The month of September is devoted to Vol 1 contributors April Gertler and Dolores Alfieri. April contributed an amazing interview to Vol 1 and you can give it a read below in its entirety or on the magazine site at: http://www.the22magazine.com/Pages/AprilGertler.html
THE 22 MAGAZINE: Why did you choose to live and work in Berlin?
APRIL GERTLER: I finished graduate school and had done an exchange program in Germany and Frankfort at an art school there, and I was sort of weighing my pros and cons. I had always wanted to live in Europe. My father’s from Hungary, and my mother’s from Holland. I thought about living in Holland, but having this chance to be in Frankfort had been really exciting, and Berlin has always been this kind of city of promise. Berlin is really exciting and just offers so much. There is so much vastness and openness. There is still this feeling of opportunity, but the opportunity is very much there for you to develop yourself, which is what I also find really difficult about living in Berlin. There is a huge positive, but the huge negative is that there’s not a lot of energy coming from the city. What I mean is, here, in New York, you walk on the street and there’s sort of this vibration. There’s this buzz because there are so many people in the street; you feel people’s energy and get electrified from that. It doesn’t exist in Berlin. It’s a very slow city. It’s very calm. That is why I really like it, although, it’s very hard to get motivated. So, there’s this challenge with the city.
22: Can you talk about your beginnings in social science, and how you eventually moved to photography and collage?
AG: My degree was in Social Science Interdisciplinary Studies. It was pooled classes from the Social Sciences department, Women’s Studies, and Sociology; so it was a combination of many things. I was really interested in social theory. Women’s studies played a role in my undergraduate interest and degree. As far as art, I kind of had this secret fantasy, ever since I was a really little kid, that I really wanted to be an artist but never really pursued it or told anyone about it until after I finished my undergraduate degree. I was always doing creative projects on the side, but they were just creative projects, not art. After being out of undergraduate for three years, I decided to apply to art school and pieced together a portfolio. I had thought about photography, and I had never really been a picture-taker, but I took a class at San Francisco City College and liked it a lot. A lot of people fall in love with the moment when they see the image coming up in the developer. I’m not interested in being in the darkroom, actually; I don’t really like it, but those were those magical beginning moments of photography. That moment of losing myself in making the image was so exciting. It was a feeling I had never had before.The collage component of where I find myself now is much more related to being in art school. What ended up happening is: finding myself not having enough money to buy film, living next door to a flea market, and going every weekend. People were selling entire photo albums, which I bought and would look through the images, and piece together images that I thought were interesting. I would remake narratives, write small stories and make little books.
22: What is the “Picture Berlin” project?
AG: I thought about starting a residency program [in Berlin] because I wanted to bring my friends over from the states, and other countries, and introduce them to the network that I was building there. Things evolved, and I started thinking about a different concept, and that was “Picture Berlin.” I wanted to create a situation where people would have a chance to be in the city and have an immediate access point to what the art scene was really like, instead of not really knowing where to start. [“Picture Berlin” offers] people a chance to discover what the Berlin art scene is really about.
22: Can you tell me a little about some of the people you’ve had at this past residency?
AG: Last summer was our first session.We had eight countries represented with eleven participants, and they were all across the board in terms of their professional careers. Some people were already teaching photography in other countries, and they really wanted to have that access point into Berlin. Other people were just starting with their careers and wanting to find their way. People were at different stages, but somehow the group actually worked really well together, and that was really exciting. People had different skill sets, of course. A lot of people were really interested in film.There was a young woman from Canada who had no official training in film-making, but she was really interested in pursuing photography and seeing what photography could offer her.
22: One of your projects, G to G–the Polaroids–was really interesting considering [Polaroids] are somewhat obsolete. What does it mean to you to take the Polaroid photo now and to use the mail to send it?
AG: One of my all time favorite artists is Ray Johnson. I saw a show of his in ’97, in North Carolina, and I was totally mesmerized and amazed that he could send what he did in the mail. Mail has always been something that I’ve been very interested in. In San Francisco they have a postcard show that’s been happening for years where you make a series of postcards that can be mailed, and I’ve participated in it for seven years in a row. I still really appreciate the hand-written document and the fact that there’s a time that you take to put something in an envelope and send it. This project , G to G, started with a colleague of mine from graduate school. I was at Bard—which is a summer-only MFA program. We finished our program, and she was living in New York, and I was living in San Francisco, and we both thought, “We have to keep our thought processes going, and we have to keep in communication as much as possible, so why don’t we start this project?” We started it in 2001, and the mail component of it was really important. We really wanted to receive each others’ original document as the Polaroid. Even when we started the project, it was special for us; the Polaroid was still special. It’s been a really important element of it to have the mail be part of that project.
22: A lot of your work is collaboration or discussion with artists. You also travel a lot, so the discussions are always changing. I’m wondering if it goes back to your initial study of social sciences, and the idea of understanding the artist as much as the artwork that you’re making?
AG: It’s very important because a lot of my work is narrative-based, so I’m really interested in stories. I’m interested in exploring how to break apart a story and find the essence or the point—the subtlety of the story. Therefore, I need to talk to a lot of people and hear a låot of stories, but I’m really interested in human beings anyway, and I’m really interested in having connections with people. I like bringing people together. I also like knowing different kinds of people. So, it plays a huge part in my own work and also in my greater work in terms of “Picture Berlin” or other projects that I’ve done. Two years ago in France, I was invited to do a residency in Niort, which is a little town near La Rochelle in Brittany. Up until that point, I’d been using a lot of other people’s photographs—people who I didn’t know—and making up my own stories. To a point, that had been really exciting and interesting, but I kind of hit a wall, and I really wanted to start knowing who the people were in the photographs. So, I did a project where I interviewed a couple of families who lived in this town, and I asked them to show me their family photographs. The point of the project was to get a tour of this town through their family albums, and their family stories. The agreement was made beforehand that I would be able to scan in their personal family photographs, while they were telling me the stories. I took some notes while they were talking to me, but it was very much more of a conversation that we had. From their stories that I collected and the photographs that I collected, I made a series of collages for each family. It was a really interesting exploration because I was using the same people over and over again in those collages and referencing those family stories. It wasn’t evident, unless you knew the stories, to look at the work and say, “Oh, yeah, I understand what’s happening in this image.” It became much more its own thing at the end, but the story had really informed how the work was developed and created.
22: What was that project called?
AG: That project, actually, was separated into three parts, but one of the main projects from that is called Maurice. There are images on my Flickr page.
22: In your project gertler/maver/reiser you present the work without the artist’s names. Do you think stripping the artists or the artwork of the identity changes the art?
AG: We’re really a collaborative team. We’re interested in telling a story. It’s kind of the perfect number cause it’s always two against one. We vote on each others’ work, and we’re very fair with each other. We make sure that each person is represented equally in the show, but we’re very interested in making sure that the narrative is open enough, and we really want the work to talk about the concept rather than just be so concentrated on the fact of the maker. We’re interested in developing the process and creating a body of work that’s new for us. I think we’re adding to, in the sense that we’re creating something completely new together. I think a lot of artists have trouble with that, and feeling like they’re on the same level sometimes, but we really try, and we really want the work to speak more than us. We’re much more interested in the work than our egos.
22: How did your chalk drawing series start?
AG: The chalk drawings began when I decided to move from the page to the wall. I’ve been really interested in working in installations for a long time and I had a really great critique with a colleague of mine where she suggested that I explore working in this particular way. I think what is really interesting is that [the drawings] create an environment, and bring life to the smaller works. It makes the viewer understand the smaller works in a different way within the context of site-specific wall drawings. The process of making them is very labor intensive. With each line I’m basically re-coating the string with chalk and re-snapping the line onto the wall. It’s a very long process; the drawings take about eight hours minimum. I’m getting to the point where I actually need to work with somebody else to make them. In my most recent chalk drawing I used black pigment, which gave a completely different quality to the line with the pigment. Using that color blue was really interesting and important to me because that blue is the standardized color that’s used on construction sites, and I liked the simple connection to building and creating.
22: Can you talk about your idea of reality versus truth-telling in art making?
AG: I think that is a question that should be asked to all image-makers. It’s really interesting because it’s the obvious question of when you read a book, a fictional book, and the main character’s female, and the writer is female. You automatically assume that the writer is writing about herself. That’s kind of true with my work. My work is very personal, definitely, and because I’m very interested in telling stories, I do tell a lot of stories in my work, and not all of it is true. There’s a balance that comes and goes, in and out. Where it comes and goes is where I get to play and have a good time, and that’s what I really enjoy, but, it’s a back and forth that I’m playing with. So, I’m not telling everything; I’m choosing what I’m telling. I’m elaborating some things, and I’m not telling other things. I’m creating or developing my own world, as any artist is.