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Family Portrait: The Whippets

Her most recent solo shows were Naïvy at Maximillian William Gallery (London, 2021), Busy Living at the Maison Européen de la Photography (Paris, 2020), and Is It Tomorrow Yet? at Daelim Museum (Seoul, 2019). She's published several books, among them If You’ve Seen It All Close Your Eyes and Middle Point Between my House and China. Her commercial practice includes clients like Nike, Gucci, Samsung, Cos, Dior and Biotherm and her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times Magazine, the British Journal of Photography, Dazed, M Le Monde, Document Journal and Vogue. She has been a guest speaker for Cambridge University, Royal College of Art, Oxford University, Manchester School of Art, London Southbank University and Aalto University, among others.

Your book If You’ve Seen It All Close Your Eyes encapsulates ten year’s-worth of writing from your artist notebooks, which you started on your first day in London in 2010, and stretches to the present moment. They form a very sincere statement. Did you think that in time your personal musings would become art themselves? 

I started writing for myself when I was very young, I always carry a notebook with me, and no, in no way did I imagine that my writing and my notebooks would become the art themselves. 

Your notes are playful aphorisms and short poems which address an array of issues with hints of humour and irony. Is this something which you still do? 

Yes, I keep taking notes constantly here and there. My notebook is a safe space in which I let my ideas and impressions run free. 

Phrases like ‘Common sense is not that common’ and ‘What are we going to do with all this future?’ were part of your collaboration with Gucci. Tell us about this. 

I started working for Gucci as a photographer when I was still a student at RCA. I used to carry my notebook with me everywhere as I have always done. Somehow my writing habits became known across the company and they decided they liked it enough to run a collaboration of just writings and no photographs, which at the time meant a complete switch to how I thought about my writing and other media I work with. The writings you refer to already existed at the time of the collaboration. They were simply Lalo’s (Alessandro Michelle’s) favourites and he decided to give them protagonism. 

Your practice covers many forms. Do you find your creative process to be the same in each? Or does it change with each form? 

I believe you can use lots of different media to create a same message. I like to challenge myself and try new things every day; that’s why I switch from painting to photography, writing, installation or any other media that is there for me to try. I’m not interested in achieving perfection in one field, I’m often more focused on communicating a story. This constant search for new and exciting tools keeps my brain fresh and, I would hope, my work too. 

Of these forms; photography, painting, mural, text, video and installation, do you have one that you enjoy the most?

I don't really have a favourite, for me the excitement is in trying new things, seeing my practice develop with different tools and being able to create a consistent message across my work independent to the medium I am using in each case. 

Boy in Socks

Is there an emotional difference between a commercial commission and a personal project?

My emotions change from project to project. I try to treat my commercial practice in the same way I take my personal work. 

Other collaborations include with Nike and Dior. How do you choose who to work with? 

No matter who I work with, I try to form a creative process that satisfies me, and for the final work to be aligned with my artistic vision. 

Sexuality, gender and love are common themes in your work. Do you try to portray them as something fluid instead of society’s specific vision?

I don’t think anyone can be put into a box. Everyone is so many things at the same time, and people are always changing, their ideas, their view of themselves and the world. And I don’t think one’s gender or sexuality defines who they are. So, for sure, in my work I often blur the lines of what society expects from us. 

You often feature in a lot of your painting and photography. Is it indulgent for the artist to be part of the art? 

I think it can be fun! The same way that I like portraying close friends, sometimes I feature in the art as well. It is like some sort of self-exploration, and I always try to add a little humour to my work and not take myself too seriously. 

If you have seen it all close your eyes

Do you think that we live in a society where anything can be classed as art and with social media that everyone now thinks that they are a poet, filmmaker or photographer?

I do think that social media has given a lot of people a platform to show their work, and a lot of young people, including myself, were able to reach a wide audience through Instagram. 

There is a lot of use of sailor motifs and representation in your work. Your Instagram bio says ‘Sailing to the very edge of life and things’. Is there a reason behind this or is it a playful link to your name?

I love the ocean, as you can see from a lot of my work. I also think it speaks about my curiosity of learning as much as I can and always discovering new things. 

You’ve been a guest speaker at many institutions. What would you tell this year’s graduating class at the RCA?

Creativity comes to you when you sit down and look for it! Go for a walk, look at what surrounds you, and you will find inspiration everywhere. 

Naïvy was your last solo exhibition. What can we expect next from you? 

I am always keeping busy and looking for new ways to practice different mediums. I can’t say much yet but as I keep working on photography and writing. I am also spending a lot of time on my fine art work, which I really enjoy.