They drop like rainbows from the lobby ceilings of 1515, a fantastical panoply evoking light and lightness, a synthetic meadow that is at once an airborne welcome mat and an invitation to adventure. It takes a pretty incredible artist to make all that out of strands of yarn, but that is exactly what our latest Art at Viacom featured artist, HOTTEA, was able to pull off recently. I caught up with the Minnesota-based street art legend on the day that we unveiled the final installation. Excerpts of our conversation are below:
Stuart Winchester: This looks really awesome. When you look closely, each string is just one solid color, but when you look from afar, it blends together so that it looks as though the fibers are much more complex. Do you always strive to create this sort of illusion using strands of just a single color?
HOTTEA: Yes, they’ve never been the ombré yarns. I’ve been wanting to do that because I think that might be interesting, but I haven’t really found a space that I really feel inspired to do that in yet.
SW: How did you initially connect with Viacom?
HOTTEA: It started with an editor here, who helped me on a project I had done at the New York Public Library and another at the Germania Bank Building down on Bowery and Spring Street. He had mentioned that he worked here and that he could help me out with some editing and some footage. When he was editing the videos for those in a studio upstairs, I think one of the producers for Art at Viacom had seen him editing, and was kind of curious and they began a conversation and it just organically grew from there.
SW: So what did you think when you first saw this space? It’s a pretty big building – is it almost too much, when you first think – well, how do I fill this with something?
HOTTEA: No. You know, for me, it’s the bigger the better because yarn, my installations, I love to make a big space seem inviting and a little more comforting, and so when I see a big empty space – or a space with a lot of room – I just see it as potential and not really a challenge.
SW: So what was that process like – how do you actually get these things up here? That’s pretty high up.
HOTTEA: They used scaffolding to put up the wire cables, and then we used the same scaffolding to put up the yarn. The process is that I built the entire installation in Minnesota first, and then I just shipped them all in pieces and we just pieced it all together like a puzzle here.
SW: So the yarn is just tied up there?
HOTTEA: Yeah, so they installed the cables, and the yarn is tied onto polypropylene mesh, and the mesh is designed to disappear. When it’s so far away from you, it camouflages itself from its surroundings. It’s typically meant to be used for trapping fish or making sure small birds or flying animals are kept out of certain areas. So it’s not typically used for artwork. That’s kind of what I like to use for my materials are things you can find at a hardware store. Something that you look at that you wouldn’t typically think of as something to create artwork with.
SW: So do you go around Home Depot and look for things that would make good art, or does it work the other way – I need some kind of netting material, what’s out there?
HOTTEA: It works both ways. Sometimes I’ll be in our big hardware store, Menards, and just go around and look at different things and try to figure out ways to use them. Other times, I’ll see a space that I want to install in, and I’ll try to figure out a way, or materials that I can use to install in that space, so then that’s when I have to look into things that aren’t typically used for their normal purpose.
SW: Speaking of the materials, there’s a lot of focus these days on sourcing, sustainability. Is this something you think about when picking out these materials, or does that not really enter your equation?
HOTTEA: I’d like to get to that point because that is something that I care about and that I’m passionate about, but at this point the installs are so big that using that sort of material would cost so much sometimes because these installs are expensive just using acrylic, and to use that would just have to be a client that was willing to make that sacrifice and would be willing to spend the money to have that.
SW: So is this pretty much off-the-shelf yarn?
HOTTEA: Yup, this is all acrylic.
SW: This, like most of your installations, is temporary. Do you ever get upset building these things thinking that they’re going to go away soon after?
HOTTEA: I don’t get upset. I do get sad. My partner and I, I don’t know if we’ll ever have kids of our own. I always see these almost like family or children of my own. So whenever I see these, I put in a lot of work to build these, and to see them go away is like as if one of my kids is being adopted or being taken away from me.
SW: So it seems like you made your name with street art. Do you still do street art?
HOTTEA: I do, yeah. I feel like that’s a really important part of what I do. If I was to only do commissions like this, private commissions, I think it would slowly lose its soul. I’m very passionate about my work and I never want it to lose the energy that I first started with. So to this day I still continue to do uncommissioned art and I’m extremely passionate about that. And I still have a few ideas that I haven’t done yet that are in the works that I will be doing.
SW: Did you do any street art while you were here in New York?
HOTTEA: I didn’t have time. I’m hoping to do some before I leave tomorrow.
SW: Any particular place we should be looking?
HOTTEA: I like the Lower East Side, and I like Soho. People respond really well to my work there.
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