Maerschelle R. Douchechamp is an enigma. As a new media artist who exists and operates purely within the digital realm, central to Douchechamp’s practice is the archeology of the everyday. It is an interstitial approach via chance and appropriation, by which ordinary objects are, as the artist explains, “turned into machines that produce new meanings.” Furthermore, the idea of Maerschelle R. Douchechamp, as avatar of the times and alter-ego of an individual (identity undisclosed), is itself a vessel, a messenger-cum-message.
Immediately by considering appropriation, we are not made to think of the creation of new things. As we’ll see in this interview, Douchechamp doesn’t believe such a thing is still possible. One’s attention, then, is best attuned to the idea of rescuing perception from its rote functions, from perfunctory givens by which things are made to exist (e.g., a chair is a chair, a window, a window). Maerschelle’s attempts in his wanton extractions from the art canon and the everyday—if at least their sensibilities—permit a kind of play that doesn’t register as digestible to either of them. It’s worth noting, too, that in his remoteness and anonymity, Douchechamp is something of a pariah: there is no artworld, tradition, or social obligation that holds him back. Every now and then, he makes memes.
Given this, the alternative base of Douchechamp’s operations—the vacuum and shuffle of the Internet—puts him in a bind. Social media culture is not the preadolescent it was in the last decade before the dot.com boom, nor the first decade after. Total freedom is certainly not as apparent. There is a market niche for each audience interest, brands patterned after such micro-economies, and tandem to the preponderance of individualism, there are faces and leaders for these, too. It is not that the work Douchechamp does is costly or unsustainable (he does not need sponsorship for these things, for instance), neither is it about garnering attention. The force of this practice may very well be its wry understanding, the knowing smirk of Douchechamp toward the way the Internet is engineered. In Maerschelle, we see the parameters for so many beginning artists displaced. But is the remaining conjecture to what he does, at this point, simply art for art’s sake? If so, then so what?
In line with these, we sought to look at how exactly Maerschelle views his practice. These correspondences began a month after his loadnadito residency (October 14 – 19, 2020), survived Cartellino’s First Edition, and was picked up at the start of the New Year. The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Cartellino: The mediums you use—if I may call them that—aren't exactly what artists begin with. What draws you to digital art, specifically in the way you do it?
Maerschelle: The instantaneous medium of Instagram was a practical extension of my praxis. The Instagram page @maerschelle.r.douchechamp is an ongoing project that centers on identity, and what it means to be authentic in the Post Internet era. As this era ushered the belief that originality is an outdated concept, my project is a challenge to the canonical definition of what it takes to be an artist, and the slow disintegration of the enormous weight placed on authenticity of intent and works.
The intention was to thus create/propose a new form of artistic expression that can exist solely on Instagram. This creation of a new persona/myth has been an ongoing project that I have been developing in the past few years. With its own branding, Maerschelle Rrose Douchechamp was all part of the project that follows an artistic practice such as that of self-promoters Duchamp and Warhol. The self-promotion to generate legitimacy echoes the Vloggers and Influencers’ industry that has swept our country, especially in these times of pandemic.
The lockdown has forced us to reckon with Instagram as a legitimate platform for discovering new talents, hosting online shows, and even selling through the platform. This begs the possibility for an artist to participate in a regional arts scene solely from the exhibition space of Instagram. The artists will be creating works, with physical materials being a mere by-product of the actual works uploaded on Instagram.
C: But to have your works exclusively on the Internet is to have them mediated by the Internet. One would think of Instagram differently, as a platform that is most contested for attention, the most monitored, and customizable by the least. Would it be enough for your work to establish a hard presence, or is that beside the point? Could it be that part of its reception is that it is subjected to whirling about daily cycles and feeds?
This created a unique online marketplace that keeps growing every day. Though with the stream of images and information flowing on the Internet, it’s really hard for anyone to go viral these days. For now, I am content living on the fringes, making my presence felt to those who seek it. While I am also looking into ways to artificially pad my social media stats (not for legitimacy,) I find it funny to be afforded a platform without anything to say.
C: Your Pasa Load Residency back in October last year was hard to miss. There, your artist statement consisted of meme formats revolving around conceptual art. What followed were works from your Black Paintings series, the same you posted for Biennale.NO. Can you tell us more about these efforts?
M: I really enjoyed that residency as it tied into my current interest in creating works that exist in the vacuum of Instagram. The works were a combination of memes, stories, and posts of works in progress. The platform was also the perfect opportunity for digital identity experimentation and how you can curate a personality through the posts and the stories posted in the account. Although I did not create a meme of original content, the curation and how it somehow created a voice that catered to my message were really enjoyable. In the residency, I showed my influences in art, music, and objects.
After the residency, I proceeded to participate in the open Biennale.NO. Biennale.NO was a contemporary art biennale that doesn’t take place, with works that don’t exist. So this was the perfect platform for my ephemeral works. It was structured as a decentralized network of collaborative nodes, projects, and works, with the 2020 theme: The unbearable lightness of the Internet. The posting period was from November 1, 2020, to January 1, 2021. Coincidentally, my Instagram is on hiatus after this latest participation.
The work that I posted on my Instagram under the biennale.NO was from WORK NO. 0028- BLACK PAINTINGS SERIES. Central to the works was to question the idea of paintings. Specifically, what it means in the Post-truth era [note: an era in which people are likely to accept arguments based on emotions and beliefs, not facts].
Do we have to physically paint to be called a painter when we only paint to post on Instagram? I have the necessary idea for the painting, but I don’t possess the skills and materials to create it. Creating it digitally is the next best thing. In any case, these are works that I don’t intend to sell. This was also a great way to release stress after a long day of working from home. Today, I have close to 2500 pieces of 9x12 digital paintings that I have no plans for. I am also happy if anyone takes on the same concept to expand the idea by creating a mobile application to manipulate the same scheme and limitations to create their own BLACK PAINTINGS™.
C: Can you describe to me how this moves in line with your ideas of appropriation and chance operation? Would you say that your earlier works did something similar? (I'm thinking here of your AI Portraits and Meme Generators.)
M: Let's stay on WORK NO. 0028- BLACK PAINTINGS SERIES to anchor this point to the earlier explanation of the work. I created the WORK NO. 0028- BLACK PAINTINGS SERIES as a challenge to create works that are familiar using the tropes of minimal art in the limited format of Instagram. For me, art is an experimental tool. I am free to try things like appropriations, continuation, and even blatantly direct copying as a comment that originality does not exist anymore. This, of course, is a parody, but the practice straddles between being serious and being playful at the same time. When it’s direct copying, it’s a parody on the work of Virgil Abloh that seems to get away with direct copying, and it becomes serious again when it becomes an appropriation of western canonical works. For me, western art is my African sculptures. Like how the cubists used African sculptures blatantly, that has also given me the license to appropriate and use as I see fit Western art’s established canons. Plus, this quotation by Gianfranco Baruchello:
There is nothing at all that I can feel Picasso has given me some miraculous authorization to do, and Duchamp on the other hand gives me the authorization to pretend that I myself am Duchamp.
When I came across this quotation from Baruchello, this perfectly encapsulated my process of creating a work. A release and a sort of proof of concept. Although for the earlier works, I was fascinated by generators in general. Being able to create works from available generators on the Internet was something that really proves the concept that anyone and everyone can be an artist. Although the work does not need to be explained and does not mean anything, what’s important is the process, and the fleeting freedom affords me not to be limited on what I can or can’t do.
C: Maybe you can shed light on something that’s been bugging me. What exactly happens with art after Duchamp? Is his permission that—and I'm paraphrasing—"anyone can do whatever one wants with art" enough to go by? What kind of outlook best receives these ideas?
M: In talking about art after Duchamp, I always mention this quote from Virgil Abloh. Knowing for a fact that he is an influencer that has a strong following with the new generation. Taking direct influence from his process. In that sense, this makes Duchamp more relevant in this Post-truth/ Post Internet era:
I often tell people that Duchamp is my lawyer. He's the legal premise to validate what I'm doing. Because streetwear started from the gesture of taking a logo, flipping it upside down, and sewing it back on again. What I'm wearing right now is a streetwear shoe. But to me, it's just as valid as a Tom Sachs reinterpretation of a Hermès bag made out of plywood. This is a readymade. Nike designed the original shoe in Oregon, and then the Duchamp thing was like: "How do I make this shoe different? How do I make you appreciate the shoe?" That's where the typography comes in. Typography is the realm where you can unlock the reality of what a garment is. It's Photoshop 3.0. If I take a men's sweatshirt and write "woman" on its back, that's art. You can use typography and wording to completely change the perception of a thing without changing anything about it. This is what we learned from Barbara Kruger—you can evoke meaning by crashing two things together. And our result is not a one-off. These shoes are going to be mass-produced so kids can buy them.
Again, in the Post-Internet era, nothing is considered original anymore. Even the most radical ideas that have previously existed only as ideas have been explored and reached their limits. Art is not exclusive to this phenomenon, where all the work is either a rehash of previous work or an interpretation of another. This is evident especially in the extreme commodification of art and how it responded to the art market trends. Social Media Influencers like Virgil Abloh have rejected the notion of the who-did-it-first mentality of previous generations in favor of the copy-paste logic of the Internet and its inhabitants. Abloh has turned the fashion world upside down from being super consumers, bringing with him the Hip-hop culture’s ethos where sampling and appropriation is an accepted and even encouraged creative tool.
In the perspective of new influencers like Abloh, the definition of luxury had shifted to value systems when it introduced limited editions. Terms like 'grail' and 'coveted' become the new catchphrase for luxury. This harkens back ironically to the early days of the streetwear era, where authenticity is the badge that is important for validating the culture. Those who belong to the culture are far and few, so the material culture is limited because their followers are limited.
Off-White, a boutique clothing label headed by Virgil Abloh, is a prime example of the loss of originality. Abloh launched his own label Pyrex Vision in December 2012. The idea was simple: he took deadstock flannels from Ralph Lauren and screen printed the Pyrex logo to be resold at a higher market price. Abloh took his cues from the father of conceptual art Marcel Duchamp in taking a mass-produced product and adding a new and original meaning in the process.
This is what Virgil Abloh, the maker of Off-White, has been making a career out of. Buoyed by the influence of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp, Virgil has also claimed that Off-White isn't necessarily meant to be bought or worn. According to Abloh, "Off-White is two things. It's the consumer product, but then it's also a theory. It's a modern proposition," Abloh informed Dazed. "The obligation isn't to buy Off-White. It's to just look at it. It's just to be conscious of the concept. That's what I'm doing, making a concept around streetwear, which feels very modern to me. And my goal is for people to absorb the fashion show images or understand the layers of the fashion show that I'm putting together."
In taking Virgil Abloh's concept of Off-White, the ethos of "anyone can do whatever one wants with art" is alive and well. Processed and understood by more people than ever before.
C: Thank you for introducing Virgil Abloh. Market forces aside, the utopian purview of democratizing art is often worth nodding to. In the case of Virgil in particular, can’t a case be made that his reselling of products as appropriated works (and at soaring price markups at that) run counter to your ideas, which are so resonant with free-culture movements?
M: Oh, don’t get me wrong, me dragging Virgil into this conversation is to prove that direct appropriation can work and has worked for him, but I am by no means aligning my work with him. I see Virgil as the other side of the spectrum of my practice, one driven by commercial gain and social media influence. We can say that we disagree with him and that his method is unethical, but it works and the results are evident at the end of the day. What I see in Virgil is a proof of concept that anyone can do it: self-promotion and direct appropriation are tools that are available right now that are both effective and available. I think it just makes sense to steal ideas from people that are successful in their own industry.
C: Another thing. In my mind, however one would like to call it—post-truth, post-Internet, post-medium—these theories induce the sense that we can’t help but be contingent to the reality they purport. We all have public personalities in a way, whether our social profiles, our avatars, are alter-egos or not. And if originality has indeed been replaced with recontextualization, and we all endorse ourselves on the Internet anyway, why toot the horn?
M: Because I can, that's the beauty of it, the freedom to just do whatever you want without inhibiting yourself because of its originality. If you have an idea, you don't need to look it up and ask permission from the idea's originator and do it. You can copy it directly, make a homage, continue the concept or create your version of the original idea. Browse, pick up ideas, create, post, and cycle back. In the post-truth, post-Internet, post-medium, being consistent in your intent is the only thing that can separate you from everyone doing the same. Consistency has become rare nowadays as we go through cyclical patterns of intense interest to fading interest until there is no more audience. But if you can create consistently, they will eventually come around and pick it up again.
C: My grapple is this: what is the effect of explicitly building these conditions (ideas about identity and authenticity in the time of post-Internet) into your works, when others pursue art differently under these conditions anyway?
M: The idea of anonymity happens to be the limitation that I am currently working on in my practice. This limitation that I set upon myself has nothing to do with the trends and how others pursue their art. The limitations are what keeps it interesting for me. My art practice is mine and mine alone, which gives me immense satisfaction knowing that I pursue it the way I see fit. If no one participates, I will still keep making the things that I think need to be made. No emotional release, no mental demons that I need to wrestle with, but just straightforward ideas that I came up with or stole from someone I feel like I can continue and interpret. Just plain work.