The loft as lab art story: what happens when a photographer invites four young strangers to live together for a month in an empty loft? Presenting a happening by Carter Smith

The loft as lab art story: what happens when a photographer invites four young strangers to live together for a month in an empty loft? Presenting a happening by Carter Smith – Interview

Tony Moxham

TONY MOXHAM: How did you come up with the initial concept for Squat?

CARTER SMITH: It started when Daniel Peddle, who’s a friend of mine and owner of The Secret Gallery [in Red Hook, Brooklyn] asked me to do a show. I wanted to create an environment that people could use all their senses to experience. I wanted this incredible invasion of intimate space.

TM: Putting four strangers together in a gallery space for a month and videotaping them as they live and work there is certainly intimate. How did you pick the squatters?

CS: It turned out to be kind of easy. On the first day of casting, Shelly, Doug and 2-Tone all showed up at the same time. Daniel and I looked at each other and said, “Those three are it!” And Brandon’s audition tape was amazing. It was obvious that the four of them should be together.

TM: How much monitoring did you do?

CS: They were in charge of when the surveillance cameras were on. I asked them to give me five hours in the gallery each day, for six days a week. And I would go in for an hour or two, to look at what they had done and brainstorm with them.

TM: It’s kind of strange because you’re surrounded by their work on the walls, but it’s your project. It’s kind of half-and-half.

CS: Yeah, I would never feel comfortable taking credit for it because they worked their butts off. My work was more going through all the video footage and editing the pieces together.

TM: In addition to the artwork and videotape on view in the gallery, the space continues to contain evidence of the squatters–their beds are there, their coffee cups–though they are no longer living there. How are you hoping people will react to what they see?

CS: I don’t want them to tiptoe through the space. I want them to read the journals, watch the tapes and take time to read the walls. Walking around the space made me feel uncomfortable, being in someone’s personal space so intimately; if it’s making me uncomfortable, hopefully it will do that to other people, too.


TONY MOXHAM: What were you doing before you moved into the loft?

BRANDON CHANDLER: Building homes in Virginia.

TM: It seems like you guys got on pretty well.

BC: We got along great, and everybody had something different to contribute to this. I brought the know-how of how to make the flower beds and stuff like that. And Doug’s the one who went out and found a lot of junk, things that had been thrown out, like all the chairs he found off the subway. And Shelly added a different side to it, other than just splashing the walls with spray paint.

TM: How much control did you have over the videotaping?

BC: Well, we had full control over it. Basically we just videotaped to keep up with the progress and also to see how well we were getting along.

TM: I heard three of you got arrested on your first night together.

BC: We wanted this old table that was trash, but we went about it the wrong way, so we spent the night in jail and did some community service.

TM: What are your plans now that you’ve moved out?

BC: I’m interested in art, so I plan on trying to hook up with something like that.


TONY MOXHAM: What kind of expectations did you have coming into this project?

2-TONE: Nothin’. I figured I’d just sit down, sleep, wake up and collect money. [laughs]

TM: Are you going to miss the loft?

2T: I don’t know if I’m gonna miss it. I mean, back home I got the queen-size bed and all that.

TM: What are your plans now that you’ve moved out?

2T: While I was there, Doug had a party and one of the kids turned out to be a producer. And I kinda rap, too. So hopefully that will work out.

TM: What stuff in the loft did you do?

2T: Me and Brandon did a lot of the handiwork–we put the tub together and the garden. But the only thing that really stayed up on the wall that was mine was the stencils by the bathroom.

TM: Is there anything you’d like to take with you when the show comes down?

2T: Doug’s picture of Bob Marley. I like that.

TM: Do you guys plan on staying in touch?

2T: Shelly I definitely will. She’s gonna be my wife.

TM: Does she know about this?

2T: No. [both laugh]

TM: So is there anything else you want to say?

2T: Buy the album!


TONY MOXHAM: It seems like you guys got really tight in just a month.

SHELLY ZANDER: Yeah. I don’t know what Carter was looking for when he put us together, but he did a really good job, just with the energies.

TM: How would you describe your energy as opposed to everyone else’s?

SZ: Well, I think about a lot of stuff that they don’t think about. They made fun of me because of my mother complex.

TM: It seems like you guys were really tolerant of each other’s differences. If other people were thrown into that situation–

SZ: –Yeah, my girlfriends are all like, I’d be shooting up Paxil if I’d had to stay there!”

TM: What, if anything, do you think you learned from this experience?

S: When you’re forced to be in a room with three other strangers, there’s always gonna be something to learn from someone else. It’s dope that we all had something to teach one another. More than anything, I’m really stoked that there’s someone who thinks of things like this. Can you imagine if every fourth kid had an opportunity to live in a space and express themselves for a month? It’s unbelievable.


TONY MOXHAM What was it about the project that interested you?

DOUG WENZ: My first thought was that I get to live in Brooklyn again. I used to live in Bed-Stuy and I loved it.

TM: How did you get along with everyone?

DW: 2-Tone’s a funny motherfucker. Shelly’s the mommy. I’m the stoner son or drunken idiot of the family and Brandon’s the old, senile father type.

TM: So you liked living there?

DW: Yeah, free rent, and I got to fuckin’ paint all over the fuckin’ walls.

TM: How did it feel to be videotaped?

DZ: I couldn’t have cared less, because it allowed me to get back to my artistic capabilities. It totally made me more in tune with myself.

TM: How are you going to feel when this exhibit ends and it all gets painted over?

DZ: I don’t know. I might cry.

TM: What did you learn from this experience?

DZ: Basically, the ability to live and cope with other people’s beliefs. As much as I might not like some other people’s beliefs, it’s not the biggest thing. It’s the overall aura of a person that I’m attracted to, so people can not believe in the same things and still be cool.

Tony Moxham is Interview’s Art Director. Carter Smith’s Squat is at The Secret Gallery in Brooklyn (718-422-0328), through July 31.

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