The Brooklyn based sculptor Yasmin Gur is fascinated with the process of upcycling materials such as reclaimed wood and transforming them into dimensional artforms which often respond to the site’s architecture. Gur is the producer for The Upcycle Junction Market, which gives her and ten other local artists a chance to take an active part in the urgent conversation about waste.
AS: You are a native Israeli based in Brooklyn. Tell me about your background and what brought you to art.
Yasmin Gur: I was born into art. My mother was a painter and my father was an architect. They were part of a very creative time in the desert in Israel. They, along with many others from around the world were building the city of Arad. As a child I liked to build and I had the support of my family. In our home there were always artists and young architects visiting my parents. Becoming an artist was a natural progression.
AS: Your recent sculpture is made of reclaimed wood. What draws you to that material and how did you start?
Yasmin Gur: I always loved wood. Its history is evident in its patterns and textures. I evolved into working with reclaimed wood because I wanted to extend its life. I enjoy taking a piece of wood from one context and stretching it by giving it a new context. I am inspired by urban structures and I like the idea of using the materials of these structures to create a form that evokes nature but also creates tension.
AS: Besides wood you worked with metal, papier mache, clay, and other materials. How do you choose your material, and can you give me a couple of examples on how your process differs?
Yasmin Gur: I am in general always looking for the best material to convey my ideas. For example, when I worked with papier mache I wanted to evoke skin. My goal was to create a form that felt like it was breathing. On the other hand, with “Woman Tools”, I chose to create the works from aluminum not only because they suggested gynecological tools. but also because the surface created an impenetrable boundary.
AS: Tell me about “Urban Passages” at Governors Island in 2014-15
Yasmin Gur: “Urban Passages” was a series of work that I created as part of the Sculptors Guild show “Transformation”. These works were site specific. I wanted to create the feeling the works had been there for a long time, and one of the pieces, “My Old Room”, features two outgrowths erupting from the corners like lichen. I like the comparison with lichen because it is very slow growing and the architecture of the buildings where we had the show hearkens back to an earlier slower era.
AS: You made public art on a larger scale. Tell me about one project that you see as an important landmark for you.
Yasmin Gur: In December 2018, I was one of twenty artists chosen to create a site specific public sculpture as part of ArtB&B in Jerusalem. It was a very challenging site – an old underutilized mall next to the market in the center of Jerusalem. As artists we were given ten days to assess the location, choose an appropriate site for our work, collect the necessary tools and materials to build it, and create it. I worked on scaffolding 20 feet above the floor. In spite of the very short deadline I was able to organize the project in a way that allowed me to make final decisions about the composition in the moment.
AS: Your sculptures seem to require a rigorous physical labor – you scavenge, shlap, construct, wear gear, use what seem to me like heavy duty tools. How important is this physical exertion in your work?
Yasmin Gur: It is true my sculptures do require physical labor. It is one of the necessary requirements based on how I have chosen to work. There is a magic moment that happens for me as I am working, and persisting, where the material in its resistance starts to suggest something more sensual and poetic. I do not think there is a short cut getting to that place.
AS: Where do you see your work going from here?
Yasmin Gur: I see myself working on more projects like ARTB&B. I think my work is ideally suited for underutilized and abandoned sites. In addition, I am working on a series of small works based on some of the forms I have developed over the last few years.
AS: You have been working on “Upcycle Junction Market”, an outdoor marketplace that promotes the sale of sustainable products in Brooklyn’s Flatbush Junction on July 14th and August 4th, from 2-7PM. What would you like to share about it?
Yasmin Gur: I am the producer for The Upcycle Junction Market, a collaboration between The Flatbush Junction BID and local artists. It is an opportunity for me to make the connection between art and reuse in the community where I live. As artists we live in a tricky time. Artists need to be part of conversation about the waste surrounding us. The market itself will include ten local artists, as well as workshops by Materials for the Arts, the Blue Bus Project, info table from the Dept of Sanitation.
There will be music and it should be a beautiful day.