Enzo — 1–888-AZHKQOL

A talk about the aesthetics of bombs, capitalism’s built-in failure, and police interrogations as art crits.

Isabelle Waldmann in conversation with Enzo.

Installation view of Enzo’s 1–888-AZHKQOL

Enzo’s 1–888-AZHKQOL is a series of sculptures that explore capitalism’s inherent threat to itself. The sculptures are inspired by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) used for guerrilla warfare. The formal qualities of the sculptures combine the language of bricolage with a contemporary wit that makes them read like designer bombs. Finished with a coat of velvety fibers, they appear simultaneously as retail products and artifacts excavated from the ground.

How did this project start and what was your inspiration for the work?

The interest in bombs doesn’t come from a militaristic or violent impulse. It’s more about paradox and the way objects can be transformed and slide into different contexts. From iconic consumer objects to threatening explosives to precious artifacts dug out of the ground. The sculptures work best when they hover between these, encapsulating a sense of creation and destruction simultaneously — when they attract and repulse you. That’s the only way to escape a context latent with predetermined meaning and find some kind of purity or neutrality. Enzo’s work is all about finding these loopholes, where one can breathe and exist without the demands of the dominant discourse around an object or an idea.

“It’s about finding a loophole where the work can exist without the demands of the dominant discourse around an object or an idea.”
Installation view of Enzo’s 1–888-AZHKQOL

Why bombs though?

The original idea was to create bulletproof glass vitrines with intricately crafted explosives and real bombs inside — essentially great objects of beauty that also had a dangerous edge. The explosive charge of each vitrine would be rigged just short of the breaking point of the glass (or to make a slight crack), so that it actually wouldn’t hurt anyone upon explosion. The idea was then to time the bombs to go off at various times. Some would go off at the opening reception — BANG! Then some would be timed to go off later — like years in the future. Collectors would not know when the artwork would go off, and hence they might enter their collection one morning to find it had detonated overnight.

How did you go from this idea to the final product? Also, the ‘bombs’ are inert, right?!

They are. After a lot of research, the original idea turned out to be quite difficult to pull off due to insurance and legal restraints. You could say, this entire body of work is a complete failure — it isn’t what it was intended to be. So to embrace the failure, why not make bombs that can’t even go off? Maybe that says something about the impotence we felt after calling art lawyers and explosive experts to see if there was a way to pull this off. But alas. From there, we arrived at this fantasy of dormant bombs carefully dug out from the ground by an archeologist at an excavation site — their nature obscured heavily by their formal ingenuity. What if these bombs were put behind museum glass? And what if they were not identified as explosives? This is seemingly the only way to pull off the initial idea — bombs on pedestals. But it would have to happen of its own volition. That’s kind of the complicated genesis story of the show. It took about 8 months from the initial sparks, we spent quite a bit of time on research.

Research material seized by the NYPD

Did you ever get into any trouble? I don’t imagine that your research was amassed solely from library books…

Most of the research was done by ordering inert explosives from a company that usually only sells to government organizations. We had to set up a proxy, then we got the gear delivered and picked it apart to see what we were dealing with.

I love that real IEDs are made by objects you can get anywhere, but replicas of these objects are so difficult to get your hands on.

And now as artworks, even harder to acquire. Anyway, so the landlord of the studio came by unannounced one day and called the cops, thinking the bombs were real.

“The police questioning took hours. They’re tough critics! Jerry Saltz’s got nothing on Officer Monroe.”

Woah. So, the cops came and what did they say? Did they even believe you?

They quickly realized the devices weren’t real, but were still suspicious about how we had gotten then and why we had them. They questioned us for 2 hours. Have you tried to explain contemporary art to a cop? Impossible. They’re tough critics! Jerry Saltz’s got nothing on Officer Monroe. Oh, and the replica explosives were seized — added to the NYPD’s collection I imagine.

Enzo — Flip Phone Paradiso, 2015. Mixed media, 19 x 10 x 18 inches (48.2 x 25.4 x 45.7 cm)

Can you talk about the rest of the process of making these?

The velvety texture is made of rayon fibers, usually used for lining jewelry cases and such. It’s applied quite expressively, so it hints at a preciousness but also kind of looks like the objects have been excavated from the earth. The objects were produced by improvised combinations of the everyday items normally used to produce IEDs, but into a whimsical, aesthetically superior form. The thought was to develop a language that is quite delicate, precarious, with the psychological tension reinforced by many cantilevered elements. One critic said when seen together, they look like an orchestra of weird musical machines playing with each other. That’s kind of nice. Since the process of making them felt like improvised jazz.

Speaking of sound, IEDs are usually activated by phone, right? I noticed that there are many phones incorporated into the works, and then the show’s title is a toll-free number. Can I call the number?

You can call the number, but it’s only functional during the show, so you should call it soon. Or give it to a guy at a bar.

What about the titles of the works?

The titles of the works are a mixed bag of military terms, like names of grenades or C4 mixed in with familiar product names, so you end up having Semtex Martini or C4 Pressure Cooker XL.

Enzo — VBIED Limited Edition, 2015. Mixed media, 18 x 14 x 18 1/2 inches (45.7 x 35.5 x 46.9 cm)
“The built-in failure of capitalism mirrors the planned obsolescence of the objects it produces.”

Does paranoia play into the bombs then? Like the every day object as weapon?

There’s definitely that. As you mentioned, IEDs are made of everyday items — water coolers, mobile phones, cigarette packs, flashlights, Coke bottles — which all became eerily threatening while working on the show. With the knowledge that objects from the cornerstone or supermarket could be used to make explosives, contemporary life in America suddenly seemed extremely dangerous. We tried to make this danger felt, but also surreal and attractive — hence the hints towards a retail visual language. Each sculpture is constructed with a bunch of various questionable items — all hidden underneath the layer of rayon fibers to obscure the actual materials. Some of the objects appear extremely heavy, but are actually surprisingly light. On top of the paranoia though, there is a deep interest in aestheticizing these IEDs. So, it’s more about the paradoxes inherent in globalized consumerism — the transformation of meaning and identity of objects. It’s almost as if the fact that icons of Western frivolity being used for anti-Western attacks shows capitalism’s built-in failure.

Enzo — TM-62 Chardonnay X, 2015. Mixed media, 12 1/4 x 12 1/4 x 17 inches (31.1 x 31.1 x 43.1 cm)

I know that you don’t want to focus on politics, but I can’t help to think of the ISIS bombings of ancient temples and statues. You can’t deny it’s topical.

What’s most interesting about the ISIS bombings is the immense scrutiny over the images. First, ISIS posted images of their (alleged) destruction, then they’re verified by experts, then some are verified as fake, and so forth. Authenticating the images has become the focus of the actual event…the images have become more than the signifier. There’s a palpable link between these purported documentary photos and the Enzo bombs that are fail to live up to their real purpose.

And here we are, back at failure, full circle.

Enzo is an art practice represented by Inert. Learn more.