We visited Gautam Kansara in his sunny third floor apartment in Williamsburg, which houses both his art studio as well as his home. We arrived, knowing him to be a video artist, but were pleasantly surprised to also see his photography, multi-media book projects, and the ephemera he’s collected from his family’s history, including governmental documentation, photographs, and fabrics that were once his grandmother’s saris.

His artistic focus is on his immediate family, through videotaped conversations and interactions, tracing his ancestral origins in India and following it through his grandparents’ immigration to London fifty years ago. Gautam brings the viewer into his intimate family’s world, touching on shifting hierarchies as the elder generation ages and passes away, memories, emotional availability and cultural displacement. His work is incredibly poignant, candid, and compassionate, as it opens up the most personal realm to the viewer.


NNNY: Describe your experience moving to the United States.

Gautam: I was born in Islington in North London but moved to the US when I was 5, and so I don’t remember the journey much. But I remember it was winter when we arrived and I remembering loving to stamp about in the snow. But my parents were both born in India, my mum’s family moved to London in 1947, just before India’s independence, when she was 2, and much later my dad came over for school at 16. But so being Indian and looking Indian everyone always assumed I was from there, but growing up, India was largely this mystery for me. Until recently India was sort of embodied for me by my grandparent’s, because as I was growing up they were my only window into Indian culture.

: What was the evolution of you becoming an artist?

Gautam: Going way back to high school, I remember this photography assignment I had called “Crooked Photography”. We were scratching negatives, solarizing prints, using liquid light, toning the images, putting wet glass plates on top of the paper before exposing, brushing the developer onto the paper....it was really hands-on and really got me going.

Then I went to UCSC and knew I wanted to major in art. I got into color photography and started experimenting a lot with long exposures, and I got into digital printmaking and making woodcuts.

But it wasn’t until 2002 when I came to NYU that I started making videos. By 2004 when NYU was winding to an end, I began focusing my camera largely on my family. My grandparent’s were getting older and I found myself visiting them more and more frequently in London, and always filming them a lot when I was there.

It turned into this massive project and direction for me. It’s been 6 years now that I have been filming my family and making work that addresses familial hierarchies, as well as memory and aging, emotional availability and cultural displacement.

Much of this body of work draws upon candid recordings of my family and I in spontaneous conversations, which reveal the shifting dynamics of their influence and support, and offer an intimate look into our private lives.

I became quite focused on video but always kept photographing as well, most all of my projects now have video and photo components. I’ve also currently involved in a residency at the center for book arts, and have been getting really into that.

Since much of my work is video and audio based, and quite long form, I feel like the intimate nature of the book lends itself to the personal subject matter of the work as well as encouraging a viewer to spend a larger period of time with the piece.

I’m currently developing 3 books with audio at the Center, which will all be a part of a larger work involving video, sound, and photography as well.

NNNY: Describe your studio practice.

Gautam: I’ve had various studio spaces over the years, while in residency’s, or different apartments, or studio buildings around Brooklyn. My practice is somewhat influenced by the kind of space I have to experiment with. In a larger space I utilize projection a lot, setting up imagery to re-film and re-photograph. But also to be able to set up and work out the relationships between the video and photo elements of a work is something I wish I was always able to do.

Right now my studio is small, but it serves my purposes for the moment as I am largely editing away on a new project, and so am really on the computer mostly.

But I also have access the studio space at the Center for Book Arts, their bindery and printshop and workspace, which is really great to have in addition and allows me to spread out a bit more.

NNNY: What successes and difficulties have you had as a foreign–born artist in New York?

Gautam: As a foreign-born artist I don’t think I’ve had things any harder in New York, perhaps even the opposite.  In New York there are so many artists, and you really have to work to distinguish yourself, but there are also a lot of opportunities to pursue. I found particular help and support from the non-profit world, especially from Smack Mellon, Real Art Ways in Hartford, LMCC, and the Center for Book Arts. These organizations are amazing and they really nurture artists.


NNNY: How has moving to the United States influenced your art?

Gautam: I wouldn’t say moving to the US has influenced my art, but being an immigrant and having roots and connections in multiple places, in London, in India, and in the US, definitely has been a big influence. Figuring out and negotiating how these cultures relate and our changing is something I’m interested in exploring more.

Moving to New York has also been a huge factor in my development as an artist. The city has made me hyper-focused and kept me constantly stimulated. The mindset and the pace have sunk in, and I am driving myself hard.


NNNY: What are your upcoming shows, projects, etc?

Gautam: In July one of my videos will be shown as part of a Carte Blanche to Catherine Baÿ at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which is organized by the artist Catherine Baÿ.

I’ll be part of a show in the fall in Bombay in India. It’s at a new space called BMB Gallery in Colaba in South Bombay. And it’s curated by Sharmistha Ray whom I met here in New York maybe a year back. It’s gonna be focused on 5 artists of Indian decent that live abroad, so kind of the flip side of NNNY.

And then also in the Fall I’ll be showing a project at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center that’s curated by Alexander Campos, who’s the executive director at the Center for Book Arts.


For more information on Gautam Kansara please visit his website: www.gautamkansara.wordpress.com

© 2010 Non-Native New York

Selected Artists