Since her video „American Reflexxx“ going live in April 2015 the american artist Signe Pierce has truly become a micro-celebrity. Then it went viral and amassed a great deal of attention from the media. In 2011 she started her Tumblr „Sleazeburger“, that has more than 50.000 followers now. She’s a pop star and an artist in one person, produces posters for her fans – especially teenagers – and makes art for the museum at the same time.
„My name is Signe Pierce, translated like piercing signs,“ she introduces herself. And in a way her art is like her: full of signs, stereotypes and LA kitsch. A promising fantasy within the reality. She plays with the world, and this game never comes to an end.
On July 12, I had the chance to meet Signe Pierce in Berlin.
An interview about net art, social media and metamodernism.
Photographs by Annekathrin Kohout & Philipp Baumgarten
Signe, you’re living in New York, but your work is mainly concerned with Los Angeles. What interests you about the city?
Signe: I’m kind of from all over. I was born in the desert in Arizona. Lived there for six years, then I moved to California as a kid, and was there for six years. And then I moved to Maryland— lived there for six years, then I moved to Manhattan to study there. And lived there for six years! No— seven years. But I had a burning desire to go to California. My art lives there, you know. I needed to see palm trees and neon lights. So I did in 2014, and it was great. I love it for a lot of reasons people hate it. You know, LA gets a very bad rap as being kind of stupid or vapid. But I like it for those reasons, it’s inspiring to me.
Earlier this year I was in a couple of art shows in NY, which brought me back to living here. So much is happening in my career here, so it’s made it so that I have to be here. But I hope to go back to LA one day, because it is where my muse is.
You’re doing a lot on tumblr and have a large fan base there. What’s special about it and how do you use it?
Signe: Tumblr is a website that I became originally interested in around 2011. I had been in art school in Manhattan studying photography, and was getting more and more interested in performance art and internet as a medium. I’d seen a lot of other photographers and artists who were using tumblr like a TV channel, kind of as a way to broadcast their lives. People like Molly Soda, who has since become a friend of mine. At that time I didn’t know her personally, but I was watching her using Tumblr as a medium— living and performing for the camera all day long. The live-casting that Tumblr offers is, to me, a little more authentic and real than updating a portfolio on your website. What I like about Tumblr is that it is a free-flowing-presentation in chronological order of what I see. It’s an extension of my eye, a real slice of my life. And thats more what I’m interested in as an artist, to show you what is actually happening. I try to live my life as art and Tumblr is a nice place to critique and explore what I’m seeing in that moment. A way of presenting what I want people to see from my perspective.
You say, Tumblr is „authentic“ and „real.“ Can it be used as an artistic medium anyway? Or is it just a presentation platform?
Signe: Yeah, it can be. I think that social media is a medium. And I’m increasingly interested in body as a canvas. Or, the body can be the “medium” as well. The body can be the art and the social media can be the gallery. It’s a new institution that we can go to look at art.
That would mean it is merely a simple transformation. What happens if the analog space migrates to digital?
Signe: Yes, definitely, there’s a big part of transformation that place into my art. In this way, “reality art“ can be a bit of a contradiction. Because it’s the reality that seen through my scope, and I’m playing with my own perception. I am able to heighten and accentuate my reality to look more fantastic than it may actually be, because that’s the perspective that I’m bringing to it. There is an element of fantasy within the reality that I’m creating. That brings it into hyperreality: it’s an amplified version of what is real.
An enhanced version of reality are also stereotypes and kitsch. What are your thoughts about kitsch in the context of your work?
Signe: I was thinking a lot about kitsch in the college. Because I was taking neon pictures of cheeseburgers or whatever. And I was kind of driving myself crazy about, “Is this all just kitsch? Or is there something more?” Because it’s banal. Sometimes my art is banal, and I’m okay with that. I have a taste for sleazy, funky, colorful stuff. I have a photo called Cheap Thrills which is basically just a donut with a dollar stuck in the top of it. To some people, that photo could be considered kitsch, but to others it’s a statement on capitalism and the cheap, globalized excess of American enterprises. Glossy donuts and money and empty calories for your soul.
So I’m aware that there’s a kitschy dimension in my work, but I definitely strive to inform a lot more like concept that I try to leave it my work can transcend kitsch. But there is also a kitsch-for-kitsch’s-sake thing. You know, art for art, and kitsch for kitsch thing. It is fun. I personally like humor. I like art that is not afraid to make you laugh. It doesn’t have to be so conceptual all the time.
And that is also a part of the reality artist concept.
Signe: Yeah, exactly: Sometimes life is kitschy. Sometimes it is really serious, sometimes it is really funny.
How do you define „Reality Art“? What does this label mean in the context of digital art?
Signe: People are defining me as a performance artist or a net artist. I don’t really label myself like this, because I use reality as medium all the time. Sometimes I stage things in the studio, but I prefer to take a picture on the street. For me, this is the reality I’m in. For example, in “American Reflexxx”, I performed on the streets and film other peoples reactions. It’s not so much about me as a performance artist. It’s about the whole scope of the scene. It’s not a performance art piece. It’s a reality piece. I’m not the only thing that makes that film great, it’s the reactions and the actual reality of everyone around me that contributes to the art. But I’m not inspired by fiction. When I’m watching a movie, I would much rather watch a documentary than scripted films. I think that the world is so chaotic, and there is so much happening, that life is stranger then fiction. I like to play with the world. If I have a concept, I use reality as the canvas.
Would you label your work with post-internet?
Signe: You know what? People keep saying that term. I remember when Grimes came out with her album “Visions” it was being hailed as, like, a “post-internet-masterpiece”. But what is post-internet? We’re so in the internet right know! And I know that it is just art that comes after the internet era, but I think that this term is really contradictory and silly. The term that I’m really large into is “metamodernism”. I’m fighting for metamodernism. In art history, I hope we end up defining this next era with metamodernism instead of “post-internet”. A lot of artists are working with metamodern themes. When I was just discussing reality art and the fiction— that’s all very metamodern. Or Marina Abramovics “The Artist is Present”— to me it was a very metamodern performance. It is a lot of drawing the lines of what is real, what is not, what is art, what constructs are in reality. And it is a fluid boundary.
Could you tell us a little bit more about metamodernism?
Signe: It’s a philosophical/theoretical concept surrounding the evolution of post-modernism. Basically, we’ve been living in the post-modern era for about 40-50 years, and despite the fact that PoMo as a term is enigmatic, we need something new and different to describe where we’re currently at in art history in regards to the different elements that the internet and the burgeoning singularity are playing into actual reality. I think a lot of the concept also involves ideas surrounding irony and sincerity— straddling the lines between the two, and the various metaphysical aspects of perception. To me, metamodern art functions like a mobius strip. There’s no necessary beginning or end, it’s a fluid concept that can keep turning itself inside and out.
And expanding the idea of things never being done?
Signe: It’s so cool to me that the digital era promotes a continuous evolution of art and ideas. I think that’s unique in this of flux. Anything can grow and change as you want it to. I’m thinking a lot about when are things “done”. For example, with my photos— I can upload them on Instagram with just a little bit of light color editing on my phone. But when I print them, I’ll sit for hours on Photoshop to bring them into their highest form. So these photos lives different lives than their original inception. It is like digital editions. The first version is the Instagram, second one could be more refined on Tumblr, the third version could be perfected for an exhibition or print, and it can keep going on from there. I think this is interesting, too. Things can keep refreshing, just like like a tumblr or a website. It’s a very relevant concept in the era of the internet, the era of “the cloud”. Metamodern art is like the universe: it keeps expanding.
Arvida Byström, Petra Collins, Molly Soda and you, Signe Pierce, are called “network-feminists”. Although you’re not a collective, but you are very similar to each other. You said Molly Soda is your girlfriend: how to get together on the internet?
Signe: Molly Soda is a good friend of mine. I had been a really big fan of her work when I was graduating art school in 2011, and I thought it was really cool how she was using her body at the medium. I had been thinking about that concept around the same time that I found her work. I had been exploring performance art and playing “hyper” versions of yourself online. She was taking herself and she playing to the height of her consciousness… living out personas. And she puts it out online as entertainment. I see this kind of life-casting as the future of entertainment… the future of media. It is like reality stars, essentially.
I remember one day when I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art… I was working there after collage. It’s the biggest art museum in America, and working there would make me very existential. I was thinking about art all day, every day. And at night after they closed, I would walk around the museum by myself and would have this incredible art collection in front of my eyes all to myself. It really affected me. So the whole time I was thinking about art, modern art, digital art, performance art, and yeah, I was thinking about Molly’s work too. She was a part of this “new media-reality-perfomance-art” thing that I was really getting into as well. And I remember one day I was sitting in the Met after hours and I got a friends request from her on social media and I was like “Oh cool! This artist wants to be my friend!”. So we became friends in the internet. The funny thing with the internet is that over time when you follow people, in a weird way it can begin to feel like you’re actually friends. That’s the whole concept of “mutuals”. When you both follow each other, and you both vibe, and you relate to the content and work that the other person is sharing, the bond becomes something like friendship. Arvida is a good friend as well. Molly, Arvida and I just did a show together in England at Annka Kultys Gallery along with Adi Rajkovic of Sunday Gallery and it was a great IRL/URL union.
You have blond dyed hair, manicured nails, wearing short skirts and during your performances you pour yourself out and imply masturbation. What role does pornography plays for your work?
Signe: LA is one of my biggest inspirations, especially because Hollywood and LA is where Americas two biggest exports come out of— which are the Entertainment Industry (like Hollywood and Cinema) – and the porn industry. People flock to Hollywood to either live the American Dream, which would be becoming a famous actress, or perhaps (in some people’s view), the American Nightmare, in becoming an underpaid, over-worked American porn star. LA has the Hollywood Hills on one side— glamorous mansions where all the sexy, rich, beautiful people live. And then in order to get to the valley you have to get over the Hollywood Hills, and that’s where all the porn is. It is behind the mountain. And I think it’s just an interesting metaphor: you have to go through the glamour to enter the backside, the backstage of Hollywood. Heaven in Hell is really present in all of my work. I’m inspired by the glamorous side, but also by the sleazy, dark side of femininity and sexuality in general. The way that women are viewed as objects literally all the time. I like using myself as an archetype for that side of perspective and perception. I think it’s funny how when we’re in public, we don’t like letting people know that we’re taking a selfie. Is there something pornographic about that? Letting people know that you are looking at yourself? I guess so.
And is using female-pornographic stereotypes contradictor to feminist goals?
Signe: People try to pretend like they are not interested in things that they are actually interested in because they are maybe scared about other’s gazes, and I don’t believe in paying to attention or giving into something someone else expectations of me. I like to use things like fantasy, desire, beauty, and sex as ways to talk about, “What is actually your fantasy? What do you like to see? What would you like to make come true?”. And inversely, I like to expose some negative aspects of that concept— what happens to women when we’re constantly being objectified and degraded, simply for being who we are. I like using my sexuality as a device. It’s my decision. It’s about women being able to reclaim their agency. Their stake in sex, their stake in fantasy, and their stake in attaining their personal desires.
Thank you for the interview!