Portrait of the Artist: Isabelle Garbani


Invasive Species, Farm/Art DTour, Reedsburg, WI, 2014
Invasive Species, Farm/Art DTour, Reedsburg, WI, 2014

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in France and moved to the US in the 80’s when I was 17 and my Dad was coming here for work. We were in Boston at the time. I came to NY to go to Grad School at the New York Academy of Art because I wanted to have a traditional background… I did not want to make traditional art but the foundations, I felt, were important. I totally fell in love with NYC… I really felt like I was finally home.

What brings you to Bay Ridge?

We moved to Bay Ridge because after grad school, my boyfriend moved from Boston (seeing as I was not returning), he had a friend who lived in the area and we really liked it. It was a bit more low-kew than the rest of the city and was less expensive. We loved the stores on 5th Ave and never felt the need to leave the area. Though we need to kick-start the cultural activities.

Has working in Bay Ridge effected your studio practice?

Invasive Species Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, Taiwan, 2012
Invasive Species
Cheng-Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, Taiwan, 2012

It’s not really affecting how I work. NYC in general has affected my work more specifically than Bay Ridge. I have my studio in the Brooklyn Army Terminal so I just walk back and forth and never really leave the neighborhood.

The city is more of an inspiration to me. To be here feels very much like being “at home.” When you come from somewhere else and you live in another place for so long… you don’t belong anywhere. In NYC I felt like I was home because everybody came from somewhere else. We sort of belong here, sorta don’t… it makes us New Yorkers in that way and more “at home” than anyplace else.

Can you talk about the role of recycled materials, especially plastic bags, in your work?

So again when I went to school I studied very traditional sculpture and to me the material that you use in sculpture is very important. It speaks to subject matter and to culture in general. I feel like art is not timeless to me… it speaks to and is about your contemporaries, about what we care for and I really wanted to have a material that talks about issues of our times and who we are. Plastic is a high-tech material and is completely brilliant but at the same time is going to kill you… it doesn’t bio-degrade, we are trashing the ocean, we are making more and more of it. Plastic is indispensable and it is completely unnecessary; it is vital to our modern lives and it is harmful to our environment; it is a true technological achievement and a sign of our failure. It has the same issues that America has to me (in this way). It has been very meaningful in representing my American experience…the good, the bad and everything between.

Studio Installation, Chashama Open Studio 2013
Studio Installation, Chashama Open Studio 2013

These materials show up on your website in two different menus: Outside Installations and Interior installations. Can you talk about the differences between those projects?

The outdoor works are mostly public commissions that tend to involve the community (in which they exist). They are site-specific, they tend to be temporary installations. The work is less challenging philosophically so it is more accessible to a larger audience. The indoor stuff is not necessarily “pretty.” I like having something that involves the community in terms of actually helping in the art-making. I like seeing that engagement and seeing the transformation in people… getting excited about seeing the end result. It draws people out in a lot of ways. I want to do more of that stuff.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m working on a project at the Brooklyn Army Terminal that’s going to be installed in the fall. A big, very involved community project: crochetchallenge.com. After that I’m going to go back to my archiving of the 21st Century and be in the studio by myself for a while.

See more of Isabelle’s work and keep up with her projects at isabellegarbani.com.

Knit for Trees, Huntington, LI, 2012
Knit for Trees, Huntington, LI, 2012

Isabelle Garbani