Image of Nik Kosmas lifting weights courtesy Spike Art Quarterly
For their current issue, Spike asked artist and AIDS-3D cofounder Nik Kosmas why he ended his career as a young, commercially successful artist. Here’s part of the text below:
At some point, I had the feeling that I couldn’t explain what I was doing, with conviction, to a stranger. The subjective nature of making “work” in a field where basically anything goes: critical or non-critical, aesthetic or conceptual, material or dematerialized – as long as you want to call it “art”. I felt suffocated by potentials and missed having a method for evaluating options. Possibly I was also suffering from some kind of imposter complex, where I felt like anyone at any time would notice that everything we were doing made no sense. These deep-seated anxieties probably reflect the fact that art is no longer very relevant.
As a member of the collective AIDS-3D, I belonged to that genre of art called Post-Internet, which had something to do with “discussing the digital lifestyle and implications …”. At first we did this with a witch-house post-apocalyptic tech-dystopia flavor, but then this evolved into projects like The Jogging and a lot of sculptures of running shoes, water droplets, and lots of cheap stuff stacked or melted on top of each other and sold in big editions for €3k-12k. I just didn’t think there was a point or a respectable future in endlessly critiquing or arrogantly joking about innovations coming from other fields.
During the years I operated as a visual artist, I studied chess and sports in my “free time”. I was drawn to these hobbies because they are ultra-focused. I read books and tried to learn how to apply scientific principles to my training in order to make progress on specific goals. I also devoted a lot of time to studying nutrition, science fiction, world history, and political science. This was definitely a reaction to the hot-mess of the young Berlin art scene.
To continue making art after you reach a certain level of success, you have to have a mixture of talent, ego, and pragmatism. You have to suspend the disbelief and doubt about your self-centered and marginal mini-territory of custom-made industrial process hacks, and “themes”, all the time struggling to stay relevant and inspired while the upper-class gallerists and collectors – who are your only real support system – make the magic happen. It’s really fragile. There are just too few people involved in the whole “discourse” for it to have the stability of a healthy market. So your existence and sustenance is actually quite vulnerable. You can survive if you stay inside the art bubble: writing grants, teaching, getting the odd public commission (especially if you come from one of those small, rich, socialist European countries that pay artists ridiculous amounts of money to do things that are questionably useful :)). I wanted to engage in the “real” world, where things are much more competitive, and also, yes, dumbed down for a more general audience (and for that same reason so much more effective and important).
My friend Martin had drifted out of making sculpture to create a company that sells power converters on Amazon. About two years after he started doing that, Daniel Keller and I, working together as AIDS-3D, created a new entity/artwork called Absolute Vitality Inc. A registered company in Wyoming (tax haven), it was supposed to go around creating value through abstract financial art-world machinations. Anyways, I became totally disillusioned that this was interesting at all. It felt very easy and parasitic and had unclear metrics for success. Martin’s project was random but had clear metrics for success: units sold, growth rate, five-star reviews. Martin was “doing” what we were joking or commenting on.