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Interviewed April 5, 2003
By J

Kathleen Griffin

more work at website

Kathleen Griffin
Gregg Anderson
Cristina di Chiera
Erik Gould
Kathleen Griffin
Elizabeth Keithline
Scott Lapham
Rafael Lyons
Julie Manso and Carl Dunn
the Men of Letters
Rag and Bone Bindery
Howie Snieder
Herb Weiss
Cliff Wood
May Yao

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Desire, dysfunction, and candy

This month as ArtInRuins approaches the anniversary of its launching, I decided to celebrate by interviewing one of its founding members, Kathleen Griffin. In addition to the behind-the-scenes planner and enforcer, Kathleen pursues and active sculpture career. In the upcoming months she will be included in the Sculpture Center’s Emerging Artist Series in New York and will be working on a collaborative sculpture with Leon Dewan. Leon is a New York-based musician and sound artist. I decided to ask Kathleen about her recent work, her collaboration with Leon and her decision to stay and pursue an art career in Providence.

AIR: Would you talk a little about the type of work you make and the ideas you are working with.

KG: Well, my main subjects are desire, dysfuctionality and impossibility, but to put it that way makes my work sound like much more of a downer than it is. Basically, I deal with opposites and the seconds that they merge into one. For example; I recently finished recasting a piece titled, “Our only escape is lemony fresh”. I built a wooden boat and then poured 2500 pound of lemon candy into it. It showed as part of Convergence last fall. It is a very optimistic and desperate piece. I feel really good about it and everyone who has seen it in my studio has had a strong emotional reaction to it. Over the past few years I have made several large candy pieces and two soap pieces.

And when people see your work, is that what you want them to get from it, that feeling of being tugged by opposites?

You know, that really isn’t my specific goal. What I want is for people to just feel something. I want them to have some sort of physical or emotional response, what I don’t want is some one to stand in front of my piece feeling nothing and trying to conceptually “figure it out”. It’s not that I don’t want people to think about my work, it is, in fact, pretty conceptual, but if that’s all you get from a work, the piece it failing. I think that’s why I make such big work, so that even some one completely unfamiliar with art still can walk up to my work and have a physical relationship like, “wow, that’s allot of candy in that boat”, and then possibly imagine what it would be to eat all that candy or think, “huh, that could crush me”. These types of connections are so basic you connect with them differently.

After spending as much time with your work as I have, it always comes off as very emotional. I often times have strong feelings about a work and don’t “get it” until later.

And here lies the frustration of art today. People are always trying to “get it”, to de-code, read it like a sentence. Art is really more like stubbing your toe; if we have both stubbed our toes before I can tell you what that feels like and you can understand what I am talking about, but you will never know exactly what I felt, and, if you have never stubbed your toe there is a point where the language between us fails. It’s like that with art. There is a point when language and literal understanding fail it and all you have is the emotional and physical connections.

So how did you come to work with Leon Dewan?

I’ve actually known Leon socially for a few years. I knew more about his work than he knew about mine, but we never really talked too much about it, we just got along really well. Then one night after hanging out Leon looked my work up on line, the next time we saw each other he said we really should be collaborating on something. I was excited and we began on our current project.

I’ve met Leon before and he’s very modest but he has a interesting background. He had a band “The Happiest Guys in the World”, he’s worked with choreographers and filmmakers, and he recently co-composed Paul Yate’s film “Porno”, where Moby worked as the music producer.

Yeah, he’s very talented but what really brought us together is the instruments Leon builds. He and his cousin Brian build synthesizers and instruments designed to react organically and unpredictably with their users. You can play and control them but never get the same sound. It’s Leon’s incorporation of chaos theory in his instruments that brings us together. While I don’t have the same technical grasp of it as he does, the ideas and emotions associated with chaos bridge the gap.

And what are you two working on now?

We are working on a piece titled “Every one likes to be wanted”. I am building three giant hollow candy balls which will be filled the the mechanics and wires of one of Leon’s synthesizers, on top of which will be a tiny spinning plastic ballerina. So essentially, they are giant “singing” candy balls. They are very strange and are supposed to lure you in.

And these will be at the Sculpture Center?

Yup, in June 2003.

And why do you choose to stay in Providence, rather than go to New York or Boston or a city with a larger art scene?

Well I never thought I would stay in Providence, but the longer I am here, the less I want to leave. Making art in Providence is so safe. If you make work here no one sees it until you choose. That may sound vain but in larger art scenes, whether you are showing or not, you feel the pressure of that scene – nowhere more than New York. Here, you live your life and you make work about life or whatever your subject is but the art scene can’t crush you. There are, of course, professional trade-offs to staying here. Many of the artists I know in New York can barely make work at the end of the day, it’s just so hard and when they want to make work they often find themselves making it about the frustration of trying to make work. Here I have a close knit group of extraordinary artists who make work and live good lives and send their work out of town to show it. We may be broke but we are happy, and, of course, studio space is cheap here. Someday, perhaps, I may go to a larger city, but for now Providence is the place.

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