Michael Christian Speaks!
Creativity, Collaboration, and the Fantastic New Bike Bridge now on view in Downtown Oakland
Elevation, I.T., and Home. Wondrous large creations and small. Metalwork, sculpture, paintings, and drawings. Prolific and provocative, Michael Christian has been a major presence on and off the Playa with his playfully interactive sculptures. He prefers to let his art speak for itself. However, on the eve of the “official” opening of Bike Bridge, Christian graciously shared some thoughts with BRAF about working jointly with twelve young students and the creative process.
Interview by Peter Bejger.
How did you get involved? And why did you get involved?
I always enjoy the tremendous freedom implicit in the repurposing and reinvention of what others discard or often refer to as scrap. Working with young adults seemed a logical companion to this as they still have fresh minds when it comes to building and have yet to form unmovable ideas of what an object ‘is or is not supposed to be’.
Describe the development of the idea. Was the original form worked out in your sketches? Or was this a collective idea?
The original idea was to pull apart the bikes into their many separate parts and see what unfolds when we start to manipulate them and put them back together again. I had a very rough idea from a loose scribble I presented to them but it was a collective idea, open to everyone’s input or creative idea. The structure of tires was the only piece I thought of using prior to meeting with the girls. The rest came out of a collective input and experimentation of ideas.
How were your young collaborators chosen? Were you involved in the process? Or were they in place when you came onboard?
They were pulled together prior to my coming together although I don’t believe they knew each other collectively.
Your work has a very powerful, singular focus. Let’s talk about collaboration, group effort, and artistic vision. How do you approach this?
No large-scale structure of any kind can in all honesty ever be directly associated with one person. I may have the idea and vision but it takes many hands and shared thoughts to work through the challenges of building anything beyond simple human scale. I mean seriously, people should give more props to those who developed tools like the modern day crane that make these creations possible to execute in the first place. Needless to say it’s always a collective process. It’s an amazing experience to become part of a collective moving towards a common goal. I always invite in ideas from those I’m working with because inevitably someone will see a better pathway to executing some required tasks. In the end it’s really a lot about problem solving. The experience is not nearly as satisfying if I’m not expanding my own knowledge of the process of building along the way. Working with others is the best way I’ve found so far to accomplish this.
How about the role of “teacher.” You’ve instructed and guided adults, now younger students. Any insights on similarities or differences?
Well, young people aren’t afraid to honestly express how they feel about how they feel about everything including if they feel your ideas are silly. They are often spot on unfortunately. Adults are just grown up children with better manners. They are often trying to learn and unlearn at the same time. Students haven’t started unlearning yet.
What about context? The desert is such a specific and challenging and flattering environment for an artist’s work. This piece was always meant for an urban environment. Does context ever make a difference for you?
Context is always very important but I think your subject matter and how it relates to humans in generally is probably most key. Most everyone on the planet can relate to bicycles so you could put that anywhere on the planet and people would connect with it on some level. I think in general, the further you get from the simple daily experience of being human the more context plays into how people appreciate and connect with art.
We can imagine what your collaborators may have gained by working with you. What have you gained from the experience?
The pieces I seem to identify with as my favorites are the ones I had the most fun building while simultaneously learning and growing in the process. I think the bike arch would qualify as a good one.
Finally, a word about what’s next. Drifts will be installed on the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man later this year. A preview?
I tend to rely heavily on process so not really much to preview. I can say I am excited about building these particular sculptures this year because they appeal to sensibilities of my creative process I don’t visit as often as I’d like. There is much more free form work involved and not as heavy on engineering.