High Desert Test Sites : ROLU + WELCOMEPROJECTS

We wanted to use the totality of a space
Here There, There Here is also about the shifting of scale from the monumental to the human."

- Matt, ROLU

High Desert Test Sites is this upcoming weekend in Joshua Tree, California... All week, YHBHS will be posting some interviews leading up to the event in the desert before we all venture into space and light..... This first conversation is with WELCOME PROJECTS and ROLU, a collaboration I'm eager to see realized. See you on the other side....

High Desert Test Sites generates physical and conceptual spaces for art exploring the intersections between contemporary art and life at large. Scattered along a stretch of intimate yet diverse desert communities that include Joshua Tree, Pioneertown, Wonder Valley, Yucca Valley, and 29 Palms, our sites provide a place for both fleeting and long-term experimental projects."

Describe your project for HDTS 2011, and where is it located? From where did you arrive at the idea of your HDTS installation?

Matt: Here There, There Here is a five-foot-wide, two-mile-long roll of white felt, unrolled in a dry lake bed. Its surface is interrupted by a series of triangular volumes of various size and dimension. The ideas of the project are the product of about ten conversations between ROLU and WELCOMEPROJECTS. Our summer intern Tim Campbell, a landscape architecture graduate student from Austin TX, was conducting research on various land art productions. It’s long been an interest of the studio, but Tim did a fair amount of specific research and gave a few presentations that brought up a lot of interesting new questions. It began to seem like our interest merited a specific response. We wanted to use the totality of a space… to define the scale of the space by what the eye could see, and then take the work past that limit. We wanted to break the limit of sight.

I've never been to the Lightning Fields, the Walter De Maria work, and was interested in the difference between an actual experience in the place and the photos that represent it. Laurel has been there and it was exciting for us to attempt to create something at a comparable scale. We are also interested in the work of artist Franz Erhard Walther who used fabric to initiate a set of experiences for a participant which, in turn, activated spaces in both galleries and outdoors. We wanted to think similarly.

Laurel: Here There, There Here is also about the shifting of scale from the monumental to the human. The ten triangular volumes are objects that add a third dimension to the two dimensional line. In reaction to the understood constant and flatness of the line, the volumes are intended to play with our perception and registration of space as the lake bed is traversed. Upon approach it is difficult to establish the scale of the triangular figures, and when they are reached, playing off Walther's ideas of the 'action principle,' they invite different actions—to sit against, to measure with, to get inside of, to touch. The actions are less prescribed than Walther's though; we are asking people to participate in the invention of the piece. The volumes also have material and compositional differences. They are meant to feel somewhere between strange and familiar which adds an additional layer to the types of interactions they might inspire. I'm always interested in this juxtaposition.

Matt: At times we were also thinking of this project as set design, seeing the participants who walk this line as performers. The dirt their feet imprint onto this fabric turns it into a kind of communal sculpture. And as a studio, a lot of our work comes from an interest in encountering an image on the internet, being uncertain about its context, and then trying to turn it into something physical. There is an accompanying publication designed by Benjamin Critton, so there is also a return to the trace and document, and potentially virtual information and description taking on a more permanent physical form.

Laurel: We are very interested in the publication having two lives, the first edition as a guide to the piece during the High Desert Test Site weekend and the second edition which will include images of the installed piece staying out in the world after the project has been taken down. Benjamin has imbued the publication with many of the touch points we've been working with—scale, reference, perception, materiality, etc.

Kristin Dickson of Rowena Sartin also designed a wearable piece to accompany the installation. The line and the triangular volumes are all white, the dress plays to a heightened sense of the landscape color in a salmon pink.

Is your work for HDTS site-specific, and if so, how does it relate to the space of the desert? How would you personally describe High Desert/Mojave area?

Matt: It is somewhat site specific but... not totally. It's not so much about the specific space of the desert, beyond its scale and openness: maybe it's more about space in general.

Laurel: The scale of the dry lake bed instigated a lot of our first conversations, but we've always thought of it as having the ability to be installed in a variety of locations. Here There, There Here isn't site specific in the usual understanding of term, but more a measure of different contexts and locations and the different interactions it/they might inspire in those spaces.

Is your work a permanent installation? And if so, how will it change with time? Will the harsh environment of the desert play a factor?

Matt: It is a temporary installation and the plan is to show the work again in a different context with a totally different strategy for implementation. Some of our initial talks with Laurel centered around an interest we have in the question of when, or at what point and under what conditions does something becomes something else.

How does your HDTS project relate to your ongoing practice as an artist/designer/etc.? Does your work engage with a community, and if so, how?

Matt: We really have a wandering practice but one thing that continues to come up is our interest in the images we encounter, especially on the internet through blogs. When I was younger, my grandfather, who was an architect, had a book that contained four photos of the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe. I stared at those images for hours. I could draw them from memory. These days I might see a thousand photos of things I am really interested in before lunch(!) and often with out much context. They stay with me to a degree through memory, but often, things get mixed up. It's a really different experience. We are interested in reaching into this river of images that almost starts to seem unreal on some level and make something tangible from them. Creating something physical - taking an action. I think of it as similar to the way internet language translators get things wrong--sometimes to great poetic effect. I think our community is on the internet.

Laurel: Ultimately I'm interested in objects and engagement with objects through their aesthetics, finishes, perceptions and references, be they historical, material, narrative or otherwise. This originally was literary and theory-based—how we talk about and use objects as signifiers and essentially as characteristics. But I came to want to participate in the production of the objects themselves. Design and architecture provide a foil for this exploration. I end up talking about sensibility (how things look and feel) and play (how things act or invite action) a lot. These are words that in my practice really envelop how I think about the material "stuff" around us. In Here There, There Here, the way the triangular volumes allow for an open, human-scale relationship to the scale-less quality of line really ties into this.

Future projects?

Matt: Yes. Some custom pieces we made for the Berlin gallery Arratia, Beer will be at Art Basel Miami Beach. So excited about the new pieces I mentioned, ROLU 4 OMMU. We have new work through Wright 21 in a selling exhibition called Truth In Form, Reason For Being curated by Volume Gallery. A bunch of great collaborations coming Peter Nencini, Sit & Read, Eric Timothy Carlson. And some super exciting news coming about ROLU at the Walker Art Center! Feeling grateful and psyched about it all!

Laurel: There is lots of stuff in the pipeline — I'm really excited about the arrival of our new WELCOMECOMPANIONS WAGON family in a few weeks.


ROLU is an art and design studio based in Minneapolis with an open practice involving furniture, landscape architecture and action based, participatory projects. The studio is made up of Matt Olson, Mike Brady, Sammie Warren, Tim Campbell and Ryan Seibold. We released our first furniture pieces about a year ago, not so much as a line of products, but more as a platform for us to explore ideas that interest us. We've had a great time with it and have been fortunate to have various pieces on view at MONDO CANE, Phillips de Pury, Noho Next at the ICFF, MoMA PS1, Wright 21, Golden Age, the Soap Factory, San Diego MoCA and more. We just finished designing OMMU, a bookstore in Athens and will be releasing some of the pieces for sale soon. We love collaboration and it has helped us to remain very open as a studio. We continue to grow our experiences through working with people we admire.

WELCOMEPROJECTS is a studio in Los Angeles that I (Laurel Consuelo Broughton) direct. We explore narrative, material culture and style through the production of discursive sensibilities that rest at the intersection of art, fashion, interiors and architecture. Our projects have been published in Newsweek, Elle Italia, Lucky, and North Drive Press, along with a variety of blogs dedicated to design and material culture. WELCOMEPROJECTS also makes WELCOMECOMPANIONS, a line of durable goods sold at Tenoversix and Iko Iko in Los Angeles, Creatures of Comfort in New York City and Product Porch at San Diego MoCA. I'm also on the design faculty of the USC School of Architecture.