INTERVIEW WITH IAN GILES by Katherine Nonemaker
Mr. Giles’ feature can be viewed in full in Open Lab’s newly released Issue No. 9.
What’s your background? Give us a short linear (or non-linear) narrative of how you got to be where you are now.
I grew up in Gloucestershire, in a barn, in a field, it’s really beautiful there. From the age of about 14 I was itching to get to London and go to art college. It’s funny because I have gone beyond my childhood plan, I only knew I wanted to go to art college – I didn’t really think about what would happen after that.
I went to Chelsea College of Art for my BA and then had two years ‘out’ before doing an MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art, which I finished in the summer of 2012. In those two years between BA and MFA, I made a lot of work, a lot of different works (sculpture, performance, video and exhibited quite a lot too). I learnt stuff, practical things. I also spent some time in San Francisco, which feels pretty formative now.
Formative due to the natural environment, or the people? The art scene there?
It was formative partly because I was 22 and had recently finished my BA and because of the people I met there, I found it a very friendly city (I think my English accent helped!). I also spent time working at Jessica Silverman Gallery. I learnt a lot through Jessica and how it could be interesting to work with supportive and intelligent commercial gallerists. I think her programme is brilliant and the way she talks about her artists is so inspiring.
And where do you work now?
I have an airy studio above a Turkish supermarket in Dalston, East London; it’s an amazing place, I work well there – things feel like they are growing.
Can you tell us about The Stone Balancer? It’s amazingly beautiful - I think the molecules in my body slowed down trying to seek the same sort of sacred balance while viewing the work. How did you form the concept? Who is your stone balancer?
Adrian Gray is a stone balancer by trade. He became allergic to electricity and highly sensitive to chemicals following a tropical illness in Madagascar. To aid his recovery he moved to rural Dorset and it was there that he discovered a love for combing beaches to find huge rocks to balance at unlikely angles.
I was researching rocks and stones when I met Adrian’s nephew at a friend’s birthday, I was transfixed by the story of his life. I went home and pulled up lots of images of stone balancing online, I knew then that I wanted to try and make a film about it.
My video leads up to a point of balance, the moment when the stones engage with gravity and in that way make this invisible force visible. The act is about working with natural forces and tuning in. This footage is mixed with images of two acrobats in training; their actions mirror those of the stone balancer and suggest a relationship between a body and the stone. The video is a collage of footage and sound, it felt very physical to make. I think very sculpturally when I am editing, I like putting different textures next to each other.
And what about Listen Harder, what was that experience like, as you trapped 44,000 different sound clips of Acoustic Emissions on endless loop into glacial rocks?
Acoustic Emission are a naturally occurring phenomenon whereby external stimuli such as earthquakes caused energy to be trapped inside rocks, like echoes of an event. The glacial rocks I exhibited contain 44,000 sound clips of Acoustic Emissions collected by the Rock and Ice Physics Laboratory at University College London. These emissions were lowered to an audible frequency in order to make them accessible. Through this digital process these ancient sounds take on a new form; they are reshaped into the present.
What a strange and beautiful phenomenon! Do you see yourself working more with sound in the future?
Sound plays an important role within my work, as I guess it does for most artists working with video. I think of sound as another layer or texture when I am editing. Sound adds tone to moving images and helps to create a mood. I often use sound and rhythm as a structure to edit by. I need to know how a new video work is going to sound before I can really start working out how the images will appear.
Can you tell us about your work with Laura Cooper? You’ve worked with her on a couple of collaborative projects.
Laura and I met at the Slade and shared a studio in the second year. At the time we were both working in a similar way but with different subject matters. We were both making films and performances with groups of people and we often helped each other out.
We started making work together by chance. We were both devising performance works for a night at Camden Art Centre in North London. Neither of us liked the pieces we where making and it was getting late. So we had a discussion about mashing our performances together and using the bits we thought worked. It sounds like a really dumb idea but I think it worked because we where both aiming for a similar sensibility.
Working with Laura really opened up my practice and caused me to lose control a bit. I think control is a word that I keep coming back to in my approach. It’s not a bad word but it’s interesting to loosen my grip when collaborating with Laura.
Do you think this is due to more rigid constraints that you place upon yourself when its just “you and you”?
Everything I do is in a way a collaboration because I work with and film other people. The making of my work tends to need either groups of people or is about capturing someone doing or being something. Because of this, it always feels like a lot of things are at stake when I am producing new work. There is always a feeling that things might unravel. It is only within the editing process that I am able to fully restore a sense of order into the process.
I found ‘We Are Temporary Structures’ to be so captivating due to its gentle engagement of so many potentially chaotic and destructive, complex parts – i.e. people! Your video of the collaborative performance installation illustrates how you invited all (including the smallest of the small) to participate in the all-day performance at Tate Britain in 2012. In this work the participants seemed to be so completely absorbed by their awareness of their role in maintaining balance. How did this installation develop?
We Are Temporary Structures was an open invitation to members of the public to join us in attempting to keep a loose web of poles connected. The wooden poles where all of different lengths and we encouraged people to connect with each other by attempting to keep the coloured ends of the poles attached. The weight of the poles and their length required people to slow down and concentrate in order to keep them connected and balanced. The form of the structure was constantly moving and shifting as new people joined in and others moved on. We also had a core team of people amongst the public to aid people to join in and this group also challenged the possibilities of the structure – by using different parts of their bodies to balance the poles.
I also think that the sound and video elements of this work helped to create a calming and focused atmosphere in the space. We had eight cube monitors in the gallery, which showed both man-made and natural structures forming. These videos were accompanied by a mixed soundtrack of low humming, bird song and other resonating sounds.
The feeling of calm concentration was electrifying at times; it was exciting to see so many people gently communicating with each other without words.
And can you tell us about On Balance Off Balance?
On Balance Off Balance was the work Laura and I showed at Camden Art Centre. There were 3 people circling their fingers around the lip of wine glasses and 3 people spinning hula-hoops on their arms. It was a simple set up. It was very sculptural. The wine glasses produced a high hum, which reverberated throughout the gallery, their pinch rose every so often when the performers drank a mouthful of water from the glass. The time it took for all the water to be slowly drunk was the meter for the performance. Every time a mouthful was taken the hoops stopped spinning.
The work was about changing the energy of the space or perhaps about making energy. The hoops and the sound of the glasses created a kind of turbine. Everything was circling, cycles starting and stopping, energy pumping – it’s was very ritualistic. The work created a haze over the space; people said that they felt very blissed out watching it, mesmerized by the spinning hoops and the singing glasses.
I bet, I felt very calmed just watching the video - I can’t imagine what such a performance must have been in an actual space with the acoustics bouncing everywhere. Can you tell us about the conceptual background for The In Between? This piece is also highly ritualistic.
'The In Between' was an exhibition I had at Carroll / Fletcher earlier this year. The title suggests a location in a space between two points, a hinterland. The works presented grappled with ideas of the 'present' and I used the properties of clay as a metaphor for a process of transformation.
I was interested in exploring where the physical site of a work might be; I wanted to create an environment that invited the viewer to relax their mind and allow a calm and reflective mood to enter them. Being greeted with a cup of camomile tea set up this invitation too. Camomile calms and restores the mind; a holistic balm for the soul.
The video I presented was a recording of a Clay Meditation class, a practice that I devised. In the video a group of people sensitively apply clay to each other’s faces, creating wet clay masks. This action marks the start of the meditation. As the humble material slowly dries patterns form on the participant’s faces, mirroring the aging process and leading to thoughts of time, mortality and change. Clay Meditation is partially informed by my experiences of ‘Movement Meditation’, a practice in which dance is used as a catalyst to meditate and in turn to open up and connect physically with others.
In the other rooms I presented ceramics and mono-prints. The prints were made by placing think black ink on to glass and drawing in to it and then pressing a piece of paper on top to take an impression. I drew faces in to the ink, when you press the paper on top you never know how the image will come out. The technique creates these wild looking faces; they seem to stare out of the blur – like spirits.
If Barnett Newman invited you out for a drink, how would you describe the Sublime to him as you perceive it today in the contemporary world?
For me, the sublime is a feeling of awe and otherness. When I filmed ‘The Stone Balancer’ in Dorset, I felt like an outsider hiding behind my camera looking out at nature but in turn this relationship made me feel present. I think of the sublime as a feeling of being in between states – of being drawn into the landscape and yet not being able to fully comprehend it. It’s the desire to fall into the scape and to be engulfed – I think the sublime is a terrifying beauty that we can only fail in front of – I think the sublime talks of death and is, in that way something holy and mighty.
What have you got in the works now?
I have been reading a book called In Praise of Shadows by the Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. It is an essay on Japanese aesthetics. I started reading it because I am interested in the term Wabi-sabi, which means ‘a beauty in things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’ – but really this description is only the half of it, Wabi-sabi is a complex sensibility that is hard to pin down with words. I think that is part of the attraction for me. There is an amazing documentary by Marcel Theroux called In Search of Wabi Sabi, I think it’s a must see!
Inspired by this I am working on a new video work about Japanese pottery and a belief system that domestic objects like soup bowls might provide a sort of spiritual escape. Tanizaki talks about the difference between eastern and western domestic tableware – in the west we use white glazes on ceramics because we think of them as clean (you can see dirt clearly on a white surface) whereas in Japan they use dark glazes to give depth to their bowls. He talks about broth being served in a dark lacquered bowl and he compares it to a lake – there is a mystery in the darkness, a possibility. I am very interested in how objects can be transformed by a surface and how something as humble as a clay bowl might lead to an endless prism of reflection and escape.
What upcoming shows should we be marking on our calendars?
I have a residency at CCA Glasgow, which I am really looking forward to. I love Glasgow, the art scene up there and I have some really good friends there too. Also Laura Cooper and I are working on a new performance as part of Art Licks Weekend, which is a three-day festival in London of young galleries, not-for-profit projects, artist-run spaces and independent curatorial projects.
Ian Giles (born, UK 1985) graduated from Slade School of Fine Art and is currently a LUX Associate Artist 2012/13. Selected recent exhibitions include: The In Between, Carroll / Fletcher, London (Solo 2013); 21st Century Screening, Chisenhale Gallery (2012); Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (2012) and Object Subjects, Silverman Gallery, San Francisco (2011).
During his residency at CCA, Ian will explore the convergence between video and sculpture, and the role of language in his practice. He will use the time to develop how video can be thought of as sculpture and how words and language have a physicality.