[Exclusive] Nemo Gould Interview
We exited our vehicle on a back road in Oakland, California on an overcast and fog laden summer day. Judging by the signs, this strip of road was once a fire path, but it seemed to have been converted into a makeshift parking lot. The only barriers between this road and the train tracks were concrete dividers overspread with graffiti. A little down the road, we arrive at the front doors of Nemomatic, the art studio of Nemo Gould. From the outside, it resembles more of a car garage than a high tech art lair. But once I stepped through the doorway, I entered into a world of scrap metal and electronics. Various pieces that might later be used to construct one of Gould’s animatronics were scattered all around his two-leveled workshop.
On his workbench, Gould was tinkering with his latest creation – a wooden box with a robot in the forefront and a moving sky in the background. This is the essence of his style; to create movable artwork completely out of scrap material. He assembles appropriate objects to make a piece whose theme is more cohesive than the component parts. “For every hundred, this one will be just right for the next project.” The style of Gould’s projects isn’t abstract; each project has a set theme in mind and he has created everything from aircrafts to animals.
One of his passions is to make some part of his projects move mechanically. This is probably the most unique aspect of his artwork – the fact that they are not static. However, this also proves to be one of the aspects that break the most often. In the past, a few weeks after purchase, Gould had received phone calls alerting him that their sculpture broke down. He discovered that the reason for the problem was because people kept them turned on for days at a time. This led him to install a timed turnoff in his mechanical pieces so observers could turn it on, enjoy, and the piece would turn off if they walked away.
Unlike other mechanical artists, Nemo never graduated from an engineering school. He has learned what he knows now primarily from helpful neighbors and various people on the Internet. “You can find thousands of nerds online that have made [a topic] their life.” When that he had mechanical questions, he often turned to people online who were more then happy to assist. In fact, he told us about one instance where someone built him a circuit board instead of attempting to explain it. That person also mailed it free of charge purely because he wanted his knowledge to help someone.
As a kid, Gould didn’t fathom that he would be assembling mechanical art pieces for a living. At that time, he wanted to become an animator of stop motion films. But living in the transition period between stop motion and digital, he soon found this art form depleted. In addition, he preferred to work on all the aspects of a project versus small sections. After the digital animation revolution, most studios grew too large to allow this individual workmanship. All of these factors led Nemo to create his own business and build his artwork. In a sense, his art still shows his childhood lust for animation. Instead of moving characters it on paper, he makes his sculptures move in reality.
Gould’s biggest uncertainty is how he can sell an art piece. Is it too expensive? How about the size? Will it look out of place in someone’s house? These are all questions that he ponders while laboring away. He believes most people won’t be interested in owning a sculpture that is as tall as they are. This is why he often targets consumers with smaller works that can be easily stored and transported. In addition, he also stays away from adding the mechanic flair on some works. While adding this makes the piece more interesting, he believes that the time spent adding the electronics could be better spent on other projects.
More often than not, Nemo doesn’t sell his work through a gallery. With the reach of the online world, he believes that his art will find more people through the medium. In addition, when his pieces sell, he doesn’t have to pay a large percentage to a curator. He says that online, he’s developed a following of people that he has never met. Some of these people are willing to spend anything from $600 to $12,000 for his pieces. Due to this, these are his main supporters – those who have a steady job and pay for his art slightly reminiscent of characters from old si-fi movies. And while it probably doesn’t pay for the rent, one can’t forget the robot that accepts quarters to work. While working on the project, Gould couldn’t forget about the idea that artists don’t make that much money, so he created a robot with a barrel around him. The only way to make this piece move is to insert a quarter and watch it move for about twenty seconds.
A few quarters later, all of which found a way from my pocket into his machine, I bid Nemo Gould adieu and walked out of the studio to meet our car and watch a freight train whistle through the wind into the distance.
You can visit Nemo Gould’s online gallery at www.nemomatic.com. This article was originally written for FastForward Magazine in Marin County, California.