I’ve never met the visual artist Ilja Karilampi in real life. Yet in the past weeks he has sent me random voice recordings of approaching and departing subway trains from across European terrain; iMessages which eventually tend to fade out with some abbreviated early 2000s ghetto slang, channeling some kind of algorithmic language that even he might not fully understand.
More often than not Karilampi’s behavior genuinely seems to diverge from the day-to-day normative human encounter, predominantly setting itself apart by continuously manifesting—at least allegorically—an unspoiled nature of impulse. The initial frustration of witnessing first hand the artist’s acutely non-gentrified way of interaction exits as rapidly as it enters. Somehow it’s immediately apparent that, if anything, his chaotic posture contributes and parallels only further to the intentionality behind his art practice: a playful homage to a thrivingly memory-less and hyper-plasticized society. His work, a variety of media, reflects concurrent reality of the personal and public that constantly coincides within the domain of mass-consumerism.
Referencing an array of fast-lived pop-culture commodities—like the easily recognizable Drake logo OVO XO or Chobani Greek yogurt—the audience is thrown into a die-hard- sort of cosmos where an inevitable confrontation with (actual) real-life concern takes place. Amidst the surge of exhaustingly provisional superficiality of consumerism, we eventually leave the artist’s den with a dirty chuckle on our faces, temporarily more aware of our own mortality. And that’s alright, because everything else here has an ending too.
Your IG name stands out: nigerian__queen. What’s the deal here?
That’s a long story. I always had a thing for West Africa, and while I was in London, a friend’s cousin—a Nigerian woman—kept stalking me on Skype. She literally wouldn’t stop calling. When I got back to Berlin to set up my first and so far only theatre play, 'The Hunter in the Armchair' , @nigerian__queen was on my mind. After ping-ponging back and forth with some friends about possible usernames for my new IG account, I decided to go for it. Honestly, I much rather hide behind this ambiguous female form, than flaunting around my real name. It too easily becomes self-promotional, and what’s more exhaustingly repetitive these days than reemphasizing me-ness.
With all this post-everything, is identity/selfhood still possible? If we wouldn’t be able to have a sense of selfhood anymore, would that ensue as problematic? Do we idealize perhaps individuality merely for the sake of idealizing?
Hell yeah, it is! Especially having a bigger palette to grab from, a wider array of versions of identities to become accessible. We don’t have to define ourselves anymore, which is why art and music are such an effective way to communicate without necessarily having to use words. However, extreme individualism doesn’t allow access of anything else except the self, like "Look at me, here I come, I’m listening to the soundtrack of my glam life.”
Like me, you were born at the very threshold of the rise of the internet. You experienced life both offline and online. Personally, I feel like these circumstances have fucked up many things for me, mainly because I’m still very much present within previously conditioned tradition(s), which with each passing day seem to become more and more archaic. I guess I find myself often lamenting a life pre-internet.
I agree, it was great to grow up with my mother’s VHS library of action films. Or meeting up on some yard at a specific time, waiting for others to arrive. Home phone calls that would last for hours. Time seemed to still have meaning, there was some kind of weight to it. Now time just means time.
Your work often externalizes trademarks of a hyper-desensitized consumeristic culture. Do you have some kind of visual-conceptual fetish? What draws you into the geography of consumerism?
I always say I ́m into the aesthetics. Consumption obviously brings along an array of problems that’ll shut down planet earth in a few centuries to come. But it’ll happen in a kind of rockstar way, looking fly while doing it. Humanity has always had a way to burn out, but never to fade away.
The idea of impulse seems to be an important aspect in art-making. Does something as instinctual as impulse still prevail in a world of screens and the ever-dying exchange of eye contact?
Regardless of the amount of screens we build, there'll always be a fellow human behind the construction. And impulse comes along with that. Additionally there’s the whole spectra of emotional drifting. Sure, we can fall in love now with someone we’ve never met, just because we get to fantasize much more elaborately their array of online images and accessible information. But eye-to-eye will reign even beyond the day we’ve gone extinct.
Hopeless romantic. Speaking of human decay, do you think memory has changed the past decades?
I can’t remember anything. Lol. But seriously, memory is a plague these days.
Why’s memory a drag lately?
It’s not a drag, per se. But at some point, when your mind tends to stay wide-open, you take in a lot of impressions. There was a moment last year when I felt completely exhausted by all my previously lived experience. Every single memory began to blend into a gigantic blob, kind of like a packed book. It kept me awake day and night, also any sins of mine. That’s why I think exercising the body helps putting a multitude of memoria in check—driving your vehicle forward and getting it ready for the new ones to come.
Sin, that’s loaded... what kind of sins are we talking about?Just dumb stuff, like when I lost my phone while drunk walking through a dangerous part of Naples, blowing cash, ruining relationships.
Talk to me about your current influences.
At the moment it’s very much about puffy down vests, in blue or gray, mixed with orange parkas. Mixing sportswear, in general. I like queer humour about flirting on Instagram, as well as different Swedish music labels, like LYXLIV. Twisted graphic design and errors made by fabricators on street signs. And how to use some of those aspects and turn it into art.
Is it the unintentional of error that interests you, especially since nothing seems to be accidental anymore? Everything has become too much about purpose.
Exactly. It’s impossible to create something unintentional without some algorithm that fucks it up, or by a machine, or having someone else do it. That's why the “unknown” or “other” is so fascinating to me: asian signs, bad typos, or misspellings. It's charming and becomes some kind of urban visual comedy.
Sound is essential to you. What happens when you listen to music?
These days, so much music is engineered well enough that it installs a tangible sense of elation. Like a drop in an Avicii track. I remember crying during a bike ride in Switzerland, I had just taken some leftover MDMA and was listening to Swedish Eurovision Schlager music and Jim Jones. Music is the actual drug, I swear. And it just continues to develop every ongoing moment.
Where’s music headed?
It’ll become even more global. At this point in time a track can be found almost everywhere the second after it’s released. Whereas in the past one had to browse lists and lists, go to record stores, and sometimes even wait in line to get a specific album. I think it will ensue contemporary aesthetics very closely and become even more bombastic than now.
What dialogue do you want your work to generate within the audience? I often ask myself as a writer, what is this I want my audience to experience.
It’s difficult to answer. Maybe it’s rather what your ideal audience would be like? A group of 5 to 6 people, who you keep in mind when making the work. Eventually, there’s the primordial fate of wanting to impress, making them feel something.
You’re honest by saying you want to impress your audience, I like that. The need to impress is as valid as striving to make whatever socially-accepted political statement. Everything prevails equally within the realm of narcissism.
Have you seen the male bowerbird from Australia? They create the most intricate nests out of rubbish and porcelain and even do color themes, usually blue, in order to attract the opposite. They're the artists of birds. Why would they spend all their time doing that?
Referencing contemporary culture, do you ever feel nostalgic.
Of course, I feel nostalgic about certain periods of time in history that I identify with but never experienced personally. Like New York in the 1970 ́s.
So you feel nostalgic about things you’ve never lived. “Nostalgia for what never was,” like Pessoa once said.
That sounds like a “vujà-dé,”, the opposite to déjà vu.
Perhaps feeling nostalgic for something that never was is experiencing a déjà vu...
You ́re right. Can I have a cigarette?
What were some of the public critiques you’ve faced in terms of your work?
I haven’t really met the haters and I’m glad to not hear the worst things anyone says about my work. Back in school it was often a matter of not objectifying enough my work. Especially with American or Brits, working with themes like rap or foreign themes, they’d say things like, “What makes you think you have the right..” etc. The circumstances of their background obviously creates a more precarious relationship. Objectify whatever you want, things still remain ephemeral.
So you agree there’s controversy in your work?
Depends who you talk to. I see no hindrances or hideous behaviour in what I do. At the end it’s up to the beholder to judge its placement, and no opinion is wrong. Like what you like, think what you think. Either you fuck with it, or you don ́t.
More to read