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An Interview With Rose Gibbs

Updated: Aug 4, 2018

Rose Gibbs is a sculptor living and working in London. Her work has been shown at Studio Voltaire and Pangolin London and has featured in a BBC documentary, Romancing The Stone, presented by Alastair Sookes.

On the day of our interview I’m early and nose around her studio while she finishes an email. It’s large and bright, in one of those Dalston warehouses where every floor looks the same until you push through a blue painted iron door. Inside it is surprisingly warm. The windows are open and sound filters up from the gently humming market in the street below. There is evidence the studio might be shared by perhaps up to six other fairly neat artists. “In fact, I am often here alone” says Gibbs as I peer at a freestanding circular saw sprinkled with only a moderate dusting of brightly orange wood shavings. She clears me a chair and sits down herself. We drink fennel tea.

Behind her, on a shelf, is work of hers I recognise. Diminutive sculptures, a few inches tall, in patinated bronze of heavily pregnant women. Some are engaged in conversation while shooting absurd streams of sparkling bronze milk from their breasts. Another bends double to vomit leaning against a stubby phallus. Bronze jets of various bodily fluids gather in glitteringly polished puddles around their feet.

Among them are one or two earlier ceramic pieces, their shapes are more abstract and bulbous. A purifying glaze of glossy white disguises and unifies their raw forms. Before an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art, Gibbs studied ceramics and in past these forms have erupted from the surface of vessels and pots.

Seen here, side by side, the bronze pieces seem more defiantly figurative and solid and, oddly perhaps, somehow more serene.

Cecily McNamara: Let’s talk about the series of bronze figures you exhibited at Under the Influence last year. It’s interesting seeing them next to some of your earlier ceramic ones. They seem somehow more peaceful…

Rose Gibbs: Oh that’s interesting…I’d never really thought of them in those terms. I think with both of them there is this element, you hopefully look at it from a distance as a beautiful sculpture and then get closer and realise that it's possibly quite grotesque. The thing is, it is it isn’t really that grotesque because lots of art has grotesque imagery in it. Lots of old art, because it's old, doesn’t offend us in the same kind of way. Whereas I feel that with contemporary art, and this work, it can be a little bit obnoxious. Hopefully these are quite funny in a dark way.

CM: One of the things I find most interesting is that, while they are distorted images and so somewhat grotesque, they may actually be a more wholesome idea of women than the other distorted images we seen everyday; this elongated, often androgynous or highly sexualised ideal that we are quite used to. Your women are tied to their bodies in a way that feels very confronting but at the same time is maybe more natural?

RG: Yeah, I really wanted these to be little anti-monuments that were kind of a celebration of the everyday, because they are doing everyday things, they’re pissing, they’re squatting, it’s a almost parody of the idea of the woman being this bodily creature because I think traditionally woman are seen as creatures tied to their bodies and who are kind of dirty. These are like odd celebrations of that.

CM: And the bodily fluids are polished bronze so you have this idea of preciousness and value...

RG: Yeah, I wanted to play with the associations we have with bronze monuments to men and heroes. In Parliament Square they are all men and so it’s hopefully a comic take on that.

CM: At your last exhibition I enjoyed discovering them on the floor in a dark corner. Is that how they are normally displayed?

RG: Yeah, I like experimenting with the different ways that they are shown. I find putting them on the floor a funny thing because they are literally pissing on the floor and therefore kind of subversive, as if it’s as statement about the space that they find themselves in, that they are dirtying it. But other people prefer them on shelves so they can look closely at them. And that makes them more into the kind of objects that you can imagine on a mantelpiece… but a joke on that.

CM: So a kind of like those more sanitised versions of femininity you’d be used to finding there, Royal Doulton figurines and stuff?

RG: Yeah

CM: We’re talking about the way women’s bodies can be seen as messy and crude but there is also the opposite in so much art where women are portrayed as fertile beings surrounded by flowers and fruit, no less tied to their biological functions, but it’s hinted at in this incredibly clean, sanitised, pretty way.

RG: Yeah there is this struggle with the idea of purity. It is as if our bodies have to be cleansed and there is a disgust of the dirty bodies. There is this thing about dealing with extremes, of women being these objects that are kind of battlegrounds. I think women’s bodies are still battlegrounds.

CM: I think beauty can be very persuasive. I felt with your figures that the polished bronze was kind of a seduction into thinking about something a bit more complicated.

RG: Yeah, I guess it is. I think the bronze is the way in.

CM: You have worked across some very tactile mediums, how important is the process of crafting your work to you?

RG: Well, I like working with my hands. This massive project Mountain I did at the Royal College, in the end, was probably more of a performance because I had a whole team of volunteers helping me with it. I had about 20 people helping me do all the polishing and so the number of bodies in the sculpture department doubled. It became, in a way, collaborating. I’m not sure about that word because obviously I was [directing it] but all these people, all sitting around this sculpture, all together, and the sculpture became a point of contact from which other conversations could happen. There were lots of other conversations that went on and connections between the people that I was there with. And they had obviously been attracted to the project because of various elements of it. So it felt like, an experiment for me in being wilful, and this performance. The piece of work took over a year to make. I wanted to make something that I could be really judged for. So it was a statement of conviction.

CM: Is it difficult to have people look at it and judge?

RG: Well I think that that’s the point. For me there is something nice about giving people something to judge.


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