Is Everything Art? Talking Trumpets, Humor, and New Media with Matt Starr
“This is my first interview off Adderall ever.”
Matt Starr has been taking Adderall since he was 9 years old. When I finally reached the New York City based artist on the phone, he was exiting a subway station and apologized for the noise. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m trying to buy a trumpet and I keep getting lost.” It seemed like a fitting introduction. When confined to the limits of language, he describes himself as a New Media Artist and Conceptual Comedian. Looking to his work, it’s easy to understand why words don’t quite suffice to capture everything that he creates. For Starr, it’s not the medium that matters as much as the message behind it. Whether it’s an installation, video projection, conceptual brand, or the pioneering of a fashion movement dedicated to a regression back to infancy, Starr uses whatever tools he needs to get the job done. Sometimes that tool is a bottle of Pepto Bismol; other times it’s a FaceTime conversation with super model Cara Delevingne. Starr effectively and creatively engages his audience, mastering a perfect balance of popular culture and quotidian comforts. His use of familiar objects, places, and even sentiments democratize his work for the masses, and it’s hard to view his art without smiling, cringing, agreeing, or simply wanting to know more. He is quirky and intelligent, playful yet sharp. Starr’s wit and humor shine through, and we enjoyed getting to ask him a few more questions regarding the nature of his work.
Fameless Quarterly: Where did you grow up?
Matt Starr: Conceived in Israel, grew up in Maplewood, NJ.
FQ: Where have you studied, and what did you study there?
MS: Indiana University. Designed my major, “Socially Charged Media” w/ a minor in Swahili. I also got a BFA in Digital Art and Art History minor.
FQ: Who are some of your influencers/who inspires you?
MS: Malala, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Amy Goodman, Russell Brand, Abbie Hoffman, Andy Kaufman, and Bernie Sanders.
FQ: What do you think is the biggest misconception/confusion people have about what New Media art is?
MS: Tbh, I’m not even sure what new media art is anymore. I haven’t heard or used the term in 2 years. Language is limiting and oppressive.
FQ: New Media Art is definitely pretty varied as far as practices go (works ranging from conceptual, virtual, performance, installations, etc). Is there anything about the genre that you find limiting, or are you perpetually pleased with the flexibility of your expression?
MS: I think any sort of codification is limiting. I do whatever it takes in order to make my work. *BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY* I do like the vagueness of “new media,” but it didn’t shape me.
FQ: Do you think that your art is more accessible to people who otherwise probably wouldn’t come into contact with it or seek it out themselves? Even if they don’t necessarily understand the process behind it?
MS: 100000000000% . I think it’s important to democratize art. You shouldn’t have to have an education in art to appreciate it or understand it. Humor is an amazing access point. I use humor to make my work more accessible for everyone. You’re not taught how to laugh, it’s intrinsic.
FQ: I was looking through the art on your site, and on your petition for the world to unfollow Kim Kardashian (a fair request), you wrote, “Our attention is wealth on the internet.” That’s a pretty spot-on statement. In terms of your art, can you describe to me how you feel about the social/interactive aspect of your art? Would you ever measure your success by the attention your work garners?
MS: It completes me. I need it. It opens up and extends a dialogue further than mere face to face interactions ever could. It creates points of access to people all over the world and others who may be harder to reach in real life. And it’s easier to trick people. Things are taken at face value most of the time- that’s when things get fun. I measure my success by how long I can continue to live without a “normal” job.
FQ: I really enjoyed This American Life—I liked the play on what are, to individuals, important and even vulnerable thoughts and feelings, but simultaneously highly relatable. Would you say that you are inspired by these sort of banalities of the human experience?
MS: I think that’s fair to say. I try not to think too much about it. Little editing happens. I get the poem in my head, figure out where to write it and post on Instagram. I live a boring life, so banalities are ubiquitous.
FQ: Have you done any residencies, or thought of doing any? If so, where would you like to do one?
MS: I haven’t. I’d like to do one in a Whole Foods, Equinox, Water Plant or Recycling Center. These locations may sound ironic but they’re not. They’re just places I’m interested in. I don’t have a lot of experience with “traditional” art world things. I get excited about my projects and forget that I can apply to residencies, apply for grants, group shows etc.
FQ: Do you think working in another country would alter your art greatly?
MS: I think where I work directly affects what I make. I’m in America and my next project is eating an American flag. If I lived in New Jersey with my parents, I’d turn into a baby. After these extremities, I’d make reactionary work. I’ve already done the baby thing.
FQ: BabyCore, love it. What are three things that can get you out of bed in the morning?
MS: I live in a little room with little natural light, so I’m always trying to come up with ways to get out of bed. What works best is staying over at a girl’s place with a normal job whose schedule forces me out early. Someone offering to buy me coffee. and hmm…If all else fails, “The Dark Knight” or “Man of Steel” Soundtracks usually do the trick.
FQ: What are the best, the worst, and the strangest things that have happened to you this week? Three sentences. Go.
MS: I bought a trumpet. It hasn’t left my side. I don’t know how to play, but I walk around blowing it in the streets. It’s a great way to meet people. I met a former member of The Weather Underground who will speak at my upcoming event. She got me real emotional. Told me I’m on my way to becoming a radical—that was an amazing experience. I played poker with a 1 armed woman in Washington Square Park and she beat me with a pair of 2’s. That was probably the worst thing, but we eskimo kissed after, so it wasn’t that bad.