Hyland Mather of Andenken Gallery, Amsterdam, recently visited NYC artist, Gilf, at her soon to be no longer living and studio space in Bushwick. They had a few beers and ate some tacos at the local tortilla factory.
Hyland – You’re getting kicked out of your Bushwick place, huh? What gives? Tell the story.
Gilf – Bah – same old artist fairytale. I moved into a space 6 years ago that was large enough to work in and cheap enough to rent. I threw some murals up on the walls around my neighborhood before I realized I was part of the problem. I abruptly stopped when I saw the blatant capitalization of the community I helped build. I’m getting gentrified anyway, along with thousands of others. Now I’m moving to a new spot and will actively choose not to be such a damning force the second time around.
H – How do you deal with the idea that Bushwick kind of made it’s own grave by becoming too cool?
G – It all started so innocently. We just wanted to paint. I remember banging on doors with Bishop in 2011-12, and people were aghast that we wanted to put paint on their shitty walls, they didn’t want to be bothered with stupid artists. Now they’re getting paid for hand painted advertising. I think what makes this situation so insane is how rapidly it happened. The rental ‘market value’ in this neighborhood has doubled in 8 years. That’s just utter speculation, and by no means sustainable for any income group.
H – This age old story of artists making a hood too good for their own good, is a win / lose scenario, whereby culture sharks reap the benefits of culture-making artists. How do you think artists who desire to use the street as a venue, prevent themselves from being priced out of the neighborhoods they make better?
G – Well, we have to be active members of the community. Go to the board meetings, demand legislation to protect small businesses, prevent mass evictions, develop and sustain affordable housing. Protest when you need to make noise. I learned that too late in the game this time around – Bushwick was too far gone before I realized how to be most effective. I’m looking forward to getting it right next time.
H – In your interview with 12oz last year, you said ‘But it’s virtually impossible to create social change from a hut in the woods. So I’ll stick it out and stick it to ‘em with every dollar I make.’ Now, from what you’ve told me, I understand you’re thinking of moving up to Hudson after you lose your space to your apartment overlords. That sounds pretty scary for you. To leave the front lines of the gentrification issue, not to mention other important issues in New York and make your battle plans from yonder. Are you nervous that you’ll lose the voice you’ve worked hard to build in New York?
G – Nah, not at actually. I think I’ve grown a lot since that statement. To be completely honest I’ve been hustling so hard just to pay rent the last few years that my artistic practice has suffered tremendously. Having a large studio, and reasonable rent will be a gigantic win for me. The clarity of silence and nature will change my work dramatically. To have not only the physical space, but also the mental and financial space to take my time and consider what projects and ideas I want to pursue vs. just reacting to the madness of this town will be a significant shift in my practice. I really can’t wait to see how I grow. It’s time. I’ve outgrown this.
H – How do you see a life upstate in Hudson affecting your politically-charged work overall? Do you think you’ll take on similar issues for the people of a less populated area? Or do you see yourself taking on new political issues there that need addressing?
G – I will always create work that is relevant to my community, my experiences. I see a transition happening with my work as I move through the stages of losing my Brooklyn life. I’ve spent so many years of my career fighting back, working to push back against a system that is so monolithic and I changed very little. I’ve never been happy with the idea of ‘well maybe I affected one or two people and that’s enough.’ You will never hear me say that. So this formula is ineffective for me as an artist who truly believes it’s my duty to effect significant change.
What I’m seeing with this shift to a smaller community is that it’s time to use my energy to guide people away from this monstrosity of a broken societal structure and show how life can be lived differently. I’m not sure how that will take shape yet, but to guide away from an ineffective societal norm to new, better ways of living, creating, and interacting is incredibly interesting to me.
H – Your easily recognizable, highly crafted ‘maze’ font-style of slogan writing has been your visual ‘bread and butter’, even though projects like wrapping 5Pointz with the ‘Gentrification In Progress’ banners has probably gotten more press . Personally, I think these ‘maze’ slogans are most effective when they are positive slogans, like that huge one in Dumbo, ‘Trust Your Vision’. Is it difficult to be both an activist maker, and make slogans that show a positive outlook?
G – I believe, for the most part, that activists are tremendously positive people. As activists we are hustling to make the world a more just, safe place. We may be more vocal, and are more public about our emotions, but I think that comes from an undying urge to demand a better world. Where others choose apathy because it’s really hard to face the atrocious facts of how fucked our world is today, there are some of us that choose to face it, and outthink it. I don’t necessarily think that’s negative – we’re just willing to call it out when others choose to look away. If anything, demanding for it to be different isn’t negative at all because we believe change is possible. Those choosing to ignore issues because ‘it’s a lost cause’ or ‘one person can’t make a difference’ in my opinion are saturated in a negative belief system that things can’t change. I just don’t buy that, when we are active participants in our worlds, tremendous things can happen.
H – No two ways about it, you’re a ‘thinky’ artist. A gallery work like ‘Formula For Disaster’ is a powerful piece which seems to me to be about the kinds of shit we give our children as nourishment. It’s a really strong piece. One thing that has to be tough for you is to make work that is witty and politically pointed without coming off like a punch line. I think you do that well. At what point does your activist message take a back seat to your aesthetic integrity, or vice versa?
G – I don’t really over think it. I get an idea for a work and I just make it happen. I find that when I’m overcome with inspiration I don’t mess with things much and just allow the inspiration to become reality. That is so satisfying as an artist, and truly when I make my best work.
Check out more of GILF’s work here:
And Hyland Mather’s own artwork here: