Casey Kauffmann makes art that in a fundamental sense is not only about the internet, but made from its raw materials. By mining and recombining the content and aesthetic language of social media, and especially the tackiest bits of feminine obsession and self-projection, Kauffmann reconfigures the saturation of pink glitter and running mascara, reality television voyeurism, cam girl faux-fur tropes of hashtag empowerment, and some pretty psychedelic karaoke into a sort of never-ending video collage.
Further incorporating drawings, photographic stills, GIFs, and physical video into installations as well as ongoing, serialized Instagram “installments” and broadcast content, the work’s candy-coated whirligig energy is both high-caloric and intellectually rigorous. Part necessary media literacy, part expertly sincere satire, and part proper guilty pleasure, her anticipated MFA exhibition, Who Do You Think You Are I Am is currently installed at USC and in parallel existences at her website and Instagram.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
CASEY KAUFFMANN: This moment isn’t necessarily when I figured out I was an artist but it was a very profound and influential moment in the development of my understanding of visual culture. My father, a politically conscious man and former hippie who marched with MLK and was a part of the Students for a Democratic Society in the sixties, worked at Mattel making Barbie commercials for thirty years. He made one commercial for a Barbie who could “walk on her own.” The commercial showed her upright, walking around by herself, looking great in a neon green and blue zebra print dress. I was super into the doll, and my parents got it for me for my birthday when I was about eight years old. When I got her it turned out walking meant she had these weird little rubber feet that you could drag along the floor and she would sort of kick around a bit. When I asked my dad why the doll couldn’t walk like she did in the commercial he said, “because sweetie that’s my job to lie to children.”
I distinctly remember having this realization about how messages could be twisted and constructed in the media in just a thirty second ad and this inspired a deep sense of distrust and fascination in visual culture from that point forward. Knowing my father, the intention of his comment was to subtly spark this form of awareness in my practices of cultural consumption.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I’m an interdisciplinary artist and my digital and drawing practices are about the contemporary performance of self as it relates to my experience of femme representation, social media, and reality television. The heart of my work is collage, and most of my projects involve the archiving and recontexualization of femme imagery. Particularly in my Instagram project @uncannysfvalley, I utilize sparkly, pink, feminine coded aesthetics, which commonly inhabit a sexist association with cultural constructs of superficiality.
I hope to contribute to the longstanding history of feminist artists engaged with new technologies. Utilizing the tools which often engender our oppression and false representation to imagine a world where we are the authors of our own stories. I use humor and existing visual languages to construct bodies of work which are both a celebration and critique of femme representation as I have come to know it.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
For undergrad I didn’t go to art school but I did study art at a very special and strange place called Evergreen State College in the woods of Olympia, Washington. Their progressive and experimental pedagogical approach suited me well. I just completed my MFA degree at USC because I felt that my work had reached somewhat of a conceptual plateau and I wanted to further develop my understanding of the theoretical and historical precedent for the kind of work I’ve been making. I cannot say enough good things about my incredible cohort there and the faculty who go above and beyond for their students.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I’m from the San Fernando Valley so Los Angeles and the Valley are my home. I love the artistic community here, the many pockets and worlds you can move through. This sounds corny but L.A. is like a geode, rough and dull on the outside but if you crack through the surface it’s shiny and beautiful inside. It’s a place that I believe requires a bit of investment in your community to truly be enjoyed and I like that. Plus the food!
When was your first show?
I had been in a couple of group shows but my first solo show #tagsforlikes was in 2014. It was curated by Kim Mckinnis in her studio space for an art walk at the Grand Central Arts Center in Santa Ana. I printed out about 150 of my iPhone collages from my instagram @uncannysfvalley and invited people to participate in an interactive installation where I turned their mini performances into GIFs to be posted and sent to them after the show. The project was so fun and experimental back then and I was really excited to share the work since I had only started it about two months before the show.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My USC MFA thesis show, Who Do You Think You Are I Am, is currently up until the 9th of August. The show includes a video installation, drawings, and an installation of monitors with a series of GIFs. I’m doing private virtual walkthroughs and a public Instagram live walkthrough on @uncannysfvalley Wednesday August 5th at 7:30pm. You can also view my video work Knowing Others and Wanting to be Known on my website during the run of the show.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Gabriela Ruiz, Marilyn Minter, Trulee Hall, Young Joon Kwak, Petra Cortright, Ryan Trecartin and I would make for a pretty fantastic show, I’d go to that!
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I mostly watch TV while I work, something banal that I can tune in and out of. My favorite thing to watch while I work is Love Island. I’m a true binge watcher and there are so many episodes in each season. Plus each episode is pretty much the same so I don’t miss much if I get engrossed in a drawing or collage.
Website and social media handles, please!
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