Modern Art Oxford has just opened an exhibition entitled Upward Mobility by Mexico City based artist Debora Delmar who works under the corporate alter ego Debora Delmer Corp. Working with sculpture, video and installation Upward Mobility consists of immersive environments that reflect how commodity, lifestyle and branding reflect our visual surrounds and our concept of self.
ArtRabbit asked Debora Delmar for a Q&A to further explain the thematics in the show and the experience of exhibiting this show in Oxford.
Q: Upward Mobility is focusing on brands and lifestyle trends that evoke wealth or a certain type of lifestyle. Can you discuss some of the objects and images that trigger this in the exhibition and why you selected them?
The show is composed by many different levels of objects in terms of their materials, history and even their actual height in inside the Upper Gallery at MAO. These objects range from vinyl floor prints, hedges, custom made countertops, coffee tables with digitally printed images of animal fur rugs on carpet, which move the viewers eye on different levels. I always think of these different platforms inside the interior space and how they symbolize status i.e. a marble countertop. The interior space is also where luxury objects like art are displayed and I like the idea of playing with this blurred space between the two.
There are also other elements like appropriated images from different sources (a stock image used by a bank, the image that comes up when you search for orange juice on Wikipedia were the author is identified as the Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture and a paparazzi show of a celebrity holding green juice) printed on large-scale banners. I wanted to use different categories.
Both entrances are also two installations inside of the bigger installation composed of elements like large scale prints of my logo, lighting, smell (through powdered juice in different wine glasses, juice containers) and music (an instrumental version of Taylor Swift Blank Space the video itself is also very connected with the theme of the show taking place in a mansion with a garden full of hedges) and function as transitional mood setters for the exhibition that resemble high end luxury store display one of them literally making you walk up to the exhibition space.
All casted objects like Ugg boots and soap bars are paired with purchased/ collected ones and set in display with the countertops, hedges and banners in the space making it also more confusing to know what was bought and what was actually hand made with lots of planning and care. I like the relationship between those two hand made and mass produced how art should be hand made and precious yet artists most of the time have their work by others just like clothing and many other products are mass produced at sweat shops. Ugg boots also show a type of personality that shifts according to where you are, you can identify this type of person no matter where you are in the world almost, but can also be particular to a place. I am interested in the recontextualizing these mass produced objects like the Mexican brand boxes of matches and Tajín powder bottles becoming luxury objects by bringing them to a new setting where people are not familiar with them.
Q: You use the internet to market Debora Delmar Corp. and have a strong social media and online presence. Can you discuss how this came about and how you manage this aspect of your practice?
It started my last year at SVA when I decided to start using Debora Delmar Corp. and I made a website and a Facebook account. I liked the idea of keeping it separate from my personal Facebook page and I consciously decided to perform differently in both profiles. At first I used my personal Facebook profile as everyone else but then I realized it could be a good way to meet other artists and interesting people specially since I moved to Mexico City after SVA in 2011. My use of social media has changed a lot in the past few years it has shifted more into part of my studio practice but also a place to do research and obtain information besides staying in touch and meeting new people while being far away from more centralized places like Europe or the US where I currently find o have most of my peers.
I reached the Facebook 5000 friend limit a while ago but I mostly interact just with few people because of Facebook algorithms I think. A lot of these friends have also become IRL friends, which has been very nice. I get really excited when I meet good Facebook friends IRL it definitely changes to meet people in person. Debora Delmar Corp. stays more informative about my exhibitions and I usually act more “pro” under this name. It just makes more sense to act this way when I’m talking about my work.
Q: You play with ideas of high and low culture such as how Ugg boots, which were originally a sky resort article of clothing, became popularized and now have low cost copied versions. Do you find this a subversive gesture in that is inverts and exposes branding or do you see it as a perpetuation of the original brand?
I think it´s both. When you see a fake Ugg boot you still identify it, as an Ugg boot not just a boot. Brands like these have become part of our collective consciousness So it is a way to play with people’s associations. I’m very interested in semiotics and people’s subconscious perceptions of objects.
Q: Can you talk about class and lifestyle in branding in relationship to how it manifests in Mexico City and what similarities or differences you have seen during your time in the UK?
It appears to me that certain new types branding and lifestyle in Mexico are much more of a higher class that has a way to pick up on these trends from other places especially from the US. These are trends that are very recent like detox juices, kale, yoga, organic food, hipster beards, etc. Many of these trends are pretty much irrelevant in a lower class since it wouldn’t make sense for example to buy an overpriced juice when you can get freshly made juices in every market in the city for very cheap. For the wealthier seeming poorer has become the new look, DIY culture, riding bikes instead of cars, dressing with used clothes. Opposite from that people in a lower socio economical level aspire to the brands and objects of the “rich and famous” Ugg boots, Abercrombie & Fitch, Polo, diamonds, Chanel bags, I phones, etc etc etc. And they achieve to be closer to their role models by purchasing simulacra’s of these real luxury objects.
In terms of the UK there are many layers but I can see that people are very on trend everyone in London looks like they just bought the newest collections and people like to be fashion forward but there is also a tradition of royalty, class and wealth. “Hipsterism” here seems more normal and less of a pose like it does in Mexico. People talk about super foods as a normal thing. Also there is a faster access to new technologies like contactless card payment, which will probably never happen in Mexico or only the privileged class, will have access to at first just like it happened with things like the internet. Nevertheless celebrity culture is very powerful in every culture. I remember when Paris Hilton started wearing Juice Couture and then it became one of the most desirable brands for all high school girls. So through celebrities many of these trends in branding and lifestyle turn global. Paparazzi shots of celebrities doing normal things are really not just snap shots but also subliminal advertisements.
Q: How do you think being in Oxford has influenced your onsite production and what is in the exhibition?
When I stated working on the show I wasn’t really planning on anything really specific to Oxford as a place. I was more interested in Upward Mobility as a Lifestyle and then while being there I started finding all of these different signifiers of well-being and social intellectual climbing while being there. Hedges were one of the first things I though about but more from a middle class perspective as something I have seen around many neighborhoods in Mexico City populated by the upper and middle class but also as part of communal space décor. Then it clicked that it made total sense to use them for the show thinking of the royal gardens and hedges just as common element used to determine spaces and to decorate them all over the center of Oxford (even founds some vinyl stickers of hedges being used in some store displays) and also in Hotel entrances and as building site hoardings in London.
I also thought of education and the University of Oxford as a place where many people with power and influence have studied as well as finding out that the University owns most of the real estate in Oxford and parts of London. It was interesting to me to find tourists objects like baseball caps that were made specifically for outsiders to come to Oxford to purchase objects with the University logo that people there would never wear. But yeah Ivy League education is also the ultimate way to acquire Upward Mobility.
Besides that I found places like Itsu and The White Company London very interesting and disturbing. Itsu´s whole branding is clean and all about health but the presentation if the food is very clinical it feels very much like you are eating lab produced food. Everything has a purpose and is measured perfectly for an exact amount of consumption and is designed in a way to look happy, healthy, modern and sleek. It reminded me of Strawberry in NY.
The White Company London was the first place actually which I saw and I was like I need to go inside and see this place. Walking in I pretended to be a normal shopper while pretending not to be freaked out by how vanilla everything was. Then I decided to go back an purchase some objects from the store which are now included in the show.
Debora Delmar Corp. Upward Mobility is on view until 17th of May.
Image Credit: By Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.