Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet

21st-Century Boy Band

“Maybe this is the begging of a chapter of hope” says Ville Haimala who, alongside Martti Kalliala, makes Amnesia Scanner. For the past few years they’ve been collaborating with French artist Freeka Tet on live streams, live performances, singles and now an LP. Their latest offering, STROBE.RIP, is a kind of snapshot into what could be a new era for the group.

In our zoom conversation, an internet lag causes their voices to converge in a surreal harmony that oscillates between temporal delays and shared laughter. But they don’t let it deter them. To Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet, technology is a tool to be tinkered with, deconstructed and recalibrated to create familiar yet uncanny results. There’s always a twist. Their live shows plunge audiences into smoke, sound and light, forcing them to partake in a ‘roided up sensory experience that fuses observer and participant.

The Amnesia Scanner project began online as cryptic videos and enigmatic songs sung by ‘oracle’ and produced by the ‘xperienz designers’. Now after almost a decade of building their labyrinth they’re knocking down the walls to reveal a harmonious exchange of ideas where even the crustiest sample plays a part in their audiovisual puzzle. The frictions of their past LPs have given way to something more rounded and smooth. The angst has been quelled and the group even go so far to envision a whimsical future as K-pop style idols.

Raudie McLeod: For most people Amnesia Scanner & Freeka Tet exist online through special URLs, streaming platforms, discord, even a local WiFi network etc. Where are you IRL?

Martti Kalliala:  Right now I’m in Berlin.

Ville Haimala: I’m in eastern Finland.

Freeka Tet: I’m in New York.

Raudie McLeod: You’ve recently played live shows in various cities around Europe and also two shows in Australia. How do you collaborate and practise when you’re in different time zones?

(The zoom called lags and FT, MK & VH all speak in unison, stop in unison, and then chuckle in unison)

Ville Haimala: This is how we collaborate… with a huge lag! Since the beginning Amnesia Scanner has never worked so much based on a traditional band or studio session format. It was a distributed project since the beginning and we’ve always worked with different people in different places. It’s quite an online native thing. I guess this is the way we also build our live shows. A lot of the work is done online before and then we convene and start putting pieces together.

Martti Kalliala:   I can confirm that. There is a group chat. There’s several group chats actually, with different collaborators and a lot of this happens asynchronously.

Ville Haimala: and a lot of chaotic folder structures of different medias.

Freeka Tet: Time for a little sponsorship with dropbox, I think….

Raudie McLeod: STROBE.RIP is a fairly stripped back version of your previous albums. It sounds as though Amnesia Scanner have been softened by the trauma of reality post-covid and the present living crisis. It’s an emo album in a way. Did you approach the songwriting differently?

Ville Haimala: Somewhat yes and somewhat no. I don’t think the songwriting approach is different other than working on some of the material together with Freeka. Songwriting for me is more like channeling. it’s not so much deciding ‘I’m going to make a song like this or I’m going to make a song like that’ it’s more so working on material and seeing where it ends up and I guess in that sense something has become more emo or more mellow. Or maybe the two previous records were so angry or loud and it felt good to have a bit of an oasis. I think STROBE.RIP is at the same time very soft but also very intense. There are sides to it. ‘Merge’ is probably the most distorted and loud song we ever made.

Freeka Tet: When we started to do music together during covid, way before the album, it was more band oriented. We spoke a lot about our beginnings when we all teenagers and started to do music. We were all in bands when we were kids. The emo came from that, the common ground of us as teenagers, so maybe it’s stuck a little bit.

Ville Haimala: Our first ever musical collaboration was a streamed performance that we did over 3 days where we arranged some of tearless and some unreleased material into literally unplugged versions and streamed them over this campfire setting. The seed for this collaboration was sown around that time.

Raudie McLeod: I’d been an amnesia scanner listener for some time, but my first introduction to Freeka Tet was the Unplugged: Part 5 performance at Terraforma 2022. The long prosthetic arm was spellbinding. You have a knack for mangling the expected, for example your piano keyboard software. How did you arrive at this point in your work?

Freeka Tet: The prosthetic animatronics is something in common with Amnesia Scanner. This absurd, almost dadaist vibe that I grew up with. I grew up watching Cunningham and Gondry. All that stuff, all the weirdness, I always liked it. As for the piano, my work in general is more performance based. I’m not a musician per se, as in writing music. I think I have always been really into making music with daily activities. My main performance before Amnesia Scanner was making music just with my face. I needed something very universal that I could play in Japan or Berlin or wherever and the reading would be the exact same. Very universal. The piano thing, there’s a performance I started to work on where I was thinking ‘I just wanna do music based on me reading and answering my emails’. They’re very mundane tasks but they could have a musical output. As for the prosthetic, I began to work with masks and stuff like that because making them is super interesting to me, the process is cool. When Amnesia Scanner asked me to join them for this performance I thought of what I could provide them. I thought back to this performance I used to do with a microphone and a remote to control my voice and the long arm was a way to hide this weird object. Also it’s a pretty iconic shadow to have a very long arm. It’s pretty easy to spot from afar.

Raudie McLeod: Your immersive live shows employ playful twists of the status quo, for example, Freeka’s microphone has a spotlight which points at the audience instead of the performer. The large screens feature fragmented text prompts and text-to-image jpegs. In the dark rooms where you perform I’m struck by the similar feeling to scrolling my phone in bed, illuminated by the screen, being presented whatever the algorithms decides. What are your thoughts on transforming viewers into participants?

Martti Kalliala:  we’ve always been very interested in taking the basic elements of a live performance, the visuals, the effects, and using them to the maximum or to the extreme. We force the audience to participate. You’re enveloped in smoke and it’s hard to orient, or you’re bombarded with strobes which have this hallucinagenic effect. In a sense we, I don’t want to say abuse the audience, but you almost have no choice.

Ville Haimala: It also seems like the music performance culture has this big pressure to be immersive and it’s fun to put it on steroids. To tweak the intensity so high that it’s like ‘Now you have the spotlight in your eyes. Now you have this bombardment of things.’

Martti Kalliala:  Amnesia Scanner started as this very online thing in the sense that we weren’t associated with it. The music only existed online. We thought it was very interesting to make the live counterpart as visceral and engaging as possible by pushing the physical impact of it to some kind of extreme. Now in some sense the live show has almost become the main medium of the project. All these different elements come together and it definitely has some primacy in our heads as the main output.

Freeka Tet: For the live shows, we’re trying to accentuate a band-feeling or a human-side of things, but when Amnesia Scanner is on stage, they have never really been in your face as people. The spotlight is pretty representative of what’s happening. It shines on the audiences’ face, and you can’t see our face. It’s not really clear what’s going on. On the other side, because it’s something that is mobile, the movement translates the human. It’s not a machine doing it. It becomes more organic, but it still anonymous. It prevents us from presenting our face.

Raudie McLeod: One of the comments in the ride film clip reads “finally, something to wake up to.” How do you feel that your new album together is giving people some reason to live in this confused post-modern society?

(silence for 5 seconds, then laughter)

Freeka Tet: We laugh about it. And all the different types of laughs you can have, the real ones, the weirder ones…

Ville Haimala: Since the previous two albums we’ve been going through some stages. There was anger, there was grief. Maybe this is the beginning of a chapter of hope.

Raudie McLeod: I read in previous interviews that creating your own music is about collecting all the sonic crumbs and making something unique from them, that your production process is kind of a secret. Is there anything you’d like to reveal about your process now that it sounds like it has changed somewhat?

Ville Haimala: It’s not that there’s some sort of secret formula. We have our ways of pushing different material through our processes and with the sausage at the other end we try to formulate something. We create sound as raw material and then sculpt something out of that. It’s always remained the same since the early days when the work was maybe a bit more collagey or less structured but I think it’s still in it’s core the same process. Now there’s maybe more of a songwriting angle to it but that’s been present since quite a long time. I personally feel it’s a natural continuum of things. As time goes by you find new tools and new ideas, but the basic process is still quite the same. There’s no secret sauce. It’s just our exchange and us bringing these different pieces to the table and planning something together.

Martti Kalliala:   All sound is equal in the process. Some crusty sample can play a part. Maybe it’s not 100% true but it’s mostly true since the beginning. In the beginning we were sampling stuff from surprising sources. I think now it’s very common. This non-hierarchy of sound is somehow the thing that has remained. 

Freeka Tet: The process is quite versatile. Sometimes a song can be really concept driven, based on the way the world around the music has been built, sometimes the music comes on its own and builds the world. It’s an eternal feedback loop. Sometimes a concept before can become music and sometimes existing music can bring more detail to the overall concept.

Ville Haimala: And that applies a lot to the project. On this album we’re working again with Jaakko Pallasvuo writing texts for us. We’ve been working together since the beginning of the project, almost 10 years. Instead of him writing particular lyrics for songs, he gave us a bunch of texts that ended up being the inspiration for a lot of visual and sonic stuff. The same with PWR studio who create a lot of our visual language, the briefs are never very clear, in that we wouldn’t go to Freeka and say ‘Hey can you build us this, or hey we need this visual’. This is maybe why the whole world can feel a bit random or incoherent at times, but that’s all really fun. A lot of stuff ends up being used in a very different way than it was intended. It’s an open project. I feel that it must be an interesting project to collaborate on contribute to because the end result is fairly open ended.

Freeka Tet: As a collaborator the way I would see it is this. Imagine walking into a teenager’s room. There’s a lot of elements. There’s visuals, there’s posters, there’s music playing. There’s a world they’ve been building. This is what Amnesia Scanner has been doing for a decade almost. You are free to look at it, take from it what you want and add to it what you want. That’s pretty much how it works. There’s a lot of freedom but the environment is set so you can’t be fully outside of it. There is already a direction.

Raudie McLeod: Back to the Ride film clip. What’s wrapped inside the black packages?

Freeka Tet: This is based on something Amnesia Scanner already did. When I started to work with them they had a lot of collaborators and a lot of details. I’m very detail oriented and there is one video they already did a long time ago which was just someone unwrapping objects and this stuck in my head. I like repurposing old stuff. I’m a big recycling guy.

Ville Haimala: Yeah it was the AS Truth mixtape video.

Raudie McLeod: I read a comment on the AS Truth video that said something like ‘this is what’s inside the ride packages’

Freeka Tet: Well I guess we will never really know what’s inside the package…

Raudie McLeod: STROBE.RIP might be the first album that lives entirely in the 21st century. Your press release states “amnesia scanner is now living in the world it built.” This world seems to possess a strange logic which sits at the limit of information and comprehension. My question is what comes next?

Ville Haimala: We have some ideas of where it’s going. Building this story with Freeka is definitely not over, there’s already quite a lot in the pipeline. As it’s been communicated somewhat, STROBE.RIP is a piece of a bigger puzzle which involves us doing a lot more performance work. We mentioned already the live streams. There are different formats which extend the project. There’s many directions.

Martti Kalliala:  Referring to the cycle of work that STROBE.RIP is part of, it’s unclear how it will end or how long it will go on.

Freeka Tet: Because we’ve been working together with the live before we recorded any music, one of the conceptual directions we had with this album was that usually you release music and then go on tour to defend it, where here we were interested in, not so much releasing the music at first and touring but building music through the live performances. One big difference was that most of the songs were sketched as band songs first. We thought instead of sampling bands, let’s build a band for each song and then sample it. The raw material was made-up bands. This could be maybe a direction… What those made-up bands were before.

Ville Haimala: The first performance we did with this material sounded like what ended up being the samples for the album. It ends up feed backing into itself over and over again. We would love to retain some kind of freedom to continue developing the material on this album or somehow and not decide on definitive versions of things.

Martti Kalliala: One of these end games that I’ve thought about is that we might start an idol franchise. Amnesia Scanner might transform into some kind of idol operation. there will be more information later.

Freeka Tet: Franchising.

Raudie McLeod: Like how Daft Punk license their helmets to imitators around the world?

Martti Kalliala:  Yeah or more like a K-pop style idol thing.

Ville Haimala: We’ve had this long running joke but also a real fantasy of having a Las Vegas style show where we could get a hold of infrastructure and do a show that runs at the same venue for a season. Maybe now that this dome has opened in Las Vegas it seems like the fitting screen for an Amnesia Scanner performance.

Freeka Tet: We could be opening for Chris Angel.

Ville Haimala: Me and Martti are Penn and Teller and you’re Chris Angel.


Photography · Kristina Nagel
Special thanks to Modern Matters

Yuri Ancarani

Practicing Reality

I met Yuri on a warm morning of July in Milan, the city where we both live.

The original idea was to interview him with specific questions concerning his works, but it quickly became clear that our conversation would span way beyond the question-answer dynamic. 

Unpacking his extensive body of work means tackling a plethora of themes: from the idea of reality and imagination to the concept of truth, from language, symbols and the importance of sound to the overall theorization on aesthetics and the genre of the documentary. The core of his works lies, I believe, in his idea of reality, and the consequences that this vision entails.

In each of his films, from the oldest series Memories for Moderns (2000-2009) to his most recent work Atlantide (2021) Yuri’s depiction of the here and now is so dense in its realness that it manages to transform into its opposite: imagination.

Quoting one of his key inspirational filmmakers, Dario Argento, Yuri says that reality is the true source of horror. The horrific aspect of the everyday is, however, not always sinister.  The extreme simplicity of things, the daily life of the portrayed subjects, can be felt as scary if seen from the outside, but there is also an element of fascination, a strange allure to it.

Moreover,  instead of inserting imaginative elements from the outside, Yuri portrays things as they are, showing how it is precisely the ordinary that allows the otherness of things to emerge. Reality in itself is framed as intrinsically imbued with possibility: everyday working environments, with their specific set of rules and vocabulary, contain a certain mystery, a subtle touch of magic, which does not come from the outside but from WITHIN. 

The usual unfolding of regular practices, such as managing a marble quarry (Il Capo, 2010), the functioning of an hyperbaric room in an underwater station (Piattaforma Luna, 2011) or performative actions in a medical setting (Da Vinci, 2012) is filmed in its naked truth, each environment characterized by its specific language. The vocabulary varies, sometimes it’s gestures, sometimes it’s a list of orders, sometimes it’s silence. 

The construction of a world of symbols within the realm of the familiar is what generates this switch: a normal setting becomes fascinating, mysterious, not fully graspable. This lingering feeling is strengthened by the employment of close ups and camera shots that are carefully edited, delivering a strange dichotomy between the closeness of the subjects, whose gestures are filmed in detail, and the detachment of the viewer’s gaze, who observes as an outsider. Intimacy is suggested and denied at the same time.

In this context music and sound play a key role, carefully studied either as translations of the epiphanic moment partially reached (see the end of Piattaforma Luna, for instance, where the composition by Ben Frost represents a moment of freedom, an escape from the almost claustrophobic reality of the hyperbaric room), or as a suggestion, like the ironic employment of orchestra music in The Challenge (2016), hinting towards the classical pomposity of Hollywood Cinema. 

Some of his films, like Whipping Zombies (2017), a documentary on a dancing ritual in the tradition of a Haitian village, are entirely without dialogues. The faithful documentation of this cultural phenomenon relies entirely  on the registration of sounds and music produced by the local community. In his San Siro (2014) the stadium is filmed as a concrete entity that functions as the container of an almost mystical happening, its architecture framed in its curves and angles, inside and outside. The stadium is the protagonist, the game is never filmed. Here again the only sound is given by the footsteps and the roar of the exultant crowd, and the preparation towards the football match can be read, once more, as a ritual, punctuated by different practical steps.  

This idea of rituality, seen as a constitutional element of any society and fundamental in the construction of meaning, comes back often in Yuri’s works. 

Its most blatant form is seen in the short film Séance (2014) in which psychologist Albània Tomassini entertains a spiritual conversation with the deceased Carlo Mollino. Fulvio Ferrari, tenant of Casa Mollino, serves the dinner to the two guests, one visible and the other invisible. Through the voice of Tomassini Mollino speaks about the sense and the aim of his passed life, as well as the direction towards perfection. This agonized perfection is reached, in Mollino’s view, through the conjunction of idea and realization. The projectualization of a work and its actual form become one, in what is beauty and truth at once.

This precise correlation was at the core of Yuri’s working method in his latest film Atlantide. While talking about this idea of truth he told me about his choice of not using any script for Atlantide, the dialogues in the film consist of footage collected during the almost four years of research, in which Yuri followed the protagonists in their daily life around the Venetian lido. 

The entire creation of the film was an ongoing process, in which also practical elements such financing was collected throughout and not entirely beforehand. This experimental approach allowed for a unique challenge, in an attempt of capturing reality ‘’as it is’’, reflecting precisely Mollino’s conception of perfection in the work of art.

After our conversation I left with different thoughts in my head and the belief that a lot had remained unsaid, but the overall feeling I keep to this day is the full comprehension of Yuri’s desire:  to create a work in which truth unfolds in its totality, in a temporal frame that is both process and end. For a brief moment, entirely real. 


ATLANTIDE (2021) Video stills
THE CHALLENGE (2016) Video stills
SÉANCE (2014) Video stills

All images courtesy of the artist.

Kate Ahn

It’s Shock Therapy, Baby

Jasper Johns once said, ‘Hollywood is forever young, forever sexy and forever swollen with abundance.’ This makes sense when looking at the figures in Kate Ahn’s paintings. 

However, abundance in these works is qualified by searing faces and billowing forms stretching across the image and twisting in the frame. They are abundant in mixed yet meaningful messages, pained and charmed. Painting in series, Ahn depicts herself in varying stages of movement. Nearly always nude. The relevance of this nudity is open to interpretation. Still, Ahn’s subjects bring to life the late critic John Berger’s words, ‘Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.’

These figures are not just nude but clothed in meaning. They are overcorrections, pronounced perfectionism with an outcome of exaggerated beauty. A swagger of confidence sways on a bed, bounding between big buttcheeks and long legs, wavering between buoyant breasts and the torrential currents of bedsheet and brick wall. These forms are idealisations, idylls of what could be. They are powerful, exposed, fearless, and nuanced in nakedness, fiercely facing everything with glowing skin and stripy socks.  

Ahn is in Los Angeles. She grew up on the United States West Coast and has lived there for most of her life. In recent times, Ahn’s paintings have developed an ethereal strength. She discusses her work and artistic intentions are spread across the social and physical dermis of expressive geography. Ahn’s world is mapped around acrylic paint and produces figures that produce shock therapy that will force any white wall into submission. And they are also nude, but that’s only half the story. 

Billy De Luca: You are in LA right now. Did you just have a show there?

Kate Ahn: I had a show downtown at Gallerie Murphy — it’s an extension gallery of Terminal 27 on Beverly Blvd — and they just opened. I was there for one month, which was a great experience. It was very emotional for me because I sacrificed a lot for this show. It was almost 2 years of work, it was everything I had in me.

Billy De Luca: The commercial gallery scene can be terrifying. But having that proximity in LA must have been great. Did it get overwhelming having such access to your exhibited works?

Kate Ahn: Oh, no, I was even there after the opening a few times. I was so much a part of everything. From the paintings to the merchandise with Terminal27 and just the gallery preparation itself, I was there at every step.

Sometimes it is hard to collaborate and find people to take up your vision, but when there is synergy and trust, things always turn out beautifully. I also enjoyed being in the gallery to say hi to whoever came by.  

Billy De Luca: That can be a very personal experience. It changes the context when you see the person who painted the image before you. And how come you liked the collaborative aspect?

Kate Ahn: I like it, but I also think it can be challenging and sometimes divisive. I feel like I am also thinking about the audience and what the general public can digest each time I collaborate. As an artist, when you create your work, you can really just go all in. I don’t think about whether everyone will love it, but you have to consider that in collaborations. 

Having that restriction is also nice because It makes you think outside the box. You have to please other people and yourself; it allows me to have my art in many mediums. It isn’t just up on a wall: It can travel and transform into many different objects and forms, which is super exciting too. I try to do as much as possible within my freedom, but sometimes you can’t go completely explicit – for example, on a pair of shoes.

Billy De Luca: Finding that balance must have taken time. When did you start painting and getting into the fashion side of the arts? Did the transition help with selling your ‘ideas’ to the world?

Kate Ahn: I’ve been painting since I was  6, but I’ve also been into fashion since I was in my mother’s womb. A lot of it came from her. She’s always loved fashion and the arts and was the first person to introduce me to these worlds. From the outside, we are like complete opposites. But actually, I’d say there are more similarities than differences. I have this feeling that my mother sees me as a reflection of herself. Deep down, she’s secretly cheering me on and healing her inner child through me – even though she’ll NEVER admit to that haha. It’s like she’s looking at a mirror to see what she could’ve been (if all the rules and societal pressures didn’t alter or make her afraid of what she really wanted to do). I think I am my mother, and she is me.

But back to fashion haha. She definitely appreciates the design and artistic aspects of fashion, but I think she, just like many other people, is also attracted to the idea of class status that is prevalent in that world. This is where I’d like to think we differ: I love the art of fashion, but sometimes it can feel a little like high school. Personally, I don’t care about what’s most popular this season, who’s seated where, and what somebody is wearing at a show. Although I understand the allure, I just enjoy what makes me feel good based on my own narrative and understanding of each piece. 

Fashion has done a lot for me. It has helped me deal with the insecurities I’ve had my whole life, but it also gave me the freedom that I felt like I didn’t have. Clothing and accessories were my costumes and a mask. I wore it like armour.

Billy De Luca: That’s the beauty of being an artist, don’t you think? Fashion is in that same weird middle ground. It’s like hair. It will grow out of you and can get long enough to be another limb and part of who you are. But sometimes, it can get knotty and be a pain.

Kate Ahn: For sure. I definitely turned to painting to create these fantasies since I had such poor self-esteem (and still struggle with it). It’s how I cope to get through all of life’s bullshit. I think that’s how it is for a lot of artists. We are all struggling and trying to figure it all out. 

Billy De Luca: Do you always paint yourself? 

Kate Ahn: I have since I was 6. I remember one of my first paintings of a beach filled with all these girls, and all those girls were me. I’m not kidding. There were like 20 versions of me on that beach. But even since then, I’ve always encountered these “teachers” that did not seem to fuck with my vision! When I went to a bunch of art classes (a lot of them were Korean art classes), I had a couple of teachers who were very chill and open-minded, but I also had many teachers who were very conservative. One didn’t even offer figure drawing classes because it was ‘inappropriate’. I thought that was so crazy.

Billy De Luca: Where was this?

Kate Ahn: I grew up in Irvine — It’s a really nice area. You know, the suburbs. It’s deemed the safest city in America, with a huge Korean community. But I always hated it. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t want to leave. I feel privileged to be brought up in such a safe environment, but the environment felt so stale and mundane. One of the art classes I attended was 20 minutes away from my hometown, but the guy who ran the place was horrible. I eventually found another class that meshed better, but as much as I wanted to paint what I paint now, due to my age and environment, it really wasn’t an option. So I focused more on objects and foods that represented the female body and sexuality at the time.  It wasn’t until after college that I got to my self-portraits. 

Billy De Luca: Why was that?  Where was college?

Kate Ahn: I didn’t attempt to do my self-portraits until after college. The love that I got from my parents (after getting accepted into USC) felt too good to stray away from, especially after so many years of rebelling during my tween and teen years. So, naturally, during that time, I gave into their ways — which meant giving up art as a career. I went to school and went from art to Communication (with a minor in Finance). I told my parents — and convinced myself — that I would go into banking and make a lot of money. I thought that after that, someday I’d get back to my art…But that didn’t happen. I never did any of that besides graduating, but that’s something, right? 

I tried my best to conform, but it was just not in me. After my second year, I realised I was never going to be the person they wanted me to be, and I didn’t want it either. After graduating in 2020, I painted my first self-portrait. After my various jobs, I saved a bunch of money and said, OK, let me do what I want … I bought my first HUGE canvas. It had been my dream since I was 14 to paint on a canvas like that and to have enough time to work on such a scale. I was still shy and didn’t show my face. I marked it off. But the bodies remained. They were all me, variations of me or dreams of what it could look like. It became a fantasy.

So yeah, that was my first self-portrait, and it sold, so I thought, ‘I must be doing something right!

Billy De Luca: And how did your parents feel about that? 

Kate Ahn: They are still upset. I can sympathise with how they feel. As conservative parents, I think the subject matter alone would be difficult for them to digest. But on top of that, there is also a very real fear of their only child not having the stability that a more traditional career choice can provide. It’s not easy selling pieces, for sure. But that first piece was definitely something I took as a sign to just go for it. 

Billy De Luca: Do you think that painting is easier than the administrative and sales aspect?

Kate Ahn: Painting is way easier. It would be a dream to just paint and not worry about the selling side of the job haha. It makes me depressed sometimes, and it can feel like things are predestined in this industry. It’s so much about who you know. I ask myself a lot: Are these the things that make or break me as an artist? Do I need to be a person that can talk up my work or have someone willing to do that for me? Yes, it’s discouraging. But in the end, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I can’t stop what I’m doing, and I believe that if you really love it, you’ll find a way.  

Billy De Luca: Beforehand it was very much about the quality of the work and the consistency it bore in improving over time and being relevant in such times. Now, it is about self-marketing. You can have an agent and a Gallery, but if you don’t have a personality, then you can sell paintings all you want — but you may not be memorable. With your work, the images strike and transfer energy. Audiences have received that energy and are buying in. You can sell a painting, but you have to sell a self-portrait.

Kate Ahn: Yeah, I agree. Social media has definitely inflated and put this importance on not just your work but a person being an entire package. It’s like people themselves have become conglomerates: you’re the actor, the producer, the director, etc. Everyone has to become a multi-disciplined brand that must follow the fickle nature of social media. Like a walking billboard. It’s overwhelming, but it can be great because you can get your work out independently, cutting out the middleman like agents or galleries. But at the same time,  there’s a negative side that comes with oversaturating the avenues that lead people to not take you as seriously. I think of Andy Warhol, who essentially went for it and did it all. And unfortunately, having to deal with silly repercussions where some circles of the art world stopped taking him seriously for doing things unconventionally at the time. Fast forward to now, it’s kind of ironic how his way of doing things ended up becoming the standard today. Even now, it’s still hard to navigate what the perfect balance is between doing it all and still being taken seriously.   

And man,  there are so many days where I have wished I could paint anything else. Any object, like food or something. It’s easier to sell that as an idea. Instead, I paint really explicit self-portraits. And on that, there is a double standard. Women are in this really unjust and tough position where we are constantly objectified living in this patriarchal world, but the moment we start owning our own sexuality and our own bodies, we become lepers.  As much as my work receives a lot of love, it also receives so much hate. Even though we’ve been painting nude women for centuries, I think it is still very new for women themselves to be the ones painting our own bodies. I guess that’s too progressive even for this world haha.  

Billy De Luca: And what does that mean to you?

Kate Ahn: That’s one of the very reasons I continue to paint my self-portraits in the nude.I am fighting for my right and everyone’s right to own our sexuality and our body and control our own narrative because that’s a human fucking right. Sexuality isn’t everything, but to me, it is a representation of freedom because that was the first real restriction I faced in my life, and I think many others faced it too. I think women especially have to deal with the double standard of not being able to deal with the freedom of being a sexual being. In my work, I can own my sexuality. I can be who I want to be in my work. 

Billy De Luca: So it’s more than just you?

Kate Ahn: In a way, it is more than me. I think my work can become confusing as I am trying to fight the patriarchy, but at the same time, I am also trying to heal from my own self-esteem issues that may very well come from the male gaze. Critics could say I am just perpetuating the patriarch all over again, and I hate to say it, but maybe they would be somewhat true. But I can’t help the fact that being able to fantasise about myself in these various bodies and shapes helps me appreciate my actual body. It’s similar to how I play with clothing, I put it on like a mask and play this character enough to learn that my real self is actually not far away from my ideal self…it was just my anxiety and self-doubt clouding my brain. Maybe that’s unhealthy in some way, but I think a lot of people can relate to the journey of finding true love for yourself and that sometimes it takes unconventional ways to get there. And at the end of the day, I believe that by taking control of my own body and my own self-esteem issues, I still, in many ways, fight the patriarchy.  

Billy De Luca: Does the commentary influence you as much as it pushes you forward? 

Kate Ahn: With or without the commentary, the paintings would still be like this. But it does help my narrative. The more hate I get, the more my paintings will develop meaning. It just proves to me what I need to express in my work and why it’s important. Some people think I just paint porn…but for me, I feel like I sometimes do paint porn, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. 

Billy De Luca: Is it hard to balance professional composure while being a human behind the work? 

Kate Ahn: Yah, it is difficult– at least for me, it is. I mean, being an artist to me means that you are choosing to be vulnerable. I know many artists that can keep the vulnerability strictly within their work but for me, I am, unfortunately, a person who tends to word-vomit everything I am going through within my work and outside of it too. I know it’s not the best habit. I know most people respect those who have that perfect ‘professional composure’ — characterised by a confident fearlessness, keeping their cool, even when shit is going sideways in their personal life. This might be completely delusional, but I’d still prefer to find a way to continue to be this open book and also be respected for it just because I feel like it’s so much a part of my character. 

Billy De Luca: However, having strong work which is the best thing that you put out at that time. That is what is going to be a huge driving factor. You might not sell. You might go from being very financially comfortable to financially uncomfortable. But through that ringer, one thing is still chugging along, still developing.  And that’s your painting. 

Kate Ahn: That’s right. And that’s why I’ll never stop either. The paintings are me. There’s no costume or façade or anything. It’s my soul. If I think back to where I was two years ago with my painting, it’s like…incomparable to my skill now.  So yeah, that helps me feel better. These feelings of insecurity have inspired me so far, and although I’m working on that, it does still help me produce. The emotions come out, and it makes the art worthwhile. You don’t have to be ‘healed’ to make people feel something — I think I’m just too hard on myself since the years are never easy, and there are so many constant changes. Even if it’s bad feelings, it’s feeling. If you’re feeling something, it’s art.

Billy De Luca: And what else do you see is changing?

Kate Ahn: For my new collection, I want to do more facial expressions similar to the whole 1970s erotica time period, where everyone looked so happy, vibrant, and alive. I feel like that is true for me since I’m a very smiley and happy person. I also want to continue to include more pieces of clothing and lots more socks, as that still is so much a part of me. I did do that a lot this year as I did, like… a lot of stocks.

Billy De Luca: I was going to ask about those…It reminds me of how men in the business sector ‘jazz up’ a suit with a sock. You end up being naked, showing the socks you wear, and they can be colourful and different, but they balance out the grey world of suits. It’s a stabiliser.

Kate Ahn: It’s an homage to my love of clothing…In a way that still allows me to be nude. Certain things go on when you conform to such a society. It’s so difficult to show your identity and be unique and yourself. So yeah, socks are awesome, and you can have so many cool socks. 

I’m obsessed with socks.

Billy De Luca: Besides the clothing, where do the colourful backgrounds come into it? Do the star-shaped pastels of pink and green come as afterthoughts?

Kate Ahn: The background comes later. I usually don’t know what to do for the background. That being said, I feel like it has to do with my inspiration from Japan, especially from love hotels.  Japan is just…different. I want the paintings to feel happy and alive. I learned a lot about love hotels recently. Back in the 70s, during the women’s liberation movement and just after they legalised abortion, all these love hotels popped up, and they embraced and nurtured the idea of sex and love. You can see it in the way they built these themed rooms and structures. It’s a fantasy that invites more fantasy. The beds are spinning, there’s colour everywhere, and the adult fantasy becomes a reality. And I love it. I love how it is accepting of the fact that humans are sexual beings. It’s happy and human. 

Billy De Luca: And does your subject matter and work rely on where you are geographically?  

Kate Ahn: Yah, I definitely think so. When I grew up in the suburbs, the constraints and staleness of the city definitely played a part in my work and also the person I became. That’s where you can see the rebellious nature of my work. And being that I was only an hour away from LA, it became a dream of mine from an early age to move here — which I finally did at 18. I think the environment here in LA is so nurturing to being different. It helped me gain confidence in my work. And the actual physical beauty of the city — the madness, the graffiti, I would say some of the strip clubs down here, too, have definitely inspired some of my works. 

Billy De Luca: Being in LA is historically seen as…intense. ‘Jasper Johns once said that Hollywood is forever young, forever sexy, and forever swollen with abundance.’ How do you feel about LA?

Kate Ahn: I think Jasper Johns is right. LA is forever young, sexy, and so swollen with abundance that I think it’s only natural to have this love-hate relationship with the city. You can’t be young forever. BUT maybe you can be sexy forever — depending on who’s looking — but living life in abundance will always catch up to you. That’s the thing with LA as much as it is a beautiful city, it’s also really superficial, but hey, I think you can find that just about anywhere in the world. I hate it here, but I also love it, and it will always be my home.

Billy De Luca: Last question… Does that solitude drive you to keep going? 

Kate Ahn: I don’t know if it really drives me. I think I am just so used to being alone. Being an only child basically prepared me to be an artist, you know? I think what drives me is that from a very young age, I had a dream of who I was going to be when I became a grown-up, and even though I still have ways to go, I am essentially living it. Even with all the people trying to bring me down and bet on my downfall, I will never let go of my dream. That’s what will always drive me to keep going.  


KATE #3, 2022
All Images courtesy of the artist.

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