Daniel Ribar Interview - The Hopper Prize

Daniel Ribar

Daniel Ribar on developing multiple bodies of work, early experience with polaroids, & making work about the most polluted square mile in the state of Michigan.

How did you get into making art?

I’ve always been interested in making things.

I loved drawing and working with paper as a kid, building dirtbike tracks and skateboard ramps with my friends.

My grandmother gave me a polaroid camera when I was probably seven or eight, I remember using it to document my friends and family. This was before digital and the immediacy of polaroids was really captivating. The film was also much more available back then so I’d play around a lot and cut the pictures up or draw on them with markers. That later transitioned into high school photo classes and then studying it in college.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a personal project focusing on a heavily industrial island just southwest of Detroit. It happens to be the most polluted square mile in the state of Michigan.

The neighboring communities unfortunately have very little control of the island. High levels of asthma are reported which are undoubtedly linked to air quality.

I’m currently working on a personal project focusing on a heavily industrial island just southwest of Detroit.

Daniel Ribar

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

I spend a lot of my free time driving around Detroit and the surrounding areas. Sometimes taking photos, other times just looking at things. I ended up in the area near the island a few years ago.

I have friends who have worked out there and shared stories of what it’s like, which added to my vague understanding of things. This was the first time I had really spent on the ground looking at what was going on there. It’s very surreal.

Apocalyptic machinery and fire on one side of the river, with families, schools, and soccer fields on the other. I want to better understand what’s happening there from both sides.

I’ll drive out to my parent’s house in the country some weekends and when I step out of the car I’m always surprised by the fresh air. I love living in Detroit but pollution and air quality are concerning.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

I tend to have several personal projects going on at the same time. I have a long list of things I’d like to focus on, but I try to limit myself to no more than three individual projects at a time. Some are shorter and more lighthearted, which I view almost more as exercises. While others are more intense, research-based, and tend to be long-term.

I think working like this has its pros and cons, in that it keeps my mind occupied at all times but it can also feel like I’m not making enough progress on any single body of work. At times, it feels like I’m spinning the wheels, seeing little progression.

I’ve learned to lean into something if I’m motivated, or to work with the weather or season if it applies to a specific body of work.

I tend to spend time later at night writing and looking at my work, which has been helpful in seeing what’s clicking and what’s not.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I go through phases with my studio. Lately, I’ve been using it more for client-based work, portraits, or product shoots.

Most of my personal work is field based but I’m interested in collecting things that I find while I’m out working. I’ll bring objects back to the studio to isolate and photograph, almost in a forensic fashion. I’m interested in what these objects can tell about a place when pulled out of context. I’ve been looking at bricks, gravel, soil, and other industrial components while focusing on the island work. I usually have quite a collection of random objects in the studio at any given time.

I like that the studio’s always there if I need it. When I’m in a rut I try to visit and just look at what I have in there. That tends to help move me along in one way or another.

Who are your favorite artists?

I look at different things at different times.

Lately, I’ve been interested in the sculptural work of Carl Andre.

Donald Judd has had a big impact on me.

Paintings of Milton Avery, Andrew Wyeth, Charles E. Burchfield, and Bill Taylor.

Bernd and Hilla Becher have absolutely had an influence on the industrial work I’m making at the moment.

I love Collier Schorr, Mark Steinmetz, Vanessa Winship, Dorothea Lange, Daniel Arnold.

Photographically I try to walk a line without over-saturating myself with work. I think it’s important to be aware of what’s been done and what’s working but with Instagram, the internet, and endless contemporary talent – it can be paralyzing at times.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

I look at shortlists and who’s receiving grants or making books. I poke around on the internet, maybe more than I should.

When I’m in New York I’ll visit Dashwood or Mast books and see what I can find.

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