A common thread ties together two buildings and two art pieces by Street Artist HOT TEA for the grand opening of the Urban Nation Museum of Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin (UN); Bad Dreams. And he has decided to face them.
One of the few artists in the inaugural program who was asked to create an indoor piece for the main museum as well as to do an installation outside it, the Minneapolis based artist used the opportunity to face old wounds with the hope of transforming them to healing.
Perhaps the only illegal yarn-tagger on the street, HOTTEA has made a space for himself where none existed: using non-destructive materials to write his name in a rotated 3-D geometric hand on city fences. Now an accomplished yarn artist who has done his signature installations for corporate brands, museums, and even recently the Mall of America, the artist wanted to address bigger personal issues in these two settings, presenting himself naked to the world in both.
HOT TEA’s collage in the museum features a flat 2-D character painting, a reclined self portrait viewed from above with a series of small needles crossing it, threaded to spell the title of the piece “Bad Dreams”.
Across the Bülowstraße from the museum is a street level space viewable for passersby from multiple windows; a rainbow color-washed corner foyer hung with hundreds of white yarns in a grid hanging from ceiling to floor. One small space near the back of the ephemerous white cube is cut open, just large enough for the artist to stand sans vêtements, facing toward the glass double door, his illuminated image slowly moving as you walk the sidewalk past the installation on night-time streets.
The optimistically colored installation is a surreal vision from the street for a few reasons. One is the stillness of the fleshy figure that is now activated like a Kraftwerk robot, slowly turning as you walk from window to window surveying it.
Another aspect is the seemingly shimmering box, this floating white cube that contains him, allowing you to view from many angles. The third bit of surrealism is the two boisterous and nearly hysterical sex workers who have just sauntered by the window and stop to gawk at a naked man inside a piece of art. Neither you nor they speak each other’s language, so the only connection you have is this puzzling view from the street.
In both art pieces the artist as subject is void of expression, staring blankly forward and unmoving as if paralyzed, unable to act or react. The vulnerability implied is physical of course, but it is also emotional. HOT TEA considers this a very public practice that can excise private pain. This weekend in Berlin we witnessed observers closely studying each piece, perhaps attempting to decode the meanings, perhaps relating to an underlying sense of humanity within the abstraction.
“Both experiences were very traumatic and I feel these two pieces have helped me find peace,” HOT TEA tells us of the new works. BSA talked to him about the works and his approach to them.
BSA: The new pieces you created for both inside and outside the museum are related to one another and related to your personal experiences as an artist and a man. Can you talk about the pop-up installation?
HOT TEA: The two pieces are about two different events that happened in my life – which have made an impact on me for so many years. My canvas painting within the museum talks about a physical scar, where the installation talks about a mental scar.
You have been refining your use of materials through many installations in ever-larger commercial, corporate and museum venues. How have you challenged yourself with yarn and color?
I think an even bigger challenge than yarn and color is the actual space itself. Yarn and color come very natural to me – but sometimes when I am invited to a space it’s not one I would naturally choose.
These spaces are often hard to work in – because many times I find myself uninspired. What inspires me and gives the work life is often the process of creating the installation. The experience of the people I work with or certain events that have taken place during the time of the installation. Often times my installs are depictions of different moments in my life.
Standing naked and illuminated and partially obscured before a street audience who can peer at you from different angles on the street must have been an interesting experience. What was going through your mind? What visual associations with other artworks were you imagining?
I was thinking about the experience that inspired the performance and how much I have grown emotionally since then. I also thought about my family, friends and those close to me who are no longer here.
How do you see this installation as an extension of your street practice?
I don’t see this installation as an extension of my street practice. I see it’s me grieving about traumatic experiences. All my work comes from the same mind and therefore I don’t distinguish my art from commissioned work and un-commissioned work.
As a former graffiti writer with aerosol you are well aware of your transition to Street Art and now public installations. How would you describe this evolution to another writer?
It’s the process of growing as a human being and adapting.
Your axonometric tagging goes across the painting that is in the museum with thread and needles rather than yarn. Is this the first time you have tagged in a museum?
My name actually doesn’t go across the painting – It reads “Bad Dreams” hence the title of the piece. As for having my work in a museum – I have never been one for labels because I have been called them my entire life. I don’t agree with places or people thinking they are higher or better than someone else because of their accomplishments or monetary value. My work has just as much meaning to me, no matter what the setting may be.
HOT TEA was curated by the co-founders of BSA, Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo along with UN Artistic Director Yasha Young and the “UNSTOPPABLE” curatorial team for Urban Nation.
Hot Tea. “Bad Dreams pt.2 “Urban Nation Museum For Urban Contemporary Art. Berlin. September 16th 2017. Video via BrooklynStreetArt.com