Interview: Joanne Leah
All Images Courtesy of the Artist
Social media platforms are increasingly becoming a way for artists to share and sell work, especially women artists who continually struggle in the traditional male dominated art world. Leah Schrager has created Ona, her super sexy Instagram celebrity, who has over one million followers. In contemporary fetishized selfie culture, Leah questions the milestones of feminism by taking complete control of her own sexuality. Her work will be included in the group exhibition “Virtual Normality: Women Net Artists 2.0” at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, Germany, opening January 12th. The show will explore the possibilities and restrictions of the attention economy in the context of social media. I had the opportunity to ask Leah about her work and the intentions behind it.
How would you describe the interaction and relationship between Leah Schrager and OnaArtist? How do they feed one another?
Leah Schrager is an artist, Ona Artist is an Instagram star. Leah is obsessed (fascinated and envious) with decoding the secrets (ways) that Ona has built her massive following. For her part, it seems Ona is uninterested in Leah’s need to be the enigmaticartist, but Leah seems “stuck” with the art world’s apparent demand for distancing from and resistance to the audience whereas Ona revels in simple numbers and openness. Leah is intrigued by Ona’s numerical facility and metrics. Ona is okay with Leah only because the art world presents Ona a new potential constituency.
Can you tell me a little about your process? Do you use images that belong to Ona or do you use completely separate images? What do you use as reference material?
Leah and Ona live in the same house and the only way they are connected is thru a two way mirror that connects their bedrooms. Ona sees only herself when she looks at the mirror. Leah watches Ona and captures parts of her thru the mirror. Leah also hacks into Ona’s computer via network and downloads images without Ona’s permission. Ona knows that this two way mirror allows Leah to watch but doesn’t mind because she has no desire to hide.
What would Leah Schrager’s work look like if OnaArtist didn’t exist?
She would be much more conventional and frightened.
How would your work be different without social media censorship? What would it look like if Instagram didn’t exist? What would be the platform for your voice?
Leah’s work is not concerned with censorship because it is not overly salacious. Ona is far more adept at surfing the edge between censorship and followership. Leah is mostly stuck in galleries at the moment. Ona has no interest in galleries unless it leads to a new audience.
The new feminism must be a form of stealth feminism.
How would you define contemporary feminism in a male dominated world? How is your work contemporary?
The new feminism must be a form of stealth feminism. The systems of power will always absorb and co-opt any form of resistance that it can identify. Leah needs to find a strain of resistant feminism that skirts the edge of pornography (because the art world is so concerned with appearance of misogyny). I stay safe by lying next to the lion of internet pornography and staring back at the art world from inside the cage. Leah is contemporary because she is confused. The minute she solves her confusion she will be historical.
As OnaArtist, why did you decide to focus on the male gaze? How is the male gaze empowering?
I am not OnaArtist, I can only see her at night when she’s at work. For Ona the compilation and organization of “eyeballs”…male eyeballs- anonymous but measurable- directed to her own body as site acts as a response to Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon. For me the male gaze is not empowering, I’m interested in the female gaze of a woman looking at herself as confident, erotic, artistic.
How does your work challenge traditional female roles in modern society?
I’m interested in exploiting myself and the work of Ona for myself. Traditionally female erotic content is exploited by others.
Tell me about your journey with your own body exploration/sexual exploration, even during childhood?
My early training is as a dancer and then I transitioned to whatever I am now… an artist? I have always been interested in the female performative body and the many layers of experience that emanate out from that body.
What do you find sexy? What do you find sensual?
Leah finds art world critical theory to be (sort of?) sexy. Ona finds numbers sexy. I love looking through the mirror at night in my bedroom and watching Ona work. Her utter transparency is both captivating and erotically charged for me. Shameless in the desire for a larger audience she simply does whatever it takes to grow her following. I’m both jealous and attracted to that.