This is 5 Questions. Each week, we send five questions to an artist in the ArtSlant network whose work we love. This week we seek answers from Bex Ilsley.
Bex Ilsley received an ArtSlant Prize 2016 Honorable Mention. We’re presenting Bex’s work this week at SPRING/BREAK Art Show.
What are you trying to communicate with your work?
Something about what it’s like to always live one step removed from yourself. I experience this sensation of always watching myself while I perform the person I am. I had built this largish following on social media and the sensation became stronger. I started to try and embrace that sensation through using the mediated body, the constructed self, as the focus of my work.
I question my authenticity. I strive for my work to respond in some way to the sensation of my existence as something performative, and the predicament of being seen or judged by unseen others. I think about fantasy and retreating to the safe stages of cyberspace. This place can be a refuge from an equally wobbly wider reality, post-truth, while also providing the instant (and questionable) service of being a validation engine for the filling of my psychological voids. What does that say about a human, or about these times?
What about my body’s new position as a flat object? The issues raised are complex to me, as I am a woman who seemingly aims to transition into object or symbol, watching myself through the eyes of some shallow misogynist who lives inside my head. Ultimately, it’s thinking about living like a puppet, something malleable. If I embrace the mask and talk about it, is that then paradoxically more “authentic” than pretending to be real?
Puerta del Cielo, Shot at Hotel Silken Puerta América, Madrid, Spain 2016
What is an artist’s responsibility?
I accept a responsibility to think about why I’m doing everything that I’m doing, to remain interested. I suppose I consider that a responsibility to the work, rather than responsibility to an audience. Even if I’m not ultimately sure what I’m trying to communicate, that is okay—it usually becomes clear in later stages. I don’t necessarily have to feel proud of, or correct about what I’m communicating. Raising a discussion with my work is enough. In the past it’s been suggested that I am actively contributing to the age-old practice of sexualizing and objectifying female bodies. I’ve been told that I am making yet more White Feminist privileged art that doesn’t talk about real problems. I recognize that, but I also don’t try to speak for others, or to make decisions about anybody’s representation other than my own. If my work raises a discussion about representation, or narcissism, then that is a valuable conversation to have.
Show us the greatest thing you ever made (art or not)?
This is the piece I’m most proud of. It was the last work I made doing my degree. I learned how to use Unity to build a 360 environment for the Gear VR and I used 3D scans of my own face to create floating masks, both physical and virtual. It was complex and expensive and I didn’t think I’d pull it off alongside everything else I had going on, but somehow I did.
Tell us about a work you want to make but never will:
I have a stupid amount of notes saved on my phone, full of ideas for pieces that I’ve usually come up with when I’ve been half asleep. I don’t even know what some of them mean anymore. There isn’t really a “never” file for those though; I see this as a lifetime commitment. If I want to make something, I’ll find a way eventually.
Last night in bed I was thinking about whether or not being an oversharer is a manipulation tactic or not. I thought about vlogging and stream-of-consciousness. I fantasized about turning my camera on and sitting there to talk and talk about everything. I’d go on and on and then also verbally acknowledge how self indulgent doing that is, but then do it anyway. I’m not going to make that video, because it would be terrible. Sometimes I wonder what this practice is doing to my brain.
Who are three artists we should know but probably don’t?
Rebecca Halliwell-Sutton is one of my best friends personally, but she also happens to be a phenomenally talented artist. She’s the current Woon Fellow at BALTIC (Newcastle) & Northumbria University. Corie Denby McGowan remains a favorite artist of mine. I am very much in tune with her work and I’m always excited to see what she does next. I would say the same about Aoife Dunne.
—The ArtSlant Team
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(Image at top: Bex Ilsley, Eject, 2015)
Tags: 5 Questions SPRING/BREAK Art Show Bex Ilsley ArtSlant Prize 2016, digital