The intriguing work of artist Milutin Gubash, born in Serbia and working in Montreal, has been well received throughout North America and Europe for many years now. I was actually lucky enough to work with him back in 2011 for Montreal’s Nuit Blanche: I was one of the “cultural mediators,” a fancy title that means I got to answer questions audience members had about Gubash’s performance.
Similarly to his work displayed at Galeries Trois Points today, Gubash explored themes of history, identity and family, while dealing a little with the absurd. He answered a few questions for me about his current solo exhibit featuring sculptures, photographs and installation works questioning “ideas of authenticity and perceptions of cultural, political and social identities.”
Cassandra Marsillo (CM): Could you explain the intersection of “the everyday, historical and philosophical narratives” in your work?
Milutin Gubash (MG): Well, that could be a long answer, which I am not going to give you! Briefly, any of my works are concerned with these connections. For me, art is a space (maybe the only free space) to think about oneself. I don’t know whether that justifies art, but it does give it a purpose for me both as a creator and as a viewer (if I get hooked by something in the work somehow, I want to follow; if I don’t, then I don’t want to follow the exploration further…). When I think about myself, I don’t see anything that is essential, but I do see a convergence of things that have come before me and that seem to have something to do with me: people and things both extraordinary and mundane that are around me now which it seems I have something to do with, and stories that I discover or invent to make all this meaningful.
CM: You also alter the historical and personal narratives, however, blurring reality and fiction: how do you decide what to tweak?
MG: Firstly, I would like to explain that I have no particular feeling for the idea of “truth” within art. For me, reality in art is whatever the art happens to propose, which is either compelling, or convincing, or plausible, and so I care; or it isn’t, and then I don’t care. I don’t look to art or artists to know the news or what is the weather (there are plenty of other ways to get reports on reality that don’t invoke the contradictions and peculiarities of art…). Nonetheless, there is nothing to stop an artist borrowing from a sense of reality in order to compose their work (or a viewer using their own experience to interpret the work of another artist). I happen to think that art is most satisfying when it comments on some topic about, or offers an analogy of being in the world. Images seem to encourage narratives, and objects seem to need backstories, so maybe the question of reality and fiction merging goes more with the idea of authenticity than truth.
When I look at myself, or the people around me, or some situation I want to treat as a subject, there are plenty of things I can’t know, but those gaps could be filled in somehow, artistically. Then the question is more of what feels appropriate or useful or interesting. This happens regularly in literature, where writers borrow from their own lives, or those around them, and then fill out the narrative with inventions that somehow feel right, or push the story in an interesting direction. It doesn’t necessarily stand up in a court of law, but we accept this if it makes emotional or intellectual sense, as being part of the game we engage with. We accept a non-correspondence to reality in some visual media — painting or sculpture for example, and still react with some degree of surprise when the same tactics are utilized in photography, or video. I believe we are living in a time when this is starting to really change: we can, for example, consider how one’s online persona might reflect a truth about oneself, without necessarily corresponding to what we would say is reality. But this is really a much longer discussion than is possible to entertain here.
CM: Many of your works feature family members and friends, how has that evolved over time?
MG: It began with a curiosity about how people represent themselves, and the realization that the things that interested me (and still do) were things I could see and find in the people who are actually around me. I am interested in how, for example, a representation of my mother is symbolically linked to the representation of a mother, but also, my mother is a really interesting person with an interesting story for her life, and watching her try to represent herself with accuracy or justice is fascinating and challenging as an artist.
My partner is an artist, my daughter is very creative and bold, my friends are artists; they are all intrinsically interesting people, who have unique personalities and sensibilities. That’s both luck and an observation that I have been perceptive enough to make, and it’s my job to make those qualities emerge somehow in the work in which they participate. When I began working with my parents (more than 10 years ago now), there were certainly (many historical) examples of depictions of the artist’s mother or lover or whatever, but few examples of sustained engagement with family members as agents within the artist’s work. I see many more artists who are working with themes of family and incorporating their actual family members to play symbolic roles of “family” in their work, but very frequently I find that the role could as well have been played by an actor, since the particular and intrinsic interest is not there for some reason. Because my family and friends have recurring roles to play from one work to another, you follow them over time, and they evolve as characters by deepening or contradicting the characteristics you come to know them through.
In my latest works, we have all moved out of the frame, to work as creators or agents of the work, rather than as characters in it. My mother makes figurative sculptures with me, and acts as a go-between (and sometimes a videographer) for in Serbia. My partner and I have been making paintings together, and my daughter has made a series of enviably beautiful drawings of my camera equipment. But I know enough to know that evolutions in my work in the longer run just take me back to the beginning again, and so I expect that they (and I) will come back as our characters to represent ourselves again in futures projects.
CM: How did you select the works for the exhibit at Galerie Trois Points?
MG: Well, they are my newest works: two projects that seem formally, aesthetically distinct, but that connect I believe on a deeper level of contemplation, Lamps and Monuments to Communists, both constituting the exhibition entitled Ordinary Folk at Galerie Trois Points until October 3.
(You can read more about these pieces here)
CM: What’s next for you?
MG: I always seem to have much more material (which I want to work with) than I have time to resolve, so I work on those projects (I’m uncomfortable talking about work that isn’t already in the public sphere, so I just leave it there). Also, I have exhibitions which come in the near future which I am excited to see realized: an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2016, an exhibition in Mexico in 2016, and a 6 month residency in Paris, where I intend to realize a project involving newly immigrated citizens.
Check out Milutin Gubash’s Ordinary folk at Galerie Trois Points (372 ST Catherine W, #520) until October 3, 2015.