By Leah Gallant
Matthew in his installation at the Commerce Center, ‘Trapping the In Between.’
The natural world is central to your work as both subject and medium. Can you tell me about your larger philosophies on the environment and its relationships to humans?
I’m interested in investigating a nostalgic idea of nature through my work. We’ve become so detached from nature, but we glamorize it as this thing we need to get back to—things like hunting are romanticized in TV shows. I’m not trying to paint pictures of hunting as totally negative, because I don’t think it is—hunting is the sole reason that society even started, it was the need to hunt bigger and larger things that brought people to work together. The role of hunting has changed, so I’m interested in questioning the role of hunting now. I’m also interested in the idea that we need to repair nature. Nature will repair itself, we just need to get out of its way.
Matthew Batty, Fruit of the Hunt
What does it mean for you to drawing on these issues now, where there’s a lot of dialogue about environmental destruction? And making art about those subjects?
For me, it’s one of the ways that I can do my part as an activist. I sign petitions daily and try to live my life by the same philosophies that I’m making art from. Environmental concerns are what my work is about but they aren’t the only issue. Gender equity issues, for example, as well as other social issues, are just as important to me as the environment, but as a male I can only be an ally. I don’t have the voice to make work about those issues, so I make work about the things I feel like I can speak to.
Matthew Batty, Fresh Catch
Your work spans a lot of mediums, including sculpture and installation, but you often incorporate printmaking into those other mediums.
Printmaking is tied into the tradition of the dissemination of information, and I’m interested in that. It also speaks to mass production, which is tied into environmental problems, like materialism. Printmaking is the beginning of a process for me to get from idea to flat surface and then to move forward with three dimensional objects. Recently I’ve been gravitating towards any photo process with printmaking.
You were born in New Orleans and raised in Florida. Do you think that your Southern upbringing shaped your work? Are there particular aesthetics or artistic mediums connected to the South that influenced you?
What gets called a southern aesthetic is really more of a rural aesthetic. When I lived in new Orleans when I was a child there were a lot of folk artists and musicians from there who all influenced me, although I didn’t realize it until I started coming to terms with who I was as an artist and what I really enjoyed. I’m interested in the idea of the outsider present in folk art and even jazz, and outsider art as this uneducated brilliance. There are occasions where it’s celebrated, like folk art museums. Folk originally meant people, it didn’t mean country or hokey, just everyday people, and I think that’s the idea that I really like is the inclusion of everybody, not just the elite, but also normal people who are introduced to art. I’m also influenced a lot by the punk community that I came out of in Florida, which has an outsider element to it as well.
Matthew Batty, Tupelo
Are there particular folk artists that have influenced you?
The first would be the artists I interned with at Yee Haw industries, in Knoxville, Tennessee, Kevin Bradley and Julie Belcher, they introduced me to letterpress. That’s what influenced me to get out of graphic design and following more of a passion than money. I’m also looking at Radcliffe Bailey, Rimer Cardillo, Margaret Kilgallen, Jules Buck Jones, and Kiki Smith. I’ve been really into Mark Dion lately, because his work deals with the natural world. He goes about it in a different way than I do –he uses the museum and the vocabulary the museum has created. It’s also the natural history of the museum I’m interested in, like how he traverses hierarchies of lesser things like rocks to invertebrates to invertebrates to humans. That hierarchy is interesting for me because I think that to get to a sustainable society we have to analyze that hierarchy and our place at its center. We come from a very anthropocentric viewpoint, and trying to move away from that is one of the keys to helping nature help itself.
St. Augustine Distillery, St. Augustine, Florida.
You started off as a graphic designer but are now working as an artist. You’re also a musician and curator. What are the relationships between your different modes of making?
A professor I had once told me that design is about finding solutions, and art is about asking questions. And I don’t want to propose that I have any solutions. Doing design was about solving a problem very easily with visuals, but I think I can take what I learned from that and try and create conversations. Curating the St. Augustine Distillery was also a design issue. A lot of my work is about collection in general, and that kind of allowed me in my art to figure out these objects and the beauty behind them, to give them a platform for their voice. A lot of my work has to do with investigation, like before I make work I do a lot of historical investigating, like in the project at the commerce center I started out researching the area, the industry of fur-trapping and how it developed the area, not just South bend but all of lower Michiana because it was very rich in fur-bearing animals. I think it was also coming to be an adult in St. Augustine, Florida, which is the oldest city in the nation, and really influenced how I perceive history. As for music, it’s a very similar thing, I play a banjo, so it’s this common music, it relates back to the idea of folk and people. So I’ve been playing around with ways to incorporate it into my studio practice–I haven’t done it quite yet but I’m working on it.
Matthew in his installation.
Your installation at the Commerce Center, ‘Trapping the In Between,’ ties back to earlier work in terms of the interest in hunting and human relationships to natural resources, but it’s also one of your first site-specific installations. What did you try that was new, and what have you learned from the process?
I did do one site-specific installation, right before I came here, a collaboration with my friend Avery Collins. It was a sound piece, entitled ‘A Hum in g Modal,’ that we built an installation around, so that was the beginning of integrating music into my work. ‘Trapping the In Between’ is an environment centered around a big idea, but every piece is different, they all relate. Also, I’ve never worked with light as much as I have this time around, which is always an interesting thing because it can fill a room with something pretty small, either casting a shadow or projecting. So using light is something that I’m very excited to try and keep working with. I think it was here that I’ve embraced this idea of nostalgia, whereas before when people used that word to talk about my work I was like ‘don’t do that.’ But it actually makes sense in that it’s not that I’m nostalgic, but the culture in general is—and in parts I am too, but I have this very realistic view of hunting as well. I’ve embraced it more here and am using it as a tool to create discomfort but also approachability.
For more of Matthew’s work, go to his website at http://www.marsupialalchemy.com/
Photo credit: Matthew Batty, Leah Gallant