Impossible Objects: An Interview with Maskull Lasserre
Maskull Lasserre’s work centers on the relationship between tools and instruments and the raw materials they transform. Often, raw building materials and tools like wood, steel, magnets, axes and anvils commingle with musical instruments in his work, forging a connection between the way musical instruments shape sound and the way other tools build houses, ships, and artworks. His surprising sculptures combine opposing qualities such as delicateness and coarseness, lightness and heaviness, nature and industry. I caught up with Lasserre at his exhibition Immovable Objects, Unstoppable Force at Division Gallery Montréal to find out what inspires his practice.
Anna Kovler: There are often references to music in your work. I’m thinking of the piece Anvil Study #3 (Lyre’s Paradox), which looks like a violin but has the body of an anvil. Can you tell me about this work?
Maskull Lasserre: I played the violin for almost 15 years, so music is very much a part of how I see the world and how I engage with it and I think this is perhaps one of the more literal metaphors between the delicacy and ephemeral quality of music and the manual dexterity of making. I wanted to fuse those two things together in a meaningful way. I believe that emotion and meaning live through physical matter, one is embedded in the other, and you can’t separate the two. I’m so intimately familiar with both of these structures; it did an interesting thing to my brain to unify them.
AK: I feel like a lot of your work has some impossible element, either in terms of gravity or force. Do you want the viewer to imagine actually picking up this strange violin and playing it? Can you play it?
ML: I have it tuned, and it sounds exactly what you would imagine an anvil-violin to sound, it’s not wonderful. Like much of my work, it coalesces in the brain and not in reality. These things are impossible in a practical sense, and yet they exist in our world, so you as the viewer have to reconcile yourself with the fact that these things exist and they have physical authority. Using this object as an anvil to forge something wouldn’t work, so it doesn’t work as a violin, nor as an anvil, it works only conceptually or metaphorically, in the imagination. My sculptures are designed as artifacts or prompts, to get the viewer to complete the action, to complete the story around them. They are not communicating any one thing; they are tools for you to play with mentally.
AK: I asked you before if your piece Ouroboros, a steel piano that doubles as a workbench, was a self-portrait, how exactly is that true?
ML: I try to dissolve the distinctions between tools, artworks, and instruments. If I can dissolve those barriers it makes my physical environment more interesting to me because I’m never sure… the possibility of what I’m holding can go in any number of different directions. You deal with an instrument very differently than you deal with a workbench and yet there is a magical place in the middle if you were to transition from one of those things to the other. Philosophically I think the two entities are actually a single system, you can’t separate the tool from the instrument. They live as one unified whole.
AK: Study for Cord Progression is a massive piece of raw wood barely attached in the middle section where it is intricately carved to make it look like fraying rope or string. Where did the tree come from for this work?
ML: It’s an Ash tree. It took almost two years to carve, and I carved it hanging like that because if you lay it sideways it would flex and crack. So it is strongest when it’s hanging. It’s an experiment; it’s a test like most of my work. I never make anything that I already understand. All of these things, their purpose is to help me understand something that I cannot conceive of in my mind. To see how far I can go with it, how thin can it get before it cracks. It’s a question I pose to the material, and these are the accidental outcomes of the process.
AK: In Fallen Sky it looks like a bird flew into a heavy metal safe door and bent it. What was the most challenging part of making this piece?
ML: Balancing all of the force. It took a hundred thousand pounds of pressure to do that. And it’s so beyond my capacity to imagine that kind of force, and to be working with that was really challenging, and the reason to do this. I wondered, how can you steer that much force to create an effect that looks like it was instantaneous? It took days to press this in, and cut it apart, and weld it and then reorganize the structure of the inside so that it had this geometry, and all that to make it look like it happened in an instant. I think that fiction is what gives it truth somehow.
AK: The piece called Trust appears to be a heavy metal safe on the ground, what’s inside the safe?
ML: Ten thousand dollars in cash. I went to Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces as a war artist, which is a story all unto itself, but through that I ended up designing some coins for the mint and so it’s the money that I was paid for those designs. I received a cheque and it seemed like there was something special about that money, and it seemed right to turn it back into an artwork somehow. So to put it in a safe and weld it shut, to seal it. In a way there is no record of it other than the few people who were at my studio when I did it.
AK: Do you consider the money as part of your savings?
ML: Not really. This work acts as a lighthouse that keeps me honest. For as long as I can live without cutting that thing open, I will. The week after I welded the money into the safe I rolled my truck on the highway. And so for the next six months taking public transportation I would come back to the studio and look at this thing. I’m pleased I had the integrity just to suffer through whatever it took to not go in there. It’s also a wink and a nudge to the commercial art system. How do you value a work like this? Do you value it based on its material properties? How do you build that ten thousand dollars into the value of the work? Here, the value is implied and it’s a matter of trust and belief, that’s why this piece is called Trust, you have to trust that there is that money in there. And there is this wonderful inaccessibility to it; you have to suspend your disbelief in order to believe it, but in order to verify it you’d have to destroy the work.
Maskull Lasserre’s exhibition Immovable Objects, Unstoppable Force is on view at Division Gallery in Montréal from February 6 until March 30, 2019.
Maskull Lasserre, Trust, 2013. Safe, $10 000 (500 x $20 bills), steel, weld
Maskull Lasserre, Anvil Study #3 (Lyre’s Paradox), 2018. Steel, wood, violin components, velvet, sand, potential sound.
Maskull Lasserre, Study for Cord Progression, 2017. Ash tree trunk, gantry, rigging hardware.
Maskull Lasserre, Fallen Sky, 2017. Steel, hardware, paint, European tree sparrow, wood, recovery straps, pressure.
Maskull Lasserre, detail of Fallen Sky.