Thought Catalog: When did you start making gifs featuring selfies and other contemporary digital images and are you consciously making a series?
Blaise Larmee: Started making gifs a month ago.
The 2001 gifs are a series.
The selfies seem contemporary because they’re made by young people for their immediate peers.
They seem unaware.
Like they’re in front of a mirror.
Most people on the internet are super not-fun because they act like they’re under surveillance.
But for every fun selfie there’s a hundred that are trying to be fun and it’s kind of this uncanny valley.
Trying to act like a child but not pulling it off.
I can depict this sort of performance reasonably well.
90% of the power my images hold over most people is derived from this ability, I think.
Most people I know like to see their perfect self in the mirror.
They locate their potential for perfection in whatever part of them has survived unchanged since childhood.
So even the didactic aspect of my output has a childlike quality because it’s the feeling that you’re still in school.
TC: I take these gifs as not being primarily satirical in nature. This seems striking given the prevalence of condescension toward young people, especially contemporary young people whose social media habits, selfies, etc., are interpreted as evidence of narcissism. Do you agree with my reading of the gifs? Are you in some way interested in these young people or the quality or depiction of youthfulness?
BL: Tweens exist in this uncanny valley that’s really scary for a lot of people.
It triggers a sort of madonna/whore reaction.
Poking this area requires some distance, some cynicism, maybe some academic language for extra protection.
Satire is built-in to any sort of discussion about tweens.
TC: Your most recent gif, a 4-panel gif, includes optimistic-sounding text and, in the last panel, simply the word “immanence.” Do you identify in some way with the young girls in these gifs?
BL: These selfies depict people who no longer have the stable identity of childhood but are nevertheless walking the thin tightrope over adulthood.
This is a walk most of us take.
TC: Do you care about being perceived as or regarding yourself as an adult? Do you value maturity? Do you buy the notion of growing up and that people have to do it, sooner or later, or else suffer consequences?
BL: Like most people, I’m entirely under the sway of sociology.
I see children as pre-adults.
They are interesting to read, a barometer for the future of society, but they aren’t able to write yet, they don’t have a voice to contribute.
I think it is important to be able to change society, to have agency, and this is something that requires being an adult.
The freedom that children experience comes at a cost.
TC: Do you have ambitions of in some way changing society with your work? Or is it primarily an aesthetic achievement or personal, emotional expression? Or is it theoretical or intellectual work?
BL: The idea of an individual changing society is so abstract and mythological it borders on the imaginary, and I work closer to the imaginary than you’re supposed to, I think, as an artist, and it’s really almost a childlike idea to think you have agency, and it’s embarrassing to express that notion of agency, but I feel like I am this illustration of a person who has no role in society, who was trained to be a manager of managers but has no prospects aside from a vaguely defined massive social arena, where I’m occupied but not employed, and I’m concerned with meta structures but I can’t understand the most basic societal structures (employment again), where I emerge from a lifetime of school and, not knowing what to do, continue to behave as if I’m in school.
I think interest in tween culture can in part be attributed to anxiety over falling behind, losing your cultural relevance as things change, missing any opportunities that might occur, gaps that might open.
The girls in the selfies seem confidently and intuitively in the present, whereas I feel like I am struggling to keep up with the past ten, twenty years.
TC: How did you find these photos of girls?