Ilse Genovese and Inga Bragadottir, VisArts’ curatorial interns interviewed Dawn Gavin, artist, Associate Professor and Graduate Director of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park about “What Remains” exhibit at the Gibbs Street Gallery through November 27th.
VisArts: When did art become a prominent part of your life?
Gavin: From the minute I could hold a pencil. Before I knew what it was I decided that was what I wanted to be—an artist. Then, later, when I worked at an advertising agency, editing video, I realized that if I wanted to get to the heart of inquiry, I have to make art myself.
VisArts: Which media do you prefer to work with?
Gavin: Paper is my main medium. I like video too. That’s how I developed a liking for cutting things up, splicing them and then putting them together in a different format, as snapshots of places, events, and people. I collect bits of paper and stuff that may seem like nothing and keep it for years until there is a reason to use it. Maps are a big part of my haul of paper. Over the years, I have collected tons of maps. Some of them are from places that don’t exist any longer, others are pictures of a world frozen in time… countries whose names have since changed, big and small countries that have since broken up into several small ones. I could justify not throwing any of this “paper” out by making art out of it.
VisArts: How do the reconfigured documents (maps, passport pages, music sheets) play into your idea of identity and transience?
Gavin: I am not from here so questions like ‘How do I know who I am?’ What helps me understand where I come from? Suppose I spontaneously didn’t know who I was and I had to reconstruct this knowledge through my passport? We take it for granted that we all have formal documents that establish our identity; they are a requirement. Imagine not having a passport, social security card or losing it? There’s something really vulnerable about me making a work of art from such documents. They are my identity; they tell me and the world out there who I am. I’ve got to start finding old passports and not make it look like I’ve got some kind of illicit trade going on on the side.
VisArts: What inspired you to create the art in this exhibit?
Gavin: I’ve always been interested in the idea of permanence and impermanence. Rhythm and pattern are definitely in my work. I do a lot of work that plays with optics, optically scattering or obscuring information. Take the Rorschach for example. It is one of older pieces in this exhibit. I created a distorted vision of the original map by cutting out the shapes of ink blots, which plays on optics.
All of the pieces in this show are surfaces that have gone through a form of appropriation, a form of revision, and cutting and splicing, and redrawing…I’m very comfortable making things out of fragments or taking something that’s complete and fragmenting it. I like the opportunity to make an art piece that has some permanence and then set it against something that has some impermanence.
VisArts: Can you talk about your main work in this installation, “What Remains”?
Gavin: Those hole-punched maps on the wall piece are a part of a re-visual process that I’ve used…a process that allows me to create an altered vision out of paper that others may have no use for. We think about maps as being these static things; but overtime, over human experience, they’re fluid and transitional and shift. My work has always had maps in it. I’m fascinated by maps. My father was a captain of a commercial cargo ship in the 60s and 70s, and my grandmother circumnavigated the globe in the 1950s. Exotic stories about travel throughout the world are part of my family folklore.
VisArts: What would you like people to take away from your exhibit?
Gavin: I don’t think there is a specific message. Things are constantly in a flux; they are constantly being re-evaluated or reconsidered in a different context. But, this is something you can project yourself into, I hope. Things re-emerge when you least expect them. I’m interested to see what other people see in the work. But for me, it’s about pushing myself to give expression to the ideas I’m interested in-rhythm, transience, patterns.
To see more of Dawn's work visit www.DawnGavin.com
Image captions: 1. Dawn Gavin (center) talks with Inga (left) and Ilse (right)
2. Dawn Gavin "page 7" ink collage and enamel paper
3. Dawn Gavin "Rorschach" cut paper