by Richard Holland
I went to law school and pursued my MA/MFA at the same time. From the academic institution/professorial perspective I suspect this made me a first class pain-in-the-ass. Pity my art professors. I hear they have all recovered well, although I don’t know how much treatment or scotch it took.
Both BAS NYC chief Amanda Browder and I were lucky to work with three professors in particular (Michelle Grabner was at UW at the time, and was a shining beacon of smarts) who were exceedingly smart, kind, and when necessary not going to put up with any of my pushy-lawyery bullshit.
This was refreshing as I found a number of professors who weren’t particularly interested in dialoging about their ideas, exploring the theory and practice of where the field is going, and embracing the intellectual joy in the complexity in contemporary art.
Aristotle (Aris) Georidiades and his wife Gail Simpson are clearly two of my favorite people; I admire their work ethic, commitment to educating artist as they begin their careers, I enjoy their work, and appreciate(d) their mentorship. They truly were the highlights of my MFA experience and are great assets to the University of Wisconsin art department. Fanboy gushing aside I know and enjoy their work. Aris has a solo show at Carl Hammer and will be present at the reception this Friday (Carl Hammer Gallery, 740 Wells Street in Chicago this Friday April 19th from 5:30-8:00). This show looks like an evolution and maybe a departure from the work I’ve seen in the past and I am looking forward to seeing the show. Upon reading the press release, I wanted to ask some questions, emailed Aris and he kindly agreed to do an interview.
RH: You new show is focused more on the idea of re-use and repurposing than your prior work, which also has used lots of materials that are construction type, non-precious materials. How does using “found” materials fit into this work? What do you mean by re-purposed sculpture? Are you reusing old work?
AG: Most of the work for this show is made of materials that I have collected that are generally related to buildings built prior to the 1960s. I also continue to use objects that might be considered obsolete or on the verge of being obsolete. I think that by using these materials and objects in my sculpture, notions of our current condition are brought to mind. Of course there are some typical motivations underlying this work. Typical in that I am a “maker” who appreciates materials and I notice the way the world around us is made. Materials and the methods of manipulating the materials can and should carry and covey meaning. Visual artists know this don’t they?
I should also add that I continue to believe in the power of objects. As an artist I find it very challenging to try to create compelling objects in a world filled with objects whether we call them art or not. I am not really repurposing old work although at times I do reuse materials from an old piece.
RH: You are one of the few artists I know who have pursued a career in doing public sculpture in your work as “Actual Size Artwork” with Gail Simpson, and also have pursued their own gallery career. How does that work in terms of ideas, do you have a set of Actual Size ideas and a set of ideas for your own practice? Both bodies of work have similar senses of humor.
AG: The gallery work and the work I do with Actual Size are usually pretty separate, although I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. They have different goals. Actual Size developed organically with Gail Simpson since we were partners working in shared studio space etc. That collaboration allows us to create primarily large scale temporary and permanent public artworks. The permanent projects usually are commission pieces that I consider more like design-build projects. There are a lot of factors that we take into consideration during the entire process, not the least of which is that it is going to exist in the public domain. Many artists can’t or won’t deal with many of the issues involved. We actually enjoy much of the work especially dealing a wide range of professionals outside of the art world. The whole thing ultimately makes me feel much more a part of our economy. The temporary projects on the other hand do allow for more flexibility and freedom of “artistic” expression” than do the permanent projects. It is inevitable that some of what each of us does in the studio carries over into the public works. I would say certain shared values, a sense of humor and other formal considerations.
RH: You are a professor at the University of Wisconsin, you run a public art company, and you make your own work, that is three full time jobs? How do you manage to do all three?
AG: Frankly, I don’t think I do a great job managing all three jobs. Fortunately the work of Actual Size Artworks is shared with my wife Gail Simpson.
RH: You are based out of Madison Wisconsin, which is one of the countries major public research institutions, but does not necessarily have the links to the “contemporary art world” whatever that means, you obviously have a gallery career and a collector base, how have you managed to promote your work outside of one of the major centers of art commerce? Has that had an effect on how you promote your work?
AG: Yes, living outside of a major urban area is really difficult for visual artists to maintain any kind of career. I would not be in this area if it were not for this great job that allows me a certain degree of freedom to pursue a career as a visual artist.
I am terrible at promoting my work, especially when juggling different career aspects. In general I believe artists need to do a lot of things to maintain and build a practice. Certainly there are a number of artists that have developed a collector base or some type of funding source that allows them to focus solely on the artwork they want to do, when they want to do it. A long time ago I heard a comment by an internationally known artist giving a talk at SAIC say that she knew of no successful artists in New York that did not have a trust fund. She was completely serious. I am not part of that, for better or worse. New York is still the center of the art world but most people who have been in the art business for any length of time know that there are good artists all over the place. Obviously there isn’t a system to support them so major urban areas become the places where artists can be noticed. Of course in the past couple decades the concentration of power and markets in the art world has become even more concentrated in fewer and fewer places.
I can see that this could turn into a rant and I would rather discuss this in person some time. But…
Just as a side note since I think you might be interested in knowing that Wisconsin’s senator Ron Johnson, soon after being elected, was quoted as saying that he did not understand why they teach the Humanities in higher education. I also understand that the governor of Florida is talking about raising tuition on students studying humanities since they do not contribute to the economy. These are really tough battles to fight, don’t you think?
RH: Can you tell us about some of your public art projects people can see.
AG: The only permanent piece we have up in Chicago at the moment is at Maxwell Street Market. It is the signage that acts as a backdrop between the Market and the highway The signs are references to the long history of the melting pot of cultures that have driven the market over the years. We also have a temporary sculpture still on view at Morton Arboretum.
RH: What projects do you have on the horizon?
AG: We are currently under consideration for a couple of public art projects at the moment, in Chicago and out west. We are almost always on the lookout for interesting opportunities for projects to do.
RH: Thank you for taking my questions
AG: My pleasure!