In conversation with:
LEO GABIN

No panic baby!!!

First time I spoke to Leo Gabin, I asked, “How did Leo Gabin get its name?” They answered, “Eating waffles at Denny’s.” Continuin, “Is three ever a crowd?” Leo Gabin consists of three people, they answered, “Depending on the activity.” And with them almost being professional “stalkers,” as the majority of LG works revolves around social media, authorship, surveillance culture, etc., I asked about their daily hour intake of Youtube, they went for, “Is Brendan Dassey really innocent?”

Leo Gabin is a multidisciplinary art collective that started in the 1990s in Ghent. Ghent is where all three are from, where all three still live, and where all three went to school, together. Their work is straightforward adaptation on use of the internet, with no exact linear structure. LG produces paintings, sculptural works, video works, etc. Up until recently, the focus was on found footage, but with their latest work, “No Panic Baby,” LG, for the first time, presented their original footage. “No Panic Baby,” spans over good half an hour, was filmed somewhere between Atlantic City and El Paso, and is a take on failed (teen) relationship accompanied by all sorts of break up rituals and fake news.

We sat down with LG right before their premiere of “No Panic Baby,” at Torino Film Festival, and spoke about IRL and URL life, fake eggs, fake grass, cars, and manipulated work.

_

Should the art be separated from the artist?

In some cases it is just not possible, and that is OK.

In your case, it seems like the art is separated, or?

Yes, especially as we consider Leo Gabin as a single entity, it is not about the individuals. A big part of our work actually revolves around questioning the status of authorship in how we use imagery and how we choose to work together.

For someone that is not as familiar with your work, how do you want your pieces to be read?

As (future) artifacts of our current time.

Can art and commerce coexist?

The video, “Art Delivers People” by Jonathan Horowitz (parody of “Television Delivers People” by Richard Serra), contains the statement, “The Art World is dependant on commerce for its existence.”

Your new video consists of two parts, and both deal with disjuncture. One part are videos you found online, and one is your original video work, which is a first. Why now?

The first video ever posted on YouTube was by one of its founders, Jawed Karim, called “Me at the Zoo.” It’s a 19 seconds clip showing him in front of elephants. The transcript reads, “Alright, so here we are in front of the, uh, elephants. And, the cool thing about these guys is that, is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks, and that’s, that’s cool. And that’s pretty much all there is to say.” Pure genius. Stuff like that has become rare, so we decided to start shooting our own footage.

Break up rituals, sort of fake news, fake planes, etc. Is “No panic baby” reaction to something specific that happened?

We had been viewing lovesickness and heartache expressed online for a long time. It’s fascinating to us how people turn the camera on themselves at such a vulnerable moment. Craving an audience to share their grief becomes therapeutic. This was the starting point – playing with the idea of telling some kind of crazy love story, using various narratives associated with post-breakup behavior, like maniacally checking the FB or Instagram of your ex, we started to explore feelings of despair and suspicion but expanding this to other things as well. Doubting everything, taking it to the extreme. It is not a direct reaction to the specific event(s), we have been looking into psychological manipulation before the fake news stuff became so current. Of course, now there is this undeniable link with the recently heightened general distrust. There is this line in the film, where Scott says to himself, “Right now, your thoughts are not true. Do not believe what you think. Get a cue card, write that down.” To us, that’s funny, disturbing and relatable at the same time.

Very relatable! I mean, there have been so many articles online pinpointing how getting likes and being liked per se, works in the same way as drugs. It’s addictive, and it increases your dopamine level. I have the same problem, as you’ve probably noticed on my Instagram (laughs). I feel like social media is an instant cure to whatever kind of insecurities you’re dealing with at certain moment. That said, do you care about the likes and appreciation you get on social media or you know better than that? Sometimes it is hard to acknowledge you don’t have to be everything to everybody.

Yeah, but it can also add to the insecurities of some. It has its good and bad sides. Like everything addictive, it’s a tricky thing. It’s all about the balance and not losing yourself in it. We stayed away from social media for a long time, functioning as a fascinated observer instead of a participant. Eventually, we did create an IG account, but we try not to get caught up in it. We approach it as an extra, but efficient communication tool.

“No panic baby” revolves around IRL and URL life. Do you think, in this day and age, URL life is actually as real as IRL?

It’s nice to play with that idea. The more communication happens online, the more vague this all gets. It is all very intertwined. The film taps in on these twisted realities feeding anxiety and paranoia.

Music in this movie is as strong as characters, and occasionally, it even feels like music is the lead!?

We work in a collage-like manner, and the use of music and sound is approached in the same way as anything else. That said, it indeed has this essential role, as if music was the glue.

Is Leo Gabin a character of your own making? One from your movies?

Yes, no.

How do you thread a line between different medias you work in and still stay in sync? You do sculpture, paintings, now your own video production, etc. You guys are really good curators of your own work! Leo Gabin feels a bit like an institution.

Perhaps this is the result of working as a trio. There are constantly three inputs, which makes us able to move quickly between mediums. One might start a video piece, which inspires the other to select relating imagery for a painting or start sculptural work. During the creation, a piece always gets altered in one way or another by each of us. We think this interaction, by us three specifically, creates a line throughout.

When you put your work out in public, do you ever feel that once it’s in circulation the work gets manipulated and molded by different approaches/ways of understanding?

Yes, the context in which a work is shown can certainly influence the perception. It’s a difficult thing to keep control, and doing so can drive you crazy. On the other hand, you also want it to be open to interpretation and personal associations.

Tell me about your work process!?

We don’t have specific rules, there is no division of labor. Depending on the project or media the process will vary. When it comes to painting, we mostly work together physically on a piece, but it can also be altered or revisited by someone later on. Individually we need to let go of a preconceived idea you might have about a result, which keeps it exciting.

How do you know when to stop working on a successful work?

In regards to the moment, we decide if piece is finished. We rely on a common gut feeling. When it comes to video, it is more idea based and starts to take shape by collecting an abundance of footage, which will go through an editing process in a later stage.

Do you think that when an artist becomes a public figure that alters and affects his/her work?

Maybe yes, sometimes no.

Who or what influences your painting?

Videos like, “What’s on my iPhone,” and “What’s in my backpack.”

Who or what influences your sculptures?

Videos like, “Cute OOTD (outfit of the day),” and “Christmas mall haul.”

Who or what influences your videos? 

Videos like, “How to get your eyebrows on fleek,” and “No Makeup Makeup tutorial.”

What do you fear? 

Fear.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made?

Checking our spam folder.

Oh yes, that is where Harmony Korine’s email was! Do you like sports cars? 

They are OK. Prefer mid 90’s GM 4-door sedans.

How do your parents feel about the work you make? 

Good, they live with it, literally, that is.

Do you live with your own work?

We are around it all the time in our studio. At home, we have works by artists we have done trades with.

Have you ever envied anybody in your life? 

Yes, sure. But let us remember a popular internet quote, “The grass always looks greener when it’s fake.”

What is your favorite fake thing? Grass?

One of the craziest are fake eggs! There are these videos online about the production, but guess these could be fake as well.

Interview: Katja Horvat

Photos: All images are stills from “No panic baby,” and are courtesy of the artists.