Alexander Si operates as an anthropologist, examining recent phenomena in popular culture. Si trained in media studies at the University of Toronto before completing an MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and now studies the impact of technology and media on our well-being . The multimedia artist is an observer who commands a deft ability to capture the horrifying qualities of everyday life to which many of us have now become desensitized. More recently, he has taken on surveillance technology and celebrity culture, two toxic life forms under surveillance.
Last September, Si debuted Britney (born in 1981), a project that took the form of a receipt printer installed at the Home Gallery in New York, where it spewed out an archive documenting the arc of Britney Spears’ life. It started with her birth and included childhood photos and a list of hobbies she enjoyed growing up in the Bible Belt; he detailed her appearance on “Star Search” at the age of ten, where she was asked if she had a boyfriend. It also featured frame-by-frame stills from his 1998 debut music video, … Babe Once again; reproduces tabloid covers from the mid-2000s covered with invasive photos of the singer; and included Spears’ first Instagram post acknowledging the #FreeBritney movement.
The “receipts” – mostly images accompanied by contextualized sentences – total approximately 3,000 feet in length and reveal the chilling volume of publicly available information about Spears’ daily activities over the decades, including captured mundane Starbucks runs. by paparazzi. If was piecing together Spears’ whereabouts since early 2019, when the pop star’s “Domination” residency in Las Vegas was abruptly canceled and she was checked into a mental health facility. The ordeal sparked concern and speculation from many fans, culminating in the #FreeBritney movement. Luckily, Si’s exposure coincided with one of the court hearings that helped end Spears’ father’s controversial thirteen-year conservatorship.
“While making this piece, I thought a lot about what Britney would say if she saw it, because I really don’t want to offend her,” Si said during a studio visit. “That’s why I chose receipts, because they’re disposable.” The ephemeral material’s links to financial transactions also testify to how Spears was used for the monetary gain of others, including managers and music companies as well as her family.
While Britney (born in 1981) devoted empathy to a woman instrumentalized by greed, Si Self-help (2021) focuses on the rise and fall of women who have seriously tried to build careers out of white corporate feminism. The sculpture borrows its form from a small free library, these structures resembling birdhouses containing free books for neighborhood exchange. Si’s take, inspired by what he’s seen in free piles in Brooklyn, features outdated titles that have disappeared from bestseller lists – Ellen DeGeneres’ 2011 autobiography, Lena Dunham’s memoir in 2014, Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso in 2014 #girlbossand Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg 2013 Bend Over: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Si’s assortment of unwanted books, purchased from used bookstores and on eBay, reflects the number of people who are now trying to distance themselves from the ideas advanced by the aforementioned authors. In our current age of “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” memes, such notions of leaning feminism are increasingly derided for empowering white women to occupy positions of greater power in a capitalist society, rather than completely abolish operating systems. In Self-helpthe books are enclosed in a wooden structure at an almost inaccessible height of eight feet, underlining how inaccessible such frames are to the majority.
While some of Si’s contemporaries are dedicated to portraying Asian American life beyond caricatures, calling for increased representation in media and culture, Si instead focuses on whiteness. Overturning the historical precedent of the white cultural anthropologist studying, sensationalizing and altering non-white communities, the artist – who was born in China and lived in Canada before emigrating to the United States – approaches whiteness from the perspective from a stranger.
His experience of having practiced and finally renounced the methods of assimilation makes him perfectly familiar with white culture. “Once I got here, had no accent, learned all the American pop trivia, ate at Sweetgreen, exercised at Equinox and as I became this model minority, it dawned on me that I was still not, and never will be, treated as an equal,” Si said. “Through a lot of unlearning, I was able to take step back and really appreciate this external point of view, because it allows me to be critical of [certain norms] that society readily embraces, no questions asked.
Next, Si plans to take on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle and wellness brand, Goop. In the meantime, he already has two solo exhibitions scheduled for later this year in New York, where he is based. Next July, Si will launch an immersive installation at Chinatown Soup exploring Sweetgreen’s role in enhancing the lives of white-collar workers and athleisure enthusiasts. And at the Ki Smith Gallery in October, his sculpture exhibition titled “Videodrome”, inspired by David Cronenberg’s 1983 sci-fi film of the same name, will speculate on the horrific ways our bodies can transform as a result of our addiction. to technology. Throughout, Si’s deft examinations of recent trends in popular culture portray the dystopian qualities of the present.