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INTERVIEW: Allanah Vokes

Allanah Vokes is a Sarnia and Guelph based artist who graduated with a Studio Art degree from the University of Guelph in 2015. We love her intricate collages, facinating line drawings, and hilarious multiples. Here's an inside look at the process behind her practice, as well as a sneak peek at some new projects she's working on.

We’ll start off with some fun questions, then we’ll get into the juicy stuff. If you could collaborate with any other artist in the world, who would it be?

I would love to collaborate with Jorinde Voigt, a German artist. She is an excellent drawer, and I would consider my work to be drawing. She does these magnificent, huge line based drawings, kind of like my motion tracking. I’m not sure what the lines are based on. It’s kind of like a personal notation system which is really cool. I think she would be really interesting to work with, mostly because I want to learn how she makes her drawings.

Is there one thing that you have to have before or while you work on your art?

Something that I can’t work without is coffee, I actually just made one for myself!

Is there anything you would really like to own that would enhance how you make art?

Well I am big into buying equipment for myself. I would love to have a laser cutter and 3D printer, and I miss the MakerBot back at school. I like anything that can help me translate ideas from the digital realm into the physical realm. It seems to be a common theme in my work. I use a projector a lot and almost everything I do starts on the computer.

Do you have a hidden talent?

I’m not sure if it’s a hidden talent because I’m not very good at it, but I do some archery. Not competitively, but I like the action of it and it helps my concentration, too.

What book, movie or video have you seen/read recently you would recommend?

I’m currently reading Symmetry by Marcus du Sautoy. He is a mathematician and it was actually recommended to me by James Carl. It is about the patterns found in nature and how it relates to mathematical process. This actually follows the same logic as my own practice, so I have found a lot of interesting parallels.

So, moving on to your art practice, what draws you to your subject matter? What initially inspired you to work with themes such as Playboy or Ultimate Fighting Champion?

I always work with bodies of information that are generated from imagery or data that is pre-existing. Playboys are interesting because they are so prevalent in our culture. They've made something like 700 Playboy centerfolds that all have information that you could use. You could focus on making Playboy collages for an entire artistic practice. I read an article about how Playboy may be stopping publishing naked women in the centerfold in order to try and make the magazine more respectful. There is a joke that people read "Playboy for the art," well no they don’t! But they are trying to make it so that people are actually reading Playboy for the articles. They actually have really good content, such as fictional articles by great authors, as well as articles about cultural, or political observations. Since social media has content policies that police what is allowed online, Playboy also may be trying to take advantage of platforms they couldn't use previously.

You seem to turn explicit materials into a subtle visual experience, disguising and making them not as obvious or graphic.

I am interested in disguising the explicit, in a playful sort of way. It's fun to make something people look at and don’t associate with Playboy right away. I hope that people get it eventually because I do leave clues, but its fun to subversively interject Playboy or Chat Roulette into the gallery setting or any setting.

So with the Playboys, would you say it is about negating voyeurism or trying to remove the gaze?

I'm trying to interrupt the gaze between the women portrayed in the Playboy and the viewer. I try to turn it around on the viewer so it becomes less about the women and more about the women looking at you. I like to use that sort of interruption as a strategy in my work.

Can you explain where the geometric shapes in these works originate from?

For the first collages, I picked shapes based on their compositional interest and used them as a composition for the collage. Then, I started generating them from data that related to the image. So for my show Refigure last year, I took data from the interview in a Playboy magazine that accompanies the centerfold. These interviews come with a data sheet of fun questions like "when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up" or "what is your favorite vacation destination," but also information like their body measurements. I took the answers to these questions and converted each letter to a number using a code, which resulted in a long string of numbers that I divided up and inputted into the coordinates of the 3d model of the next dodecahedron. So, if you open an image file or 3d model file in the text editor on your computer, you will get a string of numbers and sometimes, like with a .OBJ file (object file), its very clear where the vertices of that object are within the file. I inputted the Playboy numbers and used that to glitch the object, because when you interrupt these numbers it changes the shape quite drastically. Sometimes I would use this ratio of height to width with the bust and waist numbers to cause the glitch. Also, I would often superimpose two of the same object to make it symmetrical.

I'm trying to find better ways of glitching it more directly. I recently posted on Instagram some new 3D works that I had made of shapes with a similar process. Rather then using the data from the interview or data sheet, I took RGB data from the picture, and simplified the image by running it through a program. It would then cluster the data of the image's 10 different averages of colour. The 10 different points were then lined up with the X,Y, Z coordinates of the vertices of the object, making R equal X, G equal Y, and B equal Z. So the 3D printed objects are sort of like abstracted representations of the colour space within these objects. I'm still working out the glitches but I'm really happy with it.

The geometric shapes you work from, were they full 3D shapes or line drawings in their original form?

They were all 3D shapes. Just about all of those works are based off 3-Dimensional computer OBJ files. As for the collages, I would take an interesting angle that gives the impression of 3-Dimensionality in order to convey that in the work as a 2D collage.

Do you let technology control of the outcome of the image and shapes rather then make your own aesthetic decisions?

I try to for the most part. I found that I am inconsistent with generating compositions by myself, meaning that there is always a possibility to create something really good compositionally or something that really sucks. I hated not being able to replicate a similar result over and over. So I tried different ways to achieve taking the composition out of my control. There are still some points of the process that I can tweak but for the most part its out of my hands.

Can you explain the process of tracking movement, such as in your Ultimate Fighting Champion works?

I'm currently changing the process again, but originally I took video of whatever was broadcasted and imported it into Photoshop, which can turn video frames into layers. Then I would break it into frames, which would sometimes mean having thousands of frames, depending on the length of the video. I would mark over top of the recording with my video tablet that allows me to draw directly on it. I would follow whatever I was tracking, a foot, a fist or the head of a fighter, throughout the entire video and each point I decided to track would give me a line. For example, I would have eight lines if i tracked both feet and fists of each fighter. Then I'd project and trace the final image on paper. I felt it was important to recreate the invisible space, like motion in a strange, 2D flattened line that should have the sense of moving across the screen. Its interesting recreating the footage in that way because it's sort of a weird, useless line that is so specific to that video. The scale of the drawings, around seventy by fifty inches, also brings them closer to the scale of real life methods of viewing the subject matter, such as a wide screen TV. I'm trying to find a faster way of doing this process, so I've been using another Adobe program, After Effects. I've found a way of semi-automating the process by using their motion tracking program that sort of works, but it still requires me to babysit.

What was your thinking behind your Google drawings?

It was more of an autobiographical project and a "you are what you search" kind of thing, as I was drawing every Google Search I did. It came from another project which was about how Google used to track what you searched in order to help with advertising targeting. It would categorize your searches into oversimplified categories. They aren't doing it anymore, but my categories were something like comic books, computer equipment, and contemporary art. The really interesting thing about this was that they would project your demographic based on the categories. Since I was looking at typically masculine things, they thought I would be an 18-24 year old boy. They got the age right but not the gender! So I got a bunch of my friends to look up theirs and I took photos of each of them holding their categories. My Google drawings was a way to explore in more depth what exactly I was putting out there. From a drawing perspective, it was also really interesting because a lot of the things were not exactly things you could draw. They were abstract, like converting money into a different currency, or how to do something in Photoshop. The repetition of things also made it challenging because if I searched something over again I would have to draw it again. Its hard to find different ways of drawing the same thing.

Did you learn anything about yourself?

There is a large section of the drawing where I was trying to look up different types of Chinese food, because I was ordering it a lot and I couldn’t remember what the differences were between Lo and Chow Mein. So, it's just interesting how much I rely on the internet as a sort of supplement to my brain. We can remember how to get to information but we don’t remember the information itself, and that’s probably a problem. To track what you're searching is an interesting project, and you'll learn about yourself.

At the beginning of the interview you said that you consider most of your works as drawings, and you seem to use mostly paper, felt tip pen and collage. Why is paper your main material of choice?

I default to paper because it is so readily available, and it's more practical for large works to and roll up and manage. I'm kind of a small person and it's hard to manage big things.

Do you have a favorite kind of paper or pen?

I like Stonehenge because it has the right balance of cost effectiveness and quality. As for black pens, Papermate Flair is my favorite. It's not a fine art pen but they have a nice juicy line.

Some of your works are quite funny, for example Sex Compasses and Emergency Confetti. Were you thinking about humor?

I have a sense of humor, I feel like sometimes I come across weird and awkward, but though my work I try to express my funny side. It's more fun, why make really serious work?

For Sex Compasses, was it a parody of dating apps?

Yeah that’s exactly it, a kind of analogue Grinder or other app that says "you are .5 miles of this person, so fuck them or whatever." I don’t have much experience using them but I think the idea of them is so funny. With compasses, they are completely useless, its more about the idea that two compasses will point to one another, otherwise it would just be pointing North.

How did Emergency Confetti originate?

I guess it was a by-product of the Sex Compasses. I had found rings that were compasses but they didn't actually work, and I had glitter around, so I replaced the compass with the glitter. It was a result of just playing around in the studio. I actually gave them out at an opening.

Is there anything new you’ve been working on?

I've made some new collages to expand from just Playboy and UFC. I don’t want to be defined as the person who makes Playboy collages. I've started a different approach to collage where I cut the paper out into little shapes and reassemble them into a sort of hand done pixilation. They're made from photographs of celebrity crushes of mine. I'll make a photographic print of the image, then design a pattern and cut it out in a repeating constellation. It's been an interesting project and fitting the pieces back together is very hard as I've had to hand cut most of them, but I'm finding them very satisfying. They are about eight by ten inches and I would like to make larger ones. I'm working on the Playboy glitching still, specifically through the 3D printed objects. I've been thinking about making necklaces out of them or something. At Shapeways, you can send in files and print in different materials like sterling silver or gold. I think it would be interesting to see Miss. November, the object of desire, used as a piece of jewelry and a precious item.

What are some highlights from your past year?

I was in a group show at Younger than Beyonce in July. They were advertising at school and thought I would answer the open call. They liked my work, so I was in their first show. I also participated in the Buddies in Bad Times Auction in November, which is an event I participated in the year before as well. Its always a fun night.

Wow, isn't she great! We really enjoyed speaking with Allanah about her practice. She is wonderfully articulate and passionate about the themes in her work, and we look forward to seeing what she does next.

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