United States : Gaylen Gerber
Gaylen Gerber in conversation with Konrad Bitterli, Curator, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1998.
(A more complete version of the original conversation is published in Gaylen Gerber: Project Room, Victoria,(Australia), Monash University Gallery, 1998.)
KB: I'd like to start by mentioning two things that are apparent looking at your work. First is the heightened level of physical participation required from the viewer and the second is your use of convention or accepted practice. These elements seem to exemplify the relationships between your work and the viewer's activity in a way that asks us to explore relationships between general usage and the individual's application. This would seem to favour an expressionistic approach.
GG: I agree with part of that. The work is an attempt on my part to structure the temporal. It creates moments of immediate relationship between its situation and the viewer's activity that attempts to make signification perceptible in social usage. But I don't see my involvement as especially expressionistic.
KB: Why not?
GG: Because in the end what I'm doing is a displacement of normative conditions. I'm concerned with perception, and specifically the perception of art, and expression is part of this. But my practice acknowledges expression as a result of a systematic program rather than a conflicted relationship.
KB: Your process then is very commonplace, almost stereotypical? But what is remarkable is the fact that although the works precisely picture a situation, a location, they do not seem to tell a story. Rather they seem to be in an awkward way permanently latent.
GG: Yeah, that's not far from the way I think about it. The systems I employ are regular and read that way. But contrary to the form of traditional narrative, I'm not interested in attempting to reconcile the differences that emerge from the experience of the work. Rather I'm interested in the production of those differences. By imposing limits it's been possible to establish a sort of infinite potential for nuance that reinforces the isolated nature of perception. This is how I think about my work - the meaning is located in the nuances, in the small shifts that represent a continuity between polemic positions.
KB: But perceptually these works are extremely intriguing. One thing that strikes me as out of the ordinary is the degree to which representation's ability to transport us elsewhere pales in these works.
GG: I take viewer involvement as the subject in my work. I'm not interested in the iconographic but I am interested in the picturesque because it brings up the relationship of the pictorial to activity. You may be able to get a more comprehensive view of the exhibition from a number of positions by standing back from it but to really understand it you have to approach it, walk through it. This creates a situation in which we see ourselves as the organizing force behind our experience.
KB: What made you choose these specific motives; how did they come about?
GG: I was interested in introducing aspects of representation into a discourse that had moved away from pictorialism. At the time Jeff Wall's work was interesting to me because he so clearly exemplified the opposite of my thinking. His work brought back subjects and the space of the picture using narrative, irony and distance. I was also interested in the subject, but in a way that didn't rely on distance and irony but rather on experience and proximity. I tried to bring these things in through the use of circularity and repetition, which seems to take us out of the present only to bring us right back. This all fits with my interest in convention, which I see as the social manifestation of this repetititon and circularity.
KB: What seems related and is probably relevant to this are your untitled and undated grey canvases, which effectively destroy any chronological reading of their production outside the present. And your rather dense installations, which attempt to collapse different positions and practices in a way that shifts our perceptions of space, time and activity to the temporal. For instance, at the Renaissance Society in Chicago in 1992 you had a wall built perpendicular to the entrance, which blocked off two-thirds of the space, leaving just a corridor remaining for exhibition. Paintings were installed edge to edge the length of this wall, creating a barrier that fragmented the unity of the room and became a linear background to this corridor-like space. This seems to have functioned like a promenade, shifting our attention to the activities of wandering and searching that are so essential to ideas like the picturesque with the notable shift in emphasis to you and I, here and now.
GG: For me the viewer's activity is the mediating factor in this work. Our activity becomes a matter of constantly locating ourselves in the situation. So much of what's interested me has involved very small shifts in perception that become a kind of declaration of the moment. I equate the temporal everyday with the timeless present. It's not hard to see the connection between them that's so integral to interpreting my work. I'm constantly turning time into space and space into time in a way that breaks down their relationship. I associate movement with an impartial temperament, with being alive. It breaks down the rigid order of things. Walking around experiencing things, it's consciousness. It's what we do everyday.
KB: Maybe it is, but with really varying degrees of awareness.
GG: Yeah, but this is what we're talking about, entertaining things we're not sure of. Things are changing all the time but at such different rates that it's hard to see. Sometimes it's enough to pay attention, to really look. One thing that's useful, and it's true whether we're walking down the street, travelling or changing our underlying set of assumptions, is our ability through movement to disrupt and re-organize the more immovable aspects of our experience. For me representation's ability to mirror everyday experience while providing very different interpretations of factuality has been invaluable. It provided a way for me to entertain various other positions and practices alongside my existing perceptions without a lot of drama. It provided a way for me to see the world in terms that I could appreciate, that let me move away from the hermetic nature of my earlier practice towards another involvement that remains basically contemplative but is more openly engaged.