Last summer, in the group show To Do As One Would at London’s David Zwirner, New York-based sculptor Ann Greene Kelly exhibited “Untitled”, a sculpture made up of a stuffed, blue vinyl oblate draped with orange shag and a metal pole angled upward with a cup-like stone attached to its end, like the receiver of a marble telephone.
Kelly’s parents’ neighbours were at the opening. Beneath the shag and the periscopic stone and metal, they recognised something: the top of one of their bar stools. Kelly’s studio lies in her parents’ apartment building’s basement, a shared space where the stools had sat abandoned for years. The neighbours liked the sculpture but asked for the seat back once the show was over – Kelly still hasn’t told them she hacksawed it from its rusted base.
This is how Kelly’s sculptures often are: not so much assembled parts as confluences of the disassembled, materials vibrating in curious company, amputated or otherwise altered, but alive. ForInTouch (2015), her first artist book, published by Peradam Press, Kelly took a similar approach. She used Sharpies to erase most of InTouch magazine’s “Holidays from Hell” issue, leaving only the hands marooned together on every page, adding images of her studio as the finishing touch — stones, gloves, clamps. Below, Kelly speaks about making her mark on stone.
Where did the idea for InTouch come from?
One summer during college I was back home and I’d been making art all semester and it was kind of the first time I realised I couldn’t just stop making art because I was out of school. I drew on the New York Times and covered everything but the hands, but with graphite. I’d always had in my head that it would be really cool to do a whole magazine. But it is a time consuming, weirdly boring thing!
It’d be kind of meditative too, because you’re not adding anything, you’re just…
Taking everything away! And it’s funny because you get to know the magazine really well. This one is the Kardashian issue and the cover says “Holidays from Hell”. InTouch is funny because it’s also the most vacant magazine. I’m pretty sure every issue of InTouch magazine has the same number of pages, which is crazy to me. Content has nothing to do with the size.
Why did you choose to focus on hands?
It’s to do with touch, taking away everything they’re touching so the hands become inactive but also theatrical. They suddenly say a lot. In ads or whatever, you see people doing things with their hands and the hands are kind of supported by the objects, so you’re taking away the support. In this, so many of them were texting [laughs]. While I was travelling I kept noticing the hands of sculpture; they were always so expressive and almost where the skill [of the sculptor] was. When you’re learning to draw, you just draw your hands because they’re the hardest things to capture.
How did you decide on which images to insert?
I take so many pictures in my studio with my cell phone, so these images were like ‘adding my touch’. I feel like a lot of the work I do with stone, the way I think about it, is just the indent of my hand in something. Even when I use tools, how I think about the spaces that I want to make is through my fingers. I’ll trace it with my hands and then use the tool to make that space.
Do you choose stone based on how you can work on it, or how it feels?
Totally on how it feels or how it sits. I’ll go to the place where I buy stone and just hang out down there, and if something looks interesting I’ll pick it up. Some stones can only sit one way. I’m not as into it when I make an entire shape out of a piece of stone. I like to just have a stone and expose part of it, or make something fit into it, or make it fit into something else. It’s kind of based on what the stone is already doing.
Do you remember what made you want to start making sculpture?
I feel like sculpture was a slow road for me. The wood shop and the metal shop at school were always really intimidating, and I didn’t grow up around people making stuff — which I think was also good. Understanding how things are made or thinking about what could possibly hold two things together is so exciting to me. I think that’s where a lot of my work comes from, but it took me a long time just to get to actually making things.
I saw a show in my freshman year that had Rachel Harrison, Franz West and Isa Genzken and it just blew my mind. It was so weirdly direct. I saw the show and I was like, ‘that’s it’. Art school is so weird, which is also what’s good about it. It’s constantly, ‘why is this important?’ And ‘what’s art doing?’ And, ‘art’s not doing anything! [laughs]. I never got good crits because it was always like: ‘why is this tennis ball on this piece of stuff? What is this doing?’ But when I saw those sculptures I was like: ‘I don’t know if I can talk about it, but this is fucking doing something.’ There’s not a doubt in my mind. They just felt so important and clarifying. I felt like I was learning and understanding so much from them, and they gave me this belief. They made me feel like it was okay to try to make stuff.