Audible fragments amid the noise: An interview with GA Gardner

By Marsha Pearce Thursday, September 25th, 2014 Categories: Exhibitions, Features, Updates
 

Caribbean-born artist GA Gardner will display his work along with Maya Freelon Asante (USA) and Choichun Leung (UK) in the group show entitled Timeless Remnants. The exhibition opens on September 26, 2014 at Morton Fine Art (MFA) in Washington DC. Gardner migrated from his birthplace of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to North America in 1988, where he earned a BA in Visual Arts and an MA from San Francisco State University. He was also awarded a doctoral degree in Art Education from Ohio State University.

Gardner’s contemporary art practice homes in on the colossal machine of mass media and the messages it churns out. He extracts bits of information, dislodging them from specific moments in time to create new narratives; new points of identification and fresh collages of meaning that have personal and collective resonance. In the lead up to the show at MFA, Gardner shares insights into his art, revealing the influence of his life in and travels between the Caribbean and the U.S., his navigation of the terrain of randomness, and his engagement with the territory of patterns. The artist also speaks about the significance of timelessness in his work and his commitment to making Caribbean and African identities audible amid a din of Western communications.

GA Gardner working on ‘Curious’. All photographs courtesy GA Gardner.

Marsha Pearce: The exhibition Timeless Remnants seems to draw on discourses of psychology, including the work of such thinkers as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud posited the idea of “archaic remnants” or an “archaic heritage which a child brings with him [or her] into the world” (1940, p167). Jung also proposed his ideas. In addition to what he saw as a personal unconscious, which serves as a repository of experiences that are unique to each person, Jung asserted the notion of a second psychic system. He called this second system the collective unconscious and described it as that which is inherited. Does your work engage with a universal inheritance that you are deliberately making conscious with your art? If so, what do you see as that inheritance and how do you attend to it in your creative practice?

GA Gardner: I believe that I, like all human beings, am influenced by what has come before me. That might mean the personal structure of my familial ties, as well as the influences of artists before me. I don’t believe that any human being or artist for that matter, can create in a vacuum. I see my inheritance, if you want to call it that, as one that is traced back to my African roots at the primal level and to my Caribbean heritage, most recently. That is overlaid with my experience in the United States, where I have spent most of my adult years. So, I call on all of these influences, this inheritance – this collective unconscious – in my work. I use the rhythms and colours of Africa and the Caribbean to filter the “sounds” and “expressions” of America’s global communication machine.

'So You'. GA Gardner. 65" x 42". Mixed media on mylar Photo credit: GA Gardner

‘So You’. GA Gardner. 65″ x 42″. Mixed media on mylar.

MP: You seem to be foregrounding a specific collective unconscious; or pinpointing specific groups – African and Caribbean people. I am thinking though, about your attention to a global proliferation of media and messages in your art. Are we perhaps more and more the inheritors of a cacophony of media messages? Do you see that as an inheritance that is largely unconscious and one that goes beyond African and Caribbean “boundaries”?

GAG: Yes, that particularly applies in the 21st century, with the global reach and access of media messages.

'Indulge'. GA Gardner.  66" x42". Mixed media on mylar. Photo credit: GA Gardner

‘Indulge’. GA Gardner. 66″ x42″. Mixed media on mylar.

MP: I want to return to Jung as a reference point. According to Jung, the collective unconscious is said to be expressed through archetypes or patterns. Can you talk about the role of patterns in your work?

GAG: Patterns are a fundamental component of my work. They often emerge from randomness as information is literally sliced out of context to form a montage of images that carries random conversations. These overall patterns and shapes are replicated from ancient African and modern Caribbean design. Like the Kuba people of central Africa I am interested in the construct of pattern and design. In addition, I find and use contemporary materials and I add a Caribbean colour palette to create art that best symbolizes our current state of being. Though I allow the process to lead, I commit to cultural forms and lines – for example, the geometric foms and lines that are inherent to cultures like that of the Kuba people – as guides for the direction of a piece. This does allow patterns to emerge uninhibited from my work. This is the magic of the creative process – a life, seemingly of its own, that the artistic endeavour engenders.

Happy_medium-small

‘Happy Lines’. GA Gardner. 55″x42″. Mixed media on mylar.

MP: Your visual amalgams of material remnants seem time consuming. How does the passage of time factor into your work? How might the concept of timelessness enter your visual statements?

GAG: Since my work reinvents and reinterprets material, timelessness is at the center of my creative expression. Once I have disassociated material from its former use and place in time, I allow it to flow free; to be unfettered from the moment it was created, or from any limitations of space or time. The repurposing of these fragments of communication produces an ageless, timeless new identity, which frees my work from temporal boundaries.

'Curious'. GA Gardner. Mixed media. Photo credit: GA Gardner

‘Curious’. GA Gardner. Mixed media.

MP: You live and work in the Caribbean and the USA. What is it that remains with you as you move between those spaces and how do those remnants of experience in both spaces inform your work?

GAG: My work is conceptual; it represents the struggle for identity that we all face in the midst of globalization – chiefly, the dominance of Western influences and the struggle to be heard amongst all the noise of media. This is apparent in my travels; therefore I am compelled to represent this conflict in my art.  I am not one who watches TV nor am I a news junky; I try my best to tune these elements out of my life. The very nature of going between these two countries reinforces the need for the messages in my art.  It is born of the fact that we in the Caribbean consume so much foreign media that we are often at a loss for our personal and cultural identity.

I bring the printed content of North America’s vast media machine to the Caribbean and recycle it, extracting its artificial hues, and often add a rich colour palette found naturally in my Caribbean surroundings. This is the synergy I want in my art. I am making a statement that despite the dominance of Western media, Africa and the Caribbean will be heard – at least through the colour palette and patterns in my mixed media art.

The exhibition Timeless Remnants runs from September 26 to October 17, 2014 at Morton Fine Art, Washington, DC, USA.

To learn more about GA Gardner and his visual arts practice, visit his website.

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.