New Criticals

On Sincerity, Safety, & the Girly Collective: An Interview with Gaby Cepeda


Gaby Cepeda is a curator currently based in Lima, Perú. In addition to curation, she explores critical art writing and gif-making based online. Her work exists hand-in-hand with her personal identity, encapsulating multiple overlapping experiences of living in Latin America as a Mexican female. Her curatorial work remains neatly balanced between “traditional,” IRL shows and prolific Internet-based projects, specifically the Girls of the Internet Museum (GIM). No matter the medium specificity, however, Cepeda keeps true to her feminist ideals through constant consideration of gender, racial, and geographic inequalities prominent in the art world, the net art world, and pop culture.

Cepeda's practice illustrates that one can exist in-between worlds and manifest the same core beliefs in each. The GIM, a tumblr-based, ongoing collection of work by female-identified artists, showcases girly experiences as expressed online and mediated through cyborg realities. The GIM is a prevalent contributor to discourses on sincere female-identified narratives as opposed to male, heteronormative experiences. Cepeda's work in IRL curation ride on the same fundamental ideologies.

Firstly, your practice is really multifaceted. I want to ask how you identify yourself?

so, yeah, i identify myself as young mexican curator and sometimes artist, i also really enjoy writing, tho mostly reviews and art criticism.

my practice is definitely multi-faceted like i feel most artists' is nowadays. i still feel curating is my favorite thing to do and the one i would most love to be financially rewarded for. it's tough out here in Latin America for a young independent woman curator.

My artist practice kind of was always there and not at the same time, i studied photography but after graduation i decided i'd much rather make a living off of reading+writing than having to work for the news/fashion industry which is something i wasn't interested in pursuing.

I've made gifs since my tweens in LiveJournal, but i dont think the "seriousness" or actual style of my gifs took off until after i was approached by Lorna Mills and Rea McNamara to participate in the SHEROES series back in 2012. The periodicity of the shows and the sense of community that it built, while also exposing me to a bunch of other people doing similar work, totally helped expand my own expectations/ambitions about my gifs. And i've just kept doing it ever since and luckily and thankfully having people curate/ask for me to keep doing it, which is so dope : ) I even get paid sometimes, lol.

What are some current interests of yours and how do these interests manifest?

mostly the themes that interest me are feminism and the internet, specifically the crossing of those two, which makes for a very large crossing. i'm also interested in race and representation of women in media.

my gifs are mostly about society's expectations on women, and how those are projected on celebrity culture. so, i usually use rihanna, or nicki or kim kardashian, drake etc mostly to create rarefied experiences based on these very familiar faces. maybe present them in transformed ways, so that some kind of differenced thinking might appear; i can't really tell what people think when they see them, but i do know i enjoy transfiguring these very common narratives on women as seen on celebrities
thru very fast/content filled/color-crazy images.

some other keywords: clusterfuck, sexuality, glitter, (traditionally perceived) girly visuals, catholic imagery (im a culturally catholic mexican lol), pop music.

in my curating, i have the GIM which im currently re-paradigm-ing? i just had an IRL show in Lima and that made me realize how the core concepts of the GIM have changed since i first started it in 2012. so even tho all of them still hold their weight, i feel like the perspective has definitely shifted and led to new realizations, and the GIM is happy to acknowledge these. so while it used to be a much more reduced/specific curatorial endeavor, i'm now into the idea of taking it more seriously as an institution, and by that i mean taking responsibility on what it embodies, and what kind of art it represents. so i'm being a lot more responsible and curating harder and making sure or trying my best to have ALL kinds of different online-(self-identified) girl-experiences represented.

it's really easy to believe the internet is this "democratic"/"available to all"  medium for art, when in reality it is still true that most of the art/artist visible are all from Chicago-NY-LA/London-Berlin-Paris, so that's a "hole" one can easily fall into. im trying hard to snap out of that.

In your experience, how does the Internet mediate feminism in how it is expressed and consumed?

i feel the internet mediates feminism in pretty much the same way the real world does, only bigger and meaner. like every skeptical non-receptive person out there might not be like "hey feminism makes no sense" in real life, but they sure will jump at you online.

Also, the internet is not a vacuum, nor is art, of course the work of feminist artists is gonna be interpreted or criticized within a patriarchal structure. i'm  thinking selfie artists and how they're at the same time one of the most visible practices and the most vilified/questioned. it makes perfect sense because that's how real life is, a woman cannot b sexy, visible and have agency without all kinds of questioning or policing. i'm not saying they should be exempt from all types of criticism, but i do think it should be done right and fairly as it should be done with all of our peers.

In what ways has online feminism affected your practice?

I think what's best about internet+feminism is the community it builds, at least in my case, i've been drawn into a community of like-minded women who allow safer, more intelligent spaces for these and all kinds of practices to be discussed and that definitely means a breath of fresh air.

while i was having my curating program's director in Buenos Aires (a woman btw) tell me i was "holing myself up in a ghetto" (CAN U BELIEVE IT) by having a very specific interest in feminist and made by women art; i was also reading and participating in very passionate conversations about its undeniable validity.

so yeah, the internet doesn't change the world, but it is a great tool to bring like-minded people together.

What are your curatorial processes?

the GIM is like one project that i run parallel to what i would call my IRL curating, or more traditional career-making curating, to call it something. For the GIM i pretty much research while online, like i'll be on my fb timeline or twitter, and see (self-identified) girls producing work, and ask them about links to their work, it's more like that, being online and keeping an eye out for stuff that might work for the GIM. its something that i also do IRL of course, but the biggest part of the GIM collection has been found online.

however, IRL i guess my practice is more traditional? i see a lot of shows get in contact with artists whose work i like, some of them will become friends and recommend other artists, some ill find online and then go visit their studios. just regular stuff like that. that side of my work is also very influenced and permeated by my interests, like if i have a male artist reach out 4 me to curate his work for a show, i immediately know that this guy will not be a reg art bro lol, because im not interested in having people and specifically ARTISTS not question the systemic inequalities all around us. by this i dont mean that every work of art should be political or outwardly political, but you know it when you see it, if a body of work is just perpetuating narratives or structures that we'd just be better disposing of, i definitely won’t be the right fit for it.

How else does your dedication to these intersecting conversations on race inequality, gender inequality, and geographical Chicago-NY-LA/London-Berlin-Paris centrality affect your IRL curation?

my choosing to live in Latin America is a factor of course, the regular transit for aspiring mexican curators would be study in NY/move to Berlin, but i was def not into getting in debt at such a young age by studying in NY, and i also feel a lot more comfortable and actively interested in what the education and the art scenes have to offer south of America and Europe. i just feel like the whole of the american continent is my place, and finding great awesome talented unknown artists in here is pretty easy, since the world's usually looking into very specific geographical spots. the voices to be found around here are really unique, im just interested in working with them.

i've done about a dozen shows IRL since 2012 most in Buenos Aires, a few in Mexico City and Lima. it's usually artists whose work i'm interested in, in some way, or if i can see something in the work that im interested in bringing out. my favorite part of curating is probably the communication/interaction with the artists. i feel like i learn a lot from that, and i'd like to think that the feeling is mutual.

Do you have any criticism towards contemporary curation?

i don't think i have "criticism" of contemporary curating, it's just mostly stuff
i'm not interested in, but to each their own, yknow? i usually say im glad that there're lots of types of curators, that way i dont have to curate all the bullshit i dont care about lol. there're just some types of artists/shows that turn me off, but that's probably true for everyone. mostly safe, really vanilla, non-challenging, non-questioning, trendy shows? i mean you can have a really vague or extremely poetic premise for a show, but if you got the right artworks to show for it, im down. but sometimes it's just, well, just bad curating, works that could otherwise shine just thrown in a junkpile of contemporary art visual language trends, it's weird, i see that all the time on contemporary art daily; or here in Lima or Buenos Aires, ppl trying to emulate a certain aesthetic and if u add lazy curating to that, its just art shows that make me go "huh?".

What dialogues and conversations do you aim to conjure through curation?

I want to question things that might be considered a given, or innocuous parts of the larger system. I also try to stay up to date with theory, and to be able to identify how a global consciousness develops alongside the circulating aesthetic trends, with the circulating ideas or lines of thought. Like looking at a Katja Novitskova show, or reading a Rosi Braidotti text and then seeing those ideas reflected in the work by an artist in the other side of the world; but in a resignified way, brought by a completely different context. So in a way, i’m interested in dialoguing with popular discourse but from a localized perspective that’s also permeated by my main interests.

Getting back to your online curation, what are the core concepts of the GIM?

The core concepts of the gim are (these are all on my website btw):
+ sincerity
this used to mean "absence of irony" just because im personally not  interested in "ironic" art, however i have occasionally found the strange creature that is a sincerely ironic work. like a criticality that stems from the ironic, yet truly scrutinizes or points at something in a sincere way. hope thats remotely clear.

+ a subjective representation of girliness that can ultimately convey a more universal -yet specific- statement on the female condition
the "specific" part i just added recently, because it dawned on me how obvious it is that there is not a "universal" statement to be made on the female condition. yet i do believe that the internet environment provides for specific experiences for different groups of women,and im kinda thinking about #gamergate, or #TheseTweetsAreCalledMyBack, and how these groups have collective responses to a given situation or system around them. i think artists, while representing an individual's perspective can also become a sort of voice of a collective as well.

+ a sensibility to translate artistic intention into online-representation and vice versa
this one used to include the word "branding" which has aged terribly, lol. Specifically since the recent shift/fad from net art to "post-internet" in which the familiarity of artists with corporate brands became a point of contention, and i agree. i guess what i mean with this "sensibility" is finding a balance or equilibrium between online self-representation and the exposure of one's artistic practice. im thinking of Hannah Black's twitter which is great, or Adriana Minoliti's various groups/endeavors and Deanna Havas' online presence which is a discourse of its own. that kinda presence is not "work" per se, but i think it informs their work.

+ the acknowledgement of the fluidity between emotions/reality in the online/offline worlds, meaning, the cyborg condition we all embody in present times.
this one's a direct reference to Donna Haraway, whose work informs the GIM immensely. its specifically about the part on the cyborg manifesto where she talks about evolution blurring the line between human/animal, then the machines of the XXth century blurring the line between human/machine, and the blurring of the limits of the "physical" and well yeah, why the hell would "URL feelz" be less real than IRL?

What were the ramifications of having the GIM installed IRL as opposed to online and how have the core concepts changed as a result?

well it's not necessarily that installing it IRL changed the core concepts of it, more like, when writing the text to go with the exhibition, i realized how these had aged and changed with time. like a lot of the thinking and writing that pertains to the GIM is actually happening in real time, because we as humans are just getting to see the effects of our hyperconnected reality.

i feel like the 'core concepts' will keep mutating as the human+internet relationship intensifies, and as more people and different kinds of experiences have access to it, so im willin and flexible to accommodate as we all grow and learn from this almost global experience. i think art will do too, i dont see the GIM or the kind of art practices or the female condition it tries to represent as stationary, quite the opposite.

There've been a lot of conversations lately about representations of women in feminist net art concerning the reverence of conventionally attractive, white female bodies as opposed to non-white or unconventional bodies. What are your opinions on this?

about the whole controversy with the ubiquity of white conventionally beautiful abled bodies in feminist art, i feel its well founded. by ALL means we should be questioning WHY are these bodies the ones being more prominently distributed, the ones getting the most views and attention.

i dont think this is something that can be "blamed" on the artists and their artistic intention, but i do think its something that we should be aware of. to what degree certain types of bodies, in certain types of artworks, are more palatable to the present system ie the capitalist patriarchy and how that affects whatever criticality they may have.

i think we owe it to ourselves as peers to be critical of both the artworks and the distribution channels, galleries, shows, institutions etc. why is it that this kinda work is more visible? can it still be subversive? how can it maintain its edge without becoming more noise in the daily conventional white skinny ablest beauty discourse that we're spammed with everyday?

Do you feel your tween years were highly influenced by the cultural aspects of gif-making on LiveJournal? How do those experiences inform your current aesthetic?

Yeah, totally! I think growing up in the internet was very impactful for a bunch of artists of our generation. I was still around for Web 1.0 and that implied a lot of very glittery very slow loading gifs in GeoCities websites. I used to have a GeoCities website that i’m hoping will show up on Olia Lialina’s GeoCities Tumblr Archive. i remember it having a cheetah print background and a KiTTiE (the metal band) soundtrack, lol.  I vividly remember learning a lot about art and music on LiveJournal communities, and it totally shaped my interests, most likely to this day, and i’m grateful for that access.

You also use a lot of anime imagery in your gifs. What does anime signify to you?

Well im a pretty big anime fan, ive been watching since im a kid, so i guess aesthetically its a very pleasing/comfy space for me. I also think that it’s insane in its representation of human bodies, its basically humanoid in how super-human it is. and i think that goes well with the intention of my gifs. like how we project our expectations of bodies and women on these popular mass-consumed narratives, be it Rihanna or Sailor Moons impossible eyes+legs. Not to mention all the sexual fetishes in the anime world, but i don’t really dab on that besides seeing it on tumblr like “aw f’real?”

Do you have any final thoughts, feelz, etc?

THX 4 THE QUESTIONS <3 sorry for typing so much kinda felt like in an art-oriented version of the confessional part of KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS raspberry which is always a good thing. luv <3