20.01.2024 #art

Ser Serpas

A Transcendental Riot by Ser Serpas

Every exhibition I make should be something like a little riot that allows you to get into a different state

A couple of weeks before the closing of her show at la Bourse de Commerce, we met Ser Serpas to learn more about the ghostly sculptures inhabiting her exhibition. The American artist told us about the multiple layers and lives of these objects, collected during her past year in Paris, but also about the importance of communicating through a universal language so that art can become a transcendental experience for everyone.

The title of the exhibition we are at is “I fear”, what does Ser Serpas fear?

This exhibition is sort of a portrait of my past year in Paris, which wasn’t as tumultuous as it may come across, yet implied lots of introspection. I was in a moment when I felt rather insecure about what I had done, my work and what it could make the audience feel. Ultimately, I was concerned about the sharing of it, the more so when it is in such a large stage like this museum. Being able to put on this show, thanks to the team and the performers, made me realize that what I fear the most is not being able to communicate with the people that I collaborated with, quite simply with people who have helped me throughout this journey.


So, to answer your question, what I fear is this lack of communication and the chaos that can be unleashed when you bottle up so many emotions.

This notion of storing or piling up is also pivotal in the show…

When producing this exhibition, a process that took over a year, the idea was to reflect a certain psychological state, which I think of as a kind of “frozen attic” situation. I see an attic as something like ‘the brain’, the top layer of a house. It’s a space where you store all the things you don’t use, but also things you don’t want to get rid of, that you still want to hold on to.


Your mind can be a dark place too, where you store up a lot of drama that you don’t even know how to deal with and that can become a heavyweight. The making of these sculptures also reveals this notion of weight, as I had to engage physically with these heavy objects. I’ve had them for over a year and I had to wrestle with them to stack them and make them hold each other up so that they don’t fall over.

This is a record of your past year where many narratives intertwine, as you build the pieces from objects collected in the street. What’s the importance of using found objects?

I’ve been moving a lot in the past three years and, up until recently, I felt this kind of wanderlust feeling, of not knowing where I belong to. When I go to different places, I surround myself with objects; it’s a way of situating myself. The search for objects is itself a way of getting a feel of the city too, as I usually drive with someone who works at the museum or gallery, and I can learn from them where we are and why these objects are there.

I saw such good stuff today, I just wished I had another show so I could have taken it all (laughs). I will keep souvenirs from the exhibition though, like these sunglasses hanging in one of the sculptures, my notebook, and the sheets because I think I’m going to make paintings with some of them.

This time, the sculptures are also special as they are the product of a collaborative performance, held before the exhibition opening. Can you tell us a bit more about it? 

Indeed, what you see now in this room was all done with the performers from a first party that we did at la Bourse de Commerce. I had never done this before, to get in a room with 5 other people and make objects together, which are now named after them. I think that’s why this show may be one of the most erratic in terms of sculpture compositions. At some point during the performance, we all became sort of “possessed” by the objects themselves, we all became activated by their energy. 


It wasn’t scripted at all, so I was a bit nervous at first. But then both the performers and the audience entered in this sort of “trance” state and everything aligned with a very intense energy, which is what I was hoping for. At some point, due to a lack of capacity, we had to open up the space and let people in, which completely shifted the vantage. Eventually, a friend took over the microphone and started reciting some poetry lines, creating yet a whole new atmosphere. This is one of the craziest things that I have been able to do, as an artist.

That implied losing a certain control over your “work”, in a sense, how did that feel? 

It was amazing, truly, but I can be such a control freak, so I had to externalize what art “is”. I am also not a choreographer, nor a performer, but my biggest heroes and friends are DJs and I am quite familiar with the party scene. So it was great to feel this sort of transcendence that you can attain in this kind of setting (without taking substances, of course) during the performance. It became a trip in itself, and that’s what I feel good art can do. I hope that, in some way, by showing how easy it is to make this kind of work, showing how it’s something that anyone can do and that the objects are available everywhere, the practice of art can be more democratised. Ultimately, I want to make people feel and engage in an experience by using a language that everyone can speak.

This was during the performance, but what about the show, is there something specific you want them to feel?

I know that I like to lead the audience to create a specific effect. I don’t want it to be unnerving or scary, but I want it to be embracing, I want the audience to reach a certain psychological state that reflects what I went through while I was making the show and the state I was in, how I make things. For this one, it was important that it felt a bit disorienting.

Disorientation and a sense of scariness, as this attic evokes the one from Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 Horror film “The Others”…

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to create a sculpture show with paintings acting as a theatrical backdrop. Once I had the sculptures, I thought of covering them with sheets, which instantly made me think of ghosts. The reference to the film “The Others” naturally sprung. I love the attic scene, I must have watched the movie a hundred times. 


But it wasn’t only about that. Whenever I brought objects into the museum in the past, I always encountered this request to sanitize them: Before they enter the museum, pieces need to be cleaned, so there’s no dust, no termites, no bedbugs… (laughs). In a way, this procedure feels like “containing” the sculptures to me. If it is just about their form, I may as well just cast them in bronze from the beginning, right? But then I thought it could be funny to half-cover them with sheets. This way, you can still make out what’s underneath them, while hiding the dust. It just became kind of a joke to me, to “protect” them from the dust yet make them part of it as they also become these sorts of ghosts haunting the attic.

Laid over a bar the paintings also become closer to being ghost-like objects. Is that why you don’t frame them?

I think it’s because I don’t know how to do it myself. Perhaps, if I knew how to build the structure, I would create my own version of a frame. I also love these paintings because I can just apply paint to them and drag them around the studio. They feel more like objects once I treat them in this way. I put my force on them so they become closer to a sculpture. I only got comfortable with painting once I saw I could work like this, dragging it around, letting it get dirty and messy… And stretching it would take away this dirt that I love so much. 

Some of your pieces are named after poetry lines, what role does poetry play in your practice?

I used to do political organising in high school, and a lot of that involved spoken word poems, there was a big emphasis on words and communication. So I understood being an artist as something close to making friends through sharing political convictions and doing this kind of work together. It also can lead to heavy emotional states, because talking about your political convictions means dealing with things that you are passionate about. 


Once I left college and the associations I knew, I kept doing this automatic writing about what I was feeling and thinking, naturally, my politics would also come out. I’d write about all these situations and abstract them, noting them on my phone in this kind of poetised way. I have a whole archive on my phone now, and sometimes I read it out loud. It doesn’t always sound like spoken poetry and it may look like a jumble of whatever, but I actually let it happen in a very controlled way. I write and push objects until they feel right – learning how to write taught me how to know when to leave things alone. 

Back to the sculptures, you have developed quite a close link with these objects, yet they will be dismantled after the show…

They are, in a way, entering a different life phase. These objects have had multiple lives, they grew up here, and now they can disappear after one last party, the closing performance. They will have an afterlife though, as they have been photographed and those images will become fliers to promote a party in Berlin next February.  


The performance itself will be a bit different this time. It will be held in the theatre and the opening music will be slower, while DJ sets will be at a higher pace, creating a bigger contrast. The choreographers’ movements will also take centre stage, and objects will stand as a sort of barrier, which will be deconstructed over time, like a catharsis of the exhibition.

As for Ser Serpas, what’s the next stage in her life?

In March, I’ll be participating in the Whitney Biennial, in New York. I’ll be making new sculptures in my studio there, and going to work on some paintings for a while. I am also preparing my jump into film. For this project, I was inspired by quite a creepy basement I discovered underneath my bed in Tbilisi, Georgia. The idea is to strap some go-pros on my head and record as I create sculptures in a room with no natural or artificial light besides candles. It will be a sort of Blair Witch Project film, you’ll have to watch it to see what’s happening… 

We feel like you are genuinely having fun with your work, is that what art means to you?

I want it all to be a big party! I like the idea of people transcending by playing music, making objects, speaking poetry…

Every exhibition I make should be something like a little riot that allows you to get into a different state.


Interview by Cristina López Caballer

Photos: Ayka Lux


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