Balance of the Invisible and the Foreseeable,
2014. Powder-coated metal and donated sleeping bags, view of installation view at the Common Guild,
Contrast and juxtaposition are key principles in Gabriel
Kuri’s work, guiding his treatment of formal and informal
elements, texture, size, material, and color. Working
with a range of materials, including found elements,
Kuri takes a broad view of artistic process. His work can
incorporate everything from dumpsters, privacy screens,
and emergency supplies to stones and metal furnishings,
to receipts from the purchase of materials and currency
Kuri grew up in Mexico and received his BA from the
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico
City in 1992 and an MA from Goldsmiths College in London
in 1995. He has lived and worked in Los Angeles
and currently resides in Brussels. Over the years, he has
exhibited internationally at a variety of biennials—
including the Venice Biennale (2011 and 2003)—museums,
and other art spaces.
Robert Preece: For this conversation, I asked you to shortlist some sculptural/installation
works that you consider important to your development as an artist. The earliest work that
you listed is Items in Care of Items (Berlin Biennale, 2008), which featured a contrast of formal
and informal elements such as jackets and sleeping bags. Could you tell me more about
this installation and its influence on the treatment of materials in Balance of the Invisible
and the Foreseeable (2014)?
Gabriel Kuri: Items in Care of Items is important because it embodies many of my recurring
interests—process, form, system, transaction, ordering principles, and displacement. It
starts with the displacement of a device in an institution—the stripping of function from
the wardrobe booths at the Neue Nationalgalerie—and the shifting of this from the periph -
ery, both literally and metaphorically, toward the center of the exhibition space. It starts
with moving the space and air in a given public space, so to speak. This is extended into
an exercise of what you rightly refer to as a contrast between formal and informal, involving
trust, an organizational system, and changing form. Soft forms negotiate with the hard or
given ones. I set up a series of rules in a somewhat inevitable—and hopefully not imposing—
organizational system [the sculptural space as a cloakroom] and then let go of control to
watch changing soft forms work against
other forms commonly seen as somewhat
generic public sculpture. The piece was carried
out by the cloakroom staff of the biennial,
and with the huge number of visitors,
Balance of the Invisible and the Foreseeable
is a more formal work. There was participation
involved, but I controlled the
forms in the end. However locally significant
the Common Guild in Glasgow may be,
it does not have nearly the same flow of
visitors as the Berlin Biennale. So, for this
work, I put together the components,
which came from both my studio and the
random public. Once the work was finished,
achieving a fine yet reliable balance, then it
was no longer bound to change form anymore.
It all started with an open call for
donated items of basic necessity—blankets,
bottled water, toiletries, matches—crucial
materials in situations of urgency that I
planned to improvise with in contrast to
other forms that I provided.
RP: Contrast and juxtaposition are key design
principles in many of your works. For example,
the juxtaposition of the tipped skip versus
stone and metal in .)(. (2013) is striking.
How did you balance the skip? Do you spend
a lot of time on material and visual contrasts?
GK:Well yes, contrasts and dialectical oppositions
are at the root of my modus—I
went to Goldsmiths in the mid-1990s, after
all. I go by gathering bits of specificity and
evidence, and these often make their way
toward becoming an artwork through their
unlikely marriage to other pieces of collected
information. This is an open process
whereby the clock only ticks—or rather
a little bell only tinkles—once something
comes to fruition.
I could not really tell you whether the
process takes long or not. Sometimes two
elements have been lying around for three
years, and then their coming together takes
a few seconds. I particularly like it when this
happens—a long period of incubation and
a quick moment of discovery. The execution
is fast, not just the realization. There is a lot
of pairing and rhyming between contrasting
sources—both in material and situation.
The upended, balancing skip set against the
metal “wave” propped down with a rock
is a piece that I somehow, not knowingly,rehearsed in a smaller scale through other
works. Once I thought of this particular
idea, I could not afford much trial and error,
since it involved a fair amount of sourcing,
fabrication, transport, and fine-tuning. To
balance the skip in this way, there is a rock
inside, pretty much the same volume as the
one on the metal wave.
Items in Care of Items, 2008. 4 painted steel sculptures, numbered magnetic disks, and assorted
items, view of installation at the 5th Berlin Biennale.
RP: Is Bilateral Growth (2013) a synthesis, a
starting point in a new direction, or both?
GK: I think rather than a synthesis or point
of departure, the motion in these alignments—
as I like to refer to pieces in the
family of bilateral growth—is more from
the outside in. They only happen when I
have the necessary lucidity to arrange my
props in the most specific of ways. My hope
is to spell a phrase with the economy and
music of a classic line in a film or song. So
yes, it is a synthesis—or rather a line in
an obscure poem, but with a sense of being
what it is. So yes, it is a starting point, sufficiently,
inevitably, and with just the right
number of characters.
RP: Is Self Portrait as a Chart with Two Point
Convergence (2012) related to Looping Trajectory
through Collapsible Mountain 01–02
(2015) beyond interior/exterior color?
GK: I have attempted self-portraiture through the formal/geometric language of charts and
diagrams, through the visual rendering of information flow, diagrams of cause and effect, or
simple direction of forces. Self Portrait as a Chart with Two Point Convergence could be seen
as a somewhat didactic statement; it is a demonstration, a simple physical experiment
involving tension, balance, and “touch” or tangency. Its materiality—the lightness, rigidity,
fragility, tension, temperature—is just as important as the simple principle it enunciates.
When I go on to give a title to a piece like this, it really helps to render it back to flatness, to
make a line drawing or diagram on paper.
Looping Trajectory could be thought of as similar in its bendy metallic form. However, it
involves a little more improvisation. I have done a few pieces in the family of Self Portrait
as a Chart with Two Point Convergence, and I found that if I set up a matrix, there are only a
limited number of variables. With Looping Trajectory, I first decided that I really liked the
collapsible flea market stand and the two-sided aluminum roll, and that their marriage should be a closed circuit—as opposed to a structure with ascending/descending levels like
the stand suggests or a coiled line like the roll. Then, I somewhat shut off reason and tried
to understand how I could make the materials do what I wanted them to do—or rather
couldn’t and simply had to obey what they physically dictated.
RP: Coin and Cigarette Butt Board HLRP02 (2014) and Won Won (2015) show juxtapositions.
GK: Coins, cigarette butts, beans, beads, pebbles, particles—they are all counting units or
punctuation marks. They bear the trace of the social but are also completely primal as communication
tools. What could be more basic than a point on a field? I love it when banknotes
are color-coded; they make my work more enjoyable.
RP:Where did you get the screens and poles that you used in Privacy Standards (2015)?
GK: I first saw the privacy screens in a pharmacy in Los Angeles. I immediately understood
what they stood for—a quick form of visual isolation to perform some medical observation.
These have a peculiar characteristic, which I only came to realize once I obtained some of
the same kind and they were in my studio. These screens conceal things at table height.
So, I faced either having to suspend an element from the ceiling—an awful idea—or having
something stem from the ground, which created visual clutter with the legs of the screens.
To solve the problem, I brought back an element that I had worked with before—thermal
aluminum emergency blankets taped to wooden sticks—and I hoped they could dance with
one another. I ended up structuring this by following very basic observations about, on the
one hand, the different kinds of enclosures that I could make with the screens and their color
coding, and on the other hand, the variable form to somehow attest for these possibilities.
Untitled (Charted Missing Data), 2016.
Stone, stainless steel table, and inflated condoms,
151 x 200 x 75 cm.
RP: How do you know when a work is finished, for example Untitled (CHCHN) (2016)?
GK: This particular one only felt finished when I titled it. There are a few elements, gestures,
tropes involved in its making. I found the material in a hardware shop. There’s also my love
for color-coding and foreign currency—U.S. banknotes bored me when I was living in Los
Angeles; they are all green and austere. Also, there’s the tension of the rubber band and,
naturally, the leaning of the wad of sticks against the wall.
The moment when I leaned it against the wall would normally be thought of as the
moment when the work came together. But in this case, I only thought of it as finished
when I came up with the title, after it had leaned for a while. I place a lot of importance on
the linguistic when I make sculpture, even when the pieces are pretty intuitive in their
process. My work is never completely material, nor solely information. Never. Only when these two are in agreement in their formula—
and this I cannot predict—can I consider a
RP: An enlarged fiberglass bean form, which
you’ve used before, sits on a stone element
in 1/1 Exponential Growth (2014).
GK: The enlarged black bean is an example
of a counting unit, a punctuation sign—
hopefully pregnant, or latent, with meaning.
I wish I had found this big black bean in a
flea market in Brussels; I have found pretty
wonderful things there. But since I didn’t,
I had it fabricated with the help of a prop
maker. I incorporated one in a piece a few
years ago, and it has reappeared a few times
for its syntactical handiness. The composite
stone disk is a found object that resembles
an oversize ancient coin. This is where the
“1/1” notion comes from—there is a unit
on top of another unit.
RP: Is Untitled (Charted Missing Data) (2016)
moving in a new direction?
GK: Speaking in very simple terms, yes. I have been wanting to make an exhibition in
which all of the works have stainless steel parts that either come straight from the
world of public or functional furnishing—like public toilets, airport security points,
assembly lines—or have an echo of them. I am hoping that in my next show, there will
be a stainless steel device in every work. This very recent piece is a beginning, a wish, in
that direction. I love how the slickness of stainless steel only ever comes in situations
where there is fluctuating mess.
Robert Preece is a Contributing Editor for Sculpture.