Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Big City Portrait #3: Benjamin Ball & Gaston Nogues

Ball-Nogues Studio
interview and images by Anais Wade

What has influenced your work personally and historically?

Gaston: the process of making has always interested me, so understanding the a to z steps required to go from concept to reality have always been important to me, it gives you the freedom to ask the question “what if?”

Environments fascinate me. Since childhood, I’ve spent a lot of time wandering and observing places. I make a kind of mental inventory of what I see.

What are the advantages and challenges of working together?

Gaston: Well, the most obvious advantage is that we can be in more places at the same time because there are two of us and as such we can get more work done, the challenge then for us is more about communication than anything else...we usually don't disagree about color or form since the work is not just about those types of endeavors.
Benjamin: It’s a relationship; it’s a marriage. I try to consider each step as a negotiation. The advantage of working together is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We are a bit like two sides of the same brain, each having its discreet functions but inexorably linked to the other side. Each side is necessary for the other side to function within the whole. Ideas flow back and forth and we are able to critically assess them quickly and to an extent that would not be possible were we working alone. It is about having different skills and proclivities but sharing values and aesthetic sensibilities.

How do you see your work in relationship to building community and greater participation?

Having been trained as an architect you spend a lot of your time balancing programmatic requirements as formal manifestations, so the program then becomes a sort of narrative about use and experience.

They are very important. We are interested in expanding the potential for making physical spaces and all that this entails in terms of techniques, aesthetics and design, but we feel strongly inclined toward yoking these interests to human interaction. We give each project a purpose related to human activity. The work has to stand on its own in a public (City) or quasi-public (gallery or museum) setting. There is also a community aspect to the production and disassembly of the work.

Your heroes in real life.

I don't have any real life heroes...but if I had to choose heroes I might choose Craig Breedlove, the land speed racer. He had a long racing career but in the mid sixties he and another racer named Art Arfons were involved in an epic battle trading land speed records between them and going through 400, 500 and 600 miles an hour speed barriers...imagine that! You have to be totally confident in your abilities as well as somewhat fearless or totally crazy to want to go that fast and since there is no money to be made in land speed racing it is truly about passion and dedication to the vision.

Benjamin: I’m too embarrassed to say this publically . . .

Why Los Angeles?

I didn’t make the choice of living here as an adult, I just wound up here as a kid. My family moved here, and so this became home. That’s the accidental why. But as an adult I chose to stay here for many reasons and also because I think this is the ideal place were you can make work like ours happen.

Benjamin: Los Angeles was never somewhere I imagined living. I landed here because of school and I never left. I’ve learned to like it. The city still embodies, in a great way, some romantic notions of the West I absorbed when growing up. It is a space of potential. In terms of producing work, the availability of space is essential; we probably couldn’t be based in anywhere else. I’m also really interested in the creative communities here: art, design, film, music, performance, and technology. Some people can almost afford to live here and produce their work!

I’m not an apologetic Angeleno, New Yorkers can kiss my ass if they trash Los Angeles. I think a lot of negative clich├ęs about the City come from Hollywood. The difficulty of living Los Angeles is something I think about and try to embrace; I try to modify my habits and expectations about living to live here. It takes energy and awareness to find the good parts; it keeps me on my toes and forces me outside my comfort zone.

Why architecture and not another discipline?

G: My dad is an aerospace engineer and so as a kid I was exposed to that type of work, during summers he would take me to the hangar with him and as such introduced me to everything from his engineering drawings to the machinists that made the airplanes and parts. That was a huge influence for me, after High school when I visited SCI-Arc the place really resonated with me reminding me of those childhood work trips with my dad right down to the “hangar” environment.

I kind of think of our work engaging a lot of disciplines. Our discipline involves lots of disciplines. I can’t seem to make myself think within the disciplinary boundaries of art or architecture. We are interested in a lot of different things; some of them are at the edges of architecture. We contribute to architectural discourse, but the work isn’t necessarily architecture in the conventional sense. I thought about architecture a lot as a child, and then it dropped off of my radar until I was in college. I wanted to find a school that could support my shifting interests. Sci-Arc seemed right to me. I wanted to develop a personal approach to architecture, one that enabled me to indulge interests outside of the boundaries of the field. I’ve always been fixated on creating environments; there was always more to it than just architecture.

How would you define space?

B: X, Y, and Z, with a question mark in the middle. Our work is a way of finding answers to your question.

G: I like to define space the same way that a french mime usually does.

What is your dream project?

G: We consider ourselves to be pretty fortunate to have gotten so many opportunities, but we also work hard at what we do. We take every project very seriously, and every one of them is a bit of a dream project, or a dream challenge. Some aspects of them can be a big pain in the butt too!
© 2011, Big City Forum

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