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Interview with INSA
by Char Jansen

London, Mar. 2012 - There are many facets to INSA. As an artist, his work polarizes audiences. His latest installation project that opened for one night only on the 29 March in East London –  queues of fans lined up in the spring sunshine, hoping to be one of the first fifty guests through the door to pick up a free limited edition print – was no less divisive or provocative than previous works.

Inside the installation, Self Reflection is Greater Than Self Projection, a heady maelstrom of spheres reflected a distorted, sexually exaggerated view of two women – scantily clad and posing raunchily. To produce the final images that cover the installation’s walls, INSA constructed an 8ft by 8ft box, painted with his trademark ‘graffiti fetish pattern’, with one wall comprised of reflective, distorting chrome spheres. Cameras and flashes were set to trigger remotely, thus the artist was unable to view his subjects as they posed, and equally, they were unable to see themselves cavorting. The images the camera recorded, in pitch black, were the deceptive reflections of the chrome. The results were then blown up large and printed onto vinyl to create the wallpaper lining the walk-in room that makes up the installation – the viewer is now inside the box, privy to images, that neither its subjects or the artist could access during their creation.

Unpacking notions of a voyeur-photographer who objectifies and exploits his sexy female models, INSA’s muses are empowered, paradoxically, through the privacy of their box – while the viewer becomes the grotesque voyeur, encircled by a disarming, heady fantasy-reality.  The work challenges a culture obsessed with image, facile entertainment, and money - and questions our own culpability and complicity in it.

We asked the polemical artist a few questions as he prepared to unveil his new project to the public.

INSA, Self Reflection is Greater Than Self Projection, London 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Londonewcastle.

Charlotte Jansen: What have you done today?

INSA: Was woken up early by my two-year-old little girl hitting me on the head. Did some drawings with her, and then answered a bunch of emails. When it’s her naptime I will have time to come back and answer these questions!

CJ: How do you feel about your images being interpreted as an objectification of women?

INSA: The objectification is extreme and overblown to the point of parodic – it is a tool that forces the viewer to consider the way in which we dehumanize and commodify women.

I try to exaggerate the objectification to a level where we think about how we relate to this ‘object’ on show - how does this imagery co-exist with the often contradictory relationships that exist in our real lives? To analyze what images tell us, and the ideals they sell us.

I am also interested in the fetishisation of the female form, and the analogy that exists between this kind of fetishisation and the fetishisation of products, and the way in which we relate to products as consumers. I understand my work treads a very difficult line between celebration and critique of sexualized female imagery -- but it is exactly this contradiction that I am interested in. I think as individuals we are a complex mix of contradictions and I want to look at this and to try to understand the hypocrisies we encounter when we deal with reality and fantasy, morality, and capitalism.

Why do we want and need products? The need has become like an insatiable lust – which is where I draw this comparison between the pyschology of consumers and the objectification of women. Why is the notion of commitment not a commended trait in the media? Why is success about being happy with what we have?

Art has also always had an obsession with the female form and I like to take a non-apologetic, contemporary view on this in order to understand how this relationship has changed in modern society.

CJ: What is it about hip-hop video culture that you relate to? Why did it become such a potent inspiration on you?

INSA: It’s the music I grew up with. It gripped me as a child, as an outsider. In Leeds where I grew up, it wasn’t mainstream, it had an anti establishment ethos, it was something you had to search out and discover, I liked that – we are talking pre-internet days!

But as I’ve grown up it’s been co-opted into the mainstream. But in this process the majority of what is successful commercially, speaks nothing more than bullshit, money and girls. It’s as if the system can only embrace it if it perpetuates the shallow soulless ideologies of capitalism. It’s cultural hegemony.

I think hip-hop video culture is an exaggerated view of society’s misplaced obsession with money and so relates right back to my work. It’s garish, over-the-top, ostentatious, and revels in ‘wrongness’, so it’s the perfect visual reference for me.

INSA, Anything Goes when it comes to (s)hoes..., Elephant dung high heels, TATE Britain Chris Offili retrospective, London 2009; Courtesy of the artist

CJ: The high heel is a recurring symbol in your work. Can you explain the fascination? 

INSA: To me high heels are the absolute epitome of a fetishised object. They are loaded with many different meanings for different people. They represent the dichotomy of dominance and submission, they can give the wearer a sense of empowerment while at the same time are inherently restrictive. They represent the battle between women and men, and power and femininity. They are impractical and over-priced and obsessed over; they are owned in multiples and are the utlimate in sexual iconography.

They embody the love an inanimate object or product can have more than anything else. 

CJ: Do you feel pigeonholed as an artist?

INSA: Yes absolutely. The label of street/graffiti artist is a total double-edged sword. Developing as an artist while growing up painting graffiti has taught me a lot very differently to conventionally trained artists, and gave me access to wide public audiences around the world. But is also a label that is hard to shift, and is delimiting, and has certain negative connotations. My practice now is much more expansive than projects in public spaces.

Right now I am very interested in social media, and in creating art that only exists online, for those who want to go out and find it, which I suppose is a natural progression from the method of painting on the street.

INSA, Exterior Gloss, spray paint on wall, LA, 2011; Courtesy of the artist.

CJ: Where are you headed next?

INSA: I’m off to LA next month to paint some very large walls. I have been invited to paint a whole building downtown which should be some good enjoyable hard work.

Charlotte Jansen

ArtSlant would like to thank INSA for making this interview possible.

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