Thursday Spotlight: Isabelle Garbani

Tell us about your background.

I originally was a scenic painter in theater, but realized along the way that I like working alone better. I’m not sure that my personality is suited to work in a group project! I decided to go back to school in 2002 to get an art degree in sculpture from the New York Academy of Art. I like the idea of sculpture because it has a physicality to it, which somehow goes hand in hand with my high energy level. Lately, I’m moving more and more toward large scale public installations, and re-introducing my theater background into the work, mostly so far by inviting the public to participate in the art making process.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

More than famous artists, my main source of motivation comes from my peers and where I live and work. When I go into my studio, which is a small complex of individual artists’ studios, I get energized by the work I see. New York also has that same energy: every one moves here to “make it”, whether they are actors, musicians or fine artists. So every one is motivated and active, which in turn also motivates me and keeps me going. My peers are influential because all my contemporaries are trying to make sense of a changing art world and finding their way. I lately experienced a sound art installation by my friend Yenting Hsu when I was in a residency program that expanded my thoughts about art more than I expected.

But to name a few shows that I have seen that have affected me quite a lot: David Smith, Cai Guo-Qiang both at the Guggenheim, and Jenny Holzer at the Whitney.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

My ideas come from a wide range of places: conversations with friends, literature, my emotional state. Knit for Trees, for example, came from anger at our apathy toward changing out environmental policy. I wasn’t particularly thinking about art that day, I was mostly having an argument in my head with folks that don’t believe in global warming! My latest project is a direct reaction to reading the ancient tale of Gilgamesh which left a very deep impression on me: it made me think about loss and time, and the fact that our digital stories may not survive the same way as a simple process like clay tablets have. Ideas seem to prop up unexpectedly, when I’m not trying to think of an art project, so I always make sure I have a small notebook with me and jot down ideas as they occur. Later, I make prototypes and edit the ideas. Some survive the second stage, most don’t.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

I mainly work with plastic bags. After I graduated from school, I really wanted to have a sculptural material that would be representative of our cultural values, and plastic bags, to me were ideal. It took me a very long time to experiment with them to find ways to actually make art with this material. Plastic bags are soft, and sculpture needs a sturdier medium so there was a huge challenge there. As a fluke, I took a weaving class, and I had a “Eureka” moment. Traditional crafts such as weaving, knitting, crochet and lace were going to enable to manipulate the material in a sculptural way. I knew how to knit, and I taught myself how to crochet from YouTube videos!

As I stated before, when I have an idea, I make prototypes with plastic, trying to find the best process for what I want to do, and finding out if there’s a better way. The Internet has been a invaluable tool, because I can search for new processes and watch videos to teach myself those new methods and crafts.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?

Time management is my biggest challenge. I love being in New York but the city is so expensive that I have to spend a lot of time generating income, which takes studio time away. After I came back from my residency, I re-adjusted my schedule again, so I would have longer stretches of uninterrupted time in the studio, even if I wasn’t productive the entire time. I also think that being relaxed and happy works better for me: I can think better and be more productive when I have no stress in my life or no deadline.

The best part of being creative is feeling a deeper connection with the world. My thoughts and emotions are out there and people can react to it, even if the reaction is negative, it is a reaction, so the world is not indifferent to what I do.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Everyone has different goals, so giving advice is a little tricky. But I think that if you want to be an artist, you need to challenge yourself, and not worry too much about following a pre-determined path. If galleries don’t accept your work, don’t change the work to please the commercial world, find another avenue where people can see the work and appreciate it.

I also think it’s important to not worry about money: I have seen many artists who became financially very successful with particular works, and I find that they stop growing as artists because their galleries demand more of that type of work, and they get stuck in a particular style or themes. So if you do become commercially successful, it’s great, but don’t change your lifestyle and get used to the money because I think the work will suffer in the end, since you will want to make money as opposed to taking risks with your work. It’s really a lifetime dedication: art has to be above everything else.

Isabelle’s website
Isabelle on Facebook 

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