Q&A: Andreas Buchwaldt talks construction, art, music, and community

Andreas Buchwaldt photo by Tom Beedham

Andreas Buchwaldt has been showing his art in public galleries for five years, but when he relocated from Saskatoon to Toronto three years ago, he found condos and city development sneaking into his focus just as they crept into the city he calls home.

Just as Buchwaldt imagines a potential for Toronto’s city planners to learn from its artists, he has observed a similar dialogue manifesting at Toronto’s Long Winter, this time between the city’s musicians and its artists. Appearing at the Great Hall on Friday (Dec. 13) for the second instalment of this season’s Long Winter, the piece Buchwaldt will display at the all ages, pay-what-you-can event is a marriage of his interests in structures, community, and materials, as well as a response to the music that has been a constant at the monthly events: a wood-and-cardboard mobile accordion that requires the cooperation of three people to pump and play it. Buchwaldt got together with us at his studio in the Junction Triangle on Dec. 5 to talk about his (so far) unnamed piece and the exchanges that brought him there. Full interview below.

Long Winter: For the most part architecture weighs pretty heavy in your work – you’ve got blueprints, housing frames, lots of pieces that look like skeletons of structures that we’re used to seeing. How do you arrive at your subjects? Andreas Buchwaldt: A lot of it’s architecturally based. So starting with blueprints or floor plans and it’s also exploring materials like Expandex and weird stretchy materials. I think I’m just trying to reimagine different ways of building structures you’d see in the everyday. I’m trying to imagine what a building would look like if it were made out of something completely different and how that material could change the way it functions – like how it would resist entropy. When a building crumbles because it gets old and worn out, if it was made out of rubber, what would happen? I’m just kind of posing those questions. A lot of the most recent stuff is just from coming to Toronto. Condo towers just kind of crept into my art and the downtown core. It’s just kind of a general view of the skyline, just to try and take in all of the city at once. And then something we don’t have in Saskatoon – well we do have it but it’s predominate here, especially in the art scene – are all of these two-floor business-on-the-bottom/someone-lives-upstairs sort of things. That way of living – that two-storey, split purpose architecture – was just something that was kind of new to me.

LW: How about the blueprint pieces? Are you focusing on specific buildings? AB: I found them online. I didn’t really feel like 3-D modeling my own things. But I like generalized architecture. Something that’s not too specific, but suggests a whole neighbourhood could be represented. Specifics get into the history of a certain building; I’m interested in the history of the city.

LW: What I take away from your pieces are these commentaries on space and perception that are delivered as kind of cheeky, mechanical distortions of architecture and how our structured realities are put together. Is there an intended humour to your work? AB: Absolutely. I haven’t thoroughly studied the way Toronto’s been designed and constructed, but from what I can see just walking down the street, I think it’s incredibly idiotic the way things are torn down and then we build something up. It doesn’t solve the problem. Every time I see a new project being built in Toronto I’m never happy. It’s always a disaster. Like right behind you. Right behind my studio is this beautiful park that people would walk their dogs in, and now the space is being filled by… not condos, but these townhouse things. And now there’s nowhere in this area that’s worth hanging out at. I have to go to Trinity Bellwoods to go drink a beer with my friends in the park. There’s nowhere here to do that. This city is not well planned.

LW: How do you approach a topic like gentrification? AB: That’s totally an interesting topic. I’m having to understand that as an artist, you’re like a foot soldier for gentrification whether you like it or not. You can say you’re against it, but you’re helping to gentrify an area. I think the problem is just taking up space with new gentrification. Like repurposing the street for Starbucks: whatever. But I think when you take new land – like the precious land that we have in Toronto – and then do something to propagate more of that shit just drives me crazy.

LW: Is there something you’re trying to say about the community experience and community involvement in the way that cities are put together? AB: Yeah. I’m not an activist. But there’s something about a mechanical sculpture that’s always going to reference a toy, basically. The way I build it, it’s always going to be the simple and cheap materials and people latch onto that really quickly. Especially if you build it kind of DIY. You can see the handmade element. People can latch onto those ideas and they become their own in a way.

LW: Right. It’s something that everyone’s familiar with from at least some point in their lives. AB: Yeah. And they’re not intimidated by it, maybe also because the piece is on another scale. And sometimes the work acknowledges your presence so it refuses to be… you know…

LW: “How many layers of paint does this have?” Exactly.

LW: That’s a good segue into the piece you’re showing at Long Winter. Would you consider this an installation? It’s a giant accordion you’re going to wear and it takes two additional people to play it. AB: Oh, I don’t even know. This is like a wearable… performance art? I don’t even know, man. It’s gone through a lot of changes. And doing something for Long Winter changed that whole side of my practice. I just wanted to make something to interact with people and incorporating music. Just something that would fit in better with the actual event. If you really wanna know, I got interested in flexible structures and then accordion structures on a massive scale. So I was interested in tents and the way that little structures can become big and just kind of pop up, and then I was like “Oh, an accordion’s like that,” so I bought an accordion. I kind of just studied the bellows, and then I just started making that, and all of a sudden it wasn’t architecture anymore. But there’s still something about a flexible structure in there that can change with movement.

LW: What are you hoping people will take away from it? AB: I think it’s going to be fun to work as a team, because it requires three other people that I’m not going to know, and I’m just going to walk up to them at Long Winter and say, “Let’s work together to make music,” and I’m kind of interested in the joy that’ll bring people. I’m going to be walking around, bumping into people and saying, “Hey, play me!”

LW: Is this the first time you’ve incorporated music or playable instruments into your work? AB: No, actually. I built a giant accordion into a walk-in closet. So you open and close the doors to pump an accordion and then it played out of the sound box in the middle. So that piece was architecture and music and then the architecture sort of disappeared in this one.

LW: I think it’s interesting that your work can be read as this commentary on the manipulation of space and that you’re displaying it at Long Winter, which you could argue has addressed some of these same topics at The Great Hall through its own use of a space that’s typically used for very defined events. Can you speak to that? AB: I’m totally stoked on that kind of practice. I’m most interested in the connection between the art and the music. Like they still have people onstage and a few art projects there, but I just like the dialogue happening between the music community and the art community. I think it’s interesting. They both have a lot to learn from each other. You go to an opening in Toronto and people are there to buy a drink and then talk to each other, and then they turn their backs on the wall and they don’t look at the art or whatever, and then a lot of music in Toronto – I love a lot of it – it’s a lot of the same, and people don’t really question, “why aren’t these artists evolving a bit more?” but [the musicians are] totally engaging the spectator, which is awesome. So the two communities just need to learn from each other.

Interview and photo by Tom Beedham