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Oliver Laric: Destroying an image

INTERVIEW. King of clipart and master of the Mariah Carey mash-up, the Berlin-based Austrian artist prepares for his first Berlin solo show now on at Tanya Leighton,

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Photo by David Ghione

Having conquered Youtube and the blogosphere, artist Oliver Laric prepares for his first Berlin solo show.

Known for his influential art blog vvork.com, Berlin-based Austrian artist Oliver Laric achieved internet fame for his 2006 compilation of clipart graphics. At the time of publishing, 787 Cliparts has nearly half a million hits on Youtube. As the video went viral, people began to remix, re-edit and upload it, participating in a cyclical dialogue between artist and viewer, and Laric started to see his website “as a site of primary experiences, not representation or documentation”.

A fan of anachronistic compilations (stemming from his interest in hip hop), Laric recontextualises often-overlooked material and media output, creating new links in old chains.

Your projects are not tied to one medium, or even one platform. What’s the importance of not restricting yourself and being fluid?

The ideas I utilise are not specific to a single shape and can be continuously reinterpreted by myself or others.

In Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do, he uses water as an analogy to emphasise why flexibility is a significant trait: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. That water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”

There is a certain simplicity and clarity in your work, but your process is often layered with lots of influences. How difficult is it to distil everything that you want to express down into one clear action?

Deciding what not to do is as essential as deciding what to do. There is so much unused B-material after each project. Some of it takes months, so it hurts to shelve it, but it’s simultaneously liberating.

A Chris Marker documentary on Akira Kurosawa shows the production of a very elaborate scene for the King Lear adaption Ran. A field is delicately painted gold, but the scene didn’t survive the edit. This scene is probably an essential missing part.

What’s your concern with defaults, presets and readymade software?

There is a generous quality attached to them; they are made to be used and adapted. The modification is already implied in its conception. I try to make some works that act as presets waiting to be activated.

In 2008 you reverse-engineered Mariah Carey’s music video “Touch my Body”, isolating her body from the background and placing her against green, then uploading it so that soon people were creating their own backgrounds, often featuring themselves. How did this come about?

Mariah Carey addressed a new audience with her song “Touch my Body”. She portrays a viewer that can simultaneously touch and be touched. I’ve just followed her call and amplified her message. And people utilising my material help extend the trajectory.

What interests you about the possibilities of anonymous collaboration in your work, for example, the stock footage you shot and made available online for Frieze Projects 2011 and “Touch My Body (Green Screen Version)”?

There are only few things as satisfying as involuntary collaborations. I stumbled upon the possibility as it happened naturally; in 2006 numerous viewers modified one of my videos [“787 Cliparts”] without my knowledge. As a response to these responses, I began creating scenarios that necessitate continuation. If it doesn’t happen, it feels like the work is not working.

In 2010 you showed the reproduction of a relief defaced during the Reformation alongside your online visual essay “Versions”. What draws you to objects like this?

Some historic images make sense, as they echo current concerns and feel urgent and contemporary. The relief from Utrecht stands out… it’s probably the most impressive leftover from Reformation iconoclasm. It is in perfect destroyed condition; the damage is so well preserved. It has become an attraction because of its modification. That exemplifies the contradiction emblematic of iconoclasm; destroying an image always creates an image.

For a recent project you officially named a breed of orchid, “Doritaenopsis Aung San Suu Kyi”, after the Burmese opposition leader. This is a pretty provocative move and a highly political one – what prompted this?

I don’t know if it’s so provocative. I’ve gotten more into Burmese politics after meeting a Burmese refugee in Thailand who loaned me his collection of activist publications.

What are you showing at Tanya Leighton?

The show will focus on ‘Chinoiserie’, the 17th-century fetishisation of Chinese culture by Europeans. Jesuit priests working as missionaries in China brought back overly optimistic and utopian depictions and stories that caused a fascination with a distant and exotic space. There is possibly another period of Chinoiserie taking place right now, and that’s the hypothesis of the show.

OLIVER LARIC, Mar 10-Apr 15 | Tanya Leighton, Kurfürstenstr. 156, Schöneberg, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstr.