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You works seem to never be complete. They proliferate like organisms or certain big cities. Are such connotations important for your works?

Yes. Those references, organisms and cities, anything that churns, develops, sprawls, fractals, organizes, systematizes, are always close to mind. The ones that I am most proud of are the installations that seem to be resting in the gallery but very much feel like they are not fully resolved. Viewers hopefully get a sense that there is a history or story behind how all of this stuff arrived in the gallery. And then they begin to think about what happens after the exhibition. These moments are nice, because they transcend the white cube and the viewer feels a connection between the art and the real world. I find this exciting because I bleed everything together anyway (ideas, materials, projects, studio work with "real life", old projects into new projects, etc.) so it feels satisfying when the installation reveals this somehow.

Phoebe Washburn's studio, Brooklyn, New York, during development of "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow", 2007
Photo: David Heald
© 2007 Phoebe Washburn

When one sees how you recycle wooden slats or piles of old newspapers, one might think you were a "green artist" primarily interested in subjects like sustainability, or that you're criticizing affluent society. How important are such ecological aspects to you?

I am not green I am greedy. And I resolved this problem of greed by collecting materials. I find it satisfying to make do with what I collect. It is more interesting to work this way. And I also like the layers of history that are inherent in the recycled materials.

How do people react when you collect your materials? Do they think you're some sort of freak?

I am competitive about collecting wood. I cannot stand the idea of someone else getting good serviceable wood that I neglected to pick up. I have collected other materials such as cardboard and newspapers and I felt the same way. It just so happens that I live in a place were people throw these things out all the time, so the well never runs dry for me. And when this action of collecting and repurposing these wasted materials is repeated over the course of several years, and the result is a large-scale installation, it appears to be a strong assertive statement about these issues of sustainability. But the initial gesture that ignited this process of collecting was more about greed and thrift and where I live. There are a lot of people who pick stuff up on trash night so sometimes what I am doing is completely absorbed into the busy bustling landscape. However, there are the odd moments when I need to pick something up at a very inopportune time. For example, when I am on my way to dinner with my husband. It can make for funny moments. But for the most part, no one notices.

Phoebe Washburn in her studio Photo: courtesy Wallpaper LAB
© Wallpaper LAB

Your installations often look improvised. They're reminiscent of shantytowns built out of anything that happens to be at hand. In a creative process born of necessity, materials are recycled. Sometimes this has an absurd or comical aspect. Does this also apply to your works?

Yes. I hope that there are moments of this in every installation. However, it is not my intent to romanticize or aestheticize ingenuity and resourcefulness out of necessity. I understand that most of the world lives with these pressures in a very serious way. But I respectfully appreciate these moments when I see them and I try to learn from them. Because my process is left open in that things are built on site, I know there will be problems to solve. In addition, because I am not trained in carpentry, I have had to learn to do things my own way (which I acknowledge is often the wrong or long way). I have come to make use of this. Sometimes I lack common sense, which can make for some really funny, beautiful, dreamer-like moments.

Phoebe Washburn
"It Makes For My Billionaire Status" 2005,
Installation views from Kantor/Feuer Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.
Image courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery

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