Interview with Lais Pontes
How did you start your career? And how did you start your first project?
I had been doing business for 10 years before I decided to pursue my career as an artist. I went to New York in 2011, I spent two years there, and it was during that time period, I started my project bornnowhere. (https://www.facebook.com/Project.Born.Nowhere) And then I started to have exhibitions; I traveled a lot, mainly around Europe, for both creating the project and having these works exhibits. I have exhibitions in Venice, Chicago, Brazil, Portugal and so on. And I met Barbara DeGeneieve in New York, she recommended me to be part of the program here, so I got here.
How does Chicago influence you as an artist so far?
Mainly through school. I am not that much engaged with the Chicago scene here, and my project is more focus on the outside, and in the virtual world. Many people think that my project is very international. Also, I have plan to move to Europe so I will have to keep this idea in mind and to build a career outside of the city as well.
In this particular project (born nowhere), does the idea of constructing identity come first, or the idea of using social media as a platform for the project come first?
Social media was a consequence. My original idea was generated basically from my personal experience based on my career shift. At the point when I started my career as an artist, I don’t think and other people also don’t think, that I am cool enough to be an artist. I don’t have blue hair, I don’t have tattoo, I don’t have interesting background I was just a normal businesswomen before.
Well, I think those are just the surface of being an artist, not really necessary.
But I think it is making a difference in the way how people see you. Because I don’t look like an artist so I was boring to many people, especially to my artist friends. But among my business friends, they think I am cool because I am an artist. I started to pay attention to how people see each other, and how it is influencing our lives.
It is interesting to have different social circles and to experience how your role shifts among these circles.
Right, I have been thinking about how social environment influence our lives. The way people surround you think about you could really change your personality. So I decided to create characters, and change their personality according to how people see and judge them.
At first, I did it through performance. I started to wear blue wig and went to school. I observed people’s reaction towards my changes. The first character I presented in class was her, Julia. And people’s reaction towards Julia was like, “oh, she is a lesbian, she is so cosmopolitan” and she was the one who looks like me the most, among all the characters that I have created by far.
I decided to put her photo on my facebook’s profile and see what everyone’s comments look like. I thought, as a way to get the feedbacks this is easier. Along with posting the profile picture, I also post questions like: what’s her age? What’s her job? What’s her nationality? What does she like to do? Etc. People left all kinds of comments and most of them were very dramatic, from she is depressed, she just broke up with her boy friend to she likes to wear purple Victoria secret bra.
Is there any interesting responds towards the characters’ nationality or their cultural background?
It is interesting when you compare the nationality of those people who left their comments and what they said in their comments. For example, the same character, an American user saw her as a jazz singer, a Brazilian users saw her as a Samba dancer.
I have three hundred friends on facebook when I first started this project through my own account. And when I got more than 1000 friends. I decided to create a fan page. And now I got 16,000 followers on this fan pag. I get to see the data and statics of the information of all these users, including their nationalities. For example, most of the followers are from India, there are 2800; next is Brazil…
What do you think is the main power of social media, particular in this project? Do you against the way social media defines or generates identity?
I thought it was very natural for me to use facebook, as a convenient tool to convey my ideas and gather feedbacks from different people, including people I don’t know in my real life. But later on, it just blew my mind in the way that it brought all these new possibilities and tons of information that I didn’t expect. So I started to think this could become a much bigger project.
I created 25 characters and posted their photos on facebook. I asked everyone to “give” them identity by answering those questions I mentioned earlier. One thing that really strikes me through this process was, one Argentina artist who creates this app to “deactivate” other people’s facebook accounts. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Will-Miss-You/313937475385504) Through this way, he “killed” my 25 characters. At first I was really shocked, I thought I lost them and I felt like I was losing part of my real life.
And that’s connected with how I always concern about–this social media fantasy phenomenon. Many people create their own characters (fantasy) on facebook, they are all rich, beautiful, and happy. But at the same time they are creating this life that they can’t afford because of the high maintainness of this social image they are pursuing. One friend of mine, she is suffering a lot in her real life, but what she has posted on facebook is all about how happy she is, and how perfect her life is but that’s totally just her fantasy. You never see bad or sad news on facebook.
I wonder are you holding a positive or negative stance on the idea of such social-media construction of identity? To me, I think how you have framed/narrated your work, I read it more as a critical endeavor towards the idea of identity construction. You are actually “deconstructing” the idea of identity through this project
I don’t think I am critiquing or against the idea of identity construction or social media. I think it is interesting to analysis the influence of others in my or your life through this way. And it is interesting to see how far fantasy could actually affect real life, in this context.
Social media was not the subject of this project, mainly the mean I use. But from time to time, I started to rethink about its power. Now I see it as an extension of our body. We actually think through social media. What I see on facebook, change the way I see/think about the same subject that I actually encounter with in real life.
And also the idea of adaptation. At some points, you will have to adapt so many things that your intention is only to catch up with it. I have been reading this book called Liquid times, living in the age of uncertainty. The author Zygmunt Bauman developed a theory on the relationship between the structure of society and the inner changes of human psychology. This idea of modernity shifts from “solid” and safe to “liquid” and uncertain.
This reminds me of a very interesting Bruce Lee Quote: “Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
But I don’t think people always remain water when they were adapting to different forms. I think they changed within the process of adaptation.
How do you think of representation? How that affects constructing identity in this project? And how does photography as a medium for you to create meanings in terms of representation?
I think in terms of media, photography is not enough to convey my whole idea. Because this project contains too many information and background knowledge, photo is just the beginning, the first stage to access to the larger version of this project.
About representing and creating meanings, I think I’m no longer doing that. After I opened facebook accounts for each characters I created, I gave them to different friends and have them running their pages and playing the characters. At that point, I am no longer creating anything; my role in this project became an observer, manager or researcher.
What research do you do for your work?
Mainly Psychology and sociology. I am experimenting on the idea that how far could fantasy go in one’s real life? In this case, maybe with the help of social media.
You talked a lot about how to see one and how to see self as other. Do you compare this process with therapy in a certain way?
I do. Not only me, people who help me playing the characters were being force to think of these questions all the time. Some of them rejected to think about themselves, so they stopped doing that and give me back the character. Some are having so much fun and making very interesting interactions between their real identities and the character they are playing.
As you said, the project is still developing and expanding, even though it has been going on for almost two years. But at some point, you will have to generate a conclusion and make a concrete point out of it, in order to explain and to show to people, how do you manage that?
My original question and the point I was trying to make was how far could fantasy go from reality? But I think it developed way beyond that, now it is still too soon to make a conclusion of it. I am still doing my research, I think probably two more years later I will have a better result that I am looking for.