YOU MIGHT KNOW Gabe Flores as co-founder and director/curator of Place gallery. Or maybe you've caught one of his installations, such as If I Were You: An Apology from Myself to Myself, which took over a room at Half/Dozen Gallery with mirrors and fake plants. But what you might not realize is that Gabe Flores is a performance. In 2009, the Oregon native began a five-year identity experiment that he refers to as Gabe Flores in the Arts. Behind a mask that never comes off—not for friends or family, and certainly not for the general public—he's built an art career that's nothing to sneeze at. Meeting Flores, you'd never know you were interacting with a mask, and that's why the Merc sat down with the performance himself to learn more.
ARTIST AS PERFORMANCE: "Four years ago I told myself, 'Let's see whether or not I can have a go at this art thing, and we'll give myself five years, and we'll call it Gabe Flores in the Arts,' which is a five-year project... I was able to create a persona that was bigger than me. [It's] about me experimenting with identity, and what it means to have my education, and trying to synthesize my education with what an art career might be."
PEOPLE AS MEDIUM: "I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and I had to knock on doors and talk to a lot of strangers. I have to say I was never a real believer, but I did it anyway because it was what I was supposed to do and didn't want the extra attention that would come if I resisted. To me, that was a big performance, so if I could [do] that then, I can definitely have similar challenging interactions with others in an arts context. I also like how terrifying it is to use interactions, because people are that variable that you can't really predict. To me that's more fun than working with other types of material. And yes, I consider them to be a type of material."
LIFE AFTER THE FIVE-YEAR GABE FLORES: "I have a project I'm designing for Detroit. I'm selling my house at the end of this year and I'm going to move to Detroit and create a new project there, which is going to be a residency project... I hope that I'm the same guy there as I am here, but I know that I'm not. That's all I'm going to say. I don't think that I can be the same Gabe Flores over there."
THEMS JOKES: "'Wouldn't it be funny' is a methodology I utilize to brainstorm and free associate. Place was born out of a 'wouldn't it be funny.' Gary Wiseman and I started the gallery as a two-month project, but the funny part was making it seem like it was going to be around for a long time. It was a funny joke that became a viable endeavor, which makes it even funnier. More recently I used it when I had a show/residency this summer in Poland and created Cavity Search, a 10-course dinner of all desserts. That project had the participants agree to a series of rules in a confined illuminated pink space all while wearing a see-through mini-toga."