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If Jeff Koons Collaged Internet Porn, It Might Look Something Like This

Multimedia artist Aline Alagem creates a series of eye-catching paintings during a six-month residency in Berlin.

by Alyssa Buffenstein
Jul 30 2016, 11:45am

Aline Alagem, Day Dreaming (white painting) (2016). All images courtesy of the artist.

Surrounded by elegant white swans and crystal-clear cascades of water, a porn actor engaging with a fellow actor doesn’t seem so sleazy. This is the beauty of Israeli artist Aline Alagem’s newest series, Skin, Tone, created in the first half of 2016 during a six-month residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The multimedia artist’s paintings appropriate images from mainstream porn and erotica and juxtapose them against imagery of flora and fauna, creating compositions that can potentially be called Pop art’s third wave.

Literally meaning “artist house,” Künstlerhaus Bethanien is dedicated to supporting contemporary art by providing studio space to artists working in a wide range of media, as well as exhibiting their works. A goal of the Kreuzberg-located institution is also to encourage dialogue between artists working in different media, and besides large-scale paintings, Alagem also works in video animation. “Being a resident artist at the Bethanien allowed me to have less boundaries in my work process. Having a very clear, autonomous territory that, for me, is target oriented with no distractions,” she tells The Creators Project, explaining that the live/work space allowed her increased freedom and flexibility.

Still Life (2016)

Alagem’s paintings hark back to the sensual Pop art of Tom Wesselmann's Great American Nudes, in which the artist reduced nude female forms into their basic shapes, in other words, objectifying them. In fact, in her show at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Alagem showed a hanging sculpture of a disembodied mouth, similar to mouth studies by Wesselmann. Alagem’s work also has obvious visual connections to certain brightly-colored, large-scale, neo-Pop paintings by Jeff Koons, like abstracted versions of his Made in Heaven paintings, sharing the same attention to color and light as certain paintings in his Celebration series. Bringing the aesthetics of Pop art into 2016, and doing so with a female gaze, Alagem’s objectification of the female body reads slightly differently, not to mention the fact that they’re not studies of women’s bodies, but examinations of wide-spread cultural imagery.

Rather than Pop artists of the past, Alagem tells us her artistic inspirations lie more among the likes of artist Betty Tompkins, who paints blown-up, zoomed-in, hyper-realistic pictures of genitals (link NSFW, duh) participating in sex acts. The late-18th century French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault inspires the arist's compositional approach, as well as the hyperealism of the “elegant, neurotic, detailed scenes” of Swiss painter Franz Gertsch. Altogether, these influences collide to create surreal, visually stimulating painterly collages.

Some of Alagem’s imagery is staged; for example, she painted pieces of a broken vase based on a real one, which she smashed and photographed herself. But for her pornographci pictures, it’s important for the artist that the body parts are appropriated found images, and not imagined or manipulated bodies. “It's pretty extreme that I have to look for the exact body part that would fit the composition in my head,” she says. “It takes so much time and in the process I become a consumer of these images myself.”

Landscape (2016)

As is the case for many young, contemporary formalist artists—particularly those working in Berlin—behind Alagem’s beautiful painting series is a complex theoretical concept. While visually, the paintings in Skin, Tone are lush, fragmented human and animal forms overloaded into one composition, the artist is interested in the concept of the "void." According to her artist statement, Alagem is thinking about the gap between her images’ original contexts and the decontextualized meanings they assume when morphed by the painter’s hand. Like the endless number of images we scroll past every day on social media or through advertisements, she is interested in “the desperate attempt to accommodate images that have already lost their source,” creating what she calls a “too-much-yet-never-enough restless sensation... [one of] constant and emptied climax.”

When viewing Skin, Tone, it is hard to think about anything but the striking beauty of these tessellated pictures. Even if modern attention spans are constantly tempted with hundreds of images, artistic expressions like this exhibit create a new, captivating reality.

Red Painting (2015)

See more of Aline Alagem’s work on her website.

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