Part musician, part dancer, part painter, part videographer, Daria Blum is a multimedia artist who is unafraid to surrender her work to fluctuation. Though in continual evolution across time, her work is always reflexive and remains grounded in a self-awareness that allows her art to be at once poignant yet never too serious. Following her win of the first Claridge’s Royal Academy Schools Art Prize, we talk to her about past selves in art, internalised criticism and the importance of independent funding in the UK art scene.
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Firstly, congratulations on the Claridge’s Royal Academy Schools Art Prize award! How important do you think independently funded awards and grants like this one are for developing artists today?
Thank you! This kind of support can be hugely transformative for artists and stands in contrast to the general lack of funding for the arts, especially in the UK. I’m extremely grateful for the award as it will allow me to develop new ways of working with live performance that I hope will reach a wider audience.
It seems significant that the first recipient of this prize should be an artist who works across such a range of mediums (film, music, performance, structure). Would you consider your use of multi-media subversive?
My multi-media approach comes very much from thinking rhythmically or musically, and I tend to think of images in terms of sound and vice versa. Any medium, even drawing or photography, can be time-based, and anything time-based has rhythm to it, which is my reference point when choreographing text, video, image, etc. I see the relationship between music and moving image, for example, as a dominant/submissive one, where music often takes over completely to determine our emotions when we watch a film. I try to subvert these kinds of dynamics through my work.
Does your use of multiple mediums in any way reflect the information overload inescapable in modern society? Maybe any socially significant art can no longer be contained within one medium.
I’m not sure I agree. I believe socially significant art can both reflect and contrast the circumstances of our existence. My aim is not to overwhelm or desensitise my audience in any way. Every element is considered in my work and has its own function or purpose within the piece as a whole. Opposing views are often expressed via different mediums, voices, and roles. Within that, I am concerned with contemporary modes of communication and mediation, as well as acceleration, interruption, and simultaneity.
You have a background in dance and feature this in much of your art. What possibilities do dance and performance offer to an art piece that other mediums do not?
I see movement and physical expression as having the potential to challenge dominant, traditional ways of thinking and theorising, and I’ve always engaged with ideas of embodied knowledge. My video Wanna Be Me Wanna (2020) shows me at two life stages: five-year-old me performs an improvised dance while, next to her, present-day Daria copies her movements. In emulating my childhood dance through physical movement, I’m searching for an alternative to a contemporary world view, recalling one that was imaginative, confident, and generous, and accessing an abstract knowledge otherwise out of reach.
There is a recurring character in your work; a posturing, somewhat narcissistic, maybe superficial and slightly obnoxious alter ego. Where did this character come from? Do they have a specific role within your work – to critique/challenge it, to communicate directly with the audience or something else?
I developed the character during my BA studies, and she was very much based on my own, sometimes embarrassing and obnoxious, character traits. She gave me a measure of freedom to express myself by allowing me to hide behind a mask. I was critical of the type of persona I was portraying, but I also wanted to be compassionate and do more than just that. She was often taken at face value and criticised as not being extreme enough, or she was seen as merely perpetuating harmful, mainly female, stereotypes. Even though I didn’t entirely agree, I gave in and decided to kill her off in 2019.
Last year, I felt a need to take a closer look at her positive, redeemable qualities, reasons for bringing elements of ‘the bitch’ back. I wrote and performed Circumbendibus, in which I elaborated on the criticism she received and my own frustrations with the narcissistic character. I chronicled her short life, death, and eventual resurrection, embodying a range of voices and roles, using monologue, live music and the singing voice. I also lamented a period of housing renovations and my partner’s and my aggravating interactions with dust, chaos, and ‘the BOYS’, in order to work through things like female rage, heteronormative queerness, and my own practical relationship to certain aspects of feminist and queer discourse.
I aspire to evolve, to look to the future, but I think it’s equally important to be generous with past selves. Part of me hates the idea of this interview because I’ll be a different person tomorrow, next week, in five years, etc.
You mention how you wanted your winning exhibit, Not Something You Say to be able to perform itself without your physical presence. What I find particularly interesting about your piece is its ability to also critique itself through its central character – it becomes both the performer and the audience. How does a consideration of external criticism and, more generally, the external audience influence your work?
I was initially looking at family constellations, dynamics and relationships, how we unwillingly and unwittingly end up embodying facets of our parents which we’ve rejected our entire lives, and how external criticism is internalised. I was also processing anger about giving in to past critiques, and looking at rage as an emotion more broadly, how its expression is gendered, regulated, repressed.
When I turned thirty at the start of my final year at the RA, I felt very invested in the cliché of a radical transformation needing to occur as I entered my fourth decade. I manifested that change by resurrecting a former alter ego and writing a song about this, and creating an entire performance on my birthday. Similarly, for my ‘final’ piece, I wanted to really run with the (unhelpful) formula of making one’s degree show the ultimate, largest, most ambitious work to date, so I attempted to encapsulate my entire history as an artist within that one piece.
The single Radical also seems to epitomise a self-awareness or self-critique in its repeated refrain “none of this is very radical”. Do you feel pressure to anticipate criticism at every stage of your work? If so, how does this impact the finished piece?
Within the installation Not Something You Say, the song was performed via five versions of myself on video screens spread across the walls of the room. I had recorded myself singing the chorus inside the half-finished installation while working on it for the show. I wanted to use harmonisation and dissonance to ultimately create something that was hopeful and ambitious, rather than forestalling or defensive.
My work has always thematised the process of art-making and self-awareness, and I think as artists we are influenced greatly by tastes, demands and desires that have been instilled in us through a patriarchal and capitalist framework. While I try to block these things out, I sometimes find it extremely useful to imagine the entire world watching as I make work.
Claridge’s is the epitome of London luxury, and some might argue their sponsorship of this prize only confirms the notion that the art world is governed by the elite. How big, and what kind of an influence do you think wealthy sponsors have on the direction of the art scene in the UK?
It’s a delicate moment within UK culture, and there is a lot for artists to navigate. Public funds have been cut and costs of education have risen, so private sponsorship is often vital for artists on an individual level. The private sector often plays to conservative tastes, so there is ultimately a danger of a homogenising effect on the art scene, a further challenge for artists today.
Finally, do you know what you plan to do with the £30,000 prize money?
The prize money includes a production fund for my show, so it’s very exciting for me to imagine my work on a more ambitious, larger scale. Although I thoroughly enjoy doing all aspects of a production myself, learning new skills needed for this, and I don’t want to completely let go of my DIY approach, there is technical equipment I really want to try out, and potential collaborators I would love to work with.
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