Kaari Upson, Multimedia, Installation, Video, And Performance Artist, Portraitist– The ongoing project that has consumed multimedia artist Kaari Upson for most of the last decade could possibly only come about in Los Angeles—California is home to some of the strictest anti-stalking laws in the United States. And certainly obsession is a big part of the 38-year-old artist’s oeuvre. But it would be reductive to write off the mesmeric, messy, and psychologically molten productions Upson has staged over the years as a simple case of fixation. Her work delves into anonymity far more than fame, and the results are intense self-portraits even while they focus on somebody else. It all started in 2003, when Upson returned to her childhood neighborhood in San Bernardino, California, to check on her parents’ house as wildfires were raging through the area. She ended up going into the semi-abandoned McMansion across the street. Inside she photographed nearly every corner of the house and discovered a number of boxes of personal items left behind by the owner (soon to be given the name “Larry”). Upson confiscated three boxes containing photographs of the man from the late ’70s and early ’80s (often with young, pretty women in the vein of a Playboy lifestyle), journals that documented his troubled businesses, and forays into demode psychological therapies. These documents—which revealed so many details about a man Upson had never met—became the backbone of a project where identities were created, swapped, interfused, and finally exorcised. “When I was trying to kind of hijack his life and put it together, I was researching how you could assess who somebody is,” Upson says. “For example, I had a graphology [handwriting analysis] report done.” In uncovering the man who is Larry, Upson created a doll, interfused her portrait with his, built a Playboy-type grotto with video-art coves of sexual pleasure and frustration, and even assembled her own doll twin, which was molded and cast in charcoal. Now in her Koreatown studio, she is working on the final stage of her “Larry” project, which involves an inverted version of the staircase of that old McMansion made from a cast molded into the earth. “It’s been like a relationship with myself. But I think it’s time for it to go,” she says about her last tribute to a man she never really knew—or maybe knew better than he ever knew himself.
Kaari Upson burning a love seat for a work entitled it’s Never Enough, 2010, at her studio in Koreatown, Los Angeles, October 2010. Overalls: Marc Jacobs.
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