Critic Aria Dean untangles the knots of art, design and human nature
This story originally appeared in i-D’s The Darker Issue, no. 365, winter 2021. Order your copy here.
Through her writing, curation, visual arts and filmmaking, Aria Dean theorized the contemporary moment in a clever and prescient way. His creative and intellectual practices explore and resemble both loops, cycles, and patterns of media, race, technology, and the built environment. Aria not only takes care of systems and infrastructure, but also the ghosts that haunt them.
Aria’s mastery in a variety of media provides a kind of laboratory where she constantly works to unravel the most intricate knots of our contemporary condition. Architecture, which she initially wanted to study as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, has remained an important analytical framework for her thinking. This attracted her in part to how subjective understandings of how the world is constructed shape the way we construct habitable spaces. Although she ended up studying fine art at Oberlin, she was always drawn to art related to architecture, such as minimalist sculpture from the 60s and 70s. “Minimalist practices end up feeling rather architectural. She says, “to the extent that they are infrastructural or they take off the layer of appearances and are more of a relationship. Architecture is about how people relate to space and to each other through space.
Aria wears all COURRÈGES clothes.
Shortly after graduating from college, she was hired as the curator of net art and digital culture at Rhizome, where she organized New black portraits at the New Museum in 2017. She wrote and published virtuoso essays on the Internet and on how our subjectivities and identities are formed on and beside it. In 2016, she wrote the essay Poor Meme, Rich Meme, an astonishing and dizzying exploration of how black circulates on the Internet, linking Cedric Robinson’s concept of darkness as an “ontological totality”, already networked and dematerialized by the Middle Passage, to Hito Steyerl’s theorization of “ the poor image, ”to Mr. Krabs’ blackening.
These days, Aria says she’s less interested in the capital letter B Blackness – as an identity category – and more interested in the abstract and diffuse force of darkness in the world, how it travels and manifests itself in ways. surprising and loaded. Aria was already grappling with the ontology of Darkness in a remarkable piece titled Notes on acceleration, where she proposes that “accelerationism always already exists in black territory, whether he knows it or not – and, conversely, that black is always already accelerationist”. Although written in 2016, Notes on acceleration accurately predicted the events of the summer of 2020. “During the most hopeful moment,” she said, “when the protests started, I remember thinking: I wrote it all about how the revolution against capital has to think about the dark, then the whole world stopped – and they kept killing black people. Although she admits that everyone who was on the streets “suddenly and truly realized that life blacks mattered, “nonetheless a” revolutionary sensibility “emerged from the untenable pressures of late capitalism, forged by the brutal fulcrum of a global pandemic. This revolutionary sensibility, as Aria predicted, emerged from where Darkness meets, accelerates and destabilizes capitalism.
Most of Aria’s artwork is tactile. She has a deep interest in materials, perhaps surprising to some given her many writings on digital culture. But his artistic practice is closely linked to his writing: “I often write a sentence about the existence of an object. And that’s how I start to see it. Aria’s objects, where the influence of minimalism is most visible, are compact and rich in meaning, combining 3D printing and cryogenic etching with materials that evoke earthly materiality – bubbling hot tar, wax, clay, cotton and wood.
In the Dead zone series of works, a single cotton branch enclosed in a glass bell stands as if it were preserved in amber. In this miniature world, the organic and the industrial collide, illuminating the vanities of extraction and conservation, while reminding us that the plantation did not precede industrialization but was the place of its incubation. Aria has integrated a signal jammer into the object, bringing new meaning to the title. We can’t cry out for help, we can’t post on Instagram, we just have to face the weird bloom of a particular institution. “Dead zone” also refers to what a cotton field signals to some of us, a zone of social and physical death, a place of wasting amid forced extraction and preservation.
Aria is interested in world building, but she is also interested in the gaps and shifts between worlds. “The driving question I always ask myself,” she says, “is what are the things that make up our reality, and how do perception and an objective sense of the world collide? Cinema and art are places where this is constantly being negotiated. The worlds created by Aria are not necessarily propositions of a new or utopian arrangement. Instead, they create their own reference systems, their own languages, which tell us something about our world, about the limits and possibilities of the structures we have inherited.
Photography Inez & Vinoodh
Fashion Alastair McKimm
James Pecis Hair at Bryant Artists
Braid the Tashana Miles
Make-up Sam Visser at Forward Artists with Dior
Nail Technician Yuko Tsuchihashi at Susan Price NYC using UKA
Lighting director Jodokus Driessen
Digital technician Marc Kroop
Photography assistance Joe Hume
Fashion Aid Madison Matusich, Milton Dixon III and Casey Conrad Tailor Martin Keehn
Hair aid Anton Alexander
Makeup Aid Emma Elizabeth
Production Tucker Birbilis, Eva Harte and Michael Dicarlo
Production assistance Max Sniderman and Bryan Cuevas
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING