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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: One Guy Turned His Roommates' Mess Into A 'Passive-Aggressive Art Gallery'

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Somewhere in Hollywood, four friends and a cat live in some serious, twentysomething disarray. Monstrous things will happen here. Chili will be made in a crockpot, and then left to congeal, testing the limits of mold and eternity for five* straight days. A knife will be removed from the knife block, solely to be used to remove the seal of an ice cream carton, and then left (along with the seal) on the counter, never to return to the knife block. Ever. Finally, Justin Cousson, a 27-year-old comedian-turned-curator, couldn't take it anymore.

Enter the "Passive-Aggressive Art Gallery," because we all reach our breaking points. Some of us are just more creative than others. Justin started labeling his roommates' mess like found art, complete with descriptions and faux-prices.

"When I first saw [the installations] I was kind of surprised that it took Justin so long to do something that passive aggressive," Justin's roommate Brook Banks, a 26-year-old aspiring actor, told LAist. "A lot of Justin's art is passive aggressive, so to see this unfold was beautiful." Brook, for what it's worth, is not the messy roommate, according to both Justin and Brook.

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"Justin cleans more, but him and I are the ones who keep everything clean as much as we can," Brook told LAist. "This art gallery started because he decided he wasn't cleaning up after our other roommate anymore."

On March 17, six days past its clearly marked expiration date, a two-thirds full carton of Lucerne Dairy Farms milk received three small labels: a title ("Forgotten Milk Left To Actively Go Rancid In Fridge Far Beyond Sell-By Date"), an object description ("mixed media, plastic and animal by-products, 2017) and a price ($700).

A day later, Justin reminded us that art is a living, breathing thing, much like the bacteria growing in said installation:

"After seeing so much trash so often and it doesn't move for days, it's hard not to see the art in it," Brook told LAist.

Soon—like anyone in 2017 with a dream, a social media account, and a mildly funny idea—Justin had gone viral. Aggregators came calling, newspapers made click-y headlines, and he was even big in Japan:

We spoke to Justin to learn more about how Great Art is made, and whether he has any advice for other twentysomethings out there just trying to live the Los Angeles dream in a house with three other dudes and a cat.

How many roommates do you have?
I have four roommates and a cat.

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Is this real?

What do you mean by real?

I mean it in the literal sense. Like, are you really leaving these notes around the house, adjacent to actual found objects, or are you staging these tableaus?

Oh absolutely. That part's absolutely real. When you asked if it was real—some people think that I've actually sold pieces, which I haven't.

How did you first get the idea to create this Art?

I have a friend who's a photographer in Brooklyn and she had an exhibition going and was sending photos of her exhibition in progress, so I just started taking pictures of the filth in my house and labeling it. I'm like 'Meanwhile, my gallery's struggling' So i started sending updates of my gallery to contrast with her gallery. And I just never stopped. There were things to take pictures of every day...

How do your roommates respond? Have they responded?
Uh. Mhm. Not really. I'd say it hasn't really worked. I made a new piece yesterday.

What was the piece you made yesterday?

Yesterday's piece was a spoon left out after the entire remnants of crock-potted chili had not been properly put away.

How long had the chili been out for?

The crockpot had been out for five days. I was focusing more on the chili spoon, a bit of a compliment to the sour cream.

Are there any artists you’re influenced by?

Actual artists? I love Ed Ruscha. He’s my absolute favorite. As far as art goes, I love anything that elevates the everyday object. I don’t look at these pretentiously enough, but I’m really happy people have enjoyed the composition of the pieces and the titles, along with them just being relatable.

Can you tell me a little more about your roommate situation. How did you get there? Did you find it on Craigslist?

Oh no, just a good friend from back home. I’m originally from Maryland. Just a friend from back home that I guess I didn’t really have an idea what it would be like to actually live with. Some people have mothers to clean up after them and this is a house minus mothers. I guess I’m the house mom.

How old are your roommates?

Late 20s.

What do they do? Are they all living the Los Angeles dream?

Not very well.

Do your roommates ever move your art once you’ve made the labels?

Yes, I believe the milk left out in the fridge was stolen.

Do you feel like that’s part of the art?

I’m not going to give them any credit for that.

Do you have any advice for other young people living with roommates?

Just stress the idea of the small victory. Enjoy putting things back where they belong, take satisfaction in that. Do your best not to be part of the problem.

Have you ever considered starting a Kickstarter to pay for a maid?

No comment on the maid. I wouldn't say we live in a festering filth pimple off Vine Street, just that when the little things don't get handled they really pile up.

As an artist, do you have thoughts about the potential defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts?

Even as a horrible Twitter parody of a modern artist, there's a certain catharsis to making art. Even if you're just taking pictures of the mess on your counter. Expression needs to be encouraged, always, with the exception of not putting my knives back in the knife block, throwing recyclables in the trash and greasing up all the communal baking sheets.

*Yes, Justin counted.