December 2009, In Conversation with Randy Grskovic

 Randy Grskovic, Lucy in the sky with Rhombus' Collage, 2009, Highlighter, Ink on Paper 11" x 17"


Randy Grskovic has a BFA from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. His work has been exhibited at Centre A in Vancouver, The Alternator Gallery for Contemporary Art in Kelowna, LOEil de Poisson in Quebec City, Eastern Edge in St. Johns, and was invited to curate a program for VTape in Toronto. Currently, Grskovic is carrying out an informal residency; while in the city he works out of the Cartelera Talent House.

ZP: Your website biography effectively summarizes your practice in one sentence: “Grskovic considers absurd aspects of technological practices, inviting viewers to enjoy the craftsmanship of completely useless innovation to draw attention to the mundane realities of design failure and obsolescences.” What are some of these 'absurd aspects' that you speak of, or are you commenting on a more general situation?

RG: This statement is definitely a generalization. Simply put, I find humans pretty absurd. We have ego and intellect, which we think are special, but we are confused. Whatever we do, whatever we make, seems to me as though it’s just a way we pass time, and attempt to maintain the sinking ship that is our body. No one wants to think about that. Neither do I.

So I look for the humour in it all, even though for me, it’s a very serious problem. I try to make statements technological (and all attempts) at progress lighthearted, so that it is an easy platform for the viewer to engage with. Once you delve deeper, I hope the sinister cynicism is revealed, but still tongue-in-cheek.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you’re making art or inventing the SlapChop®, we are all just scurrying, passing time. Our whole conception of time and progress is really just a product of natural decay. This isn’t meant to be negative; it’s just realistic. The way I look at life/art/the world is that there is no point in doing anything, so I’ve decided to do everything. It is what it is. I love my SlapChop®.

ZP: Do you think that these failures are inextricably linked to our expectations? Are these expectations realistic to have in the first place?

RG: Growth is dependent on expectations, goals, integrity, etc. I don’t see failures as bad things and I don’t see successes as good things. They are both neutral to me (or I’d like them to be). I’m more curious about the moments when our expectations (utopias) meet reality. This is the point in which life is interesting and I think that is the goal. In cause and effect, there is nothing but outcomes. Depending on which side you stand on, it dictates your perception and judgment of the outcome.

I’m not pretending to be Zen by saying this. I have judgments and ulterior motives, which is what provides the content for my work. What I try is not to be disillusioned that my ideas of progress are in any way right or wrong. I try to leave those behind, do what I want to do, and find an audience that will indulge me in my decision in a direction. I also hope that I never preach my direction. When I have something to say I try to pose my negotiations as questions and not answers. Always question authority and the only authority that matters to each individual is your perception. Challenge yourself. Is it really a failure? How does that failure relate to your own judgments and ulterior motives? It’s quite liberating because that is the point in which I decide. Failure is fun. When I lose I get the same rush as when I win, those are the moments I really feel alive.

ZP: Your three most recent shows have been at Plank Gallery, Grace Gallery, and East Van Studio. Climbing Towards The Fall (Plank Gallery) was your first solo exhibition in ( insert time period here). What ideas did you have at the time that led to this show's conception?

RG: I try to have an annual exhibition of my ideas. It’s an arbitrary timeline, but it seems to work naturally for me. The Wounds show was a bit different; it was just my birthday party, celebrating life by showing the collection of my scars over the past few years. It’s similar in concept to everything else, but aesthetically different and very self-indulgent. Climbing Towards the Fall was quite literally about ups and downs - but questioning which way is up. Generally I was working through that problem in my mind, and the objects that came out of it were the basis of the work I exhibited. 

I took Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines from the early part of the 20th Century and re-contextualized the images. Those magazines prophesied a future, and now that we were living beyond the future they imagined, I just wanted to play around with where we went and ask if we really went anywhere. I’m curious about humans and technology and the negotiations we make and how our feelings are triggered by our decisions. On a personal level the title was quite fitting. It’s a lot of work and once it is done it is like experiencing a free-fall. Now what? Over the past ten years dealing with the postpartum depression (to be overdramatic) of the end of something important is tough. It’s a success and a failure all in one, which is kind of how I see everything. It’s really quite exhilarating.

Randy Grskovic, Prodigal Son Collage, Ink on Paper 11" x 17" 2009 

ZP: Feeding The Machine spoke to “excessive human consumption”, and the media's control of it. What do you see serving as the driving force behind our need to consume? Do you think that we can be swayed from these tendencies at this point, or have we become too comfortable with ' the excess'?

RG: The driving force of our need to consume is the same force that drives us to grow. We want to do two things with consumption – either attempt to grow or attempt to escape. Both are similar. We attempt to grow to escape death for as long as possible. If you are really afraid of death, you consume to set up your afterlife. Anything beyond eating, sleeping and exercise (mental exercise included) is excessive. My challenge to this wasn’t evangelical, but an attempt to get people to consider what they actually consume instead of lying to themselves about it. I wasn’t passing judgment on it but saying that it exists, I’m affected by it and so are you. I think the negative spin that I placed on it referred to my own guilt. I invite you to take it how you want but like I mentioned earlier I have ulterior motives. I am not impartial. I draw my own line as to what excessive consumption is and I challenge you to draw your own line as well. 

In that specific piece, I challenge the notion that the media is feeding us, I think the media responds to us and for the most part we have chosen this. The only way we can change it is by realizing that we are the bad guys, and no one is out to get us. You dictate the media. Once you believe this you can change it or accept it. People are afraid to accept it because they enjoy it and since they enjoy something that seems counterproductive they wash their hands of any responsibility. Get over your guilt and be hedonistic or do something to change it. If you think you are powerless then you don’t actually want it any other way. This is nothing new.

ZP: At the centre of Wounds was a discussion that challenged the viewer to question their own notions of beauty. Simultaneously, when we usually see images of wound or injury, it is in a news media context, and often in a negative light. Therefore, the viewer was not only encouraged to challenge 'beauty' definitions, but look at something that they would usually regard as grotesque. What was the general response to this? Complacent or resistant audience?

RG: I wish I could say that the audience came to the same critical response that you did with it. I don’t think anyone was complacent but there was some resistance – people just felt “weird”, which is a good starting point. The next step is to ask yourself why you feel weird. The resistance to the exhibition was not that of the work, but the resistance to ask you a tough question. I think any good exhibition encourages the viewers to consider themselves in relation to the object. How does this make me feel but more importantly why do I feel this? I hope that people come to the table and ask not how does the grotesque images of my blood challenge the notion of beauty but how does it challenge your notion of beauty. That’s the only thing that matters.

ZP: For the past 5 months, you have been working in near-isolation. How did this come about?

RG: The residency is really not that formal. I was given the opportunity to go to use a cabin by a private patron as my studio. That is my response and decision to change the way I consume. I go out there with no phone, no Internet, no friends, to work and learn. I work for a week in solitude, then I come home and consume in a ravenous fashion. This time away has subsided the guilt from the consumption. We’ll see how this goes.

ZP: One week here, one week there. In addition to the traveling, you are alone when you are working, without any telephone, computer, etc. After several weeks, what do you see as the greatest benefits to this? Any negatives?

RG: I think the benefit to this situation is that it has changed the way I work and live. I think that it is important to change things up, otherwise I would make the same thing over and over. It’s a proactive way of influencing my work – is it better? I avoid that question. Am I excited and inspired? Yes.

ZP: There are two observations prevalent in the Vancouver art "scene". One- the community is small, yet thriving, and multi-layered. Two- the city has little or nothing to offer artists (especially emerging), which is why many may end up relocating to cities such as New York, Montreal, etc. Do you lean towards either of these opinions?

RG: I think the problem with the emerging artist scene in Vancouver, and in Canada for that matter, is that we have an expectation that other artists and art organizations are to provide opportunities and income for those of us who are starving. Consumption is on the rise so I find it very hard to believe that with our strong small community we are not able to influence change. People move for various reasons and one of those is that it’s easier to escape to a community that has an infrastructure or is cheaper to live. We just need to create that here. Change the way people consume. People will go out and spend a few hundred dollars on jeans or dinner and say they have no money to purchase art. That is our battle here; we need to inspire people to change they way and what they consume. Being an artist doesn’t afford you the right to any sort of handout. Hustle hard. Get out of the coffee shop and into your studio, when you’re done in your studio get on promoting your ideas – that’s all art is anyway. Get paid. Reinvest. Understand that as an artist you are not special and you need to work harder than everyone else to get ahead. It’s really that simple.

ZP: What do you see as being exclusive to Vancouver's art scene? What places, groups or events define it for you?

RG: I don’t think there is much of anything that is exclusive to Vancouver. It is such an international city and technologically advanced. We are influenced by everything that is being shot at us constantly. I think the benefit to this is that there is an audience for anything you do. Do what you want and find your place.

ZP: Upcoming projects, shows, travel plans, etc.

RG: I’m just making a new body of work. Once it’s done I’m going to step back and make a decision on what to do with it. I usually show the work in March/April so look out for something then. I’m going to keep quite about it until it’s done. Right now it’s mine. I’ll give it to you later.

Randy Grskovic

Zoe Peled

Zoe Peled is a writer in Vancouver Canada.

view all articles from this author