Tom Sachs, artist, on his Honda 3000is generator
GB Tell me why you’ve chosen your new generator as an object of beauty.
TS Well like anything else it’s beauty as well as revulsion. There’s nothing like a generator, especially one used for air conditioning, to represent man’s contempt for nature. And yet this generator was used to get us through the hurricane. It gave us electricity when the whole of lower Manhattan was shut down so we were able to work by rationed electric light. It was something I always wanted and this was the perfect excuse to get it. And this one is currently out in Rockaway helping a friend now that we no longer need it.
GB Do you like the aesthetic of the generator itself or is it just the function you like?
TS Of course I chose the red and black Honda generator rather than the Subaru Robin or Briggs and Stratton or any of the other brands. There’s something about the simplicity of this cube that’s really elegant. It’s red, which is an alert safety colour, so in the wilderness you can see it. There are other qualities; it’s really quiet, it has an electric starter and it has an economy mode so you can set it to burn less gas. Also, this object has helped me more than anything to be aware of what we take for granted. This thing has the transformative power to break the laws of nature. It can bring electricity where there is none so there’s something magical about it. With its quiet purring sound, warmth and the feeling of cheer with the light coming into the darkness, all of that is an expression of beauty.
GB Everything you seem to love, including your art, has both function and beauty.
TS I think there’s something about utility that brings out the spirit. A painting’s function is about communication or inspiration or a combination of those things. So a Barnett Newman might not bring light but it definitely brings spirit.
GB I guess what I’m getting at is that in your Color film you talk about beauty and usefulness as being two of the values of your studio. And people don’t think that art in general has to be either beautiful or useful now.
TS Yes I guess there’s a kind of jihad against functionality in art. I don’t make a big distinction, it’s the same language to me if it’s a chair or a painting. But if there is something functional in my work it has a meaning. As for beauty, things have to be beautiful because if they’re not good looking, no one’s going to want to look at them. Then after you’re dead they’ll be relegated to the anonymity of the thrift store or thrown out.
GB Does the generator meet your standards of craftsmanship too?
TS For hundreds of years man has sought to remove his hand from craft so there’s no evidence of construction. This generator has zero evidence that it was made by a person and yet it was made in Japan, where the greatest heights of manufacturing standards have been reached. Now the best cars by any standards are Japanese, even if you’re snobby about the German ones. This object has that same craft and dedication. I learned from my experience with Nike that you can design something but you also need to design the way it’s made and accept the conditions that will get the best result. Honda is a paradigm of that kind of thoughtfulness. For example, they make cars for people who don’t want to change the oil.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
TS I would like to replace the word beauty with the word ‘swing’. Does it swing? This generator has hardly any aesthetic gestures towards selling it. So it swings.
GB So you’re saying form follows function?
TS It’s not as simple as: form follows function. Take fake boobs. The form follows the suggestion of function. That’s why they work. That’s why they can swing – if you do them in the right way with the right attitude. But generators and fake boobs are both vulgar in their way. They both say ‘fuck you mother nature’. There’s an arrogance there in the way we defy the natural world.