In his head

March 2015

How Ron Gilad entertains himself
Portrait Ron Gilad © URI GRUN

Ron Gilad has committed himself to the materialising of ideas, creating design pieces with a keen thoughtfulness, wit, and splendour. He is fascinated with deconstructing the function of an object, and the types of works he creates are wide in range. As it happens, all that Gilad designs is evidence of a meticulous attention and focus, as well as a poetic formalism; it is aesthetically pleasing. Employing rigour, Gilad enlivens a consciousness of material vulnerability and deception, which serves to enrich his objects. DAMN° interviewed the former New Yorker about his wise and wonderful approach.

DAMN°: Where are you located at present? Where are you doing your work?

Ron Gilad: In my head. No, right now I am in Milan. Actually, I think I’ve lost my orientation. Two years ago, after 12 years in New York, I moved back to Israel. I was completely drunk on the possibilities in New York, and slowly I realised there were too many possibilities and they were moving too fast for me. It took me 10 years to plan my escape. After nine years in New York, I also found myself working more with Italian industry, with Molteni & C, and I decided to get closer. So I ended my partnership with my studio and became more independent. The choices were either to go to Italy or back home to Tel Aviv. I also had to heal myself after 10 years of anxiety in New York. I wanted to go to a place I feel safe in. 

DAMN°: What was so anxiety provoking about New York?

RG: Everything felt temporary to me. It was very hard to build friendships or know what was going on around me because things were ever changing, and this instability made me feel quite anxious.

DAMN°: So you split your time?

RG: Half and half.

DAMN°: All Italians are really Jews anyway, that’s what a famous writer once said about Brooklyn.
RG: I felt very comfortable in Williamsburg, in fact.

DAMN°: Where is the permission for you to think about design the way you do, the security to feel that you can take chances?
RG: It comes from insecurity, not security. It comes from a place of putting doubt around me; I mean my reality, in general; the fact that everything is temporary forces me to take a position of freedom and risk. I don’t take anything for granted and I keep questioning my existence through objects. I think that function limits us a lot, and therefore I am trying to stretch the boundary of how we perceive function.

DAMN°: And that questioning takes place on so many levels. It can begin with: what is a function, after all? Where does it come from? How does it get to look the way it does? And does it have to be onething? Can a door also be a wall? In your work, it can. That inherent instability that we see, for example, in the Birth of a Chair.

RG: You know, I was criticised during my first years at university for being two-dimensional. My professors said that if I wanted to be a product designer, I’d have to learn how to design in 3D. That I’m not a painter. But for me it was crucial to show, in the Birth of a Chair, for instance, how I give birth to a drawing, not necessarily a function, from a point into a line into a square and then finally into a function. Through drawing.

DAMN°: It seems, also, that the way your mind works is that you go through the possibilities of an object or a function, a bench, a chair, a mirror. Are those questions on-going or do you feel that something is exhausted and it’s time to move on?

RG: I find myself asking a question over and over again, and the more I ask it, the deeper I go. My language is very specific and very narrow, to be honest. On the one hand, I do try to intrigue and entertain myself first and foremost. On the other hand, do you see these? [Holds up containers of Xanax] It becomes a mental obsession! [laughs] The reality is not just about being a researcher looking for solutions. I am trying to be as authentic as I can to who I am. I don’t want to corner myself into one place, and I tend to work on about 20 different projects per day, juggling each of them 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Forgive the cliché, but when I get overexcited about something I put it aside. I can then wake up the next morning and look at it and say: Ron, you are a complete idiot. But I don’t give up. I capture every stupid drawing I make.

DAMN°: Your work is minimal, pared down to the absolute essential, and at the same time it can be so autobiographical. Isn’t that paradoxical?

RG: My work doesn’t come from nowhere. And it is not a matter of form. It comes from certain questions and obsessions. The fact that I don’t believe I have a physical place in this world; I am escaping from one place to another, trying to find my own place. When I was in Williamsburg, I was one of the artists at 475 Kent Avenue who were vulgarly extracted from the building by the fire department in the middle of the freezing-cold night, and it ignited certain feelings from my childhood. It became the departure point for the 2009 exhibition Spaces, Etc. The shapes, the spaces, help me deal with the fact that I want my own place. You know, I try to reach for a certain purism in my work. Also, I am trying to create my own alphabet, to put that together into words, and from that into small sentences, and from that into paragraphs.

DAMN°: But you are currently working on something much bigger than a paragraph. More like an epic.

RG: In the last couple of years, I’ve been working on my first architecture project, for a client in Italy, a summerhouse on Lake Garda. I am completely obsessed about working at a new scale. Every creator has a scale they are comfortable with. Mine was something I can pick up, like a chair. I had to learn that it takes four hands to pick up a table. Now I am designing spaces, volumes that are supposed to contain me, and it’s confusing. This was a former project of Stephen Holl’s, which the client decided not to build. I was in the right place at the right time when this happened, and said “I’m going to do your house. [laughs] Let me show you some ideas.” Obviously they started laughing, but they were brave enough to do it. The client hated the first proposal but realised I was very serious. The second design is what we are building. It looks very simple, but of course I made every possible mistake in planning an actual structure.

DAMN°: As long as we are talking about current activities, a few years ago you formed an arrangement with the furniture manufacturer Molteni & C. Can you tell us how that is developing?

RG: I never worked with big industry in furniture before; I was always doing my little experiments, and I explained to Carlo Molteni, who came to my studio in Brooklyn, that there is a very big bridge that must be built between us. Molteni & C is a commercial company. They need to produce andt hey need to sell, and they need to answer to certain tastes. At that point I was very selfish and egocentric, and couldn’t think about the end user. Surprisingly, they were very courageous and came to me. And I realised this was a chance to work with a group of people with a lot of history and experience and different perceptions about what design is.

DAMN°: Was it a question of having to finally grow up?

RG: No, because it’s very important to me to maintain the place of being naïve and childish. It’s part of why over the last two years I have jumped into the world of complete abstraction and sculpture. I have begun to work more with galleries. This is the world of absolute freedom, and it’s crucial for me to have this in order to not become bored with the world of function. ‹

PANNA COTTA. A thin structured table top in stabilised steel wire with a marble counterweight / The table top produces a slight vibration due to the elasticity of the structure.
Smoking House
This article appeared in DAM49. Order your personal copy.