Artist Kate Newby is currently preparing her exhibition I can’t nail the days down at Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz, her first institutional exhibition in Austria. Prior to the opening on May 15, 2018, she talked to curator Juliane Bischoff about the relation between her work and its site of presentation as well as the influences for her practice.
Juliane Bischoff: Could you briefly describe what will happen in the exhibition at Kunsthalle Wien?
Kate Newby: The exhibition will involve a large pavement-like surface within the exhibition space itself. And this large surface will be made out of bricks. The bricks have been sourced locally from a town close by Vienna called Bad Erlach. I worked with these bricks when they were still green and unfired with the support of several people. While we [myself and my support team] worked on the bricks, I really tried to observe what was happening on my way to and from the workshop; what I saw happening in the streets, on the sideways and on the pavements, and I tried to incorporate these observations into the surface of the bricks. Along with that, the bricks also have a lot of glass inserted that was collected from the area around the Kunsthalle at Karlsplatz, some coins and other detritus.
There will be a small intervention on the tiny hill outside of the Kunsthalle, next to the lavender bushes. This insertion in the ground will behave like a drain: it will collect rain water, it will collect leaves, it’ll collect anything happening in the environment. My interest in that was that I wanted it to be continuously responding to its environment.
The project is between these two things; a sort of inside environment and a small outdoor work.
JB: To what extent is your exhibition in Vienna a continuation of recent projects?
KN: This is absolutely a continuation of recent projects. I was just in Sydney where I worked on a large-scale outdoor brick work. I’ve been working with bricks since art school actually, for over ten years.
This project though will be by far more significant in terms of not only scale but my ambition with bricks. I have tried to be quick, direct and simple with what I am doing. Whereas in the past I have just done whatever I could. This time, I’m interested in doing some very specific tasks with the bricks in order to have it relate to the site where it is exhibited.
JB: Can you explain a little bit about your interest in the relation between your work and its site of presentation?
KN: As an artist, I have never been interested in making work that doesn’t have a type of necessary reliance on the place where it is exhibited. I’m always interested in work that works in conjunction with features of the space; be it indoors or outdoors. So even if it is inside a gallery, I’m sort of looking at what’s happening within the space that I could connect my work to. So my work is never this stand-alone thing; it’s always this site-responsiveness and connection to architecture. So in this case with the glass pavilion, it was very important to me that I worked indoors and outdoors – but the two had a cohesiveness, so that it felt like one work.
JB: What details were interesting for you in the Karlsplatz area and the building of Kunsthalle Wien?
KN: I was really interested in this community garden next to Kunsthalle; where people are growing vegetables; where people also seem to be socializing or day drinking and just spending time. It felt like the Karlsplatz was on a site that was almost transitory in the way that people moved through. But at the same time it was also a destination in a minor way; for people to hang out.That sort of informal use of public space was really interesting to me; as well the residue from the use of space this is why I was also interested in collecting these tiny shards of glass that comes from broken bottles and people spending time in public space. So I was really interested in the peripheries of the space itself.
I also love the quite low ceiling. To me it almost felt like it was relatable on a domestic scale. It isn’t a monumental museum space. The scale was quite interesting and I wanted to match this scale with my work.
JB: How will the exhibition directly involve the viewer?
KN: The work will be installed in a way where people are invited to—and in fact probably have to—step on the work in order to see it. So the work doesn’t operate as something that you just stand and look at. It is not something on the wall, it is something you have to move over the surface in order to see it. And there is not one vantage point. Actually you have to continually move in order to observe the next part and the next part. For me it was really interesting to think about the idea of having people not look at the work in a passive way. Because my inspiration often comes through the act of walking and to incorporate that in the act of looking at the work made a lot of sense to me. The viewer is really asked to walk over the surface of it. It is a challenge to pay attention to smaller things; so it’s not going to be an obvious sculpture in the space. It’s going to be this miniature; hundreds of hundreds of small details.
JB: Who has influenced your work? Can you tell a few references from the fields of art and literature that have been important for your practice?
KN: Right now I would say a huge influence to me was not so much a person but a place. Having just spent two months in Marfa, Texas, at the Chinati Foundation, I was really struck by the way that the works there were installed permanently. The Chinati collection on the property in Marfa were very direct, quite straightforward and simple. An example would be the Roni Horn work, or the Donald Judd works that are installed outside. They were not trying to do a hundred million things, they were just well-executed works. I think often when I see exhibitions, I am overwhelmed by the amount of material and the amount of different things happening. I think that spending so much time looking at these works from the 70s and 80s have influenced me in the sense that I don’t want to try to do too much. I want to try to just do one thing very well and have people just absorb and to be able to observe. Also in the city of Marfa I was really excited about the improvisational use of materials. So if a fence was broken, you might see a shoe lace connecting it, to hang it up in the meantime. I never want my work to feel rigid like it has to be a certain way; I want to sort of feel like I can incorporate the circumstances, the situation, the people. Like all things involved in the making of the work can also become part of the work in a way. I don’t want to be that strict to think the work has to be this one thing. So being around this material inventiveness of a small desert town was a huge influence on me because it made me want to enjoy my materials more and loosen off with them and have fun with them.
In terms of literary influences; right now; I’m reading a lot of Eileen Myles and her writing has really struck me in the sense that she is so involved with it, that she has such a personal connection. She is talking about her own life in a very frank and brutal and honest way but it’s not tiresome and it’s not confessional. It actually takes you to this other place to help you contemplate about your own life.
JB: You grew up in New Zealand and today live in New York. How does this come across in your work?
I think coming from New Zealand has been very important in creating who I am as an artist. New Zealanders are quite big travelers. I think that they are often looking outwards. While it’s a country that is at the bottom of the world, it’s actually not that provincial in a lot of ways. And I think travelling a lot as a young artist and a young New Zealander, I was often interacting with new cities and sites and countries. Living in New York has allowed me a really incredible base from which to travel to other places. At the same time, the city itself will be forever inspiring for me just in terms of one of the things that I’m continuously looking at in my work is how we use and how we operate within public space. Being from New Zealand has helped me to gain confidence as a traveling artist and as someone who is really interested in other sites, not as tourism but in other ways. And New York had just been a phenomenal place to land.
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