Alison J Carr is an artist based in Sheffield. She is currently working towards a practice-led PhD at Sheffield Hallam University. Her thesis is entitled 'How Do I Look?' and considers the showgirl figure from her own female perspective.
Carr has transformed herself into the embodiment of a 1930s showgirl and now turns her attention to how the glamour and excess of the showgirl can be reframed for a contemporary audience.
Ruth Wilbur: You are an avid tweeter, how would you describe your work in 140 characters?
Alison J Carr: I perform in photos & videos to make artwork that considers representation, subject / object politics, and draws on pleasure, glamour, dancing & my love of showgirls.
RW: You feature quite prominently in your work, is it autobiographical?
AJC: Not at all. My work uses my body, it comes from my brain and it is driven by an exploration of my own desires. But that doesn't make it autobiographical. By using my desires, I know the work has desire in it, but I am a stand-in for the viewer in the work. If the work is successful, the viewer can eradicate me and locate themselves in the work. In some ways, I am a willing object in the service of the artwork.
RW: Tell us more about your PhD...
AJC: I am completing a practice-led PhD in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. In August 2005 I came across cigarette cards in a car boot sale, each card depicted a pin-up photograph with a mini biography of the showgirl on the back. At that time an interest in glamour wasn't a part of my practice. I knew there was something intrinsically wrong about the cigarette cards (reducing women down to an exchange object/commodity) and yet I was compelled to recreate them, even with these ambivalent feelings towards the images.
During my MFA I considered feminist critiques of what I was doing and it led to new work. Now on my PhD, I've begun to examine my love of showgirls, their embodied confidence and decadent costumes and wonder what the possibilites are for thinking of their agency. What happens if I don't use critical tools that perpetuate a reduction of the showgirl? What happens if I try to bring out her transgressive qualities?
My thesis is called 'How do I look?' because the research I undertake is driven by my particular feelings of pleasure and desire and is about disavowing a theoretical (often male) viewer and placing myself, like an intervention, in gaze theory.
RW: What is your recent project 'Video Letters' about?
AJC: 'Video Letters' (2012) was a collaboration with Berlin based artist, Kerstin Honeit. We came together through a residency at LoBe Gallery and in preparation for showing together we began to exchange short videos as a process of getting to know one another. Slowly we realised that the short video letters were, in fact, the work. So, we edited the videos together chronologically and formed two dialogues, one called 'Video Letters: Body' and the other 'Video Letters: Voice'. The individual responses are deliberately playful, light-hearted and intimate, like two friends talking, and we found that to be a strength of the work.
RW: How does dressing up act as a catalyst for your work?
AJC: Wearing costumes in 'Wish You Were Here, Real Photographs' (2008) was a way to for me to try to reconstruct the original photographs and borrow someone else’s identity. A number of people have asked is that me in 'Video Letters' (2012) or if I am performing? And I think, god, I don't know! I'm really me, AND I'm performing, but I don't know where the line is drawn between performance and everyday life. This confusion of where the performance starts and ends is really exciting and negotiating that boundary is something I play with in my work.
RW: What was the last exhibition you saw which really inspired you?
AJC: I really liked Kerry Tribe's show at Camden Arts Centre. I enjoyed the way she played with the film form. She's so in control of both form and content. The two come together to be really challenging, complex, thought-provoking and moving and whenever I see her work, I get a renewed ambition for my own work.
'Video Letters: Body, final response, Gaga Charleston'
"Some people have asked me is that really me in 'Video Letters' or if I am performing? And I think, god, I don't know! I'm really me, AND I'm performing, but I don't know where that line is in everyday life"
RW: Where do you get inspiration from?
AJC: Showgirls, burlesque, avant garde cabaret, satire, spectacle, outrageousness, truculent women, bad behaviour. I really love Lana Del Ray, Lady Gaga, Grimes, Peaches and the film, The Artist. I adore Jo Ann Callis’s photographs and Andrea Fraser just blows me away.
RW: You have lots of social media profiles - how do you use the platforms?
AJC: I see social media as a platform to speak. I find I can establish conversations that test out the ideas I care about and I have begun to develop networks of thinkers, friends and showgirls whom I draw on to help me research and make art.
RW: What advice would you like to share?
AJC: Sometimes we thrive, sometimes we just survive. Whichever you are doing, it doesn’t matter, because soon enough things switch round. Don’t be invested in success or failure, concern yourself making with integrity. Test the work out for yourself – does it work for you? Does it turn you on? If it doesn’t, don’t put it into the public domain!
Alison J Carr on Axis
Camden Arts Centre