Ambar Navarro takes all of the scariest parts of the internet and makes them cute—think internet privacy and identity theft wrapped up in shiny pink bows. Through her animations and still lifes, the Los Angeles-based artist explores the highs and lows of the web. And unlike other internet artists who splash selfies across their Instagram pages, Ambar urges her followers to encrypt their texts. For a lot of people, coding, programming and darkweb searches are just plain boring. But in Ambar’s world, their dreamy and pink. With her images, she reignites the beauty of the web, even while highlighting its darkest corners. And with Trump and his trolls ruining Twitter, we’re glad she’s trying to make the internet safe (again).
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk Tumblr, Tor and Tyra Banks. Read our interview and view an exclusive series, below.
“The Pirate Bae”
Tell me about this series. Where did the idea come from?
I just like photographing objects about the darknet, and internet stuff in general—trying to inform people about things on the web. “Don’t forget your PGP Key” is really about encrypted emails, and the text in the back is an encrypted code that I have. “The Pirate Bae” is about Pirate Bay, and then the bitcoin—I really just wanted to buy some because I think they’re funny.
Encrypted e-mails, piracy, bitcoins—these are all things that reference the kind of darker side of the internet. What’s inspiring to you about that?
I’m just really interested in internet privacy and try to not post too many selfies—I’ve seen friends be super public about their whereabouts and identity, and I don’t want everyone knowing what I look like or where I am. Especially on Instagram, I try to protect myself to the extent where I’m still able to show I’m real, but not geotag or even IG story my location too much.
It’s crazy—people post pictures of every moment of their lives and tag where they’re at all times. It’s so easy to find people now.
I just have a totally different mindset. And I want to make work that’s a reminder not to be so super public. I feel like so many people make art or ‘internet art’ about online identity and presence. That, to me, is cool. But I want to be more helpful, in a security way.
Your work also seems to examine different aspects of femininity. Is that intentional?
I do use a lot of pink, but I’m not trying to make anything overly girly or comment on femininity. I really just like certain things, so I use them. But it’s annoying because pink, sort of feminine stuff gets more likes, and I’m hyper-aware of that. So, sometimes I’m deciding what I want to do and I’ll choose pink because I know people like it and that’s something I don’t want to do. I just want to be inspired by stuff and make whatever I want to make and decide because I like something—not let likes decide for me.
What do you get out of photography and film that you wouldn’t get from another medium?
Film is my favorite medium—I watch a lot of films—it’s just what I do and what I’m attracted to. Even if I’m listening to music—I’ll wish it was a film. Film brings everything together. And it’s the hardest artform, in my opinion. So, I like the challenge and the amount of work that goes into it.
“Don’t Forget Your PGP Key”
How do you describe your aesthetic?
It’s like an internet Apple commercial feel. I like that it looks clean and dated sometimes—like old computer commercials. But I also like really futuristic, clean and minimal work. So, I just try to combine tech with art and color. Kinda nerdy and a little bit off.
Do you have any specific visual influences?
I watch a lot of music videos—like, nonstop. I’ve also been watching a lot of old Macintosh commercials recently, which is a big inspiration. I still spend a lot of time on Tumblr—all of my moodboards come from my Tumblr likes. Also, America’s Next Top Model—I feel like I’ve learned so much more from watching shows like ANTM and Making the Video than going to any class. It’s so cheesy, but I love all that behind-the-scenes stuff because they show you how everything’s made—they teach you how to shoot and how to model and how to light stuff. I’ll pause on a certain frame and look at the lighting setup. It’s super dorky but I’ve really learned from Tyra.
Do you think these ideas about security and privacy are more relevant now than they were even just a few years ago?
The internet can be really scary—I just want people to remember that. I mean, look at Trump—everything that’s wrong with him is on the internet. It’s public knowledge, yet nothing has been done to stop him—he’s still tweeting every day. It just scares me because I’ve always thought the internet can destroy people. But it’s not destroying him because he’s still in power. It’s frightening to think you can tell the truth and have the media on your side, but have none of it will matter.
Yeah, it seems to actually work in his favor—people misinterpret his ridiculous rhetoric as honesty.
People think like, ‘If someone does something to me, I’ll just expose them on the internet and bring them down.’ But I don’t think that’s real anymore. You can kind of do it, but your post can also just get deleted—the internet makes people think they have more power than they actually do. Like, ‘Oh she has so many followers’—what does that even mean? The internet isn’t as powerful as it used to be, even if people think it is more so. It’s just not living up to its potential. Censorship is bigger, there’s trolls. And with the Trump presidency, it feels like we’ve been taken back at least ten years—that’s why the internet just doesn’t feel as magical as anymore. There’s so much stuff on there that should be illegal but isn’t, and then the stuff that keeps getting censored is female nudity.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I just hope someone will see the series, or any of my work, and be more aware of their online surroundings. It sounds like I’m trying to protect everyone or something, but I do really hope people will be more aware when they’re tagging where they are, or posting their phone numbers and addresses—that’s kind of insane. I’m not saying everyone should encrypt their e-mails or cover up their webcams, or maybe I am actually. But here’s a cute photo with some keys and encrypted text in it that can maybe act as a reminder that these dangers exists—and i’m making it look kinda cute.