Mundo Gordín – Sebastián Gordín

No. 2 – May 2004

Sebastian Gordin is one of the most interesting artists from the current scene. Laura Batkis explains how at the age of 34 he managed to generate a unique style that can be seen in Historias asombrosas (Amazing stories), his exhibition at Ruth Benzacar gallery, with the original drawings that he made for Tatuado (Tattooed), the film by Eduardo Raspo. 

Laura Batkis: How did you choose the pieces for the exhibition “Historias asombrosas“? 

Sebastian Gordín: Marcelo Pombo helped me. I was lost, because I had two sets of drawings. Some more spontaneous and others more intimate and more focused on one format. I didn’t know what to show, and Pombo helped me decide which ones were more precise. They are watercolors on paper, legal size paper. 

LB: What do you make reference to in these stories? 

SG: I begin with the covers of old American science fiction and fantasy magazines, from the 1920s and 30s. I mix those titles with everyday and easy to solve situations, which in reality completely lack mystery. There is a film director called Eduardo Raspo, who is making his first feature film.  In this film, which is called Tatuado, Kipling’s Jungle Book is featured as an object. I made the illustrations for the book. The original drawings are also in the exhibition. That’s why I put an excerpt from Kipling’s book as a reference in the catalog. 

LB: In the meantime you are working on a piece for the Petrobras Prize for visual arts for arteBA. [He shows me the model].

SG: Yes, it is the fragment of a destroyed city. There is a building in ruins and in flames. The flames are going to be made out of wood, with fire advancing through the walls. Everything is being destroyed. On the second floor, you will see a small fire through the window, and everything else will be dark. There is another building, also in ruins, and in which only the bathrooms are going to be seen; water is coming out of the electrical outlets instead of through the broken pipes, like in the Three Stooges movies. 

LB: It has a strange surrealistic tone.

SG: And even more in the, let’s say, anecdotal portion. The narrative part of this work happens with characters that are inside and that have cut off, large, disproportionate limbs.  A head and a foot and little people walking inside. As if a giant had passed by before the earthquake and the bombing occurred. And those little men set up their shelter in the gaps of those shattered bodies.

LB: You tell me about your work and I feel like I’m watching a horror movie, a hecatomb.

SG: I make up a story, I think of things, that maybe in the final version can change. I don’t know where that nightmarish tone comes from.  I take some things from Hieronymus Bosch, with all the mutations of the fantastic world. The changes of scale in my work give place to different interpretations. Nobody can know for sure if they are giant miniatures or reduced versions of something monumental. 

LB: Give me an example of how you come up with solutions for your works.

SG: I have been thinking all these days about what the floor of this work was going to look like. I didn’t have any ideas. And yesterday I had to go to a place far away, I had a long bus ride, so I took something to read. I took the book Skin Deep by Charles Burns, a comic book artist.  I was interested in the treatment of the floor in the illustration located on the cover, a kind of garbage dump, maybe I’ll use it in my piece. 

LB: How do you activate your world when you are asked to produce a work for an exhibition or a prize?

SG: I have more artworks prepared in folders than the ones I can produce. I’m not a fountain of new ideas, it’s just that I work very slowly, so during the time that takes me to make a new piece I investigate different possibilities, especially regarding materials, and I take advantage of that for the next piece. It is very difficult for me not to know what to do when I finish an  artwork [We pause because he has to glue a door in the artwork he is doing, and he can’t let the contact glue dry]. We continue… 

LB: These sketches, what do they look like? 

SG: It’s something mixed between drawings and text. They are situations. 

LB: [Gordín shows me his folder- laboratory of ideas, I grab it and read this on a sheet of paper: “This is a scientific question: can people and little cars disappear without leaving a trace?”]

SG: This originally involved two people picking up some buildings and looking for people and cars. The phrase came from the television. Since I work with the television on, I suddenly hear things that I write down later, even though it is not exactly what they said. I heard this phrase on Infinito channel, and I thought it was a good question. [He looks at the door he just glued in his work: “oh how stupid, I didn’t glue the door correctly, well, it doesnt matter”]

He looks at another sheet of paper in the folder and tells me: these were sketches for some soldiers who were going to carry Gulliver in handcuffs, dragging him around, tied to some UFO’s… Generally what’s left in those folders are delusions that I think I might continue someday if I had more time. We keep looking at sketches: Here there are dog owners with their dogs, they were going to be little sculptures. Here is another project I was going to do with Fabio Kacero: a firm that had Kacero’s works on display. But generally I don’t resort to this “portfolio of ideas”. Surely some of this will be in my works.  

When I don’t know what to do, I usually draw soccer players.

LB: Do you get up at night to write an idea? 

SG: No. I don’t have many outbursts of inspiration, you know. I used to.  

LB: In your work there are many distressing situations.  

SG: Yes, there are always a lot of people dying. Places that have been razed to the ground and destroyed, fire, burning. 

LB: Are you interested in having your work related to the helplessness of today’s world and those kinds of interpretations that look for a reflection of reality in your works? 

SG: I think that I will never tell myself “I’m going to work on the themes of everyday life”. I know there are people who do. And think “I’m going to try to make art reach people through certain mechanisms and talk about certain things”… It’s not necessary, because given the fact that I live here, I’m naturally and necessarily impregnated with what happens. I never ask myself what the purpose of art is, and those kinds of questions, I don’t feel that pressure.  I don’t think that art has to follow the times we live in all the time. It can be the reflection of a moment that was lived 20 years ago, 100 or 500 years ago. It is as easy to see in my work an artist who is not very committed to social reality as well as the opposite. 

LB: And you enjoy that boundary, that people can make all those interpretations. 

SG: No. I like to see when there are interpretations that know how to dissect the work and see where each part comes from. Like someone who eats and knows how to recognize an ingredient.  Like when a chef makes an effort and someone tells him you put cloves in this, and it’s very subtle, but the guest realized it. Anyway, each person perceives the works according to his or her own ideas, and that’s fine, I listen to them. 

LB: I can picture you watching the Saturday afternoon horror movies, with those cardboard monsters.  

SG: Yes, I have those memories, but the materials also help me a lot when I think about a piece. When I bought these root wood sheets, those drawings on the wood looked like fire to me, and I thought that maybe one day I will use them. And I’m using them now. The material helps me develop an idea. 

LB: Can you tell me what you read? 

SG: Almost nothing at the moment.  I feel that I need to process the information I received over the years and make my own work out of it. I’m too permeable to things I see, and there comes a moment when I feel I can’t absorb any more. Since the materials give me a lot of sustenance in my work, I travel around more than I read. I go around Congress, the city center, I go into small businesses of paint, acrylic, screws or electronics. That is my center of operations. 

LB: In other times, everything that was outside was more interesting to you. 

SG: Yes, I used to go to the movies, read comic books. My favorites are: Robert Crumb, Winsor McCay, Wolverton, Jim Woodring, Gary Panter. B-movies interested me a lot because of the mutations. Also the post-Hiroshima era with the paranoia of genetic transformations caused by radiation. I had a period of humorous terror, a genre that I abandoned. I stopped watching B-movies as “bizarre” and started seeing them as bad movies. And I began to get tired of watching bad movies. That bizarre thing only happens in the cinema. In other arts, like visual arts, there is no cult of bizarre painting, where people go to an exhibition and say how bad this painter is and they laugh at what supposedly is well done but is badly done. 

LB: And do you think the same about directors of Dogma, with their use of the camera and shots?

SG: I did not watch much. I remember Dancer in the Dark, the one that starred Björk. The film is good, but it seems to me that they could have let her live. It was already quite a lot with everything that had happened to her. We watched it with Vanna, my wife, and my daughter Gaia who was 2 months old at the time. She was in my arms asleep. And I was in anguish, she was waking up, I was trying to put her to sleep. It was an enormous effort to get to that end and then feel anguished all week long. It was excessive. 

LB: You told me that you now have a phrase, and that it is ” I don’t go to the movies”. 

SG: Yes, it’s an answer I give so that they don’t ask me that question any more. When I go to the stadium with 3 friends, two of them talk the whole game about books and movies. They always ask me, did you see that movie? And my answer was always no. That’s why I started to say “I don’t go to the movies”. But I’m not isolated from the world, I need it, because I don’t trust my imagination that much. I look for sources of information elsewhere. I realized that I’ve stopped consuming cultural production l in a systematic way. I created my own discography and my own record library until I was 25 years old. Talking Heads, Ska, I say this and I feel like an old man. Without going as far as saying the famous phrase “90% of everything is shit”- it’s someone else’s phrase, it’s not mine- I would tell you that there are actually more things that you hate than the things that you love. What I like about that sentence is the subjectivity of that statement, which is a feeling that everybody has but nobody can say very well why. 

LB: Which artists interest you?

SG: Locally, the “most talked about trio”: Miguel Harte, Marcelo Pombo and Pablo Suárez.  I am like a groupie and they are my rock band. From abroad I like Ron Mueck, Matthew Barney, Paul McCarthy, Alain Séchas and Niki de Saint Phalle.  

LB: Where does your interest for architecture come from? 

SG: I feel a need to locate my works in the place where I live. Here my reference is not nature, the mountain or the river. And when nature appears, I make it out of wood or bronze, in other words, I link it to architecture and to things. Everything goes through a filter that is my style manual, and I am very rigorous in that. 

LB: How would you define this “Gordín style”?

SG: As a way of reconstructing everything that is already built, of talking about everything that has already been talked about, of taking materials that were used for one thing and transforming them into another, of looking for similarities between the world in a 1 in 1 scale and the world in a 1 in 20 scale. My world is another way of reproducing the world. 

Gordín by his colleagues and admirers: 

Marcelo Pombo (artist, in relation to the exhibition “Historias Asombrosas”).

“I love Gordín and his work ever since I’ve seen it. He asked for my advice because he could not decide between a group of simple and pure drawings or another of small watercolors more anecdotal and mysterious, with a lot more work and more linked to the exquisite formal beauty of his sculptures or objects. I advised him to show these last ones.  I believe that, for many reasons, we agree on our current predilection for sincere seduction rather than for the genius format of contemporary art”.

Miguel Harte (artist) 

“Few times do I enjoy shows like I do with Sebastian’s. With the Mundo Gordín I feel enchantment, something between the astonishment that children have when they listen to a story and the fascination in front of the new toy. Sebas always invents and uses everything, he is an engineer, an illuminator, a cabinetmaker, an architect and much more. And I think he tries to convince me that his things will take on a life of their own in any moment. He is one of the most passionate and honest artists I know. And I’m impressed that his language has been so solid for so long and at the same time has so many formal variations. His stuff is unsettling. Sometimes nostalgic or desolate, acidic, mocking or dense, they never lose their grace, they are always fresh. What else can I say? The truth is that he is one of a kind, out-of-the-ordinary.”

Pablo Suárez (artist)

“I found the stadium when the game was over. The green grass of the field, speckled with little papers, still retained the eyes of a few fans who sat in the stands waiting perhaps for some unforgettable dribble. I squeezed my way through and crossed the small square dominated by the figure of a monumental platypus, who, standing on its hind quarters, carries in its arms the lifeless body of a young man. I was looking for the bar El Dor, which had fascinated me on my first visit, when unexpectedly, in the dim light of dusk, I ended up in the square of the executed. Ghostly figures hung from the gallows, swaying in the gentle breeze. The macabre spectacle made me retreat. I remember wandering for a long time through the almost Gothic streets, lost and with no one to give me any indication. I gave up trying to make the young woman in the nightgown talk, who, surely a victim of sleepwalking, remained motionless in the dark corner.  I left behind the disturbing, almost vampiresque apparition and proceeded on my way, hesitant and somewhat fearful, because Mundo Gordin is huge and diverse, and in it one can get lost forever.”