Exclusive: Matt Starr and the Way of Babycore
Parents have a habit of being brutally honest, but few of us take their advice quite so literally as conceptual artist Matt Starr. His mother told him that to her, he seemed to be regressing back to his childhood, and therein lies the genesis of Babycore. Starr is an artist who doesn’t create individual art so much that he creates ‘experiences,’ which is the only way to describe the already expanding lifestyle that is Babycore. What may have begun as a project where Starr recreated stitch for stitch the clothing of his infantile past, it has now grown into something that combines photography, fashion, and now even food.
The beginnings of Babycore quickly gained traction thanks to it’s appearance in a certain issue of Paper Mag graced by a Mrs. Kardashian-West. Since it’s magazine coverage, Starr has blown up the Internet in his own way; we spoke to Matt Starr in the same week of a Today Show taping, cementing a successor to Normcore in the eyes of the American public. Starr spoke to us about what exactly Babycore is, the fine line between art and comedy in his work, and how wearing a diaper promotes self esteem.
I have to ask first and foremost, how did this all get started?
From the onset it was to challenge my mother and own what she said about me regressing back into a child. I guess she feels that way because I don’t like getting dressed up to go to outings and because sometimes I eat with my hands. Here I am 26 years old, and all the children of my mom’s friends are working exactly the job you’d expect: a doctor, a lawyer, that kind of stuff. Meanwhile, here I am half naked with my pubes popping out in a Louis Vuitton diaper on Instagram.
But nevertheless…it was a profound statement to hear someone calling me regressive. And I go home and she’s raiding our attic getting rid of all these clothes and there was something really sad about that. I never took the time to look at anything from my childhood, and looking at it now is strange, it’s like a reflection of me now. All these clothes and toys speak more to who I am now, as opposed to the things that I’m wearing now at this age. What spoke to me is that it had this carefree sense of style, which seems ironic because my parents chose these clothes, but there’s something about that says carefree nonetheless.
So how did that spur the decision for a clothing line?
The last project I did, Diet, had a ridiculous amount of tangible items. And so with Babycore I made it so I could wear it. I set out to make these unique pieces really because I wanted to wear these clothes. There’s a lot that goes into the psychology of the people who make actual baby clothes; they have to convince the parents to buy these for their child which I find fascinating. But that said, I want Babycore to be a lifestyle, I want it to be more than just the clothes.
What is the Babycore lifestyle? Who exemplifies that?
Simply put, it’s people embracing this childlessness and carefree sense of being. It’s about the outside just as much as it’s about the inside. I guess serendipitously I’ve moved in that direction, not just because of art. That’s not how I want to be or act, it wasn’t something I was conscious of. And there are so many people that embody the Babycore lifestyle, I think Ellen DeGeneres is Babycore, just everything about her; her mannerisims, the way she speaks. I would love to make her a custom Ellen diaper, or her childhood clothes, and not for my own sake but for pushing this attitude.
Is it comfortable wearing the diaper? Would you wear it willingly?
Maybe not as a fashion statement, but as a comic statement totally. It’s super soft and it feels amazing. I’m not normally naked, I don’t take my clothes off that often, so wearing the diaper in a weird way is kind of like owning my body.
So would you say you’re something of a comedian?
I see myself as a visual comedian. I think comedy and humor is very much at the core of it. The best artists, or ones that I’m drawn to, are comedians. Like Stephen Colbert, Louis CK. People can connect through humor, and I think without humor we’re all dead. Which is partially why Babycore, weird as it is, is resonating.
How did you get into art?
I had this existential crisis and I stopped caring about all the shit and I started thinking. I thought art was just for girls and for gays my entire life, but I was ignorant; nobody every introduced me to the awesomeness of what art can be. I got introduced to the downtown avant garde scene and Warhol and Basquiat and Karen Finley shoving chocolate in her ass and I thought how that’s all I want to do! I want to shove chocolate in my orifices! I’m into challenging people’s expectations, they don’t have to be overtly funny, just challenge expectations.
You’ve said you make things geared towards the Internet but that you’re not an Internet artist…where does that distinction lie?
Mostly in that I’m terrible at the Internet. I get people really well but, the Internet I’m just now getting. People have very much pigeonholed what Internet art is, and that’s just not the kind of art that I make. I started out making video art, but I very quickly realized I want to do things with my hands. I like that I can show you this diaper instead of just saying ‘oh that’s the image I made, here’s a link.’ Like, you can try this diaper on right now, which is way more interesting. The kind of stuff I want from galleries and museums are these fully immersive experiences.
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Photography by Bryn Taubensee and Gunnar Larson, homeslide by Jerm Cohen