Critical Aspirations: A Conversation with Ilana Harris-Babou

Amanda Dalla Villa Adams, Sculpture Magazine, September 4, 2019

Ilana Harris-Babou is often considered a video artist, but her practice fluidly negotiates sculpture, installation, performance, photography, and online platforms like Instagram. Using accessible pop-culture tropes-music videos, cooking and home improvement shows, DIY aesthetics, and the language of advertising-she undermines expectations in order to question individual and societal assumptions about American history, race and reparations, gender and sexuality, and economic privilege. Harris-Babou's politically subversive works offer neither answers nor postscripts; instead, they present open-ended methods for examining the many forms of mainstream entertainment, media, and thinking that we encounter daily in the 21st century.


Amanda Dalla Villa Adams: You've said, "I always thought about myself as a painter who works on the surface and now I'm working on the surface of a screen." How does mediation fluctuate across your different platforms? You move from melissa_clark_official (2018) on Instagram and the videos to installations and the homewares catalogue in Red Sourcebook (2018).
Ilana Harris-Babou: In America, screens are everywhere. We look at them from the moment we wake up until the moment we close our eyes at night. I work with imagery from everyday life. Projectors are for special occasions like lectures or theaters. My videos lose some of their potency when they're projected. It's an issue of scale. My work on Instagram lives on your phone, in your hand. There's an intimacy in that interaction. If you look at a cooking show on a flat-screen TV, the host's torso might be the same size as your own. They say, "I'm me, and you're you, and today we're going to make a grain bowl." It feels like everything is happening in the present tense. Most of my videos are up on my website in their entirety. I don't think of the gallery as an end point. I'm ok with folks viewing my work in a state of distraction while scrolling through their inbox.


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