Biological Funfare with Max Hooper Schneider

From treadmills made from alligators to abandoned shopping malls turned into flowerbeds, L.A.’s Max Hooper Schneider is playfully making us think about nature and disaster

Max Hooper Schneider

Max Hooper Schneider leads SLEEK down a dark hallway before turning into a converted office. We’re in the far-off Inglewood neighborhood of southwestern L.A., and Schneider’s studio is packed with acrylic aquariums, which he is in the process of slowly filling with stuff he’s found in a dodgy desert marketplace including leeches, embalmed rats, plastic plants and syringes.
Wearing a vintage Cannibal Corpse T-shirt and gripping a Venti Starbucks cup, Schneider has just returned from a trip to New Mexico and isn’t 100 percent together. He travels back and forth to Santa Fe to visit his mother, a retired theoretician. His late father was an equine veterinarian. “I am a manifestation of that,” he says. “It’s like there’s a constant intersection of the clinical and the metaphysical in my life. On my 16th birthday my dad told me, ‘The key to happiness is good bowel movement’. Meanwhile, my mum was lecturing at UCLA about the agency of a rock.”

Max Hooper Schneider Aquarium Sculpture

For his undergrad, Schneider studied biology and urban design at NYU, followed by a postgrad at Harvard in landscape architecture, mostly “because it provided a lab-slash-studio, and allowed me to traffic biota”. After school, Schneider became the aquarium technician at French artist Pierre Huyghe’s New York studio, before branching out on his own under the guidance of Lynda Benglis. A well-received show called “The Pound” at Jenny’s gallery in L.A. in 2014 kicked off what Schneider refers to as “the beginning of a few ample years”. Featuring a treadmill with an alligator skin belt and a watermelon that “sent out messages” on a scrolling LED, the show impressed Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick, who bought a popcorn maker modified into an aquarium, and notoriety beckoned.

Walking into another dark room, Schneider gestures to three aquariums adorned with neon signs that spell out diseases in different languages. “‘Ebola’,” he says, pointing. “This one celebrates the arbitrariness of science, and I don’t know whether it’s enchanting or disgusting, but it’s captivating. It also worries me, because when it heats up, you get a faint waft of tidepool smell.”
There’s currently a long waiting-list for these disease themed objects. And while he’s satisfied with their popularity, Schneider says he’s more excited about his next project, in which he plans to transform a derelict mall in Ohio into a macro version of one of his biomes. “It’s a phenomenon I call the ‘ecology of neglect’,” he says. “It’s what happens when you or I or our community leaves an urban or suburban site or whatever, and it becomes a giant planter – literally just left to seed into flowers.”
Nevertheless, while he’s visibly enlivened by the prospect of his latest idea – he practically rubs his hands together every time he mentions it – the scheme is more than just a cheap thrill. Like all of his works, it combines art, science and ethics to give audiences a visceral idea of potential ecological disasters without bullying them into conclusions. “It’s gonna be a ‘post-Earth work’,” he says, finishing his coffee. “How can I approach this site and guide what’s already happening as a purely artistic intervention? That’s what I wanna find out.”

Taken from SLEEK 49