Gabrielle Roth is an interdisciplinary artist from Los Angeles, California. Her current work circulates within a system of inquiry into the relationships between a generation of women, the American Pop and R&B, material culture, American pastoral and sublime landscapes, art and political histories, objecthood, poetry and myth, antiquity and NeoClassicism, and the collective consciousness of the internet, etcetera. She received a BFA in Sculpture from California State University at Long Beach in 2011 and is a candidate for a MFA from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2015. She has been an artist in residence and education fellow at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY and exhibited her work in Los Angeles, Oakland and Long Beach, Ca; Iowa City, Ia; Florence, Italy; New Brunswick, NJ; and New York City and Wassaic, NY
In my practice there is a constant shift between information and experience- through a navigable interface I am probing connections between contemporary culture and antiquity, forming associations by combining elements of the past and present through a feminist lens. My work is generative; single ideas are considered through multiple means, spurring numerous realizations linked to the specific sensations and politics of my gendered experience(s) as a woman.
I actively engage in an exploration of materiality; our cultural relationship to materials: history, political, and social implications and status; uses: industrial, commercial, or domestic, and their level of process: finished versus raw versus "raw"; and their associated aesthetic properties. The scale of the objects is generated intuitively; on and around that of the body and the body's relationship to materials, also considering the possible psychological effect of scale: precious, similar to oneself, or momentous.
Working in series, I consider an expanding system of ideas engaging in sculpture, drawing, and video to create installations. I make many sorts of objects: physical, political, cultural objects; humorous, quiet and loud; informed and ignorant, material and immaterial objects; utilitarian, digital, and "useless" objects.
I am currently working with the mythologies and constructs of gender. Making work which investigates the possible relationships between a generation of women (born in the 1980’s and 90’s), the American Pop and R&B girl group TLC, feminist dialogue, and material culture; as well as the mythos of American pastoral and sublime landscapes, ideas of objecthood, poetry and myth/NeoClassicism, and the collective consciousness of the internet.
Interview with Gabrielle Roth
Written by Sidney Mullis
What originally interested you in mythologies and constructions of gender?
I feel like it is nearly impossible to be making art, let alone surviving, right now without being affected by the construction of gender. For me- a cis, white, late 20’s, woman- it has become important for me to unpack the historical significance of gendered roles and stereotypes. The gendered traits which we are all subjected to rely upon a system of mythologies which effectively perpetuate socially accepted assumptions about gender; defining which characteristics are masculine or feminine. It is these mythologies that interested me originally-Meg Ryan’s character Annie Reed , the little old lady that lived in a shoe, Helen of Troy, etc. I only have my own experience to inform my path but I have been interested in rewriting these actual mythologies to effect the construction of gender that exists within my own narrative.
You seem to have three people/characters involved in the titling of your work – Butter Babe, Modern Aphrodite, and Odysseus. How did you come to work with these three people/characters in your work? Will your cast expand? Will we continue to follow their mythos as you continue to make?
The characters in my work are part of an ever-expanding network, they perform like a fantastic coping mechanism for the presentation of all the points of identity with which I struggle or identify. The Butter Babe and Modern Aphrodite are actually the same character-one is transformed by the other through some sort of internal self actualization process. Where Modern Aphrodite has dropped all of the social baggage that goes along with the being female, taking control of that which makes her female and animal, recognizing herself as a figure of power. She's not a hero per se, but a fragment of what can be attained through personal empowerment, gaining confidence and strength by redefining the feminine as "that without fallible weakness". As a character in my mythos Odysseus is born in response to a passage in The Odyssey. There is a moment when he has his crew lash him to the mast of the ship so that he won't be driven mad/lured into the rocks by the siren's song. When I read that passage it's one of the few times that I felt that a female character truly had some agency in the story and was denied it and someway. I wanted to create some sort of a window or gap for the siren's songs to actually infiltrate the mind of Odysseus, and so I made these large floating panels to act as those windows.
Do your works on paper act as preliminary plans for later work? Does the chronology in which these are created carry significance for you and/or the work?
There is no specific chronology for the drawings; I spend a lot of time drawing what my dream sculpture is or trying to illustrate moments that I imagine over and over. I feel the need to make them concrete in some way, so they become something more tangible than a fantasy-tools for building a more complex narrative. I usually draw the same scene, or variations of it, for a few weeks until I finally decide that one or several drawings have satisfied the image in my mind. The drawings are mostly based on the myths or prose that I am writing, but sometimes are the impetus for a new myth- I wonder what does someone who sees a depiction of a Gorgon's severed head for the first time imagine if they don't know the story that it represents? I write the myths and prose as they come, they follow a loose chronology, but like the Greeks and other cultures which share a history through oral tradition; I know of time but don't feel tied to following its path as I weave my fantasy. I work on sculptures, writing, and drawings at the same time, but drawing presents a unique opportunity for reflection and revision that I don't have when I am in the thick of making a sculpture or even writing(where I feel most self-conscious in my decisions). I usually finish a drawing in a single sitting, and that satisfaction is beneficial if I am hung-up on a decision for a piece of sculpture or prose.
How did the R&B musical group TLC become integrated into your work?
Last Spring I had just had this terrible ending to a relationship and was trying to locate sources of empowerment. I started writing and drawing more and listening to songs that made me feel full of power and energy, finding little tokens of strength. I looked to the powerful women in my life and times when I found them to be truly amazing and strong. When my sister was a teenager she was somewhat of a punk and her anger was so amazing and genuine. In 8th grade she sang TLC's Waterfalls for a school talent show, it just seemed like such a vulnerable spot to be in when you're so tough on the outside. I started thinking more about TLC and why they were important to my sister, a punk, even though they were pretty mainstream at the time- and the fact is that those women were badass! They told it like it was, talked about things that were taboo (like safe sex, gang violence, beauty standards, and getting stuck in a bad relationship because you're a chick) and were true to themselves. So it seemed really reasonable that I should integrate them into this search for strength that really got rolling in the summer.
Your work is influenced by an amalgam of topics including feminism, material culture, mythos of American pastoral and sublime landscapes, objecthood, Neoclassicism to name a few. How do you navigate these many topics in your work?
Those are all topics that I am interested in and in my brain form an interconnected web where one section leads to another and so forth. Honestly though, I usually find it exhausting, counter productive, and unenjoyable to make work that only adheres to those things, or is too conscious of them in the making phase. If I can honestly say that if I gained anything from going to graduate school, it was that I learned I don’t have to think about everything when I am in the studio- I just need to trust my hands to carryout my subconscious thoughts, and that is good enough. So, I prefer to play at making the objects in my head, while having faith that the topics that interest me are making their appearances naturally. Sometimes I just can’t stop thinking about a specific thing, and I usually hesitate for a really long time- maybe a whole month- trying to think of exactly how i will make it before I do, then I might make a whole bunch of a similar type of object. Sometimes I will spend hours and hours making something great but totally impractical, like a fountain with a butter cast at the top which will inevitably be a failure but had been so important in my head as I contemplated the futility of the object and it’s role in my fantasy-land.
Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice?
I wish I could say that I made it to my studio everyday, but it's usually only 4-5 days a week. I go as soon as I get off of work and stay for 4-5 hours or in the early afternoon on the weekend for until I run out of snacks or my eyes see blurry. When I get there I like to just sit and rest for a minute, maybe draw a bit or write. I used to have a laundry list of things to do when I got to the studio but it made my time there feel like work, I never had enough time there and it felt super stressful. I found that if I just go often, stay for long periods of time, and hold myself to no one project that I am able to experiment a lot more and work on more things simultaneously. So, basically I like to treat my studio like a residency that I go to everyday- if I need to take a nap I do, if I need a snack I do, if the only thing I do the entire time I am there is watch an Aaliyah music video over and over again until I think I have to choreography down...that is okay, and I feel good about it. I was at an artist lecture once where the artist, I forget who, said that every studio needs a spot to rest or nap. Now, studio rent in NYC doesn't afford me that kind of space necessarily but I am not above laying a piece of cardboard on the studio floor, turning out the lights, and closing my eyes for fifteen minutes or an hour.
What is the most important thing to you about your studio practice?
The most important thing to me about the studio is that it is conveniently located (so that I can actually be there as much as possible) and large enough that I can make really big messes. When I first moved to New York City my studio was really far away from my job and my house, and I never had time to just be there- it was so stressful, commuting more than an hour after work to be there and then having to leave super quick- so I sucked it up and moved closer, and it was totally worth it. My new studio is more expensive, but it is private and convenient so I make a lot of messes in there. When I was in graduate school at Rutgers Mason Gross, I was really fortunate to have a fair sized studio and large shared work areas. but there were times that my studio was so full of detritus and materials, failures and in progress work, and finished sculptures shoved into the corner that I was the only person who could get in and navigate the space- and I liked that. I like to have privacy to just relax and make things in the studio.
In your statement about your work, you leave the reader with the screen shot of a poem on refusal and another formatted as a lyrical to-do list. Could you discuss this addition?
A lot of my written work uses the interface of the computer or cell phone when I make it. I felt like an artist statement is this really culled, digestible synopsis of an artist's practice- which can be really helpful for learning how to articulate what you're making work about, but so often doesn't actually communicate HOW you think when you make work. The screen shot of the poem Of Refusal, is more of a mantra that I say in the studio- it is my self soothing mechanism and as such acts as a more direct window into my process than a many times edited statement can. I think in conjunction they might be best, but alone one is too academic and the other too sensitive, so I add it for balance.
What artists are you currently interested in?
I think this is probably one of the hardest questions that people ask, because I get totally obsessed with certain artists and so my "contemporary top ten" is constantly shifting. That being said there are artists who will forever be points of reference and inspiration; Duchamp, Brian Bress, Brancusi, Oldenburg, Bernini, Charles Ray, Jedediah Caesar, Michelangelo… OKAY so, I started to answer this question 100% honestly and realized that almost the entirety of it was men. This is upsetting in a way that fundamentally shook me- so I made an alphabetized list of women who have influenced my work or who gave me the drive and courage to make sculptural work: Janine Antoni, Rachel Beach, Louise Bourgeoise, Liz Craft, Judy Chicago, Renee Greene, Rachel Harrison, Eva Hesse, Nancy Holt, Jenny Holzer, Yayoi Kusama, Eva Koch, Mary Kelly, Liz Larner, Barb Madsen, Ana Mendieta, Judy Pfaff, Aki Sasamoto, Kiki Smith, Hito Steryl, Jessica Stockholder, Sarah Sze, Rosemarie Trockel, Hannah Wilke, and Andrea Zittel.
You recently graduated from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2015 with an MFA. Congrats! What has your transition out of graduate school been like? Any advice for others as they make transitions out of similar programs?
DON'T FREAK OUT-TAKE SOME TIME OFF-GET SETTLED & TAKE A DEEP BREATH!
I did none of these things and I really wish I would have. Before I graduated I poured hours of time into organizing results from nyfa, Craigslist, and resarts to formulate these intense color-coded-organized-by-date-lists of jobs I wanted to apply to/had applied to, apartments and studio listings to respond to/look at/avoid, residencies and grants to apply for/wait to hear back from, etc- you name it lists. DO NOT DO THIS- apply to what you want, crash with a friend or extend your lease to a month to month, move home- whatever you do don't stress out about these seemingly huge but realistically tiny things! Don't take the first job you get unless it's something you really want to be doing everyday OR you are starving, because once you start that 9-5/6/7/8 you are going to be hard-pressed to use your energy looking for another job over going to whatever ridiculous studio situation you have created for yourself- whether it is a corner in your room or a private 10x10 room in a warehouse- so it would be really good if that day job didn't leave you burned out and/or pissed off at the end of each day. Ask your professors and mentors for help finding something, chances are they will feel pretty happy that you are comfortable enough to ask them and will reach out to their network on your behalf. Just take it as it comes and remember that not everybody leaves grad school with a teaching job lined up for the fall or a solo show at a gallery- just do you and it will be okay.
Do you have any new projects and/or exhibitions that you would like to share with us?
I have been working on a few plexi-glass pieces recently, more figurative than the abstractions I was doing before. I find huge inspiration in my daily commute, it provides such a rich space to people watch and think things through. I will be giving up my commute in a month to participate in the Anderson Ranch Artist Residency in Snowmass Village, Colorado from October until December. I’ve been raising funds through crowdsourcing (in addition to selling my car and bike) to help me get there and afford the residency, because as an artist with a full-time job and debt from loans I know that a privilege and opportunity like this one might not present itself again. If anyone is interested in donating, there is a link on my website to a gofundme page, the thank you incentives are all hand-made and won’t disappoint.
Thank you for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about Gabrielle's work, check out her website.