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An Interview with My Selfie

Iris Jaffe

January 2015

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3 Words That Best Describe Me:

One, big, contradiction. I have a lot of seemingly opposite qualities, which I generally attribute to my bi-cultural ancestry. My parents were born on opposite sides of the world and raised in seemingly opposite cultures. However, despite their apparent differences they actually share a lot of fundamental values at heart. Similarly, upon closer examination my personal characteristics are more of an unusual combination than contradictory to one another. On a conceptual level, I also find it interesting that opposites are often similar in their extremes – like the way that reverse racism is actually racist, and militant feminism is essentially a form of sexism.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Control Vs. Chaos

When I am overly prescriptive or methodical in my process, my work seems to fall flat and be generally less interesting. I think there is something "magical" about discovering what I am making while I am making it, because this requires a suspension of my conscious mind and allows my subconscious to enter the artwork in a more complex way. Francis Bacon once described his work as a search for a “deeply ordered chaos” – which is how I might also describe my creative process – and probably the way I most enjoy living my life.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes:

I constantly think about change and how changes in my personal life relate to changes in my greater environment. I am especially fascinated by technological "progress" and economics; and how these phenomena shape the way that we each experience the world and relate to one another.

 

I was initially a painter, but the overabundance of visual imagery in historical, print, and digital publication made painting feel less interesting to me. I also began making installation work and sculptures to get away from the homogenized flatness of my computer screen. 

 

When I do make digital compositions, I will often start by building or arranging something physical in real space, and then translate this into a 2D image through photography and digital rendering. Building things with their own physicality allows me to have a more intimate and complex relationship with what I’m making. I can turn it around in my hands, look at it from different angles, or see how it changes in relation to other objects and in different positions.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Ch-Ch-Changes (Refrain): 

As an art student, I was obsessed with the David Bowie song “Changes” – and went so far as to paint a portrait of myself as Ziggy Stardust – which I exhibited once and ceremoniously trashed afterwards. I am convinced that it is now valiantly rotting in a landfill - with my pink and blue painted face rising just above the trash; or hanging on a wall in an eccentric sanitation worker’s apartment. As an artist, there can be something surprisingly cathartic about throwing out your own artwork - especially the awkward transitional pieces that you don’t want anyone else to see. 

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Female Art Icons: 

I love images of female artists in front of their work.  There is this one iconic picture of Helen Frankenthaler in front of one of her paintings and it is so beautiful.  She is beautiful and her work is beautiful and together they are just really great – I’d say I have a crush on that photograph.  Female artists amaze me because they break conventional social barriers and tend to be pioneers in independent thought.

Cool Lessons:

In my elementary school there was a popular boy who used to altruistically give “cool lessons” to other less-cool boys. The term “cool lessons” has always stuck with me – maybe because I’ve always been awkward and slightly sensitive. In my adult life, I haven't cared much about being cool, mostly because it would require too much effort and I feel more comfortable being sincere and sort of a nerd. As I've gotten older, I've also learned to take myself less seriously and to embrace my mistakes as a necessary part of the learning process. We all make mistakes. We all do some things right. We are each comically flawed and tragically blessed. 

Art Vs. Activism :

I identify myself firstly as an artist, and secondly as a problem solver. As a bi-cultural person, I easily identify with multiple perspectives and have often felt like a minority-amongst-minorities through my genetic makeup alone. Because of this, I have learned to be vocal in expressing my point of view; and I have developed a sensitivity for issues that are marginalized or overlooked by the greater political economy. However, I would don't feel comfortable requiring anyone else to share my opinions or beliefs; and I feel it is important to distinguish my artwork from any political opinions that I might hold or express as an individual.

The Social Mirror:

As an artist, I ask questions and draw attention to issues that I find compelling or problematic. However, I do not believe that I am ever fully in control of the work that I make, nor do I completely understand what it is about. It is a creative product that has come through me; a synthesis of my unique conscious, subconscious, and larger cultural conversations. I am the medium, the channel, the conduit; and the artwork that I make is beyond me. It is a type of social mirror.

 

Thank you for your time and kind attention

Iris Jaffe, 2015

Mirrors and Memes: 

The interesting thing about "selfies" is that they aren't really about the "self" at all. They are much more about mirroring and mimicry and inserting one's self into an existing pop-cultural dialogue. Unlike the living person who serves as both photographer and subject, each "selfie" is a one-dimensional, static image that will not change over time. Likewise, as a pre-meditated and mediated representation, the selfie is inherently contrived and biased. Thus, while my "selfies" are images of me, they are simultaneously memes that are not "me" at all. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Commitment in an Age of Uncertainty:  

In a time of increased life expectancy and constant economic change, “commitment” seems to have become a mythology of the past. It is hard to have faith in anything that does not show an immediate or measurable return –or at least offer the promise of one.

 

As someone who has theoretically chosen the “path less traveled by,” my inner and outer voices vacillate between alternatives. Be persistent, have faith. Go with the flow. Try something new. Do it yourself. Try harder. Trust no one. Ask for help. Realize that life isn’t fair and get over it. You’re so special. You’re replaceable. You deserve the best - don’t settle. It is hard to know which voices to trust, or which voices are even mine. What do I want and what’s realistic? Right now – later on?​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Auto and Autonomy:

The Post-Fordist economy provides the individual with little autonomy. We can afford designer clothes and luxury vacation stays, but not quality healthcare or housing. We are imprisoned by our debts, fears, iphones and impulse buys. Sell your soul, buy a condo. Choose your family – sacrifice your career; or vice versa. Resent your choices 10 years later. Rinse and repeat.

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Desire and Stuff: 

In a world equipped with mechanical check-outs, windowless cubicles, micromanaged minutes, and digitally mediated relationships, life can quickly feel deplete of emotional and spiritual sustenance. The consumer economy capitalizes upon our unfulfilled needs by selling us products that embody the values and qualitative lifestyles we desire, but could probably never buy – including idealized notions of health, well-being, pleasure, social acceptance, beauty, power and security.

 

Likewise, while cluttering life's emotional voids with clothes, cars, "cutting-edge" electronics, and other stuff can provide us with temporary relief; once the painkilling novelty of retail therapy has worn off, we are often left with the same holes to fill, or new headaches to alleviate. Meanwhile, it is all too easy to overlook the immaterial essentials in life - like love (in all its myriad forms), connection, and meditation; because these aspects require a deeper investment of our personal time and energy. Money seems to be involved in most things, but it certainly can't buy everything.

​Hypocrisy:

I hate feeling powerless and dependent on other people, yet I desire connection and intimacy. I eat veggie burgers with bacon. I don’t want to change, yet I expect this in others. I think we all have a bit of a hypocritical side. I try to deal with mine through my art - which is where I work through all of the things that I can't understand with logic or linear thought.

 

The Thresholds of Ownership:

I believe we each have a threshold for the amount of information, objects, people, and places that we can sustainably be accountable to in our daily lives. Buildings, objects, and information all require an investment of time and energy to be effectively maintained for human use. Closets, desktops, and office files require organization, and buildings need to be cleaned and repaired. Our own bodies require nutrition and care; and our personal relationships need our time and kind attention.

 

With the rise of digital technology, the individual’s access to information and capacity for production is constantly evolving; yet rarely are these newly acquired skills analyzed in respect to mental and physical health. Yes, a single person can film, edit, and distribute a full-length documentary on a shoestring budget while simultaneously juggling a number of freelance jobs; but is this a sustainable way of working, and at what point does the body itself break down – physically, politically, economically?

 

 

 

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Making Light:

I was watching a lecture on intercellular communication in which the speaker (Bonnie Bassler) discusses the unique chemical signaling that bacteria use to turn on special “group behaviors," which are moreover only successful when all of the cells participate in unison. As her primary example, Ms. Bassler describes how the bacterium Vibrio Fischeri can produce light (bioluminescence) through group communication, but is incapable of doing this on a singular scale.

 

In many ways, human beings – including artists – behave a lot like bacteria. Even though art is typically celebrated as a product of individual artistic genius; in reality, it is much more a product of community, conversation, and history than anything truly individual. I often wonder about the biomechanics of creativity itself - and the extent to which genetic make-up and life experience affect our individual capacity to innovate and produce works of art. 

Participation and Responsibility:

Regardless of personal politics, as consumers we are all participants in the political economy. We exchange tangible, intangible, and even microbial material with each other and our physical environment on a daily basis. Whether we are transferring ideas, material resources, or even infectious disease, we are inextricably interconnected to one another and to the planet that we share. Violence, kindness and other forms of human behavior can be as contagious as the flu or spread like wildfire. In this sense, we are all powerful and powerless; and we are each responsible for ourselves, to each other, and to the larger universe in which we reside. 

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