THE “TUMBLR” STILL LIFE
*This article was supposed to be published in POP magazine in May 2013 but for some reason, it never happened. So i decided to not waste it and publish it here as it’s a very “tumblr” subject.
A new breed of artists is reimagining the still life landscape. Trust me, this is good news. I’m very excited about it. The new still life aesthetic they’re creating… I find it terribly surprising, clever and funny.
The end of my still life nightmare
Funny is important, dear readers. Honesty is, too. So I want us to be honest with each other. I know that deep down you’ll agree with me… even though you might not want to admit it. But I ask you: Why are fashion magazine still life pages so… BO-RING? Why do they always have to be so “glamorous” and pretty and dull? I’m sorry, but they never ever make me want to buy perfume or a pair of sunglasses. Never.
I always imagine the art director of the photo shoot pitching his ideas. “Wow, guys, I have the best concept ever! I’m going to put a pair of Versace sunglasses, Dior perfume and red nails on a black shiny backdrop. FASHION REVOLUTION!”
All those lame images ever do for me is automatically make my eyes start rolling. But now, my still life nightmare is over. Thanks to my Tumblr newsfeed and thanks to the Internet.
The new bargain-price still life
Working in the opposite direction from those terribly luxurious still life images found in magazines, young artists today are focusing on cheap everyday objects, materials and food. They’re re-inventing still life photography and still life sculptures in very absurd, surrealistic, visually awkward, yet rather clever ways. Taking inspiration from advertising photography and Internet culture they’re presenting bargain-price objects or homemade objects in ways you would never expect. I selected 5 artists/art collectives who represent this new wave of still life art. I interviewed them about their work and how they conceive a still life.
Alex Da Corte
Seen through the eyes of Philadelphia artist & sculptor Alex Da Corte, a bag of chips becomes a truly curious and visually intriguing object. Posed together with fitness gym balls on a stool, it suddenly becomes a contemporary art piece I wouldn’t mind having in my living room.
“I don’t think of these objects as cheap,” said artist Alex Da Corte.
“They may be plastic, colorful, and sometimes sold at ‘bargain-prices’ but they aren’t wholly cheap. Think of how much a silly oversized somewhat tacky bright orange cartoon Puppy chair made of Italian plastic goes for at the Eero Aarino showroom. I’m interested in taste, what it reveals about us, and the moment good taste becomes distasteful,” he explained.
Alex described the intention of his artwork, “I would say that my work and aesthetic is an animated cartoon that wants to be a song, a cultural anthropology study by way of the second hand store and the gutter, a bathtub filled with shampoo to dip my dick in, a love story in three acts, a melted gummy bear, a memory that was made by the movies.”
Jogging is a collaborative project created by Brad Troemel with Lauren Christiansen and Tyrone Chang. Their work takes the form of a Tumblr blog. A piece of bacon grilled in a hair straightener… a sculpture made from a saltshaker and toothbrushes… these are the type of images you’ll see on http://thejogging.tumblr.com.
Brad Troemel explained how the Jogging project began, ”I ran a gallery in Chicago called Scott Projects, five years ago. And when people doing exhibitions would leave scraps behind, we’d re-use those objects to create sculptures. We’d set up an installation image in the gallery. Then throw the scraps out. “
“The image on Tumblr was all that was left. We worked quickly. I call it athletic aesthetics– creating as many things as quickly as possible to exercise our visual taste and come to common grounds for production. The desire to create quickly eventually lead me to Photoshopping together Google Image Searched-items rather than waiting for people to leave physical objects around in my gallery.”
The Jogging blog has a huge following. The images they post often go viral. When I asked Brad if Jogging is responsible for creating and expanding the new still life aesthetic online, he replied, “ Jogging didn’t create an aesthetic so much as create a series of links between ThereIFixedIt, Erwin Wurm, Jacques Carelman’s ‘Unfindable Objects,’ funny conceptual art from the 70’s, and social media.”
He further elaborated, “Artists today are less interested in creating from scratch and more interested in tying together a variety of pre-existing references and materials. It makes sense that so much of today’s work looks eerily familiar in the way it mimics or appropriates wholesale fromadvertising strategies,mass-produced goods, and service-sector interpersonal exchanges.”
Originally from Texas and now living in California, Carson Fisk-Vittori, was born in 1987. She creates work focused on everyday objects and environments. Plants and soda are recurrent items in her photographs.
She described her approach in terms of relationships, “Still life are really just a way for me to think about the objects around me. Living with objects, I see some sort of connection between them, and then I make photographs to isolate those connections and thoughts. It is just the act of isolating relationships that are everywhere in a way that is easier to look at and laugh at and contemplate.”
“This still life aesthetic is definitely becoming a trend. There are artists that realized the hyper familiar things all around us are thoroughly interesting. They stopped buying “art materials” and started to see a potential in working with everyday objects and their cultural implications. It’s not a new way of working. It’s just as important as still life and assemblage has always been. It’s a direct response to, and re-evaluation of, the objects of our time.”
Rachel de Joode
In her photographic/sculptural works, Rachel de Joode, mixes real objects with homemade and found objects. She seems to particularly love creating still life images made from cheese, hair and meat. Born in 1979, in the Netherlands, she graduated from Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. She now lives and works in Berlin.
“Things are acting in my work, acting as themselves. A thing can be anything: from a scrollbar, to a rock, to a human body, to a chunk of clay, to dust, to a thought. It’s all matter. This is what I find interesting about putting objects together. All objects have potential. And there is no judgment. During the art-making process, all objects evolve into a new state. Even though I am the mediator of this shift, ‘the thing me’ is actually co-existing next to these objects and changing during the process as well; everything is in constant flux,“ explained Rachel.
“I think there is definitely a new still life trend and I think I might be more or less apart of this, or, let’s put it like this I do not mind being associated with this, but I think I might not be a ‘core player’ of this movement, but rather a side-player. I think the common denominator is that we like to play with ‘real world objects.’ We photograph this play-result, and in almost all cases, these photographs end up as images on the screen, circulating online. I think one of the reasons we artists are attracted towards doing stuff with things, (which is how I like to phrase what I do), it’s because we live a less haptic existence (internet/computer bound) and it feels necessary to play around with things.”
Cinq Fruits is a project by French creative studio le Creative Sweatshop. Taking the surreal and strange aesthetic a step further, instead of arranging existing objects together in awkward ways, Julien Morin and Mathieu Missiaen create their own handmade and homemade objects inspired by real objects and photograph them in very beautiful and surreal ways.
“Cinq Fruits is our way to talk about the Internet and the way pictures are losing their sense of meaning because of the crazy accumulation Tumblr has created. We wanted to build our own Tumblr blog, but instead of picking images from other people, we wanted to build our own still life images. Still life offers us the reactivity and the simplicity to realize quick stuff at our studio. We can have an idea and do it right away,” said Mathieu.
“There is a real movement. Artists are creating a new way to be abstract and narrative at the same time. I also think there’s a discussion between us, people doing still life imagery with people who are doing 3D. Those 3D guys are trying to be surrealistic and abstract like us. We influence the 3D guys and they influence us. What is it? Is it real? Is it 3D?”
Your grandma probably won’t get it. The fashion world is still stuck snapping pictures of luxurious still life. The art scene likes it. But the biggest audience for this new wave of still life art… is the young online audience. When these absurd still life images go viral, they’re appreciated and reblogged by people who don’t always understand what they’re looking at is art.
Rachel de Joode
Which might be exactly why these new still life are becoming so popular. They’re accessible. And they’re confusing at the same time. You never know if you’re looking at a “WTF” image or if it’s an image created by an actual artist, which helps make the images less intimidating and art-pretentious.
Brad Troemel from Jogging calls this audience “the accidental audience.”
He explained, “Despite the fact that Jogging’s creators all came from art and media backgrounds, our primary audience is no longer the art world– it’s teenagers on Tumblr.”
“Even without an art education, people have become keenly trained visual analysts by way of viewing a daily onslaught of well-designed advertisements. Former art images that have reached a level of widespread popularity are thus judged according to the visual vocabulary of advertising, where vague similarities are found through the mutual use of commercial goods and techniques. The art image becomes an awkward curiosity for the ‘accidental audience,’ landing in an uncanny valley of familiarity and otherness.”
“Many absurd, poorly crafted, and perhaps immoral posts accrue huge popularity on Tumblr all the time. Instead of outrage this reflects how the collision of low-culture absurdity and high-culture art reveals the material de-skilling of artists, which makes accidental audiences question art itself,” explained Brad Troemel.
Cinq fruits and Jogging are pushing “the collision of low-culture absurdity and high-culture art” a step further by selling online (probably to their “accidental audience”) items they created or put together for their still life images. On Etsy, for instance, Jogging sells a Dorito taco locked with a padlock for 55 dollars.
A New School
The relationship between still life artwork and the Internet is probably one of the most interesting aspects of this new art wave. Young artists feel the need to create using real objects in order to get away from the digital, but at the same time, the Internet-based absurd “WTF” aesthetic is incredibly present in their work, and some of them are trying to sell to their “accidental” audience their 3D objects. But for most of them, their still life images end up far more famous on the web as 2D jpegs than in 3D in real life.
Fashion still life now look stale and frozen as plastic flowers when juxtaposed against the strange vitality being captured by this new wave of still life art. These artists are incorporating modern life in their “nature morte.” Which means “dead nature.” It’s what we call “still life” in French. The point of these artists’ work is not to market the objects, but to make sincere art.
However, to be honest, they could probably make me buy anything! Sincere is so sexy. I want Rachel de Joode’s cheese and Alex Da Corte’s chips. And what about plants? I never really cared about plants, but next time I visit Ikea, I know exactly which section where I’ll start shopping. I really want to have a fern plant, next to a Sprite bottle, next to a fitness gym ball, and all on display in my living room. I’m such an “accidental audience” victim.
Do you believe these artists are creating the new school of Pop art? I certainly do!