Meet the Digital Artist Making Important Work on an iPhone Called Big Sexy
Casey Kauffmann’s Instagram collages expand the parameters of traditional art and show how the internet has democratised the creative world.
Casey Kauffmann is a digital artist. More specifically, she's an Instagram artist. Her multi coloured pieces posted as @Uncannysfvalley are mashups of pop culture iconography, selfies and the internet oddities she gathers from the strangest corners of the web. In recent years, our relationship and appreciation of this kind of work has deepened. Increasingly we see how pieces created for Instagram and Tumblr can be as evocative as traditional gallery offerings. Casey's work may be tailor made to serve as a screen-lock image, but it also says a lot about how we use art to shift perspectives and humour to connect with one another.
Not only do her collages show how technology has liberated artists from practices that were once expensive and elitist, they also highlight how valuable spaces and platforms like Instagram are. She uses hashtags and captions as more than window dressings, they add a narrative to her work that wouldn't be available anywhere else. Plus she does it all on an iPhone, and puts every creative emoticon offering you've ever attempted to shame.
Do you really make all this with an iPhone? Yes, every single one of those collages and gifs were made on my phone! First on an iPhone 4, and now on an iPhone 6. It's my boyfriend, I love it, and I call it Big Sexy.
Did you always set out to be like, hey, I'm going to be an iPhone artist. It's both a conscious decision and the result of the conditions of my life. For years I've been collecting images on Tumblr and I always knew that this archive of anonymous imagery was important but I didn't know why or how I would ever use them.
Then a while ago I got really sick and was in the hospital. While there I took a picture of the IV in my arm that I wanted to post on Instagram without being annoying and whiny. So I downloaded an app I could use to add cat stickers to any picture. Somehow making a joke out of it made it easier for me to post about how I was feeling. I consider this the catalyst for Uncannysfvalley.
How did you go from that to a whole art practice? I became addicted to the immediacy, accessibility and ease that you can make art on your phone, then post it and receive immediate validation. I'm classically trained in drawing and I used to make large-scale drawings of girls crying or fighting from reality TV. Though I love this body of work, making those pieces was arduous, expensive, time-consuming and required a lot of physical space. The apps I use cost a few dollars, if anything, and require no studio space.
You started in traditional art, how do you feel digital and Internet art is received by the wider art community? I think Internet art is such an omnipresent part of visual culture its inclusion in contemporary art is inevitable. The obstacle, or rather question, that is most evident to digital artists is how to confront the pervasive traditions of object making. I think that the art world and beyond, is slower to understand making things you can't sell.
I suppose while digital art is visible now, you're still pushing things to another place by working from your phone. Has that caused people to hesitate in taking your work seriously? When I tell people I make art on my phone they're generally skeptical until I show it to them. If anything when people see the work and find out it was made on a phone they're mystified by how it was made. Which is funny because my tools are somewhat rudimentary compared to what you can do on a computer, my process is pretty simple.
Your work is beautiful, but it's also very funny. I find the balance of incorporating lols into serious art really interesting. Humour is the thread that runs throughout every single work I've ever made. Humour offers us a safe place to learn about one another. It ties back to that first cat post from the hospital; humor softens the blow of the often daunting subject matter I want to cover.
In my personal life I tend to joke about everything, including things that cause me a great deal of pain. If you read the captions on a lot of my pieces you can see they are really personal. In a way I'm using these collages, these jokes, as a sophomoric way of avoiding confrontation in my real life.
Is that cathartic? It has become an impulsive form of therapy for me. If someone pisses me off I will literally run home and make a collage about it. I will 'Taylor Swift' you if you're a dude who pisses me off!
Beyond humour, what do you find yourself drawn to? I'm completely obsessed with women. I love everything from exaggerated manifestations of the construct of femininity, as expressed by people like Kim Kardashian, to the overwhelming need for sexual expression directly from a woman's perspective. I just find women to be infinitely more interesting than men because their true perspective remains such a mystery. I try to be vulnerable and real in my work because in my mind being honest about what it's like to be a woman is a kind of an act of subversion in itself.
I also think about the digital/physical relationship a lot. I love the idea of creating space in a non-space. I strive to make images that you can feel in your body, images that feel physical but are digital.
Is that why you use Uncanny Valley in your name? That meeting of real and artificial? I love the idea that the unnerving likeness of digital realities can create a measurable reaction in your body of unease. If I can do that I'm doing my job.
You used to draw, why collage? Ownership as it relates to the infinite stream of readily available source material the Internet provides is an inherent subject as well. The bio of my instagram says, "I'll run out of ideas when the Internet runs out of pictures." I don't make anything I just rearrange things that already exist. Collage is pure composition; it is just the arrangement of pre-existing images. Why create new images when I can repurpose the many that already exist laying dormant in the vast continuum of Google image search?
Finally, how has Instagram influenced your work? I consider Instagram to be not only the platform for my work but also a part of the medium. The caption, the interaction with followers, the hashtags are all as much a part of the work as the work itself. I consider my work to be anti academic in the sense that I want to use languages that transcend the art world and connect to a wider audience. In fact, I feel that by using Instagram in this way I've made my work more appealing to this wider audience than it is to the art world!
Text Wendy Syfret for I-D Vice
Images Casey Kauffmann