The Beauty In Rage: gilf!’s NYC Solo Show
Street artist gilf! talks art, activism, and anger as a creative force.
Ann Lewis, aka gilf!, spies a beauty in the broken. Whether out in the streets or in a gallery setting, her artwork cuts through the bullshit apathy of business as usual—politically and creatively. She is most widely known for her collaboration with BAMN last year, where she draped the newly whitewashed walls of 5Pointz with “Gentrification In Progress” crime scene tape. Just last week, she got up again, wrapping 190 Bowery and spots in Williamsburg in the same signature yellow police tape. This is not art as spectator sport. This is art as social intervention.
SHATTERING is gilf!’s first solo show at Joseph Gross Gallery in New York City. Running through Friday, June 5, it is the second phase in a 3-part series of participatory actions. The transformative power of rage is at its creative core. The show is a melding of interactive performance and sculptural objects, as well as a mixed-media installation that is a nod to those that record police activity on their cell phones. “In order to continuously build and strive for a just and healthy world” gilf! feels “we must shatter, then reconfigure, the systems with which we struggle.” With SHATTERING, she literally does just that. We recently caught up with the conceptual artist to talk activism, anger as a creative force and her solo show in greater detail.
Mass Appeal: How was the concept of SHATTERING born? gilf!: I was consoling a girlfriend after a recent break-up. I mentioned she’d feel better if she broke something. She couldn’t bring herself to do it but from there I considered what it would be like to give people an opportunity to release their anger in a gallery space and it kind of spiraled from there. Participatory art is so much more engaging and fun for the audience. There is something very powerful about creating intense experiences for people through art. Can you walk us through the three phases of the project? SHATTERING starts with participants in a private space in the gallery. Individually, they are asked to shatter a plate or a glass, which I’ve sourced from the free section on Craigslist. Once all the “performances” are complete, I sift through the thousands of shards, separating the glass and ceramic pieces. I develop [sculptural] works from the ceramics that I deem useful or valuable. The glass pieces are set aside for a collaborative public art piece that I have developed with the kids in a restorative justice program called Young New Yorkers. The shards will be used as an aggregate for a concrete sculpture we are hoping to place in Brooklyn once all of the funding is in place. Ultimately, I am trying to show that through our collective rage and frustration we can create new ideas out of the remnants of objects—or more broadly, power systems—that have been deemed worthless. It’s important to recognize the value in those things that seem worthless but perhaps in a new perspective still have something to offer. We live in this weird moment in human history where collectively we only seem to value the new, the shiny, the luxurious, the replaceable. That’s so backwards to me. There’s so much more intrigue and mystery in the overlooked—so much more potential for an interesting story.
What has your journey been like with anger as a creative force? I’ve chosen to use my anger as a source of power instead of allowing it to control me. I spent so many years of my life suppressing it and my frustrations with society that I was incapable of seeing anything else. I was absorbed, lost. After spending months observing and evaluating my process, I realized it was time to use that energy differently. Through my work, I’ve been able to translate those frustrations into dialogue, catharsis, and happiness. I think the bravery comes when facing one’s own rage. It can set off a chain reaction that allows someone to really reset their energy. My favorite part of this whole project is watching the initial anxiety of participants transform into pure joy and release.
Does community take precedence in your work? Say over concept or materials? I think community informs my concepts. I am constantly curious about cause and effect and the ability to transform society through art. That’s what drives me.
Social justice is a constant concern in what you do. When did you first identify as an activist? Has your work always about more than mere aesthetic? I think the second stencil I ever cut was of an Abu Ghraib prisoner being tortured. It has always been political. It has always been about creating a visual dialogue with complete strangers. I’ve been called an activist artist for years by people who know a lot more about art than I do. I personally identified as an activist artist maybe two years ago. The transition from street artist to activist artist is an interesting one. It always blows my mind how apolitical most street artists are with their work—even though the act of creating it is in and of itself defiant. I actually identify much more with the activist community than I do with the street art community these days.
Do you ever feel powerless when confronting these huge systemic issues? What keeps you buoyed? I think if I wasn’t making this type of work I would feel powerless. The work gives me an opportunity to harness my anger and transform it into something that can be a catalyst for change. *** SHATTERING is on view now through Friday, June 5, 2015 at Joseph Gross Gallery in NYC. Watch gilf! lay siege on some shit below.