Transforming LA’s Leiminspace Gallery in her own personal Apple store, Ambar’s latest offering conflates notions of art and commerce, replication and comparison, celebrity and the banal.
Oops.jpg Schelsey Sabet
Ambar Navarro is obsessed with Apples. No, not the Pink Lady kind (although she is a fan of the colour pink) we're talking about the gadgets and gizmos that are glued to the hands and ears of every self-respecting Gen Z(er) on the planet. iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, Big Macs, Macbook Pros, she's been there, wants that, and almost certainly got her iEye on the wearable tech t-shirt, too.
Born in San Antonio Texas, Ambar spent her youth going to punk shows and immersing herself in Austin's synth music scene, before enrolling in a course of studied Experimental Animation at CalArts. Her obsession with Apple products crept up on her slowly; it started when she found herself having to constantly loop films off her MacBook Pro at shows, and grew after she began to make her laptop an actual feature within the show, as a kind of still life. This led her onto bulk-buying tons of fake Apple phones online and collecting curious props like iPhone pillows and other miscellaneous products, which she now adds to her still life composition and photographs.
"The reason I like using Apple products so much is because I just think they are really pretty and fun to shoot," Ambar says. "I really think its origins are with Paris Hilton being photographed with a certain glamour attitude with her phones." And Paris Hilton is the central theme of Ambar's latest exhibition Compare You to Me, or at least a specific image of Hilton holding a stack of iPhones in her hand. A symbol of both extreme wealth and our culture's hyper accessibility, Ambar has recreated this iconic image through portraits of fellow artists and social media sensations Arvida Byström, Brittany Scott, Schelsey Sabet and Bianca Alexa. Taking place at L.A's Leiminspace, Ambar's transformed the gallery into her very own version of an Apple Store. Carefully selected table-tops, benches, and stools have been installed in order to replicate the glassy and symmetrical insides of the Apple store, while in place of Apple's latest devices, are Amber's photographs, videos, and prop iPhones. Displayed with rotating platforms, levitating surfaces and light boxes, the installation is a conflation of both retail and gallery presentation. In short it's a visual treat!
Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?
I think it's kind of insane. I plan things way ahead of time but also leave lots of room for last min ideas to pop into my head. It'll be hours before an opening and suddenly I get obsessed with needing a random object that I have to run out to get. It's a bit chaotic but I think with more time and experience it'll eventually come together sooner but it's always been a bit of running out and sourcing weird props and things. For this show having a Paris Hilton cake was really important to me, and having @Officialseanpenn DJ really added to the whole celebrity vibe I was going for. I think it's good to leave room for ideas especially since the gallery, people, and location can influence thoughts once you're inside installing.
What is the concept behind your most recent exhibition?
Apple storefronts are really beautifully designed, even if you are or aren't an Apple fan. I feel like any time I go to a mall it's required to go inside and mess with the Apple pencil or just take it all in. It's also about Paris Hilton's multiple phones and my favourite question asked is, "Why does she have so many phones?!" but it probably makes sense for her! Business, friends, family, more business? Then she always carries a Blackberry and a burner flip phone. I love it. It's also about how casually she carries them around with no cases while shopping and the technology privilege some have and being careless around these beautiful fragile products.
What can we expect to see inside?
I have some large scale sealed acrylic prints of some friends I photographed re-enacting those Paris Hilton photos. We did a photo-shoot on Rodeo Drive and Melrose it was pretty hilarious pulling out this paparazzi cam and seeing people's confused faces. I also purchased the new Apple book and made still lives with my own personal owned props. I've also recreated an Apple store in the gallery, so there's the iconic apple wooden tables, lots of decals of products, some Apple products of course, and I have some hanging blue LED acrylics which reads the Dear Kate poem apple has hidden on the document emoji. There's a bunch of other random things hidden around. The gallery happens to look exactly like an Apple store so it was a very site-specific piece.
What does Apple mean to you?
I really do think of Apple as an innovative institution. I am positively affected by their products and sometimes consider my iMac as my best friend, which probably sounds super weird. I also am very aware of people's frustrations with them and knowing how much money they have and having their products built in China there is definitely always going to be something dark with an institution with so much money.
What is the significance of the colour pink in your work and how does it relate to your vision of technology?
I honestly wanted to try to stay away from the colour pink in this show but in my dream Apple store it would probably only sell the rose gold in everything. I don't consider to use pink as a weapon like I read in a lot of feminist articles and I didn't really grow up wearing a lot of pink. My favourite colour is hyperlink blue or more of a dark palette but it made sense for the show and Paris theme to use it as a hint around the gallery.
What is your favourite Apple product?
iMacs! I love giant screens. But I also recently purchased the Apple Book for this project and am obsessed! It's like the Apple bible and I wish someday they'd commission me to photograph their products.
What is your next project?
I finally opened an online shop, which I wanted to do for a long time, and have some limited number of prints from the show for sale! I also recently won a film grant from Borscht Corp., which is going to help me finish my CalArts thesis documentary series, Fangirl Mail that I started almost three years ago! It interviews Arvida Byström, Molly Soda, Jillian Mayer, Hazel Cills, and Jeanette Hayes. That will be out early next year.
Compare You To Me is open at Leiminspace until Dec 28th. Wed to Sat, 3-8 PM, and by appointment
Text Tish Weinstock