Wednesday, January 12, 2011

david gilbert

In Light Impressions a towel rests at the base of a photograph that looks like it might have been taken of the same towel, and in general there's a lot of reference to things that touch the body or are handled by the body. I'm wondering if you could talk about the role of the body in your work and how that involves your photographs.

A lot of the materials in my work are casings that once contained an object or body: t-shirts, towels, eggshells, orange peels. There’s a melancholia wrapped up in these materials, they reference an absence because they are the remains that once held someone or something. Photography is metaphorically linked to this idea: photographs capture the surface of things in space and time, but leave behind the actuality.

The work I’m making now is less delicate, and I begin by making messy, goopy, abstract sculptures. The reference to the body is oblique: I want them to be like aliens that have a reference to our own bodies and ideas of gender and sexuality, but for that read to be confusing and not entirely placeable. Even though it sounds dumb, I’m interested in my work being alive. The sculptures are very obviously made from fabric, cardboard, paper, wood, plaster, and paint, but I’m interested in the exact moment where the sculptures begin to resemble people or bodies. I think that is a moment of magic when abstract forms become personified in our mind. For me, that thinking stems from childhood and children’s stories about magic and fantasy such as The Nutcracker, the whole Wizard of Oz series of books, books by Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, and more currently, Harry Potter.

More widely, that idea of what I call “magic” is key to how I think about art. It comes out of Duchamp, but the belief in a transformation-where some paint on a canvas or an upside down urinal begins to have value, whether it be philosophical or monetary- is equally as amazing (or more cynically- ridiculous), as a wooden doll coming to life. I'm interested in making something that can become magically personified, while showing all my cards by having the materials or tricks remain entirely transparent.

Ideally my process mimics that very sense of magic and my desire for art to be alive. Because the same materials, sculptures, and images crop up, change, and develop from installation to installation or from photograph to photograph, one watches the photographs change size, and the sculptures develop. It’s as if these different materials have a life span and in each iteration their bodies appear slightly different or aged: each iteration becomes a facet of their identity.

In some of the images there's a confusion between what looks like photo documentation of work and the work itself. Can you talk about the relationship sculpture, installation and photography have in your work?

I studied photography as an undergraduate, but I work somewhere between photography, sculpture, installation, and recently painting and on the internet. I think I have an irreverence towards any sort of medium specificity and approach each medium in a rather perverse way. I make sculpture as a photographer, so the pieces are often best seen from one point of view. I then deal with the resulting photographs as potential components of new sculptures or installations. And so on.

I approach a given room or space, whether it's my studio or otherwise, very much the same way an abstract painter approaches a canvas. (to give credit where it is due: a professor, John Divola, pointed this out to me somewhat after the fact, but I really ascribe to it now). I think about sculptural objects, materials, or photos as elements of composition in a space that then gets flattened out in a documentation shot. And, at the risk of having my cake and eating it too, I want both the installation and the resulting photograph of the installation to be compelling, albeit in different ways. The installation or sculpture offers tactility and three dimensional experience, while the photograph acts as a document that flattens and frames a composition and point of view.

A large part of this thinking is informed by experiencing art on the internet. I moved from New York City to Riverside, California for grad school, and I went from seeing a lot of work in museums and galleries to experiencing a lot of art on-line. While I don’t think the three-dimensional object is at all irrelevant, I do think that the installation image or documentary shot becomes a very important part of the identity of an artwork. Furthermore, I’m living in southern California, and my proximity to Hollywood (Hollywood!) has instilled the importance of a head shot, and I translate that to sculpture, photographing my sculpture glamorously.

I think artists at this juncture, specifically those working in sculpture and installation, want to make work where the installation shots will be extremely compelling, but the experience of being present in a space will be entirely different or inexplicable in a photograph. In a way it thwarts photographic documentation and the ability to experience art on-line. Cameron Crone, Samara Golden, and Davida Nemeroff are all friends and artists working in LA who are
working with similar ideas.

In one of the images a photograph is printed at two different sizes, which raises questions about process and procedure and what the "ideal" size of a photograph is. How much of a concern is the mechanics of photography for you, and can you talk a little bit about what goes into decisions about size and shape, etc. when you include photographs in the work?

I’m not interested in saying a work has to exist at exactly one specific size. The photographs exist at a lot of different sizes as I’m making them, and each size functions very differently. I love that the same image can be printed as a 4x6 or 40x60 and have markedly different effects.

“Little Flamer” was a part of a body of work where I printed the photographs very large at first, a lot of the images were photographed on seamless backdrops like they were fashion photographs. These pictures printed large became personified, and they came out of looking at a lot of classical portraits by artists such as Ingres or Gainsborough. The sculptures were also scrappy and humble, while the large prints became heroic and monumental, even theatrical in a goofy, funny way. At smaller sizes, the photographs work differently and look more like still-life paintings or shots from fashion magazines.

I also think that related to this idea of size is the idea of placement, I often hang photographs high or low. (Wolfgang Tillmans is the real master of beautiful, atypical placement and sizing). I want viewers to have a less typical, more physical engagement with my work. You have to peer up at something hanging from the ceiling, look down at something on the floor, examine small photos up close, and take steps back from larger ones. Once, I had a small work hung very low as I was installing, and an elderly woman came by to check things out. She put on her spectacles and then bent all the way over, just to get a look at the image. It was horrible! Looking at my work had made her look uncomfortable, ridiculous, and unattractive. I ended up hanging the piece really high on the wall, so that, if anything, people had to stand on their tiptoes to gaze up at this tiny thing. I like the idea of a piece being aspirational, even if you're just aspiring to see it.

You can see more work by David here.