Photographs by Pedro Jardim
Interview by Caique Tizzi
Why did you put yourself in the collaborative process proposed by Agora?
HG: I am always seeking opportunities where I can have the time, space and resources to work on art. The collaborative aspect of this residency was especially appealing for me because I really enjoy working with other people. The idea of holing up in a studio by myself for hours on end is less attractive for me, I prefer working in spaces with other people and to have a situation where ideas flow from one person to another and I am not stuck making decisions all by myself.
JG: For me it had a lot to do with coming to Berlin. I was already aware that there is a very vibrant art community here and wanted to come see what it is like. The collaborative process was appealing because it felt unnatural. My studio practice at home feels quite insular at times, so the idea of coming to a new place and being responsible for delivering a project at the end of my stay seemed like a great way to experience not only a new city but a new way of working as well.
JG: I think we were able to find common ground through talking about our interests.We had a lot of conversations about subjects that aren’t apparent in either of our bodies of work. I don’t usually present my influences representationally so it’s always helpful to have a conversation with someone to try to find our where I am coming from with the work. It’s a reciprocal process. I think we both stumbled upon unexpected things during the conversations and during the execution of the piece. From early on, though, I was drawn to the work that Hannah has done that involves text. We thought from the start that working with text would be a good place to meet because it is something we were both interested in working with more.
HG: Well I think the fact that we both identify as visual artists is the main thing. By simply looking at our previous work I wouldn’t say that we had a lot in common – I tend to work very 2-dimensionally and most of my work is quite figurative. A lot of
Jim’s previous work is abstract and sculptural. I was worried before I met him, and had only seen his work, that we would have trouble to find some common ground.
That being said it has all worked out obviously, but I think that knowledge of our shared interests evolved from conversations that we had, and also interests that lie outside of obvious visual connections from our work. We discovered a mutual interest in text and writing and really built this project around that.
Where do you see your personal practice applied in this specific project?
HG: For me I do a lot of works on paper, and I involve collage, paint and drawing so all of those things are present in this work. I think the format of the exhibition is important in the way that it adds some diversity to my body of work. I usually shy away from creating sculptural work – but using 3-dimensional forms as a way to create a unique display for other work – I like that.
JG: To be honest a lot of what we produced together seems very foreign to me. However, this project was a great opportunity to dedicate more time to writing which is something I had a hard time doing before arriving in Berlin. Working with text has always been a tricky thing for me. It always seems poorly integrated or just kind of slapped onto one of my pieces. With Book Release I think we were successful in making sure the images and the text held the same amount of importance. That’s what initially got me interested in making a book. It seemed like a great way to work with text, but since the book is in sort of an unconventional format it was also an opportunity to play with space and form which I consider all the time in my regular studio practice.
Could you describe how this process has been? How did you get to the final idea of Book Release?
JG: The whole process was an enormous and valuable challenge. For the first week we just sort of kicked ideas back and forth. At first we thought we wanted to do some sort of public project that would involve collaborative printmaking, but we knew from very early on in the process that we wanted to have a book for the final result. At some point the objective of making a collaborative book seemed ambitious enough without involving too many elements from outside our partnership. From there we just started talking a lot about how we think people relate to books or text in relation to how they respond to images. Book Release seemed like the proper name for what we were doing because at this point all we
have is the unbound contents of our book. We wanted to use the opening reception to see how people will relate to all of this loose content. I’m sure people’s reactions and questions will influence the final form of the book.
HG: This has definitely been an interesting process. I would say that it was quite challenging. We both came in with lots of ideas, but no specific plan, so it wasn’t like ‘bam – idea! Let’s execute it.’ We spent a lot of time in the studio just making images and testing things out and saying ‘okay lets just work this way for a while and see where it goes’ ‘lets do this and see how it develops.’ So working and then letting the work guide us to the next decision or step in the process. We talked about making a book from quite early on, but the content and the structure and our individual contributions to the book all came slowly.Has anything specific about Berlin influenced the work you will present?
JG: I think we have been very influenced by all of the endless activity here. Almost every night there is an exhibition opening, a talk, or a film screening. There’s always something to go learn about or experience. So it was great to get to visit some of the galleries here and meet some of the artists. In particular, we were interested in Motto bookshop and Broken Dimanche Press. Since we are making a book, it was great to be able to go to Motto and see what kinds of books artists have made or what sort of formats have been used before to present the ideas of visual artists in print. John Holten from Broken Dimanche Press also met with us to show us some of the projects they have done and to learn about what we are doing at Agora. On a separate note, I have personally been very influenced by all of the surprises that I have experienced in Berlin. It’s a great city to wander around in to just see what you will come upon. I think that aspect of the city is reflected in Book Release.
What are you taking home from this experience?
HG: I think it’s hard to know everything I am getting out of this while still in the middle of it. It often takes some time of being home and reflecting to understand what the impact is. I am certainly inspired by so many creative people working and investing themselves in artistic processes. There is so much variety and possibility being realized all over this organization and city and I think I can take that energy home with me!
JG: When I get back to Philly I’ll have a lot of stuff to sort out. The first thing on the agenda is figuring out the book layout and then finding a way to get it bound. This could take some time. I’d also like to do some more writing. The writing I did during the residency involved some work on Adobe Illustrator, a program I had no prior experience with. I may try to find a way to work it into the way I make art at home. In terms of collaboration, I’ve learned an enormous amount. The whole process has really helped me to develop a more mature understanding of what it
means to collaborate with someone. Before I didn’t really have any formulated opinions about the process, but now I think I can pursue future collaborations a little more thoughtfully.
What should people expect when they attend Book Release?
HG: So we I guess we are viewing “Book Release” as a step in the process of creating a book. We have all these pages of image and text that we have created these past 3 weeks but they are not ready to be bound, and also we were working within some time constraints so we didn’t attempt to bind into a book for the exhibition. Instead we really thought about how we wanted to present these pages and how we wanted the viewers to interact with them. So what we are doing is turning the way we present the pages into an installation. We are building two circular frames that will hang down from the ceiling – kind of like a chandelier I guess – and then we will hang the pages from the frame so people can come up and look at and hold the pages. There will be direct tactile contact with the pages of the book and people will be able to read the text and look closely at the images. We want to have it set up in a way that viewers could interact with the pages and potentially have an impact in the final layout of the content.
I guess this is the obvious thing: the title is “Book Release” in the sense that the book is released from its traditional format and that it is not bound. And also in the sense that we are releasing the pages from our own hands into those of the viewers.
JG: We’ll have some very basic instructions for people to take when they enter the space. But aside from those, we’re mostly just interested in seeing how people relate to the text and images. We will of course ask folks to handle the original drawings and prints gently (laughs). I view the exhibition as field research. We’ve spent a lot of time developing the images and the text and it will be interesting to see how others respond. The project was also thought of with Agora’s top floor gallery in mind. So hopefully Book Release will offer viewers an interesting spatial experience as well. Most people who enter the exhibition, I think, won’t be immediately reminded of what it’s like to read a book. I know that we took a lot of interest in re-interpreting what we conventionally understand as a book and we just hope that others are willing to plug into the same experiment for the exhibition.
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