Sabrina Russo: Q + A

September 24, 2018Q + A

Sabrina Russo of Toronto-based Prefix ICA, a public art gallery and publisher.

Russo is director of Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art which commissioned Tatzu Nishi’s public art project Life’s Little Worries of Sir Adam Beck running Sept. 5-30. PIA is one of its funders.

Sabrina Russo of Toronto-based Prefix ICA, a public art gallery and publisher.

Why did Prefix decide to venture into public art?

Prefix has a longstanding interest in art, architecture and urbanism. Alongside our magazine and exhibitions program, Prefix hosts an international lecture series, the Urban Field Speakers Series, that considers innovative projects and ideas about art and the city. After years of hosting this lecture series, we decided to take matters into our hands to develop a new project with and for Toronto.

Nishi’s Life’s Little Worries of Sir Adam Beck, an intervention on a historic monument at University Ave. and Queen St. W., Toronto.

Nishi’s Life’s Little Worries of Sir Adam Beck, an intervention on a historic monument at University Ave. and Queen St. W., Toronto.

How did you decide to work with Tatzu Nishi?

Scott McLeod, our founding director, conceived of this project, having experienced one of Mr. Nishi’s installations at the 8th Mercosul Biennial in 2011 and having invited him to participate in our Urban Field Speakers Series in 2013. Nishi’s lecture at Prefix generated a lot of excitement about the possibility of having him do an original work in Toronto. It all came together when McLeod was able to secure the necessary funds and to develop the framework for the realization of the project. We were all very excited to see how Nishi would respond to our city.

When did you know you’d have a career in art?

There is a photo of me at two-months old sporting a Nikon SLR, so I guess I was always hopeful! I suppose little by little through study and side projects, I came to discover what I was already doing.

What was your first successful creative act?

The first photograph I composed and printed was of a lone deer in the High Park zoo.

How do you begin your day and what are your habits?

I drink a lot of coffee. I like to begin the day by making notes while riding the 504 streetcar downtown. I think it is one of the nicest streetcar rides in the city and it’s a great place to work out ideas.

Which artists do you admire most?

Sophie Calle, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Francis Alys.

Which artists do you like, that would surprise people?

I love Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s Live to Tell.

How did you learn there was a career in art?

I have been surrounded by artists and makers my whole life, so I always considered a career in art to be a possibility. I guess the tricky part is trying to build a life and practice that is sustainable. My goal was not to have a career in art necessarily, but to find a way to keep thinking and making.

What three art shows have influenced you over your career?

Rosângela Rennó’s The Last Photograph at Prefix ICA, Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet at MoMA and Tino Sehgal’s This Progress at the Guggenheim

Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet at the MoMA PS1 in 2012 was an inspiration for Russo.

were all spontaneously delightful, moving and smart. These exhibitions made me rethink the nature of recording and how to use the space of a gallery in the creation of a work. I regret that I missed Geoffrey Farmer’s A Pale Fire Freedom Machine at The Power Plant for similar reasons.

Which is more important, the process or result? Why?

The idea, the process and the result are all equally important. I usually start with the process, but I have learned that it is not always useful to have the process directly visible in the result.

What is your favourite colour? Your least favourite colour?

Lately I am partial to dark sooty greys, especially with the warmth of natural wood nearby. I dislike any colour that makes an object appear as if it’s trying to be something it is not.

How do you procrastinate?

I love making lists and rearranging furniture. It is important to see where things stand at one point in time and also to unsettle a workspace.

What is your favourite work of art?

Untitled (Perfect Lovers) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It is about timing, movement, proximity, touch—a simple gesture that summarizes a relationship, constant change and loss. I like to imagine that the clocks slowly slid across walls until they were as close as possible, which is just barely touching.

Who would you want to create your portrait?

In the here and now, I would ask my closest art collaborators, Michele Crockett and my father. If time and space were no object, I would choose Frida Kahlo—someone taking your portrait should understand the self-portrait.

What do you do if you need inspiration?

Grab a blank sheet of paper and go to the studio. Get started and see what comes of it.

What do you like to do when you’re not at Prefix?

I love to garden. It’s another way of rearranging objects with a bonus of food at the end of the season.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Surviving cycling in Paris!

What is your greatest fear?

Having to go shopping in a department store.

What advice do you have for aspiring curators?

Read a lot and talk to real live artists.

How did you hear about Partners in Art?

Through the grapevine…