Fabian Stech: You have also a kind of a scientific approach. When you are working, your research is often based on science.
Simon Starling: It has something to do with curiosity I suppose. To find out why something is like it is. To investigate what constitutes an object or a structure – to go beyond the visible in the work. It is just an extension of my understanding of what a sculptor does. Somebody who is thinking about the relationship between themselves and an object, but just going deeper and deeper into that relationship. Where does a particular raw material come from, how it is made, at what cost, within which geographical framework etc. etc.
Another important source of your work is the historical context of the object and historical persons, which you integrate in your work.
Yes, in a sense the geographical parameters of a particular object can be paralleled with temporal ones. It’s history, it’s evolution, it’s development. I am very interested in pushing and pulling at time. Often the works return things to a prototypical or evolutionary stage. As you say, it is very closely linked to the material investigation or to the scientific aspects of the work … of the projects (laughs).
Fabian Stech: So why are you an artist and not a scientist?
Simon Starling: Maybe I don’t have the rigor and the patience to be the scientist. My interests are very broad and being a scientist requires such a specialization these days. I am interested in how to connect these specialisms to others. Just as I couldn’t function as someone who works in his studio making paintings all day, I couldn’t perhaps function in a lab making rigorous experiments. It is antithetical to the way I think. There are of course exceptions in the world of science but there is a certain kind of freedom that comes with the work I do.
Fabian Stech: The fact of being an artist is also related to the visible products you are producing and working with your own hands and with different materials.
Simon Starling: Yes. Over the years that has also changed in the work. In the beginning the projects were very much about what was possible for one person to achieve! It was me against the world! These long making processes – building boats or refining metals, for example – or these performative works like “Tabernas Desert Run” in 2004 – the crossing of the desert in Spain with a improvised moped producing water, which was directly related to Chris Burden’s “Death Valley Run”. Then I became more interested in working with specialists, individuals, craftsmen and scientists. Such as the master mask maker, Yasuo Miichi, who collaborated on “Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima)” from 2011. In some way these individuals become a kind of surrogate artist. I am very determined that the work doesn’t stagnate as a methodology. I do not want to be labelled as an artist with a fixed approach. It means learning in public, of course. I find that very exciting somehow, to keep moving and rethinking the work all the time, finding new ways of working.
Fabian Stech: At the same time, you work with a method often determined by the space you are working in. In the exhibition in Mulhouse, your first question was how many kilos the structure of the exhibition place could support. And that is the main title: “Three Hundred and Fifty Kilogrammes per Square Meter”.
Simon Starling: Every time you arrive in a particular place to make an exhibition you come with a certain amount of baggage, a certain set of interests, which direct your focus in a particular place. There is a methodology there, I suppose, but I really like the idea that when somebody stumbles across one of my works they don’t necessarily know that it is a work of mine. It can be surprising and disarming somehow. Of course, there are strategies, there are methods that I’ve used time and again – but I like to keep the form of the work very flexible and responsive to the context.
This text is an extract from the interview published in Annual Art Magazine Issue 5.