Born and raised in Mexico City and educated in New York, Débora Delmar is a young artist who has become known across the art world. Her work, a playful and critical exploration of mass culture and consumerism, taking the form of installations, online interventions and pop imagery, is on show in upcoming exhibitions in London, Berlin and Los Angeles. After an acclaimed solo show at Modern Art Oxford in 2015, Delmar is back in the UK for a three-month residency at The White Building in Hackney Wick, open to the public during programmed events and leading up to a group show in the summer.
The bleach blonde artist started operating under the alias Debora Delmar Corp. in 2009, as a response to the overly consumerist environment of Manhattan, where she attended The School of Visual Arts. The name became part of her artistic persona, and was quickly followed by her iconic logo: two intertwined D’s juxtaposed with a Trademark symbol. “The more capitalistic our society becomes, the more relevant these issues are,” says Delmar, whose practice subverts the language of global corporations. “Today, corporate culture is so deeply embedded in our everyday lives that any social interaction becomes a transaction.”
The body is another reoccurring theme in Delmar’s work (in fact, ‘corporation’ comes from corpus, the Latin for ‘body’). From watermelons with waistbands, branded swimwear or cushions with bras, her installations feature everyday objects which suggest bodily awkwardness combined with sharp social commentary – not unlike the YBA artist Sarah Lucas. “I’m interested in ideals and aspirations that transform the body: plastic surgery, women getting their skin lighter – which is a big thing in Mexico,” Delmar tells us.
She constructs a narrative of fantasy and self-branding, where the human and the corporate body come together as a whole. “When I was younger my dad worked for Mercedes Benz. I used to get very confused and ask him who Mercedes was, as if it were a real person,” says Delmar. “It turned out the company was named after the founder’s daughter, but it got me thinking about brand identities and how they become personified – which is another reading of the body.”
In 2014, when pictures emerged of models Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn with fresh matching tattoos of a double D on their hips, speculations started in the art world around Delmar’s involvement. “Friends would post the picture on my wall, some asking if it was a performance work!” laughs Delmar. How it came about remains a mystery, but the artist isn’t fussed: “Maybe it’s a coincidence. I don’t know and I don’t really care. I take my inspiration from popular culture, so if it somehow feeds back into it, great!” Obviously, the opportunity was too good to ignore, so Delmar capitalised on the models’ tattoos and produced Branded for Life at FACT Liverpool. Visitors were offered their own Débora Delmar Corp. temporary transfer while a footage of the models proudly getting inked was playing, fuelling an endless dissemination of the logo. “I’d love to meet them, and maybe work together,” Delmar tells us. “I have some ideas for a performance, maybe a guest appearance!”
Delmar goes on to tell us, “Art as luxury is an important aspect of my work.” Earlier this year, her solo presentation for Californian gallery ltd los angeles at Zona Maco, Mexico’s leading art fair, consisted of a series of sculptures cast from contraband Birkin bags, precariously placed on plastic tupperwares and bathrobes. The authentic Hermès accessory has become the sought-after investment, with a value increasing at a faster rate than gold, fetching up to £146,000 at auctions. “My bags were broken and made in china, so it was a subversive take on luxury, a constructed representation of it,” explains Delmar.
Delmar is part of a young generation of Mexican artists who are receiving international attention, including Rodrigo Hernández and Isabel Nuño de Buen. Mexico’s historically rich creative scene has found a new voice in the past decade, with the arrival of art fairs like Zona Maco and Material, as well as cultural centres like Fundación Jumex and galleries such as Labor or Lulu project space. “There was a wave in the 1990s, with Gabriel Orozco’s Friday Workshops and Miguel Calderón’s La Panaderia gallery,” says Delmar. “Now these people are established and nurturing a new generation of artists.”
Mexico has some clout, but it’s not all to the artist’s liking: “Visibility and gallery representation for female artists is lacking. All-male shows are still too frequent, and that’s a reflection of Mexican society.” Tradition and colonial history are other key aspects of Delmar’s work. As a white female, in a society where colour and class are heavily intertwined, her practice questions the social establishment. “Western culture and whiteness are fetishised in Mexico. It’s a terrible thing for a place where the majority of people aren’t white.”
For her SPACE residency at The White Building, Delmar is exploring the theme of Affective Computing, which aims to detect and respond to users’ emotions. As part of this work, she’s also spending some quality time at the nearby (and culturally contrasting) Westfield Stratford, researching local shopping customs. “I’m interested in the colours, smells, and atmospheres of the shops, and how I can appropriate them into my work.”
In conjunction with her residency, Delmar has collaborated with East London gallery Arebyte on an exhibition project that looks at user-generated content and behavioral psychology. “I’m investing in Amazon’s Most Wished For items!” laughs the artist. “I’m interested in personalised algorithms and the accumulation of these desired objects.” SPACE studios will be open to the public during programmed events throughout the residency, culminating in a group show opening in June…with a guest appearance from Cara and Jourdan, we hope.
This Time With FEELing residency is at SPACE, The White Building in Hackney Wick, London, with regular programmed events. Final group exhibition runs from 24 June – 4 July.
Dissent as an iPhone App is on until 16 April at Arebyte, Hackney Wick, London. The closing event, featuring a screening and panel discussion with Débora Delmar Corp. is on Wednesday 13 April at The White Building. Other upcoming exhibitions include solo presentations at DUVE Berlin in the spring, and at ltd los angeles in autumn 2016.