Exclusive Interview with Gaia Part 1Juxtapoz // Thursday, 23 Jul 2009
Interview with Gaia, Part 1
By Cheree Franco
Gaia is a native New Yorker who first established his poster presence on the streets of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan in 2007. Now about to enter his junior year at Maryland Institute College of Art, Gaia—who grew up around his parents’ financial careers—is an unabashed capitalist, equally confident working on the streets or showing in the galleries of New York, Los Angeles and London. His anthropomorphic linocuts—part human, part animal—betray a city kid’s enchantment and simultaneous disconcertion with nature. “I’m romanticizing a time when animals and humans lived more closely, but I also want my wilderness tame,” he admits.
Recently we chatted about art, the internet and Baltimore versus New York.
Cheree Franco: What is the artist’s role in society?
Gaia: I think this question is pertinent to street art, because you get up in the street and you really have to consider the role of art in people’s day-to-day lives. You’re trying to convey something to an extremely broad audience and you’re trying to capture someone’s attention.
There’s a real clear distinction between what art is and what life is. Art generally occupies a rarified space. Art is something you relegate a certain amount of time in your day to sort of view and perceive…‘I’m going to go to the MOMA today and I’m going to a take certain amount of time to experience artwork.’ That distinction is what defines street art in the sense that, it does occupy the space of the everyday. It becomes closer to people’s regular interactions.
What’s so interesting is that even in the space of the everyday, there’s this immense obstacle that’s so constructed by access and knowledge and the ability to reference. And if you have those referential points, you can enter the work and draw those connections. Or if you’ve grown up where artwork has a connection to your own life, then you’ll pay more attention to it, so it’s really a socioeconomic thing. What is the language that people use to address the work, how do they talk about the work, what does it mean to them? Is the work superfluous in Bed-Stuy and meaningful in SOHO?
With the Bed-Stuy/SOHO comparison, are you saying it’s not worth putting work in less gentrified communities because they don’t have as many art-world points of references?
I feel like it’s a comfort level. The people doing work on the streets are more comfortable where the presence has been established, versus forging new frontiers into other neighborhoods…even if its not a poor neighborhood, even if it’s just a neighborhood where that work is new and fresh—even Greenpoint, there’s a lot of graf, but there’s not that many posters. People like Swoon and Chris Stain have established those frontiers…but I feel like it is important to go to new places where the work is not expected, where [encountering it] feels like coincidence. Or you’re actively trying to search for this treasure, if you know what it is.
But that’s only one perspective on street art. There’s also this interesting conversation that happens in those neighborhoods that have presences. You’re working together, and you’re constantly building this surface.
Street art occupies or even intrudes on people’s visual space. How is this any different from advertising?
[It] has to do with the difficulty of the image. If the image is not immediately readable and the message is not immediately conveyed [it’s probably art]—with artwork on the street there are more points of access, and it’s more difficult and ambiguous than advertising and political propaganda. I mean, their objective is to make the message happen.
Street artists often profess this war of conscience around the gallery/street issue, but you don’t seem to share those conflicts.
My perspective is I get up, I do work in the street, and I try to make it good and valuable, so that the experiences augment each other. Institutions provide certain opportunities but you have to go through these filters. There are no filters in street art—except for the obvious one, the law. Beyond that, there’s no curator deciding where you put up work, how you put up work…
Institutions provide other opportunities. If there’s this populous notion of ‘I want to show my work to as many people as possible’—you’re going to get that done a lot better institutionally. You may get a lot of passerby on the street, but think about how many people move through The Met each day.
And you’re willing to engage the institutions?
What’s interesting, you have these artists that profess they’re not connected in any way to institutions, yet they all graduated from art school. I think that institutionally, schools are more powerful than museums…because they establish that initial place, they are that gateway. And while institutions define and control definitions of art…their role is to establish and build. I don’t think there’s anything comparable on the street. There’s not this alternative institution that has grabbed much of an audience. I feel like it’s building through the internet, like the internet has provided much of the framework and the fabric to have a following that doesn’t necessitate coming inside [a museum], but still, they [the internet and museums] are not even comparable.
There’s so much debate about street art versus galleries, but as you just pointed out, the internet is an alternative exhibit space. What is the internet’s role in street art?
Street art is tracked on the internet, so in that sense, it occurs there. You couldn’t hope for a more intimate space…you’re in someone’s home, you’re an image that they’ve sought after and delved into—its like all those guys from London who see Brooklyn through a screen and think, ‘Brooklyn is the street art mecca, we’re going to name our kids after Brooklyn and get thank you letters for collecting artwork on Brooklyn Chinese menus’—there’s that whole sort of romance conveyed through the screen. It’s basically the relationship or dichotomy between documented experience and experienced experience. I’ve had people come from Los Angeles, and they were like, ‘when I came to New York, I thought I was going to be seeing street art everywhere,’ and honestly the scene is really quiet now.
When did things start quieting down?
I think a year ago. Maybe that’s really self-absorbed because that’s when I left [New York]…but I’m always on flicker searching for new pieces…maybe a year and a half ago Bass stopped doing as much work, and Swoon is all over the place, Faile’s just altogether no more…there’s always a vacuum that needs to be filled. There’s enough of a network that’s been established, it seems that when certain artists quiet down, there’s always other artists that strategically and coincidentally arrive. Dane and Cake started getting up like crazy, but that’s just the energy of being new to the scene. You always see it, even in writing. You see a writer that gets up really hard, and you always know they can’t maintain that energy. When I first started, I was the same way, I was getting up like 3, 4 times a week, printing all the time, dedicating all my [high school] summers to it.
Now I’m making really specific pieces—just right now—but that energy is something different. And when you have a lot of artists doing gallery work, it’s a logistical thing. There’s just not enough time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview with Gaia tomorrow.