Axiological Discourse on Material and Textual Metanarratives: Gabriel Weinstock
by Paul Weiner
Gabriel Weinstock is an emerging installation artist working in Brooklyn, New York. He is a recent graduate of Bennington College, where he acquired a Bachelor’s degree while studying sculpture. Weinstock’s recent works focus on the shared personal experiences of viewer and artist, exploiting the various cultural metanarratives that define the meaning behind recognizable materials. His artwork is also available for view on his website.
When do aesthetic concerns come into play in your work?
In both my text and installation work I think a lot about order and organization, form and function. I think about aesthetics in terms of specificity and idiosyncrasy. I do not like work with aspects that feel arbitrary or that only serve some utilitarian purpose. There should be a reason for everything that is used and exists within a work. It is that specificity that makes a work of art cohesive; it is what makes a work a definitive statement. The viewer should have to confront and engage with the ideas that the work proposes. Specificity is what makes a work of art believable.
I like to make stuff, so I end up spending a lot of time on the various components present in my installations. Making helps give the work clarity, both physically and emotionally. Each aspect is distinct, even the forms that are repeated (like in Convex; undertow and Concave; undercurrent). I think that being able to see my hand in the work helps the viewer trust it. I like to use a lot of materials that feel nostalgic or familiar, like faux fur and how it seems to hint at a childlike fascination with other living creatures, textures, and stuffed animals. When these materials are used to create obscure objects rather than recognized forms, it forces the viewer to become idiosyncratically involved with it. These objects of concurrent natures force the viewer to search for its familiarity through referencing and remembering their own life experiences.
In my text work, my aesthetic concerns have everything to do with establishing their plausibility as documents. They are somewhat contradictory in nature: is it the documentation of raw information presented as art or is it art that is presented as a document? I have done a lot of research on cataloguing systems and antiquated record keeping methods, and this has become the basis of how a lot of the information is presented. How the words and numbers are formatted and the punctuation is used helps build connections and produce narratives. Because so much of the information is so personal, I think a lot about the material the text is on, or the location that it exists in to indicate that a narrative does exist and that the information is not random. This helps the viewer bring the work into their own experience.
People have called my work minimalist, and I am not averse to the comparison. A lot of my installation work is gestural, with parts pulling towards and away from one another, creating lines that divide and redefine space. And the conceptual ideas that drive my work often result in comprehensible lists. I think that this “minimalism” allows for my space and concepts to collide and coexist with the viewers.
To what extent do you find physical materials thought provoking? For instance, how did you decide on using steel and paper in From First, To The Last?
I think a lot about the materials that I use. All materials have value, so whatever is being used must be considered and assessed. Nothing can be secondary because the viewer will have some kind of reaction, whether they know it or not. I spend a lot of time trying different things out, seeing if they convey the idea that I am after. I think that a lot of art is self-defined, so, if something exists within the work that is not a part of the definition, it can muddle the whole thing. Our understanding of materials is multifarious. We see and understand their physicality: weight, color, durability, etc, but we also experience them through our cultural experiences: age/history, cost, location, etc.
The choice to use both steel and paper in From First, To The Last was a product of this thought process. The paper came first. I had no intention of making the steel plates. I thought the paper would be the work. But when I had finished, it became clear that something was missing. Although the paper was acting the way I had wanted, it did not quite express the weight of the experience the work was about. The steel entered the work to express an idea that was very much so about its physicality. But together they express the conceptual notions of the work. The paper has a history; it was taken from my childhood home. My father had accidentally ordered the wrong paper for his office and it had been sitting around the house since before I was born. I found the steel. It was incredibly rusted, and I spent hours cleaning and then stamping it. Although these may be parts of the work that only I know about, I think they become a part of the viewer’s experience. On a surface level, the materials contradict one another, but when the work is further investigated they begin to work together, creating a narrative. The paper speaks to some archival process while the steel conveys the weight of time and its longevity.
What is the ideal forum for viewing your work?
I am interested in art that fills spaces. That is why I often think of curators as artists too. Curators are not just facilitators. They are artists that specialize in the art of collection. I try and work collaboratively with my friends who are interested in curatorial practice as much as possible. They see things that maybe I don’t, especially when it comes to group shows. An exciting aspect of working with curators is that the conversations often result in the consideration of non-traditional spaces and environments for the work.
Most, if not all, of my installation work is site specific, so it is helpful to work with someone who is able to push me to think about unfamiliar and, often, challenging spaces. In this sense, I try not to think in terms of ideal forums because every piece is different. Granted, while I am working, I place the work in a metaphysical space to help me make decisions about it.
Conceptual installation art often presents a challenge in that the viewers must comprehend the visual language an artist presents, thus placing a heavy onus on context. This can be further complicated by the inclusion of text. Do you think the universal themes of your work would be as powerful on display in an international exhibition in a country that does not speak English as a first language?
My interest in memory, at least consciously, came about while reading a translated version of Don Quixote. Since then, a lot of my work, or ideas for my work, were inspired by literary works. What is interesting about Don Quixote is that the entire form of the story is based on the recounting and translation of the story about the man known as Don Quixote. The reader is constantly evaluating the information given to him, questioning its authenticity and reliability. This relationship creates a character out of the reader. I strive for my work to create a similar relationship with the viewer. Translating texts really is an art form. It is the task of taking the idea and the sentiment that exists in one language and putting it into another truthfully.
Conceptual work is often experienced through multiple layers of narrative. Despite this, the initial idea originated at the artist, who is unavoidably a product of a specific culture. This subjects the work to being a part of that culture. This does not have to problematic. Although my ideas are reflections on the world I grew up and currently live in, the work I create is an attempt to bring attention to the commonalities among disparate experiences. The information I present is an effort to create characters out of the viewers. Dates and places are universally understood, and I think that these are able to be translated. I display dates and locations in a way that is intentionally under-mediated. I don’t want the viewer to (and I am not so sure they could) figure out what my narrative is. It is through their attempt to figure out the story that it becomes their own. Fragments from my own idiosyncratic experience are also someone else’s. This is what I am interested in.
I do think if I was to exhibit work internationally, I would be very conscious of content. I would either exclude English words, relying primarily on locations and dates or I would collaborate with a translator. I think that would be a lot of fun, creating a text work that was consciously and cohesively in two languages.
Many of your works seem to revolve around the concept of time. How did you settle on time as a theme?
I’m not sure if I ever “settled” on time. I have been intrigued by the notion of time for as long as I can remember. Installation art helped me realize and understand why it was important to me. Before installation, I had had a hard time articulating what it was about time that I wanted to represent, and I lacked the visual language to explore it with. It wasn’t until I created an installation in 2010 entitled Technology is Fragile that I began to develop an idea of how I could continue to explore time as a theme and concept. I think that my awareness of time, specifically in regards to family and genealogy, is a product of being adopted at birth. My adoption has never been a point of contention, but it has made me hyperaware and curious about one’s history and the importance of family both legally and psychologically. I think that my experience and my history is what has driven and influenced a lot of the ideas in my work. I have explored adoption explicitly in From First, to the Last and implicitly through the use of the archive and materials I choose to use.
What I like about time is that everyone experiences it. It exists for us both idiosyncratically and culturally. It allows us to have a basic understanding and connection with one another. Time’s universality presents a near infinite number of possibilities for its exploration and representation in artworks.
Time and art cannot be separated. It is present when we talk about specific art movements and is transient when we talk about the contemporary. I think time’s dualities and contradictions are part of what makes it so interesting. I feel them in my life and in my history; creating work helps me better understand these complex and confusing ideas and feelings.
What was the process for creating Convex; undertow, both conceptually and physically?
The conceptual and physical aspects of my work tend to manifest simultaneously; they rely on one another and are continually in conversation. Completing a work does not mean that I fully understand its meaning. The conceptual ideas of the work shift and take on specific meaning as its physical aspects are evaluated and adjusted.
When I begin an installation, I tend to have an idea of the materials and pieces I want to include. I do multiple preliminary drawings, which helps me figure out what I need to make. This is how the conceptual notions of the work start to find specificity. My drawings help produce questions and find answers. For instance, how many faux fur medicine balls should I use in the installation? Why that many? Does that number represent something? Convex; undertow was somewhat of an anomaly because I knew the exact space I was going to be using ahead of time. This did not cause me to prematurely conceptualize the visual aspects or arrangement of the work. Instead, it allowed me think about how I wanted the space to feel and be interacted with so, when I was finally installing the work, I felt secure in what I was after. That guided the installation process.
I make the varying physical aspects of the work before installing anything, such as the faux fur medicine balls or casting concrete. When the objects are complete, I begin installation. The drawings become less relevant during this stage because the space is what dictates the installation. I usually bring everything that I would like to use into the space and quickly sketch out some possible arrangements. These drawings help me place some of the bigger or heavier parts, like the steel plates in Convex; undertow and the concrete block. From there, I start trying different arrangements out by connecting chains, figuring out where the balls fit in, etc. I am looking for the arrangement that feels the most cohesive and is true to the feelings and questions I want the installation to evoke. As I go through this process, the conceptual notions become more defined. I start to better understand what I want the work to say through the decisions that go into the arrangement of its parts. This is what led to the medicine ball on the floor, the broken chain links littering the floor, and the concrete block being labeled with its weight. These aspects were not planned. They were added as the installation progressed. These details helped define the work and the space that it exists within in.
When the installation is complete, I tend to reflect on the ideas that I think are a part of it and what is allowing them to be communicated. I often, if not always, discover that there are ideas present in the work that I hadn’t been able to articulate at its start. These ideas are what lead into the next work. In the case of Convex; undertow, it was Concave; undercurrent.
Do you ever have trouble finding a location for installation work? Do you create your installations in a studio or on-site?
Finding places where I would like to install work is never difficult. I see them everyday, but getting permission to use them is a struggle. At the moment, I am trying to focus my energy on proposals for a few different spaces. All of my installations are created on-site and my studio isn’t the most ideal space for working on them. I am always working on smaller pieces that I would like incorporate into installations, but, without a space or a deadline, its hard for those ideas to become fully realized.
When one is an undergraduate, they are constantly given project deadlines, which results in the production of a lot of work in a short period of time. When school is over, it seems like that is how work is suppose to get made. It is a challenge to get out of that mindset. Currently, I am trying to work consistently and consciously without letting myself stress out about how much is getting done.
Recently, I have been working collaboratively on a couple different projects. Creating work with, and not just around, other people is new to me, and I am really excited about it. It has been hugely helpful in a few different ways. It’s resulted in ideas and concepts that I would not have come up with on my own, and the collaboration keeps everyone focused. The additional input has increased the list of potential spaces and has helped me stay optimistic, determined, and confident about acquiring one to show new work in.
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