A short dialogue with Theodore Darst

, 12 December 2013

“I’m drinking green tea and I just took some Xanax ‘cause I’ve been feeling very anxious”, Theodore Darst tells me when I ask him what he’s up to. The Chicago-based web artist and music video director’s anxiety should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work; the flashing 3D graphics, morbid imagery and blunt, pithy titles forming the core of his practice are the visual equivalent of a panic attack.

Educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and at Bard College, Darst has exhibited in an impressive number of shows over the past two years, both online and in galleries. Darst’s new work is about to go on display on digital art platform internet-art.net –it will be the site’s inaugural solo show, 3D Man Resting Prone, curated by Nick Kegeyan. More so than any of his output to date, these recent offerings typify Darst’s ingenious and, to this spectator at least, his distinctly disturbing vision. Darst, though, shrugs off the implication that his visuals might have any troubling effects: ‘I don’t believe you – sorry’, he says when challenged.

From creating live visuals for the likes of Chicago group The-Drum to short films to a narrative project about Limp Bizkit singer Fred Durst, Darst is a thrillingly versatile artist whose often dystopian points of reference belie a slacker-ish sense of mischief. Much of Darst’s output appears to revolve around what amuses him at any given moment – a quality that keeps the work intriguing, mercurial and paradoxically serious.

Theodore Darst, 'Comp 1 (Deion Sanders)'. (2013)..png
Theodore Darst, ‘Comp 1 (Deion Sanders)’. (2013).

aqnb: What do you want and how are you going to get it?

Theodore Darst: I’d like to be the type of artist who doesn’t have to teach but doesn’t have to do a lot of self-promotion to sell their art. No idea how I’m going to get it. I want a new car. I’ll get that with the money I earn.

aqnb: What scares you?

TD: Walking around shitty parts of Chicago late at night. The fact that so many bullshit artists my age get to speak for my generation.

aqnb: Do you worry about being watched?

TD: I used to worry about being watched but now I accept that I’m being watched and I figure if we’re all being watched all the time then there’s no need to stress about stuff like that. I really don’t like being on camera though.

aqnb: Why Fred Durst?

TD: I’m fascinated with Fred Durst for a myriad of reasons. I’m actually writing a screenplay for an animation/documentary about him right now. He is this symbolic figure to me that ushered in 21st century pop culture in a very negative way.

Also, our last names are really similar and I feel like I’ve gotten to experience his rise and fall as a superstar in a very direct way. Throughout middle school, people commented on how cool it was that we had such close last names, then it became something that they would point out as an insult. Now it’s always in some ironic ‘remember the ‘90s’ context, so I just feel in tune with him and where he’s at in his career.

aqnb: What’s the value of irony in conceptual art?

TD: I think one-liner ironic conceptual web projects are the art world equivalent of those click bait posts at the bottom of a blogs promising ’10 Scorching Hot Photos of Scarlett Johansson’. On a more grand scale though, irony is so integral to all contemporary art that I can’t even start to put a value judgment on it.

aqnb: Do you begin a project thinking of language or image?

TD: Always with the image.

aqnb: And what’s with the language? How did you approach the narrative in the Deion Sanders and Absis Minas videos?

TD: The language is as close to a ‘pure’ journal entry as I can possibly claim it. I’ve made three of these more personal videos now so the purity of the narrative gets diluted with each one, since I’m thinking more about the final product than I was at first. But at some basic level, the narratives are just me reporting on my life as it happens. I wrote them, by hand at first, so that seems pretty authentic.

aqnb: Music videos: spectacles in their own right or interpretive tools? Or something else entirely?

TD: I think what music videos were a decade ago has nothing to do with what they are now. I think that videos are turning into the best form for delivering music now. I watch music videos, or at least have them playing in other tabs in chrome as often as I listen to iTunes.

aqnb: Where are you going?

TD: I’m trying to go somewhere warm. I think I want to go to the Middle East next. I was going to move to New York City but that’s so boring. I’m worried I’m not interesting enough to go anywhere.

aqnb: Why?

TD: God, I don’t know. I try to project a Positive Mental Attitude as much as possible but a lot of the time I’m lying. **

Theodore Darst’s 3D Man Resting Prone runs on internet-art.net from December 11 to 13.