‘I deeply struggle with the idea of art being reduced to self-promotion’: an interview with Debora Delmar

Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos

Born and raised in Mexico City, Debora Delmar experienced first-hand the capitalistic boom during the nineties, when the ideal of upward mobility was promoted through the newly established model of Mexican consumerism.
Years later, as a student in New York’s SVA, she found in Manhattan’s late capitalism the prosperous field for her pseudonym to come into existence. Since 2009, Debora Delmar Corp. differentiates the artist from the products of her practice. Her personalised brand is outlined through elaborate configurations, encompassing a variety of marketing strategies (color schemes in branding, corporate merchandising techniques, Prezi presentations) with mixed media sculptures and emerging installations. Comparable to the setting of a present-day tragicomedy, the multi-functional environment of Debora Delmar Corp. maps the current human aspiration for social ascent and divulges the mundane realities that surround it.
Following a strong year marked by her participation in the 9 Berlin Biennale and a solo show in DUVE Berlin, Debora Delmar is back to school. This time she is the first Mexican artist to attend London’s Royal Academy. We found her in between classes and the set up of her brand’s office in the Academy and caught up on trending culture, Mexico, and life with a European Visa on hand.

Hello Debora, congratulations on the issue of your European Visa and your enrolment in London’s Royal Academy. How is life in London? What do you think about the School there?

Thank you. I arrived almost a month and a half late to the term because I had been waiting for my visa for a long time. As you may know the Royal Academy is a very small school and I learnt that I’m their first international student since 2012 when immigration laws changed for the schools here and the school wasn’t allowed to provide student visas anymore due to the small amount of students here. So I ended up applying for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa, which I was granted for the next 5 years meaning I can live and work here for that period of time. I am also the first Mexican to go to the Royal Academy and I believe it’s important that schools take chances of having more diverse programs. Having spent some time in London before I already have some friends who live here and have learnt a bit more about the art scene here. Being in school is still a bit weird as I have been outside of the education environment for a while but living here and having a studio in central London is a great opportunity for me to develop my work in a context which I think suits the subjects I explore in my work. The RA program is more like a German school; we have different tutors each year and meet with them for personal tutorials as well as group crits. Invited tutors come to the Schools to so we can sign up for crits with them as well. I’m slowly learning more about how it all works. Another nice thing about the Schools is that the second year students invite the artist that come in every Friday to give a talk. Besides that, there’s a great café with cheap and tasty/healthy food

You were born and raised in Mexico City, how was growing up there? Do you have any particular memories to share?

I grew up in the south of the city, which is more quiet and suburban than Mexico City’s downtown. Growing up in Mexico I learned a lot about class differences and also issues of race and gender. There is a huge division between the lower and upper class and over the years the middle class is shrinking rapidly. Lives of privileged compared to those who live in real struggle are in constant interaction. The city’s contrasts in architecture and ways of living make it always exciting, there is always something catching your attention. I believe I experienced a bit more freedom as a woman than in other parts of the country where women are only expected to get married and have children. Still saying I wanted to be an artist was not seen as a real profession in my school where most people wanted to be doctors or lawyers. Growing up there I felt constantly between two worlds due to the influence of the US and the effects of globalization in my country. Which I think leads to your next question.

Has the capitalist boom that DF underwent during the 90’s with the advent of so many international companies affected in any way your artistic practice? Did you confess incidents of upward mobility during that time?

I definitely feel like this is a major inspiration in my work. I experienced a lot of changes in Mexico’s landscape during this time. Going to the first Starbucks in Mexico felt like the biggest accomplishment when I was a teenager. There was an idea of progress and accomplishment by the consumption and installment of foreign products and companies in our country, or at least the government did a great job making us believe so. There was a real façade created in advertisements and merchandising of the new lifestyles introduced by new brands and corporations. But there were also many negative effects, which concern the country to this day. “Upward Mobility” was never real, it remained an image, at least for those who were made to believe they could achieve that. My perspective on this progress has definitely changed a lot becoming an adult and seeing the effects of capitalism and globalization, which are issues that we all share today.

What do you think today about Mexico City and the art scene there? Would you ever go back to set up a life there?

Mexico City’s art scene is definitely going though a new exciting phase, I read an article the other day where it said more than 60 project spaces opened in the past 3 years and some of them are official galleries now such as Lodos, Lulu etc as well as Material art fair, which was inaugurated by Yautepec gallery during this period of time, that also hosts many of these as well as other young international galleries. When I moved back to Mexico City after living in NY for 5 years I didn’t know many people in the art world and also didn’t know where to find artist my age as most galleries weren’t showing any of their work. But that is definitely changing. It was a very exciting time for me as I started becoming involved in projects and found many great people and peers that supported me such as Bikini Wax an artist run project space started by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba where I had my first solo exhibition. I also organized many exhibitions with friends in places like an abandoned market and the rooftop house of my friend Rachel de Joode temporary living space in Mexico City whilst she was there for a while working on several projects. But I must say that looking back Preteen started it all for me. Gerardo was super welcoming at my arrival and I enjoyed going to the shows in his ultra white cube apartment gallery a lot. I honesty had never seen anything like that. Not even in New York. He was the first one to show internet/ post-internet artists in Mexico and I met many great people there as well. Gerardo’s queer agenda I believe was also super important as most Mexican art scene from the 90’s and prior to that is super macho and honestly that still needs to change. I will always be Mexican and always love Mexico City and I will be back very soon I’m sure. Me coming to London is definitely not a break up.

What is the main concept behind the Debora Delmar Corp? What are your thoughts on artists institutionalising or branding themselves? Do you perceive it as it a way to carry the “comfort zone” of our digital personas into real life?

Debora Delmar Corp. is a term I adopted mainly to comment on not just artists and their role in capitalist society and the art world’s own consumerist system but also to separate myself from the work that I make transcending me as a person. I was interested in using my name like brands use names to personalise themselves and give themselves an identity without telling us who is actually behind what they do or who produces their goods. This can somehow be compared to how people (and artists) present themselves online and how their constructed image becomes their brand. I think this is something we nowadays do inevitably but I deeply struggle with the idea of art being reduced to self-promotion and production of luxury goods.

For your participation at Berlin Biennial in 2016, you created Mint, a fully functional Juice Bar where people could enjoy their green juice that you produced in co-operation with a local company. Was it the first time that you collaborated with another company for an installation? How do you perceive the performative aspect of your work?

MINT was the first project where I had to collaborate with a real brand. Bjuice, a trendy organic juice company based in Berlin surprisingly was very exited to be part of the project, which partly consisted of me appropriating their products as part of MINT. I also had to collaborate with the cafeteria manager and chef at the AdK in order to make MINT function as an actual juice bar. It was definitely a great learning experience as each part had their own understanding and needs for the project. I don’t consider the work to be a performance as no one was actually performing here. MINT was more or less a simulation of an actual brand even though there was a participatory element to the work.

Do you perceive space as a sculptural element?

Space and the space where I exhibit works are very important to my practice. I’m very interested in architecture and the way environments affect us.

What do you think about artists collaborating with mega-brands and promoting their products through social media or even in their art?

Artists work in many different ways and there are many different kinds of artists. I think that the difference relies on how you do it. There is a thin line between art and advertising after all.

After green juice, is there any new lifestyle trend that you are specially fixated about? What are you working on these days?

I’m planning on transforming my studio into Debora Delmar Corp’s headquarter office. I just don’t really work in an artist studio setting and it feels right to do this inside the RA. It will function not only as a workspace but also as an installation. Besides that I’m just starting to get back to making work after a bit of a break after the Berlin Biennial and working with lawyers to get my visa for the past couple of months.

January 24, 2017