French artist Yann Gerstberger will have his first solo show –“Ice News and Freeway Fetishes” – at OMR gallery in Mexico City next February during Zona Maco. We had a little chat with him to explore his original practice and his world.
My Art Guides: Your current practice is deeply connected to Mexican popular culture. How is this place influencing your art? Have you always been attracted to this culture?
Yann Gerstberger: I see mostly connections between what is considered (Mexican) popular culture, arte popular, contemporary art, outsider art, graffiti.. I think what’s cool when you are an artist (a painter or a sculptor for example) is you can drive (and eventually run over) those categories because you’re generating another kind of language that goes beyond those definitions. Obviously they are identifiable signs in my work and by chance people recognize them so those signs are like little flytraps.. they stick to your eye and then you can go deeper. Recently I’ve been pretty much obsessed by the Yoruba culture. I have never been to Lagos. There is a graphical link between the beads layout in the Yoruba crafts and some of the Ernst Ludwig Kirchner etchings of the Alps.. I’m trying to transliterate this feeling in my works, adding some abstract mosquito shapes, that are sometimes died with cochineal.
MYAG: Could you tell us more about your practice? How did you get into your original textile technique?
YG: I started to use mops to do collages when I was in Marrakech a few years ago. I was inspired by the boucherouite carpets as well as the berber carpets.
Boucherouites are made with old t-shirts and clothes. I started to use mops because they are the most basic, common, easy-to-find kind of fabric. I realized people use different kind of mops around the world, like the ones in Marrakech are different from the ones in NYC, Marseille or Mexico. I started to work with the Mexican mops that are made of strings. It’s a mix of cotton and polyester. They are white/beige when they arrive at the studio, then we dye them. Technically speaking, it’s not weaving. I use cotton strings but I don’t weave them. I stack and glue them on recycled vinyl banner. I dye the strings myself with industrial dyed as well as cochineal. It’s not technically painting either because I don’t use a brush. I sometimes use a sprayer full of chlorine to draw directly on my materials, graffiti like.
MYAG: What will you present in your first solo show at OMR?
YG: The show is called “Ice News and Freeway Fetishes”. It’s based on a mushroom experience I had with 2 friends of mine after an excursion in the Tambopata national reserve in the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest. I will present a new series of tapestries as well as a family of sculptures and I’m doing a chalk mural that will cover the integrality of OMR basement space. It’s going to be full of bird messengers and abstract lepidopterists hunters. I’m also presenting my first monograph for the occasion, Baby Comet Face, with Zulu Press.
MYAG: You were born in France but you live in Mexico. When and why did you decide to move to Mexico City?
YG: I don’t know why I’ve always had the feeling that the Zocalo is the center of something more vast than the city by itself. It’s weird because I’m not that much attracted by official areas or monuments, they are often ugly.. in Mexico and everywhere else. I guess the first time I saw pictures of the Zocalo and the historical center of Mexico City was in Francis Alÿs videos and actions, people protecting themselves from the sun in the flag’s shadow, dogs sleeping around, La Merced.. they must have left a mark on me. I studied and lived in Marseille for a while and as far as I can remember I had an ‘elsewhere’ fantasy.. my state of mind was: what am I going to talk about if I stay here? I felt like a urge to travel and explore new areas. I came several times to Mexico before I took the decision to set myself here. It came pretty much naturally. I stayed because of the beautiful people I met and the woman I came with, my partner at that time, I don’t know if I would have been able to make the move without her.
MYAG: What is your perspective on the city’s art scene?
YG: I feel like the new generation of artists is very dynamic and active even if the gap between the established and the youth is huge. I think this is a fertile context
considering the fact that the city is always mutating, locally, internationally, politically, geographically, physically.. There is a lot to do.
MYAG: My Art Guides likes to recommend to its readers unique places to visit in each destination, not necessarily connected to contemporary art, in your opinion, what are the absolutely unmissable places, landmarks and spots in Mexico City? And could you recommend something that shouldn’t be missed during the art week?
YG: Most of my favorites places are located in the historical center: Sanadoras la Calderia, Fray Servando 333: the best soups in town; Bosforo Mezcaleria; Café Regina; The Museo de Arte Popular library (only by appointment); Baños Señorial (massage, sauna, day spa); Ex Covento Desierto de los Leones for a little breakaway