This August, I Skyped with Giselle Stanborough, an intermedia artist who lives and works in Sydney, Australia, having received her MFA in 2015 from the University Of New South Wales. Prior Phone Tag participant Marian Tubbs met Giselle through mutual friends in Sydney. Coincidentally Giselle recently moved into Marian’s former living space, a live-work space intended by the local government to foster artists through subsidized rent for a year. Giselle and Marian also share an interest in the permutations of identity on the internet. Currently Giselle is developing a series that relates online dating and the gallery experience, drawing parallels between the expectations people can bring to both.
Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.
LW: “What are you working now? Where are you focusing your energies?”
GS: “I have this ongoing project that uses internet dating services, like Tinder and OK Cupid as well as a site that I made, that organizes to go on dates in galleries and particular exhibitions. It will be having another iteration in a year in Melbourne. We rejig the content for whatever particular exhibition it will be a part of, whatever particular city. I just started looking at how to change the work for that context, which involves a lot of sitting at the computer. I’ll be doing a lot of that this week.”
LW: “To back up, could you describe this project? It’s connected to your website GiselleDates.com, right?”
GS: “That’s right. I guess the project is a way to look at those high lofty ideals about art—connecting consciousness, overcoming existential loneliness, creating deeper connections with another kind of experience of life in the world—and to look at how that exists outside of the gallery and in people’s daily life. So it is trying to create a kind of cohesion between the goals of art and dilemmas of isolation, of consciousness that is not in the silo of contemporary art but just part of life, like people trying to connect on social media and apps and stuff. It’s also to try and have conversations about art with people who don’t have a vested interest in art. Which I always find really interesting and refreshing.”
LW: “Absolutely. I think the most challenging thing is when somebody who’s not into art asks, ‘What is this? Why is this art?’”
GS: “That’s the best question. That’s the most important one. And you can forget to ask that.”
LW: “So for this project, you are going on dates with people. Do they know it is an art project?”
GS: “Yeah. Just because it is an art project doesn’t mean I’m not dating them. I’ve had relationships that have come out this project.”
LW: “There we go! That’s an outcome you don’t always see.”
GS: “Art can be a conduit to connection or a conversation piece for a day, rather than—I don’t know if you’ve been on many dates with people that you met online: they tend to be quite rehearsed and really boring and really career-oriented. At least the appeal of going to an art gallery is that it gives us something else to talk about…that’s not a monologue. You can have conversations that you don’t anticipate.”
LW: “Do you think of it as performative?”
GS: “Yeah. But, I think of most things as performative.”
LW: “Well, maybe dating is already performative…”
GS: “Exactly. Yes, it’s performative, but what isn’t?”
LW: “Is there an exhibition display when you show this project?”
GS: “There has been, but I’m not sure if there will be for this upcoming show in Melbourne. I’m going to make a series of ads. I know that in America you have the Bachelor [TV show]…”
GS: “…and I’m interested in that performance of heterosexuality. I’m interested in the idea of bourgeois heterosexuality as performance. So, to make a series of ads that sort of position me as a bachelorette-style person, which internet dating profiles do anyway. Those will be on screens in the galleries, but I often use screen spaces that aren’t technically for exhibition—screens that are out by the front desk or near the elevators. Or they might have user feedback screens. I use those screens because they have a kind of anti-viewer, art/not art way of being experienced by people who walk into the gallery.”
LW: “One of the things that I think is interesting is how you’re inserting yourself—not a character, not some idea—but yourself into these digital spaces. Is it important that it be you?”
GS: “Yeah, it is. Questions of selfhood are really, really complicated.
I think in a time of user-generated mediums and pop culture, we’re used to having an abstracted sense of our own self. Like: ‘Yeah, it’s me but it’s not the whole of me. It’s a part of me.’ It is a way that we are accustomed to accepting our positionality in the world. We are too big to be in any one spot at once, on a Facebook profile or a Tinder profile or a performance art work or with our mom, but we can accept that part as very authentic. Does that make sense?”
LW: “It does. At the same time, I think people often have an idea of the internet as this space where you can create the perfect self.”
GS: “The interesting thing is, yes, you can create your perfect self, but you can also be your most loathsome, despicable self. People say our generation is narcissistic, and there is an awful horrible element as well. It isn’t an experience of yourself from behind your own eyebrows—you’re already abstracted from yourself. And it’s not just self-love online; there’s a lot of self-loathing as well.”
LW: “You describe a lot of screen time in your practice. How does that figure into an ideal day in the studio, and what does an ideal day in the studio look like for you?”
GS: “An ideal day… I also do installation elements or physical or performative component, so I would like to do screen stuff, do some animating, and then I would like to do stuff with my hands. Today, for example, I put on all these stupid little rhinestones with this glue stick for a work. It came in this stupid little rose box but the rose was crushed from being sent from China and I had to set the iron on the lowest temperature and iron out the little fake leaves. It was nice, doing stuff with my hands. I don’t know if it was an ideal day, but it was pretty good.”
LW: “Who has influenced your practice?”
GS: “In terms of other artists—it’s not a very unique answer—but Mark Leckey has really had a profound impact on the way that I see art and objects intercepting, and an interest in the precedents of cyber space. Instead of saying ‘Oh, this is so new. There was nothing like it before,’ Leckey looks at other parallels, even heaven or the way that the internet carries a narrative about where to draw the line between what’s human and what’s not. Or what’s animal, what’s mechanical, what’s divine. Those sorts of things that have been going on for a long time, and that cyber space is the most recent type of.”
LW: “When did you first think of yourself as an artist?”
GS: “It fades in and out…I don’t really think of it as something that I am, but as something that I do. Every now and again, when I’m going overseas and I write my occupation down on the immigration paper, then I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m an artist.’ I try and stay away from those identity things about being an artist. Because then I’m scared about the kinds of things that come along with it, like art being middle class or male. I just don’t even: I take little baby steps, so maybe I don’t think of myself that way even yet.
As well, I know a lot of people that work in the arts and are artists, all my neighbors here. When things are normalized, they sort of become invisible. It is just a part of our lives and we don’t think about what that means in relation to other careers. You don’t really know what other people do. What do stockbrokers do? Actually do? They feel that way about us. What do I actually do all day? ‘Oh, I iron out shitty little rose leaves from the internet.’”
LW: “You’re in Sydney. Do you like it?”
GS: “I think about this. Some people have a strong sense of place. For me, it is not that significant. Maybe because the internet has so much to do with my practice. Sydney is all right, so are other places.
No, Sydney is awesome. Thank you, city of Sydney, for subsidizing my rent.”
LW: “Do you think it is more important for an artist to be in a big city, a Sydney or a New York, with all that entails: expensive rent, opportunities to show work, to be in a cultural scene, or to be in a small place where you can focus on making and maybe not have all of the pressures of rent or making it?”
GS: “That’s an interesting question. In 2015, I moved back home for a while, which was really quite isolating but also kind of a cleansing experience, where you find your own values. When you’re in the big city, it is easy to get swept up. Things and cultural economy have their own kind of impacts. After that period at home, I didn’t give a shit. There’s all sort of weird things that are part of the industry, rather than art itself with a capital A. I find after that period it’s easier for me to be like, ‘Oh, this is about the manifestation of art and capitalism in Sydney’ or ‘Oh, that’s like capital A art.’ Leaving Sydney for a while for a quiet place was really good for me, but I don’t think it is sustainable. There’s not as much employment opportunity.
Also, Sydney is not a big city like New York. It’s a small city. New York is a big city. I think a lot of Australians have a reverence for centers of America and Europe, and I think now we are looking other spaces. Post-colonial narratives allow us to look to our closer neighbors for other ways that art impacts society.”
LW: “Are you thinking of anything in particular when you say that, a certain place?”
GS: “I’ve been interested in a post-colonial kind of queer identity politics, and looking particularly at a Southeast Asian context for that. A lot of that does come through Sydney because they are our neighbors and because of the diaspora. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed watching come to the art scene here.”
LW: “Well, those are my questions. Thank you for participating in Phone Tag.”
GS: “Thanks so much!”