While in New York I met with Tom Galle at a small Cafe in Manhattan. We talked commodified Christ, some of his early projects and how to art world works.
Tom Galle is originally from Belgium but is now based in New York City. His work is recognized world wide and interpreted in many different ways.
Do you ever have difficulties picking which projects to invest your time in?
Generally speaking I just feel like there’s a always bunch of ideas floating around, as I’m constantly scoping the internet. Then the ones that I keep obsessing about are the one that I move forward with. It’s always a good sign if I become obsessed about an idea, If I’m trying to rationalize or over think it means something is wrong with it. Often the silliest or most spontaneous ideas are what I would go for, I try to rely on my gut feeling as much as possible.
How did you start doing all the things you do, how did you advance your career so quickly?
I started in a small, progressive advertising/branding agency in Brussels. I was interested in the internet at that time and the agency encouraged that thinking. Advertising back then was mostly a bunch of TV and print ads ads as a newbie it felt natural to try new things. I was lucky to work with amazing people and made a bunch of projects I’m still proud of, but I always felt like there I was working restraints from clients. At some point I felt like “Maybe I should try some projects on my own.” At this point I was also getting more and more inspired by the internet art of mid/end 2000’s. I started making It started with websites, apps, video performances, social media stuff, and it evolved from there.
When you did the Tinder VR Headset, could you actually see anything on the headset?
No. That’s not really the point of the thing. I try to make art at the pace of the internet. If you have to develop the whole thing you’re developing it for a month. This is more like performance, putting an idea out there and leave the rest up to imagination. I think there’s a huge difference there.
So you just want people to see it and wonder what’s going on; does that actually exist, what does he see?
Exactly. if you show what’s inside it would kind of take away of the magic from it. I like to make work in a couple days and immediately release. It allows me to be reactive to the internet and meme culture, as well as keeping a practice can keep up with the pace of the internet. That’s why gallery work often seems less appealing to me, the idea of working months on one sculpture can feel discouraging. While it has value as a sculpture and for galleries, for the internet user it would result in a few photos in a stream of photos they digest every day. I really look at art through the eyes of the internet, so as an internet user, how would I perceive it.
What was your upbringing like and how did it lead you to this?
I’m from Belgium originally, from a pretty average small town. I got kicked out of schools because it didn’t work for me I guess. I was rejected from almost every school I went to and I still don’t really know why. It was difficult for me and it took away a lot of my confidence for years. Then at some point I started turning that attention to the internet, where I started finding much more interesting things than what school had to offer at that time. At that point the internet was also emerging so there was a lot of excitement there. I took some time to find what I like doing, but I’m happy where I am now.
So why New York City of all cities in the world?
When I started my career I was looking to work in an agency where I could get some recognition. Once I gained a certain level of recognition in that world, it allowed me to travel and work in other cities all over the world. At that point I was very attracted to NYC, a lot of the culture that I was into seemed to be originating here, and most my favorite artists were also based here. When arriving here it was though, but at the same time there was a sense of freedom and opportunity that I hadn’t experienced in europe. It also just felt like more of an adventure than staying in Europe. The beginning was really hard, I didn’t like it at all. It really takes two or three years to get something going but now it’s good.
What does your average day look like?
I waste a lot of time on the internet. Then I feel guilty about it, I try to convince myself not feel guilty about it, and so on. that’s an ongoing cycle throughout my day. Generally speaking I’m ‘wasting’ time on the internet until an idea I feel strongly for comes by. Then it goes quickly from procrastination into action – the idea of putting something out in the world motivates me a lot. But as long as that idea that I feel strongly about doesn’t come by, I’ll be wandering on the internet. So I’d call it a mandatory form of procrastination, without it the ideas wouldn’t come I guess. Besides that I try to spend a part of my day looking for client work, or actually doing commissioned work.
Do you ever feel worn out?
All the time, I can’t sleep half the time, I’m constantly cycling through three apps and I’m like “why am I going through Instagram over and over?”
And what was your motivation behind the Christ Fidget Spinner?
I just thought it was really funny to commodify religion just because there’s so much tension around the subject. At that point the fidget spinner hype was also happening, to me it was the perfect marriage: a subject with so much tension and symbolic meaning with an internet hype object. I also love to make work that will provoke strong reactions, both positive and negative. The negative ones were the funniest here, mostly from people who took it seriously. I don’t get it though, as if they don’t see that religion is already been commodified in so many ways.
Would you say your work has an absurdist element?
I think it’s sort of based on the humor of the internet. It’s inspired by meme culture and internet subcultures. There’s a lot of sarcasm, trolling etc. going on. I love when people get confused but intrigued at the same time, ideally up to a point where they don’t know whether to take things seriously or not.
What goals do you have with your life and your art?
You know, that I would be able to live off of it, it could be through working with commercial clients or selling work. I don’t know the art world all that well, and it looks like a lot of people who are in that world have a sense of frustration about it. It also feels like successful artists that made name in the art world often find themselves doing the same thing over and over, which seems like a high price to pay for that success. In a way you’re always sort of working for a client I guess, your client just becomes the select audience versus corporations/brands. Another idea is to build some kind of service related to what I am doing that could generate some money. It looks like those are my options, and I’m hoping the solution would naturally come by at some point. I try not think much about it, it’s exciting but can also be scary.
Tom’s work can be found on his website at Tomgalle.online or on his instagram @Tomgalle