Liam GillickPhantom Structures
Interview by Kathleen Hefty

photography by Clement Pascal
interview by Kathleen Hefty



 Scorpion and Und et Felix, Installation view at Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York, 2012


Organised, methodical, pragmatist. Form law to art school, Liam Gillick take us to his world made of art galleries and architectural models.

For more than two decades, Liam Gillick has created installations and environments in galleries, museums, and site-specific locations throughout the world, drawing attention to concerns relating to production and consumption. His practice, in its entirety, extends far beyond the confines of physical context, consisting of an interconnected web of text, sculpture, writing, and curating preoccupied with the spatial and the social. The duality of his artistic output is no more apparent than in Phantom Structures, on view at Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York City through March 19, 2016. This exhibition of new work incorporates text-based works that respond to issues the artist has addressed and continued to explore over the past 15 years, presenting a framework that traces Gillick’s varied positions since the 1990s in the form of artist statements, essays, and other texts. Prior to the opening of Phantom Structures, Kathleen Hefty sat down with Gillick to discuss the production process, curating, and his days as an activist in university.
KH For the exhibition you’re opening at Casey Kaplan in February, as you’re planning the process, how far ahead do you go into production?
LG Everything I do is based on material reality. I’m really a materialist. On the computer, I work with simulated gravity and address reality of weight and structure – in a really concrete way. I have a precise method when working on exhibitions. I approach the exhibition as an idea, rather than a collection of individual art works. I’m always thinking about the architecture more than I’m thinking about anything else. I make very detailed computer models of the space, no matter where it is – even if it’s a garage in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bit of a distraction, like when you end up reading the newspaper because you’ve used it to protect the floor when painting the walls. I’m actually just doing a task, which is pretty mundane, but it appeals to my brain. I start by making an architectural model and that’s the time for thought and reflection.
KH Production is an integral part of your work. Who produces the actual work?
LG It depends. If I’m working in a specific environment I want to work with local people because they know the working conditions – like I did in Istanbul this year. It also means I get to meet new people.  At other times I work with the same person over and over again who is based in Berlin. I’ve worked with him for more than 15 years.
KH When it all comes together in the space, does it change?
LG No, very rarely. The work should be exactly the way I planned it while thinking alone. Occasionally, I’ll do things where I throw away all those rules. But, I don’t like to improvise. I want to plan things. I’m interested in planning as a concept and an idea, instead of speculation. Sometimes [in a gallery] I’ll get there and the vinyl text people will come and say, “How high do you want it?” And I usually have to go back to my computer and open it up. Even if we’re all standing there, I have to check my computer and find out, “Okay, so 50 centimeters from the ground.” I don’t like thinking about aesthetics. I like setting a table or making dinner. That’s aesthetics. But I don’t like the aesthetics of hanging an exhibition.
KH Do you like to revisit the shows while they’re up?
LG No. I hardly ever go back. I’m really suspicious of artists who hang out at their exhibitions. I know it’s probably good for them and good for their work. I think it’s because I heard about an artist when I was very young, who I really respect and admire – a much older artist. I was talking to the person who owned the gallery, and he said to me, “You know what, that artist comes to the exhibition every day and hangs around the gallery.” And he said to me, “Never do that.” And I’ve sort of taken it to a ridiculous extreme. Part of the problem might be something else. Increasingly I don’t like the lighting in galleries. I find that it makes me really self-conscious. I feel uncomfortable. An exhibition is not for the artist it is for other people. So I ought to feel self-conscious in that space.

LG No. I wanted to study law and philosophy so that I could become an activist. I had big teenage working-class delusions, and I still have them. And I even tried. I had a place at university and worked for a lawyer briefly, was an organizer for anti-nuclear campaigns, went on marches, and tried to fight the police – all that stuff. Then I changed my mind at the last minute and thought I’d go to art school, because I started understanding something about art as a critical space. [I’d] meet artists on these marches and I thought I don’t really trust myself in the world of pure activism and the law. I realized enough to know at like [age 19] that if I did it the other way around I would never make any art work. Anyone who starts by being a lawyer and then decides to become an artist, they kind of miss the point. So you do it the other way around. You can always become an activist or lawyer afterwards. It’s also why I’m often in a complicated situation with art which is dumbly political because my decision to make work was not related to the production of didactic art. I remain doubtful of the usefulness of showing the dominant culture the things that it already knows. While I think that single minded work is very, very important. It’s not something capable of addressing the true complexity of our time. Some other unstable thinking is more interesting to me and maybe a truer reflection of what I can offer as a critical framework.



Portrait of Liam Gillick by Clement Pascal






KH Do you think artists make better curators?
LG I just got off a Skype with three very important, very serious curators, because we’re working on something.  At one point one of them said, we need artists to help curate this thing we’re working on because they’re the best curators. I just didn’t say anything.
KH Do you disagree?
LG I’m not sure. I wrote an essay about it last year, titled The Complete Curator, which is about the idea of the curator going beyond the demands of art. I just completed a follow-up titled The Incomplete Curator, which is more about the idea of the idiot savant curator – the kind of ‘curator’s curator.’ I just think the thought processes are different. I think it’s always interesting to see what artists think, but curating is also about the history of exhibitions and the history of ideas. It’s not just about art. I’m curating a big show in Japan this year. It’s the first time I’ve ever really curated something like a biennial. I’m trying to remember all the things that [curators do] that irritate me and not do them. So, the first thing I did was to go to Japan and take loads of photographs, and send [the artists] photographs that give a sense of the place and spirit of that city, then we will talk about specific locations.
KH When you started studying art, were you always drawn to spatial concerns?

Hydrodynamica applied, in saltwater: A Theory of Thoughts and Forms,
installation view at 14th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, 2015