Ser Serpas

Ser Serpas on trash as praxis and pathology

Ser Serpas, moments are hard, 2019, insulation foam, shelf. Installation view, Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies, Ludlow 38, New York. Photo: Carter Seddon.

The materials for Ser Serpas’s latest body of work were sourced locally from the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, where they will return at the end of her first US institutional solo exhibition. For Serpas, the show serves as both a homecoming and a farewell to the city she is leaving, after living there for six years, for Switzerland. “Against Attachment” opened April 25 and is on view through June 2, 2019 at Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies, Ludlow 38, in New York.

FINDING OBJECTS AND RECOMPOSING THEM comprises a lot of my art, just going on walks and asking, “Is this anybody’s stuff?” It’s almost anthropological; public space is so different from city to city. In Miami, I found an armchair, a bookcase, and a vacuum cleaner in front of a house that was getting foreclosed. After I put those together for an exhibition at Current Projects, I found out from a writer that Florida has the country’s highest foreclosure rates, which they layered into their reading of the work. In Zurich, there’s no trash on the street whatsoever. The city has very strict municipal codes and governance, so it was difficult to find things to use for my exhibition at Luma Westbau. I’ve never done a show like this in New York, a place where I have really lived. With this new work, I understand the context more because I’ve walked past these objects and lived in the same city as them.

When I was growing up, my mom worked in the property division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Every day she was archiving and indexing the material residue of crime and imparting meaning on these objects through their dispossession. These items were owned by the government and made to say what officers of the state wanted them to say in a court of law. My mom knew that belongings could tell on you, so she made me throw away all my shit. We shared a room until I was seventeen, and I never had any stuff, any clutter. I kept a box of trash under my bed; if it was anywhere else, it would be thrown out.

Excerpts from an interview with Ser Serpas.

My practice is very self-pathologized; I think about the items I collect as symptoms. Why do I like the things I like? The objects I use have lives, and I’m attracted to the scars they bear from their engagement with the world. Unless they sell, my works always go back to the street, where they came from. With the title “Against Attachment,” I’m saying that I’m not attached to these things; I intentionally use objects that are deemed valueless and tossed out, although of course that doesn’t free them from being determined by the relationship they have with value.

“Against Attachment” is also a slight nod to Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag. I always take a little bit from pop. My show in Zurich, “You were created to be so young (self-harm and exercise),” was titled in part after a quote from the Steven Spielberg movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence; the book of poems I published with Koenig Books riffed off Carmen the opera, but I made it Carman to be the name of my freshman dorm at Columbia University instead. Though I’m not explicitly thinking about institutional critique in my practice, in a way it’s always going to be institutional critique if I’m bringing live animals and mold into the gallery space—like a leftist who hates galleries and loves to put trash in them. There were termites and an ecosystem of spiders in my project in Miami, from the things I brought in, and some mold in my shows in Zurich and Tbilisi. So the critique is there, but it comes second to me having fun with all this nice dirty stuff.