Artist of the Week

Mike Rubin

December 15, 2013

Mike Rubin was born in Los Angeles, CA.  He is currently pursuing his MFA in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.   

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I grew up in Los Angeles and am currently pursuing my MFA in Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  I’m an object maker, mostly. My work makes use of a specialized image transfer process that I manipulate, known as Hydrographic Dipping – it’s a surfacing technique that allows me to image three-dimensional objects.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Well, I guess in a way to answer all three variations of that question, I could discuss The Quarter Project. It’s a sculpture that gets built over the course of my lifetime.  I fabricate the object by swallowing, digesting, and shitting out a single commemorative coin over and over, in repetition, for the rest of my life. In this way, I’m using my body as a sculptural apparatus, allowing the parasympathetic muscle response in my digestive tract and the acid in my stomach to mark and shape the object with each cycle.

The project began with the conceptual parameters of having the coin travel the length of a marathon through my digestive tract, an approximate 4,576 cycles. Although as time passed, I began to forge an incredibly strong psychological relationship with the thing, which seems to be more interesting.

What are you currently watching on Netflix/whats on your Netflix queue? I don’t have Netflix, is that still a thing?


What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? I think a very real problem is the relationship of the work’s physical presence with that of its digital representation.  I’m not sure how new this dilemma is, but it seems to becoming increasingly more understood that work exists in a variety of spatial capacities, which I’m not sure I agree with.  I think a representation of the work, like the images provided here is something different than the work itself.  Without speaking in absolutes, most art is designed to be oppositional to the body, at least in an experiential capacity.  I think my work tries to deal with this object-image relationship in a very direct way.


How did your interest in art begin? I’m not really sure I have a good answer for that one.  When I was an Undergraduate, it took me a long time to even realize that the things I was thinking, or interested in, even had anything to do with art.  I think like most, I just started visually consuming to sustain myself, through film, then literature and eventually objects.  As for my conceptual concerns, the first time I visited the Tabasco factory in Louisiana could potentially have played a part.


How has living in Chicago affected your art practice? Well, I moved to Chicago for Grad School, so the city itself has had a great impact on my work, considering the artists and curators I’ve studied under.  At first, I think I was naively hesitant to be away from NY or LA, but ultimately found that Chicago is maybe one of the more positive places to marinate during graduate study.  It has some of the more exciting and experimental spaces that are complimented with the accessibility of the larger institutions.   But more than anything, I think the city’s rich musical and architectural history is something that I think about a lot.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? I eat and shit the same quarter over and over to make sculpture.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Predominantly I work with an image transfer process, in which I can inkjet print images on a specialized Polyvinyl Alcohol transparency, then transfer those images onto three dimensional objects.  I do this by building massive water tanks in the studio and laying the printed transparencies on the surface of the water, after a chemical activator that I make is applied, I can then push the object of choice though the liquefied image and adhere it to the three dimensional structure.

I use Jeff Wall’s essay, Photography and Liquid Intelligence, as a way to build on an understanding that connects the wetness of traditional image making to more archaic and historical forms of manual labor surrounding water.  There seems to be something about the physicality as I carry buckets of water back and forth to fill the tanks, using hoists and cranks to raise and lower the objects and ultimately liquefying the image, as a means of acknowledging our inundated state.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? Carol Bove had a show at Maccarone I saw in NY a few months ago that was pretty great.  I also saw Mike Kelly’s retrospective at PS1 last week, which totally blew my mind.

Any current or upcoming shows we should know about? I’ve been invited to participate in a group show in Puerto Rico this month and another in Chelsea, in early February. But two other artists and myself will be showing some new work here in Chicago at Roots and Culture, Opening January 24th.  Come out, should be fun!

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? I had the opportunity to show some work at SAIC’s booth at EXPO Chicago.  I showed a sculpture that sits next to a really beautiful facsimile of an old fashioned doughnut that I sculpted.  Long story short, I guess that it looked too real, because the maintenance crew swept it up with the trash and threw it out.  Which was actually pretty flattering, and much more poetic than selling the thing.