Spectacle and Self-Documentation in Kaylie Wilson's Art

Kaylie Wilson is a senior art and politics major at Pomona College. Both of her parents are working artists in Los Angeles - her mother is a ceramist and her father is an advertiser. Kaylie has created her own art from a young age, and Her Campus Pomona interviewed her about her life as an artist at Pomona, her reasons for working, and the impact of her personal life on her art.
 
How much influence does your parents’ art have on yours?
 
My parents’ style is very similar to my earlier style. Their influence is still really apparent in my aesthetic, however the impetus for my work is more conceptual than my parents’.
 
Has college changed your art?
 
My art was highly figural and I approached it with an essentialist view. When I entered college I began photography and pursued it aggressively during my year off. I traveled through Eastern Asia, North and South Africa, and South America. I planned on pursuing a career in documentary photography. I am currently studying both political philosophy and art. My art has gotten progressively more academic and theory based.

What have you worked on while at Pomona?
 
I've always been a nostalgic person. I love projectors and 35mm slides as objects that represent the human desire to continuously redefine their relationship to looking and experiencing visual histories. I have been engaged over the last few years in producing public slide shows which draw from my collection of non-professional 35mm slides gleaned from Los Angeles estate sales, swap meets, and dumpsters to construct problematic narratives. I do not so much create the narrative as pull from the narratives generated from hundreds of LA residents engaged in the act of self documentation. The act itself is inherently about bridging the private self with public display.
 

As we talk, Kaylie shows me to her thesis project, which was on display in the Dunn Gallery at Rembrandt. It uses several slide projectors and complex plexiglass reflector arrangements, and I’m curious how this developed from her earlier work.
 

What are you working on here?

Spectacle is a well-known characteristic of LA. It is a defining quality of our community and a defining ambition of many of its individuals. Bearing with full force the symptoms of a city, LA has always been to me thousands of individuals formed by city planning into an abstract and usually dysfunctional concept of a community. As many cities do, LA produces an overwhelming galvanizing influence towards group identity and infinite potential to be the loneliest person in the crowd. Born and raised in Los Angeles, I have always been compelled by and terrified by LA’s apparent ambivalence towards community and the individual.

For my thesis I am looking at this same [self-documentation] phenomenon in social media. Systems such as Facebook are designed to utilize our natural desire for community and our learned desire for "global" community to make a profit. However, the system does not actually produce community but merely thousands of individuals more acutely aware of their loneliness because they are perpetually confronted with a falsely elevated and ultimately unattainable community. The piece should produce the sensation of feeling alone in a crowd. The physical structure of plexiglass square surfaces should insinuate the medium of computers and the Internet. 
 

Kaylie’s Claremont house is filled with more of her work, including her own photographs, watercolors, digital art, and installations. She tells me that much of her work stems from the social features of the Los Angeles cityscape that she explored in her slide collection and other works.

 
What other kind of work have you done?
 
I've done quite a bit of politically motivated photo projects. A brief documentary on Coachella farm workers was featured in a show at U. Mass Lowell. I also produced a series titled "I am not the failed institution". It featured paroled women from the California Incarceration system sitting in front of projections of prison architecture. 
 
I am also working on a series of paintings and ink drawing of microscopic views of leukemia. 
 
Why leukemia?
 
My sister’s three-year-old son was recently diagnosed. I am operating under the notion that visualizing and therefore recreating your fears helps you gain a sense of control, however false it may be. 
 
Was the prison project also personally motivated?
 
My elder sister was incarcerated multiple times. All minor, non-violent offenses. She was out of the prison system for four years, working two jobs, and taking care of her children when she was re-incarcerated for a prior minor parole infraction. They attempted to put her away on three strikes. I did the piece in protest. 
 
You're graduating this year. Where do you see yourself going from here?
 
I am working for a year to pay off my quite intimidating mountain of loans. I am trying to obtain funding to do a documentary photo project on craft practices in modernizing countries. And either at the end of a year of working (hopefully at a museum) or after the completion of the project I am applying to grad school. I want to get my MFA at Berkeley and my MA/PhD in art history and museum studies at an American accredited university in Berlin, Germany. 
 
You can find more of Kaylie’s work at her website kayliejameswilson.com.
Photos by Natalie Camou.