artist deanna havas serves cosmic lattes and sublime internet poetry
We spoke to the New Yorker about making drinks for Hans-Ulrich Obrist and why she’s leaving NYC.
Twenty-six-year-old artist Deanna Havas is about to abandon New York, where she was born and raised, for a less voracious, less expensive city somewhere in Europe - and a less market-driven art scene. Certainly her work is not very commercial. In the past she has brewed coffee the color of the universe for a caffeine-crazed Swiss curator and his acolytes, presented childlike computer sketches of trick-or-treaters disguised as ghouls and pumpkins, and used a phone translation app to summon surrealist poetry out of everyday objects.
Deanna is interested in taking apart language, and examining how we communicate with one another. Her artwork Actual Person, for example, is an epic poem composed of sentences from found online confessionals, ranging from the sublime to the upsetting. "I Do Drug and Forget To Put On Underwear" reads one line, "My Peppermint Chapstick Melted!!!" another. She is also a prolific and outspoken tweeter of her own thoughts about the art world, mixed in with snippets about her personal life, and complaints about how young artists are treated. She writes things like, "the expectations for an artist here are to be some anarcho-capitalist indiana jones with a 40 hour a week on the side, know PR & be sexy."
Deanna is exciting because she's a critical voice, but she's also an ambitious artist. Since graduating from RISD in 2011, she's already had a residency at the LUMA/Westbau Foundation in Zurich, and, earlier this year, a solo show at the project space Marbriers 4 in Geneva.
What's compelling you to leave New York?
You need a combination of rich parents and substantial market success to "make it" here as an artist, which I don't have. I think New York made Taylor Swift the official ambassador to the city to reiterate that only the professional children of bankers are welcomed here. It is no longer an artist's city.
What sort of city is it now?
I heard another artist describe it as a "poor man's version of Dubai." But I've never been to Dubai. The industry is still here of course.
Let's talk about one of your artworks. What was Cosmic Barista?
Cosmic Barista was a performance on the occasion of Hans-Ulrich Obrist's Ways of Curating book launch at the Swiss Institute in New York. Cultural homogenization is one of his concerns in the book. And it also details his love for coffee, most notably with an anecdote about Honoré de Balzac, who was rumored to drink 50+ cups a day. I remembered a recent article about scientists discovering the spectral average color of the universe, which was a light beige they named "cosmic latte." It only made sense that I should serve this cosmological beverage at the opening, although it was a little lighter than most people take their coffee.
What is the artist's role today? To produce objects, or offer services, or something else entirely?
I am not entirely sure, but I am certain it's the same as it ever was.
Let's talk about another one of your artworks. What was the Object Avant-Poetry Hour?
It was a performance - it lasted about three hours - for the gallery Marbriers 4 in Geneva, relating to a series of PVC prints I was working on at the time. Acting as mediums, my friend and collaborator Tristan Gigon and I used a real-time translation app on a phone to derive language from common items and situations, but because of the technical limits of optical character recognition and the algorithmic design it was faulty, it would sometimes superimpose text where there was originally none. What the items expressed generally resembled Dada poetry. At times, they seemed capable of humor and even relevance.
How would you describe your practice?
As multidisciplinary. Ontology is more important to me than any particular medium or approach; I'm responding to existing frameworks, particularly self and world as total entities. My understanding of the world, as a thing, is very nostalgic. Something of a composite caricature comprised of Captain Planet, multiculturalist ideals fostered during my public school education ("the melting pot"), geopolitics, the Cold War, Benetton ads, Disney animism [the idea that animals and even objects possess a spiritual essence]. There was always this lingering presence of coerced self-expression in my childhood. I remember my neighbors' toddler's finger paintings taped to their front door, extracurricular activities spanning every discipline, playing Pictionary with my therapist. Looking back, these hyper-individualistic values ultimately influenced my decision to pursue the arts.
And how is it going?
In many ways I think the neoliberal subject culminates, if not implodes upon itself, in the ideal of the artist. You have to be creative in virtually every field these days to find and retain work; or more accurately - precarious contractual labor. Even the professional track has become defunct. If you don't approach life with an obnoxious entrepreneurial attitude you will be left to die because we have no social safety net in this country. The best I can do is pimp out my own narcissism and embrace quirkiness as virtue.
What are you working on now?
A functional object for a group show in November, but I can't really talk about it because the curator wants to keep it secret. I can say that it is a decorative household object.
Text Dean Kissick
Images courtesy Deanna Havas
Lead image courtesy Swiss Institute