Rowing Projects

An interview with Kate Sansom

23 June 2016

It’s probably worth noting, in the context of her current show, that Kate Sansom’s Instagram is set to private. Her exhibition, Assets, is on at London’s Rowing, running May 27 to June 25. The gallery is a white space tucked into a nice little mews near Kentish Town tube station; I arrive in the sun in a sweat. I catch Sansom as she breaks her journey –recently landed after a break in Berlin, she is flying back to Canada, where she is based, the next day. I know her Instagram is set to private because the night before we met I followed her, hoping to get a sense of what she might be like —she accepted only after the interview.

As a show, Assets is cohesive. The works are not legion, but the gallery isn’t huge so it doesn’t feel sparse. A mix of installation, film and paintings, Sansom has used the exhibition to create a narrative space through which she interrogates the visual language and social ramifications of Instagram through the imagined story of a minor-league Instagram ‘celebrity’ (or maybe ‘performer’).

Before we talk I regroup and look at the exhibition. I don’t take notes, the interview takes place in front of her work and we refer to it frequently. Sansom’s research, she tells me, developed out of her love of confessional literature, as sort-of maybe pioneered by the likes of Sylvia Plath and refined in the ‘90s by books like Chris KrausI Love Dick. In the age of the performed internal life in which we now seem to live —care of social media —it feels more relevant, and important, than ever before. The parallels between a literature whose focus is the interior life and subjective experience of its author and the social media platforms that provide a 24-hour-a-day feed into the lived experience of friends, acquaintances, celebrities —or, increasingly, anyone else —are self-apparent. But the differences, in the intent of the author, or in how we consume them, are important.

Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.
Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.

Literature and social media seem to exist as almost opposing platforms; the latter offers fluidity, exchange between audience and performer but also a total absence of any sort of quality control (see: Rich Kids of Instagram, as an example). Plus, the slightly unsettling relationship between number of followers and advertising potential, which sees the integrity of some lifestyle posts called into question, if not actually totally voided —certainly, discussions about social anxiety, self-esteem and body image haven’t diminished since Instagram hit the scene. Obviously, literature also needs to turn a profit, but somehow it seems less sordid: sales affirm only that people want to read the book, it’s not ‘branding’ the ‘content’ of a ‘life.’

Sansom’s way into this very relevant and very knotty arena is through one particular Instagrammer, who has since deleted her account, called shitkicker2000. The film that forms the centre of the show casts the snapshots of life offered by shitkicker (or her imaginary counterpart) as a kind of pitch deck; the confessional social-media-documentation of a regrettable evening spent in the wrong company spun into a literal articulation of the business pitch that it has come to represent.

The film toys with professionalism and the slackerdaisical; beautifully rendered digital landscapes against shoddy hand-drawn animation, glamour offset against mall jobs. Motifs harvested from shitkicker’s account are presented alongside imagined realities as Sansom tries to fill in the blank spaces between the carefully curated, performed, and consequently utterly unreliable experiences of the Instagram personality.

The accompanying paintings further support the arching narrative of the show, while also confronting the devaluation of the currency of the image, as facilitated by Instagram. Through the use of memes as source material for considered abstract oils, Sansom challenges the disposability of images —or maybe the status of painting; either way, she interrogates value. The value of the image pre- and post-ubiquity. Plus, more broadly, the value of performed existence: the meaning, or not, of a life lived through images.

Kate Sansom, Nissan Yogurty (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Chrystal Gallery.
Kate Sansom, Nissan Yogurty (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Chrystal Gallery.

Ok, so watching the film, and looking at the relationship between the works here, there’s a strong sense of narrative; how do you use it?

Kate Sansom: Well, the project started around this one Instagram personality that I took an interest in, shitkicker2000. It was not necessarily just her but it was this general sort-of paradigm I guess, that I was noticing on Instagram. I’m a huge fan of confessional literature and I started to imagine the two as not totally unrelated in some form. Using this online social media as a sort of diary for every day. And discussing very personal details of one’s life, in this very open forum.

But then there’s also these weird mutations, or adaptations to it, where there’s all of these tropes that are constantly presented, like the selfies, memes, celebrity, celebrity photos and stuff. So, I was thinking about it as this sort of a new form, but still powerful in its expression. Or at least its potency. She has 10,000 followers for a reason, right?

I was imagining this avatar, this personality that she’s created being very plastic and professionalized. But then also having these very dark and sincere moments that come up. There’s times when there’s these photos that are insinuating that her father abuses her, or that she’s grappling with an eating disorder —stuff like that.

I was thinking that developing an online personality is much like making a presentation to really sell yourself: you’ll then get sponsors and start to gain income from it as well. So I was imagining it as a pitch deck, but then in this very anti-presentation way, of more like the confessional side. Turning it into this sort of very jolted and emotional narrative; using the format of a pitch deck, but making it instead about the morning, waking up next to someone that you don’t want to be lying next to.

Which relates; Instagram is so performative as a medium that you have these people that are simultaneously operating in a really confessional way, but the way they perform their problems also sort of fetishises them.

KS: Right, they’re sort of capitalising on these moments, on this candour.

Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.
Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.

And I guess the spectrum is whether that’s cathartic, or whether it goes to the other end and it’s in some way enabling?

KS: That is the question, whether or not it’s like an empowerment, or whether it’s diminishing ‘the tradition’ as a whole —that’s the question. That’s a question that I don’t have an answer for. But throughout the process I was really interested in creating this sort of slippage between this online veneer and the material reality of the human that is experiencing it. I guess I sort of imagined like, a bedroom motif to go along with the narrative, but in this distorted, dystopic way.

Your work presents a tension between immaculate digitally rendered landscapes and rougher elements —a shaky, hand-drawn, animation; a slashed duvet. So within this bedroom narrative, how do you view the roles of the readymade and the things you’ve made? The digital and more analogue?

KS: There’s definitely a real slippage between digital, virtual reality and then the grimy, very real elements. I guess the easiest way for me to answer that is to admit my inspirations, or what I enjoy in artwork and where I would position myself. I’m a huge fan of pop-conceptualism, artists like Ashley Bickerton and Isa Genzken, and all of these forms that take shape, incorporating readymades to some degree; doing that with a popular moment in mind. I really wanted to create this feeling of there being an actual environment and a not-so-polished atmosphere that this person is incorporated into, is like a part of, informed by what she’s putting up online. I mean, like, the details of the work —the wine bottle, the rosé wine is like a very popular trope in a lot of her images. In the film there’s actually one Instagram image; it’s a body shot of her, holding a big glass of rosé wine.

What’s your relationship with shitkicker2000 and her material? Do you think that her performance of her life through Instagram to 10,000 people —which is presumably making her an income of some kind —legitimately puts her personality in the public domain?

KS: I knew when I set out making it that I didn’t want an intimacy with her in any way. That I felt like that would somehow remove this relationship of a fan-fiction telling. And I think I just looked at it like I wanted someone who had a pretty decent fan base of their own, but not necessarily someone that everyone would be familiar with right off the bat. And I really wanted to just use it to describe what I see as a form, or as a fairly common idea of what’s being put out there.

It was funny, I did a talk with Paul Luckraft at the Zabludowicz Collection and there was a lot of crossover in themes between the Emotional Supply Chain that he curated there, and this. And actually right after our talk, they did a panel discussion on social media and the presentation of the subjective self through social media, and what that all means in this overarching idea of subjectivity. Some really interesting ideas came up —they were definitely using confessionalism as a way of describing these people, this generation of people who are just so comfortable with full candid exposure to the details of their lives.

Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.
Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.

So with your interest in confessional practices, have you ever been tempted to participate in that way of making yourself —is it significant that you haven’t?

KS: Right, I mean, I don’t think that I necessarily straddle the world, this performative world, in the same way that they do. I certainly don’t spend my time posting enough selfies to generate the attention of an audience of 10,000. But that doesn’t mean that I have a judgement. It doesn’t mean that I stand in negative judgement on it; it’s just not the format that I choose to express myself in.

Do you think as a phenomenon it could be viewed as narcissistic?

KS: That’s the thing, I’ve never really thought about it as a reflection back on oneself. I more just thought about it like the socialized human, as this being incredibly intriguing to enough people that it’s generated categorically; a generation of people doing it.

The press release on the website touches on this idea that in the search for ‘likes’, in using that as a source of affirmation, one becomes more alienated. It highlights the absolute breakdown of meaningful connections through volume.

KS: And because of its form, and how mundane the form becomes as a result of sheer volume of people doing the same things, and presenting them in the same ways. And just Instagram itself; it’s a very intimidating thought, to put a candid or confessional post into this engine that has something like a billion photos uploaded daily. Just that act alone of getting consumed by this machine… it wouldn’t be my forum of choice. But it’s obviously someone’s.

I think it’s like auto-generative too though, in that way. The more you do it and the more people see it and the more people mimic it —it becomes just a norm; as it becomes a normal quality in this media the easier it gets. The less thought goes into it as it happens.

Is there anything that can compete with 10,000 likes as meaningful human interaction, or have the likes just replaced something meaningful in favour of nothing —in favour of the bed island?

KS: That came up when I was talking about the paintings. Each of them are loosely based on images that shitkicker posted; she posts innumerable butt pics from the bathroom mirror. Over-the-shoulder butt pics. So one of them is a play on one of those, and another was based on a meme that she posted.

Thinking about that in the context of these paintings, the only real questions that came up for me were thinking about value and time economy; taking this thing that’s very fleeting —a drop in the ocean of available imagery —and then turning it into an oil painting. These really charged art-historical references. And wondering if it gave value to the meme, the image —or if it took value away from the painting.**

Kate Sansom’s ‘Assets’ is on at London’s Rowing, running May 27 to  June 25, 2016.

Header image: Kate Sansom, Assets (2016). Courtesy the artist + Rowing, London.

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Eoghan Ryan @ Rowing, Mar 23 – Apr 2

21 March 2016

Artist Eoghan Ryan will present solo show, Behind Sedentary at London’s Rowing opening March 23 and running April 2.

The accompanying text to the show is long and begins by detailing different types of drowning and the different experiences of dying in accordance, before moving on to describing a dream about two young children trying to survive drowning in a pail of milk, too shallow to be near the top of the pail and too deep to rest without sinking.

Ryan, whose work spans imagery, installation, performance and video —the latter two often combined in complex pieces that almost avoid language and explanation —has recently shown work in Citizen, the group screening event at Chisenhale Gallery and performed in Plural Melts at Berlin’s Yvonne Lambert.

During the first week of Behind Sedentary there will be an ongoing performance in the gallery running March 23 to 26 featuring Lukas Amend and Zuzanna Ratajczyk, who also performed at Plural Melts with Ryan earlier this year.

See the exhibition page for more details**

Eoghan Ryan, Are You Trying to Make Me Say The Word (2015), as presented on the artists website. Courtesy the artist.
Eoghan Ryan, Are You Trying to Make Me Say The Word (2015), screenshot, as presented on the artists website. Courtesy the artist.



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Esperanto @ Rowing reviewed

2 March 2016

Pop-up restaurants proliferate in London these days, spurred on by the fomo-hyperbole of social media. Esperanto, a “multiethnic” global restaurant chain concept is the latest on the scene, according to its curators. Taking the simulacra of the rituals surrounding food as its theme, the show curated by CURA. Magazine at Rowing and running February 19 to March 19 has assumed the name of ‘Mr Bow’, a fictional character, as its head chef —to launch the first in a series of ‘food of the world’ eateries in the culinary-obsessed setting of London. With a Yelp page in addition to a sparse website, Esperanto walks a tricky line between appropriation and irony, emulating the cuisine and look of a traditional Chinese restaurant, but one transplanted from the future by way of a reliquary to a stage-set from a Quentin Tarantino film. With a new work by Sean Raspet at its core, the ‘restaurant’ is made up of pieces by Emanuel Röhss, Sean Townley, Zoe Williams and Amy Yao.

The gallery is presented as an intimate restaurant. Its walls are painted an enthusiastic Naphthol red – a flat, ripe-cherry hue usually used for spraying automobiles – and the floor is newly carpeted in the kind of patterned burgundy that you might find in a middlebrow hotel lobby. A tableaux of works are lined up in front of the far wall and a long, low, lacquered table in the middle of the room is sparsely set with glass espresso cups and saucers. A white mound of rice is piled threateningly in the middle of the table. So tidily arranged is everything, so symmetrical, that the words feng shui can’t help but come to mind.

Emanuel Röhss, 'Hunger' (2016), Sean Townley, ‘CF:SG:NM’ (2015), Zoe Williams, ‘The Flight of O’ (2010). Installation view. Courtesy Rowing, London.
Emanuel Röhss, ‘Hunger’ (2016), Sean Townley, ‘CF:SG:NM’ (2015), Zoe Williams, ‘The Flight of O’ (2010). Installation view. Courtesy Rowing, London.

On closer inspection the mound is a casual layering of brown then white rice, with iridescent pearled rice poured on top. It’s Amy Yao’s ‘Bay of Smokes’, and it’s the first hint that all is not well under the sheen of artifice here; this food is preserved, shrouded, yet spoilt. The seductive pearlescence is repeated over in the large folding screen, ‘The Flight of O’ by Zoe Williams that builds on the pseudo-Orientalism of the room. Alternating panels are filled with a glossy black veneer inlaid with mother-of-pearl and other lustrous materials. The details on these panels start to emerge as the schema for some kind of ineffable recipe: a little mushroom or a bamboo shoot floats in a black void, and the central panel is a swirling kaleidoscope of tiny aubergines, mushrooms and almonds mixed with geometric shapes, which if it were to be described in Masterchef rhetoric would surely be an ‘explosion of flavour’.

Emanuel Röhss’s gargoyles ‘Hunger’ and ‘Thirst’ squatly sit either side of the screen, the ‘studio debris’ that they’re made from poking out of the blue-green patina —Wotsits and dirt escaping from their admixture like worms out of a compost bin. Towering over them are Sean Townley’s ‘CF/SG/NM’; carbon-fibre and epoxy bear and pig-pelts hanging from ornately swirled flag poles, completing the strange symmetry of the curation. They’re reminiscent of the kind of heraldry you might get in a medieval banqueting hall —lending grandeur to the proceedings —but instead of family crests they pay homage to the animal’s flesh, luridly mimicking the fabric of a cheaply-made ‘disco diva’ outfit that you’d find bopping around the light-up tiled dance floor of a 70s tribute nightclub. That is to say, the theme of simulacra doesn’t skip a beat here: imitation is the name of the game.

All this serves to play backdrop to Raspet’s ‘Maillard Process Simulation 0.1% in Water’. A bog-standard metal tea urn sits incongruously in the opposite corner, spotlit, the reflections throwing shapes onto the cherry-red walls. The work (technically what is inside the urn) is the only thing on the menu at Mr Bow’s dinner table —a bewilderingly long list of unpronounceable chemicals to whet your appetite —and you can try it. I hope that someone finds the restaurant’s profile on Yelp and decides to pay it a visit to impress their date. I wish I could be there as they mistake the invigilator for a Maitre’d, and, raising the morsel of clear liquid to the light, swirling it around as though trying to imitate a sommelier, sniffing it, a subtle sweet-yet smoky smell fills their nostrils. It smells like —Peking duck! Tentatively putting the cup to their lips an umami duck-ness comes through, which surprises by its power in contrast to the unassuming clear liquid that delivered its flavour. “Raspet’s Maillard Process Simulation is delicious” one will confer to the other, before hedonistically sticking their forefinger deep into Yao’s rice mound, they just couldn’t help themselves.

Sean Raspet, ‘Maillard Process Simulation 0.1% in Water’ (2016), Amy Yao, ‘Bay of Smokes’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Rowing, London.
Sean Raspet, ‘Maillard Process Simulation 0.1% in Water’ (2016), Amy Yao, ‘Bay of Smokes’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Rowing, London.

Undoubtedly set to scare off the #cleaneating brigade, the chemical-infused water is a twisted version of Willy Wonka’s three-course dinner chewing gum: the desire to have the flavours of real food without all that bother of actually cooking and eating. A quest to have a single perfect uniform food. The peculiarity is that a ‘Maillard reaction’, as well as sounding like ‘Mallard’ – a very English duck – is actually the chemical process that gives browned foods such a delicious flavour. The depth of flavour of porter or brown ale for instance, or a dark, crispy skin. In making a clear liquid which contains all the hallmark smells and flavours of Peking duck, Raspet is not only highlighting the insane artificiality of commercial food production, but the very un-delicious drink plays with the idea that the food on which it’s based is an imitation anyway; this scented water becomes food by the design of its own accuracy.

Spilling forth a mood, a feeling of authenticity, the reassurance of familiarity that unites all these works serves to hide a sinister uncanniness in plain sight. Whether or not the show as a whole takes a critical approach to an economy where symbols behave like materials or makes a joke of it in the style of an easily accessible otherness in its desire to be plugged into a global network is perhaps a question that can only be answered after it evolves into other ‘world food’ pop-ups in its travelling incarnation. When the pastiche hits so close to reality, is the recourse to Asian imagery simply exoticising an already filtered and warped simulation? **

The Esperanto group exhibition curated by CURA., is on at London’s Rowing, running February 19 to March 19, 2016.

Header image: Esperanto (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Rowing, London.

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Heathers @ Rowing Projects, Sep 19 – Oct 25

17 September 2014

London’s Rowing Projects is hosting the nine-artist Heathers group exhibition, running at the Camden art space from September 19 to October 25.

Taking its title from the dark 80s teen cult comedy by the same name, Heathers takes a look at pop culture’s (and pop cinema’s) co-option of contemporary art and its “impulse to vampirise levity as a cipher for criticality and de-subjectivisation”.

Featured in the line-up are Heathers-aged artists, including Erika Ceruzzi, Andrea Crespo, May Hands, and Kait Mooney, all of whom were born in the 90s, as well as Deanna Havas, Rachel Maclean, Daniele Milvio, Lisa Holzer and Bradford Kessler.

See the Rowing Projects exhibition page for details. **

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