Geoff Tuttle Q-and-A

Posted on March 18, 2008 – 7:22 PM | by livmoe
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Geoff Tuttle is a mixed media installation artist living and working in Sacramento. He’ll be presenting control_alt_delete at Oak Park’s BrickHouse Gallery this month. I had the opportunity to check out Geoff’s studio as well as ask him some questions about what it takes to make tuttleoneart, make money, and maintain some sanity in the process.

MM What were you like as a kid?

GT I was really into sci fi and wearing Victorian garb. I was testing my boundaries in the world. Ultimately, with my work I am trying to make some sort of impression. I’m trying to be a person of my time.

MM How do you make something of our time?

GT I think it’s really important. People speak a lot about the anxiety of doing something original. I taught at Stanford and Berkeley for a while and I told my students that what’s important is being genuine. It’s the only thing that will enable you to comment on the society you live in. Then eventually you’ll have to let that go and follow your intuition. The other problem with that is sticking to it. I knew from an early age that there was a worker bee expectation. When I was younger I really loved anthropology and eventually I had to give that up and follow something that existed in a non-objective or absolute way.

MM Why did you quit teaching?

GT I have a tremendous respect for teaching and I have a lot of family members who are teachers but teaching takes two sides. One side is very noble, that I can understand quite quickly but then I also think that there is a stunting that can happen and that with teaching there is a certain sacrifice that happens. I don’t think that I can be constantly pushing my boundaries if I’m constantly backing up to explain what I believe and why I believe it all the time. I can’t help but feel that as a teacher you live in a truncated version of the world. I’m too self-absorbed.

tuttle2MM How do you balance making money and making work?

GT It’s hard because I don’t make any money from this [art] and I don’t make that much money from my job but I have to make this and it has to have integrity. There’s a Hank Williams saying about stepping on a nickel and knowing whether it’s heads or tales. There have been times when I could definitely relate to that.

MM What about making work in the commercial environment that is Sacramento’s art scene?

GT I had someone at the Institute [San Francisco Art Institute] tell me that my work was very Art in America, I didn’t get it at first and then I got pissed and then I thought about it and thought he’s absolutely right. Then I thought, “do you let that image of ‘art’ tell you what to or do you pull it from somewhere genuine?”  It’s not hard to make something that looks like art. In the society we live in we have the lower class and the upper class and then this class in between that’s pretending, “the model class.”

I think it’s dangerous to look at 2nd Saturday.

There is a difference between art and the social science of what art should be. Art is a social science and identifying that and knowing how to proceed. That’s where art is should be coming from.

MM What about art as a dialogue?  And making it in Sacramento?

GT I crash-landed in Sacramento after living in LA. I was priced out of San Francisco. I lived in New York before that to make The American Astronaut but couldn’t afford to live there. I had always known that LA had a very cutting edge art scene, what with Chris Burden and Charles Ray and I realized that you just can’t do it and live and make work. Especially if you just have a mediocre job.

I was born here and my father lived here. I just kinda crash-landed here because things went to hell in LA. Sacramento provides a place like the one where I am living which is phenomenal. Honestly, with communication being what it is there’s no reason you can’t live anywhere. On a day-to-day basis Sacramento provides what I need. Sacramento is the sixth largest economy in the world and a political center. Honestly I feel like there’s lots of room. I think it’s imperative that Sacramento steps up and starts making bigger comments about who it is through art. We have this enormous air force facility just sitting empty. Why shouldn’t we have an artist-in-residency program in Sacramento? You could house them somewhere like McClellan or somewhere that is empty. If we could have an artist-in-residency program that exists in this state that is about the post military industrial complex then by all means that is what we should be doing.

tuttle3MM Describe some of the shows you’ve curated.

GT When I was in LA I worked with S Quinn at the Fussfactory and we would create shows together and number them. What we would do was rent out private spaces for the weekend and have these art events that would last only a few days. We put out a couple in LA and one in Seattle. We’re putting out one in December at the Axis gallery featuring about 6 artists. The last one we did was in Joshua Tree. That was where I made the surface to air missile. Quinn has more energy that anyone can imagine and or seems to be capable of.

MM Do you Typically show outside of Sac?

GT I haven’t been seeking out shows outside of Sac recently because I have been building a life here. In San Francisco I was working at the Yerba Buena, I was piece-mealing my life together. It’s been five or six years of piece-meal existence, Sacramento was the first place that I could settle down and start making work.

MM You did the show in April 2006 at Axis.

GT That was probably one of the most complicated installations I’ve done to date. I included a projected aerial map of Sac with a plane crashing representing my crash landing in Sac. That was probably my most complicated show to date because I was living with my dad and could go home to a steak and a glass of Jamesons every night.

This next show is not as complicated but I feel like it’s moving forward. I don’t think I could have done this without a quiet place to be.

MM How did Axis go over?

GT I got a lot of good responses from people. I’ve always been bad about promoting myself. I barely got the postcards out. I’m so into the ideas and the work that I can’t market myself worth a damn.

People really enjoyed it but in terms of art career or marketability I didn’t get anything out of it.

MM How big of an influence is Patty Hearst to this particular body of work [control_alt_delete]?

I have been fascinated by her since I was 4 or 5 years old. I remember seeing a recreation of her being locked in a closet and brainwashed in a made for TV movie and even at 5 I didn’t buy it. It has always fascinated me. I started working on this last year and then I fell in love with Kerri and now I’m coming back to the work. I’m fascinated by Hearst’s desire to detach herself from her remarkably privileged life to be what was called “brainwashed.” She was part of the Berkeley socialist spirit desire for rebellion. In some ways I admire her for that but on the other hand she turned around and looked to that privilege to bail her out. Something else is the fact that SLA was led by this person named Sin Que who was crazy beyond belief and it just couldn’t sustain itself.

I wondered about her values. Where do values come from? How could I suspect that this was bullshit at the age of five years old?

MM Based on this what do you want the viewer to get from this?

GT There is something somber about this piece. There will be an endless chalk line being drawn and erased throughout the show. There’s something about that that is both sad and lonely thinking in terms of how life changes but also there is something reassuring about it which is what that chalk is for. There is a path that is always beginning and one that is always being erased.

When I think about Patty Hearst and Berkeley and that time period I think that younger generations are always erasing the lines… escaping the establishment like a snake shedding its skin. It’s frightening in a way but sort of comforting at the same time.

MM How do you see the viewer engaging the installation?

GT I work on two levels. There’s the conceptual level, which I have to let go through me. It’s very cerebral and I don’t want to hinder that. I try to create a second level that is very visceral. The violent interaction of sound, a chalk line being drawn and erased. I’m hoping that the overall package will act as a Trojan horse, sneaking the content on the viewer, forcing them to think about something that they might not understand. I want to promote a subjective response. I really appreciate it when people engage what they don’t understand. I remember being really young and going to a friend’s house and seeing a Van Halen album cover and a Black Sabbath album cover and I thought, “I don’t understand this but I enjoy it nonetheless.” I really respect people who take time with things they don’t understand instead of just dismissing them.

MM Because of the lack of marketability in the work what do you expect to get?

GT Artists don’t make a piece and another piece and another piece. Artists don’t make a commodifiable work, they create context, they make a collection of work that builds and provides a point of view. All I care about at the end of the day or life is a hope that people will see a body of work that spoke about the time I lived. All I care about is that I was genuine. It’s hard enough to be genuine much less make money. When I look at books or works by Beuys… he was a celebrity by the end of his life but really he spoke of his life and his country but it was never something that would be told by Ken Burns. You’ll never hear the story of a Luftwaffe pilot communicating with a shaman. He gave this understanding to what was going on in the German mind in the mid-twentieth century.

MM What you think of the theory that Beuys made a lot of that up?

GT First of all the whole Beuys Shaman legend, how could you question the false celebrity of Beuys when you look at the whole cult of false celebrity we live in now? Second of all, in some degree I think he created that false celebrity because he understood the language of the time he lived. What we need is something greater than us, not just the story of one person’s life.

MM If the work isn’t marketable where do you want the context to exist? Who is intended to see it?

GT I suppose that there is a part of me that wants to be seen but I also don’t kid myself and I’ve come to moments where I’ve realized I’m this crazy guy who works in his basement. There is this thin philosophy that reemerges every time I work on my work. Sometimes I don’t know why I do anything at all. It’s a belief system, I suppose. It’s a vestigial twin. There’s this part of me that is always wanting to inform this other part of myself. That could be extinguished at any moment. I guess I’m cool with that. The effort is what matters. Making notes everyday. There is no ultimate marker to reach. This goes back to subjectivity. I decide what those sign posts are. I decide what’s valuable through my own eyes and opinion. You justify the work for yourself.

David Bowie once said “don’t judge yourself by what you’ve done before but what you’ve done this week.”

MM It’s easy for Bowie to say that. That sounds very AA.  Do you create all the plans and then set to work installing? How does the work develop?

GT I’ve been struggling to get this show together for a while.
That’s sort of how it goes. When you work on these things you realize that there are these diverticuli along the way and then you start to pursue those off shoots and you start following those because they might be useful. When you work on something it’s hard to work out the time structure because you never know what will come up along the way. You struggle and stress and that’s just how it is.

MM How do you feel after the work is over?

GT I usually cannibalize the work for parts. I don’t sell a lot because it’s generally process based. I don’t sell a lot of work. Also, unlike the minimalists there is a fingerprint on all of the work. It’s not clean in that way. After the presentation I can’t imagine there being any stateliness that it would have. Sometimes I’ll sit on something if it’s important to me. Occasionally I’ll sell something but it’s usually to someone I know.

MM What about resonance?

GT There’s a couple of pieces up there that were from my show Meta Cog. There were a few smaller pieces that sorta rang in my ears in a way that the whole show didn’t. It was too much to bear to keep it relevant in my mind. Those sort of offshoots are sort of witty and true in a much more direct way.

MM Do you have anything you want to say in summation?

GT The holidays are coming up really fast. As Gertrude Stein said, “take all that money you would spend on clothes and buy art.”

For more info about Geoff Tuttle and to see more of his work go to

For more info on the Fussfactory go to

  1. One Response to “Geoff Tuttle Q-and-A”

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    By Dante on Oct 28, 2015 | Reply

    Geoffrey Tuttle can now be found at the following URL:

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