Brazilian Muralist Gives Us A Rundown of Williamsburg's Newest Arts Hub

Eli Sudbrack of Assume Vivid Astro Focus and OMW art space prove this BK neighborhood is still vibrant.

AVAF's newest mural, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, being executed by Skott 'Rage'Johnson. via PINC.US

Recently making its grand entrance onto the NYC creative scene via a series of semi-public performances and events, Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Original Music Workshop (OMW) is an ambitious new project space that seeks to provide innovative facilities and support to artists in BK and beyond. Founded by Kevin Dolan and composer Paola Prestini, OMW is currently a work in process, but when it fully opens will contain a restaurant, performance area, and a rehearsal and recording space for musicians and composers. To inaugurate OMW, the arts hub tapped Brazilian artist Eli Sudbrack, also known as Assume Vivid Astro Focus, to create a large scale mural on the side of their renovated factory building near the Williamsburg waterfront. Sudbrack, whose illustrious credits include high profile outings at Deitch, Peres Projects (Berlin), and the Armory Show, was recruited to bring his unique brand of pop-consciousness-meets-Kool-Aid-trip aesthetic to the project.

Recently we were able to meet with Sudbrack to discuss this collaboration, as well as Marvel heroes, punk icons, and international arts culture:

The Creators Project: Can you explain a little bit about the inspiration behind your project for OMW?

Eli Sudbrack: I'm good friends with Peter Zuspan, one of the architects at Bureau V, responsible for the OMW project (Peter is also a musician and we've collaborated in the past). He invited me to develop a mural piece for the building's brick façade. They are still raising funds to complete the project and thought it would be nice to start defining a visual/identity mark in the neighborhood, and hopefully also attract more investments. 

I was really happy with the invite. First of all OMW is a not-for-profit music and recording venue. We have collaborated with many musicians in the past and even promoted concerts inside our different installations. I have spoken about the link between our work and music many times before. In our opinion, music is the media that is the closest to perfection, in terms of reaching the viewer and transmitting ideas. We "envy" music's power and want to translate the same potential through images and environment. I've been reading David Byrne's How Music Works and one idea I completely related to was that the environment determines how music is perceived and absorbed. 

Also the way we deal with our installations is, from our point of view, music-like. The way music reaches out to people is very corporeal. It elicits an immediate reaction. Your body can even transmit music (like Laurie Anderson's 1977 Handphone Table project). Music uses our bodies as an instrument for its physical manifestation; it becomes personified through us. This link between the corporeal and sensorial realms is fascinating. Music is also universal, and easily transmittable and shareable. Music changes people's lives. We've aimed at attaining similar results with our work. For this reason, above all, it is an honor to be doing a project for a music venue. 

The present and future home of OMW

Blueprints for Sudbrack's mural at OMW

The OMW mural is also the first permanent avaf piece in NYC (where I have been living since 1998). In the past we did one large outdoor mural in Long Island City (for our show at Deitch Projects LIC in 2008) but unfortunately that's long gone. We have permanent mural pieces in Miami (Wynwood Walls) but none here. I also live in Williamsburg (since 2010) not far from OMW, and feel really honored to have such a piece in my own neighborhood. 

Williamsburg has always been very much part of my history in NY. When I first got to NYC, even though I didn't live in Williamsburg (I had a rent stabilized apt in LES, paying $600 for a two bedroom apt) most of my artists friends lived there, and I was often in the hood. I've followed all the crazy changes in the neighborhood since then. 

What are some of the particular changes you've noticed?

I'm all up for access to the river shore and better facilities, and think that it's really great to finally make it usable and enjoyable, but I'm particularly concerned about all the new developments in the neighborhood--especially the ones that are so close to the river. There is one specifically that they're just finishing now (I think between N6 and N7) which should be demolished. It's too close to the river and really "destroyed" the promenade experience in that area. 

SO I do hope the avaf mural and OMW will bring new energy to the hood, one more related to an artistic past that seems to be long forgotten in the midst of so many yuppies and glass condos. It is really surprising not to have as many mural works in the area any longer. Guess that's a sign of gentrification....

All this being said, and since avaf was "born" in NYC, I decided to propose OMW's mural as some sort of a retrospective of avaf's imagery. What we've done so far is only the very first layer, and we intend to cover the whole Wythe Street façade. We will be adding more avaf imagery from different periods in next year up until the space opens (and who knows, maybe after as well). This first layer is actually a detail from a wallpaper piece I designed in 2004, which was also turned into pattern for a special project we did with Le Sport Sac

I know in the past you've worked on similar outdoor installations, like the one you did for the Wynwood Walls and Deitch. How is creating an outdoor installation different from an indoor exhibit? What are some of the factors you take into account before starting out?

It's not that different since architecture has always been a determining factor for all installations we have done. The major difference is that for our outdoors mural pieces we always hire a super-gifted street artist, Skott "Rage" Johnson, who has "translated" our work to mural painting form a few other times in the past. He is an extreme perfectionist, and I can relate to that. I feel like avaf is the composer and Skott is the musician for these mural projects. 

Deitch Projects, 2008

What would you like the viewer to walk away with?

Our aim is always enticing consciousness. Of ourselves, and what gives you pleasure and also of your surroundings. To spark/encourage freedom.

I know the title of avaf comes partially from seminal punk band Throbbing Gristle--are they one of your main inspirations?

This is a long story. When I came up with the avaf name I wasn't really that aware of Throbbing Gristle. In 2001, the owner of a favorite second hand store in the East Village mistook me for someone named ASTRO, who later turned out to be a makeup artist. I was searching for a pseudonym already and decided that "astro" would be part of it. I wanted something that would be hard to remember, definitely something long and nonsensical as a sentence--something like Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Around that same time there was this record cover show happening at Exit Art in New York called "Cover Me", which I had visited and loved. It was more than just the cover designs and images: I was also intrigued by the words, the bands names, and the album's titles. 

I then decided to go back to the show and write down every single word that appealed to me, with no reference to where it was coming from so I could freely disconnect the word from its origin. That's when avaf was born. A few years later, a friend gave me a book on Throbbing Gristle (TG) and I was able to track down the roots of two of the words I chose to use. TG's collection of rare tracks was entitled "Assume Power Focus." TG made incredible picture disks and I remember them clearly at the Exit Art show (I started collecting picture disks because of TG). So even though I had decided to look for words, I suppose the aesthetics of their records were really the attracting factor.

São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM) Party, 2012

You've been co-creating with your partner Christophe Hamaide-Pierson since 2005. What is the general division of labor when both of you decide to embark on a project?
Christophe has been my work partner since 2005. We met here in NY right when I moved here. Christophe had been living here for many years, but left for good in 2001. This means that since we started working together, we have never lived in the same city. All our work is done through emails. We have skyped, I think not more than 5 times, and we have never spoken on the phone. I guess emailing is like a good scrap book for us--we exchange ideas, thoughts, images, references, stuff we're working on. I think it's also a way for us to conceptualize our work in different manners upfront. We even verbalize aesthetic ideas first before really drawing them. It is a funny dynamic we established between ourselves. Even though the work has always been so visually intense and explosive, it all starts with words. Pretty much as if the words were bits of information that would ultimately, gradually and accumulatively, form an image. There is no actual division between us (we swap duties between us all the time), although I'm the one who is more vocal and usually gives interviews. 

You've also done several commissions for other artists, including your illustrations for Lady Gaga's Barneys workshop. How is it different creating a piece under your own vision as opposed to making someone else's come to life? 
I often think it's not that different. In the Lady Gaga's/Barneys case for instance, we had so much freedom to develop whatever we wanted that the end result was very similar to avaf's art works. People would ask us "is this art?" That is a very hard question to answer I think. First because it departs from the idea that art is above everything and it's got an implicit "sanctity" that I personally don't agree with. I'm always wishing to reach a broader public, and the art world is so restrictive. Commercial commissions like Gaga's are good for reaching out to people who would otherwise never be exposed to your work. I think that is very important, also as a challenge for your own communicating skills with the viewer. You can't always assume the public is knowledgeable about your practice and intentions. When you are able to reach people who don't necessarily know about your work you open it to more spontaneous responses, which in my opinion is as valid as the more intellectual approach. So going back to the "tricky" question: I don't know if what we did for Gaga is art. Maybe it will become art. Maybe it already is. Functionality and being in a commercial environment are very debatable features for something not to be considered "art."

From Lady Gaga's Workshop You cited in the past Marvel comics as being one of your biggest influences. It seems like in many ways your work shares that same vibrant sense immediacy--like the figures might come right off the wall and battle evil in front of you. If you as an artist could morph into a superhero, what superpowers would you wish for?

Hahahaha this is going to sound very "gay" but I have always loved Dazzler's super powers, to be able to turn music/sound into light and color. That is the ultimate ambition with my own work!

On your old site works were grouped from old (2003-2008) to new (2008 on). Was 2008 a time of change for your work? Did you find yourself shifting to new mediums or ideas?

Our new site lists all works/installations from 2003 onwards (we were just sick of the "Myspace" chaotic look of our previous site). But I would say that the release of our first monograph thru Rizzoli at the end of 2010 was definitely a turning point. Indeed since 2008 a shift was "cooking" in my head and that was one of the main reasons why I needed to leave NY (I moved to Berlin in 2008 and was there till 2010). Both me and Christophe needed more time on our own without collaborators (since we have always worked in separate cities, we've often worked on our own in our studios--but other collaborators were on and off). We needed to concentrate on works that could be more intimate. I feel like we are more "focused" now as well. Finally!

Do you have any New Years resolutions for 2014?

Oh my, we have so much going on next year. Hope we can handle it all! First we have a solo show at Suzanne Geiss Company at the end of April. Then we were invited to do a project at Comfort Moderne in Poitiers, France and Vamos! Festival in Newscastle, UK. Still trying to figure out if we will be able to commit. Then we have a solo show in Berlin at the end of the year. Besides this, we have another mural project at the Beacon High School--a piece to be developed with the students organized thru Public Arts for Public Schools. And we will also be launching a rug piece during Frieze Art Fair that originated from a collaboration with Swedish rug company Henzel.

While you can catch Eli Sudbrack at one of his many shows this year, as well as on his website, check out some of our favorite past pieces from the artist below:

The Armory Show, 2013

Installation and performance, part of In Living Contact for 28th Bienal de São Paulo

Alisabel Viril Apagão Fenomenal, mixed-media installation. Casa Triângulo, São Paulo, Brazil, 2013

Astronomer Verifies Acid Flashbacks, multi-media installation, Wynwood Walls, Miami, Florida. Photo by Tim McAfee

Assume Vivid Astro Focus XII, Tate Liverpool, 2005

Aqui Volvemos Adornos Frivolos, Peres Projects, 2008 

To learn more about OMW or to help support, you can visit their webpage here.