I Exist On the Internet
Through the construction of her digital alter ego, Ambie Drew – a product of amplified, kitsch and stereotypical femininity, encountered through an objectifying female gaze. In this new single-channel video work commissioned by Vivid Projects, she utilises her internet conceived alter ego to examine a fragmented existence in a synthetic digital realm.
My practice explores fabricated femininity, gender and identity in the digital age. How do we exist through our ‘digital selves’ and lead secondary lives online? We exist in a human body, but what would it mean to live through an artificial, digital body? Or to fabricate our online personas in reality? I examine this through the construction of my alter ego, Ambie Drew, whose sole existence is to achieve a synthetic perfection. My work takes form as a series of short, looping, experimental films that are presented as large, multi-screen installations. Exploring ideas around artificial intelligence and digital enhancements in an online environment to create a fluid overlap between fantasy and reality. I manipulate myself through the use of beauty tools and products to play on an amplified, kitsch and stereotypical femininity. Analysing the consumption of beauty through an objectifying gaze to capture the visceral and grotesque nature of feminine rituals.
Interview questions by Kate Fitzpatrick
1. Much of your work examines the construction of the alter-ego Ambie Drew through objects and space. What was your initial inspiration for the digital alter ego?
Ambie Drew was the username I used online for sites like MySpace, Bebo and MSN when I was a teenager over 10 years ago. It became the name that was only ever attached to my online presence. As a teen I spent a lot of time in my bedroom experimenting with makeup and costume to alter my appearance for fun, taking selfies on my webcam that I would manipulate in photoshop and post online.
When I started studying Fine Art at university, I began to explore Ambie Drew’s existence and performance online. Why was I so compelled to take images of myself becoming different people? Eventually I became interested in research concerning gender roles, identity and online environments and realities. I play with the idea of multiple selves and the slippage between in reality and online using Ambie Drew not only as a material/object but also a vessel to create my work – she is a chimera of sorts that my making centers around.
2. The use of color and texture are vivid and captivating throughout the piece. What was your process behind constructing the look of the film?
Colour and texture are key components of my work, more so than the storyline in a sense. Which has come from developing my practice from a Fine Art educational context rather than traditional filmmaking. Colours, textures, objects and materials are the things that I pull together at the very beginning of conceiving the work rather than scripting or storyboarding. I’m interested in communicating a narrative via these materials and objects over forming a cohesive storyline since my film work always tends to follow an experimental, abstract narrative.
Anything that sells the future is always bright, clean and optimistic. The aim for ‘I Exist on the Internet’ was to have that look but with a sense of dystopia bubbling beneath this poppy pink aesthetic. The internet is a vast environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid rate, so I wanted to visualise the back and forth between our consumption of data and how it translates back into reality and the ‘third space’ in between.
At the time I was watching a lot of anime; films like Akira, Perfect blue and the animated series of Aeon Flux which subconsciously fed in to the work. I had also read ‘The Internet Does Not Exist’, by Julieta Aranda which heavily influenced the text that accompanies the film. There were scenes that were built up from the text which was something I hadn’t done before. Aranda wrote “We thought there were windows but actually it’s made of mirrors.” I knew from the very beginning I wanted to incorporate filming through/with mirrors in ‘I Exist’ which achieves this almost multi-dimensional effect. It was also my first time using green screen which meant I could layer objects and materials in a really exciting way.
3. What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
It’s cliché to say but I enjoy the entire process it’s hard to choose a favourite. I think the moment where it all starts to come together in post-production can be the most rewarding/daunting part of it. I’m not only behind the camera, but I’m also in front of it; so since no one else is involved in the process it can feel like I’m in an echo chamber so I definitely have moments of doubt! For this film in particular, I only had roughly a month to create it so it was super rewarding when I sent it off to Vivid Projects before the opening night of the show. It’s the first film I was commissioned to create so I was very nervous but it got a really great reception. So, there’s that sense of relief but also being able to step back from it and enjoy it as a finished piece is such a good feeling.
4. I Exist on the Internet was commissioned as part of an exhibit on the World Wide Web, which has changed dramatically since its original conception. What do you find the most disconcerting about our current digital era? Or the most inspiring?
Like anything, it has its pros and cons. The internet is now embedded in our daily lives whether we like it or not, it is everywhere, all around us, at any given moment. I find I’m either hyper aware of that or I’m totally consumed and can spend hours scrolling through social media. We are consuming information at a rapid rate and stuck in a never-ending loop and drip fed subliminal images and ideas which is definitely disconcerting. One of the more problematic issues is how untamed the internet can be, for better or for worse. The algorithm is deeply flawed with prejudice, reflecting the society that produces it. Whilst we are the people fighting against it, the ones at the top are the people with the power and control over the algorithm. We find ourselves once again trying to defeat a binary system.
5. What are you working on next? Will it be in a similar theme?
Yes, I’m currently making work at the moment that I have been developing over the past year. Mainly ideas that were postponed due to Covid. It will draw from ‘I Exist on the Internet’ and whilst it isn’t a continuation you will definitely see the dots that can be connected between the two.
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