The Untitled Space is pleased to present “IRL: Investigating Reality” a group exhibition of 46 contemporary artists exploring what “IRL” means to them in today’s digital world. Curated by gallery director, artist and feminist Indira Cesarine, “IRL: Investigating Reality” will open on June 6th, and run through June 21st, 2019. The group show examines themes of “real life” and “reality” versus fictional, internet or idealized worlds through a wide array of mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, mixed media, installation, video art, and textiles. Each artist reveals their own personal vision of “reality” with works in the show juxtaposing the mundanities of everyday life, addressing themes of “authenticity” versus edited, retouched or fictitious realities, nature versus cyber constructed content, as well as exploring the intersection of digital and physical worlds. Read our interview with Indira Cesarine to learn more about the exhibition, and her view on digitization, feminism, and art.
You founded The Untitled Space art gallery in 2014. What prompted you to start a platform supporting feminist art? I had been working previously as a photographer and shifted my focus to art and in the process found that there weren’t really that many opportunities for female artists to exhibit in New York. There were a few non-profits galleries and collectives, but as far as the established galleries, most only had 1 or 2 token female artists (if any), and very few galleries exhibited feminist themed artwork. So I decided to just launch my own! When I launched the gallery one of my initiatives was to emphasize contemporary female artists and feminist art as a genre. The fact that female artists throughout history have been sidelined and represented by a very small percentage in galleries and museums is something that I felt strongly about changing. In the last few years we have seen a lot of emphasis on the situation, and a lot more female focused exhibits and galleries have launched, which I think is great. We still have a lot of progress ahead though.
“The fact that female artists throughout history have been sidelined and represented by a very small percentage in galleries and museums is something that I felt strongly about changing.”
Tell us about the upcoming exhibition you curated: “IRL: INVESTIGATING REALITY”. The group show features 46 contemporary artists exploring the intersection of the digital and physical worlds. How did the theme come about? I think I am not alone in saying that I often feel disenchanted when looking at social media and the edited, retouched, constructed lives posted online. I felt it was time to address “IRL” which stands for “in real life” and what that means to artists in today’s digital world. The artwork in the exhibit emphasizes “real life” in many ways – not just related to the internet or technology – although that is definitely a part of it. I was curious how artists would respond to the theme, and there is a very interesting mix of works that on one hand touches on the intersection of digital and physical worlds and on the other hand escapes from that, with an emphasis on real life and real experiences. Some artists work in the show is heavily influenced by how technology has affected us, while others chose to focus on a more organic reality.
What do you think about digitization, and the relationship between humans and technology? It’s a complicated dynamic. I think in many ways there has been a lot of incredible progress with globalization and communication that has evolved directly due to the internet and digitization. At the same time, I think that it has taken over our lives… people are spending more and more time in front of their computer screens and on their phones, living “virtually” through the internet. We live in a culture so immersed in social media, it is often impossible to distinguish reality from the edited, retouched, fantasy lives led online. As we become more dependent on the digital world, we equally crave authenticity and the truth. I think a lot of people have a growing sense of feeling “disconnected” due to the impact of the internet, social media, and the effects of technology on us. We need physical connections and experiences as humans to feel alive.
“if you don’t actually go to see shows in person you are missing out on what makes art so special.”
The exhibition examines themes of “real life” and “reality” versus fictional, internet or idealized worlds. Do you feel like the digital world has a lack of authenticity? I think the digital world can be highly misleading and manipulative. The retouched, edited, perfect lives posted online are not reality. As we all know also from the “fake news” phenomenon, what we read or see on the internet should not be taken as fact. It’s also hard not to look at social media and compare yourself to others. It’s important to not take at face value what we see online. A lot of the bloggers and even normal people are not only retouching everything they post, but taking hundred of photos to get the perfect shot that shows how perfect they are. Yes many people also use the internet to scream into the void and complain and share their worst moments, but that also tends to be for likes and attention and is also often exaggerated. I think we need to take a step back and really look at how all of this is affecting us.
In times of online platforms, what is, for you, the importance of in-real-life exhibitions? I think it’s extremely important to experience art in person. When you see a photo of art it rarely captures the true essence of the work. Some artwork, like photography, video, and digital art obviously translates well online, but paintings, sculptures, works on paper, these tend to have a completely different impact in person. Seeing the textures and even the scale or dimension of the work in person has an impact that could rarely be communicated through photos. I think if you don’t actually go to see shows in person you are missing out on what makes art so special.
How did you choose the 46 artists to exhibit ? What was the curatorial criteria for the selection? In order to properly address the theme I felt it was important that it was a rather large group show that shared the perspectives of “IRL” by wide array of artists of all genders and generations. I invited quite a few artists that I have exhibited previously at The Untitled Space that had relevant work to the theme and also did an open call to discover some new voices for the show. We had an incredible response overall to the theme, and several hundred artists submitted work. It was actually a really tough show to curate as there were so many incredible options. I felt it was important to include not just artwork that conveyed reality through the lens of realism, but also artwork that touched on how technology has affected our lives. It was also crucial that the exhibit feature a variety of mediums and artistic voices, as everyone has their own “reality” and I wanted that to be represented through the work.
“It will take a very long time to eradicate double standards and the subtleties of discrimination even if laws dictate it.”
Is there an artist in particular that stands out for you ? There are so many incredible artists in the exhibit, it would be hard to choose just one. I really love the photography of artist Aela Labbe, and felt the intimacy and simplicity of her images was very striking. She touches on “real life” themes in a very sensitive way. She captures a moment between two lovers with incredibly emotion in her image, “Anthropomorphe,” and personal anguish with the image of a girl falling down the stairs titled, “Eleni”. I think she has incredible talent, and am looking forward to featuring her work at the gallery for the first time. I really love the intimacy and technique of artist Camilla Marie Dahl, who has 2 paintings in the exhibit, both of people taking baths. There is something really candid about the works, which is hard to achieve with painting. I particularly love the emotion of “In The Tub”, which is a very small intimate oil on canvas of a couple holding hands while bathing. Artist Reisha Reisha Perlmutter is another one that has a remarkable painting style. Her oil painting, “Plumeria,” which features a girl swimming in the ocean is so realistic it could be a photograph. I love how she captures the movement of the water around the girl as she moves. There are also a lot of brilliant works that integrate real life with technology such as Jeanette Hayes, “Girls will be Girls”, which is a graphite on paper drawing that features a number of women in all kinds of positions that are all clearly attention grabbing … for me this piece really reflects on the culture of posting for likes and how women can portray themselves online as these sort of sexualized creatures in order to get attention. I also love Alison Jackson’s insanely clever staged images of celebrities in intimate scenarios and felt her series of the royal family taking selfies was perfect for the exhibit. Her image depicting Prince William taking a selfie while Kate gives birth is just so realistic it’s hard to believe it’s not really them, but rather body doubles. Her work addresses how photography can transform our relationship to what is ‘real’ and really challenges notions of reality. I also really love Fahren Feingold’s self portrait, “My Life Is Not An Audition” I think the title says it all, and the work has an important message. She never does self portraits so it was great to see her explore this new direction. Grace Graupe Pillard’s androgynous portrait titled “Martize” is also really on point for the show. It’s hard to tell it’s it’s a man or a woman and I think says a lot about gender today.
“I think it’s important to breakdown the need for women to always come off as perfect.”
As a curator, and an artist yourself, what makes a powerful/ captivating image for you? For me works that really stand out are ones that you can tell the artist really tried hard to go somewhere deep within themselves to pull that out. There needs to be a component of self-interrogation, a reflection on who and what we are. I think you can also tell when something is made from an emotional place, that comes from the heart. It could be figurative or abstract or in any medium, it just needs to say something about the human experience that is unique.
Your creative work is focused on the female form; empowering women and challenging beauty standards. There’s a lot of strength, sensitivity and rawness in the images you create. How do you find inspiration for your own creation? Thank you, that’s means a lot to me. I have a hard time sometimes prioritizing my own work as I love curating so much, but it’s really important to me to also continue my own path as an artist. I have always been drawn to work thematically and am often inspired by my own personal experiences as well as women’s history. One of the most important parts of that process is always having an idea that inspires me, and then taking off with it. I tend to work across a lot of different mediums to express my concepts as in depth as possible. I like to investigate themes from all angles. I think that’s why I also love curating as I can bring in the perspectives of other artists. I am constantly inspired by new ideas and wish I had time to explore them all! For the IRL show, I actually did 2 photo shoots, both series are rather intimate portraits of women, although dramatically different. I did a series of photographs titled, “Escape in New York” which features a girl who hits the streets of New York naked in an effort to reconnect with herself and feel alive. It was very liberating for me to do this shoot as nudity is so taboo in America. The model Meredith really let herself go with the concept and literally ran through the streets of New York nude – she was shadow boxing and dancing and jumping … It was a really cathartic feeling as an artist to push this narrative and incredibly liberating to let go of all the social constraints and expectations that are thrown on us to be or act a certain way in public. I also shot an intimate portrait series in Brooklyn with a girl named Annie for the show. I asked her if I could photograph her in her own home, just hanging out doing what she would normally do alone. She was totally uninhibited and very natural in her own skin which was exactly what I wanted to portray. I have been working on a series of portraits of different women that challenge beauty standards and convey in an honest way how these women really live. Usually when you photograph someone in their own home they clean up and try to make everything look nice, but I specifically ask them not to do that, but rather to just let me shoot them as they really are, without pretense. It’s always quite a process to find models willing to pose for photos like this, but I think it’s important to breakdown the need for women to always come off as perfect.
Do you think art has a big impact on society? I think it can have a big impact. At the end of the day when we look back at an era of society historically it is often the artwork that defines the era. I think we are constantly affected in some way by art forms of some sort or another, even if you don’t go to galleries or museums. If you watch TV or look at the internet you are going to be seeing art and media and will be affected by it whether you like it or not. It’s become part of the fabric of our culture.
As we’re making steps towards gender equality, do you think we will reach equality soon, and treat people no matter what their gender, ethnicity, class is? I think we still have massive progress with regards to equality. It will take a very long time to eradicate double standards and the subtleties of discrimination even if laws dictate it. I think it’s a massive step forwards that there is more awareness on the subject, but if you look at the world around us, globally there are many countries that are regressing rather than progressing. We still have a long way to go … but it’s important to not give up hope!
Do you have any advice for female aspiring artists? Believe in yourself! I always tell people if everyone likes your artwork than it probably isn’t very good! Don’t be afraid to be different. It’s better to find your own style and voice rather than to try to emulate others, as being unique is what makes an artist stand out. I also think this notion that you can only do 1 thing or work in 1 medium is old fashioned. It’s great to be multifaceted and experimental and you should never hold yourself back from expressing new ideas.
“IRL: INVESTIGATING REALITY” Group Show at The Untitled Space