Earlier last month I was contacted by the guys behind SXSW Eco (the partner event to the SXSW music and film festivals) about some work that Amsterdam based tape artist Max Zorn had put together for them at their event back in March. They were keen, and rightly so, to promote the finished installation.

Max Zorn 1

 Creating the SXSW Eco installation in downtown Austin.

SXSW Eco runs in early October and is a unique platform for professionals, examining the critical challenges of our times through design innovation, technological breakthroughs, conservation practice, entrepreneurial spirit and a culture of creativity to transform inspiration into action.

As part of this they helped hook up an interview between myself and Max to discuss his tape based art more generally, as well as his work for SXSW Eco. There are a number of artists working with this medium at the moment.

Those that stick (initially unintentional, but now welcomed pun) in mind are Buff Diss and Aakash Nihalani, creating really nice effects with very different materials. Aakash NihalaniNihalini (below/right) adds an extra layer by interacting, or encouraging interaction.

But how is Max Zorn’s work any different?

With a surgeon’s scalpel as his brush, he intricately cuts the tape and attaches it to acrylic glass to make use of its semi transparency, casting light from behind to create some really mesmerising work.

So mesmerising, in fact, that when I look at some of the examples I struggle to understand how something so dull and drab as packing tape can be completely transformed by adding light! More about that installation for SXSW Eco, then.

The concept of using tape to make art is like a form of upcycling — taking something away from its intended purpose and giving it a creative touch.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and it took months of brainstorming to lock in a concept, but on March 5th 2014 Max arrived in Austin with a beat up purple Ford Escort and a wide load of brown Scotch tape to get down to business Teaming up with SXSW and SXSW Eco to make this massive 10ft x 6ft tape art installation downtown was no easy feat, however. The artwork itself was lifted two feet in the air, installed in a customized SXSW Eco lightbox, and lit up like a billboard for foot traffic at Brush Square Park in Austin.

Check this video out to see the process from start to finish.

I was interested to find out more about how he got into using tape for such an impressive display, was there a link to a graffiti-based past? “Not really graffiti, but you could say that the art I was putting on lamps was for the streets before it was put in frames for a gallery.”

“I started hanging my tape art on street lamps around Amsterdam in the spring around 2011. That was right before I went on a road trip, so I brought some work with me and started hanging them on street lamps wherever we went, like Cologne, Madrid, and all around Portugal. And it just kind of went from there…”

4meer - Amsterdam - MR

Earlier Max Zorn artwork, hanging from lamp posts worldwide

The effect created by using brown packaging tape for his art is really something, so I was curious to discover how exactly he came to settle on an obscure medium like this, carving out stunning designs and his own niche in the process.

“…I like the idea of taking something ordinary, that isn’t used as an artist’s medium, and shedding new light on it…”

“I like the idea of taking something ordinary, that isn’t used as an artist’s medium, and shedding new light on it. I thought tape could be cool because the brown is slightly transparent, and adding more layers creates depth and different shades of brown.”

Max Zorn 2

An example of his work representing the vintage nostalgia, enhanced by the sepia tone

“In return it creates sepia tones that people associate with vintage eras and the nostalgic past. And I love that, I’m a big fan of The Lost Generation writers like Steinbeck and Hemingway and their stories…the tones align with the subjects I like, such as Americana, roaring eras, etc.”

But as important as the tape is, none of this would work without the back-lit glass, something that Max is keen to stress. “I guess it’s also important to point out I work with light just as much as tape, so the tape needs to be able to compliment light.”

“It’s like a stained glass window, and some tape just can’t work like that. Others do, I’m trying out green and reds at the moment and it looks pretty cool too.”

Max Zorn 3

Incredible use of packing tape

From humble beginnings, Max’s work has gone on to receive widespread acclaim, hanging in galleries like Wynwood in Miami and exhibitions like ArtBasel in Hong Kong.

But is there something the four walls of a gallery can’t do that working in the street can? I dug a bit deeper to find out if he misses the more DIY aspect of creation.

“Well, I don’t have as much time as I used to. So that’s why I started Stick Together. Fans can apply to win a handmade artwork and it’s their job to put it up in their town on a street lamp.”

“It was working out really well until people started just keeping them for themselves! Which I guess is a compliment but totally stops the point of spreading street art to the people who love it.”

Action Live hanging

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Scaling a lamp post in the name of art.

I really love the idea of “Stick Together“, it’s just a shame the work he’s putting out there is so highly sought after that it soon began to find it’s place hanging in people’s homes instead of from streetlamps!

“…it [Stick Together] was working out really well until people started just keeping them for themselves! Which I guess is a compliment…”

With that increasing popularity, bigger and better opportunities come his way more and more often. So what has changed for him and his art with this rise in the urban art world?

“Well, I definitely can go bigger now in size, which was hard to imagine at first. It’s not easy to visualize the larger you go. Some things still take a while, other things don’t take a long as they used to, like re-creating artworks I’ve already made 5 or 10 times.”

Max Zorn 4

SXSW Eco Installation nearing completion

“I got used to being flexible too. You’re not always gonna find the same conditions all over the world, and that used to be scary but now it’s pretty cool.”

At the moment the website for Stick Together is a gallery page. It has been re-purposed to sell artwork in Miami this coming December.

The project itself transformed into an event where 50 artists painted live in Amsterdam. Now it’s taking some of those artists to Florida to showcase their work. Word has it that a re-launch is planned for the end of 2014 though, so keep checking back… There’s nothing to suggest that the Dutchman is planning on easing up any time soon either.

Expect some more work from Max over the coming months – “I’ll be hanging some work up around the world this year and next though, and you can always check that out on my Facebook page!” stciking together

Max reaching for the light at the Louvre in Paris. 

It was really cool to get the chance to fire a few questions Max’s way. I’m excited to see what Stick Together brings back in 2015, as well as what lies in store for the master of brown packing tape. Give him a wave if you see him clambering up a lamp post near you. Steven UKB

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