We caught up with him at Coffee Cartel to discuss performance art and why he’s NOT an attention whore.
Joshua Barton: Why are you an artist?
Nick Jacobs: I have always wanted to do art. My grandma always took me to art museums and shows so I was exposed to art at an early age. There is something about the ability to make something that was once on the inside and is now outside and let people see it that is impressive to me.
JB: Why performance art?
NJ: When it came to choosing a major in college I knew I wanted to be a designer but I started taking performance art classes my sophomore year because a friend of mine was taking it so I thought, ‘Why not?’ and it was addicting!
It was something I had never done before or experienced because it is all internal and temporal. Paintings and sculptures all start as an internal thought but with performance art you use your own body in real time and once it’s over it’s over and all that’s left is the aftermath. I find it gets a more visceral reaction from the audience.
JB: What is the biggest misconception of performance art?
NJ: First of all when people ask me what kind of art that I do and I say performance art they usually say, ‘Oh, you’re in plays!’ People automatically assume that you’re an attention seeking whore or that you are really odd and out there but I like to think that I’m pretty normal [smiles].
JB: So you’re not an attention whore?
NJ: Oh god no! I did theater in high school and it was great but performance art is a different flow. When you’re on stage and you’re saying someone else’s lines or singing their song you think, ‘I’m singing their song, I’m singing their song,’ but with performance art it’s you and you and you.
JB: Guide us through your creative process?
NJ: I actually work opposite to the way I was trained. Performance art is all about the visual so I will take a material I’m inspired by and work with that and its aesthetics first and work backwards to formulate a concept. I have a stockpile of concepts and ideas I’ve always wanted to explore so it always seems that whatever I’m making organically forms into one of those thoughts. I always go by the adage YOUR FIRST IDEA IS YOUR BEST IDEA. Some people go years thinking about how to create their masterpiece but for me its more of a knee jerk reaction.
JB: Does your sexuality, if at all, play any role in your performance art?
NJ: Most of the performances I’ve done are about being a gay male. When I was in school as a freshman I didn’t want to do work about being gay. I though it was a cop out. I thought it was too easy and I wanted to explore other realms of concept. I was dealing with the idea of nostalgia and the past but they weren’t about me.
JB: What changed?
NJ: Well, senior year came around and I had this arsenal of work I wanted to make about being a gay man. There were so many things tugging at me to make work about it that I thought now was the appropriate time…I had waited long enough and I had honed in on my skill so I figured why not deal with this issue?
JB: What were you trying to say?
NJ: About being gay? Well the works were about people discovering my homosexuality. People would ask me if I were gay and I’d tell them yes and they’d say, “Good for you, good for you,” well ya! GREAT FOR ME! It is one of those phrases that can be very patronizing and it really irked me. So that was the little nugget of inspiration that I went from. That was the spark.
JB: After watching one of your video “Untitled (Break)” on YouTube where you punch your way through a wall I get the sense that underneath this very well manicured and handsome demeanor there lies something dark and maybe even violent. Comment on that.
NJ: There is an artist, Matthew Barney, he’s partnered with Bjork and he did a lot of work about restraining. He did a series of drawings while being physically restrained and a lot of his work is about restraint and what I deem as endurance not so much violence but testing the limits of one’s body. You can test the body by overindulging in food or candy or too much pleasure. For me using a more aggressive nature is a comment on what I was doing. If I were gently taking pieces out of the wall it wouldn’t pack the same punch. It was testing the limits of my body so through those performances I know what my limits are.
JB: You don’t have to incriminate yourself but what is your personal view on the use of drugs to enhance creativity?
NJ: I do not do drugs. Never have, never will, but obviously being in art school I had a lot of friends who smoked pot. If it gets something great out I’m all for it. Go ahead just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.
For the longest time I viewed it as a weakness in some artists but I don’t think that way anymore.
Of course being a big fag I found out in an interview with Lady Gaga that she smokes pot before she writes a song so being obsessed with her I figured it was okay! I know if I were to do drugs I would not make good art but everybody has something that gets it out of them. For me it’s talking through something and being totally annoying to myself but everybody has that thing that sparks inspiration…if it is legal or not that’s up to you.
JB: How would you describe the Saint Louis art scene?
NJ: I love it! I’ve been to Minneapolis, New York and Europe and the St. Louis community is one of the best. I saw Jerry Saltz when he came to St. Louis…he is a prominent critic in the art world and he said he loved St. Louis’ art scene because WE have to make it…the artists have to, the curators have to, the critics have to, everyone involved has to make, provide and keep doing. In New York if people stopped make art work for five years it would still be there. If that happened here it would be gone. Here it is a very tight knight community but its also very welcoming. There are more opportunities here for a younger artist and St. Louis is very supportive of young people who are trying to say something and I find that very pure here. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
BY: JOSHUA BARTON