July 30, 2014

“Instagram is L.A. L.A is Instagram,” Hans Ulrich Obrist emphasized during For Your Art’s Instagram Mini-Marathon at Los Angeles’ Million Dollar Theater this Saturday, quoting his colleague and fellow marathon organizer Kevin McGarry.

Obrist, co-director of exhibitions and programming at London’s Serpentine Gallery and a celebrity curator, hosted the evening’s event and began its programming with a discussion of his own Instagram account. He joined Instagram at the urging of McGarry and the artist Ryan Trecartin, and embarked on his Instagram handwriting project after a conversation with another pair of thinkers, artists Simone Fattal and Etel Adnan. With the latter, Obrist considered the steady erasure of handwriting in our increasingly digitized world. But instead of simply lamenting the end of handwriting, like he mentions Umberto Eco doing in his essay “The Lost Art of Handwriting, Obrist decided to do something about it. So now, as Obrist routinely travels the world to converse with many of its most prominent creatives, he hands them a Post-It note and asks that they write something down. He Instagrams his favorites, and his 42k followers are then able to experience these ideas through the very penmanship of those that thought (or at least re-wrote) them. Obrist has made his Instagram an exhibitory space for ideas and a container for his pro-handwriting activism. He takes photos of handwritten texts and puts them on Instagram to remind us of the power of pen and paper as we scroll on our phones.

If Obrist’s Instagram cause is pen and paper, boychild and Niko Karamyans is the power of the self and perhaps, the power of one’s self in the service of others. These two participating artists spoke on their self-imaging practice and its relationship to Instagram’s visual culture. While neither should be identified as “Instagram artists” in a reductive sense, both have experienced new developments in the way their work is displayed, consumed, and catalogued as a result of the app. boychild is a performance artist who uses her own body, its modifications, and its movement as an entrance point for existential journeys that go far beyond the corporeal and into shamanistic realms that conjure boundary-dissolving manifestations of the word bliss.

With 33k followers, boychild is popular on Instagram. But what began as a personal account started to feel more like a job, as her career as an artist gained momentum. The acquisition of such a large Instagram audience not only changed who was watching the live performances, but also how they watched them. “It’s very common that I see footage of my performances almost immediately after,” boychild stated during her presentation. The experience the viewer has with an iPhone and the accessibility to take pictures every second of their life has changed the moment of living today,” she continued. “People see things through a square and a filter and as a hashtag. As a performance artist, boychild’s expression is dependent upon the live relationship she has with the performance space, its energy, and her audience. Her experience on Instagram and with other social media seems to have shown her how many of her viewers consider her live shows an opportunity to communicate her image with their own audiences, their own followers. 

Niko Karamyan goes by the Instagram handle NikotheIkon. He describes himself as a video director, actor, and creative director, and began his presentation by theoretically grounding the way he uses Instagram in relation to today’s social values and media relationships. Some of the world’s most dynamic protagonists, particularly from my generation of storytellers, can be best, or at least most easily, experienced through our own social media accounts, he said. Image-based social media outlets like Instagram allow individuals like myself the opportunity to construct and curate our own public broadcasts of self in evidentiary, transformational, and confrontational ways.” Essentially, his selfies are stories. These stories form a “reference bank” that functions as his resume, landing him jobs with bands like IO Echo, who commissioned Karamyan to make them a music video after falling in love with one of his Instagram postings. This posting became the source material for “Outsiders,” their eventual collaboration.

Karamyan’s presentation also introduced the potential downsides to sharing so much of one’s creative output on open forums like Instagram. His archive is public and his following is strong. So while Instagram has facilitated many of his professional opportunities, it has also acted as a mood board for many projects with which he’s been unaffiliated. I am my own muse, and in sharing that with the world, have become the same for many of my followers. Some graciously, and some in secret... By and large, this is cool. But it also raises important questions about things like integrity, credit, and compensation – all of which Instagram culture makes it easy to do away with within creative industries,” he stated. Karamyan’s presentation ended with a video slideshow of his most spectacular grams, cued to the aptly chosen sounds of Beenie Man’s “Who Am I?” and Drake’s “0 to 100.”

The high energy of Karamyan’s musical selections was matched only by a live performance from artist, actor, and poet Rachel Lord, who donned a custom Peggy Noland dress and black cowboy hat onstage as she had audience members (myself included) bid on the Instagram images projected behind her. Mastering the Great American Western Auctioneer voice the morning of the marathon, Lord’s auction packaged her criticism of Instagram-created social currency and its place in contemporary art into an irreverent show that felt like a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of the more routine presentations.

But Rachel’s wasn’t the only entertaining presentation. The aforementioned Kevin McGarry and the conceptual artist and creative director Ryder Ripps both offered the audience some of their personal insights about Instagram in a light-hearted and captivating way. Kevin made it clear he’s never identified as a visual artist, but that as a writer and curator, he’s found worth in the app for its granting of “access to personal perspectives.” Kevin spoke on Instagram as something that facilitates new ways to communicate new, or at least previously incommunicable, things. Before image based social media there wasn’t a good way to explain the experience of a sign,” McGarry explained. Using Instagram, he’s been able to trace “how mechanically designed text occurring in the world becomes more relatable as a visual substance when it’s recorded and shared with people online.” In this way, Instagram has enhanced the average user’s language capabilities without most even realizing it.

Another one of McGarry’s key ideas was something he calls “impulsive intimacy,” his take on the now antiquated concept of the “over share.” Many types of Instagram posts can fall under this “impulsive intimacy” category, but for McGarry it mostly means email and “app-specific” screenshots he finds silly, telling, or humorous. Think a still from the Kim Kardashian fashion app featuring his game avatar with a hand on her hip and her eyelids closed. The game text reads,You currently have no goals.” Way harsh.

Ryder Ripps also came prepared with a new term to share – corny core. Ripps talked about how Instagram can create a mockingly sentimental tone for the everyday. Ripps showed us a woman’s series of #TittyTuesday photos to show how Instagram can turn regular days into self-interested holidays, and shared how one woman, using two different filters, felt confident in posting the same photo of herself, on the same day, by making reference to her “alter-ego” (the darkly filtered one). His presentation examined how Instagram can create difference where difference doesn’t actually exist. Just like how Instagram’s sponsored content doesn’t always read as sponsored content. He explained this by projecting images from IG personality Adrianne Ho’s account. Ho receives sporty clothing from companies like Nike and continues to be compensated as long as she features them in her posts. But the Instagrams aren’t ads, because they’re Instagrams. Ripps warps images of Adrianne’s non-ad ads, has them painted, and then posts photos of the paintings back on his Instagram. As founder of the creative agency OKFocus, this is just one of many things he does. Based on his presentation, it feels like his Instagram-able hobby.

Instagram is also one of participant Michel Gaubert’s hobbies. Gaubert, a Paris-based DJ known for his renowned fashion house soundtracks, extends his visual communication through Instagram. “To me, music is like an image,” he said, describing his inclination toward the “searching, digging, archiving, creating” culture of blogging and Instagram. Gaubert uses Instagram as an editorial space, where much of what he loves or finds interesting can coalesce in visual and text-anchored ways. “I treat it like a magazine with my little comments, he remarked. Like his music, Gaubert’s Instagram tells stories in a smart, sexy, and sometimes silly manner.

The evening’s other speakers included artist Alex Israel, who shared the first Instagram-ed photo ever (a kind of gross photo of the founder’s foot next to his dog), Simon Castets, who talked about curating at the Swiss Institute in New York and the institution’s use of Instagram as part of anart works dissemination strategy,” and artist Frances Stark, who talked about her “not very popular” Instagrams as a new way of constructing interiority.

The sweetest and most random presentation came from artist and curator Meg Cranston. Cranston admitted to joining Instagram in preparation for the event and focused on the user @CanaryKuwait during her two weeks on the app. @CanaryKuwait features videos of birds learning to sing. Cranston’s early review of the app is positive – “I can meet people who do interesting things and learn about it.”

@CanaryKuwait is an artist, even if his Instagram doesn’t suggest he considers himself as such. While many of the Mini-Marathoners were understandably interconnected within the same art world context, Cranston’s inclusion of @CanaryKuwait addressed an important reality: Instagram is for everyone. Thus, everybody’s an artist on Instagram. Just like ho everybody’s a creative director on Instagram, and how everybody’s a critic on Instagram. While we may find some accounts more entertaining or purposeful than others, they were all made the same way.

Artist participant Jordan Wolfson, who discussed using the app as separate from his art practice and in a way intuitively unrelated to the shaping of his self-image, made a personal statement that describes the role of Instagram in art and culture today in the simplest (and most beautiful) wayWhat I like in art, and what I try to do in my art work, is about a state of non judgment—looking at the world as a kind of witness. Instagram allows me to witness things from other people eyes.

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The Bullet Shop
July 22, 2014

Amalia Ulman has had (art) work done. Over the past couple weeks, the artist has chronicled her boob job450cc of high profile anatomical silicon gel implantsin detail on social media. Last month, she discussed her facial-filler surgery and non-surgical nose job with Art in America and live at the Swiss Institute. What Ulman’s doing is hardly exceptional—nearly 300,000 breast augmentation surgeries were performed in the U.S. in 2012—and that’s exactly the point. She’s taking normcore to its logical conclusion, literally embodying blandness through surgical modification.

Being radical (or at the very least being relevant) by being the least radical possible is a #trending idea that’s been manifesting itself for a while now, from fast-food logos on gallery walls to Nike sneakers on gallery girls. Ulman’s is a slightly different variation of the same. She is self-consciously middle-class aspirational, preferring the beige tones of a latte (which the New York Times recently declared “no longer an upper-class drink”) and mass-produced objects of interior decor like the wavy willows that you’d find in any hotel lobby, hair salon, or office front desk. And now, she has the botox or augmented breasts you might find on any receptionist in any of those spaces. Talking with Art In America, she notes the “blandness” with which she approaches plastic surgery in contrast to the “very kitsch, bloody and extreme” approach that artists like Orlan have had. Her aspirations echo trend forecasters K-Hole’s explanations of normcore and acting basic as desires for “sameness,” “non-exclusivity,” and “being nothing special.”

There’s obviously a gendered to aspect to Ulman’s work too. Her post boob-job seflies aren’t just normcore, they’re also girlcore, what artist Mary Bond defined as a coven of artists exploring gendered stereotypes “in a very intensely girlsh way that ends up infuriating a lot of people because girlish things are considered inferior.” The comments on Ulman’s social media smack of the typical prejudices. The relevance of selfie artists of my generation is proven by the disproportionate amount of shade they still receive. But it’s worth noting that they’re mostly white, mostly skinny, mostly conventionally attractive young women. While their intentional attention-whoring works to undo our knee-jerk reactions to slut-shame women, they tend to reinforce and capitalize on the rest of our cultural bullshit. To fault them for it, though, is probably to hold them to standards we rarely hold male artists to. Still, it’s worth it to bringing up their relative privilege into this conversation because it’s what Ulman’s work simultaneously replicates and complicates.

Plastic surgery promises to make possible for all (or at least more) the thinness, whiteness, and symmetrical features that most of these selfie artists naturally possess. But possible is different from accessible. Plastic surgery is the opposite of the great equalizer. Tyra Banks predicts that in the future, “plastic surgery will be as easy and quick as going to the drugstore for Tylenol” but “because beauty will be so readily accessible and skin color and features will be similar, prejudices based on physical features will be nearly eradicated. Prejudice will be socioeconomically based.”

The most interesting implications of Ulman’s pursuit of blandness might be its relationship to the increasing presence of Big Brother. Kate Crawford has put the fashion trend of normcore in the context of big data and surveillance. “I think it captures precisely this moment of mass surveillance meeting mass consumerism,” she explains. “It reflects the dispersed anxiety of a populace that wishes nothing more than to shed its own subjectivity.” To follow this line of thought, aspirationally bland plastic surgery and facial reconstruction is perhaps most provocative to consider in tandem with the increasingly sophisticated facial recognition software. Is a nose job what can save us from drone-automated minority report profiling? But, ultimately, the question is who will be able to afford that nose job?

Ulman’s journey into plastic surgery seems to be the latest art world foray into critiquing capitalism by taking it to its extreme. I’m beginning to feel disheartened by this being the only (or at least the most popular) way we seem to know to respond to our commercialism, commodification, and an increasingly corporate enterprise-dominated world, especially when the art world itself is becoming increasingly accessed only through expensive MFAs and accessible to those who can afford them. When artists critique middle-class capitalism by performing things normal people do normally, it seems to only draw attention to the privilege of the artist. (Even if we don’t have material wealth we, Ulman and I, and probably anyone reading this article, have cultural capital not everyone is afforded.) I just wonder if capitalism is so inescapable that there is no radical alternative left to us other than performing it? I hope that’s not the case.

UPDATE: There is now speculation that Ulman’s plastic surgery is now an elaborate hoax. See below.


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The Bullet Shop
July 9, 2014

Are you tired of your friends telling you about some lame new young artist selling $40,000 semen paintings? Are you sick of going to an extremely loud and incredibly overcrowded gallery opening? Are you annoyed that every  “influencer” went up to see Dan Colen plant two trucks on the lawn of a Greenwhich, CT, estate? Well, now is your chance to step out of the art bubble and start hating its very existence.

A story appeared in today’s New York Times with the headline, “For Ultra Rich, Art is Alternative Currency.” Art sales reached an all-time high at the auctions in New York this spring, and London last week for a total of $2 billion. These collectors are the actual 0.1% of the 0.1%:

At Christie’s…the evening’s buying had been dominated by established collectors, 190 clients from 28 countries had bid at the sale. That’s still just a tiny fraction of the world’s 199,235 individuals who each were estimated byUBS and the consultancy Wealth-X to have more than $30 million cash to spend in 2013.

Unlike the last boom in the mid-2000s, new collectors are not coming to the fairs and popping into the galleries. Of all the billions spent, 70% of sales go to the top ten selling artists—your Warhols and Bacons.

The entire class of people who can afford this art could live in a city half the size of Cleveland (where many of them they will be in summer 2016 at the Republican National Convention, which was announced yesterday). After all, the people propping up this art boom are many of the same crony capitalists who ruined the global economy. They are not thinking of a healthy art culture, they are looking for a healthy investment. They don’t care about you, young artist. Art is no longer art. It is an “alternative currency.”

The Art World is richer than ever, but there is little trickle down that isn’t coming in the form of patronage or institutional programs. In fact, grant programs for artists are shrinking nationwide. Artists used to be much more socially engaged, activists even. Where can we find, say, the Dadaists or Guerilla Girls of today? Even on a community level, artists certainly haven’t done a good job fighting landlords in places like Bushwick and Long Island City to keep studio and loft spaces affordable like they did in ’70s SoHo. So few people are making the big money in art, that it might be time Occupy Art Basel.

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The Bullet Shop
July 7, 2014

You’ve probably never heard of Leah Schrager before. Up until now, she’s tried very hard to keep it that way. Under the persona Sarah White, she’s been a counsellor-­cum-­cam-girl through her site Naked Therapy, a project that put New York’s art world in a brief tizzy two years ago after it was accepted and then rejected from the  West Chelsea Artists Open Studios for allegedly being too commercial. In addition to Naked Therapy, Schrager has several other pseudonymous net art performances that interrogate the hazy line between art and porn. Now, after years of revealing her full body online, she’s ready to share her full body of work.

Art Sexy Studio is Schrager’s newest project, a meta­performance of an art school girl named Blush who shares her sexy art through a site with a pay­wall model she launched in March. Blush is a somewhat fictionalized version of Schrager—they’re both MFA candidates at New York art schools. Especially because it blurs the line between the real and performed selves, the project’s reminiscent of Ann Hirsch’s Scandalishious. While Hirsch was going to grad school in Syracuse, she created the persona Caroline, a self-professed camwhore and hipster, going to school in upstate New York who danced around for her webcam and vlogged on a Youtube channel. Schrager fits into a coven of artists that includes Hirsch, Petra Cortright, Kate Durbin, Mary Bond, and Alexandra Marzella to name a few, who intentionally attention-­whore to feminist ends. But when Schrager first started Naked Therapy, she wasn’t trying to make on­trend feminist net art. She had no idea that world even really existed.

Back in the fall of 2010, Schrager was living in New York going to dance auditions and supporting herself with the typical mix of odd­jobs: catering, editing photos for a porn site, and building web sites for clients. Schrager was having tech problems with one of these sites. “I was sitting there thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if there was just a really sweet nice pretty girl who was helping me figure this out?” She decided to be that girl. The first incarnation of Sarah White was the naked coder. “Sarah White would build your web site and talk to you about what you wanted, how you wanted to present yourself online, the goals of your business, all the while potentially naked,” Schrager explained. “I ended up getting people emailing me saying they didn’t want a web site but they wanted to talk.” So Sarah White became the naked therapist instead. Today, Schrager still supports herself and pays for grad school from camming with naked therapy clients.

Sometime between her first tech troubles and submitting to the West Chelsea Open Studios, Schrager started to think of what she was doing as art. When I asked her exactly when that was, she said, “I don’t necessarily have an answer.” Later she added, “When I first started, I was quite nervous naked on cam, so I just thought of it as a performance.” And when she first told her parents about Naked Therapy, she started the email referencing Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic. Getting kicked out of West Chelsea Open Studios, though, indirectly gave Schrager more context for what exactly she was. Initially, Schrager was totally devastated when she heard she was kicked out. When I asked her about it, she “choked up a little just thinking about it.” But her expulsion created a bit of media storm, and outlets like Blouin Art Info and Culture Bot attempted to tackle the question of whether what she was doing was art or not. The way that they were contextualizing Naked Therapy, Schrager explains, “I was introduced to the world of social practice as an art field and the world of net art, which I wasn’t super familiar with before.”

Even before the Open Studios hubbub, Schrager was no stranger to press. The woman who could get men to bare their souls by baring her body was a story that got picked up by morning shows and late night TV, and publications from Gawker to German Playboy. The first press blitz in 2011 raised Schrager’s concerns over her privacy. “There were articles all over the place. I was getting lots and lots of emails and what seemed like pretty serious death threats. That was scary,” Schrager explained. “And at the time, I was running a performance space in my home, so my address was public. I was nervous of the idea of people being able to easily to find me.” She’s been vigilant about keeping Sarah White divorced from Leah Schrager. “I have been super careful about not documenting any connection between us…until now.”

Schrager went about removing photos of herself that would come up when you googled “Leah Schrager.” But there was one comment on a Youtube video of Sarah White that said “this is leah schrager.” She had no idea who had posted it and couldn’t ask them to take it down. “That prompted me to think that removal of an identity is impossible but multiplication is the way to evade surveillance,” Schrager explained. Her anxieties prompted an art project, and she launched a website thisisleahschrager.com and flooded the internet with false leads to who she was and what art she was making. She commented below random content “this is leah schrager” and asked others to do the same.

The same culture of misogyny that provoked Schrager to worry about her safety (something too many women on the Internet face, read: Amanda Hess) and subsequently hide her identity, has unfortunately followed her to the institutional art world. At art school, she’s had condescending reactions. “I had a studio visit and after the girl in the studio next to me came over and said ‘Oh my God, I wanted to punch that woman in the face. She was being so rude to you,’” Schrager said adding, “I guess I had been used to being talked to down to.” She has already experienced dismissive reactions to Naked Therapy.

The West Chelsea Artists Open Studio’s expulsion smacked of the same prejudices. Jeremy Barker suggested, “The gallery’s gross dismissal of the project as a ‘commercial venture’ certainly carries the stigma that White is really nothing but a prostitute.” Schrager felt like it was unfair that she got kicked out. “But if you can get to the point where it’s unfair, you can start asking why is it unfair?,” she suggested, “and hopefully enter into a broader conversation.” It’s a conversation we’ve been having since performance artists like Hannah Wilke were dismissed in the sixties and seventies on the grounds of the alleged narcissism of their work. Unfortunately, women using their bodies still get a lot of the same reactions today.

Net art is expanding the audience that is being provoked by this kind of work. Schrager wants her work to reach beyond the art world. “My audience for these works is very much people who would come across it online,” she explains. She’s not alone. The Internet’s ability to democratize is working a few different ways. Some artists are trolling non­art spaces to do a sort of temperature reading of reactions to women. Mary Bond’s posted nudes in 4chan. Angela Washko’s provoked conversations of feminism in World of Warcraft. These are artists doing research in non­art spaces and coming back with findings that are still easy to categorize as art, but the parameters of art and artist are also being complicated. When artists and non­artist are both vlogging or posting selfies on Instagram, is the difference in the intention or the price tag of the MFA program? And where do internet it­girls like Molly Soda and Labanna Babylon fit in on the spectrum?

It’s not hard to draw parallels between Schrager and non­artist Miriam Weeks, AKA Belle Knox, the porn actress and Duke women studies major. Art Sexy Studio is self­aware in its fetishization of the same intersection of privilege and sex work that made Weeks’s narrative capture the nation’s imagination. Schrager also related to Weeks’s struggles with anonymity and pseudonymity. “I identified with the identity issues, that she wanted to keep the two separate,” Schrager explained. “Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe her coming out inspired me.”

Schrager is “coming out,” but she still isn’t abandoning working under personas like Sarah White and Blush. She’s coined the term ‘ona,’ short for persona but with several other meanings, to describe these characters she’s making art as. “This is is the way I see how our generation is representing ourselves online and engaging in online realities,” she explains. But she’s done being anonymous, “That phase has run its time for me. I’m ready to talk about my work with other artists.”

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The Bullet Shop
July 2, 2014

“With fashion, everything can be accepted,” declared Pinar Demirdaghalf of the creative duo Pinar & Viola. The two graphic designers—respectively Turkish-born and Dutch-bornlaunched their new online platform, Valley Foretell (to reveal future desires) this weekend in Paris. And more specifically: their latest polyamorous-themed image collectionTo celebrate, they hosted not just any old party. It was a polyamorous wedding party, or festivity of “l’amour au pluriel.”

Pinar deems polyamory representative of the contemporary way in which we engage in relationships. (The duo’s previous project revolved around political sexual scandal, depicting girls taking selfies and leery politicians on terrycloth towels. Themes of taboo obviously preoccupy them.) Fittingly, the event was hosted on Gay Pride day: perfect timing to champion broadmindedness and variety and alternative relationships

With this is mind, Pinar & Viola created digitally painted images of people in long-term polyamorous relations, set against still life backgrounds. Five images were transposed onto Limoges porcelain plates, mixing the tradition of royalty dinnerware with a progressive attitude towards sex and loveThe various visual cues included Bali, Mondrian, gardening, clowns, roses, ladybugs, the moon.

Guests were invited to witness a polyamorous union in a stunning classically-Parisian apartment—wood parquet floors, moldings on ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows leading to wrought iron balcony, marble fireplace. There were glasses of champagne, and Aperol cocktails; candles flickered in emptied glass jarsthere were vases of fresh flowers, and white tulle was strung around.People mingled about until the ceremony began with a gong. Incense was waved liberally.

The mistress of ceremonies wore a red dress, and proceeded to “wed” Elodie, Manuel, and Jean Eduard. The trio, who have lived together for four years, made declarations, one solemnly vowing not to monopolize the TV. The mistress of ceremonies asked if anyone opposed the union, but no one did, so she waved some roses about at the trio, declared “I bless you” and repeated “may light, purity, and truth reign.” The trio each tied on paper rings, and kissed each other individually and as a triumvirate.

Rice was thrown joyously from the crowd. In lieu of a bouquet, they tossed triangle crown fashioned out of sticks and baby’s breath. The mistress of ceremonies implored god to protect the three lovers, and voilà: it was matrimony and multiplicity. As requisite at all wedding receptions, a frosted layer cake was wheeled out. Symbolically enough, it had three layers, and was topped with three birds.

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The Bullet Shop
July 1, 2014

We think of the selfie as a modern development, but they’re really at the root of all forms of expression, from fine art paintings and sculptures to the earliest recorded media. What is a cave drawing if not a primitive selfie? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that museum-goers have taken so strongly to filming themselves in front of works of art, it’s often a meta-textual selfie-within-a-selfie that you could certainly write an undergraduate BA thesis on. A poor, hackneyed one, sure, but you could write it all the same.

Some works of art lend themselves more readily for self-insertion, even if their underlying themes might not necessarily recommend such playfulness. For Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” aka “The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, some are taking that idea of insertion rather literally. The massive installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn is being called the “most selfie-inducing art installation of the year”, as Dazed writes. This despite the fact, as Creative Time explain, the piece is “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Haha, let me get a picture of myself goofing off in front of that, right?

Well, now you can, thanks to some enterprising troll. And you don’t even need to shlep all the way out there to see it.

SugarSelfie.com pokes fun at the “Selfie Event of the Season” by allowing you to take a picture of yourself using your computer’s camera and digitally inserting your image in front of the statue.  Consider it a way to make the evolving conversation about contemporary art focus on what’s really the most important subject of any work: you specifically.

Image via WNYC.


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The Bullet Shop
June 30, 2014

Pixilated portraits of iconic artists and musicians like Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon as well as political and revolutionary figures like Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Lincoln stare at the viewer through thousands of lenses. The lenses distort their identities, forcing the viewer to contemplate the figures’ influences within history. Contemplating Warhol and Lincoln’s existences lead to subsequent questions of our own existences, and for artist David Datuna, this is the goal. “It’s not about celebrity. It’s not about fame. It’s about their influence, identity and place in the world,” Patrick Dawson, owner of Birnam Wood Galleries, says. “David is not a commentator. David is an observer.”

Last year, Datuna became known as the first artist to incorporate Google Glass into his artworks, and on view at Birnam Wood was Datuna’s solo show—sans Google Glass—Elements. The exhibit featured 13 large-scale portraits depicting iconic figures throughout history, but whose faces change with every step the viewer takes. Perspectives change due to Datuna’s signature use of discarded prescription lenses and their encasing frames as his medium. Marilyn Monroe appears behind an array of colored lenses, while Martin Luther King looks at the viewer through black, white and shades of gray. After seeing the exhibition earlier this month, we sat down with Datuna to speak about his influences.

Can you talk about what sparked the idea for these pieces?
This idea starts from my previous work, because any new work continues from the old. My signature is glasses, the lenses that I use. Lenses, for me, mean people’s visions—how people feel energy, how people see life, how people see this world. For example, the portrait of Einstein is not about a portrait of Einstein. It’s about the energy and what influenced Einstein to become Einstein? It’s making you think about what made these people influential and ready to change this world.

How did you come up with the people that you wanted to include?
Usually, who is close to me, why they’re important, and also how these people connect with each other. For example, Einstein connects to Lincoln because they both were influenced by the same book, The Elements. Then, how does Lincoln connect to JFK? They had the same idea. All of them have connections—history connects them and I just see what history did. It’s not from me. It’s from history.

What made you select all clear lenses for Einstein? Obviously Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson’s colorful lenses make sense.
Color means nothing for me. When I do the work, I don’t know what kind of color I’m going to use, but Einstein is an exception. I especially chose the clear colors, because in Einstein and Elements, it’s so clear and understandable. This is only work that I try to make my answer. It’s not a question for me. It’s done. It’s absolute. Everything else is a question mark—I try to push you, to stimulate you to answer my question mark. It’s your vision. It’s your life. It’s your feeling. My job is just giving you questions. But normally when I work, I have a big table and maybe a 30, 40, 50, 70 different color lenses and I don’t know what color I’m going to use. It’s the same thing when you work with oil paint. This is just my medium. Just like Dali used oil paint, but always had a different meaning, for me, the lenses are my oil, but the concept is always different.

How long does it take you to create these pieces?
A couple months for each one, maybe less—depends on how drunk I am! [laughs] But if I tell you seriously, it’s very detailed. Each piece comes from 50,000-80,000 parts. I had a few helpers, but this idea took a few years and just one piece takes two or three months.

How do you distill all of your ideas when you’re creating art?
When I crate new ideas I never think about if somebody else did this or not, because there are so many artists, so many ideas, so many things come out everyday. Just do whatever you want to do. It’s very simple. [pauses] I create what is born in myself. When that’s born I know I can’t sleep and I have to go to the studio and start workingI think people are sleeping and contemporary art and artists have to wake up our civilization. There is too much advertising, too much answering of questions, too much everything. Sometimes we forget why we are born, what the real meaning of living this life is, and what we want to leave after. I don’t answer, I just question. So I try to say: You are a live person. Don’t forget. We’re humans and we came here to do something. Find your answer.

Do you see yourself incorporating technology again like you did with the Google Glass?
It isn’t about technology. The line in the National Gallery to see the piece was two to five hours long. A couple thousand people stand in line and 80 percent say, “Oh, we want to see how Google Glass works.” Two minutes after the experience, all the questions were about the art, not about technology. We used the Glass as a high tech brush, like the bridge between the contemporary viewer and fine art, a bridge to bring people immediately inside the piece and open the concept of exactly what this means.

And it becomes really interactive, which is an experience often lacking in art.
Yeah, exactly. But it’s not about technology and how we use technology, because with the Glass or without the Glass, the concept of the world doesn’t change. My son—he’s eight years old—gave me the idea to build this piece. Years ago when I explained my work to him, he told me, “Father, come on. It’s too boring. It takes too long. I have to play a game.” I started to understand that he’s right. Today the reality is different; timing is different; attention is different. They need something quick—a new language for a new generation. After this, my son told me, “Father you’re good. It’s not boring. I understand what you mean and it’s quick. So I have time to play games.” He’s happy now. [laughs] But will I do something in the future with the Google Glass or something else? Maybe, yes. Why not? It’s not a rule yes or no. But again, it won’t be about technology. It’s going to be about the art.

So do you create your art with that in mind? With it being quick to digest?
No, no, that’s just for my son. I create my art to touch people, to make people answer questions, to try to show the world differently. This is why I use lenses. Through all lenses you see the same images from different perspectives.

Are any of these iconic figures someone who really means something to you?
Yes, Elvis Presley, because when I was five years old my father was arrested in Georgia in the USSR just because he listened to Elvis Presley. For me, he’s a very important figure because Elvis Presley makes me move to the U.S. Elvis Presley makes me an artist. When I was five years old I did not understand what was going on, why if someone just listened to music they had to be arrested. Nobody gave me an answer. “Because,” they would say.

This is why I started to create the flags. For me, flags are not just the banner of a country. For me, the flag for each country is a huge resurgence, just like these are not just famous figures. It’s about what makes this country like it is? The flag is who we are. They can be sick. They can be pregnant. For example, I did the Israel project with three flags: one is black and white and all images are about the holocaust, the colored one is the original colors and about what’s going on today, and the third flag is white like canvas without images. Part of the installation is to stand in front of that flag, close your eyes and think what kind of images you want to see inside. When I did this project for the first time I saw old people, like 70 years old, who stood in front of the flag, closed their eyes and started to scream and cry.

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The Bullet Shop
June 30, 2014

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes those eyes come to a culturally-driven consensus about what counts as beautiful or not. We behold beauty differently depending on where we live throughout the world, in other words. That was the idea that occurred to Esther Honig, a Kansas City-based journalist, who embarked on a project titled “Before & After” in which she asked artists from over 25 countries to fix up her portrait. She explained more:

With a cost ranging from five to thirty dollars, and the hope that each designer will pull from their personal and cultural constructs of beauty to enhance my unaltered image, all I request is that they ‘make me beautiful’. Below is a selection from the resulting images thus far. They are intriguing and insightful in their own right; each one is a reflection of both the personal and cultural concepts of beauty that pertain to their creator. Photoshop allows us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more elusive.

The results are all over the map, from washed out and whitened, to garish and painted, and minimal and unadorned. Well, at least to my American sensibilities that is. What looks weird and off to me may just be the ideal of a culture I don’t understand. That’s the whole point. Check out a few below and see the rest at her site. Germany: www Bangladesh: sds   Argentina:  dsds   Morocco:   morocco   Israel: israel Greece: greece     @lukeoneil47

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The Bullet Shop
June 26, 2014

Jean Claude Tribe is even more interesting than his name would suggest. Visually, he is avant-garde; he feels most comfortable in stark blacks and whites, and his ensembles are often crafted from industrial textures and manipulated into extreme silhouettes. Professionally, Tribe has successfully channeled an abstractly artistic compulsion into art, fashion design, styling, music, and modeling, blurring the lines between his subjects, mediums, and content. His trademarks are likewise instinctive, even primitive — a diamond, a triangle, and a circle (representing fashion, music, and art, respectively), and two Adam Ant-esque white lines under his left eye, which Tribe saves for photo shoots and performances.

Born in 1992 and raised in LA, Tribe quickly realized his passion for music and fashion before moving to London at age 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry. Upon graduation and his return to LA, charisma saved him from having to decide what to do next. “London definitely made me a people person,” he says. “When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.” Tribe began to throw parties for artists to meet and network, and party photos began to go viral. Recently, he has designed his first unisex clothing collection, Collection Zero; created a SEX shirt worn by Steve Boi; modeled as the face of Paris French-punk brand, Enfants Riches Deprimes; collaborated with Third Kingdom on an EP in addition to Tribe’s upcoming solo album; and has been featured in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Tribe has also collaborated with photographer Timony Siobhan to create a conceptual series of images of Tribe posed incongruously amongst floating black rectangles, which you can see above. We spoke to Tribe about being a Myspace scene kid, his wall of ideas, and being a momma’s boy.

Did you grow up in LA? As a teenager, what did you wear (or what did you want to wear), and what kinds of things were you interested in? And in these interests/style/etc., were you in the majority or minority?
I was born in Los Angeles during the climax of the LA riots. My family quickly moved us to Orange County in hopes of a more safe upbringing. As a teenager I was labeled a MySpace “scene kid.” I had snake bites and wore skinny jeans. Being an African American “scene kid” at an Orange County high school definitely made me a minority. As I grew, my style completely switched and I turned very “preppy.” I was not a leader in fashion then, I followed the crowd and craved trends. Regardless of my style, music was always my passion. I was president of my high school choir and was voted “Most Likely to go to Hollywood” in my senior year book (cliché, I know).

What was the first thing to make a big impression on you artistically?
MGMT’s album Oracular Spectacular had a huge impact on me artistically. When it came out there was nothing like it, both musically and visually. I was a very close-minded person when I first heard “Kids.” I listened to it 100 times that day. Their lyrics opened my mind to thoughts, beliefs, and ideas foreign to me. Andrew and Ben are phenomenal poets. I feel like no one gives them the credit they deserve.

Who do you admire, in any field and for whatever reason?
I admire Kate Bush. Wuthering Heights was way before its time. I feel like every musician takes a piece of her onstage whether they know it or not.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed or have artist’s block? How do you push though that? Do you feel pressure to be creatively “on” all the time?
Yes! I am always overwhelmed, I am so hard on myself! Artist’s block is not the issue. The issue is having too many ideas and not enough time. I write down all of my ideas on Post-It notes and stick them to a wall in my room. There are about 100 post its on the wall now. It’s the best feeling to add and remove them. My wall of ideas has helped me stay sane.

How do you deal with criticism?
I love constructive criticism. I am always running concepts and ideas by my friends and family. I do not deal with negative criticism. I just remember that everyone has an opinion, whether it be good or bad. My work has always been therapeutic for me. I surprisingly do not art or create for anyone. It is humbling to learn that my work has inspired another being, but that is not what drives me.

How do you decorate or fill your home or personal space? What do you like to surround yourself with?
My space is very minimal. I work in my space often so I decorate it with materials I use regularly while creating. I live in a white room surrounded with paint, canvases, vinyl, couture, and some of my favorite black and white photographs by Bruce Davidson and Ryan McGinley. I collect crystal and sleep with black tourmaline under my pillow every night for protection.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I play my piano and drink a cup of black coffee every morning. Then I do yoga, go for a run, and have a nice dance in the shower before heading work. I also do social media and marketing consulting for various companies. After work I usually have a photo shoot, rehearsal, event, or business meeting to attend. I am always on the go. The more you do, the more you learn.

You said in an interview, “I’ve seen so much lazy talent gone to waste and it scares me.” How do you motivate yourself when you feel lazy, and would you say that the above quote represents your worse fear?
When I am feeling lazy, I think about my mom. My mom was born in Guyana, South America and moved to the US with her family when she was seventeen. She raised my sister and I as a single parent while obtaining her law degree. That alone gives me enough drive to keep going. I want to able to support her, buy her a new house, and the green Jaguar she’s always dreamed of. I am a proud momma’s boy!

How did you choose the triangle, the circle, and the diamond, to represent music, art, and fashion, respectively? Do you always wear two white lines under your left eye?
The tribe shapes came to me in a dream. In this dream, I was on stage headlining my first tour. Everyone in the audience was wearing a shirt with one of the three shapes. I did not understand what they meant at the time. I woke up in the middle of the night and documented my dream. The next morning, while reading back, it all made sense. The shapes each represented my passions — triangle (music), circle (art), diamond (fashion). I used to wear the lines under my left eye everyday. It’s my Adam Ant-inspired signature. I have recently decided to save the lines for photo shoots and performances only. I would like to leave a little mystery behind them.

Do you have a personal philosophy?
I have always lived by Diane Von Furstenberg’s quote: “The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself, for you will always have and be with yourself until the day you die.” I feel that so many people do not respect themselves. You must teach people how to treat you. If we do not treat ourselves with respect, how can expect the world to?

Tell me about London, where you lived and attended London Metropolitan University. I read that you moved there at 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry — that’s really efficient, both time-wise and subject-wise. Did you have a strong idea about what you wanted to do after you graduated? What do you think makes the London music and fashion scene (or culture, generally) distinctive from anywhere else?
London was phenomenal. I moved there directly after my freshman year of college at CSU Dominguez Hills. Yes, I started college at sixteen! I was moved up two grades in elementary school. I never felt like I belonged in California. I was very depressed and needed a change. I applied to London Metropolitan University and was thrilled to be accepted. I lived in an apartment in Islington for three years while studying. I would travel to Paris, Berlin, Wales, and Amsterdam on the weekends with my roommate and make it back in time on Monday for class. I did not know what I wanted to do after graduation. I just knew I was obsessed with music and art. I think London’s fashion and music scene is distinct because they have always been a step ahead of many other countries. I remember watching bands like Beach House and Toro y Moi at small pubs throughout the city. Three years later they were playing Coachella and Glastonbury. Same goes for fashion! I bought my first pair of harem (drop crotched) pants in London. When I returned to the States my friends would laugh and say I looked like I was wearing a diaper. Now harem pants are seen on the runway, every season.

You started hosting parties for LA-based artists to meet and network after coming back from university in London. How did you start doing this? Are you naturally a people person?
My parties were always spontaneous and by word of mouth. My favorite one was at the sleazy Hollywood Inn. I encouraged everyone to push the boundaries with their outfits. Photos from the party went viral. London definitely made me a people person. Once I got back to Los Angeles I felt confident going out and meeting new people. I was a bit shy in my younger years. When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.

What kind of impression did you want to make with your SEX shirt for Steve Boi?
The morning of one of my first parties I spilled black paint on the white button down shirt I planned to wear that night. Instantly the idea came to paint SEX all over it — the idea of taking a formal white shirt & making a controversial statement with it intrigued me. I wore the shirt that night and images from the event went viral and later on I was asked if Stevie Boi could wear it during NYFW. Its crazy to think something that propelled my career was the result of an accident.

I really love your strict use of black and white in your art and fashion work, like Collection Zero . Though many people may not admit it, I think those are the colors most people are drawn to and feel most comfortable wearing in their everyday life.
Thank you! Yes, I completely agree. I feel that people who only wear black and white live colorful lives. A lot of people hide behind their clothes; this is the main reason why bright neons and busy prints do not interest me. Without busy prints and color you are forced to see the person for who they are. No mask, no distraction, only opportunity for a genuine connection.

You were the face of Enfants Riches Deprimes, and you’ve been in two different Vogues and Harper’s Bazaar. What was it like when you started modeling? Also, which magazines do you read?
Modeling happened on its own for me. I am not signed to a modeling agency. I have always just been a musician. I am friends with a lot of models. I went to visit one in New York and when I arrived onset the team though I was the male they had casted for the day. I booked my first shoot a week later. Enfants Riches Deprimes contacted me after seeing me in a Damir Doma ad. I definitely feel more like of a collaborator than just a model. I love to pick designer’s brains and create in front and behind the camera. I am an avid reader of British Vogue & Bazaar UK, they are both nostalgic for me.

How would you describe the sound of the music you make? How did you start producing music on a professional level?
My sound is a melting pot of all my inspirations. Acoustic soul, synth harmonic, eclectic riffed. It is so hard to categorize music these days. I started producing music on a professional level when I worked with Saeed of Third Kingdom on our collaborative EP Intergalactic two years. We have been friends since high school and he will be producing some of my solo album.


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The Bullet Shop