Interview With Imp Kerr of The New Inquiry And The New Shelton Wet/Dry
Imp Kerr is an enigmatic artist and graphic designer based in New York. HuffPost Arts first heard about her in 2007, when a series of racy faux-American Apparel images went viral. Now Ms. Kerr is employed by The New Inquiry, and regularly blogs for the online magazine in the column, "Shines Like Gold."
Since Imp Kerr's identity remains something of a mystery, we were only allowed to interview her via e-mail, so we're assuming she's an 87-year-old man, even though she claims she was born in a place called "Sweden." Her answers to our questions are below.
HuffPost Arts: When you began your ad spoof series, why did you single out American Apparel in particular?
IK: I guess it was more stimulating (and easier) to pick up a company with a subversive and raunchy touch, than say Abercrombie & Fitch and its glabrous fops, or Gap. I also deliberately profited from the fact that AA was all over the place, in the news and in the streets, all the wows and the eews, and I basically surfed on that ambivalent popularity, putting AA logo on my design and using it to call attention.
It looked like a game between AA and me (What could I do with this brand? How can I vampirize their topicality?), but my series was not really about AA, and contrary to what some people thought, it was not to denounce AA. I am not a feminist, I am not militant... I just like to create scenes and fictions, small worlds, situations that don't exist. And if possible, I make these situations complex, like if you look into them you should find more than you expect, but at the same time I care about making them minimal and appealing in appearance.
There're several ways to look at the AA series. One is that I simply drew an interlacement of red lines on a white background, which was just lines if you zoomed in, and I was adding the AA logo and a slogan, and I was Photoshopping that design into a street scene. I made about 20 images like that, and posted them along one year. It's a truism but twenty similar images have a stronger effect than one image. So at the end it was a campaign, a story, a small world, subtle enough to confuse and raise questions. From a nude, one spoof ad, it became a hoax and a plural commentary on nudity, advertising, street art, Internet credulity, limits (in representation, judgment, etc), truth and fiction. I was impressed when Hamilton Nolan from Gawker, who I never met before, wrote that the ads were shouting "What is art? What is porn? What is advertising?" These red lines were about nudity (like in "nude is a classical theme in Art History") and about advertising ripping off art like art ripped off advertising (zzzzz), but above all, they were an aperture to many questions, first because there were twenty of them.
HuffPost Arts: When American Apparel used your mock ads in one of their real ads, what was your initial reaction?
IK:The copy of the VICE AA ad suggests they rolled it without my knowledge or consent, but in actuality they first emailed me, we met, and then they published the ad. When they asked me if I were OK, my reaction was, 'Yes, sure.' They composed and wrote the ad. They paid me to use my images. They were very nice. And the ad benefited my project by giving it a perfect meta-twist.
HuffPost Arts: Will advertising always be able to absorb any movement, protest or desire and convert it into sales?
IK: Advertising is a giant swallow of everything, and it's always late, months or years behind everything, with plenty of money, shouting louder than everyone, almost louder than the world, "Hey look, we made something new and it's creative" And they shout that repeatedly. It's very rarely creative, sensu stricto. And when it is it doesn't strike me as more creative than the Damien Hirst's spot paintings. It's a bit like if you were in the movie industry and if you couldn't do original stories, but only adaptations or sequels. And really dumb sequels at that. We're clearly dealing with people who are not in the business of creativity, but here to sell tactics of communication to dumb clients, and make them believe they're buying "something new and different," using a weird technical jargon. That's the only explanation I can find when I look at how Arnell sold a new logo to Pepsi (which is an extreme case scenario, I concede).
The way I present things could let people think every ad people is a clown, which is a generalization, and generalizations are always bad. Of course there are very creative ad people (I even know some). And they sometimes have extraordinary ideas, much more creative than Damien Hirst's spot paintings. For example, the viral campaign for the movie "The Dark Knight" made by 42 Entertainment.
HuffPost Arts: Why do you think the two-color or single color technique is so effective in graphic design and advertising?
IK: Usually, when there's a lot of colors, or a lot of fonts, or a lot of anything, it's like when there's a lot of people in a small room.
HuffPost Arts: Why is your identity hidden? Is this for your safety or is there another reason behind this secretiveness? Is your real name Laura Albert?
IK: Ha! I like Laura Albert's stunt. I love hoaxes. It's like plays within a plays.
"Hiding" is not always something negative. Sometimes it's just a playful thing, or because you're reserved or shy.
I am not a secretive person in life, many of my friends know a lot about me, but I don't feel the need to act the same way "out there," and talk about my life and try to publicize my "image," and add narcissism to an already narcissistic world. I have a problem with the "I broadcast my life" attitude. Exposure is gross. Who's going to teach that to the new generations? It's not decent to talk about one's life unless your life is really interesting. And even then, even if you're John Maynard Keynes, or Tina Modotti, or Arthur Rimbaud, do you really need to broadcast your every day life?
So that's one reason. I am not narcissistic that way. Quite the contrary.
Another reason is that I like to watch a movie I know nothing about (no movie trailer to ruin my surprise). I also like when a work is separated from its author, and when I know zero about the author. The less the author talks, or the artist, or the actors the better. When Jeff Koons tries to explain his art (so the vacuum is a penis), his explanation ruins the eventual grace of his artwork. We should be able to appreciate art or ideas without having to know about the artist/author, without having someone else telling you what's what.
So I believe my secrecy is more about not parasiting what I do.
HuffPost Arts: What is your involvement with The New Inquiry?
IK: I met Rachel Rosenfelt, the founder/editor of The New Inquiry, sometime last year and we connected immediately. Then I met the team at their weekly salon and said yes when Rachel asked if I'd join up as their creative director. I've never taken on anything that intellectual before, so it was an exciting challenge. I redesigned the website first, it went live earlier this month. One great feature is the wide white margins on each side of the text, where authors and editors can place notes, images, diagrams. It's inspired by "Finnegans Wake" and the chapter where the two brothers walk on each side of the river, and Joyce puts notes and a few pictograms on each side of the main text.
I also design and illustrate TNI magazine, which is a monthly e-magazine of 100+ pages compiling TNI's best essays. Finally, I write a blog featured in the TNI roster, along with five other blogs. Mine is called "Shines Like Gold." It's a new project, a sort of autistic project, where I am reworking (mutating) my old blog stereohell (which content was partially removed in 2009) and other random texts.
HuffPost Arts: On the new shelton wet/dry, you link to the article: "Creative individuals are more likely to be arrogant, good liars, distrustful, dishonest and maybe just a little crazy." Do you think this is true?
IK: I don't agree very much with the conclusions of this article. Also, the phrasing is very vague. For instance, what is a "good lie"? Is it a sophisticated lie? or an effective lie? If efficiency is the goal, I don't think imagination is the most important requirement. I think cold-bloodedness matters much more. I know someone whose creative abilities are low, but who is a fantastic liar just because she doesn't sweat when she tells bullshit to her husband.
Before answering the question we should precise what is a "creative individual." There's a difference between Van Gogh and an art director working in advertising, or between Emmanuel Kant and Damien Hirst. They all created things (paintings, ads, concepts, crap) but I wouldn't put them in the same family.
I linked to this article just because it was fun to have the title in the link roundup.
You frequently link to scientific or psychological studies about human behavior on your site -- how much is this tongue-in-cheek and how much is a belief in incontrovertible sociological facts?
IK: Usually I post scientific things that I find thought-provoking, seminal, or just entertaining. I like neuroscience because it's radically materialist. I like psychology, too, but it's more open to discussion and critique (because of the small sample of some studies, or the generalizations made by some researchers). In many ways, neuroscientists do the work of the philosophers. They answer questions about thought, memory, emotions, gender, exactly the kind of thing you find in Spinoza and Nietzsche.
Science doesn't always have to be materialist though, or proven. I don't always have to agree with someone to enjoy reading his book or article, someone you don't agree with can still inspire you. For example, I loved Freud's Schreber Case, not because it's "science," but because it reads like an Agatha Christie. I liked reading Hegel, too, and enjoyed what I was able to understand of his concepts and systems (not much), but I don't think History unfolds like he says. Psychoanalysts and Hegel are like Impressionists, sometimes [when] they say the sky is green, it's wrong but it's refreshing to hear. If you think about it, in certain conditions, truth is not what matters.
HuffPost Arts: How much can we actually understand about ourselves?
IK: I think it's defined by our own limits, and it's good to know our limits, and I suppose limits are different for everyone (all these things the brain and body do that we don't decide, the subconscious automatisms, the mechanisms of our memory, the mood swings, our hormones, our neuroses). It seems that the best we can do is to be very honest with ourselves when we try to understand ourselves. And strong. Many people lie to themselves, me included. Sometimes because you just can't deal with reality, because reality is often atrocious. You deny, you distract yourself, you look away, you decide to forget. I believe we don't fully buy our own lies, but for a while, it helps. And in these moments, you don't really try to understand yourself.
IK: I love the early Koons but his recent art is really bad. It's almost not art. Maybe he's trying to emulate Murakami. It's banal to say, but art became a commodity, and artists behave like brands. And naturally you see a lot of crap in museums and galleries, which is normal because it's not art anymore.
I have a favorite Koons, too.
HuffPost Arts: Do you view yourself as an educator? If so, do you view this as a responsibility or a burden?
IK: Oh no, I'm not an educator. Although I'd love to teach kids about the randomness of the creative process, taste...
HuffPost Arts: Who has educated you?
IK: People I love or loved, smart friends, and a few authors.