CONVERSATIONS Mousse 10
by Cecilia Alemani
“He has an eloquence in his economy of means that is really exceptional, especially in New York, where there is a lot more bombastic work. ” This is what Anthony Huberman, director of the SculptureCenter in New York, said of his work. The ‘means’ used by Gedi Sibony, 32-year-old artist born and living in New York City, are materials drawn from the world of the building yards and the interior fittings, which means: doors, panels, cardboards boxes, moquette, and so on. The same materials he was used to in his childhood, his father being a contractor. Someone compared him to Richard Tuttle, because he creates fragile and precarious sculptures-assemblages where many parts are neither stuck nor nailed but just leaned. Looking forward to seeing at work in Milan, at the Zero gallery, we asked him a few questions.
CECILIA ALEMANI: When did you start making art?
GEDI SIBONY: What I consider to be the first time is because of an emotion triggered—a black bat I made with a coping saw when I was five. Its asymmetry made me consider mine because I unequivocally and embarrassingly recognized it as such. That is what I’m pursuing now.
CA: What does your studio look like? Do you spend lot of time in it?
GS: Its always changing. Right now its completely empty because I’ve spent the last three months moving and give it up tomorrow. But seven years ago I built out a series of rooms and hallways to share the space. Gradually I expanded, cutting through the walls, taking over space after space. I’m not able to throw anything away. I’m also not really able to mark or make shapes or carry out an idea. So I keep everything and spend all my time moving things around and in the process events happen, things are lost, other things are found. I like to spend time in the darker areas of the studio.
CA: You are based in New York City. Do you look at art a lot? Do you see many shows?
GS: I love going to see shows. Its such a shifty language system. And every once in a while there is something good and I can feel the impact of that and being able to respond is thrilling.
CA: Who are, among your colleagues, the artists you find the most interesting?
GS: I have always been impressed with Mark Manders.
CA: In your sculptures, the choice of materials seems to be at the very base of your practice. You often use industrial materials such as commercial carpets, cardboard, plywood, and foam core: all of them are very loaded elements. What is behind this choice?
GS: To me the materials don’t feel like a choice. And they don’t seem industrial. I use what is here. This is the only way I can move. It started with a hollow core door I found to use as a table-top.
CA: How is the city of New York influencing this choice? Sometimes it seems that you’re picking up the leftover of the city…
GS: I’ve been in New York City for 34 years. I take pleasure following how things arrange themselves. Not the fast, cheap and ugly buildings and marketing destroying every empty space, but the perseverance of the energy of the city in spite of it. My practice takes its cues this way. I want that space back, and I’m using my own leftovers.
CA: It seems to me that your sculptures, albeit sparse and minimal compositions, are embedded with a narrative element, as though there was a mental dimension in their construction. This occurs especially in the spatial relation between the visitors and the works within the exhibition space. Is there a choreographic composition in your work?
GS: I’m always moving circuitously forward either internally in scattered reductive reasoning, or physically, tripping myself up to be able to get out with lopsided efficiency and a cast of characters that compensate for each other’s lack. There is a lot of rehearsing.
CA: While the materials you adopt might evoke the stability and durability of the construction realm, the way you combine them suggest above all precariousness and fragility. Your sculptures are freestanding three-dimensional collages in which raw materials and awkward proportions turn into unstable compositions. How do you see the relationship between the materials you use and the precarious balance in which you assemble them?
GS: I use machine woven carpet, birch hollow-core doors, plastic dropcloths—materials used to finish interiors. They have something to do with the completion of the term room. I like light, cheap, blank things. I like to lean them against the wall or get them to stand up on their own. It ‘s a constant tease, and I’ve learned tricks.
CA: Besides the contrast between material and composition, very often it seems to arise another divergence between the visual composition and the title you give them, which seem to be descriptive, at times evocative, other times even ironic, like To Summarize Using Contrasts What Has Been Discovered and Discussed So Far (2004), Working Better Than It Was Before (2005), or Disguised as Material Properties (2005). Can you talk about the choice of your titles?
GS: They are just an opportunity to use language to try to describe the nature of the task at hand. I like when they can apply more generally than to the thing they label. And humor is invited at all costs.
CA: What has always fascinated me in your work is the oscillation between construction and destruction, between stability and precariousness. Your works seem to be on the verge of an impending collapse. This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s description of Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, the angel of history, caught between the past—a pile of growing wreckage—and the future —the progress.
GS: Yes, I’ve found a way to preserve something.
CA: This binary logic results into an endless movement of back and forth, between destruction and construction, between chaos and lucidity, which opens up a space or, better, a slice of time between past and future. It seems to me that your sculptures in a way inhabit this melancholic space, this suspended moment made of ruptures and suspensions. There is also a similar sense of the aftermath of an apocalypse in your work. Does this make any sense to you?
GS: That’s very nice about ruptures and suspensions—to hear the voices. I feel lucky because I can be distracted easily enough to transfer something very real internally quickly and directly into what happens to be there without knowing it at the moment but can identify it over time and get it to play its role. These are located in life itself as it is. Apocalypse is too romantic of an idea for me.
CA: How much does chance play a role in your work?
GS: To me chance is a meaningless term. I don’t believe in it anyway. When you’re walking through your house in the dark to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night, its not chance that gets you there.
CA: Some critics have paired your work because of its craftiness and its materials to artistic movements such as Arte Povera. Do you feel affiliated to that movement in any way?
GS: I have Mediterranean blood. Not Catholic though.
CA: How do you go about creating an exhibition? How important is the space in which you show? Is everything done site specific?
GS: I just finished packing a show for Kunst Halle St. Gallen. Its like packing up a life size puppet theater. Everything breaks down into flat panels or gets stuffed into a crate that I send around with everything braced against everything else. I sometimes use the cardboard boxes I make to ship the flat panels later on or conversely send back elements that may be more complete. On site I’ve noticed I really like to fill the space to find key site lines and pivot points. Then I start to remove non-essential items and often need a few local grab-and-go punctuation points, usually at the last minute. These are the things that I don’t envision or expect but bring the show together. Their job, among other things, is to soften transitions and add drama. They are usually the toughest and funniest wise cracks in the room.
Originally published on Mousse 10 (September 2007)