Words by Monica and Hosna
"I guess I've always designed, but how can I make something good out of it?' Lousy Ink co-founder, and Melbourne artist Mike Eleven questions. Art is a practise that expresses ethic and moral considerations. It sparks conversations on things that perhaps most wouldn't want to talk about, placing us in a position to consider the art and the story around it. Lousy Ink, the first ever recycled Ink company places a moral weight on the literal medium. Because of this genuine consideration, there's another layer to the work.
Have you ever gotten an alert that your printer has run out of ink only to discover that there is a heap left over in the cartridge? It's never crossed my mind that the apparent 'empty' cartridge will be dumped into waste and landfill. 3029 were invited to the launch of Lousy ink, holding an exhibition at BSIDE Gallery showcasing over 15 artists using the 100% totally recycled Ink. Notable Melbourne artists Mike Eleven and Ruskidd (Ollie) spoke to us on the importance of building a brand that goes beyond the you paint on the canvas, but what is used on the canvas.
So what is good design? A good style? A good aesthetic? Well we can certainly agree that sustainable art should be at the forefront of smart design, and as an artist supply, Lousy Ink is a well considered, purposeful practise.
Describe the Lousy Ink aesthetic in 3 words?
Purposeful. Refined. Irreverent.
What made you/guys realise how important art was?
For the longest time I always thought art couldn't change the world. I saw art only as aesthetics and something rich people bought, but after further looking into Ai Wei Wei's practise, I began to realise that art could be used as a catalyst for change, pose big questions and demand results. Coming from a graffiti/street art background, I also have to tip my hat to Banksy, another artist who constantly challenges the world's perception of art and it's ability to weave into humanitarian matters. It's most likely from these two artists that I truly started to see that art-making was something that larger that was on the canvas or in galleries.
Art has always been something that we've constantly been surrounded by, while mainly just recognising it for it’s aesthetic values. Going through the full cycle of collecting the ink from waste, and then witnessing something amazing being created out of it has really made me realise how important art can be for positive change. I’ve noticed that using something as simple as recycled material in art can easily raise awareness of the importance of waste reduction and create something beautiful in the process.
How does it feel to be the first 100% recycled ink company?
To be honest, we had no idea that we'd be the first, nor did we ever intend to be. At the time, Lousy just sounded like a good idea and something we wanted to share with our circle of friends. It wasn't until we started looking at it more seriously did we discover that we'd stumbled upon an innovative idea. From there our attitude shifted completely. Now Lousy has now become a commitment to ethical art-making and a way to tackle the amount of chemical waste produced by recycled printer cartridges. Something that was once just a fun project now has a very important purpose. In a way, I feel like Peter Parker when his uncle said to him, "With great power, comes great responsibility". I'm not saying Lousy Ink is the next Spiderman, but saving the world in a cool, tongue-in-cheek way is definitely on the cards.
We were very surprised that there was nobody who directly turns waste materials into art products, and how so few recycling companies actually exist! Initially Lousy was intended to be a small project for our own personal ink supply ~ however we quickly realised how important Lousy can be for reversing the huge amount of waste that is being produced by inkjet cartridges.
Do you come from creative families?
At face-value, I'd say no. My parents are very traditional South East Asians and for the starting years of my art career they were very doubtful. The Lao term for "starving artist" was thrown around a lot at the time. My mom dreamt of being an artist when she grew up in the small town of Albury, but wasn't accepted into the art schools there at the time. So for context, my parents have been skeptical of the art world ever since. My Dad has been working in factories to put food on the table for as long as I remember and my mom has worked a desk job since she finished her TAFE course in business. If anything, not coming from a creative family and instead coming from a place of struggle, has made me more determined to pierce through the cynicism and barriers that present themselves for a young, Asian boy with a last name no one can pronounce. You'll be happy to know they're both pretty supportive these days. My mom constantly tells me, "You're good but your not THAT good yet." To be critiqued by your No. 1 fan is equally a daily struggle and humble reminder to keep pushing forward.
My parents come from creative backgrounds, which has definitely helped my art practice from having such strong support from an early age. My Dad being an interior designer, and Mum working with Mosaics, they always had an opinion or something to critique about my work, sometimes being quite brutally honest! This had really helped push myself to create more considered and unique works that i’m thankful for. Nowadays they’re still always dropping into the studio to see what i’m up to... or totally cramping my style at exhibition openings (sorry mum)
What inspires you and your work?
The freedom that comes with calling your brand 'Lousy' allows an for an infinite well of ideas and possibilities. Often we find ourselves saying, "How crazy would it be to..." and after half an hour of back and forth we've figured out a way to do something totally ridiculous. It's these moments that are the most exciting for us. There is constantly a challenge that is presented when we say "Let's do this!" which is the thought that follows, "But, is that ethical enough?" The limitations push us to think deeper than the surface of the idea and often creates more meaningful work. Trying to constantly reinvent what ink is and what it can do is very fulfilling, but often very frustrating haha.
Experimentation has been a big part of Lousy ~ not only how different artists can create with the medium itself, but what we can do to push and achieve using only a humble bottle of ink. It’s really inspiring to see what other artists can create from this, taking something that was once trash and turning it into treasure.
Do you listen to music when you work?
I'm usually listening to podcasts or stand-up specials while I work as the natural rhythm that comes form speech helps to boost my working speed and mediate energy levels. Also, the occasional chuckle in-between makes working more tolerable.
I always find myself listening to some kind of music.. I find that it can really help with my concentration and actually influence the work i’m creating.. I usually go through cycles of different genres though, at the moment it’s and slow Jazz vibes and lo-fi beats :~)
If you had only 1 CD in the car on repeat, what would it be?
There's this band called Cymbals Eat Guitars whom I really like. Either their album Lenses Alien or Lose could very much be the soundtrack of my life. I could listen to either of those albums and drive right into the sunset.
I would have to say Golden Hits by MUJO情, as it was the only CD in my car at the time, and without a radio I had it on repeat for quite a while. Great album.
Favourite time of day?
Dinner time. Always dinner time.
Favourite medium to work in?
Is it biased to say ink? I've been trying to branch out and try other mediums as of late and despite the exploration I still come back to acrylics. More specifically, I prefer to use cheap house paint as it has a thick body and is just as unpredictable as ink. I've always thought that paintings should look like they've been painted, so brushes and rollers speak more to that than anything else.
Being so heavily involved with ink for the past year or so, I feel like Lousy now comes second nature to me! Although, Aerosols would have to be my weapon of choice.. the adaptability of scale, colour and techniques I find the most rewarding while spraying. I have also recently been working with airbrush, and found it can be fairly similar to sprays, however with much more control ( and can use Lousy with it!)
Do you think art lacks appreciation, or is under estimated?
I think people's perception of what you would call art is quite narrow. It's either a painting or a photograph and it takes a long time to rebrand such a concrete idea of 'art'. The answer probably lies in changing how people view art and how they experience art. We recently invited people into our home and turned our house into an art gallery. Transforming spaces that would otherwise not be considered art galleries interests me and is borrowed from an artist-run initiative I use to work quite closely with, Artmeet ARI. I'm not saying everything needs to become art though, sometimes things as humble as a souvlaki need to remain as a highway snack.
Art tends to be something that can definitely Lack appreciation at times, I feel that a many people seem to view art as a kind of pastime or hobby, that doesn’t carry much purpose or significance. Although it might convey a feeling or appealing aesthetic value, it tends to be shrugged off as something not as significant as other issues. Look at how funding for the arts in Australia has been cut more than 70% recently in recent times. I think art definitely has the capacity for powerful and positive change.
What themes do you believe your art explores?
In everything we do for Lousy we try to keep a few things in mind. First and foremost it needs to be ethically conscious wherever possible. If something is only being done for show and has a huge waste output, it's not the right way to do it. We try to make everything we do feel like it has a reason and tie it back to the narrative of our brand. We look a lot at how we can create moments that speak to either the process of recycling, the fluidity of ink or the rugged nature of our product. The over-arching motivation is always pushing the impact a small bottle of ink can have.
Lousy’s underlying theme is for sustainability, and to remain ethically and environmentally conscious. I don’t think there is enough brands or products out there that really keep this in mind. Wherever we can, we find it’s always important to avoid producing unneeded waste.