On April 8, 2013, Derek Frech and Alison Feldish launched Who Wore It Better. Since then, the site has been reblogged and written about tremendously. I video chatted with Derek and Alison on May 9, 2013 about their project. Below is a transcript of our conversation (edited for grammar and consistency). Disclaimer: Derek, Alison, and I are very close friends.
Read the full interview on the St. Claire.
Nicole Wilson: So, I left my questions at my apartment.
Alison Feldish: Yo.
Derek Frech: (Laughs) That’s a good start.
NW: Yeah, anyway. I think that I remember most of them. I wanted you guys to talk about—even though I know the answer, well, I pretty much know the answer to this—how you came up with the idea for Who Wore it Better. What the motivation was behind it?
AF and DF: (Hesitate)
AF: Should I start?
NW: One of you has to!
AF: Okay, well, originally, I would say the thing that we’re putting as the catalyst is the Oliver Laric video, Versions, which Derek screened at a show at Extra Extra, which I then wrote a review of for the Nicola [Midnight St. Claire]. And the video—
DF: Full disclosure.
AF: Full disclosure! I think Derek showed me the piece when we were first working together and when you’re watching it, you’re like, “Holy fuck.” You know? It’s just really powerful. And that video is about re-appropriation and he is basically making the argument that things that are copied are improved upon and are better than the original. So there’s that. And then, I think the actual idea for the blog with the title being this snarky, OH-FASHION-shit-going-on was a drunken joke in the living room one night while we were living together a year ago. But, I feel like the project has such a serious undertone for us because the topic is so prevalent now with the Internet and how we view art. You can see, you can pinpoint, and it’s interesting to fish them out and line them up side by side. And it was just a month ago that Derek was just like, “Can we please just do this already?”
AF: Carson did the web design and it just took off.
DF: She helped with the web design.
NW: Do you have anything to add to that, Derek?
DF: Nah, she got it. She hit it.
NW: So then can you talk about “this is how the Internet is now” or “this is how we view art on the Internet” a little bit more?
DF: I feel like a lot of that is in relationship to how Tumblr has moved how we view images, because within Tumblr it is celebrated to re-share images without context. And I feel like that platform has really changed the way that a lot of people view work.
AF: And share their work.
DF: Yeah, and display their work. And I think Alison said it in another interview that you sign up for that with that platform — that your work is going to be shared without context often times. I think that a lot of people who use the platform are fine with that fact.
AF: I feel like, as a side note, especially with net artists or new media artists that everyone, not everyone, but everyone will have a website on Cargo Collective, or just a regular website with a catalog of work. Yourname.com and there is all my shit. But then a lot of people also have a working Tumblr site where they are uploading stuff that they are working on, but maybe those same images from their regular site, and it is with the intention of like, you have all these followers, or a network of people, and they are going to see it and if they like it they are going to reblog it, and then more people see your work and it becomes a way of trolling your own art. But I think that if you have—and Corin and I were talking about this on the phone the other night—what’s the difference between a trope or a style or a genre when you have a group of people who are working in a similar way and a lot of their work has a lot of aesthetic similarities and they are all resharing other people’s work that is similar to their own. It becomes this amorphous blob of aesthetic material that shares so many things but it’s from so many people. Does that make sense?
NW: Totally! I want to go back to something that Derek was talking about because this goes back to one of my questions about the way in which you use the website. There is no context for the images. It’s just the image, the image, and then the titles and the artists. There’s—
DF: Right, no date, or—
NW: No date. Which I think is hysterical. I think it’s great and I think it’s using Tumblr in the way that you are describing, but could you talk about the decision to do that and how you think that it activates the website itself.
DF: The decision to use dates was certainly talked about and we thought about that quite a bit. In the end it became too much of a catty thing. If you are using dates people are actually going to be viewing this, like, “Oh, well, who did it first. And, this person is ripping this person off,” and we’re totally not concerned with that. We don’t care who did it first. The whole idea behind the blog being that we don’t really care what the original is; we just care that artists are working in dialogue. We just discussed this with Pietro Minto, that, just like in the tech industry, people take platforms and rebuild on them to make new technological leaps and it’s very effective for that industry. If art were to be viewed in that way, it would be much more effective at critiquing society, culture, whatever. As opposed to idealizing originality to the point where it stops ideas from being built in a productive way.
NW: Were you going to say something, Alison?
AF: Yeah, well, I was going to say that the dates thing is the biggest criticism that we got. And we actually get at least one email a day, if not multiple emails a day, that say, “This website is so great! Thank you for making it! I’ve been thinking about a thing like this for a long time! But I don’t understand why you don’t have dates!?”
DF: Yeah, we basically have a form email that we send out now.
AF: The stock answer is that, “It’s besides the point.” What we’re talking about is strictly visual material. It’s not actually a contest. It’s not actually who wore it better. And maybe that’s where the title fails in that it’s a funny one-liner, but that’s not the point at all.
DF: Right, I mean, the title totally fails in that way because I feel like a lot of people are taking it at face value initially. And that’s why it’s been really good to do all of these interviews to fight that and to put our views out on the site because it’s not at all about that. We’ll get some emails that are like, “Oh, you know, I love this. This is like a total”—I think there’s this quote from one Italian group, who I think that I just posted, but they were like, “I love the website. It’s a total bitchfight.” And it’s just like well—
NW: No, I don’t really think so.
DF: That’s not really the point. And then they didn’t want me to post the work without the dates. They sent me one of their works and one of Dis Magazine’s works and they didn’t want us to post it without the dates. And they were like, “Could you post this with dates?” And I was like, “No, I’m not going to post this with dates.” And then they said, “Can you not post it?” So then I just waited a month and then I posted it two days ago.
NW: So, there is this anthropologist who is writing a book about what art school is and how it functions. He’s been sitting in on all of our critiques and visiting all of these other schools in Chicago too to pretty much be a fly on the wall. I’m only bringing it up because when he started the work, he was coming into critiques and asking questions like, “Why aren’t you guys directly dealing with the visual?” “You elide any sort of visual language at all.” No one is talking about what they are seeing. And it became this point of contention for about a month and now I think he sort of caught on to the fact that you don’t actually talk about the way that things look in a grad program. I bring him up because your website is directly asking us to deal with visual material at face value. Still, I think that there are a lot of things that settle underneath all of that. I also think that there is a raising or a leveling of what settles underneath the visual material when we look at things at face value. I’m not so sure that I have a question at the end of all of that, but maybe we can talk about that.
AF: The leveling of what? What was the last thing that you said?
NW: Visual culture. You know, all you do is talk about ideas and what’s behind everything.
AF: Right, right.
NW: And you don’t actually talk about, I mean, maybe painting programs are different, but the way that blue sits on a picture plane. And you are essentially stripping away all of the materials that would make the image. You could guess, this is made out of a two-by-four, da, da, da, da, da…But, you’re putting two images next to one another and saying that these look alike, these are similar. Visually, these two things are weighed together and I think that challenges the way that we view art. But, maybe, as I’m saying this I’m realizing that Tumblr is already doing this and that you guys are grabbing this and running with it.
AF: Do you have anything, Derek?
DF: Let me think about it for a second.
AF: Well, I have a thing.
AF: I feel like I can talk all day. I think that there are two major motivating factors for us in running this site. The one, is a thing that I am particularly interested in, I mean, we both are, but we are both interested in the way that certain aesthetic choices move. And I guess I was just talking about that a little earlier. And I think that these choices and the way of making images and even a use of a color palette or, like, use of line is really relative to a time and a place and it’s definitely—I don’t want to use the word “trend.” But, I think that certain ways of contemporary art making go in trends and waves. And what’s interesting aside from that is that a lot of these works would not make sense or would not even look similar at all if it weren’t for the way that they are photographed, because a lot of them are sculptures. It’s so important that when you think about your art and you think about, like, a three-dimensional thing, even if it is just a photograph on the wall, that to have to catalog it and display it online, it has to be flattened. And there’s a certain money shot that everyone goes to especially if they’re making a three-dimensional object. There’s a way to photograph a thing to make it look the best way: a certain type of lighting, a certain type of space behind it, and blah, blah, blah. And even that way of flattening things moves in trends. And so some of these things both look alike and then are even photographed in the same way and I think that’s fascinating too.
DF: Right, and I do like that about the blog. It neutralizes scale, or anything—scale being something that is often referenced as an ego-driven thing. You have the Gerhard Richter paintings that we posted, which are fucking huge paintings, like big ego paintings. And then you have Tauba Auerbach paintings which are much smaller paintings. But side by side they look exactly the same. That’s another criticism that we’ve been dealt by some people. Most people do view work online so it’s kind of a moot point. If every one’s going to just be seeing it online, you should be thinking about that as much as you are about making the work. Does that answer your question?
Read the full interview on the St. Claire.
The St. Claire is a project-based arts organization and online journal stationed in Philadelphia. The St.Claire’s core members are artists committed to examining and engaging their immediate art communities.
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