Robin Cameron

Can you quickly introduce yourself?

My name is Robin Cameron. I was born in Canada and now I’m an artist living in New York City.

Looking at your work, it is relevant to note the different techniques you use, can you tell us about your approach to these different mediums and why you are not focused around a particular one?

My approach to the work begins with a specific idea and then that idea lends itself to the form. Part of what I’m trying to reconcile in my work is both the conceptual and the visual. I get bored easily and find by experimenting with new mediums I am always surprising myself.

The first time I saw your oil stick drawing was at the show in Redhook (Brooklyn) that portrayed the relation between Canada and NYC, can you give me some words about the Canadian’s in NYC?

That show was called 160km because most Canadians live 160km from the US border. It was an opportunity for a group of Canadian friends that are all artists to put together a show. There’s this kinship or magnetic quality in New York City where even if we don’t know each other back home in Canada we end up hanging around together here.

Can you talk about the mood you were in when you created the oil stick drawing, what were your feelings?

The oil stick drawings started when I was at a residency in Banff, Alberta. I had this large studio and a big table to work from. I had never worked on a drawing standing up so the first ones were based on the idea of walking while drawing. They are sort of a way to turn off the more analytical parts of my practice and just work with materials. I realized later that the drawings end up looking like what someone would think is art from the 1950s—almost like a parody.

We also met at conferences organized by David Senior (MoMa library) focused around art books and printed matter, how do feel regarding making books nowadays?

Yes I remember when you were doing JSBJ. I made zines when I was in school sort of casually with friends and then when I moved to New York I got more involved with the bookstore Printed Matter. The energy was open and friendly in the store, there is a great community around it. So I think David saw some of my zines and bought them for the library. I always felt that books were a way to have a show without a gallery. Also books were a way of focussing my practice by containing it in one object. Now I am attempting to turn my exhibitions into books where the installation is made up of book pages next to objects.

You seem interested in graphic design and typography as well, I am particularly thinking of the “grid sculpture” that has for reference Jan Tschichold’s work; how do you consider graphic design, is it part of your art practice or do you see it more as a commercial skill?

I think of design as a tool to communicate. Jan Tschichold used a lot of grids that were proportional in his work. I began making metal sculptures of these grids that would be typically unseen. I thought the underlying structure was beautiful. I have been working with a typesetter who hand letterpresses the book pages in the exhibitions, I think this kind of work is also important. Everything we interact with has been designed in some way.

The pictures we shot are from your solo show at Room East gallery, can you give us some words regarding the concept behind it?

The title of the show is “P-R-O-C-E-S-S-E-S”. These works all articulate a particular aspect of creative process. One of the works is a replica of a large shelving unit from the 1960s that is of modern danish design. I discovered an image of the bookshelf on ebay and instead of purchasing the shelf I decided to learn how to make it. With some assistance I went through the steps of building something that I had only seen in a photograph. For me the piece isn’t about the object on the wall but the learning process that I went through to produce it. In this sense it’s a non-ready-made—ready-made.

Another work in the exhibition is a borrowed non-reversing mirror from a mathematician R. Andrew Hicks from Philadelphia. Hicks has come up with an algorithm that creates a non-reversing mirror. He has experience in working with robotics and photography and is now working on a project to create a rearview mirror with no blind spot. I came across his work while researching for the show and became fascinated. What steps does someone go through to create a mirror of this kind? I spoke with Andrew at length about his process and included a paragraph about how the mirror was created as well as text that shows the mirrors properties. 

Can you tell us some words about the “meteorite” performance?

Sure, the piece is called “Heavy Heart” and it was performed at the book fair and my thesis exhibition. I found a meteorite that is the same weight as a human heart. The performance is the act of passing the meteorite and explaining the story. I wanted the work to feel like the moment someone telling you bad news and your heart sinks in your chest.

Can you tell me something you know is absolutely true?

Yves Klein agreed in 1962 to film the Documentary Mondo Cane. He thought that the film would raise his profile and art career. He was mistaken. The artist was so publicly humiliated that at the Cannes Premiere he had a heart attack.

Are you able to lie to someone?

No, I’m not a very good liar.

Do you like to travel?

I think I prefer coming home more than traveling.

I know you were obsessed with the French actor Jean Pierre Léaud, what can you tell us about him?

I worked on a project where I took stills from all the movies that Léaud had starred in and made a slideshow of these images. The slideshow was arranged in chronological order and began in 1959 with “The 400 Blows” and continued on to his more recent films. I wanted to figure out who was real—the characters that he played or the actor himself. I think this grew out of having a crush on him from all the french new wave films.

Your work involves text and writing, how important is it for you and can you tell us about a short story?

Most of my work begins with writing. I usually start with words and then move on to images. I’ve been working on some short stories that explained some of the works in the show at Room East. These were published in conjunction with the show.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a two person show with Sebastian Black that will open in April at the gallery Bodega in Philadelphia.

Conversation with Robin Cameron, NYC, March 2012. Photography by Études Studio.