A Los Angeles-based internet artist, Petra Cortright is known for her fragmented graphic-heavy art often created from found online materials. Her work engages the boundless resources and curious corners of the internet with a personal perspective that emphasizes user interaction. Cortright’s art has been exhibited internationally, including the New Museum in New York, Rhizome, and the Venice Biennale.
NIKI, LUCY, LOLA, VIOLA
Petra Cortright’s computer-based show Niki, Lucy, Lola, Viola features Flash animations, video and digital paintings to create a commentary on the male gaze. Depart Foundation premiered the show in July 2015. Computer-animated strippers are projected upon a large green-screen backdrop and are available for users to purchase through a program called VirtuaGirl.
In 2007, before the selfie was even a common trope, Los Angeles artist Petra Cortright was recording herself with a webcam. For her most recent video installation, Cortright steps out of the realm of online self-portraiture and looks further into the internet’s uncanny valley of virtual strippers. In Niki, Lucy, Lola, Viola, the larger-than-life digitized girls smile, flirt and pole dance on a large green screen which stands in for a stage, mimicking the role of human performers in real life. Cortright’s cast of female bodies find their home at the LA station of Italian non-profit art organization Depart Foundation, where the artist will also be exhibiting a series of moving video paintings.
Where are you from?
Petra Cortright: Santa Barbara, California.
When did you start making art?
PC: I started making art in high school, though the big decision was whether to go to art school or pursue soccer professionally. Art won, but I’m still playing soccer.
Who influenced you growing up and who influences you today?
PC: My parents were a big influence growing up—they were both artists, as were many of their friends. Bigger world influences include Martha Stewart, the vast source of inspiration that is the internet, and I’ve always loved California artists like Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, etc.
How would you describe your style?
PC: Hardcore in the softest way. My studio computer looks like this murdered-out hacker setup, but I’ve got a couple candles alongside the desk to set a focused mood and a workout area that also doubles as a nap area/death bed.
How and when did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
PC: I’ve always been making work. In the beginning I didn’t even consider it “work” yet; it was just what I liked to do. Even when I left art school, I kept making videos, compiling images, painting in Photoshop, taking copious screenshots and manipulating them into new images. During school I would often blow off assignments that I didn’t like because I was more interested in doing something usually very different from the assignment. I was a pretty bad student.
“THE LONGER I WORK WITH THE [VIRTUAL STRIPPERS],
THE MORE I REALIZE HOW DEEPLY FASCINATING
THEY ARE ON THEIR OWN—BOTH AS
SOFTWARE AND AS INTERACTIVE ELEMENTS,
WHICH IS NOT THE PURPOSE I’VE USED THEM FOR.”
— Petra Cortright
What’s your story of getting started as an artist?
PC: The entire time I was making work, I was putting it on the internet and watching the response. I was part of a couple “surf clubs,” which included a bunch of other artists working in/on the internet, and was doing stuff with them for a long time (I continue to call them my peers). But it wasn’t until I had my first solo show at Preteen Gallery in Mexico City that I started figuring out how to make things specifically for a physical context. I credit that solo show in 2011 as my real “starting point” which led to more gallery shows and the place I occupy in the art world now.
How does it feel to have accomplished this body of work? What was the process like?
PC: What went into Niki, Lucy, Lola, Viola is an evolution of a couple of different areas of my work. I’ve been working with virtual strippers—I call them the girls— since 2011 and had previously placed them in these very lush, animated desktop scenes. The longer I work with the girls, the more I realize how deeply fascinating they are on their own—both as software and as interactive elements, which is not the purpose I’ve used them for. It feels like a very natural next step to place them in increasingly minimal landscapes and allow them to exist for a viewer as exactly what they are. There are also a couple of works I’m calling painting videos, which is a newer process for me as well. My paintings are composed of hundreds of Photoshop layers. The painting videos take each layer and work them into the frame using zSpace and camera-motion techniques to create a very subtle, ambient but animated digital image.
What are your interests and passions outside of your art?
PC: Soccer. Making videos of my ridiculous dogs… I love visiting the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena and am a card-carrying member.
How do you feel about the rising creative scene in LA?
PC: LA is really cool right now for art; there are a lot of my peers here who I have known
for years. A lot of friends are moving here from New York, too. I think they’re finally tired of the bullshit in that city. I do really well in sprawling cities like LA or Berlin where there is enough space to have bigger, nicer living spaces, studios, etc.
What’s next for you?
PC: In August my studio will release two artist books I made in conjunction with Niki, Lucy, Lola, Viola. They’re both very different but explore that contrast between PC-gamer vibes and the softness of the virtual girls. Coming up, I’ve got work in a bunch of shows all over the place—New York, Germany, Buenos Aires, Chicago. I’m looking forward to having some time the rest of this year to focus on new paintings.