"Foul Ball!" Michael J. Breen talks with Matthew Usinowicz

On the occasion of Matthew Usinowicz's solo show "Foul Ball!" at Monte Vista Projects, LA based writer Michael J. Breen asked the artist a few questions about the show, his larger practice and their shared love for America's pastime. Turns out it's a funny business.  

Michael J Breen: So Matthew, what inspired this show? 

Matt Usinowicz: Initially my motivations were to do a series of work based on my love for, and fascination with baseball from a fan’s perspective. I did not intend to have any philosophical or political agenda – just to have fun with it. The less academic, the better. However I knew if I started to hit some conceptual roadblocks through the process of making, there is so much baseball offers to mine from.

Matthew Usinowicz's Hot Dog (70 Degrees With All the Toppings). 2017

MJB: I love the metaphor of baseball -- once the purest and dramatic of sports -- most recently tarnished by PEDS and prior to -- gambling -- talk about that in regards to today's political landscape.... 

MU: Parallels (or by coincidence, or however), baseball mirrors the political landscape. Like all professional sports, baseball is a business, big business. The owners, commissioner office, and advertising agencies that are contracted by large corporations, the people running these institutions – are, for the most part (and just my speculation, not necessarily fact) extremely wealthy, white, males. The demographics amongst players are nearly parallel to that of the United States. 60-something percent White, 20-something percent Latino, ~10% Black, ~10% Asian. Broadly speaking, in play, baseball is a long process with usually minimal escalation. However, once you start to pay more attention to the game, you can go as deep as you want. Investigate the velocity and spin on a pitcher’s curve ball. The tendencies this pitcher decides to throw that curve ball. At what pitch count? How many on base? Lefty or righty? Politics can be the same, and to many people, the stat game is the best part. You can choose your own navigation through the game. To some the rally, speeches, propaganda, and political theater is the more interesting – politics alike.

You can go to a baseball game, without knowing anything, buy a large cold beer, peanuts, hot dog, and sit in your seat with sunglasses on and just watch. Feel the breeze or lack of, listen to the chatter, meet a new friend or foe. Care or not, it is a platform that brings people together where ideas are shared and/or (usually) debated. People are full of opinions and full of shit.

I guess in short, baseball is America/n. It’s a civilized debate or a fistfight in the parking lot. Depends on how you carry it. 

Bad Hot Dog (Overheated, Burnt, & Gasping). 2017

MJB: Bad Hot Dog is a wonderful piece/the playfulness and humor really resonates -- what dictates the tone of your shows? And is there ever a time in the process where you have said "well this is a serious subject matter, maybe I go another direction with it?" 

MU: Thank you – I love this piece too.

I think humor is a necessity for making work regardless of the seriousness of the subject. In my family humor, sarcasm, or cynicism – or all – are ways of dealing with life in all its tragedy and triumph. We (I) try not to take things so seriously. Life is complicated but really simple. I believe everything has been done before – everything. We all relive, under different circumstances and subtleties, the same shit decades before. Whether it’s my genetics, roots in North New Jersey, my time in the military, raised in a standard divorced family in the 90’s…I don’t know exactly why, but humor is the underlying truth in life. It is perhaps the realest thing, besides love, in life.

The two hot dog pieces in my show exemplify this dichotomy, life balance of humor and austerity.

My process begins with an object that describes the overall concept of my projects. Baseball = hot dogs. I begin by formally breaking down that object in a matter of texture, scale, taste, smell, etc. I break down these formalities and either abstract or purposely exploit. For instance: the hot dog itself is made of foam and the nylon straps squeeze it against the wooden ‘bun’ to show its physical being – makes me think of biting into a hot dog. The nylon straps, appropriately colored mustard and ketchup, hold the entire piece together – the condiment = the compliment. The ‘bun’ is abstracted. Instead of going soft like a real bun, the structure of the bun is more important to me and creating a custom structure was important and necessary visual to create tension yet a relationship. The bun is the vehicle that delivers the hot dog, it supports the hot dog.

Bad Hot Dog is the negative to Hot Dog. Simply changing the color palette but staying close enough to each other.

Pushing Up Daisies. 2017

MJB: Who and what influences you -- today and from yesteryear? 

MU: Music. Cooking. Living a life outside of art.

MJB: What's next, Matthew? 

MU: Cleaning my studio, applying to residencies, submitting new proposals, collaborating with Matt Allison.

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