Talking with Leah Schulli
Leah Schulli is a Montreal-based artist and curator. While her small-scale sculptural works in Flower District recall an afternoon with playdough or plastecine, a closer look reveals a dissassembled critique of youth of today, buy-me content, and brand culture.
PS: Hi Leah, first, tell me about colour. Your works insists on near-kindergarten brightness, blue! yellow! red! How come?
LS: Hello! It’s interesting because as soon as work is very primal and colourful people are very quick to refer to it as being childlike. I think adults crave colour just as much as children do. A lot of my practice depends on catching the viewer’s attention and pulling them in with loud, boisterous colour combinations in similar ways throwaway products at a Dollarama or IKEA can do the same. Bright colours can be chic too, look at Le Creuset and KitchenAid!
PS: Speaking of bright, I'm tempted to use ratchet, raw and crumbly as descriptors here. Can I do that?
PS: Quantity feels important in your practice. Lots of small bits, piles, jumbles. Have you always worked this way?
LS: Not always, quantity is something that has been more important to me in more recent work I like to find ways to trigger a consumerist impulse in people without giving it away entirely, and seeing lots of similar objects together at once is one of my strategies for that, because that is often how products are presented to us (in a store) or are idling (in a warehouse) before we purchase them.
PS: How does online brand culture, spending and trending inform your work?
LS: I feel as if I am steering away from the internet in my practice more and more because the way people behave on it (including myself) deeply offends me. The catch is that I am so disgustingly voyeuristic, that of course the result is an unhealthy obsession that is ultimately quite poisonous. I started making work that more clearly referenced the internet (social media in particular) around 2 years ago, when there was a massive boom in online feminism and being politically active gained you cool points in certain communities, so motives were often hazy. Not to discredit people who were doing good and important work (and still are), but I started to notice a very performative side to online activism, particularly coming from thin cis white women, often with class privilege as well. There was a particular heir of absurdity to this content that I just could not shake, like posting a caption about how important it is to verse yourself in intersectionality and read black feminist literature on a sexy photo of the white author wearing Nikes and carrying a vintage Prada bag or something (I swear this is a hypothetical and not a specific image). There was (and still is to a certain extent) this empty focus on community and inclusivity but everyone who was gaining cultural capital from it not-so-secretly adhered to Eurocentric fat-phobic beauty standards, as well as capitalist ideals. It gets complicated, because I’m obviously all for the sexual liberation of women and do everything I can to adhere to intersectional values (and also understand that it is impossible to be a “perfect feminist”), but this all just felt so cheap, narcissistic, and ultimately hypocritical. I feel like these concepts eventually lead to a more material practice for me, the link being the obvious idea of what one puts forth on social media is a false representation of their personhood, to contextualizing cheap materials through advertising and display in attempt to make them more desirable. It’s all motivated by the same things, to be chosen and seen as valuable and attractive, under the guise of what you could call false or exaggerated pretences. The ceramic pieces in you’re special are a part of this conversation in a way that is much more lighthearted, attempting to riff off of the aesthetics of skin care practices, as well as other curated items people have intimate relationships with. I find these products and rituals can make you feel very special and worth it, but everyone else around you is buying the same stuff and feels just as important and special as you do! I’m not hyper critical of this notion, I’m just trying to observe something I adhere to with blind loyalty from the outside, and also think its funny! Is that a long and convoluted enough answer??
PS: The internet is convoluted if nothing else. More to this point, you have a bold fashion sense on Instagram. Your hair, makeup and clothes might read as a sort of assessment of Pop Culture. Tell me more.
Ha. My fashion choices ultimately have nothing to do with my art practice, and are definitely not trying to critically assess anything in any way shape or form, most of the time I just try to find clothes that can accommodate my giant ass and thighs (and make me feel good). Makeup is a hobby for me that I do purely for my own pleasure, and because the beauty industry is in such a boom right now and is widely circulated online, maybe that’s why it maybe reads deeper than it is. Also, the few pics I have of myself on IG I think are special moments because in my day to day life I could not look more paired down and boring.
PS: What's next for you?
LS: I just graduated so if anyone wants to hire me, my email and DMs are open!
PS: Thanks Leah!
*edited from personal email conversations