INTERVIEW WITH JULS GABS & AKIN OLADIMEJI ON error

Megan Preston Elliott, June 2020
I’m in Juls Gabs’ exhibition error, a new virtual reality art project in partnership with
Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop, curated by Akin Oladimeji. Sitting on my bed, I am looking at the artwork in amongst my belongings through my camera; it’s both jarring and incredibly intimate.
Through the Instagram camera, the role of the viewer is turned on its head. They go from passive to active, collaborating with Gabs’ to create their own work. I find myself walking around my home comparing backdrops for each piece.

The Gallerist by Juls Gabs. Photo by Megan Preston Elliott

With The Gallerist, I enjoy playing around with the camera to capture the two floating seals on the fluffy rug on the floor of my bedroom. 

Jonathan unsettles me. The backdrop of my bedroom storage unit provides an interesting addition to the narrative of the work; it becomes an interrogation of my own portrait and makes me question how I perform my own identity. What do I choose to hide and what do I choose to show? Particularly in the context of social media. 

When I move on to The Prince, I finally realise: I’ve been playing this game long before Gabs’ exhibition. Trying different camera angles, I become aware that my brain has switched between thinking about the work itself and thinking about what the work, and how I choose to frame it, says about me.

This is the ritual of the viewer. In the age of social media, fleeting gallery visits must be captured and shared. In some cases, we might even spend more time looking at the work through our screens when curating our own Instagram feeds. The work itself becomes part of our own portrait and performance to the world: I like art, I go to galleries, I am engaged with contemporary art. What associations come with these statements? What does it say if you insert yourself into the photograph of the work? What does it say if you don’t? What does it say if you choose to zoom in to a certain part of the work, or choose to crop or frame it in a certain way? 
 

Christinder seems to me to point most obviously to this ritual – first signalled by the hand-painted Instagram camera dashboard in the painting. I am surprised by the disruption to my viewing experience when I tap the screen and ‘Tinder’ pops up. Tinder in the middle of an art exhibition? Of course! 

Art is no longer viewed in isolation. On Instagram, everything exists in the same sphere. Art might exist on the same feed as social justice posts, selfies, poetry, dog pics, vintage clothing stores, meme pages; amidst ads for vegan chocolate, feminist literature, natural soaps and gold hoop earrings (the ads will differ for each person, of course – what do these ads say about me – and what does it say that I have chosen these specific snippets of my Instagram feed to share?) We are all painting pictures of ourselves and art becomes part of our identity to share. So, for me, the Christs on Tinder in error say less about the figure of Christ in the work pictured and more about the viewer; what the viewer might be trying to convey about themselves if they were to photograph and share each work.

What will you find out about yourself when you visit error?

"this is the ritual of the viewer"

error, courtesy of Juls Gabs

Megan Preston Elliott: I’m interested to know how this project came about! How did the two of you start working together and when/how did Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop come into the mix as a partner for the exhibition?

Akin Oladimeji: Well, when I saw Juls’ work in the group show Radical Residency at Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop late in 2019, I had a chat with her and felt that this intense, energetic person with her multi-layered piece that transfixed me with its mix of pop culture and politics was someone I would like to work with in the future. So, when I had the idea of guest curating with Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop, I proposed her as the person whose exhibition I would ideally like to facilitate. Stacie, Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop’s director, stated she was actually keen on this being the first of a series of virtual exhibitions as a means of doing something dynamic with her website and Instagram page. Her prediction in January that the web would be more important for experiencing art was uncannily prescient. 

Stacie then arranged a meeting where, while nibbling on chocolates and strawberries we discussed virtual reality, augmented reality, poetry, and possible launch dates.

MPE: I spoke with Stacie about the exhibition and she stated: 
 
When Akin approached me with the idea of curating something with Juls - we had some dynamic conversations and we knew we wanted something new & beyond the ‘look at a website’ experience- Juls’ knowledge and fearless character to utilise Instagram tools and Akin’s insights guiding the outcome have resulted in something entirely new for the viewer - allowing the work to inhabit your environment and for questions of identity to be examined. We are impressed and proud of the outcome!
 

Christinder by Juls Gabs

"She just has this willingness to create works that are at the intersection of painting and sculpture"

MPE: Akin, what excites you about Gabs’ work and why was this a project you were keen to be involved in?

AO: She just has this willingness to create these works that are at the intersection of painting and sculpture. I guess as someone who is fond of prose poetry, which straddles both forms, I was always going to be transfixed by that among other qualities found in her work. 


I suppose collaborating with an art foundation like Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop was another crucial fact for me. I was a fan of what they do there and since it’s on my doorstep I had been going there for the last two years.

MPE: You’re currently working towards becoming a professional art historian at Birbeck, University of London. I’m keen to know what other projects you’ve worked on (as a curator) and if this is the first virtual exhibition you have curated. What differences do you see in the considerations for a curator for online exhibitions as opposed to physical exhibitions? 

AO: I’m in the middle of a part-time Master’s there and during this pandemic lockdown I’ve been doing background reading for a PhD I intend to do elsewhere. Centuries ago, I put together exhibitions in Norfolk, even before the web was a major way to get the word out about whatever you were doing. Luckily for me, Juls is young and tech-savvy enough to go for what we proposed to her whole heartedly because this is quite new stuff for me. 
I mean, there are similarities of course, for example, identifying artists you want to work with, visiting their studios which is always fun, and writing about the work and artist. I guess the main thing is to ensure you’ve got an artist that already creates works that are born digital and is willing to learn how to develop their ability. I’ve been learning more about technology myself and because of this I started using Google’s art and culture site through which I’ve paid a virtual visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico, where I’ve always dreamt of seeing in person.

MPE: I’m curious to know what you both think about Instagram as a platform for art. As you know, in the early days of Instagram the art world experienced push backs against the traditional structures and models; a shift away from a focus on art critics in major magazines or papers towards Instagram critics, such as The White Pube, as well as a shift away from galleries (as the primary way to exhibit and sell work) towards more artist-led approaches of selling and exhibiting, aided by Instagram. Indeed, during the pandemic we’ve seen an increase in artists supporting each other to sell work through initiatives such as the #artistsupportpledge. And the pandemic has also seen many virtual events and exhibitions, including error. Why do you think it might still be useful or necessary to partner with galleries for virtual projects, as opposed to artists just setting them up themselves?

 

AO: I admire those setting up the artist support projects and I’ve even bought an artwork through that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned in this respect but partnering with an organisation gives a project some kind of legitimacy. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn from Stacie’s approach and advice.

 

I know someone who earns an extra income from commissions to draw her patrons’ pets! They discover her through Instagram and initiate contact there, which leads to word-of-mouth recommendations. I have a feeling if you’re an ‘unknown’ artist who’s unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities sites like Instagram offer, you’re probably doing yourself a disservice. I’m curious to know your take on this, Megan.

 

MPE: I think Instagram’s initial appeal was in its potential to be a space for anyone. But ultimately, with the saturation of artists on Instagram, it’s not as democratic as we once dreamed it would be. And as you say, because there is so much art being shared on Instagram now, being supported by a partner gallery or magazine elevates the work in a way. But I wonder whether this is a good thing or not; as the big arts organisations, curators, galleries etc. are all on Instagram too with big followings, they maintain their power over what art gets legitimised, or who gets promoted (online and offline). I think this is something that many of us have called into question recently.

Jonathan by Juls Gabs. Photo by Megan Preston Elliott

Juls Gabs: I agree, I think having a gallery supporting you gives you legitimacy to your project. But not having a gallery can’t stop you to create and exhibit your work and that is the big difference in this era.

MPE: Juls, I’m dying to know what software you used for the exhibition; talk me through the process of making the works

 

JG: This project started as a digital exhibition and as such it belongs to the internet world. Where is the audience in the internet? SOCIAL MEDIA.

 

SPARK AR is a software created by Facebook, or Instagram (same company, surprise!) and it's completely free for everyone to download and use. It creates the cheerful Instagram filters that are taking over our stories and our Sunday mornings in bed.

 

In the exhibition, you will find 2 physical works I have in my studio that I introduced to the software. And another 2 that were born completely digitally; they were drawn in Photoshop, some of them converted into GIFs for creating flat animations. I designed the 3D animals that float in the scene, and added it all to the SPARK AR software, where it turns them into the most accessible Virtual Reality ever, opening straight into your Instagram account.

 

Being in quarantine with galleries and museums closed, I realise that art should now come to our homes. But this won’t disappear with the end of the lock down. In terms of evolution this technique feels like the next natural step for me. Because art reflects society, and society is online

"art reflects society, and society is online..."

The Gallerist by Juls Gabs

MPE: Juls, what do you think about how we perform identity online versus offline; different, or essentially the same?

 

JG: We use it to show a selected (partial/total) part of our selves: goals, beauty, that breakfast that looked so pretty although the bottom of the omelette was burnt, or the last set of fake nails I got on amazon. We can choose the information to be posted. It’s like a mask where we filter how we liked to be seen; we could exaggerate merits and sizes. But give a man a mask and he will tell you everything about himself. Can I post that side of me that I don’t want my mom to see? (OOPS!) Aren’t these posts (whether exaggerated or not) a statement of myself? Are we all so fucking narcissistic that we are obsessed with the attention of a post? Can that number of likes give me the confidence I need offline?

 

Do we perform identity differently offline? We probably perform both, different and the same. As a generation that has grown up in the digital era, we are the generation most informed ever in history. We can comprehend the fluidity of multiple realities and multiples truths, why choose one or the other when we can have them all.

 

MPE: What were your main influences for this show? (readings, artists, culture etc.) 

 

JG:[{(Pretentiousness, Why it matters - Dan Fox) x (Pandemic) @hito_steyerl

+ (#sondraperry @studioprouvostsocialclub @paulkindersley @paul.yore @hito_steyerl #LeighBowery) 365

 

 

 

 

 

+ (√ Real people I met in my life)Notes of camp - Susan Sontag

+  fDuty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War - Hito Steyerl ]

 

 

(% people in museums)

 

= error   (obviously)

 

 

**this formula might be inaccurate due to artist’s bad memory

___________________________________________________________________

The Prince by Juls Gabs. Photo by Megan Preston Elliott

MPE: The colour palette and graphics seem to draw influence from early Internet art (pastels/neons) as well as millennial pink – could you talk a bit more about your use of colour in these works? 

 

JG: Sure,

If you recognise this                                  you recognise where I am coming from.

 

Colour has been predominant in my life, and in my work (and that includes a phase of white, STILL A PIGMENT COLOUR!!)

 

I am very confident now with my palette, but it is in continuous transformation and always influenced by factors I have in my life: from Liberty fabrics, to acid crazy websites.

 

The biggest influence in my palette today is: Google

The biggest challenge with my pigment palette is: paint a GIF

 

MPE: Why was it important for you to have that feedback loop as the final step to complete the game?

 

JG: I worked closely with a graphic designer on how to best present the works. They might not be too intuitive for certain people so we explored how to make the exhibition easy to navigate for everyone. And guess what:

 

POST > LIKE > COMMENT

 

This is the basic structure of all social media, a design that everybody knows to follow so it works well with the concept of the exhibition.

 

**PLUS, I might share your comment in my stories if I like it ;)

MPE: Is it important that the viewers (which might better be described as gamers here) go through the works in the order listed? How do you think the game might change or be disrupted if they don't? Part and parcel of the game?

 

JG: Well, I might change it one more time due to the latest feedback to make it easier for the viewer in what to expect:

 

First will be: The Prince (it’s the most stable)

Second: Jonathan

Third: The Gallerist (more complex in movements and 3D)

Finish with: Christinder

+Feedback, of course.

 

I am still exploring how to gradually educate the audience to interact with the works, starting with the simplest and adding more and more challenges (like Nintendo!)

POST > LIKE > COMMENT

The Prince by Juls Gabs

The Prince 

by Akin Oladimeji

 

He daydreams as he sits of walking on soft sand, a desert island, fiery sky as the low and lowering sun drops into the ocean, then faint moonlight, waves crashing into the shoreline, sea shells, mermaids, their hair softly swaying as they sit on the rocks, their scent briny yet laced with lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus. He dreams of all this because he's a banker no more, his deception caught up with him and now our prince is deposed, living in isolation, peace for him a distant illusion.

MPE: Akin, your writing about The Prince highlights several of the themes running throughout the exhibition, including: personas, fantasy/escapism, deflection. It emphasises the potential disparity between online and offline personas, how online spaces can become fertile ground for spreading lies and pretence; how we might go to these online spaces to escape from the reality of our offline world. I’d love to hear more about your vision of The Prince.

AO: According to Juls, this is a guy that’s tumbled from a high position in the banking field, been disgraced because he was faking it. He had made a false statement about his background and that helped him to get on but then the truth surfaced and though he’s still wealthy, can probably never get employed in that industry again. I imagine that he’s mourning that and that’s why when I write about him, I depict him hoping for things that could never really happen to him.

 

To be honest, many people will empathise with him, I think. Who hasn’t told a white lie to get that job, hook the attention of others on dating sites? As long as you don’t hurt anyone, what’s so abhorrent about it?

MPE: Do you think your background in poetry informs how you think about/respond to art and curation?

 

AO: Definitely. For instance, I started getting excited about how to go about writing about the work quite early both from a historical perspective, but also considering how I could incorporate my love of poetry into bits of that writing. That’s why in my statement I have a sentence that’s reminiscent of concrete poems, and write about The Prince in a way that’s influenced by Baudelaire’s poem Seaports, which though it looks like prose, has lists, rhythm and repetition of certain phrases.

MPE: We've seen an increase in virtual events/exhibitions during the pandemic - would you like to see this continue once we can go to physical gallery spaces again?

 

JG: This will continue! It’s just the beginning ;) Digital was here before the pandemic and it’s only reinforced with it.

 

AO: I’m itching to get back into galleries, even though I have to book a time slot. I’ve heard others echo similar sentiments. While I know we have enjoyed some virtual shows, question and answer sessions and studio tours online, I reckon we’ll always cherish being in front of a work or at a live art event, then discussing that with others afterwards. Maybe we’ll make more of an effort to go see art in the future since we were deprived of exhibitions in the lockdown.  Having said that, I doubt large gatherings will happen for a while in artistic environments and the art world is recalibrating with fewer art fairs in physical spaces, which has its advantages for the environment. What do you think, Megan? 

 

MPE: I agree with you Akin, I think unless the exhibition was specifically made to be online, like error, I tend to feel like something is missing. There’s nothing quite like seeing art in person when it was made to be seen that way. However, I think perhaps hosting more talks and discussions online would be beneficial and it also allows people to attend from anywhere in the world. There’s room for both.

"digital was here before the pandemic and it's only reinforced with it"

The Gallerist and Christinder by Juls Gabs. Photos by Megan Preston Elliott

MPE: Juls, talk to me about your #wip on your website, Hypocrisy in post Covid-19

 

JG: Hypocrisy after Covid-19 started as a personal research for understanding the future after the lock down in a comedian-political-domestic way (does that exist?) But it sucked me in, and I needed to know more and more…

 

I’ve interviewed doctors and historians, studied consequences of wars and revolutions in history, and read news to predict the changes that this pandemic might bring in 10 years. I think that the decisions we are making in these months will shape a new style of living. I offer two possibilities; the reader can choose between fighting alone or collaborating.

 

I am hoping this piece will evolve into an exhibition, where the audience can make their own decisions, but still I don’t know in what medium or what art space yet.

 

ME: Akin, what’s next for you? Any other projects on the horizon?

 

AO: I’m just carrying on with my studies. However, if someone had an interesting project to offer me, I’d probably be very interested in having a discussion with them!

Juls Gabs

www.julsgabs.com

 

Akin Oladimeji

akiola1.dreamhosters.com

Unit 1 Gallery | Workshop

unit1gallery-workshop.com

© 2020 by Assemblage Magazine.

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