Dialog in Common

Grady Gerbracht: Art, Audience & Lived Realities

Grady Gerbracht [GG] is a conceptual, interdisciplinary installation artist based in New York.
pressTranscript from the telephone interview with Markuz Wernli Saitô [MWS] on Sept. 15, 2005.


underLine (2005): Exploring experimental approaches to mapping a set of personal landmarks that is not their own, Grady Gerbracht and Claudia Vieira allowed themselves to be directed to locations throughout Kyoto chosen by residents...

What brought you to work in the public domain, and what importance do have people in your projects?
GG: The participatory aspect became increasingly important for me. I saw that the mere examination of a painting could engage people standing in the room. In my earlier works with means of size, illusion, perspective I could to a certain degree "manipulate" the viewer. If you think of the evolutionary chart from ape to man, then the flat, hang painting becomes three-dimensional, turns into a full visual space, the viewer becomes part of the painting, and we end up in the public domain.

I was always interested in who the audience is as well as in spaces. I see the audience as an aspect. I am interested in context-specific art, not site-specific works. This incorporates the specific people, culture, the history and prospectives of a space. The sample of the underLine project in Kyoto is a good one. It was a collaboration not only with my wife but also 30 citizens of Kyoto and we were in a foreign place. Communication was part the project's structure. As artists we had a conceptional framework and guided the process. The actual contents and rendering of the personalized map was in the hands of the participants. If you visit a place for the first time without personal connections the only option is to be a tourist and dependent on institutionalized structures. With underLine we had an open-structured project which included people's stories.

Is the element of performance part of your artwork and does it influence your relationship to the audience?
GG: Originally I was manipulating the audience, but gradually I make them do something. I use visuals to make the audience "perform." The element of performance take place when I use myself as an example, the body stands in for people to relate to. I am becoming the embodiment of a person, a citizen, a metaphor (an examplatory way). I like the idea of turning a public into an audience which doesn't have to buy tickets to participate. Behind the theater and the spectacle there is usually a certain pretense, whereas I am trying to relate to a place."I don't deliver (bring) you art" but I would like to individuals see another citizen taking action. This in turn encourages people to be creative on their own. The public domain offers more diversity than the museum/gallery context which is rather limited with its presumptions and representation geared towards certain sections of society. Public art can potentially be democratic.


... a camera and special mikes were mounted on a bicycle to record the performance of daily journeys, one for each day. In the video loop, a white line dominates the large projection, drawing in time and space with linear segments borrowed from the streets of Kyoto.

How do you feel about inserting art into people's lives? How do you go about making public art?
GG: I got no recipes. My artwork are series if attempts. I am not interested in spectacle per se, but the quasi-spectacle can be utilized to attract attention with the right intention and provoking something purposefully.

Before 9/11 I often worked with the unusual and strange in the public domain. Nowadays it has become more difficult especially in the US. The NYPD just announced "if you see something, tell something!" There is this public paranoia which undermines ethical art in the public. I really believe that the unusual things contain a lot of poetry but policing agencies infringe these liberties. So far I haven't found a way to deal with this.

Where there moments when you were truly connected with the audience?
GG: Connection is a fleeding feeling I noted e.g, in the underLine project. I see my art as some sort of enactments of gestures in public places: it is a somewhat detached process, like a grenade which triggers thinking later. The ephemeral character of art (and life) is fascinating to me: look at the World Trade Center buildings which were rather ugly, questionable compounds. But as soon as something is no longer there it becomes important and something to be remembered. I want to do something like that on a personal level where people start asking questions after encountering one of my installations. All art is at least passively engaging and strives to make the audience aware.

Grady Gerbracht is an artist whose work focuses on the ordering systems of everyday life. Inspired by personal observations and life experiences; Gerbracht's projects employ art, architecture, sound and social dynamics to render these systems temporarily visible. He is Assistant Professor of Art at Stony Brook University, and serves on the Board of Directors of Fundacao Lomba Alta which administers Projeto Loma Alta, an international artists residency in the south of Brazil. His projects have been published and exhibited in the US, Canada, Brazil, Asia, and across Europe and the nordic countries.

He has organized exhibitions such as Back and Forth, Global Priority, and Civic Performance that have traveled internationally. Ongoing research includes Sonic Architectures, a series of live events wherein the artist and collaborators perform the post-industrial built environment using only their bodies. Sound compositions derived from such performances combined with ambient site recordings are later re-inserted into the original context as installations for the Site & Sound series. Gerbracht and his collaborators were awarded a Danish Arts Council Grant for 2006 - 2007.

externalGrady Gerbracht's website