"London has a lot of palm trees," points out photographer Andi Galdi Vinko before our interview. Since then, the city's splashes of tropical topiary have been hard to miss. They're propped outside shops, in windows, in car parks – it's peculiar and comedic and a little bit inspiring (in terms of: focus on just the tree alone and you could be in California, not Chingford). This is the world that Andi's photographs inhabit – where the notion exists that, if you look properly at your surroundings, you will always find an element of the absurd.
"Paradisco", a series of her photos, will be exhibited at her UK debut show this Thursday, the 4th of June. The word is a combination of "para" – Hungarian slang that can be very loosely translated into "the uncanny" or "fear" – and "disco", which you already know the meaning of. The word perfectly describes Andi's aesthetic, which is unsettling yet playful, creepy yet bright.
I had a chat with her over a coffee to speak about the process behind these images, and why "girliness" should be used with self-reflection.
VICE: Firstly, what does the term "Paradisco" mean, in your words?
Andi Galdi Vinko: It's a slang word. Fear is just fear, but "para" is when you're scared of things in a weird way. I don't think there's any word for it in English. Disco is obviously just "disco". I also like the Italian word "paradiso", which is paradise, so it came organically. The two words combined allude to this elusive paradise.
For me there's no better example of "paradisco" than people who build a swimming pool in front of the endless ocean. Why would you do that? It's like putting perfume on flowers. But at the same time, if you're a tourist and you go to a hotel, you're pleased when there's a swimming pool by the beach.
How do you feel like the word "Paradisco" fits with this series?
A lot of my work is made up of what I think is strange or interesting or striking. It's all plastic and pink – the stuff that we as girls are supposed to love. I love unicorns and pink nail polish, but I also wonder why. Is it because I have to? We live in a world that is overwhelming. If you don't have enough followers on Instagram, or have colourful hair, or show your pubic hair, you're not interesting enough, right? This is what's happening.
I do feel like your photos have a social media aesthetic – like they could be easy to digest on Tumblr or Instagram. Is this intentional? Do you think about social media?
I think about it afterwards, but not when I'm doing it. Inspiration for me doesn't come from the internet necessarily, but from what is outside in the world and what you see on an everyday basis. There's a lot of weird shit happening in the street, but it doesn't always work as a photo. A lot of the time, I walk past something and see that it's interesting and I recreate it.
That's interesting, because I've noticed your photos appear both spontaneous and also heavily constructed.
Exactly. A good example is the pink teddy bear photo. I was in Sri Lanka with my best friend – we were in a car, travelling, and we drove past a blue wall, then we drove another five minutes and I saw this pink teddy bear wrapped in a plastic bag. We had this private driver, and you can't just stop the car – you can't just waste other people's time just because you've seen a teddy bear and a wall. But I wanted it so bad, so I started screaming, "Stop the car!" and they eventually turned round so I could get the image. It was spontaneous, but it was also composed, and that's a good example of how my photos have been in general.
I read that your work explores how we see ourselves and how we perpetually attempt to control how we are perceived. Is this something you think applies to this series in particular?
Yeah, in a way. We live in a world where everything is shaped by how you want to show yourself. It sounds really obvious, but on Instagram and Facebook, all that vulnerability and fragility of being a human disappears. You show yourself as a strong, independent artist who is having exhibitions and doing all these great things, but you don't talk about how you don't have money to buy a coffee.
We don't have printed photos any more. We have them on our iPhones and we erase the shitty ones and put filters on the good ones. My favourite director is Harmony Korine – he has always included this human fragility in his work.
I can definitely see the unusualness of Harmony Korine's aesthetic in your photos. For instance, that scene in Gummo where there's a boy in the bath eating spaghetti. That's such a weird scene, and almost so weird that you'd only see it in real life. I can see that sort of influence in your work.
That's a beautiful scene and totally something I would shoot. I think the colours, the head of the guy, the hair… it's these little gestures and details that I notice in his work, and what I try to include in my work, too. That's why I have to change something in each image to make it weirder and more unusual.
The phrase "youth culture" is often banded around when discussing your photographs. Is this something you try to encapsulate?
I don't know what "youth culture" means exactly, but I do know that my father was upset when I showed him this series. He asked, "Is this how you see the world?" He thought the photos were horrible and said that there's no classical element to it and asked where all my art education had gone.
There is a classic "femininity" to some of your photos, though.
There are real issues in being a woman, and whenever I go to a studio it takes an hour before people say, "Oh, you're not the model." So, for me, I think using pink things – and that classic "girliness" – is about irony and self-reflection. I want to be playful, and I certainly don't care about the male gaze. It doesn't even exist for me. I don't put a lot of selfies up. I always think, 'If I did, would I have more follows?' I don't think I need that.