Harry Kohut of Simon Miller sits down with artist Auguste Garufi on February 5th, 2015 to discuss his process as an artist and how he approached working with Simon Miller for their collaborative FW15 exhibition show.
To jump into the formal interview then, let’s start really simple. How do you describe yourself as an artist? What is your self identifier? What is your aesthetic, your vision, your product?
I don’t think of myself as an artist. I think of myself more as a worker. In terms of an analogy, it’s more like farming. [We both laugh.]
Well, you have a plan, and you have ideas. You put them down, and some grow and some don’t. You have obstacles and problems to solve along the way. It takes time, and one thing leads to another. In relationship to my work and to my process, it’s not about the product. It’s about exploring and trying to understand my experience as a human being in the universe by looking at the relationships between things.
So you’re saying that the problems you solve in your art derive from your own individual experience in life?
I mean problems in terms of “what is my relationship to you, to other people, to humanity, to the earth, to space.” In every sense, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and in every dimension that those things might exist. The problem is trying to find and expose the relationships that are hidden, that aren’t usually seen. This process takes an incredible amount of time, energy and trust, without worrying about a product. To let some things fall away, let some things rise, I keep working to see what presents itself., to see what will reveal itself to me. Each day something will present itself to me. In the end I want to have something that will present itself to a viewer and be experienced by them. Although I think the experiences are there for everyone, they may not have revealed themselves to that person, and I hope to share this.
Then would you say that then instead of the word “problem” as the object of your art, it’s more like you making sense of your reality within the world and, in a way, by creating that art and not necessarily trying to, but just having it come naturally, that other people can relate to that experience and bring their own existence to your art? You build upon your experience, and therefore it’s continually growing.
So then to incorporate the work you’re doing for Simon Miller, I think it’s really interesting because, from what I’ve gathered from your work in the past, you have not done a lot of collaborative work. Simon Miller is in a different industry, and in a way that’s interesting because this was not the same process that you’d been using throughout your life. How did you come about and develop this new idea?
Well, there were things that led up to it. There had not been a lot of collaborative work. Any collaborative work I have done in the past has basically been with myself in that, because I am capable of doing and have done many different things, I can always combine multiple types of my own work and learn from the outcome. A couple years ago after getting flooded out by the hurricane and all that went with it I was forced to reevaluate the way I was working, such as being physically bogged down by some of my materials and possessions. I had so much work that prevented me from being mobile in how I worked. I started to rethink that a bit and I had an opportunity to go up to Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock for a month long residency. Byrdcliffe allowed me to focus on a couple of projects away from my usual references. In that, I started to see another way of working, still looking with the same objective, the relationships between things, but doing it in a way that would give me a little more freedom from being bound to one particular spot.
In a way you’re saying that it was your past work that was almost binding your creative liberty?
Yes, I had gotten to the point where I was weighed down by my own work, my own productivity, and strength in a way. And that’s not a good feeling. So I started working on a newer body of work last year, and different things started coming out of it. I was invited back to Byrdcliffe again for all of last summer, and in being away for that length of time, a lot of things opened up. My feelings towards my own work and what I was doing. When I got back to New York City, I was given an opportunity to do an installation at the Waterfall Mansion Gallery.
I had started these parallel veins of work, the flower petal pieces, and the works on paper with printed image, text, sewn cast paper, with other mixed media as well as salt text on the floor. All of this is long process. I had started this process of creating the structure and developing the structural discipline to do these things years ago,before I knew what they would allow me to even do with them. Knowing that when I was ready to do it, everything will be in place and the actions would reveal itself. When I started printing on the muslins, I initially was going to sew papers in with them and have the two elements be combined, almost like what I’m doing with the paper pieces. But, as I was developing the installation for the Mansion, I started to feel the sense that these could be parallel streams of work, but separate in that the muslins didn’t need any other elements attached to them. That the space between them created by the groupings, rather than just have them be individual hanging pieces, could create a sculptural piece. It was the spaces between, and above, and below, these relationships, that spoke to everything that I wanted to explore and convey.
When Chelsea [from Simon Miller] approached me about the idea of collaborating, she hadn’t been to the studio in a while and hadn’t seen what had gone on in the last year and a half. So I did jump on the opportunity because I was really excited to work in this way and free myself, in some sense, from just making things in the studio. But wanting to have other space and lighting and people and input. So it’s been coming and this was just the right moment and the right opportunity where I got two things back to back that allowed me to take that, and I very happy I did. It’s been a great experience so working with the people I’ve worked with and I’m really looking forward to the actual installation, the event, and a continued relationship with them.
It’s not just the final piece itself, but the life of the work that is so important in what you do. I’ve been thinking a lot about the piece, where it is, and obviously geographic and social context will give a great impression and either compliment or degrade your art, depending how you want to look at it. Or the context may be completely neutral. But this work is being created specifically for this space, for this moment, for this time. You could even say that the muslins being here in an industrial space right now versus next week being installed for a presentation, will change the work.
What I am wondering then is post presentation will the work, because it is a collective of the actual pieces themselves and the environment and that moment, and the Simon Miller aesthetic blending in with that, and the open bar, I mean realistically people drinking is going to change their experience. So once the piece leaves that context, do you think it will become fragmented in its body, in its entirety? Or do you think it will continue and grow on just a different path?
It will grow and continue. I’ll learn so much from the installation, what I see, and the interaction that occurs. There’s also going to be a text piece on the floor in salt, which is obviously temporary. I see the whole thing like that. The muslins will all get rolled up and come back and they’ll all be put into something else, into another future project. Not necessarily every single piece will be in the next project; some will go into one, some into another. It’s going to grow, and based off of what I know, see and experience myself, that will all go into future works. I like that idea as well.
...It’s almost exhibitionary.
Yeah. And there’s something really special in that. This is a chance for a real interaction, a real experience. It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of this event, to be a part of what Simon Miller is doing, and have everybody benefit from it. It’s one day, three hours essentially. Let me equate it to this: when I have open studios and people are here for a 4/5 hour period and I see them interacting with the work, I learn so much.
I’m curious then about what it will be like when you are observing the installation on that Thursday in the context of the presentation with everyone else. As you said how you observe other people observing your work, it’s almost like a meta experience in that way. But from that presentation, will you change anything about it, or will you let the work be static, and sit and just linger. Or do you think that after the experience of having people interacting with it, you are going to change things?
You mean in the future? Oh, definitely.
Because you build upon your work?
Yes, and each time the installation and the interaction is just as much a part of thepiece as the printing or writing of the text. It’s all an important part of it. Every time I write a poem and format it, I rework the structure that I want it to fit in. And this will be the same thing. There’s no point in learning anything if you’re not going to utilize it to make changes and grow and see new things.
Did you find that when you were creating this piece, and after you agreed tocollaborate with Simon Miller, you changed anything about what you do, or was it more of a natural hand in hand with them?
It’s actually been really nice because it has been very hand in hand. We had talked about it before and then we met in the space. There are a lot of restrictions in a rented space, it’s a one day event so you can’t do certain things. But again, to me, it was problem solving in a good way. It was like “Okay, we have these restrictions and we have to go in this way.” I proposed a kind of general idea and by the end of that meeting we were all on board for that. I came back to the studio and started researching fabrication and the best way to do that while dealing with the limitations of not being able to put hooks into the space and things like that. We found a way to do it, we found a way to utilize the two skylights. I think the works hanging underneath are going to be beautiful. It became a perfect spot. Then they came back to me with their idea to have the models set up within the context of the muslin. So it was really a nice back and forth. I went a certain direction once I saw where they were coming from, but in a very natural way. I didn’t for one moment at any step of the way feel like “Oh, I have to do this because that’s what they want me to do.” I think that’s really on them because they’ve been open and taken some of my strengths and incorporated them in with what they want. I hope they feel the same way about me, that I’m giving to them, because I want to.
Well you’re definitely breathing new life into into the concept of this presentation. It’s no longer just about the clothing, it’s about the experience now. What I think is really interesting is how huge the space is.
It’s almost too big.
Yeah, so I heard them talking about how they’re trying to take your work and the lighting and the way it’s set up and use that as a location signifier, like “you need to be over here.” I like the idea of your work kind of “wearing many hats” in this instance because first and foremost they might not be approaching this as an artistic experience, but more of a commercial one. In reality, what is a fashion presentation but a chance to buy. So it’s kind of funny how your installation is adopting a new purpose in its way of complimenting the clothing. We need to use the work as an artistic exhibition, but we also need to use it as a sort of guide to show viewers where to be.
And I like that. Especially with this work, the exciting thing for me is this way of working allows me to do that. That’s what I like best about this work. It’s not like “Oh this is artwork, let’s put it on the wall and keep a light on it.” This is like a school of fish, it changes shape and grows, and is a thing that people are going to interact with. So for me it’s really the opportunity for that, to be that way, it’s right where I wanted it to be.
Individually each piece is, I don’t want to say benign, but just very simple, very clean. When you bring these collectively together with the space between them, they become this collective whole that is one work, like one canvas. This seems to be a departure from what you normally do, would you agree with that?
I would, and that’s what is exciting about it for me. I’ve always tried to do that with my work, combining different elements, like sculpture and painting. Whether it’s leaning paintings up against each other to hide portions of them, showing different things to create a new experience and not being afraid of “Oh, this has to be an artwork and it has to be by itself.” You put something on a pedestal with a light on it and you can make almost anything look artistic. You can do things and there are going to be people who get it, but part of the responsibility is to be crystal clear. And part of that is context. I still think I can do it with my body of work at large, but this is a way to help people to get there. Walking them there a bit. This is fairly recent too, I started printing last spring, doing some things on the muslins. I was going to add to them, make them separate pieces. And then being away all summer and coming back and having to rapidly get together the idea for the Waterfall Mansion. And part of that, actually, was that I got pneumonia in December. I think in the fever, staring up at these things I realized that “Wow, this is fantastic. This is really a sculptural piece, these are fluid.” Sometimes that is how things come to you. My written work is a good example of the structural discipline I use to see a finished work arrive. I work to find something unified in what are essentially a series of fragments in order, in a collage sense, to write and finish a poem with clarity of thought that maybe is revealing itself to me as I go. But then the context, the structure, and the context of how it will be used creates a necessary demand for fluidity, and therefore will be reworked and shaped to to meet those other demands, all the while still holding on to its essence. So likewise with the printed pieces each one is printed with a kind of clarity and beauty to stand on its own. But it’s also like a stained glass window; putting them all together creates a larger idea and a larger piece. I’m always dealing with relationships between things so the space gives it a physical realty. And then combined with the text pieces I can mirror certain notions such as the work being temporary, and it’s a nice relationship.
It’s the experience of the fleeting moment. Your experience is really the artwork. Isaw your salt pieces on your website, you have them on the ground and they’re disintegrating, the salt dissolves and is then gone. And every moment, every second it continues its life it’s a new artwork.
Which is how I feel about everything. That once again is an issue of making it crystal clear. Finding the material and the source to make it that clear. That I feel that way in all artworks doesn’t mean that people are going to see it that way. But this new muslin work uses my full body of resources, capabilities, and references in a unified way to a degree that I never have been able to before.
So then to wrap it all up, coming here, being in your studio, speaking to you, and understanding that I can only try to empathize in your experience as an artist, getting a glimpse of that brings a lot to the work itself. Knowing that it’s very process-based, the intended fluidity of its subject matter and the strong foundation which allows that. But do you think that all of this will be communicated in its very simplistic installation? Will people gather all this, even if subconsciously?
Everything is subconscious. In my mind, the universe is fluid. Everything, in every atom, there is movement. Everything is moving and changing and you see some parts of things and some you do not see, and things reveal themselves, and then they’re gone, but they’re not gone. They fragment and grow into other things. There is no message in what I’m doing. Everyone will experience it whether they want to or not, if they’re present. What stays with them, how the experience reveals itself in the future, what it pulls up from their past…that’s out there and it’s in the universe. I don’t feel it’s my role to tell you anything. None of my work tells you anything specifically. It creates a ground for experience, and it hopefully opens up some channel of memory combined with the present. It’s like planting a seed at that point, it grows into the universe because it’s been planted. It is in your mind, and in your experience but to what degree … time and patience are needed for that to reveal itself …. and then more patience.
I am very excited to see your work interact with people, such as from an anthropological standpoint, how this might differ from any of the audience members’ prior experience of art or fashion.
Yes, I’m excited, too. You want to be careful with art because you don’t want it to be throwaway, but at the same time you don’t want it to be so precious that you cannot enter into it. You want to be able to enter in one way or another. I hope people can interact with the work, and that they see it as a beautiful thing, and almost not really think of it as artwork. That’s what I want. That will be the life of the work, its beauty, its success.