TOM SACHS AND ADAM SAVAGE
A conversation between Adam Savage and Tom Sachs.
“Don't show the endgrain clients don't like to see it and I you know of course was like fuck you yeah I'm gonna make it I made a 4x8 sheet of plywood where I like sliced in a million pieces and turned them all so it was a whole endgrain piece of plywood”
“Nutsy's is the comparison was between Le Corbusier and Ray Kroc the inventor of McDonald's and I always felt that Le Corbusier and all of his genius represents the failure of modernism and McDonald's and all of its disgusting horror represents its success and so that is the essential comparison”
“I still believe in making things and being able to fix things there's not just a satisfaction about it but there's also respect for the things in your life”
“I'll ask him something technical how did you deal with the condensation in the helmets and Buzz said oh yeah it was a terrible it was a pain in the neck it was it was it was it was difficult we had condensation”
“yeah but you know if you do it for two years it's an interest five years to Hobby when you dedicate your entire life to it the little holes that you have are too small that they won't be able to fuck with you.”
00:00:15 MC: Let’s go in the talking room.
00:00:17 Adam Savage: I’m four four by the way thanks for being on the talking room
00:00:20 Tom Sachs: Thanks for having me.
00:00:23 Adam Savage: For having for the viewers who don’t know I wanted to start by talking a little bit about your your early history about your first making experience and then where you came to understand that what you were making was art and what you wanted to make was this conversation.
00:00:40 Tom Sachs: So my early making history is I was forbidden to build things unlike you I my parents were afraid of tools or they didn’t understand them so I wasn’t allowed to use the tried to sneak the drill and my tool was a hacksaw that had because I wasn’t strong enough to use the big wood saw so everything I had one dull hacksaw blade.
00:00:58 Adam Savage: In a frame or just?
00:00:59 Tom Sachs: In a frame yeah you know and and so I was forbidden but then later when I was in college I a young woman was a couple years older than me taught me how to weld and then dumped me and broke my heart and left me with a welder.
00:01:16 Tom Sachs: She said you know okay now and so with a broken heart I fueled my all of my heartache into making a couple of really terrible sculptures my parents garage still
00:01:28 Adam Savage: So wait what kind of welder I want to know?
00:01:30 Tom Sachs: It was like a arc welder the kind? The machine like a good arc welder but it was not even a little Lincoln tombstone it was something from like the 50s it was gigantic and built in.
00:01:43 Adam Savage: Giant plug copper plugs you plugged in
00:01:46 Tom Sachs: Yeah with a clamp and you clamp it onto the work and then it arc welding rod.
00:01:52 Adam Savage: The stick is a great way to start that’s how I first weld it yeah stick and a MIG I mean which is easy but it’s great when you know that.
00:02:01 Tom Sachs: Well I think the ultimate is gas gas oxy acetylene welding that’s the
00:02:07 Adam Savage: I’ve never done it
00:02:08 Tom Sachs: That’s the proper like old school that’s you know that’s like programming. That’s the equivalent of writing code.
00:02:16 Adam Savage: You told me to get the TIG yeah I turned out that I actually had a TIG I haven’t yet outfitted it but that’s the next thing I’m going to do over in my metalworking area is sit down and really.
00:02:25 Tom Sachs: Well that’s it kind of makes everything else obsolete because you can kind of do all the other ones in one.
00:02:31 Adam Savage: One of our guys in the shop where he learned welding his teacher told them that he could do this and the kids were all like bullshit so his teacher welded a soda can two halves of soda came together with the TIG.
00:02:44 Tom Sachs: If he could do that he learned on a heliarc.
00:02:46 Adam Savage: Really?
00:02:57 Tom Sachs: Well that’s what TIG is that was like the old school word for it and the old guys in a world war two or after you know could weld like a cigarette foil I think the benchmark of but you know for me a lot of that um there’s this whole social component and the mythology of David Smith who like Bob Marley died before he had time to suck and his early who was also a welder and worked in an auto plant um you know they had this there was a machismo blue-collar machismo to to welding it’s the you know but it goes back to the Middle Ages where the you know the blacksmith was the only blue-collar guy in that in the round table right in the
00:03:36 Adam Savage: But he was super vital
00:03:37 Tom Sachs: He was so important that he was you know although he was a still blue-collar who was elevated to the next.
00:03:43 Tom Sachs: Well it’s controlling fire
00:03:46 Adam Savage: Right but that idea of the blue-collar that gets the tape gets to the table this is a little bit of a tangent but I’ve been working on this talk that I don’t know where to give yet and micros kind of talking about it but bringing back a cultural value to welding and autumn we’re have a shortage in this country of welders and auto mechanics and hydraulics engineers and you know caterpillar has trouble filling its roster with real engineers and I personally think that going to a vocational school to learn one of those skills is totally here in our culture where it’s all follow your dreams everyone thinks that’s kind of beneath them.
00:04:23 Tom Sachs: Right. Well we have the rule in the studio you’re not allowed to go to graduate school unless you’re going to get a degree in law or medicine or vocational school basically something where you need a license everything else you should just learn by doing and this is sort of right it’s an offshoot of Verner Hertzog’s thing where you should you know to be a filmmaker you should learn martial arts, document forging and foreign languages things that will help you make a movie.
00:04:55 Adam Savage: Right Right Right.
00:04:57 Tom Sachs: You know we’re up against things like business school or art school those are writing school those are forbidden you just go and you get a job as a journalist.
00:05:07 Adam Savage: So what was the first what was their first object that is like the primordial precursor to what later got made is there some talismanic thing that you made early on?
00:05:17 Tom Sachs: Yeah as a child my dad really wanted this Olymp is a Nikon fm2 which was like the smaller version of the Nikon F series I and for whatever reason like you couldn’t afford it so he bought the Olympus om one which was
00:05:34 Adam Savage: I had one of those
00:05:37 Tom Sachs: Yeah and that’s it later that later became my camera the OM one and right yeah it’s really great it’s a little smaller and I think probably equivalent quality but you know Nikon’s a little more status than yeah and if I went back to film I would use an om one cuz that’s like you know what I would default that’s the one that I don’t know and so in fifth grade or whatever I made a Nikon fm2 out of clay with little film that you could slit in the back and I think it was important because it was an expression of the ritual of consumption in our family like that my dad wanted this camera he really really wanted we talked about enough that I went had made one in school and that was a precursor for for a lot of the things that I’ve made are things like you that I’ve wanted for one reason or another.
00:06:28 Adam Savage: That’s it’s interesting the idea of like making the the the copy of the thing but making it also as a gesture as a gift for somebody that that’s the impetus in addition I mean because I think of your work is being very much having this duality between I love this brand I love this consumption and I hate the part of me that loves this consumption all at the same time
00:06:52 Tom Sachs: Yeah it’s embarrassing right to be so consumerist but we’re all that way and we all want whatever add a vanishing point charger or an iPhone or whatever the thing that we don’t have and there’s a anthropological term for this and it’s called in some way cargo cultism where you you know you build a model of the airplane that drops food or you build a model of the refrigerator that the anthropologists have or you build a model we you know when you say hey how come those planes don’t land and and the anthropologist says well it’s because you you need a runway and so like the local guys they build a runway and more anthropologists land on the runway so they can see the runway right and they actually create it.
00:07:39 Adam Savage: But did it and it’s far out to think about you making it at how old were you when you made it as a gift when you made the camera?
00:07:46 Tom Sachs: You know five or six, eight at the oldest?
00:07:48 Adam Savage: So that’s like a it’s a strangely generous thing for a child to do it seems to me but it’s sort of like so when when I think about it it makes total sense because like I look at your hermes McDonald’s meal and I feels both it feels both castigating and loving all at the same time and I’d like I see the direct jump to the loving thing of the kid giving his dad the thing he wanted.
00:08:12 Tom Sachs: well I think the thing that’s important to me is the transformative power of the object so you make as a model because you want something and then it maybe become something totally different I mean I make a McDonald’s meal out of a Tiffany package or in the first thing they made a fashion packaging was a Glock because I really wanted a Glock has cops in New York were just getting rid of their revolvers and they were getting automatics and they were plastic and they were cool and they were cheap and high-quality and so I really wanted one but getting a gun in Manhattan such a pain in the ass
00:08:47 Adam Savage: and so the licensing is impossible
00:08:47 Tom Sachs: It’s not just it was just expensive it’s like five hundred bucks a year or something it’s cost prohibitive right and so I thought well if I make this project about it I can kind of justify it and then so I got to like have a gun which is just a stupid irresponsible thing for me to have in a place like that yeah and it was a way of me you know coming to terms with this does this desire and like getting it out of my system but also being in touch with this other kind of decadent glamorous embarrassing advertising side that was paying for my life that was you know I was working in a department store as a window designer so I was it was a way of integrating all these things and having the things that I made be connected with my life because the were interested in all these things but the these objects that that you make and that I made but the thing that we’re really interested in is the story around it like it’s not just a survival kit it’s the can I mention oh yeah by oh me it’s a survival kit from Strangelove that we are obsessing over literally obsessing over every detail and imagining things that were potentially there and going to the nth degree.
00:10:03 Adam Savage: But I thought I was going to the nth agree and then I sent you my file on it of like the 18 objects that I determined 15 mentioned by Kong and then five that I hadn’t and then you wrote back and said I think the 45 caliber gun should be real and that totally redefined the way I was thinking about the accuracy of the kit and that made the obsession go one level.
00:10:24 Tom Sachs: Well yeah and I stand by that that comment because I think if you use a real gun and a thing is a little bit realer I mean that’s a it’s you’re gonna be a lot more expensive than a plastic gun yeah you know if you go all the way you’re using a real antique revolver which has all kinds of legal complications yeah I don’t want to mess with but in terms of authenticity just to consider you could go there yeah or you demilitarize them and then it’s like costs a little bit more.
00:10:53 Adam Savage: Or buy them from the film industry I’ve been thinking about the you know
00:10:54 Tom Sachs: but the point is it it has you know a real you know might have been used to kill someone so that it has this this unknown value or experience like a used book versus a new book you know it has got like its hair and food stains on it.
00:11:12 Adam Savage: You were obsessed with guns long before you fired one right?
00:11:15 Tom Sachs: Yeah yeah yeah
00:11:18 Adam Savage: It’s it’s a fascinating thing I mean because I made tons of sculptures of guns I make my first Blade Runner gun when I was 18 first time I fired one I think I was about 25 and I remember loading it in that my friend and I went to a gun range and we ranked it well Ruger nine and we I knew how to load it because I was obsessed with guns but having a loaded thing in my hand was absolutely terrifying and I still find it awful yeah at the same time as totally compelling.
00:11:43 Tom Sachs: It’s an unsettling thing that mean it on one side there’s the engineering and the historical thing that’s a very interesting but that the sort of power of them is is intriguing and frightening but you know a lot of it went back to that it was forbidden much like building was forbidden so I think my initial inspiration was that I was an adult and I could do what I want and but you know like uh the you know I was also like my parents were really concerned that I was gay so they kind of were tried to like shoo me away from Barbies and stuff and I was really into Barbie because she had those fantastic tits um so would always steal my sisters Barbie and you know thumbing her cleavage.
00:12:33 Adam Savage: No not the one that because there was one whose cleavage grew?
00:12:37 Tom Sachs: Oh now I see those more things eBay thank you.
00:12:41 Adam Savage: Wait no no I I remember correctly this might be an urban legend it was it was a Barbie it was like a Barbie’s teen sister. oh and and if you pulled her arm back her breasts grew and girls were actually trying this at slumber parties thinking that the physical mechanism for making your breasts bigger.
00:12:57 Tom Sachs: I remember making one out of plywood in the basement secretly a Barbie yeah because I could have my own secret
00:13:07 Adam Savage: I remember feeling being kind of the Barbie’s leg right so up till then I the the most Barbies leg was like kind of sensual because the event in the mecca came inside yeah
00:13:22 Tom Sachs: I took one apart recently to see it’s really just it’s plastic click click click
00:13:25 Adam Savage: But but it and you know all I’d had up to that point was the Six Million Dollar Man where you could roll the skin up on his arm and pull out the computer chip but that was nothing compared to how real Barbies right actually felt like it was shapely and soft it was weird
00:13:38 Tom Sachs: yeah but I was also frustrated Barbie because compared to GI Joe she was really not fun to play right he just do stuff.
00:13:49 Adam Savage: Yeah she her arms are like yeah okay so was there like you you you went to Bennington yeah did you do any art there?
00:13:59 Tom Sachs: That’s where that story about the welder happened focus in college so yeah and that’s that’s sort of all I did I just did the minimum classes so that I could use the great welding studio they had there and that’s I kind of got lucky that I was so sort of a great success immediately in that.
00:14:22 Adam Savage: You had a lot of attention for doing it
00:14:25 Tom Sachs: I don’t know if it was I don’t it wasn’t really a lot of attention till much later but I was good at it and I felt right and I was learning about the world through sculpture so I knew I was on the right track I mean it wasn’t it was 10 or 15 years later before I ever sold anything but it was I had this the sense of success that I have now then because I was able to because I was like a real loser before then I didn’t like it was a seat I was a bunch of my friends were valedictorians that I’m friends with now and I was the second to last in the graduating class.
00:15:02 Adam Savage: That was literally the bare minimum.
00:15:02 Tom Sachs: Yeah and I was that was my whole experience until I was in college and then I would anything related to our like philosophy and you know semiotics and stuff like that I started to excel at because I could relate it architecture history in theory I could relate to the things that I was interested in sculpture so I finally learned how to read in college I didn’t really know how properly read properly.
00:15:28 Adam Savage: Properly parse a text.
00:15:29 Tom Sachs: Yeah and it’s still hard if I’m not interested in the subject together a little learning-disabled.
00:15:35 Adam Savage: The guys who I feel like seem to me clearly influenced your work now like Duchamp and Cornell did you gravitate to those guys really early.
00:15:43 Tom Sachs: oh yeah I mean I think in my first semester in college I discovered those guys.
00:15:49 Adam Savage: Duchamp floors me and even now it seems so insanely radical yeah his mind quite put him anywhere specific.
00:15:57 Tom Sachs: I think in a way is the ultimate and I think a lot of it has to do with the austerity or restraint because found object arts really in a way it’s easy and I think a lot of the things that I did in the beginning were you know there’s always some is there all these tropes in art school the kid who you know the angry girl who makes a sculpture about her dad or with menstrual blood or like there was the kid who makes shit out of baby dolls right yeah I was that for a little while.
00:16:30 Adam Savage: Ron English
00:16:40 Tom Sachs: yeah yeah yeah I don’t oh Ron English great um and you know Marcel Duchamp was like the in the eighties thrift shops were better than they are now and you can actually it was worth going to them now it’s really not I mean if you unless you know they’re gonna have the right piece of crap like because we’re we they’re selling things now that were built in the 80s versus we were buying things are built in the 50s and 60s.
00:16:59 Adam Savage: I try and talk about it was like to browse on Canal Street in 1985 oh yeah you know this is nothing like that yeah the bins of yeah um so you now have like you have ten assistants right now?
00:17:14 Tom Sachs: About I’m trying to team I’m trying to cut back but yeah I’m about ten.
00:17:18 Adam Savage: And you those guys work full-time with you for you on your projects on the shop.
00:17:23 Tom Sachs: Yeah it’s a team and with some of the you know this one woman who’s been with me for 10 years and Oksana we’ve been building stuff together and it’s a team where you know I’m the sort of the captain but there are people all over the different parts of the studio of different talents that I don’t possess mainly patience that’s probably the biggest one the patience for for doing the same thing over and over and which is important because sculpture is just a reorganization or everything’s just a reorganization of materials and to you know to transform a piece of plywood into a sculpture it takes many many hours of ritual a brief or extended liminal stage and then finally the object is transformed when it leaves and it’s all that ritual like a martial art or something that gives the work its its power because I always respected Marcel Duchamp and I always wanted to be that kind of artist and I even tried to put whatever on a pedestal and talk about it and did that for a while but it was really not very gratifying because it was the building that in all the time that I spent with my hands that gave me a sense of satisfaction self-worth though so it was actually the work that made it meaningful yeah um so I think that’s one of the reasons I gravitated away from ready-made stuff.
00:18:57 Adam Savage: Yeah the closest I feel to him is him spending the whole summer putting back together the broken glass from the bride yeah you know just carefully piece by piece that I can us that I can identify with but he’s not as nearly as attached to the construction.
00:19:12 Tom Sachs: Right but yet I think he helped Cornell with carpentry now I don’t really know the whole story but it’s in that book I can look it up I think there’s some stuff word you know they that’s we could make stuff.
00:19:25 Adam Savage: Between chess games.
00:19:25 Tom Sachs: Yeah exactly and yeah I mean of the whole idea of being a chess teachers very um it’s very rich I mean that’s smart and French teacher.
00:19:36 Adam Savage: I tried to play I I can play chess I’m not very good but I specifically learned and like challenged everyone I knew for a few years back in my 20s because of Duchamp. I have like well yeah like everything else I have a collection I’m about 15 or 20 chess sets in storage.
00:19:52 Tom Sachs: And have you made one?
00:19:54 Adam Savage: no I bought years ago I bought a beautiful travel chess board which folds up and actually holds the game in its state oh cool so the board sits there and these two leaves fold open and then you can fold the leaves down and fold it up and it’s the size of a large hardback book but it holds the game where you left it which is awesome really and I bought it at a garage sale for like eight bucks the whites which I had are ivory and they’re beautiful but it didn’t have the black pieces so I Re-machined them out of aluminum.
00:20:29 Tom Sachs: That counts as making yeah you did.
00:20:33 Adam Savage: But only made half that counts so did you even start out with ten assistants you start out with one or two.
00:20:40 Tom Sachs: Started out with well I started out as a contractor and I hired my friends to help me do renovations or window display or welding jobs and if there were extra materials that I could steal from the job or extra hours in the day that I could steal from the job I would I would get one of the people that I was hiring to help me make one of my sculptures or some element to one of my sculptures and build a canvas or panel.
00:21:08 Adam Savage: so then delegation has always been a natural part of the process
00:21:11 Tom Sachs: And understanding that you know there’s a there’s a whole flow of keeping jobs going and and learning and teaching and I always you know I spent the first five years in New York just doing illegal elevator and fire escape repairs for my landlord like non-union like just hanging it I had like wrenches on little shoelaces so I wouldn’t drop them like five story.
00:21:39 Adam Savage: Were like climbing scaling inside of an elevator to fix it?
00:21:43 Tom Sachs: Yeah well just like you know I wouldn’t I didn’t go up and down I’d usually work in like the bulkhead or in the elevator itself or on top but I never like climbed like that video game where you climb inside the elevator but I definitely did things I shouldn’t have I mean he must have been so cheap Ted we’re still friends and um and I remember them as I sort of gradually tried to get out of that it was hard cos I felt like I was letting him down because I wasn’t doing the elevator to get he’s work on the oh yeah yeah but also the the actual you know running the beads and the actual the technical welding and all the stuff was was craft and there was a sense of you know connection with it and learning and fulfillment that I’ve always kept with the work so when I work with the team I’m always like engineering and designing or figuring out the design of the thing and then teaching the method so that it gets so that it’s executed properly but also so that the experience of doing it has the transformative process doing repetitive work over and over again help can help transform the most ADD people I mean have this huge collection of adderall which I take for fun it’s been given to me by young people who don’t need it anymore because they learned through wood burning repetitively how they can find focus.
00:23:11 Adam Savage: Right one of my kids is ADHD and they’ve said there he asked about the medication and it’s one of his doctors said well you know there are a lot of there are a lot of pilots airline pilots who don’t take their medication anymore because they don’t need to because the job is is precise enough and requires the right amount of their attention that they want to give to it that they don’t need that medication.
00:23:33 Tom Sachs: That’s a that’s a huge transformation because it’s a very toxic thing which should only be done recreationally.
00:23:45 Adam Savage: That’s that I hadn’t thought of the transformation I mean I think of the transformation is happening to me when I’m doing something repetitive because the practice is very meditative but I haven’t thought about giving somebody else that transformation as part of giving them a task.
00:23:57 Tom Sachs: Yeah I would like to think of the studios a teaching hospital right because we all learn from the experience and it’s a it’s a process of individual transformation and the people I’ve worked with dozens of people over the years and I feel like if I added it up it might even be a hundred or something I maybe maybe not quite it a lot. The people either graduate yeah the rare person is expelled that’s like stealing you got expelled something like that or I think if you we rule about fire because ever Tufte says that um 20% of all artists biographies have a title called the fire chapter the chapter the describe they’re called fire one stage to the myth and so you get fired if you light the place on fire because yeah not into that but most people drop out it’s attrition.
00:25:02 Adam Savage: They drop out for various reasons.
00:25:04 Tom Sachs: Yeah they don’t you know they don’t make the transformation where else some people are just are there for a very long time but I think the ideal is is that the transformation occurs and and a few people have graduated and go on to do their own thing.
00:25:19 Adam Savage: I have so 10 bullets is your website with a bunch.
00:25:28 Adam Savage: We’re going to link the hell out of that below, so those are your shop your shop rules your shop ethos they that developed over time?
00:25:41 Tom Sachs: John Ferguson when he graduated wrote ten bullets as his graduation gift to me really yeah and he left to start his own studio and it was it was these were the things that he believed you know he was quoting me in some of it but he organized it into ten things that he would want his successor to know and I considered one you know the greatest gift and so Van Neistat and I made the movie ten bullets based on on the little booklet that John made knowing he was great studio assistant and friend and still lives on the block and we see each other.
00:26:23 Tom Sachs: So does it those rules they seem like a very important they seem like a really important tool that I mean rules are always a restriction on behavior and they have you know every artist chooses a set of arbitrary restrictions on their work for some type of problem solving they want to achieve and how did how does that how did that process come about of deciding to restrict yourself to certain colors and certain processes and actually I mean I read the story about you working in Gehry’s furniture studio and being told don’t show the endgrain so you’re like fuck it, I’m going to show the endgrain.
00:27:04 Tom Sachs: Right but when I work for Frank Gehry there was a master carpenter who I was his assistant that was my job and he was a fine woodworking guy I could professor super high level guy and he said don’t show the endgrain clients don’t like to see it and I you know of course was like fuck you yeah I’m gonna make it I made a 4x8 sheet of plywood where I like sliced in a million pieces and turned them all so it was a whole endgrain piece of plywood and I think that was as I was leaving that place that was my way of transforming making my transformation to get out of there but I think it’s something that stuck with me and Frank Gehry’s furniture the all the plywood stuff that’s in his office is all three quarter-inch ac fir plywood that you always see the end grain and very often it’s you know something inch and a half like this you’ll see two layers of it and that’s especially Frank’s early work has a lot of transparency of the construction it’s almost very Bauhaus and its philosophy even though it’s way more home depot than anyting else.
00:28:10 Tom Sachs: Wearing its manufacturing on its sleeve yeah and that’s usually that’s like a really central thing.
00:28:14 Adam Savage: Well I just think in this time if you look at your cell phone or computer or camera or whatever everything is so perfect and I could never make anything as perfect is that or maybe I could john henry style make one kill me but Apple can never make something that shows the human touch the error, the fingerprints you know the stains and glue drips and all that stuff that shows that that a human being was here when you look at an iPhone it says a robot was here right or as Roland Bart says the object appears as if it was miraculously hatched.
00:28:47 Adam Savage: Yeah what’s in it’s a black box in their term of art is the black box because you can’t see inside right and can’t get inside we’re not even allowed inside um I wasn’t totally blown away by the color film on ten bullets specifically because you listed the exact serial numbers and names of each of the colors.
00:29:06 Tom Sachs: Well color in a way is an improved version of ten bullets B this is a movie that’s 20 minutes long and it’s about the eight or ten colors that we use the studio standard colors yeah like we only use one or two blacks there’s only one white there’s only one red and and it goes on through through each color and we do and we name them because it’s hard and I and it’s that I have a big studio and there’s a lot of delegation and oh and things go wrong. I mean I just didn’t want to ever have to fucking explain myself ever again.
00:29:42 Adam Savage: And right but there’s this other thing which is that artists love not to talk about how they’re doing what they’re doing well it’s a gouache technique but I’d rather not describe it exactly because they think somehow the technique is what’s defining them rather than what they’re doing with the tech right so to me it’s really egalatarian for you to actually post the actual cut it made me want to go and buy each of those colors just to play around with em.
00:30:00 Tom Sachs: You should they’re good colors I’ve never final II sifted I respect and agree with that philosophy because I think it creates more mystique and if I had more time or assets I would keep it a secret really I would have someone making sure repeating and make it being like a color supervisor I just can’t afford it so that’s why I just wanted to be transparent so that it says everyone knows and if something gets fucked up you know what how to fix it and we can move on and get the idea out.
00:30:30 Adam Savage: I think you’re getting the mystique out of thee you’re showing all the techniques end-grain and the pen that pen on the foam core and the tape and visible hot glue and stuff and yet there’s still this an unbelievable object that came out of all of it right you’re like the magician who’s showing the trick of how he did the trick but that’s another trick in itself
00:30:51 Tom Sachs: Right well we love our friend Ricky J yeah and who’s about transparency at total deception the most deceptive possible a deception within a deception.
00:31:03 Adam Savage: So when the you sent me the book on and I don’t know if I’m correct about this but your Wikipedia page describes that the nutsy exhibition was a big turning point in your career is that right?
00:31:16 Tom Sachs: Yeah I think that right that was about 10 years ago.
00:31:21 Adam Savage: The Le Corbusier I’ve only read it up never how does that pronounce Le Corbusier?
00:31:25 Tom Sachs: Le Corbusier a yeah Le Corbusier a building yeah the Unité d’Habitation.
00:31:31 Adam Savage: It totally that I texted you and I was like I’m overwhelmed by this book that’s the piece that killed me.
00:31:39 Tom Sachs: That’s a that’s a great I mean that building this is a the building is Le Corbusier who’s the greatest architect of the 20th century his answer to solving the post-war housing crisis in Europe was to build this high-quality low-cost housing for working people for the new middle class or the working class and in the process he built the prototype for the projects right by accident well I mean there were some nineteenth-century versions of them and stuff but I think he in some circles is blamed for this and is very misunderstood because the Unité d’Habitation was beautiful each apartment has two stories of beautiful light going through in circulation and delivery slots in the hallway for meat and milk and garbage going out so we don’t have to leave your apartments very modern and and it was a disaster because developers came and chopped these apartments in half and two four ones and and you know finally it’s coming back and and they were supposed to be 1500 of them there were there three and the one in Berlin doesn’t even have the Pilate legs that it’s it’s just on the ground so it’s highly compromised but in spirit its its it it’s a great building and I was in Nutsy’s is the comparison was between Le Corbusier and Ray Kroc the inventor of McDonald’s and I always felt that Le Corbusier and all of his genius represents the failure of modernism and McDonald’s and all of its disgusting horror represents its success and so that is the essential comparison that I was trying to and I also love and hate both of these guys because it’s you know who doesn’t love McDonald’s.
00:33:34 Adam Savage: Really no it’s totally true the fries are perfect. Yeah I love in and out burger and it’s the only fast-food I think I’ve had in 10 years now but their fries are terrible.
00:33:45 Tom Sachs: You can’t no matter what you can’t analyze them you can’t make them extra crispy they just are not.
00:33:49 Adam Savage: I’ve tried every technique with the fries and none of them make them better.
00:33:53 Tom Sachs: All right well if you read um behind the arches yeah which is the McDonald’s book there’s a 40 page explanation of the french fries it’s worth just reading that.
00:34:05 Adam Savage: Yeah there’s there’s this theme in your work that I feel like I gravitate towards but it doesn’t seem to get I don’t know if it’s been talked about enough because and then find a lot about it is an idea about American manliness about being a man and knowing how to make things and there’s a way in which you’re both the ring leader who makes these amazing objects but there is also a because they’re not perfect because their lack of perfection is on parade there’s a there’s a way in a sort of an admission of the flaw.
00:34:41 Tom Sachs: Well I think a lot of that comes from my childhood where I wasn’t a builder and I grew up in a community where the women kind of ran things the men were commuting to Manhattan and the women were overseeing the contractors sleeping with them feeling with that date you know right they my mom was one who fix stuff in fact to stay my sister who’s married with three kids does all the repairs around the house and really her husband who brings the money and from his job yet doesn’t touch any of that stuff and in fact Martha Stewart was in my community my mother and her were close before Martha made the leap to hyperspace yeah um and you know that was all she was a handy woman she’d go to the train station with her eggs from the and sell to the wives she would sell the eggs that she grew from the chickens in her yard to the wives who were dropping their husbands off so that they could have a car for the day because we had one car loved him I said one car then that wasn’t a sign of poverty it was just just one car was yet enough I mean that was kind of my introduction to it and there was this kind of a deskilling it wasn’t I never really had a pretty reinstall with us probably the only thing that I would say I could if I could teach a college level course in anything craft it would be bent plywood from the time I spent in Frank’s shop just because I that’s all I did for a year I again it goes really back to the value it’s it’s an obsolete craft the craft is obsolete now because you just have it made in china' if you’re serious about building and I still believe in America and I still believe in making things and being able to fix things there’s not just a satisfaction about it but there’s also respect for the things in your life the other lives like I have terrible shame that I didn’t like I was really good on OS 9 but when ten happened I still don’t really understand it so I got really busy with the other stuff and I didn’t really like it’s still confusing to me and I try and use the old OS 9 looking window things we have files but none of the 10 people in the studio will indulge me so everything’s set up the other way and I just don’t know where anything is but thanks to spotlight I don’t need to write and thanks to all the great searches and Google I don’t need to keep all my images because other people are keeping them better and constantly improving em I think back a lot to Stanley Kubrick’s filing system have you checked out his like analog computers of data
00:37:26 Adam Savage: The the file cabinet with a …
00:37:26 Tom Sachs: Yeah but no that’s awesome - that’s incredible but I’m thinking there was some like probably IBM brand filing system that was a series of notebooks that went around in a circle
00:37:41 Adam Savage: Right from making the film and so each the pages all overlapped a little bit to do a timeline but look at any day in the timeline yeah like that yeah another all analog and handwritten and yeah typed.
00:37:59 Tom Sachs: And I guess the and I know this is super tangential but I think I think it’s where maybe we connect a little bit as there’s a there’s value to being able to when - it’s almost like taking responsibility for your life because a lot of the technology that we have infantilizes us and removes our experience from whatever it is we’re doing.
00:38:14 Adam Savage: We don’t remember any phone numbers anymore or how to get anywhere right my wife still gets pissed off that we go to LA and she says don’t you realize it’s just over the hill and I’m like I’m not thinking of LA in terms of Hills and north and south I think of it in terms of where my phone tells me where to go
00:38:30 Tom Sachs: I know and it’s it’s hard because our now because of that you know the singularity I guess yeah we’re so our brains are so much weaker in that we need this phone but they’re so much more powerful because we have all that data and our brains are connected with our device.
00:38:50 Adam Savage: But I still mean I think what you’re talking about with Kubrick’s analog system I still I mean the reason I sit and obsess about major Kong survival pack is because I find the practice of taking that inventory taking a discrete inventory of something like all of your measurements of the of the unite and putting it in my head like I showed you upstairs my model of this house yes that’s how I know I know this house I found air ducts in the house just by measuring the rooms and building it and finding blank spaces in my model well yeah just started over on behind the wall there there are corners that I know that I now know there are these like secret hidden boxes and corners in this house that were not built in because they didn’t need to be or they brewed an air duct or an electrical line and that I find that process of inventory really satisfying.
00:39:43 Tom Sachs: When you draw something you see it so much yeah better than when you take a photograph of it yeah and there’s that great book by Lawrence Wechsler seeing is forgetting the name of the thing that one sees so when you really see something it’s about the work of Robert Irwin and when you really see something you’re seeing the form and the way light hits it and it becoming much more intimate with it and I think with major kong’s pack or The Maltese Falcon we’re talking about building it versus scanning it having it fabbed there’s a there’s greater sense of satisfaction you really understand the object when I left college I really was into the work of Piet Mondrian you know a painter and I really wanted one of them and I thought to myself I’m gonna get one and then I thought okay well what does that mean and that’s it okay if I really want one I’m gonna have to go downtown to Wall Street and go organize a lot of funding and then we have to put some time in down there to get the money to buy one and that’s a thing that you can do if you really want money just if you want Pretty Polly pluck her from the tree just go just go get it and that is where they make it.
00:41:02 Adam Savage: It’s that line from Citizen Kane where mr. Bernstein is talking to one of the reporters and he says I don’t think Kane was a very happy man the reporter said he made an awful lot of money and mr. Bernstein says it’s no trick to make a lot of money young man if money is all you’re after right and it’s devastating because totally true yeah if that is the only goal.
00:41:25 Tom Sachs: Right so I you know I so I thought about and I said that is not the kind of compromise I’m willing to make with my life I want a Mondrian but I don’t want it that bad right just because I’m just going to go make the money so I went to the Museum of Modern Art and I looked at one for for a few minutes and then look at it for a little longer into a couple pictures and I bought every book that was available and there’s a Mondrian show and I bought the catalogue I obsessed and I spent more time I know I spent more time with Broadway boogie-woogie than with Eli Broad or whoever bought it right right in 1 million dollars I know that I spent more time with it than he has and I’ve enjoyed it more because I built one and you know to me it’s chilling because I you know I as much as when you see 10 bullets you hear creativity’s enemy it sounds like I really hate art and it’s it’s not that I you know it’s you don’t write a song like god save the queen' because you hate England it’s you read it because you you love the old bag and you hate watching or being kicked around you know and so it’s it’s like I I really love it.
00:42:48 Adam Savage: I wanted to ask about the simulacra and the finishing point and you and I were talking about replicating props and you asked me about where do you finish and it gets to be that question of like you can’t measure a coastline too carefully right because where do you stop and I remember at one point building my r2d2 mm-hmm and I had been working on it for five years and I had a week and a shop alone and I was just barreling through and finishing it but I was making everything perfect and I was getting really obsessive about it and one point
00:43:20 Tom Sachs: I’ve seen the inside of it and it’s crazy and I’ve seen a lot of r2d2 s in the Internet and yours is the best for sure.
00:43:25 Adam Savage: Thank you I mean that might not belong to the right I actually fully think that I mean there’s a lot of really excellent ones there’s a lot of well painted ones but having spent time around the real ones you could pick mine up and put it in the movie tomorrow to be just perfect
00:43:38 Tom Sachs: But I’m talking about like the heart the inside inside in the heart a movie would they wouldn’t do it as well as you did
00:43:44 Adam Savage: No that my friends built it for the movie and while you’re right they might go digital on some of the things and I went full analog 1977 I look and there was this point in which in the middle of obsessing about it I was like I don’t need to obsess about it being perfect R2D2 is beat to hell like right I can let this go and this becomes and I actually freed up and was able to finish according to the schedule I wanted to hit and in the end I found a picture of R2 where this is dent in his head really clearly visible and I played around with aluminum plate to get the dent right and then I put a piece of leather on R2’s head and I smacked him with a peen hammer and got the perfect oh I got a good scare but there are places where he chips as I’ve moved him over the years.
00:44:32 Tom Sachs: and those are the places where he would chip I love
00:44:33 Adam Savage: Yeah yeah his skirt which I ended up somehow not having his little below belly skirt and I wrapped by rebuilt right there out of like wood and styrene it’s got dented recently I don’t even know where but it’s now part of its sorry but I was going to ask you the question which was that was at your studio earlier this year and you said I don’t want to know too much about this thing that I’m building and you know I wanted you you talked about wanting to film it and write the correct amount of ignorance about it yeah how do you really find that line between because for me obsession means I want to know every last short thing about it.
00:45:08 Tom Sachs: That’s the right way of doing things you know to research it make a plan do some drawings and then execute it but you know a good car the old carpenters adage super waspey main carpenter would say or something kinda citizens there’s never time to do it right but always time to do it again yeah twice which is such an angry yet correct yes way of approaching things if you if you measure once and cut twice like I do yeah Christ said measure twice cut once which is the right way you wind up with more error yeah now when you’re talking about r2d2 and all that dents and dirt and stuff you know it’s it makes it seem authentic and real authentic but it’s it makes it authentic when you move it around and get scraped yeah but it it’s a slippery slope edging towards acid-washed jeans yes which is something that currently we all hate but we also still love our old salvaged denim when we have a hole in it so it’s a greater sophistication generally that we have an awareness of use and authenticity I think that written this whole conversation is about authenticity so you know for me as someone who came it was largely self-taught a building it’s all those fuck-ups that make me special and make me or you or any one of us who’s a building as an individual stand out what’s it compared to like again like a phone
00:47:03 Adam Savage: Yeah when when I was in my early 20s I spent a lot of time doing sculpture and I remember talking to a friend of mine yaku who’s this crazy Czech artist and he said something we were talking about some bad show we’d both just been to about with found object art he said most people don’t know have any idea how to do it and then he said this phrase which killed me which was it’s really hard to trance it’s really hard to make a piece with found objects that actually transcend the objects that are in them. The object itself brings brings of preconception and your own mental image to the to the to your interaction with it yeah and to make something that transcends that.
00:47:42 Tom Sachs: Yes that’s and then that’s what the art object must do yeah I’m it is a otherwise it’s a prop and that’s why when it’s in the movie it does transcend it right and that’s why when it’s out of the movie on the table.
00:48:01 Adam Savage: Real one from the movie yeah it has a separate narrative than the one that’s in the movie right do you know this book interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester and bacon is Wow it’s I know it he’s he kills me he’s the terrible person I mean like I know about his history and what a manipulative crazy man he was and I loved his painting so much but it’s him talking about art where he uses words like reality and he’s he gets it right I think so here’s this thing he says and I wanted to talk about it he’s talking about him putting Cricket padding on one of his figures in a painting and this one here and he’s asked why he did it and he says it’s in the artificial structure that the reality of the subject will be caught and the trap will close over the subject matter and leave only the reality mmm it gets better one always starts a starts a piece of work with the subject no matter how tenuous it is and one construction artificial structure by which one can trap the reality of the subject matter that one has started with the subject is the bait and he says and what is the reality that remains the residue how does it relate to what you begin with and bacon said it doesn’t relate to it but you will have created a realism equivalent to the subject matter which will be what is left in its place tricky I know but I look at your gas station and Nutsy’s and I think it’s not it’s not even a simulacrum of a gas station like I I feel and I understand a gas station when I look at it is there like well.
00:49:52 Tom Sachs: That that’s that’s really a yeah I can speak to that because for us it becomes real that gas station becomes real we the space program is a better example of that because when we go to Mars we’re really going to Mars and I don’t mean that in an arrogant kind of way like my arts so serious you know you if you don’t take it as seriously as I take it you’re an asshole right but I mean it by if we if we take it seriously and we say we’re really going to Mars the other Mars then all the details become real and our ritual experience of building it becomes real I spoke to Buzz Aldrin we had an interview and I was really nervousI could imagineand I said what was I going to ask this guy and I said and my I was having problems with my helmets I was I’ll ask him something technical how did you deal with the condensation in the helmets and Buzz said oh yeah it was a terrible it was a pain in the neck it was it was it was it was difficult we had condensation but you your space helmets aren’t real Tom you just put a cut a hole in the back and you’ll have perfect ventilation and you know I had to explain like Ali G or something to Buzz Aldrin I’d say but Buzz my space program is real and we installed we’re installing fans to reduce the condensation so that now our spacesuits have to have a battery for the fan and now we’ve got a greater sense of complication yeah it’s a pain that but a real problem to solve yeah and through that the experience becomes real for us I mean if you imagine going to being an Apollo astronaut all the training that you have to go through and then you have a few minutes on the surface of the Moon you come back to a career of alcoholism or whatever like that most of what you did in your life is study and prepare and learn yeah and then you did this brief is sort of like martial arts who you throw a million punches so you never have to throw one and write you the greatest martial artist prepared and one day he’s in dark alley he gets attacked and he doesn’t even have to throw a punch because he has such mastery of the experience that he knows to run right and on his deathbed he looks at his life and he thinks of that moment and he’s quite satisfied that he was a student his entire life and for me that’s the experience is always learning and always and sometimes not knowing the detail not knowing how a spacesuit works and then just starting from a picture in a magazine that I tore out and circled as my inspiration and getting in touch with that moment where you have the Epiphany right you have an idea and then you it takes you 10,000 hours to realize it but the idea occurred in half a second
00:52:49 Adam Savage: Right indeed the the like dogs like dogs roughhousing like the child playing the thing that you end up with is every bit a reality of the space program implemented from you like those problems all had to be solved by thousands of people in NASA sparked by dozens of people on your part but it is the same thing going on it’s at the ultimate playset.
00:53:13 Tom Sachs: Yeah and people will people and I don’t know how far we want to go but people will say you know but it’s kind of wack like your space shit isn’t really real it’s plywood it’s kind of it’s a make-believe and and or like you know you make your own homemade guns but you know people like you from Connecticut go to Kmart and buy their guns you know they don’t make them that’s what people in like New Guinea do we’re gangsters and make guns out of pipe and a and plywood or whatever and I’m I talked to master T Robert Ferris Thompson about this and he said I said you know master T I’m a little you know feeling insecure about this I you know people I should be buying my guns I shouldn’t be making all this this stuff and he’s like yeah but you know if you do it for two years it’s an interest five years to Hobby when you dedicate your entire life to it the little holes that you have are too small that they won’t be able to fuck with you and so through time yeah and I think this is what Bacon’s saying in some way but it’s through different means but through enough time and work the objects can become real right and they can be imbued with enough power
00:54:30 Adam Savage: Transend their original they’re not a rep no longer what most people think is a representation of a thing yeah they’re taught that right.
00:54:40 Tom Sachs: But that’s that’s a lot of work and you know for me it’s it’s totally worth it that’s the whole tomato point.
00:54:44 Adam Savage: I don’t can’t imagine a better place to stop to that thank you good thank you let’s go eat