Artist Profile: Amalia Ulman

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Weeping Mountain (2010)




What prompted you to take an anthropological or almost ethnographic approach to studying the lifestyles of (in your words) contemporary middle class Southern Europeans? How do you find it to be a helpful or destabilizing methodology for subverting what might more typically be discussed as issues of class and taste?

Most of my contemporaries whose work I enjoy the most are American and I always felt like there wasn't too much of a discourse regarding Europe, especially not about countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece - their lower middle classes, youth and the NINI generation; because of their aesthetics being considered as bland, boring and unappealing.

Their lack of exoticism was the reason I started to feel attracted to these topics. As someone with dual-nationality, in England everyone would always try to exploit the Latin-American side of me and, even though my upbringing took place in Spain, this fact was always to be hidden and neglected in favour of an exotizised biography. Because Spain is a boring country, with most of it's population living on a welfare system which doesn't even come from its own government but from an idealised Europe, where youth is forever studying due to unemployment and lack of prospects, where everything is a simulacra. After being forced to drive my attention to an idealised, flashy and colourful idea of the third world, I decided to focus on duller representations of the second world, mainly because it is what I experienced throughout my life, what I know about and what I feel in the right to analyse.

I'm interested in class differences: how they affect social interaction, emotions, attraction and relations. I'm fascinated by class imitation, con artistry, and how humans utilise fashion to define themselves within a circle. In resume, I'm interested in money and how it reflects itself on the people who has it or lacks it: every little detail, from diet and how it reflects in someone's skin, to how a jacket fits someone, to the lack of stress of a person with a comfortable background, or the excess of stress taking the form of abdominal fat in a person who struggles economically.

It was never my intention to subvert older discussions on class and taste, I just try to adjust myself to the present and to what I see, and by doing so it's easy to subvert past analysis. When I paid attention to this generation of Spaniards (and this is applicable to the other countries mentioned) I barely encounter myself with lower classes with extreme "chav" aesthetics, on the other hand, I found big portion of the population who was trapped in a never-ending educational stage, very well prepared, with no prospects, with very rich cultural capital but very little mobility, where all their intellect would be applied just in test environments, sustained by grants, european helps etc. Fake status achieved through the accumulation of knowledge and an eternal state of practice: faux jobs, faux opportunities, faux money, faux runway replicas by Zara.


Your recent exhibition at Galería Adriana Suarez (Gijón, Asturias), “Overcome/Cleanse,” appropriates the physical forms of mass market home décor, but the rhetoric and imagery of generationally younger home décor and lifestyle blogs like Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge and Goop. You have connected what you call “URL usage to IRL consumption” in your own writing: how does this translate to the way you conceive of and present your own work through different platforms? I’m thinking specifically of your decision to depict your collaboration with Katja Novitskova, Profit/Decay, at Arcadia Missa (London) through digital renderings rather than installation photographs.

In “Overcome/ Cleanse,” I played with those matters because the show took place in Spain and I wanted to play with the topics already mentioned; I felt I needed to be conceptually site-specific. The owner of the gallery is this blonde upper-class woman who knows all these politicians and collectors, and I though it was funny to touch subjects like homelessness and starvation. Also, I was very interested in making some work about lifestyle blogs, as they represent something I talked about in my essay “F/F,” where I tried to explain how social status can be translated into its online representation though the quality of the images uploaded and the style of writing, between other hints, and how they could aid to increase the amount of likes, retweets, followers etc, an internet user could achieve. Lifestyle blogs' popularity (especially outfit, fashion, recipe and craft diaries) is not limited to the charisma of the blogger expressing herself-himself through plain text, but to a never ending collection of photographs of objects. The cuter the acquisition, the larger the amount of feedback. In sites like Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge, even though everything is watered
down, and there's lot's of DIY, you can find the depiction of the new upper class.

I was interested in doing this show just as it was very challenging, in the way all the material I collected wasn't yet, and isn't yet, old enough to be charismatic or attractive. It's still out there and it was difficult to easily bring it back. I was counting the days til the "Keep Calm and Carry on" died completely and could be remixed and be "cool" again, for example.

And regarding the shots from “Profit | Decay,” they were installation photographs, only manipulated to try to make them look closer to the ideas we visually had in our minds.

Do you see your work as being related to historical movements like the post-structuralism of commodity aesthetics? Is there something in the measured intrusion of digitalized commodities like Getty Images copy-writ photographs (in Weeping Mountain) into the comparatively "real" space of the gallery? It seems like, when talking about intellectual property and digital ownership, your tactics invert rather than mirror those of traditional commodity sculpture.

Weeping Mountain is a relevant piece for me, not in itself but because of how it worked as a turning point in my work. At the time, I had been working online only for a long period of time, and this was my first attempt to materialise my work in a gallery/studio environment (not in an exhibition space but at school, in this case). Also, it was my first and only piece in which the internet was the theme and not a mere conductor. Even if I'm a creator myself, I don't believe in digital ownership and I'm against intellectual property organisations such as the Spanish SGAE and measures like the Digital Canon. I personally think of the bad quality in certain images as something aesthetically appealing, and find watermarks beautiful. And that was one of the reasons behind creating that piece, something very simple but that exemplifies the perspective other people from my generation share towards digital material; a different understanding on what means to be real or not, how online reality can be as valid as offline reality: a modulation in people's preferences and priorities.

As a quick example, the teacher I had at the moment would try to convince me to buy the large image and pay for the best paper, for the sake of the print's quality; while I was trying to explain to her why the watermark was actually relevant and how the piece would be destroyed right after being documented, being in this case it's digital representation the "real" work, and not the print.

I don't think my work is 100% intentionally related to any historical movement, mainly because, yes I research quite a lot, but I produce most of my works in a trance-like state. But I definitely don't think I could escape from my position in history and my relation to previous movements, especially those ones the authors I read were part of/related to. I'm connected to post-structuralism, commodity aesthetics and post-modernism in part because of my upbringing, which was very post-modern, lonely and individualistic, determined by mass media and the absence of a family structure; and in part, from a personal interest in commodity fetishism, and a disdain for absolute truths and binary classifications.

By respecting all this references and movements, learning from them, but not being defined or intrinsically related to them, I express an interest in getting determined by something newer.


Age:

23

Location:

London

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

Approximately fifteen years. I started by creating customised stationery with Windows 95.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

I mainly use photoshop and digital photography and everything I do, from installation to video, exists in relation to the computer screen. I've always been influenced by blog posts, selfies, online confessions and lifestyle blogs.

I've been raised by my mom, with no contact with the rest of my family, who were overseas; I was an only child with no pets and my parents were too poor to send me to any activities other than English. Aside from having friends at school I'd use every chance to interact with anyone who I could share interests with. This meant pen-pals, radio and walkie-talkies prior-internet, and chatrooms when we first got online.

I first learned photoshop by having a fotolog. I was 14-15, really horny, and would want to look cute in pictures. Then, I learned all the skills: photography, digital retouching, lighting, editing, posing. After a few months I realised that I didn't really care about self portraiture, shifting the subject and starting making really bad "art". After a while my photography became slightly decent, I approached a gallery and had my first solo show when I was 16. Since then, I’ve always used the same modus-operandi, using shows as folders or containers of works (or works in themselves). This happened in an impulsive manner (as I had no art background or artistic education) so I basically went to art school not to learn how to approach a gallery,
but to try to understand why was I already doing so.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I studied the Spanish equivalent of an A-level in Fine Arts at the INTRA (Gijón, Spain) and Fine Arts at the Central Saint Martins School of Art in London.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

I have a very narrative mind and I write a lot, so I use a notebook. Moreover, my brain is currently super wired and have the attention span of a fly, therefore I need to write things down to remember about them. For everything in my life, I use this sort of structure: I create lists, and erasing things becomes the most pleasurable activity (currently using my iPhone's reminders app 24/7) but to give my life depth and escape from this linearity I write lots of lists, to become mentally surrounded by them. I transform the linear into a three dimensional mental experience through a mess of fake organisation; something I apply to artistic production.

Also, I read a lot and I fetishize books (I was going to study restoration of antique books before I switched to Fine Arts). My love for books - their content and their shape, from their physicality, to their page design and their font - it's very related to the first uses I gave to a computer: stationery and page design, diaries and blogs. If I use sculpture and video in my works is generally in an accidental way, as I always think of everything in a two dimensional, book structured manner, something which becomes obvious when I reduce them to a manipulated photography.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

I used to be actively involved in activism and community organising when I was younger and had more free time, now I barely have spare time and wouldn't want to sin committing the sacrilege of slacktivism and clicktivism. I would paraphrase my mom and say: I don't give money to charity as I Western-Union my family on a monthly basis. I'm trying to be politically active by making sense with what I do art-wise.

Regarding music and writing, I am not involved deeply at the moment, but expect to be soon. For Nina Cristane's project Eva by Heart, I organized the party/event KALOR in relation to my latest essayF/F (on the social platforms Fotolog and Fotocumbia) and newer research on spanish styles of music such as bakalao and makina. Many of my friends are dj's, I'm highly influenced by music and love the party format, so I'm looking forward to do something similar anytime soon.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I've been a librarian and I think that's the only job I can do without falling ill. I have a librarian temper. Otherwise I might become a tattoo artist, but that's just the family business. I currently hustle and make art as a living.

Who are your key artistic influences?

I'm directly influenced by my contemporaries. I like bonding with talented people whose practice I respect; it feels like falling in love with everyone.

Otherwise, regarding creators I've never met, I also need to feel personally attached to them, because of their looks, because of their biography or their horoscope sign. I will just mention one, and say that I'm a great fan of Colette (despite all criticism).

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I love collaborating with other people as it always brings the best of me; I like the responsibilities and the commitment it entails. I especially enjoy duos more than groups. I can definitely commit to someone, not so sure if I could commit to a collective. I think the first real collaboration was with Katja Novitskova, with which the long correspondence of emails was exciting and very fruitful.

Right now, I'm working side by side with Lauren Elder, for a big project for which we are designing an installation consisting of garments and utensils produced with high tech materials, again touching matters like homelessness and survivalism, something we both expect to be showing at the beginning of 2013. Aside from this, I'm working on the second edition of MAWU-LISA (a collective show that took place last year in London), planning a collective flower painting show and developing an iPhone app.

Do you actively study art history?

I actively study fashion history, because I'm a frustrated fashion student. I like being informed art-wise, but I wouldn't say I actively study art history, at least not at the moment.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

Yes, I read philosophy and critical theory. Once, I decided I was tired of returning to the same old authors again and again, so I tried to applied to text what it's usually done with music and visuals: to work with found material. When I got my first e-reader, I did my best to try to just read found text: random essays by unknown students on matters I was more or less interested about, weird studies and graphs, uncorrected thesis and dissertations. Trying to scape from the imposition of the list of recommended thinkers didn't work out really well, and after a few months I went back to Virilio, Baudrillard, Berardi, Bryan Boyd, De Landa, Pierre Bourdieu, Ted Polhemus... Anyway, I consider this sort of texts as something helpful when it comes to express my own ideas; but for inspiration I would go for fiction, music and walks rather than
theory.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

A lot, I haven't found a solution yet. I'm almost never satisfied, but I guess that's what keeps me on moving. I try to learn every skill and I always switch from one medium to the other. Lately, I've been feeling personally attracted to the idea of painting, as it is still the cheaper medium to produce large scale works and also because it's what I get chatted about after declaring I'm an artist at international airports. But then again, the final work would be a digital photograph of the painting, possibly very photoshopped, to hide the fact that I don't draw very well. In the end, the only thing all my works share, in terms of medium and display, is that they all resume in their own documentation, and I guess this is what gives me the freedom to go for different way of production every time. For me, that last step in my chain of production is the most important one; the rest, the way those works materialise before reaching that point, is just a way of legitimising these ideas in a world that is still ruled by an older generation.