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

Q&A: Nicky Giraffe

On the Road to the Sea is the first book from artist Nicola Adriana Rowlands  AKA Nicky Giraffe, showcasing Nicola’s contemporary photography alongside a collection of Victorian/Modernist poems. This unique pairing of Nicola’s own surreal, entrancing photographs and the poetry of Charlotte Mew is a beautiful intertwining of their two narratives. The book has already been shortlisted for its cover design by the British Book Design & Production Awards ’14.

On the Road to the Sea can be purchased here.

I caught up with the captivating Nicola at her recent book launch in Chelsea to discover more about her creative practice and inspirations.

How would you describe your work?

I call myself a surrealist artist … I am interested in the interaction between the imaginary and reality. I create to get to an emotional universal truth. I want to create work that is active, that projects and imbibes emotion onto the viewer through the composition and color. I hope that through my work I use a combination of reality and imaginary to transport people to somewhere they have been before or would like to/wouldn’t like to go. I guess it’s about communication and transportation from reality to a familiar surreality. Staging and choreography are inherent in my work as well. Most of my photography is preceded by drawings/sketches/stage design … so I suppose like poetry it’s a contrived image making process that hopefully results in something that appears more effortless and ephemeral.

What influenced your new series and book On the Road to the Sea?

The poetry of victorian/modernist/lesbian poet, Charlotte Mew. But on a formal level, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the colour palette in each separate series is influenced by a specific Rothko painting.

L-R: Untitled #1 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013 and Untitled #2 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013

How did you discover Charlotte Mew’s Poetry?

Charlotte, in an odd way found me, her poetry read as a visual language and posed questions about my own image-making processes and why I am a photographer. Charlotte and I were introduced by the poet Jane Weir, who looking at a montage of my photographs, intuitively drew a line between my work and Charlotte Mew's famed poem The Farmer's Bride. The montage was shot during my first trip to Derbyshire at the end of March. 

England's grey sky was cut open with ice-blue, black silhouettes of winter trees and lambs teetered on the hills, and I walked for my first time on the cusp of winter slipping to spring. It was an afternoon of revelation and the photographic sequence are a southern Californian's instinctive response to this northern European shock of nature in transition. In those moments I shot compulsively. It was as though I was translating, editing and creating my reactions through my lens, through my eye — but why photography? 

Answers came from this yellowed, well-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Bride, where I first read Charlotte's poem of the same title. Alongside my work the poet painted, framing herself into my experience; I recognized myself – the woman, 'flying like a hare', across the fields, escaping the farmer’s grasp, spoke of liberation. The same emotional release I experienced as I captured the photographs … my images, climaxing with a nude erected on a frost bitten wall. In its visual and linguistic representation of specific moments, poetry becomes photographic in its method and process, through the medium of poetic language. Photography and poetry, both devices of artifice, strive with impression and image to project and then communicate whatever preoccupations rise to the surface in the artist’s consciousness.

L-R: Untitled #2 from Fame, 2013 and Untitled #3 from Fame, 2013

What mediums do you work in? 

Photography and film. However, my work is preceded by writing, research, drawing and painting. When I say painting I mean sketching or storyboarding - with really cheap watercolours. For this project I spent a lot of time hunkered in the V&A library researching and getting yelled at for bringing paints into the library. For On the Road to the Sea I shot on 120 film with a Pentax 6 x 7, I processed and developed the film and prints myself. As most of my work is staged, I suppose you could say that people, costume, scenery are my mediums as well, all of which are placed within the frame. 

Do you think that growing up in LA informed your interest in film?

LA affected everything … that crazy, bizarre, beautiful, SURREAL place. It’s a place where make believe is taken seriously and it’s only when I left LA that I realised how engrained the idea of play, façade and hyperrealism is to my work. Growing up I was always in theatre and ballet, I know that this has had a huge impact on my work. I was lucky to have spent most of my academic years in after school arts programmes. I come from a theatrical family, my sister and I were always putting on shows, making movies and dressing up.

LAX from Greetings from ... Los Angeles

What are your challenges at the moment? 

At the moment, the biggest challenge is wearing so many hats! I mean, I love hats! But sometimes it gets frustrating, exhausting and confusing being your own business manager, assistant, PR person, mother, grandma, critic, doctor etc. I am coming off doing a show in LA, having my book published, finishing a film and screening it at festivals, and an exhibition here in London and finally it feels like a space has opened up for creating work again (which I hope speaks for itself).

I’m excited to get back into the trenches… But I feel incredibly lucky to be in total control of the creation and presentation of my work.

So … what’s next?

I have some ideas brewing … things are going to get a bit sculptural.

Check out the link below to explore the alluring world of Nicola Rowlands (aka Nicky Giraffe)