Breaking Out of the Boxes: A Delightful Artist Talk with Claudia Bitran

My main takeaway from listening to Claudia Bitran talk for an hour was mostly that as eclectic as someone’s career might be, you never really know how much planning, detail, and forethought is simmering under the surface until you ask. It would be easy to assume, from Bitran’s work, that things are just thrown together willy-nilly, or that she jumps from project to project without much sense of direction or common narrative theme. But talking with Bitran reveals—just as one would discover from examining her work more closely— that she is in fact anything but unplanned or unfocused.

Bitran is a case study in pursuing passion and relying on one’s gut but doing so with a plan and a purpose in mind. She refers to her process as a combination of gut feelings, core “pillars” of planned ideas, emotion, and social commentary, all wrapped up and tied into a neat little multimedia, multisensory package. She’s a painter, a filmmaker, a performer—on paper, it almost seems like a combination that shouldn’t work. And yet, it does. Why? Because Bitran is, above all else, so much more grounded and down-to-earth than I could have ever possibly expected her to be. She thinks through the impact of each project she takes on. She examines its place in the trajectory of art history, in history overall. She puts in so many hours of effort, just thinking and planning and building collaborations and relationships with people… and every minute of that effort comes through in the final result, often in entirely unexpected ways.

More than that though: Bitran sets herself apart by admitting a certain love-hate relationship with commercialism, with celebrity, with modern pop culture. Her work is a combination of admiration and disgust, of adoration and mistrust. She doesn’t set out to dismantle a system, nor does she simply accept social institutions blindly. She looks about the world with wide eyes, and then digs deeper into the impulses that define human behavior within it. Her work treads a careful balance between what she calls “superfandom” and cautious criticism. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and Bitran manages it with grace.

Mostly, I left the conversation with Bitran thinking hard about my own allegiances to pop culture, and the degree to which external forces influence my life. I was also left with the unshakeable idea that there’s something more out there than academia and galleries and the neat little boxes that I tend to assume life belongs in. Art can mean performance. It can mean impersonating Britney Spears on live TV. It can mean channeling fandom into art direction and perfume ads, it can mean re-shooting all of Titanic with basic equipment, no budget, and dozens of actors for each individual character. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the art world is neatly divided up into those little boxes, but it’s seeing what happens when someone thinks out of the box—or possibly has never seen the box—that the whole world opens up a little bit, and a hundred new possibilities come to light.

Put simply, Claudia Bitran is a clever, grounded, delightful force of nature and chaos, and speaking with her was an inspirational breath of fresh air.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *