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Meet James Gilbert

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Gilbert.

Thanks for sharing your story with us James. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I’ve always made objects, drawings or narratives but I didn’t know why other than I just wanted to make them. I didn’t know it was possible to choose a career as an artist.

The day that I realized that I could make objects but have them be about something I was thinking, or they were a visual to my experiences or they activated my biography, it became exciting. I wanted my work to have a reason why it should exist as an object could I make? I wanted the challenge. For me, it came down to understanding biography and history.

When I think about my ancestors, I knew nothing of my family history other than a few names. I wanted to know how we became who we are. There had to be a better way to understand how our influences and relationships inform what define each of us – our longevity.

I specifically recall thinking, at a young age, about that word – longevity. It was a question that I was asking about books, music, art, films – what makes them have longevity?  It was that certain human interactions and emotions are timeless.

Longevity is a concept that exists because we are still searching to define or understand basic human needs, rights or behaviors. Even with empirical research, the study of history, philosophy, art, we still can’t define love, for instance. I want to explore those ideas: what are the visible and invisible fabrics that have made us who we are today; what should we preserve, what is worthy of protection, care and attention and what has become redundant in the articulation of our humanity.

What is the value and what do we really know about the ancient symbols which embody universal meanings and basic human experiences, regardless of when or where we live; how do stories of quests, initiations, scapegoats, personality, gender, power are transmitted and what can we infer from the prioritizing of the salvaging of some stories over other by human behaviors and governments’ policies.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I feel it is essential for any artist to have a point of view that specifically defines their work. To do this one must forever be themselves but have something to say that adds to greater dialogue. It’s easy to duplicate what has been done before and what appears successful – those ideas are easy because they have been proven in the context of history, museums, consumerism. A greater challenge is to be unique.

For many, the idea of familiarity is the safest route and doesn’t demand extra attention one’s own life. Ask yourself what do I wear, listen to, like to do, well, often times it is what you already know. Introduction to new ideas can be exciting, but for the creator, they can come with a need to educate, build a dialogue, exchange ideas that can be difficult when attention spans appear to become shorter every day.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I interpret my ideas in environments, often working in a series of objects, large quantities, and installations that may also incorporate video, sound, drawing or performance. I approach my work as an effort toward better understanding history, my personal biography and the communities where we live and work but also where we travel.

I have a fascination by trying to create a visual document of who we are right now and how we became this way. Where we come from and the dynamics that influence it, how we use it in reaction to social structures and the relationships that either benefit or become apprehensive by it.

Responding to information presented by way of news, politics, personalities, and cultural events, which collide daily in an abundant global mash up and define a period in our collective history and cultural understanding. The systematic destruction of heritage as an attempt to destroy cultural diversity through religious or ideological reasoning, political agenda, activism or cultural curation has caused me to reflect on our ancestors and connective longevity.

Past work on identity includes themes such as disaster, abuse of power, civil liberties, economics, and mortality. Each is presented through my own visual defense mechanism, perhaps light-hearted and with a sense of humor to aid in my comprehension of complex topics. Whereas the disaster may also be a playground, civil liberties a carnival game, internal structures become externally nomadic, or protective barriers become the symbolic object they are protecting. I regard the work as a series of questions.

With all things said, I’d say I’ve had luck and recognition for three main projects which bring humor to complex and contemporary questions on identity: making pervy plastic underpants (identity in social media), pink sandbag installations (cultural identity related to place and architecture), and my current sculptures (cultural identity related to historical objects that have symbolic or ritualistic meaning).

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Waiting for luck is like waiting for inspiration – both will disappoint you. Ultimately, you need to get to work, you need to remain curious and engaged. Ask yourself, would you go to work every day if you weren’t paid to do it? I do it every day, that’s my work ethic. Working creates luck because you are ready for it if it arrives.

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