AN INTERVIEW WITH EMILY GINSBURG
THE 22 MAGAZINE: Tell me how you first started making art? Any childhood experiences or otherwise that influence you?
EMILY GINSBURG: I made drawings, performed in plays, and made Super 8 movies with my friends in the neighborhood where I grew up in Baltimore from an early age. There was a great sense of possibility and just making things happen because we wanted to. My aunt is also an artist and I have distinct memories of working with her hand-me-down art supplies and "coloring in" her drawings on pads she had left at my grandparents when she was off to college. These were all seminal experiences.
22: Tell me a little about how documentation and measurement play a role in your art? What appeals to you about "useful" elements or elements that collect or record in art?
EG: I am thinking often about evidencing the complexity of behavior through the events, occurrences and patterns in everyday life. The simultaneity and distinctiveness within what we think, feel, enact, and how we communicate are deeply fascinating to me. I guess I am thinking more about evidence vs. documentation, as I take many liberties that are meant to suggest both the attempt to map or track situations or conditions of "being," and are also intrinsically embedded with the attempts to process or make sense of these moments. They are openly embellished with subjective reflections, questions and contemplation in an associative manner. In cinematic terms, they can be at times simply like the cross between a documentary and a soap opera, or the director's cut with commentary.
The idea of the "useful" is a grounding position when embracing subject matter in the realm of the familiar. I am more inclined to say that I both respect and re-purpose images and objects and their use value. I rely on them for their ability to communicate a sense of a common understanding but then I am also interested in complicating this understanding by combining it at times with varying levels of ambiguity. By ambiguity, I mean embracing multiple associations at once. These are hybridized forms. This would be true within some of the "Social Studies" prints where silhouetted forms operate like ink blots or in other cases where invented devices within the composition perform acts of transmission, sorting, filtering thoughts and actions, in a kinetic like fashion. For the "Dance Card" series, I remade a 19th century object at a much larger scale into book form that maps daily rituals from waking to sleeping as a form of choreography, as a set of scores. Within the IN/HABIT: Messages to a Past, Present or Future piece, I was inspired by a pocket watch, compass, rotary dial phone and even a typewriter as a means to design a device for navigating, tracking, and negotiating action, communication, thought, and emotion over time. The piece both visually embraces those separate influences and also asks the viewer to see the whole of the interactive object as something new.
22: Do you believe there is symbolism in your art? If so what? If no, why not?
EG: I believe that I am working with a consistently evolving lexicon that includes images that mildly corrupt, reinterpret, and reposition symbols and iconic forms. I am also equally fascinated by modes of representation that attempt to show you something "as is" commonly recognized. I so appreciate the way Russian revolutionary period graphic artists used pictographic language as a way to communicate to a largely illiterate population. The books on signs and symbols amaze me as results of endless prototyping design processes attempting to construct universal languages for anything from weather patterns, hot coffee, to pedestrian signs. With that said, I think of symbolism in my work as a means to create a language, to tell stories.
22: What are some of your favorite objects and why?
EG: I have become more interested in the idiosyncratic nature of objects that surround me as well as archetypal forms. I think knowing an object over time, through repeated use compels me the most as a quality that I consider. This is true of the specificity of the shape, touch and feel of say, the hand crafted mug made by my partner which I drink my morning tea, to the standardized industrially designed metal folding chairs in the studio, food containers, shopping carts, and the evolving design of telephones, remote controls, etc. I can cite specifically a 17th century iron pothook I saw at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which reflected the mechanics of its use in its overall design. It included a sequence of pictorial images of the object being made by the blacksmith and its use in the cooking process as part of the design. The object both tells the story of the object and captures it's ritualized nature.
I also very much consider the body as an object. While considering the body as a whole, I am extremely aware of the micro gestures, tasks and expressiveness of hands as well as the performative patterns in time and space created by our foot traffic as we move, make decisions, and position ourselves within social interactions. This is all about body language.
22: Many of your objects also rely on a set of instructions, correct?
EG: I think for most of my work, the notion of instructions are implied in that there are multiple pathways to follow as sequences of action or thought are laid out in diagrammatic fashion. This is apparent most fully within the "Social Studies" series where I am nodding towards a sense of the performative, creating images of devices both functional and fantastical to catalyze the viewer's sense of variable avenues of looking, thinking, and feeling. With the "Dance Card" series, the diagrammatic imagery is using the guise of dance step diagrams, instructions for learning as a framework for a series of scores in efforts to elevate our awareness of various daily actions in a similar manner.
Where this is different is within the IN/HABIT: Messages to a Past Present or Future project. In this piece, I am dealing with the use value of the object in a practical way. I want the viewer/participant to have resources to put together a multifaceted reading of "self" at a particular moment in time. As this is a complex concept, I want to offer some tools to understand the components of the object so they can physically engage in this activity.
22: Do you think there is a division between art and design?
EG: I find that I don't polarize these terms. The reality is that they are deeply interrelated in terms of tools for making and issues of audience and context. I engage in public projects, exhibitions, and publications. All have diverse elements that utilize strategies that cross many platforms for generating, constructing, presenting and experiencing work.