Christian Hastad What are we being limited by and what are we being enabled to do, and how are those things clashing?
By Mary Truong September 29th, 2020
In a discussion on Instagram, Christian Hastad describes the platform’s evolution from a “stream of life” (continuous images of dogs and day-to-day activity) to its current form of curated, commercial-oriented content (think influencer culture). He goes on to describe how this change creates a “tunneling” effect— users’ expectations of what experiences and life can be are increasingly limited by the circulation and popularity of certain images. Hastad then speculates that other technologies impose restrictions that we cannot discern, and even if our capabilities have been extended through innovation, not being able to fully understand its consequences is “scary.”
“What are we being limited by, and what are we being enabled to do, and how are those things clashing?”
If, as a sociologist, Hastad is concerned about how technology enables a neoliberal limitation to experience, then as an artist, Hastad is concerned about how ideology enables a postmodern limitation to art. To him, there is something achingly cyclical in how postmodernist exemplars (including Rauschenberg and De Kooning) “use a different tool to create an image and then recycle that image.” Hastad’s criticism isn’t limited to the abstractionists from the 1960’s; he notes that a recent review of Julian Schnabel’s show at the Pace Gallery indicates the same stagnancy of practice: “He [Schnabel] hasn’t gotten the clue that this isn’t new. This is just him touting his ego.”
Hastad is quick to inflict the same criticism upon himself. To him, the convergence of capitalism and postmodernism results in a schema that can be difficult for artists to escape: “Once you hit something that strikes the nerve, and you can support yourself doing something you love, it becomes a validation loop.” He also notes that being considered a “legitimate” artist often implies a consistent practice “because you’re always told you need to find your voice; you need to find your style.” For Hastad, the postmodernist condition is the same as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”: an artist settling into a distinct voice has lost the dialectical questioning that allows a practice to evolve; their art may shift forms, but the ideology becomes fixed.
“What works for me is trying to explore and just intuiting a different process.”
Hastad admits that “for a long time, I’ve been resting on the crutch of making things aesthetically very pleasing, which makes the work look more commercial… I’ve been thinking of shying away from [that].” Although he primarily works in painting (a medium entrenched in tradition), he searches for innovation and experimentation. He admits he may be “ignorant or naïve” for believing that there’s room to explore in painting (especially after a college professor once told him, “Everything’s already been done in painting”), but he still remains optimistic about the medium when he notices unorthodox techniques used among other artists. From there, he often applies and adjusts those techniques into his own work: playing with inkjet printers, stretching unconventional fabrics onto canvases.
“It helps to have a face to a name, even if it’s just as abstract.”
Another challenge that Hastad has encountered in his practice is the difficulty of manifesting abstract concepts into physical objects. Hastad’s background in sociology informs ideological aspects of his works; he credits Hegel, Durkheim, and Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s Phenomenology of the End as particular influences. Translating these theorists’ complex ideas into visual forms that a viewer may understand is a formidable, if not impossible, task. He draws a conflict between commercial aesthetics and theory in his practice when he says, “I don’t want my work to seem so commercial that no meaning is able to be drawn from it, but I also don’t want my work to be so theoretical that the same thing happens.” In fact, his artwork wields both elements simultaneously, resulting in the elusiveness that he reproaches.
For now, the limitations that Hastad has faced aren’t cause for concern: as a young and developing artist, there is plenty of time for him to grow. He has the keen sense of recognizing where contradictions and constraints lie in his practice and the fortitude to act upon them. At the end of our interview, Hastad relates to me how the process of building a studio space by hand grounds him practically to the world, and he suggests that this endeavor might affect his future work. It’s an exciting prospect: as someone who started his practice in college, his work has undoubtedly been affected by an academic, institutional setting. Away from the pressures of pedagogy and “the art world,” what might his work evolve into? The possibilities are unbounded.
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