Eight Silly Questions: With Space Invaders Artist Jason Torchinsky

 

As previously reported, giant wooden Space Invaders created by L.A.-based artist Jason Torchinsky will soon be temporarily installed in downtown Culver CIty. I was lucky enough to be able to interview Torchinsky, who talked about his influences and about how bringing the Invaders to the city was both arduous and harrowing.

 

1) How has being an educator in Los Angeles affected you (Torchinsky serves as an instructor and the Head of Digital Design for the Visual Arts and Humanities, a pilot school in the LAUSD at the district's RFK center west of downtown Los Angeles.)?

Hmm. Art-wise, not so much, really. Well, except for the fact that I have summers off, which provided some extremely valuable construction time. As a design teacher, though, I am always thinking about art and design, so there's that.


2) Are you part of an art scene in Los Angeles? You seem to be active with Machine Project. What is that?

Art scenes are sometimes hard to identify when you're immersed in them, but I suppose I'm affiliated with two scenes, at least in some way: Machine Project and the 8-bit scene. With Machine Project, I work with an amazing group of artists on various projects, masterminded mostly by Mark Allen. For example, this summer Machine Project sent a team of artists to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. My part there was conducting workshops teaching kids how to break into, out of, and hotwire cars, and a concert with old Apple IIs. I've given talks at Machine and they're always a willing venue for my often inane ideas.

The 8-bit scene is pretty large, and is based on the aesthetic of 80s-era videogames and computers, and one of the biggest drivers of the movement is Jon Gibson, founder of i am 8 bit. He's the guy who commissioned the giant Atari joystick I made, and has also supported some of my other videogame related art, like the hoax Kyrgyz arcade machine I built.


3) Have you heard of Crash Space in Culver City? They seem to be doing some things that are thematically similar to what Machine Project is doing.

I'm not familiar with Crash Space, but I know there's many great hacker and makerspaces out there; this is a great time to be someone who wants to make things.


4) Your work has a great sense of humor. I'm thinking not only of the 'little guys' who will invade downtown CC but also of your shamelessly phallic giant joystick, and the gleeful 'Good People Doing Bad Things' curriculum. Do you think humor is important in art or life?

Comedy and humor has always been a big part of what I do; I came to LA as part of a comedy group (the Van Gogh-Goghs) and have done lots of standup and I've been a writer for the Onion more recently as well. Usually when I make something, there's always some part that can be read in some sort of funny way; it just sort of works out like that. Besides, if I make work doesn't take itself too seriously, people will be more inclined to ignore the fact that I don't really have some earth-shattering points to make.


5) Were the "Space Invaders" fun to make?

The first couple invaders were fun to make, but after that they did start getting arduous. They're built like big outdoor sheds, really, so there's lots of semi-repetitive work to get lost in. But then they began to get difficult, as the sheer scale of them makes everything difficult, and the uneven brick driveway I built them on makes measuring and keeping things accurate a fruitless ordeal. Moving them was also a bit harrowing, along with exciting adventures in trailer-reversing and stopping traffic on Franklin Ave.

 

6) "Space Invaders" looks at outdated technology through an enlarging lens. You're engaging with nostalgia and all the happy/sad feelings that induces -- like you're sad about missing something but also profoundly happy that you once felt something great. Are there other artists you're drawn to who address nostalgia?

The nostalgia is a big part of the work, I suppose, as these sprites do conjure up memories of arcades in the early 80s, free Saturdays and no responsibilities; but there's another sort of nostalgia as well, a technological nostalgia, seeing the larval forms of the screens and computers and devices that define most of our daily lives today. Now we have phones with pixels too small to be discerned by the eye; it's interesting to go back and reflect on the days when pixels were these big, blurry points of light, like so many orderly stars.


7) The large size of the objects also serves to make the viewer feel smaller -- as we were when we were playing with these objects. In your case, the scale reinforces our movement into our own past during the experience.  Do you have any artistic heroes who play with scale?

I have several artistic heroes who play with scale: Alexander Calder, for his giant mobiles and stabiles, Claes Oldenberg, who was a master at embiggening and softening all manner of objects; and more recently Jeff Koons, with things like his colossal twisted balloon animals.


8) Do you know Tony Tasset's work? This spring, he will be installing a huge rainbow in Culver City. He's also dealing with scale, but to different effect than you.
No, but that looks amazing!

 

For more on Jason Torchinsky, you can also check out this interview in Culver CIty Patch.

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