Image courtesy of @cara.lb
Front row with Cara Biederman
Cara Biederman is a 21-year old artist & photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her outputs have commanded my attention for sometime now as she is able to skillfully straddle both our material worlds and the spaces we occupy in our internet circles – whether that be through her zine, illustrations, “music videos”, photography and more recently, paintings.
Her work resonates to me through its vulnerability. A tenderness that might seem too on the nose at first; that one might mistake it for being in jest. Notably, her film photography imbues a warmth, like the sweet embrace of a familiar-yet-distant memory. Regularly capturing the joys of youth and her steadfast pride in being Jewish. And her art, equally engaging as her photography. Typically exploring women, their bodies and the artifice created through social media.
I acknowledge that I may come across as a stuck record with references to vulnerability in my writing, but it is a pulse that I follow and cherish. Being authentic in a time where we are all the creators and curators of our online identities is something that is often contested. So if honesty and authenticity is a futile inquiry, maybe vulnerability is the next best thing. And this is where I advocate for silliness as a conduit for honest & meaningful art that impacts more than those who consume, study and buy art – ultimately leading to the democratisation of art.
Autofictious Selfie, 2023.
There is a delicate art to being silly. Because silliness flirts with the possibility of failure, its expressions are generally earnest. The impulse to make “dumb” art; I say dumb pejoratively, it may come off as crude to the section of people who prioritise “serious” art. I think of Richie Culver for example, who is uncompromisingly silly and often met with scornful eyes. I believe there is a way to achieve this without solely relying on people's provocation, yet still producing work that incites conversation, community and understanding. And I believe Cara's recent work is a testament to just that.
“Image and text are the most delightful things to grace the earth”, this is a sentiment that the following guest and I share in common. Imagery alone has the ability to transport you to artists' lush inner worlds, and text has the ability to enhance that experience. To contextualise, or turn the idea on its head. Language is more than just inspiration – it’s raw material awaiting manipulation and reinterpretation.
Enjoy this following interview with Cara, as we wax lyrical on the serious and silly in art, perception and the magic of the mundane.
I’d like to start off with a burning question that’s probably on everyone’s mind... Is it true that you are the nicest Jewish girl in the world?
CB: Yes. Kind of. But I think I purely get that title because I’m the only one who has that printed on a shirt. People have beefed me about that tee though... like this one middle-aged woman approached me at the Investec Art fair, and she was like: “No, I'm the nicest Jewish girl in the world”. And I was like: "Ha ha ha" this is awkward – then she nodded and said: “Well, it’s a good shirt. Good way to get people to look at your boobs!”. So yeah, being the nicest Jewish girl in the world comes with haters.
When did you first start taking photos? Did it automatically click that it was the medium for you?
CB: I mean I’ve been taking film photos since forever. My mom used to buy me little disposable cameras before I would go to summer camp, when I was in grade four. But I bought my own film camera when I was fifteen, and became obsessed with the images I was producing, and the aura that they had. I’d taken almost 2000 photos by the time I was 18. I thought that going into art school, I would be some cool as f*ck film photographer, making zines and sh*t, but once I started first year – it kind of dissipated. For some reason, I felt no real urge to take photos again. Unless someone pays me (haha), or it’s something sentimental, my camera stays in my bedside drawer. That’s not to say I don’t still love and appreciate photography... it truly got me to where I am now in terms of my artistic practice.
Your photos seem to be a celebration of youth, from your nightlife and birthday party photography, to your time at Jewish summer camp. Do you find that capturing those moments takes you out of fully experiencing and enjoying them?
CB: I like that description. A celebration of youth is very apt. And to answer your question, sometimes yes, but also no. I feel like when I take myself out of a social setting in order to capture something – I feel more connected to that moment. By preserving that scene, it exists elsewhere than just in a memory. I find that photos are just our external hard drive for all the cool shit we’ve experienced. BUT, with that being said... I feel extremely out of the moment when I’m trying to take a photo, and someone notices me and starts posing. That shit knocks me off my game. I’m like maaaan why’d you have to pose! And then they start explaining that they’re camera shy, and then I have to coach them to look as if they’re acting natural. BORING!
Nothing is better than a slightly unflattering clubbing photo. Eyes half-shut, sweat collecting on your upper lip, even better if your double chin makes an appearance. What is it about images and text that you personally find so compelling?
CB: Everything! When you pair image and text, something magic happens, and they lend each other layers of meaning – I love it. Not to sound like a pretentious art school kid.
Self-portraiture has a long history in art, they are public expressions of how we view ourselves and want to be perceived, thus a tool of self-assertion. The selfie on the other hand, self-portraiture in the internet age, is often scrutinised for lacking authenticity. Do you think authenticity in the digital world is possible or even necessary?
CB: No! It is impossible to be your true self on social media, everything is cherry-picked. And I don't think that people should try to be their true self online. You will fail. And then you will start to second guess who you are in the real world – if you are forcing yourself to be “real” on your Instagram. The trick is to just post what the fuck you want, and curate how you like it. You are the one who controls what your followers see, you pave the way for your perception. And yeah, I don’t think it’s necessary to be authentic online. People should really lie to/withhold information from their Instagram followers more often; it would be a fun performance piece.
You Know Too, 2021.
Your art style has moved away from the more comic strip situational character to paintings that are expressive and realistic. Was it challenging to let go of the cartoon character you created for yourself ? Is a part of her still with you?
CB: Not challenging at all. I loved my little character so much; I was going to get her tattooed at a stage. I used to make like, Kanye West music videos with her, and superimpose her onto my film photos, and make comics of her. And then one day at university, I was like: "Ohhh yeah this is a great idea, I’m going to make a shrine for my little two-dimensional cartoon character". So I did. I made like, 20 statues of this character out of plaster, and 10 cartoon faces carved into wood. And I set it up – all cute on this little shelf in the studio. I documented myself praying to her. And after that, I never drew her again. I think of that shrine as more of a funeral.
Sasha Grey, the first internet era porn star, was on the mission to use porn as postmodern art and the industry as a stage for performance art. You repeatedly use her name and imagery in your work. What is it about her that aroused your intrigue?
CB: I think it’s just how iconic she was, and is, to me. I never even watched her porn when I was younger, but her image was everywhere online. And she has a very memorable, cheeky face that I think imprinted on my fourteen-year-old self’s brain. So I always remembered her as being this viral porn girl – that I then decided to paint (virality is interesting to me, and so is female subject matter). I did a whole series of her, from photoshoots, to actual screenshots from her videos. During that stage, when I closed my eyes I could see her tits floating in my brain.
Sasha Grey and weird guy, 2022.
I am often quite conflicted by the need to be taken seriously in art, yet at the same time, not truly valuing the gatekeepers that deem one as a “real” artist as they often lack humour and take everything a little too seriously. Is that something you’ve grappled with in your time making art?
CB: Oh, of course. It fucking sucks, cause I want to be silly and unserious and post everything I make to Instagram. And then the other half of me is like: "Shhhh... stop typing." I think it’s about finding a balance of seriousness, and unseriousness. For me at least, I know when I make work and when I want the viewer to take it seriously, versus when I’m making work that is meant to be taken with a grain of salt. But yeah, at the end of the day, fuck it. Cause we’re still artists even if we’re silly geese sometimes.
Zesty Lemon, 2023.
I personally stopped watching TV a couple years ago for no real good reason, and I fear I’ve missed out on some really good reality TV. Could you give us an elevator pitch on why we should be engaging in reality TV and which shows are in your opinion are a must?
CB: Oh god. Reality TV... is the best pleasure and cultural education that one can allow oneself. You get to deepdive into other people’s lives (which you’d otherwise never know about unless you did a weird search on Reddit), their social circles, and their communication styles. I kind of see reality TV as anthropological. Genuinely (my mom would roll her eyes at me, right now) – any 'Real Housewives' franchise is a must; my favourites being Potomac and New York (Miami is up there too). And also 'Married To Medicine'. They are criminally slept on.
Finally, is there any wisdom you would like to impart on the readers?
CB: All the corny shit that you read online from wacky spiritual girlies and motivational posters is usually true. Like yes, you do need to believe in yourself. And yes, you will get over it. And yes, you will be fine if you take that risk, and people do love you, and you should drink water, and maybe quit cigarettes, and also stop posting on Instagram so much.
Single Bed, 2023.