Radio Active Art

Upon entry, I find the pair wearing fur coats in their terrace swimming pool like it’s some kind of New Jersey version of “Miami Vice”.

Story and Photos by Max Power –

Franco and Eva Mattes photo©Max Power

It was a nice sunny day. I rode my Vespa across the Williamsburg Bridge, the thin connection between two vastly different worlds, to meet Eva and Franco Mattes for an Aperitivo. Eva and Franco are artists, working under fake identities, who have specialized in pranks, copyright infringement, and working with radioactive materials for over twenty years. Both highly controversial and sympathetic, among other projects they are the founders of Luther Blisset and the youngest artists ever to participate in the Venice Biennial.

Their Brooklyn headquarters is their home and studio in Bushwick. The building gets plenty of sun in a neighborhood surrounded by art studios and a big park. The street is full of screaming pedestrians and motorist revving their engines as if a race is about to begin. The inside is brimming over with their work, as well as pieces from other people’s work, which they have stolen from museums. I even saw a box full of skulls.

23 Duchamp, courtesy of the artists

Upon entry, I find the pair wearing fur coats in their terrace swimming pool like it’s some kind of New Jersey version of “Miami Vice”. We’ve been good friends for many years, but between our travel and work schedules we haven’t seen in other in a long time. So we started to catch up.

They told me about a big show they did in London

As well as about their recent adventures in Chernobyl where they built a radioactive merry go round, which they also brought to England. The piece is meant to challenge contemporary societies fear of death by bring them face to face with it.

no fun - screenshot 01, courtesy of the artists

Here’s a short excerpt from our conversation:

MP: Why did you choose to settle in Bushwick? NYC is center of world, why hide here?

F&E: I came to think that, in America, the center is not in the center, but on the edge, where things are changing more quickly. That is where people locate some sort of center. The center of what, I don’t know, but a center nevertheless. Of course, it keeps changing all the time. I guess the myth of the frontier has something to do with it.

meme-letmiin, courtesy of the artists

MP: What’s so interesting here? Are you attracted to the cheaper cost of living or the developing creative community?

F&E: We moved here because it was affordable, and we stayed because we fell in love with the neighborhood. Our friends were either in this area, or moved here soon after. You can still find yourself in weird spaces and unpredictable situations, which are harder to find in Manhattan. And, tell me, where else could we have our own swimming pool?

MP: Is it true that Greenpoint is one of the most polluted places in the world?

F&E: Last year we made an adventurous trip to one of the most polluted places on planet earth: Chernobyl, in Ukraine for one of our projects. A very interesting place where, surprisingly, nature is taking over what has been left after the nuclear disaster. I guess Bushwick is pretty polluted, given it’s industrial past (and present), but still I feel so lucky to be able to live here.


Ryan C. Doyle, Eva and Franco Mattes in Chernobyl Photo©Tod Seelie

MP: A friend told me that the food in Africa was great, but then I went to Cameroon and got really sick. How’s the food in Bushwick? Do you cook at home?

F&E: We’re not typical Italians, we can’t cook and hardly remember to eat, we can skip a whole day without realizing it. But around here are tons of good Mexican places where you can get a decent meal for less than five dollars. Our favorite one is Los Hermanos (271 Starr St), we eat there every other day.

MP: You guys are some of the most interesting artists currently active in the international scene, doing projects with Second Life and Chatroulette. Did you choose Bushwick because it is one of the premiere artistic communities on the East coast?

F&E: I don’t know, in fact many artists move here in search of a studio or a loft to work, but we never had a studio. Most of our works happen online, so we spend most of our days in front of computers. We don’t actually need much space. Still we like to go to special places and events and there are many around here. One of our favorite art venues is 319 Scholes. Nonsensenyc is where we find out what’s happening, all sort of weird events like Bike Kill, which happens every year in Bed-Stuy, a short ride away. Where else in New York would you get away with it?

Anonymous, untitled, dimensions variable - installation view, courtesy of the artists

MP: If you could give me one link which would best represent Bushwick on the web what would it be?

F&E: It’s /b/ of course.

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