Creator Q&A : Austin Laughlin
Water treatment field technician, Sculptor and Furniture maker
In a few words state who you are, your occupation and what it is that you create. My name is Austin Laughlin. I am currently employed as a "water treatment field technician". It's an interesting job that exercises my mind and my people skills while taking me to different nooks and crannies of New York State. After work, the fun begins. I consider myself some kind of hybrid sculptor/ furniture maker who is trying to make something you've never seen before out of the things we see every day. I enjoy metal-working, wood-working, covering things in paint, found objects, fixing old objects, breaking new objects and whatever medium satisfies my vision at the moment.
Describe what you see when you look out your window.
Outside of my window is spring time in Endicott New York. I love it in a "there are many like it, but this one is mine" type of way.
What is a podcast, book, or song that is keeping you sane?
When I am working, I love a variety of music depending on my mood. Lately I've been going back to Milo/ Scallops Hotel. I can pay attention to the words and it will carry my mind to new places or I can focus on my work and just let the melody lubricate my thoughts.
What is a word that makes you laugh?
"Tremendous" whatever the fuck that means anymore...
What is the color of your current mood?
I've been on an amber shellac kick lately so ill go with that. Deep and Warm.
What is something that brings you joy?
My dogs. Many things bring me joy but none so reliably nor relentlessly as my dogs. The best part about quarantine is more time with them. Long walks, endless games of fetch and tummy rubs. I built a ramp last week so the smallest one can make it on the bed by himself. I had built him a staircase but he was afraid of it. I made a prototype ramp but he was afraid of that too. He wasn't too keen on this new ramp until I covered it in carpet and viola! Doggy empowerment! Him getting on the bed without help just like the other dogs brings me joy.
COVID-19 aside, what frustrates you?
Hypocrisy. We are all guilty of it, sure. But the extreme cases regarding politicians, world leaders, business owners, etc. makes me think; is it possible to be so unaware of one's self? or is it all an act? I know I am naive and I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and maybe this is why I am frustrated. I don't want to accept that people knowingly exploit others or that politicians blatantly lie for personal gain. There are a lot of problems in the world but to sum it up in brief; the world would be a different place if everyone were genuine and acted with true intentions toward one another.
What do you feel most hopeful about?
Its funny how the "ignorance is bliss" concept has followed me and it feels like the more I learn the more there is to be upset about, but History brings me hope. In a few different ways. Looking to the past shows many examples of when mankind was on the verge of self destruction, yet here we are. There are plenty of times or places in the world that sound like existence would have been turmoil, but those people pushed on and today their ancestors are likely thriving. I truly believe that today is the greatest time to be alive so far. The world is far from perfect but I think the very act of identifying and criticizing problems is what moves us forward.
How do you define your creative process - what makes you tick, what is your practice?
I like old things. I also like to make new things. So I start with that dichotomy and I figure out how to fuse them together. My creative process feels a bit slippery for me to define. I guess I start with an idea, but where do I get the idea? Sometimes it's a dream, sometimes an object in an antique store speaks to me in a language only we understand. Once I have an idea, I do thumbnails to try and decide whether it is worth my time (I do have a day job after-all). Then I start the part that I know and trust; I just start building. Many aspects of my work are designed on the fly, or at least hammered out in prototypes. Once I have something half-built, I spend a lot of time staring at it considering whats next. Many of my favorite details came from letting the building process influence the design. I guess my work lately has been influenced by my subversion to a throwaway culture living halfway in a virtual world, but I don't consciously think about those things when I am creating. I just let it flow.
What is something challenging you’ve accomplished as a creator?
One thing that always bothered me when I was younger, regarding the idea of being an artist, is the question of who would I be making art for? Myself? well I did that a lot and the rewards are fleeting. Rich people? that's what I have been taught gallery and auction houses are for so I guess that's how you make a career. But struggling to be bought by someone who may never really LOOK at your work doesn't feel worth while to me. I want to make work for regular people, people who would enjoy it. That's when I started thinking about furniture. In the history book of furniture it is very difficult to write a new page without blatantly plagiarizing from a previous page. That's why I am trying to "plagiarize" in new ways. The challenge... I am alive in the year 2020 in the United States of America so the challenge is to create a self sustaining business and let the free market decide if my kitsch-y designs are good enough. It might be slow and I might struggle, but that's the challenge.
Name an artist or creator you draw influence from?
Its probably cliche as a sculptor to say I am influenced by Andy Goldsworthy. Its not like anyone else would see it in my work.. But I don't like to build directly off of people doing similar work. I wish I could just make work in a vacuum and not be compared to anyone. I think my influence from Goldsworthy comes more from his process. The way he starts with the designs or patterns that nature has given and turns them into something else. I think I do that to some extent. The difference is, instead of nature, I often start with or utilize some commercial or industrially designed product.
How has COVID-19 affected you? Have you changed your process during quarantine?
I have been very fortunate so far in the sense that all of my family remains healthy. I haven't seen my grandmother in a while and that bothers me. My wife an I are still working so that is one less thing to be worried about. As far as my process, its funny. I have some more time because I am not going on dates with my wife or getting a beer with my friends but those are my usual stress reliefs. Without them I do feel different. It's selfish to say I am stressed. I am so well off compared to many. But I guess comfort enables creativity, at least for me. And I am not as comfortable as I used to be.
In your opinion what do you think the “new normal” should look like for our global society?
Yea.. well some folks still have some hangups with certain buzzwords including "socialism", even if other things in our country are socialized... Universal healthcare will be a thing in America someday. Its probably going to take a lot more millennials showing up to support genuine candidates like Bernie Sanders. But In the mean time I hope the government at least figures out how to respond to a pandemic if/when it happens again. Of course I am concerned about the businesses that are struggling right now. I hope that innovation prevails and people find new ways to enjoy similar experiences.
What do you look forward to most once quarantine restrictions are lessened?
Dinner with my wife at MJ's and a cold one with the boys...
In closing, describe or reflect on an aspect of nature that inspires you.
The hottest day of summer, when I am outside working on something; anything. Sweating, panting, squinting. Its the most cathartic feeling there is and frees my mind. I thrive in the heat and I don't stay in NY for the weather that's for sure.