Be prepared to be seduced by Genevieve Gaignard. The LA-based artist creates semi-fictional characters in her self-portraits as a means to explore gender politics and her biracial identity.
A Massachusetts native and Yale MFA graduate ('14), Gaignard works primarily in photography and installation (as well as collage and video), and builds upon these crafted personalities by staging rich, three-dimensional settings, offering a glimpse into their world.
The installations are meticulous and captivating, sourced from an abundant array of vintage props, bric-a-brac furniture, and kitschy ephemera. She's her own muse, her roles ranging from voluptuous vamp, to girl-next-door, to mousy librarian, to demure coquette. One can't help being charmed by these beguiling characters.
Drawing upon her mixed-race heritage and strong penchant for drag culture, Gaignard further investigates female identity through a myriad of interesting subcultures. Currently, she is fresh off a recent solo exhibit with LA gallery Shulamit Nazarian and last month participated in the alternative curator-led art fair Spring Break, where Gaignard's installation 'Apt #3104' was a heavily buzzed highlight.
I had a deeper conversation with Genevieve on the personal elements of her work, today's obsessive social media culture, and the feminine mystique of Beyoncé.
Konbini: Talk to me about your recent solo exhibit ‘Us Only’. It feels like autobiographical elements are woven into the fictional characters you’ve created.
Genevieve Gaignard: To answer your question simply, yes. These characters are absolutely autobiographical and possess a certain aesthetic that relates to my past.
I go through the world collecting objects and images to create this imagined world – they’re often fragments from my childhood in conversation with elements of popular culture.
These characters are exaggerated traits already within me and when the details of my masquerade are stripped away you’re left with the artist – me.
How does ‘selfie’ culture and the dominance of social media influence and inform your work?
Social media permeates everything and I actively engage with it when I’m producing new work. I use Instagram as a way to show my audience all of my guises. It is not a curated affair like it is with so many artists, it is more a look into my daily life.
On a normal day, I’m scrolling through IG and looking at imagery. I’m absorbing so much content and end up referencing it down the line, sometimes without even knowing it.
I think this is an unspoken quality in my art that is in cahoots with the Internet generation; they don’t even have to acknowledge anything verbally, they just get the reference from the jump.
The Beyoncé references are undeniable and appear in your collages and trophy sculptures. How does her position as a pop icon translate into your work?
I think that the Beyoncé we get to see is highly constructed. Her image is so calculated. Although I’m a fan, as an artist I have a certain criticality looking at her career. I can obsess over something she’s created, but I also want to deconstruct it and show how I relate.
I think she is fascinating and I like to use her as a vessel to reflect issues that her career showcases in conflicting ways—such as feminism, body image, and race. Celebrity excites me but I want to discuss it beyond base level worship. Understanding the nuance of a career like Beyoncé’s is important to me.
Your ’Shoe’ series resemble faux ad campaigns playing into young women, fashion obsession, and consumer culture. What led you to question these ideas?
I don’t fit the ideal so my own insecurities are at play here. Some of the faux ads I make are direct responses to ads I’ve seen. Using an ad that people recognize allows for a new conversation, especially when aligned with someone whose body and identity fits outside of the norm, such as myself.
The ads are an opportunity for me to further delve into cultural issues. It’s a double-edged sword, however, as these ads are often promoting things that I’m also obsessed with – makeup, clothes, hair products, etc.
Shoes became a perfect symbol to address my dissatisfaction, as they are the epitome of an item that I often lust after but can’t always afford. A lot of this earthed from the idea, “I want this thing that I can’t afford so I’ll make my own version.”
Transformation seems live at the center of your work: physical transformation, transforming settings and spaces that act as backdrops, etc.
I don’t use transformation to change, rather, I use it to exaggerate features that to me are already apparent in my identity and the landscape of my upbringing.
There is a lot of play and humor here, but the bottom line is that I use an absurdist language to highlight sometimes darker realities in culture. Further, there is a part of me that never grew up and character studies become a great way to indulge in that youthful impulse to transform.
Genevieve Gaignard lives and works in Los Angeles and is represented by Shulamit Nazarian.