Artist Klarissa Webster talked to us about her art practice, influences, and how aliens can free us from societal norms.
Tell us a bit about your art practice and your work to date
When I was studying at university, my philosophy tutor introduced me to works of the philosopher Simon Critchley. His book “On Humour” introduced me to a new perspective on humour and comedy. To see things “in humour” is to shed yourself of all your lived experiences and of all societal norms, to imagine that you are an alien viewing yourself and the world for the first time. This quickly became my bible for creating art works!
Not long before the discovery of my “bible” I was starting to defy societal norms around sexuality and physical appearance. I struggled with how I was percieved, in particular being bi-racial, and my weight and body hair. Probably because I watched so many films and TV shows, paired with the fact that I cared too much about how others perceived me. I gradually started to question my behaviour and beliefs, through an introduction to Queer culture in Glasgow, via Free Pride, SQIFF, and Buzzcut.
Then, after the discovery of my “bible”, I was also very inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, particularly in the genre of “Ukiyo-e”. I was especially drawn to their “Goblins”, wee humanoid creatures created as exaggerated and crude versions of ourselves, to represent human nature in a different light.
With all that inspiration in the bag, I have been creating ink brush drawings that can liberate the audience from societal norms. I wanted to create work that romanticised commonly held ideas of “what it is to be human”, and to use humour, since the act of laughing at myself and the world really helped my own process. I aimed to do so for others too!
Can you tell us more about the concept behind your designs for SQIFF 2020?
I have always felt that Queer culture has positively challenged so many societal norms. I wanted to develop this concept further by adapting it into a Sci-Fi theme. I was heavily influenced by Star Trek and old Sci-Fi B movie film posters.
I wanted to create a sort of a utopian future where everyone is liberated from all the strange customs and rules that have been imposed on them. They are so enlightened that they have evolved into brightly coloured beings and have ascended to space, floating about naked! I kept them naked, as an absurd way of representing liberation and body diversity.
Inspired by motifs like Star Trek’s touch screen interface, I gave the aliens “Universal Communicators”, which is basically a hat like the Teletubbies wear! Like in Star Trek, this allows everyone the ability to communicate in their own language and understand any other alien language.
I also wanted to represent disabilities, since I would not want them erased from the future simply because technology has been advanced. For example, I am Deaf and would still want to be Deaf in the future and would still want to use British Sign Language as a form of communication.
How did you find the process of inviting members of the community to share images of themselves for you to base your illustrations on?
It was definitely a massive learning curve for me! At first, I got a good amount of responses from friends. Then I didn’t quite get as many responses from the call out that was posted on SQIFF’s Facebook page. So I became a little concerned at this point. I wasn’t sure if the work was diverse enough in terms of disabilities or backgrounds. So I decided to get in touch directly with mutual friends and people I knew from other circles. I quickly realised that it was simply better to contact people directly – I know people are always happy to help but this makes it a bit more personal. I learnt that doing a callout is more effective when people know me, my style, and my work. They would get to know me more personally through one to one contact and I can ask some questions about them and from their perspective.
Another great thing I got from this process – I was given some great inspiration from the people who sent me pictures, since they provided me with some brilliant poses! It let my imagination run wild – it was very enjoyable!
I got the opportunity to get some unique perspectives through conversations with others. This has urged me take this approach in my future work – to try include the perspective of others too.
Can you speak a bit about the links between your aliens and the possibility for freedom from restrictive societal norms?
I have found a sense of freedom through creating the Goblins and aliens in my drawings, because it gave me a fresh perspective on myself. That some of my behaviour and anxieties stemmed from previous ideas I was taught to believe. It gave me the opportunity to see such ideas and beliefs as rather ridiculous! I enjoyed seeing my goblins free from stress and worries, not affected at all by societal expectations!
When viewing societal norms from the perspective of an alien, it allows me to laugh about humanity and its strange rules and practices. I found myself not over-worrying about what others thought of me.
I want to invite everyone to do the same, hopefully to allow them the same freedom I got from viewing things in this perspective!
Merchandise featuring Klarissa’s designs will be on sale soon – look out for the launch of our online shop! Click here to see Klarissa’s work on Instagram.
Image credit: Detail of SQIFF 2020 design by Klarissa Webster