Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for De Re Gallery
Allie and Lexie Kaplan have sat on a lot of faces. At Art Basel last month, it was Harvey Weinstein’s and their own. As part of one of their live performance pieces, the twins covered their butts in paint and sat on canvases emblazoned with their own self-portraits and images of celebrities, like Weinstein.
The #SatOnYourFace series is just one example of the way the girls use pop culture, selfies and social media to explore the current cultural climate. Whether they’re posing with children’s toys in nothing but their undies or painting large-scale images of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, the 24-year-old artists showcase the way digital media has transformed female representation.
In doing so, they’ve also flipped the script on the male gaze, using selfie culture not as a means of self-promotion but a way to control their own narrative. “In a lot of ways, we look at the selfie as a modern day Renaissance portrait,” says Lexie. “But we’re women, painting ourselves, so we get to define the context.”
Born in Short Hills, NJ, the Kaplan Twins relocated to Los Angeles after graduating from NYU two years ago. Scrolling through their shared Instagram page, they look like any other sisters enjoying their 20s in the age of social media. Through #TBTs and #WokeUpLikeThis photos, the duo satirizes our need as a society to share every waking moment of our lives, while also capitalizing on our collective desire to consume it.
“The other day, we posted a selfie in front of one of our paintings that says, ‘Shit, I just spilled Kombucha on my Yeezy,” says Allie, “and someone commented, ‘If that’s not the most 2017 thing I’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what is.” Adds Lexie, “And that’s exactly the point.”
One of the twins’ #SatOnYourFace paintings featuring Damien Hirst
You did a set of live #SatOnYourFace paintings at Art Basel in December. What’s the idea behind the series?
Lexie: A lot of our work is about taking control over how we present ourselves.
Allie: And having fun.
Lexie: We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so at face value, you look at the paintings and think, ‘Oh these are just two twins sitting on canvases in sexy thongs.’
Allie: But the idea behind it is about playing with that fantasy, while also trying to subvert it.
Lexie: We’ve definitely sat on a lot of women’s faces, too.
But there are probably a lot of men who buy your work just because of the process.
Lexie: Sure, but we’re not just these two cute twin girls – we are real artists. But we also know we’re probably being fetishized by a lot of people. So, we play into it and know exactly what we’re doing when we’re ‘selling sex.’
Allie: Yeah, there might be some misconception that we don’t realize what we’re doing, but we are very, very aware of exactly what we’re putting out there and how we’re doing it. That’s what happened with #SatOnYourFace’ and this other project we did, ‘Boy Toys,’ where we posed suggestively with different children’s toys on social media. We never actually posed topless or showed ourselves nude or anything, it was just the implication of it being there.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Allie: I’d say it’s very ‘of the times.’ Everything we make is really relevant to what’s happening in the world right now and what people are talking about, whether that’s on social media or in the news.
Lexie: It’s really about society’s obsession with celebrity, social media and sex.
Allie: And narcissism, and how that’s turned into self-exploitation, especially online. If you look at CNN even, a lot of what they’re reporting on is what celebrities are eating for breakfast.
Lexie: Then you go on social media and see people sharing photos of themselves during every part of their day, waking up, at the grocery store. We’re just constantly being exposed to these things, so it naturally comes out in our work. That’s kind of your job as an artist – to hold up a mirror to the rest of the world, and make stuff people can connect with.
Is that why you insert yourself as characters in a lot of your work?
Allie: We’re commenting on the nature of our narcissistic culture, but also inserting ourselves into the dialogue.
Lexie: Like when we did the naked selfie series – I literally had never taken a naked selfie before.
Allie: I take them all the time.
Lexie: But for that project, I took this photo of myself and realized that it’s okay to take a naked selfie and feel confident and beautiful.
Allie: Then we shared the images and received so much backlash and felt so much shame. That’s not okay – no one should be made to feel that way or have their confidence taken away from them.
Lexie: So, in that situation, we really wanted to insert ourselves directly into the conversation. If we’re going to be making work and people are going to be talking about it, or us, we want to be able to control the narrative.
‘No Aerial Shots Plz’ from the twins’ ‘Make Me Famous’ series
You’re not just participating in selfie culture, though. You’re also turning those photos into oil paintings. What’s the goal behind that?
Lexie: We just want to change the context. I love the reference of Manet’s ‘Olympia,’ because that, at it’s time, was totally controversial – a man painting a nude woman on a couch.
Allie: What we’re doing is controversial, too, and not just because we’re painting Paris Hilton’s sex tape.
Lexie: Because we have the ability to send a message of empowerment, to tell other women, ‘You can feel good about yourself, you have the ability to control how you people see you.’
Do you consider your art feminist?
[in unison]: It’s definitely feminist.
Allie: But it’s also just about the hyper-sexualization and objectification of women in society, particularly in entertainment, and how that relates to fame. We use our work and even our social media profiles to really play with those tropes. What if it were a guy sitting on women’s faces on a canvas, or painting nude selfies of us and other artists? It would totally change the conversation.
Lexie: You also have to think about the history of female representation. So, the fact that we’re the ones dictating our own narrative, even if it’s in response to the way others view us – that’s where the feminist aspect comes from.
Your work lives in a really unique space in that it exists on the internet, but also in the real world. How do you think it translates so seamlessly between the two?
Allie: Our work straddles this line between the internet and reality because we document what we do online, but the actual work lives in galleries.
Lexie: So you’re part of the process of seeing it come together on social media, but know that it does exist somewhere IRL.
Allie: We use the internet as a tool to showcase who we are and what we’re making, and because what we’re making often references what’s happening online, it goes full circle.
What do you want people to take away from your art?
Lexie: We want people to relate to our work, and feel like it’s accessible instead of some pretentious art world thing they can’t be a part of.
Allie: We want people to look at what we’re doing and see that they can do what they want, too. And in terms of our art, we just want people to continue thinking about the world that we live in and never get complacent. Of course, we want people to enjoy themselves, but we want them to ask questions and think about the bigger dynamics at work.