Elly Clarke

visual artist exploring digital identities

23.10.2017   - 29.10.2017

Elly Clarke was born 1976 in London. As a performer, photographer and curator she is interested in the changing face, experience and role of the physical object and body in our increasingly digitally-mediated and experienced world. She explores this theme through photography (analogue & digital, mobile phone pictures & screen grabs) video, performance, audio, music, writing and curating. And through #Sergina, a gender-ambiguous, multi-locationable drag queen persona Clarke created, who sings and performs songs, across single and multiple bodies, about love, desire and loneliness in a time of digitalism.

Clarke’s work plays with the idea that the physical body is in danger of becoming redundant. As the image takes an increasingly centralized place in the creation, presentation and performance of identity, the more the physical body falls into the shadow of its omnipresent digital descriptions. Whilst the digital body flies to people and places unimaginable, the organic body, clunky in its physicality, drags behind, archaic and almost rotten in its inability to be in more than one place at anyone time. The digital image allows – and encourages – identity to be plural and promiscuous. Intimacy is dragged up, and shared via networks that extend way beyond people we know. We are under pressure to maintain and curate, update (and upgrade) our physical and digital bodies continuously. And meanwhile, our data is becoming our most valued output; each individual understood as an orgy of algorithms, which (un)invited guests are increasingly paying (or not paying) to play (with) – often without our knowledge. Concepts and practices of privacy and intimacy are being challenged – as are the boundaries between human and machine. With each new popular technological development come further questions regarding these issues, which are at once personal and political, public and private, state driven and individual.

#Sergina first came out for parties in Berlin in 2009 and entered Clarke’s work a few years later. First for music videos and later live performances, which soon involved other people performing, simultaneously, as #Sergina, to the same choreography, wearing the same clothes, the same wig, the same makeup, to live audiences in different cities, linked up by Google Hangout and live broadcast via YouTube and other digital platforms. In this format, #Sergina (plural) has performed in museum, gallery, theatre and queer spaces in the UK, Germany, Serbia and the USA – including The Lowry Centre, Salford Quays; Marlborough Theatre, Brighton; G12 Hub and Kulturni Centar GRAD in Belgrade; The Club, Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Kareoke and Silver Future, Berlin; Birmingham Open Media; Secret Project Robot Art Experiment, Brooklyn and the Island Bristol; Home Manchester and the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. Aside from Clarke, people who have embodied #Sergina in this performance so far are Liz Rosenfeld, Vladimir Bjelicic, Kate Spence, Katy Pendlebury, Thomas Doherty and Raul de Nieves. Other open source performances involving more have also taken place.

Other major projects include FRAME_birmingham – a multi-venue curatorial Arts Council West Midlands supported project that saw work by 44 local and international artists inserted into 33 mostly non-art venues across Birmingham; Clarke Gallery, which Elly ran for 5 years, initially out of her apartment in Berlin and later as a mobile venture that took exhibitions to other people’s spaces; The George Richmond Portrait Project, which traces ancestral portraits by the artist’s great great great grandfather George Richmond RA (1809-1896) to the same families that commissioned them to explore the performance of identity and the objects that help tell the story; Half Crowns in their Petticoats – an audio archive project made with former employees of the UK’s first Municipal Bank in Birmingham, and Camden Encounters – a year long commission for Camden Council.

The Cyber and Material Character / weplay4unow

During The Beholder group show, SomoS presents a live link to “The Cyber and Material Character: weplay4unow.com,” a hybrid live/online project and group show by Elly Clarke, Lena Chen, Stephanie Ballantine and Esben Holk at FKK (FotoKlub Kollektiv), Berlin. Both projects explore similar thematic interests, such as the connection between artistic labor, sex work, and the commodification of intimacy and identity in the digital age.

The premise of weplay4unow: Four online characters appear together in the material world, offering to you a chance to play. They test the boundaries of the ‘Cyboptican’: an action office of computers and webcams. They attempt to invert the gaze that is inherent to their Labor. The room is a set for the action to occur. The actions are instances of play. Buy an action and watch, be watched, watch together, or let us all be watched. (I see, you see, we see, they see). Choose a player and pay for their work. Or choose a task and select who you would like to perform it.

While some actions play into the notion of art and artists as objects of consumption, others “actions” challenge the notion of passive viewership as the spectator is asked to become a performer in the work. The durational performance runs from October 21st to November 4th.

An installation featuring a station with a computer screen with a live broadcast from the gallery space of FotoKlub Kollektiv is set up at The Beholder, in which characters from The Cyber and Material Character will be available to perform actions at the direction of spectators visiting The Beholder.

Elly Clarke homepage