Presley Martin was interviewed in Berkeley, CA on April 22, 2007
by Oliver Wise and Eleanor Hanson Wise of The Present Group.


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Oliver Wise: Let’s start with a little bit of your background: how long you’ve been making art, and how you sortof came to it.

Presley Martin: I guess it started in college. I was a science major starting out. I gradually started taking more and more art classes in ceramics in particular, and art history too. And then I got frustrated, left school, and just tried to work as little as possible and pursued what I was interested in doing.

When I was working in Richmond I would ride along the bay on my bike. I started noticing the garbage washed up. I started collecting it. It was too interesting to pass up. So I started out with mostly plastic stuff. I was interested in the fact that you come out to a really natural area, but then you find brightly colored, perfectly round shapes. So I was collecting those when I started out.

I’ve always been interested in ceramics, and making some ceramic sculpture too. So when I first found the bricks, when I realized I could glaze them, it was an interesting way to sortof enter that process of things that get discarded and make it to the bay. Cause with the plastic, I was always thinking of if there was some way I could mark the plastic somehow. But then when I realized I could glaze the bricks, take them out of here, glaze them and sort of add another layer, insert myself into that process.

Yeah in general I’m interested in things that have had a use, and that people discard for whatever reason, or it blows out of their car. So I’m interested in a second life of these things that … when you’re done with your plastic water bottle, you usually don’t think about it, but it goes somewhere. So I guess the Bay was particularly interesting because it seems like it’s this huge collector for most of the people that live in the area. So anything that doesn’t go to the landfill, anything that escapes that stream, most likely will end up here.

Eleanor Hanson Wise: And isn’t that because a lot of the storm drains just wash right out into the bay?

PM: Yeah pretty much every storm drain just goes straight to the bay or straight to a creek that goes to the bay.

EHW: Do you view the bay itself as a sort of collaborator with you, with its own process of sorting and collecting?

PM: I guess. I mean not in a personal way. But it does.. Yeah, it definitely helps. Beause I used to collect just stuff off the street, mostly paper. But the bay definitely makes it easier, it concentrates things along the tide lines especially. That’s what I’ve found too, the different spots contain different things. Like here it’s the bricks, but at other places I haven’t really found any bricks. Other places have more plastic forks, or more gum, or you know…

EHW: What about photography, because you do a decent amount of photography as well, do you find that as sortof another way of collecting and organizing events or places or whatever, or do you see the photos as a more a work on their own?

PM: Not really, because I’ve never had any real formal photography training or anything. So I guess it has been another sort of collection. I do have a collection of found photographs, just ones I find on the street.

EHW: Seems like time is a big thing for you: progression through time.

PM: Yeah it is. It’s not actually something I really think about too much, but it always is an element. I guess it follows my natural rhythm of my life.

EHW: What do you mean?

PM: Well in terms of collecting stuff. For a while I just fit it in after work, or going to work, or whatever. So it’s always been on my scale. Whatever I could carry in my backpack on my bike.

But time, I’m definitely interested seeing how things change over time. With the bricks, I’m interested how the glaze is going to wear off, how the tide and the water is going shift them around. I put them in here and let the bricks in here and let the waves work on them is the same way as putting the clay and paper together and letting it work on its own.

But even with that stuff I’d like to get a sort of natural process involved. So I’d pour out liquid clay onto paper. So as the… when clay dries it shrinks, so it forms…the paper and the clay form together. So as they dry the clay shrinks, the paper tends to curl or buckle and then I, after it dries, extract them from the paper and fire them. And I guess in that way I tend to accumulate a bunch of those bits first and then make some sort of arrangement. You know I’ve done stuff where I ‘ve got a bunch of forks, and I have them in a progression from whole forks all the way down to single tines.

EHW: In a lot of ways your work could be compared to that of Richard Long, Smithson, or Goldsworthy. Do you see your work as a continuation of those Land Artists?

PM: Yeah, I really like their work, but I’ve always shied away from being that. They seem so serious. There’s like this purity that they strive for that just doesn’t really feel right to me. But I’ve always really been interested in the nature in the city. City parks. When I lived in Pittsburg, I was amazed that there were these beautiful parks. And you could go, just find a spot, and sit all by yourself. You’re in the city, but you can sit amongst the trees, and be totally by yourself.

EHW: Do you see your work as more performance based almost, or more as finished pieces, or are they more a thing that just doesn’t really have an end?

PM: Hmm. I never thought of it as performance until seems like four years ago. I took this class with this group of people and we were talking about presenting work and stuff, and it came up about my work that it was like this performance of going out and collecting and arranging this stuff. So since then I have thought about it more in that term, but it hasn’t really affected the way I do it.

So now I’m going to come back, over the next couple days, and see what’s going on. The performance of the elements. But I guess I had always had this notion of performance art in a gallery, you know Joseph Beuys living with wolf for a week or whatever.

I guess over the years I’ve been doing this, I feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. And it’s more of who I am now, which is a pretty quiet person. So I’m getting, getting to that place, you know, of expressing who I am.