Q&A: Gaby Sahhar

'The exhibition considers how an artwork's presence is in a perpetual state of flux'

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection's London space aims to capture the ever-changing presence of an artwork and how it constantly evolves from conception and fabrication to eventual display and archive. The exhibition has been curated by students from Goldsmiths' MFA Curating course and The Cass London Met University, and what's really special is their choice to exhibit both established and young, emerging artists alongside each other.

This space is an atmospheric location for the exhibition, it was once a Methodist Chapel built 1867-71, and is far from a typical four-white-walls gallery. Each work has been carefully positioned in relationship to its neighbour, some in clusters according to the work's own personal journey and history. Gazing up at the cavernous main room or winding through its narrow back corridors I found myself captivated by the space itself, while each of these works have their own unique story, they also seem to contribute to and soak up a new history specific to their surroundings.

Gaby Sahhar is one of the youngest exhibitors, on display are two pieces from his We are becoming the horse series including his short film, I got the chance to catch up with him at the opening night and talk to him about his excitingly original and dynamic practice.

Above: London based Artist Gaby Sahhar at Zabludowicz Collection

What was the idea behind the We are becoming the horse series, what was it about horses that interested you?

Filmed between London and Tokyo, We are becoming the horse is a projective work that suggests that humanity is approaching a state of redundancy with the evolution and standardisation of technology as a new model. Using my original footage of abandoned horses on the Thamesmead estate and of rush-hour in modern-day Tokyo, it explores the marginalized and redundant status of the horse in a society it helped to build, aligning this equine plight to the human condition. The glitch-aesthetics of the video combined with the broken down display screen and surveillance sculpture take the conversation further, revealing technology itself as an unreliable and vulnerable body. 

Above: Stills from the We are becoming the horse film

I’ve seen some photographs showing how you created the Lake series which are really atmospheric, can you talk me through the process?

I was making a lot of paintings about different forms of energy in the body and exploring the different waves of energy we experience. Originally when I produced the paintings I wanted them to feel extremely fluid and to depict all the forms of energy we experience on the spectrum, from hyperactivity to irritation and energy driven anger. I eventually began to understand that energy in the body was an over controlling thing, which I tried to show in the paintings by using paints such as enamel blacks and inks. However, after making the paintings and seeing them side by side in the studio I wasn’t pleased with them and they didn’t seem to be fluid at all or very energetic or reference the body, so I decided to be self-destructive and take them to a lake - an environment which I saw as very fluid and still dominated by nature, not humans. I then decided to walk into the lakes with my paintings and started drowning them under the water whilst also getting myself very wet and cold in November. I was so much happier with the result as everything felt heightened by the environment afterwards. The paintings in the lake had connotations of body’s now, and the water magnified the colours. To date I think it is still one of the best works I have ever done.

Your work seems really diverse and experimental, is there any particular influence or theme that links it?

My practice consists of film, sculpture, painting and installation. I am driven by environments, humans and animals and in particular the emotional impact that 21st century life in the city has on humans and how our species adapts to it, creating odd narratives in site-specific locations to express this. I often use animal analogies as a metaphor for these themes. 

Above: Images from the Lake series

You seem to take a lot of risks with your work especially as it's so diverse ... are there any challenges?

Sometimes it feels like my practice is one big challenge. Often when I am making site-specific work it can be dangerous if I don’t fully understand my surroundings. I often re-visit places where I know I am going to be doing a lot of work to ensure the best results. I also seem to develop ideas which are a struggle to realise in real life. Adapting my ideas can be hard, especially working in a timescale when you’re studying. More recently, filming wild horses has been a bit of a challenge, I have had to learn a lot about horses to know how to approach them and learning how not to startle them when you’re holding a lens to their face.

Gaby has exhibited and worked collaboratively on shows such as Invisible Hours at SLG 2014, De/Construct at Whitechapel Gallery 2014, Deep within the Bosom of the Night at Harts Lane Studios 2014, Artcube 2014/2012, and Frieze London 2014/2013. He also designed a TATE limited edition handset for Vodafone UK in 2012.

Visit Gaby's website to below find out more about his unique and compelling practice

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection is on now until 22 February and free, it's an exciting show in an amazing space so catch it while you can

More info here