Natalia Ibanez Lario is a visual artist and architect based in Barcelona, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico. Her work explores the various ways in which the increasingly cybernetic body undergoes processes of augmentation. In dialogue, we discuss how her practice and methodology continue to gain new meaning in response to the rapid exchange of data and other forms of contemporary information.
1_Given that most of your work involves the process of scanning and technological abstraction of the body, I wonder to what extent multiplicity grounds how you process contemporary geographies of the body?
My work implies constant change, transformation, and reorganization. The web-based works and social media projects all came about as part of an exploration of contemporary tools for identity-making.
In my social media work, the body ‘becomes multiple’ through this process of dismembering: where images — each copy — becomes a different, independent iteration of the self with its own life. Upon sharing and activating its identity-forming capabilities — placing the content on a platform where it can fulfill its role in the public arena — I also lose rights, control, and authorship over that image. So this tool takes on its own life, independently.
Body modification is also great example of a resistance to preordained trajectories. Time and biology, and their linear trajectory, are interrupted. So cosmetics, surgery, and adornment are ways to create new realities. Aspirational culture uses these tools to re-imagine or redefine the self, and create new futures.
2_Many of your images are also created using cosmetic technologies, usually in close dialogue with living organisms and biological systems. I am reminded of the exhibition THE ANTI-AGING AND ANTI-MISERY FORMULA at Yautepec Gallery in Mexico City, Mexico. Can you tell us more about your interest in this theme?
A while back, I had started using technology itself without applying material. When I started working with digital media, I wanted to engage the anonymity involved in the use and distribution of these technologies. I started finding ways to individualize the experience of anonymity in the realm of technology.
My first two series focused on the mechanism and machines involved in the creation and distribution of digital media: Atmospheric Alienation and The Failed Attempt At Getting Rid of It and The Weary Traveler, The Angel of History and A Dry Grey Veil take similar approaches to capturing different phenomena. Both series were generated with the use of empty scanners across New York City.
The images were painterly, colorful and abstract, referencing the history of painting in the 20th century. Upon closer examination, however, the images were only capturing the device itself. In the first series, textures, smudges, dust and other elements were part of the traces left from all the people who had used these scanners throughout the city. The images became portraits of vestiges of those who used the machines. In the second series, I recorded the traces left in the attempt of cleaning the glass of the scanner. This act of erasure leaves its own imprints and traces that are invisible when scanning a document, but visible when the scanner photographs itself.
So, in that sense, my work was devoted to examining individual expressions apparent in the collective use of certain technologies and digital realms.
While the traces and fragments of personal use and connections became visible in my work, I also revealed the slippage of any perceived individual expression through technology back into anonymity through the structures and formats of digital culture.
This process led me to my later project, which incorporated cosmetics like Concha de Nácar cream and others derived from snake and insect oils. These developed living organisms like eukaryotic molds after being exposed to the humid environment. In this project, technology and biology eventually came together and I was surprised by how quickly they could become one and the same thing.
3_THE ANTI-AGING AND ANTI-MISERY FORMULA is also particularly interesting in that it presents queerness into the space of the postcontemporary. Was this due to a shift in focus of the understanding of technology while in Mexico? I am interested in how the language of technology gained new meaning for you, if at all.
Since I came to live to Mexico City I started to work with materials and technology; this was material that had to do with cultural realities within Mexican society, but that could also be extrapolated to others. Skin whitening creams, for example, are popular in Mexico but also in the Philippines and the Caribbean, where lighter skin tones often signify an elevated status in society.
My work started then referring to the human body and how it can be modified with technology. I also became interested in the lives of girls who post about cosmetic surgeries and these kind of extreme beauty and luxury-oriented lifestyles via social media, making their bodies and ways of living a consumable product and really celebrating this aggressive intangible capitalism — cognitive capitalism.
Basically, my whole body of work has to do with identity creation in order to gain status in one way or another: a combination of alter-ego presentation, deliberate self-promotion, and an eventual de-selfing.
Urban tribes and global subcultures, interpreted locally for instance in Mexico City at a place like Plaza Metro Insurgentes, are a wonderful presentation of the possibilities contained within body alteration and adornment: Emos, Floggers, Pokemons, Animes, Goths, Cumbieros, Reggaetoneros, etc. The androgynous youth questions and addresses established patriarchal culture and homophobia in Mexico and Latin America in general.
For me, I want my work to question hierarchies, status, stereotypes, and standards of beauty and femininity in a counter-cultural way.
4_Can you talk about your recent exhibition and curatorial effort, #BAE #AQN? What were the conceptual parameters that framed it?
It’s basically a show on Instagram about Instagram, which has featured works from over 50 international artists based primarily in New York, London, Berlin and Mexico City, all of which came together through an exhaustive series of studio visits that I did during 2015.
When #BAE #AQN manifested itself IRL, it was a performance that had to do with other performances that I had previously realized: Salto a la FAMA, a collective stage-diving performance at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil MACG in Mexico City and 15 minutos de FAMA, a dance marathon that was presented first at SOMA and then at the Museo Experimental El Eco and El Zócalo in Mexico City.
These performances tried to ironize the hierarchies within the art world, blurring the lines between artist, curator, museum director and assistant. Once they were all participating in the performances, they belonged to the same stratum.
These projects try to demystify the institution in conceptual terms. While the format often combines an IRL presentation with live streaming, they often also have a posterior life online, as they are ongoing projects in social media.
#BAE #AQN makes central the self-promotion and self-branding of the creative generation and how we contribute to the unremunerated work of cognitive capitalism, in the hopes of financial success. This is also going to be my main focus of attention in my upcoming solo show, Internet Famous.
5_Music is also an interest of yours. You’ve worked with NAAFI and produced tracks that incorporate genres such as dancehall and reggaeton. When and why did you delve into music production?
I’ve worked with music in a lot of different ways but for Internet Famous, which is now my second individual exhibition at Yautepec in Mexico City, I was most interested in the parallels between music and social media, thinking about how the intangible is capitalized in a digital economy.
Because the two are so intertwined now, I decided to develop an online persona and musical alter-ego called #LaBAE in order to play with the phenomenon of otherwise unknown people becoming celebrities through views, likes and other forms of interaction.
For the musical project that’s central to #LaBAE, I’m working with the Mexico City-based producer, Dokta Dude, and mixing up a lot of different genres and sub-genres, which will manifest themselves in various works, from performance to sound to sculpture.
I´ll be playing at a Hip Hop Festival here in Mexico too on the 25th of August organized by Hip Hop League Df, and presenting: Simpson a Huevo, Yoga Fire, Letra J, Magdalena 3 Vidas, #LaBAE and Zilo Funk.
And I´m planing to do a feat with Letra J and another with Macarena 3 Vidas and JP Ivarez.
I’ve already released two singles on Soundcloud, Yo Soy #LaBAE was my first one and now Chonísima is out too, both of which you can listen to at https://soundcloud.com/natalia-ib-ez-lario. Soon I’ll be releasing videoclips on Youtube as well. You can follow me at @labae_beforeanyoneelse and @nataliailario to stay on top of it.
6_ You were actually in Berlin not long ago to attend BB9. Which artist(s’) work were you most excited to view?
Many of the participating artists at the Biennial were also part of my #BAE #AQN exhibition, like Marie Karlberg, Juliana Huxtable, Débora Delmar Corp., Dese Escobar, Sadaf H. Nava, Nik Kosmas, Anne De Vries, Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Ruben Grilo and Juan Peláez.
I especially enjoyed Debora Delmar Corp Juice Bar Mint and Juan Pelaez Rhiana´s without head Installation, as well as Will Benedict and Josh Kline´s videos and Max Pitegoff and Kalla Henke Installation and Sculptures of John Raffman as Well as Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin´s video installation, Camille Henrot Installation and Julian Ceccaldi Paintings, Puppie Puppies piece, Katja Noviskova Sculptures, ayr gegündet Installation, Simon Denny Installation, Babak Radboy proposal and Timur Si-Qin and Hito Steyerl Installation.
I really enjoyed Dis magazine proposal in general terms.
7_Finally, what are we to expect from you in the upcoming months?
Right now, I'm just really busy working on Internet Famous, because that opens at the end of September during Gallery Weekend in Mexico City. Since it not only involves the production of the physical works for the show but also recording an entire album and video clips directed by Nick Zedd with conceptual direction by me, it’s hard to think about much else at the moment.
Continuing with my research on the examination of aspirational lifestyles, cultures, and subcultures and how this collective desire to belong manifests itself through consumerism, self-presentation, and body modification, Internet Famous shifts its focus toward the phenomenon of social media-fueled celebrity, virality, memes, trends, and the performance of the online self.
The exhibition will explore the implicit and often unwitting participation of amateur actors in the unremunerated labor of cognitive capitalism, in which even unsuccessful attempts to reach internet fame fuel an entire economy of attention in the form of hits, views, likes, and shares. In this economy, each and every one of us becomes both consumer and product, served to advertisers as ever-more granularized portraits of ourselves designed via our meticulously-tracked and analyzed online behavior.
Here’s where you can follow me: nataliaibanezlario.org, Instagram @nataliailario @beforeanyoneelse_antesquenadie @labae_beforeanyoneelse Twitter @nataliailario Snapchat @nataliailario Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/natalia-ib-ez-lario
Written by Mark Pieterson (follow Mark on Twitter https://twitter.com/originalinkting )
1. Pia Riverola for ID Mexico
2. View of The Installation of The Anti-Aging and Anti-Misery Formula, Solo Show at Yautepec Gallery, 2014.