Interview by Sophia Moseley
Samuel Jablon is a New York based artist who I met in Beijing some years ago, whilst he was doing a residency at Red Gate Gallery. I suppose I have always been interested in artists who show vivaciousness in their work, and being one such artist, I was eager to interview Samuel about his work and his life, as both a working artist and poet, residing in one of the most creative cities in the world.
Sophia Moseley: I understand you recently graduated from Brooklyn College. How did you find your experience there? Would you say doing a Masters has been beneficial to you?
Samuel Jablon: Brooklyn College was great. It is in NYC but removed, so you don’t really have all of the distractions. It’s out in the middle of Brooklyn with a park-like campus and wild parrots. It’s beautiful. Being in NYC, I was still exposed to lots of opportunities, but could get away whilst staying engaged.
For me, the program was great. It’s small with a nice studio space. I had a great peer group of students. My group was really diverse, and we clashed in a healthy way because there was always a level of respect. I studied with Vito Acconci, Michael Cloud, Patricia Cronin, Kathleen Gilrain, David Grubbs, James Hyde, Jennifer McCoy, Caecilia Tripp, Siebren Versteeg, and Archie Rand. I liked studying at a place where I could talk to lots of different kinds of artists. I found that diversity essential.
I was also drawn to the program because I knew Vito taught there, and I knew he started out in poetry but had ended up in architecture. I have a background in poetry, and I want to do something different with it, so I thought, “If Vito’s there, it must have something going on.” My degree has been extremely rewarding.
SM: What advice would you give to artists considering doing a Masters?
SJ: Go to a program that makes sense for your practice, and don’t take on a lot of debt.
SM: As well as an artist, you are a poet. Can you tell me a little about your involvement with The Soap Box Poets?
SJ: The Soap Box Poets were part of the HOWL! Festival. It is an annual festival honouring Allen Ginsberg for all his many accomplishments, and is held at Tompkins Square Park in NYC. I was a curator of The Soap Box Poets. I particularly invited poets I thought would be good at engaging an audience passing by. We didn’t have a stage, mics, or any introductions. Poets read and engaged people in the park from make shift soapboxes. There was a lot of collaboration and spontaneous poetry. I am an artist and a poet. It’s more so becoming one practice.
SM: I like your idea of spontaneous poetry. How did you find the response from the passersby? Was it easy to engage the public?
SJ: At The Soap Box Poets, the public really liked it. People wanted to be engaged, and they followed, gathered, and sat around us. I was part of an event at the MoMA called ‘Transform The World! Poetry Must be Made By All!’, organised by Kenneth Goldsmith. The majority of people loved it, and were surprised to be in the middle of a massive poetry reading. The reading took over the entire 4th floor of the MoMA for an hour on a Saturday – it was a guerrilla reading, so no mics or stages. There were people who just wanted to look at art, and became annoyed that they were being read to. Overall people either walk away, or really get into the event.
SM: Are you particularly inspired by Allen Ginsberg? I read up on his history at Brooklyn College, where he taught from 1986 until his death in 1997, do you feel that his influence is still present there and the ideologies of the Beat Generation?
SJ: Funnily enough, I went to Naropa University – a school Allen founded with John Cage, Anne Waldman, and a Tibetan monk named Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I am inspired by what Ginsberg accomplished. His poem ‘Howl’ changed US obscenity laws in the 50’s, and opened the door for William Burroughs and many other writers to publish their work. I don’t regularly read Ginsberg, but when I was younger his writing was important for me. I still like how he said whatever he had to say so unapologetically.
SM: How did you become involved in ‘Transform The World! Poetry Must be Made By All!’?
SJ: Kenneth Goldsmith, who is the recent Poet Laureate of the MoMA, invited major US poetry institutions to get involved: Belladonna, Bowery Poetry Club, Exact Change, Fulton Ryder, Gauss PDF, The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, The Poetry Foundation, Roof Books, Troll Thread Collective, and Ugly Duckling Press, as well as poets David Grubbs and Tao Lin. Each organisation invited five poets or so, and the Bowery Poetry Club invited me.
SM: We have spoken mainly of your involvement in poetry, but could you tell me a little about your works of art? What are you working on at the moment?
SJ: Like I said earlier, poetry and art have merged into one practice for me. I was always painting and making things, and I have always been writing and performing. They were always two separate practices. I spent my time in grad school combining them. Currently I am working on a series of sculptural painting poems. It started from riding the subway for hours everyday to and from Brooklyn College. I had a long commute and would notice the ads and the stupid slogans.
I started taking the language from the ads, and composed works using only the language I found in public places. I then used bits of mirror and glass tile to write the poem on the paintings. I wanted them to be hard to read. The mirror works because it reflects everything that is in front of it, including the person looking at it. I don’t want the work to reveal itself on first look; I want people to stay with the objects for a moment.
After I started using language from advertisements in the public domain, I decided I should also perform these works in the public space. I like that advertisements and my recent performances are both made to engage the passerby.
I find that I need a balance of working in the studio, and working in the public eye. Just being alone in the studio is really important. I find I need to give my work time in the studio. It can be a long process. The performances are planned and that takes a lot of time, but they happen very fast – two hours tops and it’s over. In the studio there is a different kind of conversation that happens with material. I really enjoy both ways of working.
SM: Even though your work in no way resembles the likes of Joseph Beuys or Twombly, for some reason I recall their work when you talk about yours. I suppose it may be their somewhat playful nature. Is this something that is important to you in your work, to retain a sense of playfulness in our very serious world?
SJ: I find it essential to have a sense of humour. I am very serious about what I do. I do a lot of my work on the run with no time and no option of second-guessing myself. That seems to be when the work is at it’s best. I attempt to set up scenarios that force me into this working mode. When I overly plan a piece, it becomes contrived and serious. It loses something. To me, playfulness is the same as taking risks. If I’m not taking risks the work can be dry, generic and boring. It’s better to take risks, even if the outcome is horrible.
SM: You have taken part in numerous residences in various countries; did you find any one of them more rewarding than the others? Would you say that you found a particular place or program which allowed you to be more focused and inspired than the others?
SJ: All the residences are so different. The one I got the most out of was at the Banff Centre – it was a specific residency, and funded. It was more of a think tank than a residency; we didn’t have studios, but we had access to all of their equipment. They have everything from shotgun microphones, digital cameras, projectors, performance halls, a green screen room and a Cave, which is an immersive virtual reality room. I was able to use incredible software and had technicians on hand. It was great I had whatever I wanted – I was spoiled. The residency was mainly focused on interventionist writing and performance. I did a lot of collaboration with some of the artists on the residency, and I worked with a lot of musicians. There were about 300 different types of creative thinkers at the Banff Centre when I was there. I had a lot of important conversations.
SM: What’s next?
SJ: I just finished a series of performances, and am taking a break… for August. I pitched a project titled ‘The Poet Sculpture’, to Socrates Sculpture Park. ‘The Poet Sculpture’ was created by the formation and words of poets who defined the sculpture via collective action, group decisions, and word (sound) waves. The poet sculpture was in flux, with poets not performing one at a time but together, interweaving their words, creating a sculpture (“poem”), while physically interacting. There was a mix of pausing and interrupting. The most important part of this performance was the response, reaction, and exchange from the poet/sculpture to the audience/passerby.
‘The Poet Sculpture’ has grown and adapted. I am working on an installation for the DUMBO Arts Festival this September that uses the same concept, but also provides an installation for poets to stand on and move. The project will potentially be at the Queens Museum this November. And this winter, I will be involved in a show in Germany, with a potential solo show in New York next year.
If you are interested in viewing more of the artists work, you can visit his website here.
Homepage image: If you See Something Say Something, acrylic and mirror on paper, 48 x 36″, 2012