Ilan Averbuch speaks about using recycled stone and combining stone with other materials in outdoor public art works and indoor installations.
Tracey Hummer: Your sculpture incorporates a variety of materials. Is any of your work exclusively in stone?
Ilan Averbuch: I did some which are, but I almost always work with a combination of materials. Most of the stone I use is recycled paving stones or curbstones from cities. You can still see the patina on them, the dirt is still there so there is an element of the earth even in a curb stone. And I sometimes assemble them in delicate leaf or branch formations.
Ilan Averbuch, "India Song", 1996. Wood, stone, steel, and leather, 102 x 204 x 72 in.
Hummer: Do you use a hammer and chisel?
Averbuch: I use a hammer and chisel, and a disc with a diamond blade to carve stone. I use nothing sophisticated, but at the same time, I don't work with stones like "true-to-materials" sculptors. To me, it's like any other material. It looks difficult, but it's fast if you don't work very exactly. You can use a rough method. It usually takes me a lot less time to work in stone than even in wood, because with wood, you have to glue, and so forth. There is noise, though I have problems with my neighbors when I work with stone.
Hummer: When you combine stone with other materials, like wood and glass, how do you determine the significance of stone in your sculpture?
Averbuch: In one work using those materials, for example, I wanted a sphere that was very empty, like a balloon, and along with that empty structure I also wanted a cluster of something that was concrete, a packed volume.
Hummer: In that piece, you're raising the stone and defying gravity.
Averbuch: It's like a hot-air balloon. There is a playfulness like the joke, "What is heavier, a pound of iron or a pound of feathers?" And so it's a kind of equation.
Hummer: Your gallery works are composed of a different selection of materials. Is that based on the fact that the outdoor works are exposed to the elements?
Averbuch: Sometimes. Stone is durable, it's the thing that lasts. So in some pieces that I want to last I use stone, but I also try to use wood. For instance, I sometimes use a strong Brazilian wood that doesn't even float. I get it from a recycling yard it's wood that was brought to build a boardwalk along the seashore, because it lasts forever, even along the ocean front. It can last outside, so in this case wood is not an issue. For a project in Portland, I used wood that was available locally, so that to replace the wood, they didn't need me. The piece has a massive amount of stone suspended up in the air on wooden stilts. The wood resembles telephone poles and can be replaced as needed for maintenance. There is a structure that holds the whole thing together. For another piece, I cast bamboo in iron, so that's another possible solution to the problem of working with materials outdoors. I don't like bronze, but casting in iron is great, because iron is a little bit like stone, it can play both parts sometimes it's wood and sometimes it's stone, and it has physical durability. I found a place in India, a suburb of Calcutta, where they make cast iron manhole covers. I went there in the summer for two-and-a-half months to work with them.
Hummer: When and how did your relationship with stone begin?
Averbuch: The first date I had with stone was, I'm from Israel, and as a kid I used to draw on stone walls. And I relate to stone, in one way, through archeology Israel is full of excavations. Once when I was staying with relatives in upstate New York I built a terrace for them. I went to a bluestone quarry nearby, and got two truckloads of stone. I guess that was the first time I created a work by gathering stone it looked like something by Robert Smithson, but I didn't know his work at the time. I did a lot of pieces that involved gathering stone, and then slowly I started building. I saw an aqueduct system in Israel when I was a kid, and I started doing aqueducts, with stones glued together with silicone so water could run through the work. Later on I learned that you can actually mold, cut, and carve into stone, and I discovered diamond disks and things like that. In the last show I had one piece that included carved heads. I didn't polish the stone, so it looks really rough, and it doesn't read as marble. It reads as if it could be anything, even plaster. There were three pieces in Portland: two incorporated stone and wood and one was just copper, a crown that was tilted on its side. One of the stone pieces was a circle of stone, with a water trough and a big wing on one side. I was interested in the contrast between a more European image, the copper wing in a greenish patina, and the stone circles that are a reference to rituals, a more prehistoric image.
Hummer: So you're not concerned with stone per se?
Averbuch: I have never thought of myself as a stone sculptor, it's just something that I do. I wouldn't describe myself as a wood sculptor, either. I guess material is not the emphasis, but rather texture. If the work was just iron, it would bore me, I need something else. It's like a painter saying, "I think I'll use some yellow," so I use some stone.
Hummer: It's your way of having more than one thing, or having more than one color on the palette.
Averbuch: Yes. More than one color, and different materials also relate to different "ages." And stone, I guess, in my mind, is old age.
Ilan Averbuch, "Grapes and Other Promises", 1986. Wood, stone, and steel, 108 x 89 x 52 in.
Hummer: It's the old standard, the ancient standby.
Averbuch: The stone is durability. Glass is fragile, or at least softer. But I play with it too. In some pieces, the stones are flying, or it looks soft. I change my attitude about it all the time.
Hummer: You travel a great deal. Does the architecture of the countries you are visiting influence the way you use stone?
Averbuch: Yes, the architecture here, the architecture in India. A lot of my references are to buildings and architecture I see on my travels. I spent two years in South America traveling, and I often go to Israel. What changes is the context for the work, when I do commissions in different places. If I do a piece here, a piece in Israel, and a piece in India, they are totally different. You could make the same piece and show it in those three places and it would be perceived very differently. So, I take, but I also examine myself through those places. I am making a piece now for Calcutta that is a 32-foot ladder, a massive ladder in an atrium that is seven stories high. The atrium is like a shaft up through the middle of the building, and in the middle there will be a ladder that's made of copper. It's like the crown I did for Portland, but with different imagery. After the show at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York, I'm going back to Calcutta to finish it.
Ilan Averbuch, "X", 1986. Stone and water, 22 x 112 x 98 in.