Russh Magazine: Portrait of a Lady.March 2017,
PORTRAIT OF A LADY
Intrigued? You should be. Pandemonia lets us behind the latex.
words Miranda Darling.
It’s impossible not to stare at Pandemonia. Some do it covertly from behind their cup of tea, their sunglasses … most don’t bother to hide their interest in the two-metre-tall latex Amazon moving elegantly through the lobby of the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone. Pandemonia sits graciously – she moves with great care, her voice soft and her words well spoken as I ask about her name. “It comes from Paradise Lost, Milton. I just like the idea of chaos – that creativity comes from chaos … In Paradise Lostthere’s this palace where all the spirits live, and it’s created by Mammon. I think it’s built on the head of a pin or something … it’s tiny so there’s a [play with] scale, and I like the Mammon aspect – there’s a crassness to it.” Discreetly making sure we are not sitting perilously close to the open ﬁre, I suggest that Pandemonia acts as a Trojan horse of sorts, inserting herself into popular culture, all the while using its machinations as part of the artistic process. The latex lady nods carefully: “Deﬁnitely. It turns into a critique of itself. And by performing Pandemonia, I am feeding the media back their own imagery – glossiness, beautifulness, shininess … You look at all the newspapers and magazines [after an appearance] and see these people with Pandemonia and they might be saying derogatory things or positive things, it doesn’t really matter … It becomes about them more than me.”
The artist pinpoints June 2000 as the moment celebrity culture really began to take off, with mobile phones, the internet and social media creating a platform where we could all manufacture our own history, language, and stories. Pandemonia began to make work around these ideas and the messages being transmitted by the advertisements, the “forever-young, glossy culture”, to create a celebrity around these themes, “the meta-narrative”, as she puts it, that would “reverse the subject and the object in an art piece”.
Pandemonia herself is constructed, the artist explains, out of signs and symbols:her hair is not ‘hair’ but rather a symbol of hair; the same applies to the little dog Pandemonia often carries with her. Indeed, she is as familiar as she is strange because she manifests so many of the hyper-recognisable tropes of our pop culture. “The iconography is probably based on Americana from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, which has seeped into UK culture.” Even the choice of latex as a material, shiny and ‘plasticky’, with all its sexual connotations, is linked to our subconscious. Latex links meaning to Pandemonia’s imagery; it is made from the sap of trees – from nature, the artist explains – and so has connections to the “nature within ourselves that we can’t really control – only temper. It’s something the conscious mind is not really in control of,” she says. It is “erotic and evocative”, bound up with the artist’s interest in shamanic ideas, and the archetypes that run through Western culture.
The artist makes all of Pandemonia’s clothes as well, having studied anatomy and how the body ﬁts together. The cut-and-paste pattern work is glued together, with ideas drawn not from current fashion but from the past. “I ﬁnd drapery very psychological,” Pandemonia says. “I never created this stuff to look realistic – it’s all supposed to look like the image of it, the sign of it, the symbol of a person, which I think is important. It’s like a three-dimensional drawing … I used to make prints. A lot of my earlier work was about language … and I wanted somehow to get inside the advert, to get through the surface of the printed image to the other side of the pixels.
“Pandemonia as a vessel,” she goes on, “has allowed me to travel around the world and go to places I could just never ever go to … and see the world from a different perspective. You’re born into the world with certain traits – like family, gender – but then I can do Pandemonia and rubbish all of this, do something completely different.” She takes a careful sip of her drink through a straw. “I am describing a whole cross-section of society by living it.” However, she laughs quietly, “I have to be invited because they’d spot me straight away!”
When I ﬁrst met Pandemonia in the summer we had talked about façades, and her fear that, one day, her mask would literally fall apart in public. What role does anonymity play in Being Pandemonia, I wonder? “It’s important,” she replies quickly. “All you see is Pandemonia. You just have to deal with that, and think about that. If I were to show a different person, I would destroy the image. If you see the person behind it, you will just be ﬁxated on that and not the product – it would be like killing it.” It also adds another dimension to the stories the media can write about her: Who is Pandemonia?The anonymity adds mystery.
The latex covering reminds me of superheroes and I ask the artist if it feels different being ‘in character’. “I do sometimes feel different. Like my core is sliding around a bit … and when everybody knows you as Pandemonia, well you just become more Pandemonia.” And being Pandemonia requires the participation of other people; it requires the right context, too. “I’m very particular about where I go,” she says. “I don’t like to go to clubs, for example, because the framework of wherever I go shifts it, and it gets out of my control very quickly.” Pandemonia did recently go to Paris for Fashion Week. “It’s quite exciting, going all around Paris. I only went to one show – it’s too difﬁcult with the language, so I just did the show then disappeared.” Does Pandemonia take the Eurostar? “I can’t explain everything …” she replies, “She wasat Paris Fashion week … People are thinking about it.”
As well as collaborations with behemoth brands such as Camper and countless editorials for fashion magazines, Pandemonia appeared in the latest Absolutely Fabulousﬁlm, and on the gold carpet. “The Ab Fabpremier was brilliant! I came to life. The premier was better than the ﬁlm for me!” She had made a silver dress for the occasion, and says ﬁlm is something she would deﬁnitely do again, despite the difﬁculties of being
“I never created this stuff to look realistic – it’s all supposed to look like the image of it, the sign of it, thesymbol of a person.”
Pandemonia for 12 hours straight. The moving image is another vehicle that works perfectly for Pandemonia; it gives her a voice. “I always wanted to jump across mediums. Making work for the gallery never goes beyond that,” the artist adds. “All the action is actually happening in the centre, between all the people. Then you see celebrities and how they can transfer from newspaper to TV to ﬁlm … I always thought that was rather unfair that they could do that but, as an artist, you’re always locked into something – a picture on the wall and that’s it. Why can’t we do more than this? And now we have digital media, we can do more.”
I ﬁnd myself smitten with Pandemonia’s little pooch. She has three small hounds: Snowball (white) Snowbelle (pink, and the one I am privileged to be cradling) and a leopard-spotted one. Pandemonia’s blog features a ‘dog’s eye view’ as well as her own. “I can do things through the dog that Pandemonia can’t do, talk about things from another angle.” Pandemonia shows me some photographs of Snowball at an opening. “[For the dogs] it’s always about food and jewellery and money – all the crass stuff.”
For all of society’s obsession with surface, and Pandemonia’s playful engagement with that, there is no one woman or celebrity whom the artist identiﬁes as Muse. Film stills, however, are a big inspiration for elements like Pandemonia’s hair. “I never [base] it on one exact person. There’s Veronica Lake, I suppose – the ideal … I’m quite old-fashioned. I look at what’s happening currently but that’s not what I draw from.”
Pandemonia draws from a deeper archetypal well that includes the Makishi tribe in Africa, and the Siberian shamans who are always male and dress as female for ceremonies. In many traditional societies, the feminine is seen to be more connected with nature and the subconscious. “In art,” Pandemonia continues, “artists are always painting the female form, and in advertising the female form is used to sell things – the emblem of consumer society. That was my logic.”
Pandemonia and her embodiment of recognisable (and artificial) tropes also engages with the idea that the repetition of advertising images of an ‘ideal woman’ changes our view of what is normal. The female form is the embodiment of our desires – men want her, and women want to be her – therefore Pandemonia carries that charge with her, larger than life in every way.
As we go to leave, Pandemonia is spotted by a small gang of girls, about 10 years old, who are immediately drawn to her. “You are amazing!” one exclaims, “Are you real?!” One mother takes out her phone and there is the obligatory round of selﬁes, Pandemonia’s process in action, and so the circle of my afternoon with Pandemonia elegantly closes in on itself.