I first discovered Allie Pohl and her work while browsing through Lena Dunham's instagram. One of Lena's posts showed a necklace with a glowing pendant of a perfectly symmetrical curved bottom half of (what we assume is) a woman dangling elegantly on her neck. The caption read "change is good". Whether Lena was talking about her new haircut at the time or making a wider comment on the need to change western beauty standards, which is what I found out upon further research the necklace has come to symbolize, I was intrigued. The necklace was the work of none other than Allie Pohl from her series the Ideal Woman, which has been garnering attention since her first showing in 2010 and has been solo exhibited in over eight cities. Allie has a knack for utilizing impressive and accessible design to ruminate over large complex social issues. From such unassuming topics as Barbies and online dating, she delves deeper into the concepts fueling these constructs and creates smart and scrupulous work (like my personal favorite, her porcelain chia pet-esque plant-growing crotch) that is eye-catching and conversation-sparking. I asked Allie more about her work, her motivation, her process, and exactly what an ideal woman is to her. Enjoy!
How did you first discover your desire to work as a conceptual artist? What did you study in school or experience outside of academia that influenced you to take this path?
I really never thought being an artist was a career path. I grew up in a very conservative town where people held “traditional” jobs. I always took art classes and did several years of AP art in high school. I went to Hamilton College in upstate New York and was a Communications Major and a Studio Art Minor. I wrote my thesis on the rhetoric and trajectory of the peace symbol. After college, I went to Parsons, The New School of Design in New York to study graphic design. I thought it was creative, and I could get a “real job” with my “skill.” I quickly realized I was not meant to have a client! I went to the University of Denver for my MFA in Electronic Media Arts (technology driven). I chose DU because it was not a medium specific MFA. It worked with how I think. The conceptual artist “title” was placed on me.
Your work covers a wide range of mediums from graphics to sculpture to video to installation - do you have a favorite medium/process/material to work with? Is there any medium you haven't yet worked in that you'd like to explore?
I love sculpture! I like being able to physically walk around an object and explore it from all angles. I would like to work in bronze and explore more textile-like pieces.
Do you have any rituals to get you started working or what does your typical day in the studio look like?
There is not a typical day. I am all over the place but attempting to form some type of schedule!
And where is your studio/what does your creative space look like?
My studio is in Venice, California. I have a two bedroom with a garage. I use my second bedroom as an office and the garage as a working space. I have recently grown out of this space and am starting to look for a “proper” studio in Los Angeles.
You've been interviewed extensively on your Ideal Woman series and have explained that it's rooted in commentary on western society's idea of a "perfect" woman. When do you think you first became aware of this perspective? As a woman who's grown up in the western world inevitably surrounded by western culture and ideals, how have you been personally affected or impacted by such perspectives?
The Ideal Woman series is about the idea of perfection. We are inundated with images or the notion of what is pretty, accomplished, successful, etc. I believe I became aware of this at a young age through comparison—academics, athletics, even as early as a growth chart. I was certainly always at the bottom of that! I am very short. I have always been the runt of the class. I was picked on, people would constantly pick me up, my mom would always encourage me to wear heels. Everything affects you; where you are born, where you go to school, what your family dynamic is like, your exterior. It’s impossible not to be affected by your surroundings and/or environment. How you interpret and digest what is going on around you is what makes you you!
Your Ideal Woman creations are constructed adhering to the 36-24-36 measurements guide you derived from a Barbie model - in this way your work seems very formulaic and in a sense detached from subjectivity, does this process and the rigidness of your final objects purposely mirror the confines western culture often tries to place women within? Who or what bodies do you think are major perpetrators of these "boxes"?
Absolutely! I think it helps emphasize that we are becoming cookie cutter versions of each other. We are overwhelmed with images that “define” feminine beauty, but the reality is that most of these images (or individuals) are produced with the help of technology—altering the representation of reality. Improvements in communication technology have allowed these images to be shared more quickly and frequently, which exacerbates their impact.
A lot of the language employed surrounding your art deals in absolutes - "ideal" and "perfection" namely...do you think there are valid examples of these concepts in our world? What is the perfect woman in your mind? Is there one?
Perfection does not exist!
Do you believe there are certain qualities that make women more beautiful, successful, etc.?
We live in an aesthetically-driven society. I think the individuals that are presented to us through the media are what are considered “beautiful.” A symmetrical face, long legs, skinny waist, ample breasts, well-fit clothes all add to the surface level of Western beauty.
For yourself, what makes you feel most beautiful, most successful?
I feel most beautiful when I am smiling, and I feel most successful when I'm impacting people positively.
Can you tell us a bit about your jewelry line? What prompted you to create it, how did you market it, what plans do you have to grow it, and where can readers buy their own pieces?!
I created the jewelry line as a way to keep the conversation going outside of galleries and museums. I thought it was important to have something accessible to everyone that could bring the ideas into pop culture.
I started selling the jewelry in conjunction with shows. Its “marketing” was, and still is, word of mouth.
I would love for the line to grow! I would like to start working in precious metal and stones.
The Ideal Woman jewelry is available on www.alliepohl.com/shop. I have created the code SHEFOLK for your readers to get 15% off their orders! In addition, the line is carried by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; MASS MoCA; ArtMarkit.com, and AKArt, among others.
Amazing! Thank you so much! What other cultural phenomenons influence your work? I know you've talked about superficiality and online dating apps...can you elaborate on these? Similarly, how does living and working in LA - a city stereotyped for its obsession with appearance - influence your work?
I am particularly interested in the trends relating to women altering their bodies—vajazzling, removing hair, adding hair. Where I find it gets very tricky, is when you permanently alter your body. Trends can come in and out very quickly.
I had to create work about online dating. EVERYONE was doing it! It became socially acceptable after social media became a daily activity. We have become little mini brands. Online dating is that at its finest!
That is one of the reasons why I moved to LA. The quest for youth and glamour are very present. It is a very pretty city.
Who are some of your favorite female artists and why?
Barbara Kruger. Words cannot express how I feel when I enter an installation of hers! I find her work so powerful, direct, and graphic.
Yayoi Kusama. Her exploration and consistent repetition of dots, for so many years and through many different mediums is truly inspiring.
Tracey Emin. I absolutely love her use of text and neon.
Sophie Calle. I think everything she does is conceptually stunning.
If you could collaborate with another creator, who would it be and why?
Have you encountered criticism of your work? If so, how do you handle that?
Of course! I like hearing different opinions and perspectives, it makes you more thoughtful.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?