"In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream"
Meet Carly Mark, the New York-based artist and writer who is known for creating works that relate to consumerism. We sat down to discuss her recent show, including demented characters and the creepy ShowBiz Pizza Palace animatronics that had everyone strangely mesmerized. As she elaborates on her recent exhibitions, videos, and collaborations, she divulges into a stranger than fiction story of aliens in the Midwest. The fearful, beware. Beware of the crazy beautiful.
VVG: We’re in your studio, but we’re not alone. There are about 7 other figures, characters, and sculptures surrounding us. who are they?
CM: I call them bad babies, because they are all pretty naughty. They are very scary to be in a room with even for me and I made them. I’m their mother and father. They are all based on people that I know and am inspired by. Those people are exaggerated greatly, but the process I go over in my own head is augment/dement: as I’m working on them, I augment their personalities and then dement them. I also refer to them as “socialselves” because I’m very inspired by social media and the way that people market themselves there. It’s this place where we can project ourselves to be anything we want the world to see, and therefore a lot of our inner desires are expressed. Or versions of ourselves we might be afraid to express in person. People’s insides are being put on the outside and that augmentation really excites me.
VVG: I see a lot of role-play in your work, extending yourself into characters and vice versa. Is this deliberate, like the formation of Gesamtkunstwerk?
CM: I’m interested in role-play, in fetish. I’m a sexual person but I’m also interested in the concept of LARP-ing (live action role playing). My characters are a combination of role-play and exaggerated selves because it is all part of the same category.
VVG: Looking at your work, it’s loaded with emotional expressions and iconographic references reminiscent of my childhood. How does your work relate to your childhood?
CM: A lot of trauma happens in people’s childhood. And we grow up thinking we’ve moved past it, but really it’s the foundation of our character. If anything, that trauma is augmented when we get older. I love being in Tokyo, I love anime, I love things that are really cute and those are the things I loved as a child as well. There is a darkness there. And that intersection point is what I find very powerful.
VVG: You grew up in the Midwest?
CM: I’m from the suburbs of Detroit and it’s very Midwestern, a completely different world from New York. My best friend referred to the place I grew up as something like the suburbs where Edward Scissorhands takes place, because there is this surface normalcy to it. But when you’re looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, it’s pretty twisted. I actually find a lot of darkness there in the Midwest — it’s where Trump got elected. Family members of mine voted for Donald Trump and that’s real. That’s not new, that’s the way that people have thought, and that’s not going anywhere. The Midwest is really a crazy place.
VVG: Your studio is a stage set and your sculptures are the actors, we visitors are just waiting for the script to happen. Have you ever considered moving your installations and sculptures to include performance and film?
CM: Yes. I have this fantasy of writing a musical with my characters, something terrifying but also hysterical. I just saw the Mark Ryden Ballet, and I got so excited. Because I am a storyteller and I do create these alternate universes. I’m very interested in architecture. Detroit is such a good reference point for architecture. I grew up in a Saarinen Building and when I went downtown everything was Mies van der Rohe. So I could create a complete universe in the form of a musical, play, movie, etc.
VVG: At your gallery show in Athens, your work engaged so strongly with visitors, it became a spatial experience I can only relate to as direct consumer culture, almost like being in a store. How did you design your recent show in Los Angeles?
CM: I was looking into Chuck E. Cheese, because I knew I wanted to create an immersive environment. I also love Edward Kienholz work. I can’t not take over a space— as if I’m living in it. I was doing research into Chuck E. Cheese and I found out the franchise was in direct competition with another pizza chain restaurant— Showbiz Pizza Palace. Showbiz was known for it’s distinct animatronic theatre. The main character that performed every night was this bear named Showbiz and he was really demented. I think this mirrors parts of early childhood, and it touches on what we talked about earlier: childhood is supposed to be this light, beautiful experience, but there is darkness there. Even aesthetically, that darkness was so apparent in this animatronic band. The way they chose to design the characters, they were twisted looking and I loved them. The Showbiz bear hit a nerve, so I used my gold bear character and placed him in a world with a stage setting. I got to LA, looked at the space— Architecturally it wasn’t my dream space, so I decided to fix it. I made these huge multi-paneled curtains that were all glitter-meshed-tulle. I arranged them into a rainbow. It mirrored the stage setting of Showbiz Pizza Palace. I took their simple use of tinsel further and used a lush fabric. I’m interested in taking low things and elevating them, and vice versa. Displacement, moving things and ideas around… I was very happy with the result, but let’s just say if it had been someone’s home, I don’t think they would be happy with how much I took over the space.
VVG: What are you currently obsessed with?
CM: Film, recently I started a movie log. I write down every film I see— the name, director, the year it was made. It’s obsessive though, since I bought the journal 4 or 5 days ago, I’ve been to 6 movies. I spent a Saturday alone and went from one movie to the next. Whenever you want to go to the movies, let me know.
VVG: I was talking to my dear friend and colleague Richard Flood about you, and having recently been to Mexico being obsessed with its multiplicity of religious beliefs, coming back I started rewatching the Matrix trilogy in a row. So, thinking of these alternative realities you create, the big question Richard and I came up with was: Have you ever seen an alien?
VVG: I knew you would say this.
CM: I’m obsessed with aliens. When I was young and still living in the house I first grew up in— I was playing in my bedroom with my sister one night. The lights were off. All of a sudden from the window there was this spotlight that came shining into my room. But it was brighter than any spotlight I had ever seen. And living in Detroit suburbs, it didn’t make sense. I looked up through the windows and I saw an aircraft, it wasn’t a helicopter or plane. It was flying low, it was right above the trees, there were multiple colors, and it was spinning… I remember this so vividly. I asked my sister a day later and she didn’t recall it happening. Maybe I’ve made the memory stronger because I’m so fascinated with the subject.
VVG: Your reality is your reality. In our previous conversations we spoke about patience, taking time, how do you see yourself growing in the next years?
CM: Slow. I’m a really big believer in the slow burn. I think taking your time is important, it’s a big deal. I feel no pressure to create at anyone else’s pace. In 5 years I’d like to have a New York gallery, but I won’t be nervous if it doesn’t happen before then. These days, people feel rushed to be at the top of their game before they are 30. I’m not there yet. I have a lot of room to breathe. The things I make aren’t for everyone. Not a lot of people want to live with these characters. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
VVG: You’re very fearless for some-one who uses fears iconography so much.
CM: I’m not afraid of fear. I’m a fighter, not a flighter. Hanging above my bed is an original Alien poster and it says, “in space no one can hear you scream.” And I sleep with that thing. If it were up to me, I’d sleep with the devil every night, and that’s not because I’m not afraid; it’s because I am afraid.