Ida Jonsson and Simon Saarinen – aka Ida & Simon – have been working for a long time in their artistic practice, but it’s thanks to The Bum that they’re breaking the internet. The couple’s latest project, which explores the ubiquity and fetishization of Kim Kardashian’s bum – and all the deeper issues it enthrals, from mass media capitalizing on her figure as well as imposing impossible beauty canons –, has gone viral and even made an appearance during New York Fashion Week.
Originally from Sweden and Finland, Ida and Simon moved to NYC because, to them, it was “an unexplored city where we could be closer to the source of the topics we are interested in”, such as media placement, recontextualizing data and digital culture, among others. They’ve created Instagram filters to avoid facial recognition, brought to the physical world digital icons like the macOS wallpaper images, or left their indelible trace on blockchain. We meet the artists to discuss everything from Kim Kardashian’s bum to the human need of blending in.
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Ida, Simon, before we get to know your work better, let’s start by yourselves. How would you introduce each other to our readers?
Ida: Simon is a slave of concepts. In his mind, only very simple and refined thoughts can be complex. But Simon’s thinking is also hard to predict, so despite the fact that we literally have spent day and night together for six years, he still surprises me every day. As many men of his age, he inherited a curiosity for new technology from his father. This interest is definitely one of the biggest influences on our work, and a big reason for the topics we discuss.
Simon: Ida belongs to a very rare group of people that effortlessly can alternate between reasoning theoretically and practising creatively, all the while assimilating the surrounding and critically forming opinions on it. I’m feeling very lucky to be working and living with a person that continuously breaks new ground through approaching art without trying to fit into any specific genre. Most importantly, Ida has a very good aesthetic sensibility. Even though we always end up arguing about whether decorating our concepts or not, we both know that she will put her hand over it, without any questions being asked.
You’re both Scandinavian (Swedish and Finnish) and work as conceptual artists and art directors, especially focusing on new technologies and media. What’s your background? And when and why did you decide that NYC was the best place to be based?
Simon: Neither of us actually has a formal education in the arts. Ida has studied design and I went to business school. However, working together, we are competing against each other in coming up with insights, concepts, theory, and craft, forcing both to stay updated on contemporary issues and tradition to be equals in the partnership.
Ida: In our practice, we are working a lot with context. Many of our projects are about recontextualizing data or objects, giving them a physical body or removing the body. When exhibiting our work, we’re working with media placement, putting our projects and thoughts on mainstream places that people are already looking at. So when we thought about the context for where our own physical home should be, New York felt like, for us, an unexplored city where we could be closer to the source of the topics we are interested in.
“Either we want it or not, art is always going to be interpreted or used in political ways. We are both ideological, and therefore, it’s important for us that our work in some way reflects our political standpoint.” Ida Jonsson
Even though you’ve been working for a long time, you’re now breaking the internet – pun intended – with your latest project, The Bum, a 3D recreation of Kim Kardashian’s… well, bum. What was the starting point? What sparked your interest in doing research about it and later recreate it?
Simon: The first time we discussed a version of this project was in early 2018. At that time, Kim K had already been on the headlines for more than a decade and we felt like her involvement in the onset of today’s toxic social media culture was very widely recognized. Our initial idea was to start collecting, mapping and analyzing her impact over the years. One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about is how the fetishization of the bum largely is fuelled by media rather than herself or her followers.
For us, this was a very important piece of data because it provides us with deeper insights on how real-time engagement measurements are propelling yellow journalism. A bit more than a year after we had started the project, we felt confident that we had enough data and information to create a 3D replica of the butt. Together with a 3D artist, we sculptured the rear and later uploaded a rendering of it together with the model itself on the site.
Ida: After this, we started a pretty long process of getting the bum 3D printed in true scale. With very little budget, we went on Alibaba to find a vendor who could print it for a low cost. The whole process from ordering to receiving the model took us about four months. When we finally had the 3D model, we could start taking ownership of the bum. The wearable, that was realized together with designer/artist Beate Karlsson, and the silicon sculpture, are two of the results we find most interesting so far.
As a curiosity, do you know if Kim is aware of this project? You’re now being featured in many publications, so my guess is that she’ll find out soon if she hasn’t yet. Would you like to know her feedback?
Simon: This is a question we get asked a lot. We haven’t paid too much attention to it, but obviously, we’d be very interested in hearing her thoughts, and maybe even get a real-life comparison of our work and her butt.
So Kim Kardashian’s bum is downloadable on your website, and anyone with a 3D printer can just print it. What do you expect people to do with it? Or what have you seen people do with it already?
Ida: The whole project is a play on the relationship between the online and the offline. The website provides you with the size, and the 3D printing provides you with the volume. In that sense, a real object that’s been portrayed and documented online is brought back to life and multiplied just by its digital trace. A fairly interesting reflection is that we have received DMs with pictures of people’s 3D printed sculptures, where they, by doing this, are actually sending it back into the virtual again.
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The project is more than just a viral artwork; it talks about current society, mass media, the fetishization of the (female) body, of celebrity and pop culture, of instant gratification (for newspapers and publications who talk about the Kardashian clan especially); do you feel humour or a fun approach to your work help you to talk about deeper issues? Has The Bum underlying political intentions?
Simon: I feel that approaching difficult topics through satire is an effective vehicle to let some of the most pressing steam off the subjects, while still being able to offer additional depth. We also want our projects to be relatable and understood by people who are not used to analysing art, while at the same time, offering a more nuanced view for those who are interested in more than just scrolling past the work. Personally, I tend to be more interested in the thinking that goes behind the creation of art rather than the aesthetic aspiration.
Ida: I think that either we want it or not, art is always going to be interpreted or used in political ways. We are both ideological, and therefore, it’s important for us that our work in some way reflects our political standpoint.
Recently, you told Dazed: “We’re talking about attention but we’re also enjoying the attention.” Just like the newspapers thriving on revenue when talking about Kim, her body, or any of her product lines, you’re also receiving a lot of media attention because of it. Is it like a dog chasing its tail? A sort of vicious circle?
Simon: I think there’s a big difference between the attention we are enjoying and the attention media is capitalizing on. While we just want people to look at us and validate us, I think that the media have a more rational approach and just count the dollars.
Also merging the tangible world with the digital is your previous project, Digital Landscapes, where you recreated the macOS wallpaper images in large-scale acrylic paintings. You say that “By transposing the background images and giving them a body, we wanted people to feel immersed by the symbols of Apple’s flagship universe.” Do you feel the rise of new technologies and globalization, we’re all living in the same kind of reality regardless of where we live and what our profession is? How can we sabotage technology’s increasing dictatorship?
Ida: We feel personally very attacked by big data. Targeted content is following us everywhere we go and we feel so absorbed into Silicon Valley’s dictatorship, that frankly speaking, we have a very hard time even seeing an end to this mess. When everything is for sale, including people’s political opinions, we will need a revolution to break the status quo.
Simon: The communities behind decentralized networks are approaching these topics in very solution-oriented ways that potentially could spread and lay a foundation for a truly democratized internet. Awareness can, in general, be somewhat ineffective and lead to very little change, especially when it comes to public shaming and criticism. However, it could be very effective when it comes to communicating new ideas.
“I feel that approaching difficult topics through satire is an effective vehicle to let some of the most pressing steam off the subjects, while still being able to offer additional depth.” Simon Saarinen
In this project, you also say that “synthetic realities are being designed to tribalize users and make them dependent of belonging.” It also seems like it when we check social media: people visiting the same places, taking the same pictures, using the same filters – in the end, creating content that is very much alike to feel accepted by others. However, that’s sort of embedded in human nature: there have always been those who stand out and lead, and those who blend and follow. But do you feel social media is accentuating it? Are followers really becoming more ‘zombie-like’ so to speak?
Ida: Social media is indeed accentuating our strive to blend in and belong to a group. However, I don’t think it’s that simple. By being exposed to a bigger variation of people and subcultures, our notion of groups also changes. This is something we can see in the rise of digital tribes, where people find common ground over niche interests rather than geographic location, age or occupation. I believe that it’s not the sense of belonging that is the change but what we choose to belong to.
Simon: If this trend continues to develop, these new tribes and groups might eventually become even more important than nations and thus threaten our entire global power structure. Who knew ‘dog-groups on Facebook’ could have such a fundamental impact on our society?
From 3D printing to other projects like Permanent Art, where you embedded permanently on blockchain the image of a phallus, a meme and your tag, or Face Shield, an AR filter to protect users from facial recognition, your work is very focused on technology. As artists, how do you approach the more technological, engineering, mathematical, etc. aspects of the work? Do you work with experts or collaborate with other professionals? Are you self-taught?
Ida: We are lucky to have brilliant friends that we can collaborate with. We’ve also learnt to do many things ourselves – or to get help from Fiverr. Few things are as hard as they seem.
Your work focuses very much on the present and future: government surveillance, 3D printing, facial recognition, blockchain, etc. Is the future as dystopian as some think? How can art help turn the situation around?
Simon: Believe it or not, but we are pretty excited about the future. We face challenges, that if not addressed with sensibility, can go very wrong. However, there is a magic fairy dust over the unknown and we’d like to explore that headfirst.
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