“It’s fun working on things that don’t necessarily mean anything” — The Big Interview: Andrew Salomone
Hacking, Youtube tutorials and animated pizzas: Andrew Anderson meets a New Yorker obsessed with the possibilities of merging accessible technology with traditional craft and DIY skills…
Andrew Salomone isn’t an artist who tells you what to think about his work. And that can be a bit confusing because a lot of what he does is, well, rather odd.
Take for example his 2009 project Identity-Preserving Balaclava. A handmade balaclava with Salomone’s own face on the outside, it seems somehow full of humorous meaning and yet, at the same time, rather puzzling.
Or consider his exhibition Ravenous Apparitions, currently on display at PLY in Manchester. It features Pizzoetropes: pizzas with special animated toppings that rotate on turntables and, when a strobe is applied, they become zoetropes. It’s enough to make your head, let alone your pizza, spin.
Neither of these pieces would have the same charm if their purpose was explicit – it’s the puzzling that makes them so interesting. And that, says Salomone, is why he enjoys putting so much of his work on his blog.
“I love putting stuff out there online, without any explanation, and seeing what comes back,” says the New York-based artist as I talk to him on Skype. “I am always amazed when someone absolutely gets what I am doing straight away, without any information. But then other people have no idea what’s going on, or totally misinterpret it – which is fine too. What I’m interested in is the conversation.”
I ask Salomone how Ravenous Apparitions first came about and, as you might expect, it is a rather circuitous journey. “When you order a pizza online there is a box that says ‘special instructions’ that you’re supposed to use for telling the delivery guy things. But people started using it for special pizza instructions like ‘draw a face with the pepperoni’ and so on. So I got interested in how pizzas could be an art form in themselves.”
“At the same time I have always loved zoetropes. There’s just something magical about how they come to life right in front of you. Then I saw that people were using record players to make zoetropes, using a strobe light as the record player spins. And I realised that a frozen pizza was about the same time as a record, so then it was just a case of combining the two to make the pizzoetrope.”
It’s a brilliantly simple idea that makes you wonder how he ever came up with it, while at the same time asking why no one has done it before. The pizzas currently on display at PLY are made using traditional craft materials like clay and wool because, as Salomone succinctly puts it: “I haven’t found a way to stop actual pizzas rotting yet… and I’m not sure anyone wants to watch rotten food rotate.”
This brings me on to another important element of Salomone’s work: his use of traditional craft practices. “I feel like physical things have an increasing relevance in a digital world – like with LPs. I prefer to listen to an LP, where you put it on, listen to it and then it is done. You don’t have to worry about the endless possibilities: there aren’t any choices.
“But also I’m interested in the way that technology interacts with traditional techniques. Like knitting patterns: when you look at old books of patterns, they are simply pictures broken up into squares. To our eyes it is impossible to see them as anything other than pixelated images.”
Sure, this explains his interest in knitting digital patterns… but why the balaclava of his own face? “I used to live in a really cold apartment and I slept with a balaclava on… then it occurred to me that if my neighbours looked through the window they might think my apartment was being burgled. So I put my own face on the outside.”
Salomone’s playful hybrid of naivety and wit means he is much in demand as both a writer and workshop leader; in fact, the opening of the PLY exhibition was accompanied by a Salomone-led pizza making class. “It was hard working out how we would make that many pizzas… but that’s the sort of challenge I like.”
A popular man in the resurgent craft scene, he regularly writes for Make: Magazine, and recently contributed a chapter to a knitting book. But perhaps most interesting, and certainly most accessible, are his YouTube tutorials, which range from A Balaclava For Pussy Riot to DIY Selfie-Reflexivity Stick to How To Make Your Own Vomiting Doll Punch Bowl Fountain – the sort of joyfully indiscriminate information that Salomone is an expert at imparting.
Now Salomone is back in New York, preparing for his next project at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. However, he’s still got plenty of time for frivolity.
“It’s fun working on things that don’t necessarily mean anything,” says Salomone, “The great thing about it is you never know where it will take you next.”
See Andrew Salomone’s Ravenous Apparitions exhibition at PLY, Manchester, until 30 August 2015 — free entry
Open Monday to Thursday 12pm-12am; Friday and Saturday 12pm-2am; Sunday 12pm-11pm
More from the artist on his website