Artist and DJ Mikal Hameed breathes new life into old, decrepit office furniture by transforming beat-up junky chairs and sofas into awesome, fully-functioning sound systems. While Hameed considers himself to be “green out of necessity,” he recognizes that the work he produces is reflective of the struggle and indifference experienced by much of society. He is passionate about bringing people together through the shared experience of music, and it is this passion that has led him to becoming our very own eco-friendly shaman of sound. Last week I had the chance to visit Mikal’s studio, and get to know more about where he find his materials, inspiration and his feelings about being called “green”.
As I walked through the door my eyes were immediately drawn to the chair-shaped sound systems that occupied the center of the room. The sculptures rested on sheets of reflective aluminum, and I was delighted to see each one was decked out with its very own style of bling. I took a seat and talked to Mikal while he worked on his current project.
Why have you chosen to work with reclaimed materials?
Mikal: I am working with these materials out of necessity. It is easier for me to use found objects for what I build because at the end of the day I am creating pretty expensive stuff. By using found objects I am still able to execute my vision and keep it cost effective. And I feel like I am helping out at the same time; people are throwing this stuff away, and I am retrieving it and making it into something else. A lot of people out there think that if the chair is missing a button, it is ruined, and get rid of it. That’s where I come in.
For example, there are a lot of wholesale buyers who go in and refurbish chairs, and some chairs are really off bad and can’t be refurbished. Those companies call me saying, “why don’t you come pick up these chairs?” They know what I am doing, and we are all a part of this community. Now more then ever I feel like artists are realizing that in these difficult times as artists we can’t survive without each other. This has shifted the mood of the community – where being an artist is normally isolating, I have found people are really reaching out.
In what ways do you feel using materials that you can’t always control have shaped the appearance and content of your work?
Mikal: These materials definitely push me to be more creative. I have to work with what I got and really make it work, really make it look good, and it has to function. I have realized that 90% of the materials out there, may be a little damaged, or a little scratched but the components on it work perfectly, everything else is just aesthetics, and that’s why people are throwing it away. It’s just not shiny enough anymore. I go in, buff it, and it’s back to being shiny. This is my artistic endeavor where it’s like cooking, you have to make it fit together, and you know it is always going to be different from the last one. I am the constant. I work until I am happy, and it comes out perfect every time.
‘I am the constant. I work until I am happy, and it comes out perfect every time.’
What is the most important thing for people to understand about what you do?
Mikal: I was raised by two Jazz musicians, and have always known that music is a universal language. It breaks all barriers. My work is made to be interactive and inviting, made to bring people together to share one experience. This is the only way we can level the playing field: young, old, rich, poor, everybody can relate and see what it is, and like I said before, now more then ever you really need to give back to the community. Artists, poets, musicians, writers — it is our job to push people to challenge what they know and how they experience the world. I ask myself everyday do I have joy in my life and am I bringing joy to others? Do I have balance? I take this idea to work with me everyday.
What are your feelings about the green movement, and how does your work reflect what we are all experiencing as we face this global crisis?
Mikal: I believe that everyone’s work right now, whether they like it or not, is connected to the green movement. Just the fact that we are going through this financial crisis makes people a part of the green movement and they are not aware of it. They are affected by this crisis and want to maintain their lifestyles, but they are forced to adapt their ways in order to utilize the resources available to them. Americans need this kind of wake up call in order for them to understand the changes that they need to make to live a sustainable lifestyle.
‘My work is made to be interactive and inviting, made to bring people together to share one experience. This is the only we can level the playing field: young, old, rich, poor, everybody can relate and see what it is.’
For many involved with the green movement, the fact that reaching the masses is a difficult feat is not a new concept. People feel confused by the bi-polar messages they are constantly being fed, and it is time for us to realize that establishing a sense of community is the only way to change the way people behave. Mikal Hameed and his work offer up a new way for us to feel connected. His process exemplifies the value we should attribute to the “stuff” in our life, and to each other. He sets the stage for people from all walks of life to see what they have in common.
Right now his work can only be experienced in a gallery setting, but Mikal is about to take these love seats on tour. Kicking off on November 13th at the Ronin Gallery in Los Angeles, the URBAN AUDIO MANIFESTO TOUR will be bringing people together all over the country.