In her mother’s arms
When she was a child Ser Serpas (born in 1995), daughter of a female police officer who raised her by herself in Los Angeles, created a cinematographic culture for herself, huddled in her mother’s arms. Life was hard, but life was also sweet during these immersions in fictional worlds. Today the American artist and citizen of the world has come a long way. She’s lived in Los Angeles, Geneva and Tbilisi, before returning now to New York.
Everything is autobiographical
For the opening of her exhibition at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris, her mother accompanied her as she often does, the artist’s guardian angel. Reading between the lines, everything is autobiographical in the work of Ser Serpas. On the one hand, therefore, she respects the tradition of filial respect, but on the other hand when it comes to artistic convention she throws everything up in the air. This is revealed in her Parisian exhibition, on show until 22 January.
The Others by Amenabar
Here she starts with the memory of one of her favourite films from her childhood, “The Others” by Alejandro Amenabar, a supernatural fiction from 2001 with Nicole Kidman in the leading role. The story of a single woman, looking after her two young children in wartime, whose vast house slumbers under white sheets apart from enigmatic presences, doors that open on their own and gusts of wind that give everyone chills.
James Leyland Kirby
This is also what takes place in “I fear”, the Ser Serpas exhibition that occupies a relatively unglamorous space at the Bourse de Commerce, since it has a low ceiling. Everything is bathed in the sound of old-fashioned music commissioned from Manchester composer James Leyland Kirby . “For me, there’s always a bit of, like, an internal war going on, you know,” reveals Ser. In this atmosphere that combines a voyage through time with an air of mystery, like discovering an attic full of secrets, on the one hand there are used objects, recovered from scrap and assembled together during a performance accompanied by techno music, before the exhibition.
They are all covered in white sheets, like the furniture in “The Others”. On the other hand, we can see what the artist herself considers to be a backdrop, a huge rail on which she has piled large painted canvases without a frame. Here we can see, flirting with abstraction, body parts that have been inspired by her own photos or others found online, “these photos that I’ve amassed over time that I’ve taken on my iPhone, that I’ve also sourced from websites of people wanting to get cosmetic surgery”.
Working at Gavin Brown
While she was a student at Columbia University in New York, Ser Serpas worked on reception at a gallery, Gavin Brown. She was the one who told me this in our previous interview during lockdown (See here the first report about Ser Serpas). That was where she saw the behavior of the buyers of contemporary art, whose choices were determined by what community the artist belonged to: “That made me aware that I wasn’t going to project the theme of my private life in my work. I didn’t want to be collected by people who wanted a specific background for their artists. That’s why my practice was almost entirely based on anonymity: calling authorship into question. In my paintings too, you can’t tell who’s who. In the same way when I work with poetry I don’t want to be too personal. Getting away from the personal is my reaction to having worked in a gallery.”
Horror is comforting
The music in “I fear” plays a major role. “Well, I mean, I used to use this music by The Caretaker to go to sleep in high school when thoughts of, you know, my future were worrying, what I was going to do… I was about to graduate and go out into the world. I knew that I wanted to move away from home. For me, music like this, which, again, it’s not from my time period, is purposely made to sound older than it is. It’s made to sound kind of, like, disintegrating and supposed to be these, like, haunted loops of music. And horror, more generally, were very comforting to me when things in my present real life seemed very difficult. And still to this day. So, you know, before I could have a glass of whiskey at night or, like, have a little weed or something, I used music by this artist to be able to sleep at night. You know, this haunted, scary music that would freak out people. But for me it was very comforting to be able to see that.”
Paradoxically, in her artistic practice Ser deconsecrates art. This is true of her sculptures made from objects found in the street that she returns to the street is they aren’t sold. The artist smiles: “I don’t know if they’ll let me do it this time”. This approach, “either I sell it / or I chuck it”, is a clear snub to the art market. It’s also a revisited reference, to the readymades of Marcel Duchamp and the “Combine” paintings of Robert Rauschenberg.
It’s also true of her paintings, which she mistreats: “I don’t like it when things look to precious. I like things that seem older than their actual age.” Like James Leyland Kirby’s music, which fills the contemporary attic at the Bourse de Commerce…
Now Ser is planning to work differently. Although she’ll continue to paint, she thinks this will be the last time she does an installation. The next step: a film about the adventures of university students. There will be more ghosts haunting her shots, that’s for sure. This capacity for the multidisciplinary, along with her constant questioning, is a breathtaking virtue for a young artist.
-In New York Maxwell Graham gallery is presenting Tool a solo exhibition by Ser Serpas until 9 December. https://maxwellgraham.biz/
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