Eric Oglander is the guy behind the Instagram account craigslist_mirrors that for some time now has gone around the creatively-active sphere of NY and beyond. Sort of randomly finding one day a picture of a circular mirror being sold on Craigslist, the Queens-based artist noticed the unassumed performative beauty of its position somewhere outdoors and the mirror’s reflection of two strangers. Over time Oglander began to accumulate a seemingly endless archive of similar ‘for sale’ mirrors, eventually growing into a project that led to an exhibition in overseas London and a book. While the undeniably-present aesthetic quality of the images themselves might have been one of the central reasons the project exploded so exponentially over the internet, it’s the unintended (artistic) creation that concretizes most of its appeal. The initial lack of its pre-conditioned artistic purpose—this instructive, primitive volatility—bestows a especially genuine, as well as refreshing, presence within the discourse of contemporary art as it bypasses the so-often tiresome premeditated meaning of it all. Oglander finds images that are accidental souvenirs of someone else’s history, an exceedingly sober presentation of real life that automatically romanticizes the unromantic process itself. There’s perfection within the images flaws, an endearing vulnerability within their sales pitch. When he doesn’t look for mirrors online, he likes to collect branches outside and incorporate them within his sculpture-based practice. A seemingly contrasting artistic release, yet forever returning to this idea of the coincidental, searching and not knowing what’s there to encounter.
You must have had this question a thousand times, but I’m generally curious. How did your collection of Craigslist mirrors begin?
I’ve indeed heard that question numerous times, but it’s pertinent. I buy and resell things that I find on craigslist and I found a mirror listed as part of a virtual garage sale. The photo was of a circular mirror outdoors, reflecting two ghostly figures. I thought “There must be more,” and I started obsessively hunting. I got the idea to start a book of them after visiting Printed Matter in NYC, but couldn’t afford publication. So I started the tumblr instead.
What was it about these pictures taken by strangers that caught your attention? I want to assume that many of those images came into existence somewhat unintentionally. Perhaps that’s why they are also so beautiful. People creating these pieces—entire universes—completely unaware of their allure.
In my opinion, that’s the single quality that makes them potent. There are so many people trying to make both beautiful and conceptually strong works of art, and here are these pictures that some folks snapped of an object and put on the internet for the sake of selling said object and they’re shockingly aesthetic. It’s the lack of intent that makes them surprising. I like that they exist outside of my other work. I can’t brand them with my name. I didn’t make them. I collected and curated them. I also can’t sell them. I tried at a gallery show in London and I hated it. It dulled the project.
In what way did the gallery show dull the project? Did the content suddenly feel too removed, forced onto these new landscapes?
It didn’t feel too removed. I quite liked seeing it even more distant from it’s original context. It was the fact that they were for sale. To make them a commodity felt lame. Money always complicates stuff and this was no exception. It felt a little dirty to me.
You recently published a book with TBW, does that mean the project is ‘done?’
I post occasionally on instagram, but I somehow managed to lose my account username and password for Tumblr so I can no longer post there. I actually need to find someone who works at Tumblr to help me with that. I’m on Craigslist a lot and I can’t help but drag photos into folders when they’re good. People seem to really enjoy the project and that inspires me to keep posting. I’ll keep posting but less frequently. The book was certainly a pinnacle. I felt that it legitimized the project in a way. The guys at TBW are excellent humans.
Can you see the mirror project evolve into something else? Perhaps in way of collecting images of different objects? Or do the mirrors pertain to some personal attachment at this point?
I collect imagery from all over the internet, including other images from Craigslist. None of them have the same punch as the mirrors, but I could see them finding their way into another photo book. I post them on my personal instagram on occasion (@ericoglander). I have a further obsessive collection of mirrors from craigslist where I only collected one kind of mirror. 8 Ball put out a book of them called “Tri-mirror.”
Aside the mirror project, you also make objects. Somehow I find these two particular practices overtly different in their overall reality. Your objects are organic, nature-related, whereas the mirrors often reference a staged setting, seemingly far away from the idea of nature itself. It’s interesting, though, how the idea of ‘found object’ seems to recur within both practices. The found images versus the branches you incorporate in some of your objects. Is there a certain romanticization, with finding things and applying new meaning onto them?
Absolutely. The act of slightly manipulating an object, either by showing it in a new environment or altering it just enough to make it look made, can render it as “art.” It gives it just enough ownership to make it feel like “mine” …if that makes sense. I enjoy walking the line between what’s art and what’s not. I like work that comes easy. It can’t be overwrought. I like work that speaks for itself and doesn’t have to rely on a statement.
Craigslist mirrors and my objects certainly differ aesthetically but they come from the same history of collecting, simple execution and recontextualisation. I make my objects because I love working with my hands and hunting for the material. It’s okay if people can’t look at both practices and find cohesion. Artists should be making what they want to make. It doesn’t all have to play well together.
Your comment about ‘not relying on statements’ is interesting. I feel similar, and often don’t intentionally want to apply any particular meaning to my work (writing, in this case). It becomes tedious how everyone continuously wants to apply all this meaning, when work should sometimes just exist. Somehow, though, it feels almost impossible to not enter the realm of declarations. Especially nowadays, when statements are put onto everything.
I think statements exist for those who aren’t artists or creatives. If I walk into a show and LOVE the work I MIGHT seek out the statement to learn more. If I see art and feel nothing I won’t care to learn more about it (unless there’s some significant detail like the artist being blind). But I feel like a lot of collectors today are coerced into buying art because the artist shows here or there. The buyer gets the whole package including the artist’s history, credentials etc. It’s literally a sales pitch. It grosses me out how rare it is for a (wealthy) collector to buy a piece because they genuinely LIKE it. I’m not saying that there aren’t any well off collectors with taste that they follow… I guess you know what I mean. I often feel that the work I see is based on the statement rather than the statement being about the work. I don’t even like writing out an answer to this question about statements(not your fault) because my words are now static. I want to have a fluid conversation.
Where do you collect these branches? Do you take trips outside the city?
No pun intended? When I first moved to Brooklyn I lived near Prospect Park and found where the city dumped branches that they trimmed. I’d carve in the park and take the pieces. I now ride my bike to the park and collect them on occasion. But honestly, it feels like too much of a hassle. I grew up in the woods and would stumble upon beautiful forms while walking, often not trying to find something that would lend itself to a sculpture.
I miss it being a part of my life rather than seeking it out. It might seem lazy, but I like making art that’s based on the life I’m living rather than bringing art from the past to wherever I am. Craigslist mirrors seemed like a total fluke but came into existence because of my move to NYC. As of late, making my sculptures has felt a bit forced and I don’t have a great studio to work in. Perhaps I’m spoiled by my upbringing in the woods, but I’m also okay with taking my time and making art when it feels right. I’m not chomping at the bit to make a career as an artist. I actual feel that my work would benefit from the separation. I’m more interested in taking my creative energy and putting it towards farming and homesteading. I suppose I’m a bit angry at all of the productive, creative humans toiling in their studios on something that ultimately doesn’t have a huge impact. Not to say that art isn’t important, but damn, it sure does take a lot of time to make these precious objects. Do we need more of them? Maybe a couple, but we sure do need farms and real food. Art is often just an ego trip. And man, I LOVE art. I also hate it...clearly. Maybe I’m just a synical ass hole. People should do what they like but they should do it for the right reason.
I agree, and suppose this is what most people find so upsetting within the art word. How everything is just completely fucked, and there seems no way out. I guess now I’m also thinking about the right reasons… how to not immediately be exploited when wanting to live off one’s art.
Well, people make art for different reasons of course, but I hope it’s coming from a real place. I hope there’s some integrity behind it. Art isn’t alone in robbing people of the joy in their craft when it becomes a career. It’s the nature of work and money. I personally struggle with it, not to say that everyone does. Art schools are also pumping out these conceptual brains that often make art that looks a lot like their professor’s or their classmate’s work. If we didn’t need another abstract painting in the world, we certainly don’t need another one that looks like the last guy’s or girl’s. But paint if it feels right to you. Don’t paint to be the next successful factory artist. I feel like I made my best work when I lived in the woods in Tennessee and didn’t consider historically significant works or other artist’s making similar work that I should tiptoe around as to stay original. I made stuff because I enjoyed it. I miss that. I can’t help but consider the NYC “art world” when I’m in the studio here. It’s exhausting. I tried to be the guy that goes to the studio after working for 8 hours but I simply don’t care enough. I also can’t afford a studio at the moment. Plus, there are a million other interests tugging at my brain parts.
Most things (everything?) become tiresome and develop a certain factory-feel once being in it full-time. I think of myself right now, I have to finish this manuscript, and how I’m supposed to produce and produce and produce, every day for the next weeks. And I can’t. I did ‘well’ for some days, but then everything I wrote suddenly turned into this forced landscape of words. I just think it’s impossible to constantly have productive, enlightening—and that’s a big word—thoughts. I don’t, at least. (Maybe I’m also a terrible writer, considering how hard I need to work at things.) But I relate the same notion to physically working as an artist, whatever your practice is. Even photography—where it seems most accessible, since, especially these days, you ‘just have to click on a button.’ You can’t always see beauty, purpose. It comes, sort of sporadically, in my opinion. So the question is really, how to produce genuinely when fully emerged within your artistic practice…unless, of course, you had a sponsor, financing you full-time, including all those many unproductive days, so your head can ease away when it needs to…
Tough question. I think you just have to be a nerd and make art about whatever you’re nerdy for. Don’t let cool kids and money get in the way of your nerdiness.
Briefly going back to our previous talk about nature, it seems like you really belong in the woods. What’s keeping you in NY?
Jobs and community. I want to be in nature but I have to make money and to live in the country you either have to be independently wealthy, work remotely, have a full time farm or have a job that kind of sucks (there are more options in there but that’s where I fall). I currently work in a small studio for an artist and I really like my job. I only work three days a week so I have the time to get out of the city. I do something different everyday at this job and my brain feels stimulated. With four days free, I’m hoping to buy some land upstate and spend more time there. I just need money, and working three days a week doesn’t allow for much of that. I live with my girlfriend in Queens and she’s reluctant to permanently relocate, as am I. We love our apartment which is helpful. We have a nice little community in the city and she likes the energy here. She grew up in Westchester and all of her family is here. We have some friends that all live in the same area upstate so I’m excited to have community in the country. It will happen soon enough. Existing in the woods feels right to me.
Images courtesy of Eric Oglander
interview LARA KONRAD
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