Clare Byrne, a young Chicago artist working in intermedia, has been experimenting with the relationship between image and object in non-art practices of self-representation. Her work — a series of glam shots featuring fabricated papier-mâché models of banal household scenes and goods — is funny and even flippant. Each scene, though meticulously crafted and stylized, comes to fruition as one big satisfying guffaw.
She started the series originally intending to talk about self-representation in a really straight forward way: the little square scenes we present on Instagram, a material catalogue that adds up neatly to a given lifestyle. But the series transformed as she found the nuances of the objects themselves to be more interesting than their presentation. We met up for some Instagrammable cocktails and spoke for the duration of an Instagrammable sunset about her work, self-presentation and the mundane.
Though your subject matter has evolved, are these photographs still a little bit about identity?
Not necessarily, but I think representation of identity is still inherent in what they are — because they are images of everyday things/objects that are exaggerated and celebrated in this kind of absurd way. It’s still a critique of ‘lifestyle’ imagery, but the celebratory part is more accessible now. The images are not about the corporate or commercial presentation of stuff you see, but about looking more intimately at those same objects and your relationship to them. It’s more about the actual objects themselves and the residue left from our interaction with them, and it’s less about ‘Why are they being presented? / Why is it being looked at?’.
So with the newer works, has the bulk of the being of the work for you shifted away from the image/glamour shot aspect and more toward the fabrication of objects?
Like could the objects be installations on their own? I don’t think so. There are a lot of aesthetic choices that go into the piece after and during the photographing. It wouldn’t be the same impression if it were just the object itself; there is still the precedent of the image in the works. But I just really want to move away from directly commenting on ‘modern day social media’ or whatever. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Nobody does. Though it is interesting that you are looking at it all now in a more scientific way, as if dissecting how a user/consumer creates the very personal (sometimes singular) relationship he or she has with their very commercial and material world. And then after analyzing that relationship down to a speck of dust or a little wrinkle, you craft this whole scene around that residue that creates its own residue from that ritual on top of everything that has already come to pass.
It’s not necessarily about online presence or virtual/digital identity. It’s about your home: the objects you put in your home, the books you put in your bookcase, how you tidy up and arrange things according to and in preservation of the universe of an identity you are presenting. I’m interested in ‘real’ moments of ‘curation.’
Yes, those outward expressions of the self that are formed into the ubiquitous cache of data that is an image/file/jpg and then later homogenized to fit into a mass distribution platform. The whole process is arduous at best. How are you picking the objects you zero in on? How are these things heightened to you? Are you celebrating them or your relationship to them?
I think it’s more of a satire thing. I think it’s really funny to celebrate the objects I’ve worked with — an ironed shirt, a bowl of noodles. It’s less about the picking and more about the making. For me, sitting down and making papier-mâché — the analogue work — is me making art. And all of that disappears behind the actual object of the work, which is the image. You have this big selection of images that you put out there that is this big representation of you, and instead of telling someone, like, where you work or what you spend your day doing, you just allow them to follow your Instagram and interact with all these images of ‘you.’
Which is interesting because it’s really just turning one kind of language into another kind of language. You telling someone about yourself isn’t expressing any more of Your Actual Self than a collection of images is. The self disappears behind the material portrait of the self.
Yes. Brands and publications use these extremely stylized photos to supplement and even symbolize an entire article — so much so that the article has practically disappeared and all that’s left are images and captions. And I’m weirded out by an everyday social media user seeing some kind of formula in it all and then using that in the production of their own self, as if to compete for attention with your own life mimicking the behavior of a mega brand: “I also have a pair of glasses in my house!”
Your interests have changed though, and you can see it in the styling of the photographs.
Yes, the PBJ image is the least polished. The other ones feel mystical and glamourous, and the PBJ one feels more raw like someone literally set that up in their living room. And I like that. I want to capture something real, something that I actually made with my hands in my living room.
People have always been keeping diaries and self-documenting for as long as people could write. But the idea of sharing and publishing — documentation for an audience — is new and people act like this kind of self-representation is in some way “less true” than what you would write to yourself in your diary. What is the nature of self-production to you? Do you participate in it all — if so, how?
I use my Instagram as a way to show art. I don’t really present a whole lot of facets of my daily life. It’s either a big event or its art work. I don’t have a very open book social media presence. When I’m consuming it though, the more sincere and mundane something is, the more I’m like, “This is good shit dude.” Authenticity has always had value, and, for some reason, ‘authenticity’ is now conflated with any old mundane thing in the world. It’s just more special. It has been given this quality of glorification by being shared, by being made into an image. It’s already heightened because of that. To make an image of something is literally to make an idol of something. When I was making the first sets and images, I was really interested in interiors in general — interior spaces — and I really loved seeing photographs of people’s private spaces (which makes them not private anymore). I was thinking about how — since there is an implicit understanding that we could ‘share’ our private spaces if we wanted to — is that affecting the way we set those spaces up? Are we making our homes look a certain way because it will ultimately lend itself to being photographed better? I’m interested in whether our relationship to value has been reversed: do we have nice homes and nice things not because the value is in the things, but because the value is in the image of those things?
It also sometimes seems like there is this endless catalogue of this ‘value.’ How does the nature of the catalogue affect time in our lived daily lives? Do you think time has become more or less material? It seems like time is basically now organized around this stream of virtual material.
We consciously are choosing moments in time to be archived. And because you have some kind of archive (however archaic or malnourished in truth it may be), after a while, those moments are the only moments that we feel existed. You’re only choosing the positives, or rather, moments that feel like a movie because in a way, your task in making an image, is to remake a good story.