NEW FICTION by KAWS at the Serpentine Gallery is a game changing exhibition developed in collaboration with Acute Art and the online video game Fortnite. A virtual recreation of the show was launched in Fornite, making is possible for players to experience the show from anywhere in the world. 200% spoke with Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS) at the gallery.

200%: In an interview with Jason Rosenfeld you said, “When I make new works I’m thinking of it as adding a family member into this sort of dialogue with everything. I’m very cautious about what to bring in.” How does this body of work fit in the family and what made you decide to bring it in?
KAWS: I think this project in particular is a natural progression. I have been working with Daniel Birnbaum now for two years with Acute. It was through him that I first started getting interested in augmented reality. Then I had the opportunity to do the project with Fortnite last year. To me there’s nothing that can beat the scale of that community of Fortnite. So, to take a traditional, institution like Serpentine Gallery and have that exist as a one-to-one true mirror in a game was something I couldn’t pass up. It creates an exciting opportunity for people to visit a museum show and hopefully it will stimulate further interest in them to explore more of my work.  

200%: You have been breaking into new ground to show your work as an artist in the gaming community.
Absolutely. It is a territory that I think can’t be ignored. 

200%: Why is that?
KAWS: You’re always so focused on the bubble that you’re in. When I’m in New York it’s a small life – my life in the studio and time with my family – but I realise that there so many other things happening. You can’t discount them because you don’t fully understand them. I became more aware of the gaming world when I designed the album artwork for ‘The Scotts’ by Travis Scott and he debut that song in Fortnite in his concert. I really understood the scale of that community and how you can spread something widely. It got me interested as an artist in other ways how to reach people. The digital space is such a strong space. It’s nice to be able to work with traditional paintings and bronze, and in a digital space at the same time.  

200%: Is it a different dimension working in a digital space?
KAWS: Not so much. When I first start working with Acute, I realised that the conversations I was having with them were very similar to the conversations I was having with the foundry when I’m talking about the surface, the form or the sheen of something. I see it just as another way of experiencing the work. The process isn’t much differently than how I approach the other physical things I make. For the video game, we wanted to create a true sort of mirror of the exhibition. I had to commit to the hang of the paintings weeks ago which is not how I usually work. Normally, I have an exhibition laid out and when I show up I might move paintings around. In this case we kept it true to what we committed to. This is something I had to do via satellite because I live in Brooklyn and I couldn’t travel due to covid. I didn’t have an opportunity to come back and revisit the Serpentine gallery space myself in the course of the conversation.

200%: Your work brings a lot of smiles on peoples’ faces. Does it also bring a smile on your face when you’re working on it or you don’t think about as it is hard work to realise them?
KAWS: [smiles] It is work in the end. The paintings I make are really difficult to achieve – it’s a very slow process. But my work does make me smile. I love what I do. It’s why I wake up every morning and get out of bed. 

200%: The size of your public sculptures are larger than life. For instance, the floating sculpture ‘Companion’ in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. How do you determine the scale of your sculptures?
KAWS: The one in Hong Kong is actually a second version. We first did one in Korea that was a bit smaller. When we saw the end result and thinking of Victoria Harbour we decided the sculpture needed to be quite bigger. It was more about how far can we push it. Underneath that floating sculpture there was a 40 ton steel structure. So, it’s a balance of what is realistic and what is going to be impactful.

Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers. Opening image: a Companion figure by KAWS standing on the laptop of the author created with the Acute app.
NEW FICTION by KAWS at the Serpentine Gallery until 27th of February 2022