Healing the I
Interview by Elke van Campenhout

You chose to reinterpret the overall term ‘displacement’ as ‘make-over’. In what sense is a make-over a displacement for you?

I chose this term because it concerns a kind of visual shift, a displacement of an image. But of course I also chose the word because it has ‘make’ in it, and it refers to make-up, and it refers to the make-overs of magazines, etc..

When I think about make-over I think about reality TV programs like ‘The Swan’: programs that through a make-over displace people so far out of their ‘normal’ habitat that they hardly look like themselves anymore.

Yes that is true, when your looks gets changed there is indeed a displacement happening in the constitution of the self. You start locating yourself differently, because the outsider’s look upon you has changed. I don’t think it has to do with ‘prettiness’ or ‘ugliness’. I think this displacement happens in all directions whenever you change your appearance.

Looking at your research I would say that what you create is a gap between what you thought you were and what you are becoming in the transformation.

Yes this gap is a moment of contemplation. In that moment you become aware of your self-constructed self. And also you become more conscious of the relation of this self to the outside society that helped you creating it. This constructed self I usually see as a collage. You like this, but also that. A bit of art, a bit of life style. In realizing that you are a construction, you can start to play with it, you don’t have to get attached to this ‘I’.

What happens when you let go of the ‘I’?

This awareness helps you to become more open to other people, less strict, less limited by ideals. Which also limit others. But first you have to cleanse yourself to be able to see it. And in the case of the Lili or the Lilification this cleansing process is a very playful one. It is all about not taking yourself so seriously, about playing with the ‘I’s, all together. To open to the other, to the influences of others, to affect each other. It is a kind of movement against individualism, against this dictate of finding yourself, realizing yourself.

And in that process there doesn’t seem to be a clear good or bad, good taste, or responsible choice-taking.

No because this puts a lot of pressure on yourself, but also on others. This is where prejudice starts. Instead of saying what the good ‘thing’ is, the thing people should embrace or think, it is much more confrontational to really confront yourself with what is there, not to censor it.

Lili does appear under a certain aesthetics though, an aesthetics that emphasizes somehow the things you do not allow yourself to embrace, a kind of aesthetics of bad taste.

Yes because Lili takes the commercial image and tries to turn it into a healing system. And it makes fun of the aesthetics of the arts, of good taste, of the fear of embarrassing yourself. What is that arty intellectual image that I create around myself? For me it is no different from the commercial image. People hate that, and I understand. But it is important: why should I invest myself so much in the production of an aesthetics when there are so many commercial aesthetic models around I could just use. Why not turn things around and copy the commercial.

There has been quite a lot of historical references in art history to these kinds of commercial displacements. In pop art, for example. Just thinking about the Campbell soup can.

Yes, but the problem is that most of these practices still play in a genius economy of the arts. And are in that sense very egotistic. Ethics for me are important: how I work with people, how I make sure not to instrumentalize them. I want to create an experience in which the people are the stars. Off course there is an ambiguity in the experience, but I really want to make people feel good. Not shock them, I don’t want to be violent.

Somehow you use these strategies, to turn the art experience into a therapeutic one. How do I bring these different strands together: the use of commercial imagery and strategies in the arts scene, and the therapeutic moment of criticality?

My starting point was to use something that is suffocating you in order to liberate yourself. And now I have to say I try to develop a visual language that is different from the commercial. From the commercial to the fantastic, the surreal. But off course this is a very broad area. And people seem to connect the same kind of situations to all kinds of images: of films of the 1970’s to 1990’s.

But is this not because these fields of phantasmatic potential are often situated in your childhood or teenage years. So people that grew up in the 1980’s or 1990’s, see these images as iconic not only for a certain age, but also as reference points in the construction of their ‘self’?

Maybe the therapeutic aspect borrowed from commercial strategies is that the visuals always have to remind you of something and that, through this reminder, you make a connection. In this case, between yourself and the media images that ‘formed’ you: movies, series, ... That is what I want to happen, because you create these connections, I didn’t put them there, and this tells you something about your projections and backgrounds. It’s making these connections visible, all these images you use to construct your selves.

It’s a nice idea that your sense of self has been projected into you, through the movie projector, and now you’re projecting it out again. So you are just a piece of media.

Yes, and in the ‘help center’ we try to cleanse you somehow. It is a way of protesting the invasion of the private space and the self. To pause this bombardment of values, of self-responsibilization, especially in a work environment. Not only managers, but also their secretaries become responsible for their work as a creative project. And this is very much part of a neo-liberal system of value-creation, that puts a lot of pressure on people, invading their private sphere, how they see yourself. There IS no privacy anymore, the constant imperative is… work.

Yes, I see a parallel now between the physical make-over that pushes the idea of the makeability of the self to the edge, and the promise of the neo-liberal life in which you can make over every singel detail of your profile self, your relations, your house, …

And believing in it! In that process of projection and construction you grow completely alienated, detached from another kind of being. There is so much invested in projections and fantasies, that people seem to be unaware that their ego’s are taking over. And this is what in the end constitutes a society that is filled with people that live solely on the strength of their projections and identity confirmations.

So what you offer is a kind of homeopathy: you give people even more opportunity to transform themselves, to revel in the pleasure of it, as a kind of purging experience? To physically experience how deep these projections have been implanted in our bodies, and then somehow let this realization transform you.

Yes, and then to realize at the end that what you thought before was very important has become irrelevant. It is a kind of therapy because we use some therapeutic attributes to make you understand that there is something to be done here. It is not offering a solution, the solution you have to find yourself.