Better a Friend than a Brand: When Petra Cortright Met Stella McCartney

Photo: Petra Cortright,  Dot Warp with Door (for Stella McCartney) , 2014. Courtesy the artist.

Photo: Petra Cortright, Dot Warp with Door (for Stella McCartney), 2014. Courtesy the artist.

I think it is very important for brands to understand who they are talking to and what they are asking them to do––it’s too often that brands think they want an artist, but what they really want is advertising.

Petra Cortright is the Los Angeles-based artist who invented the use of the camgirl trope in contemporary art, among other internet-related firsts. She uses a range of mediums, both digital and analog, to explore the aesthetics and performative cultures of online consumption. Her works, which frequently employ effects, filters, or computer graphics, highlight video memes and behaviors common to sites like Youtube. Lately much of her practice has been about digital painting, but she also has a retrospective of some 50 videos, "CAM WORLS," opening at UTA Artist Space this weekend.

How did you get to know Stella McCartney originally? What projects have your worked on together since then?

Stella contacted me after acquiring a video piece of mine for her collection and said she wanted to work together. It was very mysterious and exciting. I ended up flying to New York to meet her and see a presentation of her clothing. Our friendship has turned out to be very fruitful––we have made several videos now together and I am very proud of them. I think it’s just an open-ended relationship and collaboration that is very natural, no pressure, which makes it simply super fun.

Do you feel the relationship between an artist and a brand can be as significant as (or exceed), say, an artist and a gallery, or an artist and a collector?

With Stella, I have to say, it has never really felt like a brand, but more series of personal friendships, first with her, then with the people who work with her. Everything about working with her has felt relaxed, and I felt welcomed into her world like family. I think it is very important for brands to understand who they are talking to and what they are asking them to do––it’s too often that brands think they want an artist, but what they really want is advertising. It’s simply not the same thing. I asked them if it was going to be okay if I gave them something lo-fi and kind of weird, and they were okay with it. A lot of brands are not okay with that kind of approach, and end up pushing for a lot of directorial authority. Stella doesn’t do that at all.

In the series of videos including Dot Warp with Door and Colour Block (seven in total), you appear a few different ways: your work is in the videos, you made the videos, and you are in the videos, wearing Stella McCartney. How do you feel about conflating your work and your person or appearance? What’s the relationship between your lifestyle and your work?

I think I try to present myself in a pretty straightforward and sincere way. To me, the videos are not acting or performance. It’s mostly me just having fun in the studio, and it happens to be recorded. I always think it would be nice for me not to be in the videos, but a huge part of it has always been that you have to play around for hours and hours to set up the right situation for the effects, and it’s not something that can easily be directed or articulated to other people. I am alone when I make the videos, and I feel comfortable doing them because then it’s ok to make a mistake, and it allows me to work in an intuitive and spontaneous way. Working with other people is a totally different thing because you have to plan out so much, otherwise there is just a lot of standing around. It’s not really an ideal or fun way for me to work. So, for me to have the luxury of working alone, I also have to be the one in the videos :)

Photo: Petra Cortright and Marc Horowitz,  ‘“””’ , 2017. Courtesy the artists.

Photo: Petra Cortright and Marc Horowitz, ‘“””’, 2017. Courtesy the artists.

What’s your relationship with gender and femininity right now, and is that reflected in your work on these projects?

Well, it’s a hot topic in the media right now in general. I don’t think that it plays a strong role in the way I make my work or in my process. I’m not approaching it with a specific feminist strategy or goal. As far as femininity goes, some of the Stella videos are more feminine because of the beautiful dresses that she sends–– it was fun to go in a softer direction. Normally it’s rare for me to wear a dress in a video...

For your last project with Stella McCartney you involved your husband, artist Marc Horowitz, as well. What’s your creative relationship like?

Yes, it was for Stella’s menswear line, when it debuted. It was the first time marc and I had worked together. It was interesting—we actually ended up having a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, haha, but it was great. In general we have very different ways of working, and we do make somewhat of a conscious effort to keep the practices separate. Of course, we discuss things about each other’s work, but I think it’s very important to have boundaries and keep things separate, for our own sanity and to protect the practices. So it was actually really fun to join forces on the video and it ended up not being problematic lol...