5 Questions with Ryan Estep

Over the last year Ryan Estep has returned to his midwest roots, growing wheat in his Brookyln studio -- and even baking the odd loaf or two. The artist is currently showing 5 at Dublin's Ellis King.

Ryan Estep, 5, Installation View, Ellis King, Dublin, 2016

Can you tell me a little about your current Ellis King show?

Continuing from the sterilized dirt and anti-bacterial soap in my first exhibition with Ellis King; 5, presses outward into the body and its complications. Light and architecture pair in different densities. A flickering narrative trapped beneath looming black walls is balanced by a calm rust-yellow glow at the other end of the gallery. 

Between these installations are a set of prototype Tools, designed to haul earth and wheat. Fabricated by a company I founded, the Tool prototypes are a lightweight blend of materials compressed under vacuum and infused with aviation grade resin. Echoing a double-sided spade, each piece is a unique blend of poplar ply, carbon fiber and canvas – testing the tensile strength and hauling capacity of each composite. Despite sharing a material foundation with traditional painting, they are objects which orbit in parallel; a trajectory which can press new demands onto canvas and paint. 

Ryan Estep, 5, Installation View, Ellis King, Dublin, 2016

You’ve spent a year and a half growing wheat in your Brooklyn studio. What’s the process been, day-to-day for you on this and did you set out with ideas of the body of work that would come from it?

Although it’s at a relatively small scale at the moment, the resources and infrastructure required to grow a crop indoors are humbling. The day-to-day is now fully automated, with digital timers controlling light, nutrients and irrigation. However, with each harvest it expands into a new set of demands and complications.

I had no expectations of the wheat initially. I knew it would be challenge I couldn’t enjoy and those factors always conjugate into action. So far it has been presented only as a dysmorphic charge of light in my current show 5 at Ellis King.

Your first video Film/TEXT features in the show, combining footage from The Great American Cowboy and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. What was your process in creating this video, did you come to one of the films first as a point of departure?

Subtitles from Rainer Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul run over Kieth Merrill’s documentary The Great American Cowboy. The audio is replaced with a mixture of musical components, leaving a red crawl of text with its own cadence to clash against the images above. Like most, this project rose from the subconscious ether and I can’t account for which film came first. 

Each component of the installation runs independently, allowing for a unique combination of image, text and sound with each viewing. The project will complete when every combination has been exhausted.

Ryan Estep, CT04, 2016, Rubber and American Bison bone marrow, 34 x 34 x 2 1/2 inches

The cowboy comes under scrutiny in this exhibition. How has your relationship with this American figure changed over the years?

I try to distance my work from any specific politic, but the current election cycle in the States overcame my threshold. I grew up in the midwest working construction and within that arena you find a particular species of ego. There is a symmetry between the men I grew up with and those in the film. I see their reflections now at Trump rallies and so it felt an appropriate time to replace their needs with that of a Polish woman and Moroccan guest worker. 

What are you currently working on?

Every project inherits a proportion of discontent, which builds into a tow of anxiety that bullies into action. My most valued moments in life have always been the most difficult and I try for a similar biota in the studio. I’m always searching for the next antagonist.

Ryan Estep ‘5’ runs until 15 October at Ellis King, Dublin

Ryan Estep, Tool (P7V1), 2016, Carbon Fiber, poplar and canvas 75 x 36 x 8 inches