Interview by SARA SCIALPI — Images by RYAN OLIVER
Too few and too feeble are the voices of those who will to controvert the standards of modern fashion industry. Too powerful and too exaggerated is the bombing of shapes and colours, the hints and persuasiveness of the smirking, perfect bodies on magazines covers and pages. In this boiling ocean of visual pleasures and unreal abstractions, Ryan Oliver’s keen and probing reconstruction of today’s visual imagery, performed through the use of collage, stands out. With some kind of surgical mind and hands, he serves us up on a plate the real, honest and bare face of what they feed our eyes with, every day.
SARA S. — By looking at your works, the first question that came up to my mind was of a ‘chronological’ kind. What did you choose first: fashion as a subject or collage as a form of art? If you started with fashion, why did you pick collage to express your views and enhance the fake-beauty-parade concealed flaws? Or else, in case you chose collage first, why did you feel like using fashion as a world to reinvent?
RYAN O. — I began to utilise collage as a medium at University. I was attracted to the communicative immediacy and built a vast library of material with which to work, largely consisting of high fashion/lifestyle periodicals. Due of my close proximity with this material, I became concerned with the position of women regarding image and representation. The visual language become all too familiar, beauty/perfection and sexualisation being the two constants. Images are sold on the sexuality/availability of women; portrayed as volunteering sex, submissive and perhaps even as ‘victims’. Collage is the perfect medium for rebuttal. Collage by its very nature is disparaging of its source material; a destructive gesture of cutting and slicing a pre-existing image, only to be redeemed by the perpetrator, as he or she sees fit. It is a response and is countering to what was presented originally.
SARA S. — Was there something, or someone, an instant sparkle of inspiration, pushing you to look at visual arts under this light? Or rather, you’d say that your works were born after a long silence of endured intolerance towards modern standards and schemes? Also, would you call it intolerance, visual sarcasm, mocking irony, or is it merely an experimental research without any emotional connotations, a way like any other to underline what lies underneath the surface?
RYAN O. — My practise is a result of the laborious process of sourcing material. During this process, the force of repetition regarding imagery warranted a response. Although not devoid of humour, I want my work to be taken seriously. As an artist, I make visual observations or interpretations of the world around me and don’t believe it’s an artist role to answer questions but to raise them.
SARA S. — Most of your works are based on contrast, the juxtaposition of the myths we see on posters and screens and the dramas of everyday life. It’s like looking at reality all at once. Among the works based on this concept, the one that struck me the most is ‘Boy & Girl Placenta Kiss’.
SARA S. — I’m quite sure it is also the only one who has got a real, concrete element in it. I mean, it’s not just paper but… flesh? It’s like you destroyed ideal, hedonistic romance in this one, by replacing it with the oppressive implications of the real world. Didn’t you? Anyway, how did you make it?
RYAN O. — All my work is pure collage. It is imperative that I facilitate a sense of realism anatomically and pay considerable attention to colour and contrast to insure the illusion of continuity between imagery. The fact that you, as the viewer, have misinterpreted part of the work as actual ‘flesh’ indicates a successful appropriation.
The original image was a voyeuristic fashion/beauty/youth/sex construct, with obligatory fashion credits scrolled up the far right hand side of the page (‘Will wears… Daisy wears’ etc.) This renders the page neither art nor erotica, but a seductive facade, coaxing the viewer to literally ‘buy into’ a factitious lifestyle fantasy by way of consumption. In ‘Boy & Girl Placenta kiss’ the ‘flesh’ element is, as the title would suggest, an image of a (twin) placenta. This visceral internal organ acts as blooded veil, masking the ‘skin show’ and its original ambition. Here, reality repudiates fantasy. The placenta, part of the very real, biological consequence of reproduction.
SARA S. — I also couldn’t help but look again and again at your Marc Jacobs posters rendition. What can you tell us about Joseph Lee Winters, Vivian Riley and Herman Schafer? What are those pictures related to and which setting is that?
RYAN O. — Joseph Lee Winters & friends were overcome by carbon monoxide gas during a party at his apartment (California). Vivian Riley was murdered by Vernon Spangler at his house (California). Herman Schafer committed suicide by gas in his kitchen, after pinning a suicide note to his best suit expressing his wishes to be buried in it, along with the shoes on the cooker (California). These images were run in an article from ‘Bizarre’ magazine called ‘Better off dead’ and were taken from ‘Death Scenes – A homicide detectives Scrapbook’ by Katherine Dunn.
I inserted the death scenes within the ‘window’ of the Marc Jacobs’ originals. Once more, the Marc Jacobs’ originals promised a factitious lifestyle fantasy for the consumer and again after my intervention, reality repudiates fantasy. I derive great satisfaction from abducting imagery aimed at the consumer and inverting the content to communicate divergent views.
SARA S. — Some other of your works question the ‘superficial objectification of the female form’. You do so in two different ways, I suppose. On one hand, you strip down the strongly allusive imagery used in commercials and magazines by associating its vague, catchy forms to their actual meaning: lust and sex. Thus exposing the mechanisms behind the objectification process itself. On the other – most significant – hand, you deconstruct, manipulate, deform, mix, and turn female beauty standards into something disgusting or disturbing. What’s the real meaning of that? Do you think that re-suggesting flaws and imperfections in this strong way could represent some kind of step towards the de-objectification of the female body? A way to, perhaps, strive towards the acceptance of more realistic, down-to-earth standards?
RYAN O. — My work addresses the fashion photography/advertising’s aesthetic representation of women. In part, my work facilitates dialogue between the innuendo-laden visual language of fashion imagery with pornography by exchanging the implicit for the explicit, drawing parallels where the female form is commodity. In other work, the beauty/perfection constant, is probed and scrutinised. Banal, objectification of the female form is cut from its origins and juxtaposed with strenuous misalliance to invalidate beauty’s all important symmetrical balance. Again, these are my observations and not protest.
SARA S. — Staying on this theme, have you ever thought about composing a ‘beautiful’ – well, at least graceful – body, using elements considered disgusting or inappropriate in everyday life. Would it have the same meaning? Would it work?
RYAN O. — No. You can deconstruct perfection but cannot construct perfection from lesser parts. I don’t think it would have the same meaning. I don’t think it would work.
SARA S. — How does the process of composing a patchwork work? You have a brilliant idea and start to look everywhere for what you need? Or you rather feed your stash of papers for weeks until you come up with a new project? I mean, how did it go in the instance of a ‘hyper-cool’ piece like this one?
SARA S. — And also, how much did it take to make it turn out like this? It looks like an infernal Sistine Chapel, but revisited by Picasso on acid.
RYAN O. — Any intricate collage requires an initial concept, that will be redefined incrementally, according to the source material. It requires a wealth of imagery with which to work and a resourcefulness to overcome these limitations. This work is the result of challenging those constraints and was completed over a six month period. The piece is an apocalyptical vision; female protagonists, freed from their consumerist ‘shackles’, lay vengeance on their male oppressors. A scene that owes more to Hieronymus Bosch and the Chapman brothers than Michelangelo or Picasso.
SARA S. — What are your next projects all about?
RYAN O. — I’m continuing my practice, exploring reoccurring themes.