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What’s it like to be an artist in the Information Age?

Artist Ana Karkar talks through her experiences as a creative online and offline

I’m a millennial born in a golden age of abundance: the Wall Street boom, shoulder pads and clip-on bling, and Pop-tarts as a legitimate breakfast food. MTV was significantly changing the role of musicians, who were no longer recognised for their perfect pitch, but rather as visual performers and human brands. It was a time when movie directors could still make breaks in Hollywood from films self-funded on a handful of credit cards, and when Naomi was included in a line-up of supermodels, it was considered ‘diverse’.

In San Francisco, where I’m from, people already saw gender fluidity as positive, buying Apple Macs in Berkeley, drinking wheatgrass, aligning their chakras, and composting waste. At the hairdresser’s, instead of looking into a mirror reflection, you could be facing a poster photograph by American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Currently, I live in Paris, where laptops in cafes, yoga, and green juice are widespread, gender fluidity is the new norm, charging crystals at the full moon is common knowledge, the world is heating up, and Mapplethorpe remains censored and controversial.

In the last few years, I have spent time working on what I have to say in this digital collective stream of consciousness, that is accelerating values from the city I grew up in against a backdrop of climate change. Positioning myself as an artist has been a fine line between appearing nostalgic or being an artist from the future. As a painter who has worked in digital media for over a decade, I look at how Instagram is the game changer for artists, just as MTV was for musicians when ‘video killed the radio star’.

Below, I write about my experience being a painter in the Information Age and imagined reality.

Paintings by Ana Karkar

On reality

Many visual artists today conscientiously market themselves in a steady and constant stream of publication through platforms like Instagram. Generally, painting in contemporary art is still perceived as an object, separate from a search engine and an interface. When producing work, I think about our relationship to the screen, the relationships we have with each other via the screen, and how the images we consume in the media relate to our physical reality. Painting has a new role within this greater context.

Internet users also have access to paintings using hashtags and keywords. In a ‘search by image’ system, artificial intelligence can assess forms to determine who and where you are and how you may be feeling. Paintings take part of an image bank that broadens our horizons when mapping worlds we choose to see.

On imagination

The digital world creates new categories but it also amplifies archetypes. My work promotes our ability to empathize and identify with faces and characters different from our own. The paintings embody open interpretation of gender and dynamics between the figures. Some of them pull from stills of films adding an air of familiarity.

Some of my work appears sexual in nature to address political nuances under a microscope. However, this aspect is only occasionally understood and often people have taken sexual aspects in my work at face value. In this regard, I address frontiers between what some audiences may be hiding in the privacy of their search navigation and are unable to confront in the context of an exhibition.

On connection

Artists can bridge separateness on the internet in a way artificial intelligence can't. I enjoy demonstrating how we have the ability to ingest mass media, and use the structures and storylines it provides to design unique realities and express ourselves.

Paintings, I have realised, also generate ‘reality distortion fields’, attracting mental force from the like-minded and provoking innovation. While books and TV series perform similarly (many technologies that exist today were first imagined in science fiction for example), I am understanding, and may spend my life exploring, our interconnectedness through painting.

On Instagram

My Instagram account plays with digital content and painting, as well as performance art. I stage images of myself alongside portraits of renowned actors, male and female, to underline the fluidity of human identity. Film and television are reference points, as religious texts and mythologies have been for many painters in centuries past. Certain viewers continue to surprise me by decrypting subliminal messages embedded across the page.

On intimacy

A challenging area in my work has been delving into the darker qualities of human nature with the intention to relieve pain. I compare some of my work with going to the dentist and getting a root canal. Looking at the work can bring to light areas and an emotional range that is unsettling for some.

Presently, we have more talk of ‘positive vibes’ with attention turned towards optimism in contemporary art and elsewhere. In part, I participate in this meditation by repairing areas of neglect. Yet, where I have experienced the most opposition is the continual belief of intimacy between two people. Despite obstacles, disappointment, disillusion, and insult, I seek to include images of adamant love and a reconciliation with innocence in my work.

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