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Interview with Neil Hamamoto 

(b. 1993, NYC, NY)

Dani: Neil Hamamoto is a conceptual artist and entrepenuer that lives and works in NYC. Can you tell us about your non-to-profit artist studio called WORTHLESS STUDIO and how you came up with that name?

Neil:  I started WORTHLESS STUDIO officially in 2018, but conceptually planned since 2016 when I was living in San Francisco working as a product designer in the tech industry. The idea was basically that artists need more access to studio space particularly for those working in more complex or larger materials because in NY it is very challenging to have large studio space and also to afford expensive equipment or even pay an additional set of hands to help you. So WORTHLESS STUDIOS is a non-for-profit organization whose mission is to combat that issue and provide those resources to under-resourced artists in NY.

Why use the word WORTHLESS?

N: I think the name is definitely a bit tongue and cheek. We certainly as a small organization are not trying to take ourselves too seriously, we are an arts organization and when you are working with young artists I think it's important to bring structure and support but also understand that art is a process and failure is encouraged as well as experimentation as a part of it and so we wanna keep ourselves light and flexible so the name is to try to provide that idea. I also think a little bit that for me about just being a young artist and how we value artist work, the whole art world and economy that’s developing and how we value certain artist’s work over others and what is value and worth when it comes to art.

D: So, are you aiming to question the concept of value in the art ecosystem?

N: Yeah, play with it and put it up there from the get go, I obviously hope for people to see what we are doing and understand that it's not worthless at all so just question what we look at as valuable and full of worth

D: Given that, how would you say the concepts of cost and worth play their part in the art world and in your practice?

N: ‘The Bodega paintings’ in particular –the series of paintings I’m working here in this residency, are being directly tied to that, the paintings are collage works on wood panel and the main material I’m using: the surface is commercially manufactured price stickers that come in series of colors but all commercially manufactured and provided to businesses to help clients understand what the cost of a certain item would be. These are the ones we would usually see in low cost items in ‘bodegas’ or on the side of a bag of chips. So this series started on 2018 and living in NY i still don’t have proper gallery representation, so for me the idea of starting to create value out of my work means selling my work and earning dollars off of time and ideas and energy spent on making things, and that’s how an artist would eventually be able to sustain their career.

D: So how would you properly activate the sense of this series of work, ‘The Bodega Paitings’?

N: I actually partner with local bodegas around NYC to play the role of my gallery, so I had 7 bodegas across lower Manhattan and they agreed to display these paintings in their stores and so the bodega and sort-of home of the main item that I’m using to make the work also end up kind-of playing home and gallery to exhibit the works.

D: Were they for sale?

N: They were. The deal that I had arranged with the bodega owners was different from place to place, but in some instances the bodega owner was technically working on a commission model. So if the painting sold, I had to set a price for them, just like the art world works. So part of my practice was negotiating with the bodega owners and also getting them up to speed on what the value of the art works were and what their potential role as a sales representative of the work could grant them.

D: How was the experience?

N: It was quite interesting because at the time the works were maybe worth a couple 100 dollars but it was probably the most expensive item they had at their store and so for this thing made out of material that they are actually used to using as well as in the store and themselves, it was always interesting to see their reaction to saying ‘this is a work of art and because of that it is worth this much more and if I sell it I’m entitled to a percentage to a significant number’ that is more than what they would do by selling rice krispy treats and sandwiches.

D: Would you trust your work as idiosyncratic?

N: I guess so, by striking the right balance in trying to be unique and different but also still relevant and approachable, I use materials which anyone would be familiar with and second part of it is to try to re-contextualize commercially manufactured objects to give them a sense of newness. Maybe that is the part that makes it idiosyncratic.

D: Would you say that mechanical engineering molded your work? I can sense it from specifically ‘God give me power’

N: Definitely. That piece does have electrical components, but if you were to tell someone that I apply my mechanical engineering degree in my work they might think that I’m making kinetic sculptures or using air pressure or pumps or etc and I think at least the most recent body of work is definitely not the case but that degree offered most courses grounded in basic education on standard tools like wood working skills, metalworking skills, etc. so if you were to get more detailed on what the curriculum was in my degree I’m definitely applying a lot of what I learned there.

D: Ok, so what do you think the role of an artist is nowadays? Or what would you say it should be?

N: I’ll answer from what I think my role as an artist would be. I guess for me it's about trying to strike the right cord of relevance in this specific world and time, materiality. For example, the work that I’m making here, which is a modern technology that people use to advertise the price of an object and who knows how long these things will last. So I think an artist's job is to help summarize the time that we live through. For me what stands out is the newness and how it is also tied and related to the time when it is created.