Richard Ibghy Interview
Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens, Demand Curves for Transcendence, Galleria Alkovi, Helsinki, 2011 On one of Aberystwythâ€™s blustery, chilly days, I met with Richard Ibghy in his studio space behind the Arts Centre in those space-like cabins. The tidy, minimal appearance of his studio space immediately reflected the aesthetics and research content of his works. He welcomed me in and offered me a warm cup of tea, which I had to politely refuse and explain that I was possibly the only British person that didnâ€™t like a cup of brew. Feeling much warmer, I was ready to interview Richard and find out what had brought him all the way from Canada, to the country of Wales. Interviewer: Gemma Meek (GM) Interviewee: Richard Ibghy (RI) nd Interview Date: 2 December 2011 GM: How long have you been an artist for? RI: I began making art seriously in 2002. Before that, I studied philosophy, and was more interested in theory than art. After travelling for a few years I ended up doing an MBA. I worked as an economist for a number of years and then I got into making art through writing. I wrote short stories, and then screen-plays. Shooting 16mm films brought me to photography and the visual arts. After that I stopped writing fiction and working as an economist. I guess I felt more at ease with visual arts.
GM: And you create collaborative work with Marilou Lemmens? Did that push you towards the visual arts, how did this collaboration occur? RI: My collaboration with Marilou stated after I began making visual art. Basically, I was making short films outside of any institutional framework and it was difficult to get access to film cameras, sound equipment and
editing equipment. I started working with people who studied cinematography at a film school but whenever I would see my rushes, I felt that they didn’t correspond to how I was imagining the visuals. So I began to teach myself about cinematography and photography. Then I decided to take a course at an art school and that’s where I met Marilou and we ended up collaborating. Would you like to know how the collaboration began? GM: Yes, that would be great. RI: After we met, we travelled for a couple of years taking photographs individually and independently. One day a gallery in Montreal invited us to prepare an exhibition. We invited two other people with the intention of the four of us doing something collectively. But the two people, for different reasons, were unable to participate. So Marilou and I worked together and enjoyed the collaboration, so we continued. GM: Was there a particular reason that you came to Aberystwyth, Wales for your residency? RI: It wasn’t as if I had targeted Wales specifically, though Wales was my first choice from a list of different possibilities offered by a residency exchange program in Quebec. I knew that I wanted to do work with people, and so I wanted to make sure I could communicate in English. I had been to the UK several times, but never to Wales. I guess I was curious. I was curious about the Welsh. First of all, I had met some Welsh people and through talking to them I realised that there was perhaps a parallel with Quebec, politically and historically. Traditionally, both people had been working class, and I guess the kind of political and economic parallels was something I was curious about. GM: You have been working up at the National Library and that’s what influenced your piece that you showed during open studios? RI: What I showed during the open studios was not really a piece – in the sense that it was not a finished work. I prepared it for anybody who might have been curious as to what I was up to. It was a way of sharing notes I had written in my journal while looking at photographs at the National Library. Obviously, every artist develops their own way of working. It generally takes me quite some time to develop a project; to get it to its materialisation. For that reason I often work on several projects simultaneously. However, that didn’t really happen for me over here. So I have been concentrating almost exclusively on one project, the one I have been researching at the National Library. For about a month, I’ve been stopping off at the Library on my way to the studio to look at photographs for about 3 or 4 hours, until basically I can’t take it anymore. I generally look at each photo for a long time. I use the photos as a springboard to see what kind of ideas they might conjure, and so each one requires a lot of concentration. When I get to the point that I pick up a new photograph and I feel too lazy to record my thoughts, then that’s a sign that I should maybe leave and come back fresh the next day. I don’t know if I answered your question! (laughs) I don’t remember the question! GM: Do you maybe think the final piece is not important to you? Is it the research you get more involved with, or see it as part of the artwork itself? Do you think you need the final product to show your research? RI: That’s a very good question. I do very much enjoy the research as much as I enjoy making art. The making art part of the process is actually a relief. It often involves manual labour after a lot of the decisions have already been made. Painting fifty slats of wood in certain colours or making silkscreens are mechanical processes that I enjoy. I also enjoy the research part. The going from the research to the art making is what I find difficult. Sometimes I end up doing a lot of research in an area that doesn’t lend itself immediately to making art, but I don’t consider that a failure. Often what happens is I’ll come back to it later, and so generally, making a work from the beginning to the end could take something like a year, or even longer.
Conducting research is a long process of complicating things as my understanding of something, some history, or some kind of process, gets richer. Things get more and more complicated until finally, at one point in the process, I try to make things simpler. I try to simplify things that I had made complex until I can maybe get it to some essential point. That’s a very satisfying thing to do, to focus something to a very simple idea, and then to find a simple aesthetic where everything that is unnecessary is pared away. There is a kind of satisfaction that I associate with that. GM: On the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Website it states that you were trying to develop an idea based around ‘sceptics will be entertained but perhaps unimpressed’, what did you mean by this quote? What were you aiming to explore? RI: I wanted to imagine how somebody interested in economy as a form of social behaviour would go about observing it. The idea was the observation of economy. I’m not interested in doing social sciences, but I was interested in exploring how an economist would go about observing economic behaviour. Because that’s not what they do; they’ll look at statistics and indicators, which they’ll analyse according to mathematical models. I wanted to subvert the idea of economy by observing something fundamentally social and call that doing economy. That was the original idea. I wasn’t sure at the time how I would do it. Even when I got here I still wasn’t sure how I was going to go about doing it, I kind of left that open. I didn’t know if I was going to walk the streets to observe real people or would I just observe myself. For a variety of reasons, I decided to observe photographs of people. Would you like me to get into why? GM: Yes (both laugh) RI: For several reasons. First of all, I imagined that to walk down a street to observe economic behaviour would involve trying to find what I was looking for and so I was afraid that the process would involve shutting myself off of things that could be interesting, things that I hadn’t previously considered. Secondly, observing real people can be limiting, in the sense that I can’t really follow people into their homes. I didn’t want to stay on the surface, like sitting in a store and eavesdropping on what people are doing (laughs)! One of the things I like about looking at photographs is that you can take your time; you can look at one image for a long time, as opposed to getting caught up in something that is happening in front of you. Also, I’m not so concerned with trying to understand precisely what is going on in a photograph; which is something I don’t even think is possible. Rather, I am interested in using signs in photographs as springboards to think about other things, things that I am currently researching. I’m very aware, and very comfortable with the fact, that I’m using historical images as a means of stimulating thought and then writing those thoughts down. So I end up writing observations which are more a function of my own concerns than what it is that I am actually seeing. For example, in one photograph there is a man in a three piece suit, who I’ve learnt was a pharmacist in Cardiff, maybe during the 50’s or 60’s, who has these really big turtle-shell glasses, and kind of shaved white hair with a big puffy top (demonstrates with hands over head), kind of reminded me of Samuel Beckett. And he’s standing outside and he has this huge cat on one shoulder and he’s kind of leaning over and is very amused with this cat, which has one paw on top of his shoulder and the other paw under his vest! (laughs). Through this collection I saw several photos of this cat throughout its life, and that became a springboard to think about what it is to dwell. This cat was part of a household, I thought. But what is a household, and what is it to have these special privileges? What is it to be a dweller as opposed to being part of a family? I was interested in looking at the internal economy of the household and wondering why this cat was able to participate, and what it meant. Often we don’t, with respect to economy, consider what happens in the household, in terms of lending, favours, things like that, in economics these things are completely excluded
from the economic portrait of a society. For me, the photo of the man and his cat was a kind of catalyst to think in terms of the internal economy of a household. GM: Yes, and does this have link to your piece Demand Curves for Transcendence, in terms of value and social beliefs? Would you like to tell me about that piece? And how that came about, its relation to economics? RI: Yes, I think with that piece –I’m just trying to remember the actual variables – I think it was Truth and Beauty? GM: Yes I think you hit it on the head there. One of the concerns in that piece involves what I am doing now, which is thinking about how value is created and transformed. How does value circulate? If you value something maybe I will value it and other people might value it as well. Things, values, or what is valued, or what is desired, or what is believed, tend to circulate. In many ways, that is how I’ve been approaching economy. As opposed to the circulation of money, or circulation of products, or in terms of distribution; I am more interested in the circulation of desires and beliefs that permit these objects to circulate. One day one person wants an i-phone, and then the next thing you know everybody wants an i-phone, or whatever. In Demand Curves for Transcendence, I was looking at value through two variables. As opposed to price and quantity, I was looking at value through the matrix of Truth and Beauty. In the piece, there are four quadrants: somebody who values Truth but not Beauty; somebody who values Beauty but not Truth; someone who values the two equally; and then someone not valuing either. Then for each quadrant, I was interested in describing types of people, in a very subjective and playful manner, which might fit in each of them, and then to juxtapose that whole subjective system onto an economic supply and demand curve, which has an appearance of objectivity, of calculation and measurement. It performs objectively. By juxtaposing the two is to visually suggest that maybe these concepts, Truth and Beauty, have something to say about economy, at least just as much as do dollars and quantities. Does that make sense? GM: Yes, I think possibly there is an element of humour in your work? I think on the curve a beauty was to ‘strive for rainbows’ and the element of the man’s relationship to the cat, there is a sense of playfulness? RI: Is that something you were able to notice? GM: Yes, I think the stereotypes for someone who follows beauty or truths were. Yes I can see them happening, but I think that makes you realise there is a sense of humour or playfulness in what certain people value and what they are striving for. RI: It’s very much a reflection of my approach to things in general, and for Marilou as well. I think we share that. We do laugh a lot as we come up with these things and laughter tends to be the fundamental criteria as to whether or not something goes in to a work or not! (laughs). I would definitely say playfulness is a good way of putting it. I also think - because we deal with aesthetic forms that are often rigid – that it’s a way to deal with these forms which have a lot of power and authority. Whether it’s a supply and demand curve or some other measurement device, I think playfulness is a way of subverting that authority. By having graphs measure things that are perhaps not measurable and doing so in a playful way is, I think, a form of subversion. GM: And do you think that your work in terms of economics, and the way you represent your ideas, makes economics, or your ideas of economics more accessible to viewers? Your piece Demand Curves for
Transcendence is showing values that everyone can relate to and therefore is making people see economics in a more accessible, different way? RI: I couldn’t really answer that. I don’t know how it is interpreted. I make a distinction between “the economy,” which is a substantiated form that economists have created through certain tools which we have come to see in a certain way, and “economy” as a social form of being, transacting, valuating. I don’t think that the piece affects how people see “the economy” per se. Which is something very difficult to do because we were brought up learning that the economy was something, hearing about people talking about the economy all the time, and imagining that there must be such a thing as the economy, and that this thing is measured in terms of GDP, and that it involves the circulation of money, and the rate of which the circulation affects inflation, investment, finance, etc. This way of considering economy is so engraved in our way of thinking that it’s difficult to imagine it otherwise. Though I think it is a very important thing to do: to try to imagine it otherwise, because the way it is presented to us, it’s as if it were a closed system, the way physics is a closed system, that regardless of what we say or do, meteors travel according to certain arcs or planets revolve around certain stars in a way that is independent of human desires or wants. The universe is supposed to function in a certain way and economists have adopted this way of thinking about their subject. It’s presented to us as this closed system that works this certain way. So, in order for us to have growth, or whatever, to be happy, we are told that we must adopt certain policies that might appear to be unjust or unequal in terms of distribution. Often, these policies are presented to us as “don’t worry if you don’t understand it, there are experts who know how it works” and these “experts” will be on television and they’ll explain things to us in terms which are sometimes difficult to grasp, but appear to be part of some closed system. We’re basically told that a certain medicine is required, and that although it doesn’t taste very good, it’s for our own good. As opposed to this, I am trying to think economy differently, more as a social phenomenon, and this means taking it down from its lofty place, its sacred, untouchable place, to a more the human level. GM: Often language plays an important part in your work, you’ve used it in many different ways through books, video, text on walls, do you think that there is a certain way in which language is communicated more effectively? Do you like to explore the different ways language is communicated? RI: I do enjoy listening to the different ways that language is used. I think that a distinction should be made though: I don’t use language to say something directly. For me language is a kind of material, the way a painter uses paint. I consider it as a ready-made. As supposed to writing something from my imagination, I am interested in taking something that I’ve heard, or read, in precisely the way that it’s been expressed- loaded with connotations -and put it somewhere else, and then having this different context enable people to look at those words differently. I believe it was Wittgenstein who once said that to learn a language is to learn a form of life. GM: Do you think you are being critical of language? RI: No, I think we can use language to be critical. GM: Are there any particular artists that influence your practice? You have mentioned philosophers. Your works in some ways are quite minimalist, using colour, line or basic shape. RI: I couldn’t say…I don’t have a couple of artists who have stayed with me over time. I think you’re right that there are certain philosophers or writers that have influenced me. I could name this person or that person, but in terms of visual artists, I would say that at different moments I come across artists that I appreciate. That
said, it’s true that a lot of the aesthetic forms I employ have been developed during the conceptual period of the late 60s. But, although we also use a lot of language, it’s very different from of how language was being used back then. Many of the artists I know that use language today use language very differently from the artists from that period. GM: My last question, after this residency what are your plans? Is there another residency lined up? RI: What I’m doing now is going to be presented in Vancouver, in January, at a gallery called 221a. Right after here I’ll be going to Berlin where I’ll be developing a performance. Brilliant, thank-you.
Published on Dec 15, 2011
An interview by the student Gemma Meek with the artist Richard Ibghy on his time spent at Aberystwyth Arts Centre as an artist in residence...