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Art

6.19.2017

The Kaplan Twins Talk "Sexploitation" With "Make Me Famous" [NSFW]

As far as the whole telepathic-twin-thing goes, the Kaplan sisters seem like they’ve got it figured out: identical from head to toe, the pair works together seamlessly, most recently laboring for their just-opened LA exhibition, “Make Me Famous” (on view until June 28 at De Re Gallery). And apart from being the artists behind the easels, Lexi and Allie are also often the subject, too; by painting themselves through their own lens, they’re able to empathize with exactly what it’s like to stand in the spotlight, sans coverage (literally, “Make Me Famous” is a study on naked selfies and the tendency we all have to obsess over celebrity culture and sometimes participate in self-induced exploitation for the sake of a viral snap).

In its most literal iteration, “Make Me Famous” turns these quick, casually-taken nude photos into beautiful works of art, each painted with generosity and discretion, but a deeper observation will lead you to join the Kaplan twins in their analysis of societal norms: simply, how can we, as women, reclaim what was stolen and make it into art? Step one: “Make Me Famous”.

 So are you guys just working like crazy trying to get everything organized before the show?

Yeah. Oh my God it’s been crazy—and we had another live painting event last night in Soho House which was really fun. We’ve never done anything like that before—live painting wise—so it’s a way of having people in our studio without being in our studio, with our disco music and just, fun times.

So fun. So for “Make Me Famous”—I know that you guys are exploring celebrity culture and the self-induced exploitation—but what pushed you to devote an entire exhibit to the subject? 

Well, I think it’s that pop culture and celebrities definitely influence our work and it’s just something that we’re always exposed to. So we are presenting it in this artistic context and changing the context. It is a lot about that exploitation, like what you were saying. It’s just always in your face, you’re always seeing it. When Andy Warhol did his soup cans and his Brillo boxes, I think that’s how we look at it—in this new social media wave.

So what do you guys feel like you’re bringing to the table or bringing to the conversation by making these gorgeous, huge paintings of pop culture and the stuff that’s happening on Instagram?

I feel like it’s also interesting because the paintings that we’re making based on these leaked nudes, they’re not even our own images—they’re from the internet. So yes, they’re out there, but we’re also in a way taking them. I think the whole goal with that is to change the context. For us, a lot of what we paint are things that are controversial, they generate conversations and we like to include ourselves into it, just so we can change the conversation and take a little bit more control of the narrative of what we’re painting. We’re including ourselves in the naked selfies—because how hypocritical would it be if we didn’t? We want to empower these leaked nudes in a way. Like, they’ve been stolen and I think that as a culture we’re all so obsessed with people’s private moments and private lives, but at the same time we’re always putting it out there. We always want to see what’s out there, so it’s really about changing the context and changing it from something that was scandalous to something that’s maybe—but it is still scandalous, we’re still taking these images.

Yeah, it definitely is. Did you guys come across anything that was surprising to you or unexpected, while you’re painting all of these and having your own thoughts about it?

Well, I think it would be really interesting to see how any of these celebrities react to it—if they would find it insulting or empowering. Our goal is definitely not to exploit anyone—we’re just trying to think about it from a different perspective, change the context. Like, how do you go from a sex tape to now turning it into an oil painting film still? But also I think by including ourselves in it, it might generate a different reaction also. I think we’re just curious to see how people are going to react, but that’s also the point of the work that we make is to generate some sort of reaction. Also, we become super aware of the narrative that we’re creating when we include ourselves in it. I honestly have never taken a naked selfie before, so I had to take one specifically for the project. She did! We were going through literally a hundred of them, and she was like, “What do you like more? I’ve never done this before,” and I’m like “Girl, I’ve done this before, I can help you.” And we were like, should we leak our own nudes before we paint them?

Yeah, you have to do the whole process!

Yeah, exactly. Full circle. It’s like, what if we leaked our own nudes online? That would totally change the conversation, or just add a new layer to it.

So, as far as the fact that is it an ongoing conversation, when you hear from people who are looking at your work and have reactions to it, does that ever affect your work or change how you think about it?

Yeah, definitely! It’s so interesting, like this girl from Stockholm University DM’ed us on Instagram and she was like “Hey, I’m an art student and I wrote a thesis paper on you guys”—

Wow!

Yeah, we were like, “Wow.” And we read and she was discussing a lot about things that definitely inform our work but that we were not super aware of, but maybe subconsciously doing this. It’s really interesting to read something from someone else’s perspective because we were like “Wow, that is so on point!” She probably even puts it better than we can. It’s always helpful especially if it gives you new insight.

Yeah, so one thing I noticed is that a lot of artwork of naked women is—or used to be—done by men, or from a man’s point of view, and this is obviously from y’all’s point of view. Do you guys ever think about that or what it means for this kind of work?

I think it’s empowering. I think it’s obviously different coming from us, like you think about Manet’s “Olympia,” where she’s lying on the couch with the black cat, and it was super scandalous and sexualized. I think for us, we are so aware that there is this simultaneous obsession and oppression with female sexuality. So for us, as women doing it, we are able to control it in a narrative that we want. It’s also interesting to thing about, “Who are these photos for?” Is it for yourself? Is it for men? Is it for the world? So it’s also an interesting take, or thought on it. I think that as women painting these images, it’s just important for us to include ourselves, because it’s empowering and we’re controlling how we want people to see our bodies. We are changing the way that these leaked selfies, that are scandalous and shameful, but now they’re more empowering. Well to us, but again, maybe not to the people who took them. Also, at the same time, we are still sexualizing it—they’re still sexual images and I don’t think that can be changed or taken away from them just because we’re women painting them.

Did you guys reach out to any of the people that took the selfies in the first place? 

Not personally. But we’re aware that maybe a couple of them have seen it. Suki [Waterhouse], I think, probably has seen it because she follows us on Instagram. She could probably be a fan.

That’s cool. I was just curious if any of them said anything to y’all about it, or what they thought.

Yeah, I mean we’d love to talk to some of the girls in the paintings. I would love to hear what they think and maybe explain like, “Oh, we’re not trying to—”and maybe see how they feel about these images, because obviously these were stolen, and weren’t intended to ever get out. And now they are out there and now we’re putting them out and blowing them up and making them last forever in an object form. 

Yeah. I think if I were one of those women, I would be like, “Cool, these women are there reclaiming my image that was stolen from me and remaking it in this beautiful way—”

Right. It’s like a modern day Renaissance painting. Like it was obviously so scandalous at the time and there was a big scandal surrounding it. Like you hear about it like, “Oh this person’s phone was hacked and all of these nudes came out,” so we’re just changing the context and putting it in an art setting. And we want to make them beautiful.

So, since you guys are identical twins, what is it like making art together? 

People are always like, “How do you paint together, how do you do this?” We’re pretty in sync, we see things the same way. We see colors differently, sometimes. It’s also fun; like when we’re in the studio and rather than being in your own mind sometimes, and you look at something and you’ll say, “Oh my gosh, does this look okay, do I have to redo this?” You get to speak out loud and it’s kind of like you’re talking to yourself but you’re not, you’re talking to another person which is great. Sometimes it gets really difficult too, like I’ll paint something and it’ll take me four hours, and then Allie will go over it because she doesn’t like the way it looks without communicating to each other. The first painting of the series we did was of Emily Ratajkowski and I spent maybe a day painting her face—this is Lexi—and Allie said she didn’t like the way it looks, and I’m like, “Allie, do not touch the face! It’s gorgeous, it looks like her, it’s a face, it’s beautiful” and I literally put my hands up on the canvas and I’m like, “Do not touch it.” I lost because she just wouldn’t shut up so I had to just give in and I’m like this is about the be the worst thing ever. [Allie] She hasn’t let this go, like she does not let it go. [Lexi] It took two weeks to redo it because we kept redoing it and it never looked the same, and it still doesn’t. Now we’re not gonna touch it. I don’t know, maybe. I might have to touch it again. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Nothing’s ever finished, right?

Nothing’s ever finished. One of our friends who’s an artist—this was actually really helpful, good advice—he was like “Your 80 percent is someone else’s 100 percent,” because to us nothing is ever finished because we want to perfect it and keep adding more, but do everyone else it’s like, “Wow, that’s amazing,” so then we’re just like, “It’s fine, okay, leave it.”

Yeah. Cool. I guess my last question is just, how are you guys feeling about the exhibit? Are you just stoked?

We’re excited! We go through different stages where one of us is so excited and the another one is like, “Oh my God, oh my God,” like freaking out. But that’s good because we balance each other out. So when one of us is in crisis, panic mode, the other one is like, “No, it’s all good!” So it’s perfect, it’s such a good balance. But we’re obviously very excited, I think it’ll be a really fun show, and yeah! I think it’ll be great.

Featured image courtesy of Rochelle Brodin; others via Lexi and Allie Kaplan

Stay tuned to Milk for more from selfie art. 

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