By Angela Romeo
Born In Mexico Brussels based artist Gabriel Kuri is known for his repurposed installation work. He melds installation’s environment and impacts it with the socio-political consequences of our human actions. As Desert X is a very site specific exhibition Kuri is a logical choice for participation. I spoke with the artist about his work, Donation Box.
AR: Donation Box –is a powerful, familiar yet surreal view of the desert. It is also one of the more controversial pieces in Desert X – what about the desert environment precipitated this piece?
Kuri: “Palm Springs is a strange environment. There is something about the proximity of the enormous mountains, the neatness of the housing developments, and the commodification of the indomitable environment that are specific of this region. The feeling of excitement and challenge, and seeing a price tag anywhere one looks is inevitable. There is something about what I perceive to be the economy of the area, and how this seeps into the exhibition project, that I felt I had to address.”
AR: Desert X is site specific – you chose this empty commercial space, which at one time did host an art gallery, why this space? Did you know of it history before selection?
Kuri: “I learned that this space most recently hosted a shop that went bankrupt. This is where I felt like picking up. I like the idea of the space being emptied out as a result of bankruptcy.”
AR: The particular mall is one that is more empty that occupied, it sits on the edge of Palm Springs, and with the shadow of the Aitken Mirage, do you see this juxtaposition of dreams (Mirage) and reality (Donation Box)?
Kuri: “I am glad that you point out the juxtaposition in these terms. This is what this sort of exhibition is about, connecting dots and activating the spaces and landscapes in between. If there is one thing that outdoor public projects should do, it is exactly that, not just to leave the museum or gallery, but to do so without carrying its epistemology outdoors… to really aim to exist in a relevant way outside, and to activate the outdoors beyond the familiar or expected. Jennifer Bolande´s billboards are not far from my work either, and would also work in the same terms of this axis you begun by pointing out.”
AR: Your work is not without critics and not without challenging the viewer. When conceiving these installations are you at all concerned about the reaction from press or public? Or are you separated from that concern?
Kuri: “My work only exists when the spectator activates it. This is when meaning is established, art is an act of communication. However it is different to conceive it in this way, and to go as far as anticipating or catering for the reaction of the public or press. I prefer to think of my work as an open metaphor, I establish the rules in the clearest yet open fashion, and the viewer completes the work. In this particular case, I did feel the inclination to make a statement that could be interpreted as site and situation responsive, and with a declared political element to it.”
AR: Your work embraces physical properties – elements of natural phenomena and the manmade by-products, do you see the world in a type of chaos or power struggle between these two concepts?
Kuri: “Of course the planet is in decay as a result of human activity. But I aspire for my work not to have negativity inscribed in its critique. I don´t want the audience to leave feeling bad, nor guilty nor pessimistic. I think this piece is in a sense clean and hopefully gracious. Despite the fact that it has thousands of extinguished cigarette butts -which are repulsive- and coins -which are often cumbersome- it is purposefully and neatly arranged: each cigarette butt is upright and stuck individually in the sand. The coins are tossed from a short distance. I would like the humor of it to be the agent that triggers thought. When it comes to materials, I thought of the three constituent elements as having somehow the same value: small change, cigarette butts and grains of sand… the three of them are particles and can be considered, technically of metaphorically, as units of currency.”
AR: Is Donation Box perhaps a representation of that beauty and ugliness that man imparts on the environment?
Kuri: “Yes, and I also like to think of it as a commentary on the fact that everything has a price tag, especially in an environment with such stark contrast between naked desert and land developed into a green grid.”
AR: You were born in Mexico and reside in Belgium – do you see your global citizenship as an influence on your work?
Kuri: “Of course, I also lived in LA for three years recently and I feel like I owed a work of this kind to my time in southern California. My origins or identity are not something that I put forward any time I am making a work, but I of course acknowledge that the way I do what I do, comes as a result of where I was formed, and where I continue to pitch my voice.”
AR: As a parent, do you see that influencing your work?
Kuri: “I have learned a lot from my kids, yes. Perhaps one of the more important things has been to make myself react promptly, I cannot spend forever conceiving each project.”
AR: Your work carries without a concern or perhaps a disdain of what we do to the world around us, with a work such as Donation Box, what do you hope the viewer takes away?
Kuri: “The landscape (mountains, open space, elevation and descent…) is one of the universal metaphors. This work is in some way classical in its landscape genre. It is an open metaphor and I would hope each viewer to project a distinct and specific experience and reflection.”
AR: What do you want the Coachella Valley to know about you?
Kuri: “It is all in the work… and hopefully the valley can learn something about itself. I am not speaking in any other voice but first person singular, but I believe that when an artwork strikes the right chord, it resonates in the other´s conception of itself.”