Los Angeles-based artist Allie Pohl is, simply put, remarkable. She is a tiny enigma. She is quite lovely herself, with long brown hair and large, expressive, Animae-type eyes; she fires on all pistons at all times. In a city where you can throw a stone and hit three actresses, beauty is paramount. Pohl’s art is a commentary on the heteronormative roles assigned to us, particularly what it means to be a “perfect woman.” Dieting, makeup and hair removal preferences are all dictated as standards set by magazines, movies, books and blogs. Beauty is a billion dollar industry. Last week, I had the pleasure to interview artist Allie Pohl about her new exhibit, Hot Seat, among other things. Allie is not only prolific, working in many mediums, but her art is an interesting commentary on the city where she lives and works as well as what it means participate actively and consciously in your gender.
What inspired you to start Ideal Woman?
“I have always been interested in why we follow certain cultural trends. For example, the concept of body hair and hair removal; we remove hair from certain parts of our body and add it to others. As a way to respond to this cultural phenomenon, I created a series of sculptures based upon Barbie (the doll), as a metaphor for the ‘ideal woman’, and had Chia grow out of areas where our society removes unwanted hair: the armpit, midsection and leg. The sculptures transformed from prepubescent to womanhood during the time of the installation. I was captivated by the shape of the midsection and started to explore different ways to appropriate the shape and what it really represented.”
What is the message you hope to convey with Ideal Woman?
“I took the ‘Ideal Woman’ figure and enhanced it to Western society’s socially constructed ideal of 36-24-36 to show the naturally unachievable nature of this form. In developing a new brand image, the ‘Ideal Woman’, I hope to force the viewer to be aware of the unattainable nature of the cookie cutter form that pervades our culture. Perfection does not exist. We need to embrace the qualities and characteristics that make us individuals. The aesthetics of youth are overrated.”
Who are your artistic inspirations?
“Sophie Calle, Donald Judd, Yoyoi Kusamas’ light and mirror installation, Urs Fisher, Barbra Kuger, Cindy Sherman, Barbra Zuccer, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emmons.”
From your prospective, what does feminism mean to you?
Tell us a little more about your new exhibit, Hot Seat. Does it share the same message as Ideal Woman? What was the inspiration?
“I feel like I live in the bathroom! I always have to go. I have recently been thinking about rituals that we do everyday but that we don’t necessarily think about or concentrate on. ‘Hot Seat’ gives the viewer a glimpse into one of a woman’s most personal acts while still humanizing it.”
How do you feel about Barbie? Plastic Surgery? Feminine grooming and beauty rituals?
“Barbie, an American cultural icon, born in 1959, at the dawn of Post-War consumer culture, was intended as a toy for young girls, but its ubiquitous presence resulted in a brand representing the ideal of female physical perfection. Although she has become more diverse and ambitious over the years, her shape has not really changed. If plastic surgery makes you feel better about yourself, then I am all for it, but it is a slippery slope. These days, going to the plastic surgeon has become as common as walking into a hair salon. We are becoming false advertisements to each other, and in return, starting to look the same.
What interests me about beauty rituals is how they are constantly changing. For example, fashion trends go from bushy to thin eye brows….from bare to Brazilians to crystallized bikini aesthetics. Beauty rituals become a lot of work and require constant maintenance and, yet, the rituals are constantly changing. I think it is important to think about the things you do to yourself that are permanent and whether or not one is just responding to the commercially packaged versions of beauty.”
What are your thoughts on modern standards of beauty and femininity?
“Society holds individuals to an impossible standard and, in return, women fallowing the next diet or are running to the plastic surgeon to reconstruct their bodies to achieve a certain image. We view our bodies as changeable and mutable. We get tattoos, experiment with identity, curate our twitter and Facebook lives and choose avatars to represent ourselves online. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.
Women’s alterations have developed, from clothes, and mechanical constraints to their physical body shape, to now, more technologically advanced permanent alterations to their bodies. They are all connected and intertwined, working together, to change our perception of ‘real’ and reality and beautiful and ugly.”
If you could tell your teen self three things about womanhood/young adulthood, what would they be?
“1. You will to continue to evolve, if you continue to push yourself.
3. Believe in your gut reactions; they are usually right.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10?
“I can barely plan a week in advance, let alone think of 5 or 10 years out! I dream of being a part of the Whitney Biennial, showing in the Palais de Tokyo and the Berlmische Galerie. I would love to have a presence in Asia, and wherever else the message can be spread! I want to change people’s perspective and make a difference by challenging the social constructs of perfection.”
Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
“There are many different ways to get to your desired outcome. Don’t give up!”
Hot Seat is currently up at the Bano Gallery in Blicher Gallery in Los Angeles. Allie has a new solo show in April of next year in Dallas, Texas at the Galleri Urbane Dallas and another show next September at the Plus Gallery in Denver, Colorado. Visit alliepohl.com for more information.
Images courtesy of Allie Pohl.