Visual Arts and Design for many years. Curated a number of shows in Melbourne. Moved to the country.

Opening the Stockroom Kyneton gallery with my partner Magali Gentric is a big one. Stockroom has been an incredible platform for so many amazing artists and their work. We may have even achieved some of the points I was ranting on about in the previous question.

Through this time I have always made work and shown. I have a number of permanent public artworks which is pretty cool. There are a few sculptures that I have made which are standouts, particularly ‘Glory Days’. I’m still trying to make a work that pleases the crowds as much as that one does. I have my favorites, but I’m not letting that cat out of the bag.

Which modern sculptors do you hold in high regard?

So much contemporary art is hugely influential for me, as is design, architecture, music, cars, and nature. As an artist, you learn to look at the world like a sponge, soaking in visions and ideas, questioning and gleaning bits and pieces to inject into your own practice.

As for specific sculptors, there are so many local and international artists who are incredible and influential. To answer your question, here are six world-renowned sculptors in two categories whose work I love:

Contemporary – Erwin Wirm, Maurizio Cattelan, Tom Friedman.

Modern – Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd, Richard Serra.

Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp. Can you describe your feelings on this seminal piece in five words?

“A total fucking game changer” or “Idea stolen from female artist” (Simone de Beauvoir)

I can’t decide.

You seem to have a reverence for older tools and mechanics; more organic, robust and simplified in design and construction. Is the ability to deconstruct and understand old technologies the appeal for you?

I like old stuff and the inherent nostalgia embedded within it. Aesthetically it kicks ass too.

I am a tinkerer and restorer, as is my father, so it must be in my blood. In older technologies, I like that the mechanics are more literal. I love the challenge of figuring stuff out, fixing and the quality inherent in older things. I restore cars for a hobby. I built our house. I enjoy the challenge that doing stuff with my hands presents, and the satisfaction you get when it actually works. I love the way things fit together and work as a complete thing.

All of this feeds my sculpture, and you will often find that a specific body of work will correspond with what I was tinkering with at the time.

Where would you recommend people visit while in Kyneton?

Stockroom Kyneton of course! [Laughs]

But seriously, check out all of Kyneton. There are plenty of good things on offer. There is something for everyone in our fantastic little town.

I understand you have an extensive vinyl record collection. What are your top five records to date?

Hard question! I will go with records I could listen to endlessly because favorites change all the time:

Nick Cave – “Let Love In”

Tom Waits – “Bone Machine”

Sonic Youth – “Sister”

Pixies – “Surfer Rosa" and "Come On Pilgrim”

Iggy Pop – “Lust For Life”

Were you a creative child?

Yep. Messed up and creative.

What words of advice would you pass down to a young Jason Waterhouse?

Don’t take the people who love you for granted.

Australia’s cultural cringe was still present in the 1980s. What triggered the country’s change in attitude towards creative individuals and endeavours?

The arts are still massively underappreciated in Australia. There is little support for arts practitioners or appreciation of how vital artists are to this country’s economy and development. People still buy shit IKEA prints instead of spending a couple of hundred bucks more on an original work of art – supporting an artist in the process. We just voted in a government that has an almost non-existent arts policy, who historically cut arts funding relentlessly! Schools still struggle with delivering a program based on encouraging free-thinking and creativity that is balanced with academic outcomes and quantifiable results. Funding based on vocational outcomes in our TAFES (Technical and Further Education institutes) and universities has destroyed and shutdown many visual arts and fine art courses. The list goes on. The country’s change in attitude towards creative individuals and endeavors has not been a groundswell. Funding is still trifle, appreciation is limited. But the reality is simple: without art, there is no creativity, without creativity, there is no innovation, without innovation there is no progress, without progress…

And the art world is not blameless in this. As artists and arts presenters, we need to provide more platforms, forums and outcomes that are more accessible to the wider public. Present stuff with inclusivity in mind, create spaces that operate outside the perceived notion of elitist platforms for the initiated. Then, just maybe, people may start giving a shit, because artists have some pretty amazing things to say!

Are there websites that you frequently visit for inspiration or a good read?

Not really. I do like flicking through Instagram

I understand you are a great cook. What is one dish everyone should try?

No one dish, just try everything!

You can invite three people over for dinner, living or not. Who are they and why did you invite them?

Tom Waits, Joseph Beuys and David Lynch.

I imagine long silences, then bouts of strange idea crazed discourse. Hopefully, Joseph would rant about utilitarian art platforms, David would say some totally weird shit, Tom would grunt and speak semi-coherently for long periods of time and at some point sing for us.

The weirdest dinner party of all time!