Kevin Abosch on the Commodification of Self and Art

By Abby Margulies

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Kevin Abosch is a conceptual artist and photographer who has photographed celebrities around the world, including Johnny Depp, Malala Yousafzai, Yoko Ono, and Aung San Suu Kyi, among many others, along with many of the most prominent executives in Silicon Valley, such as Sheryl Sandberg and others. Abosch splits his time between New York and his native Ireland, creating conceptual artworks that often take as their premise the zeitgeists of our time – from crypto currency to trying to visually capture the human ego. Abosch got his start as a biologist, which, paired with his interest in technology, has made for a wide-ranging and innovative approach to contemporary art. Abosch will give a keynote address at If So, What? offering visitors insight into his art and photography practice. We were lucky enough to get a preview from Abosch about what he plans to discuss at ISW, and to learn a little bit more about what he is working on right now.

ISW: You’re a renowned conceptual artist and photographer, but you gained significant mainstream notoriety for the sale of “Potato #345.” Can you tell us a bit about what that experience was like for you, and how it changed your business?

Kevin Abosch
Potato #345

ABOSCH: The global hysteria over “Potato #345” was fun to watch. Sometimes when art manages to bleed into mainstream news, the masses that don’t necessarily frequent galleries and museums see a work out of context and simply can’t understand it. This is an opportunity, however, to impact a lot of people. As an artist, I appreciate awareness of my work, but this one work hasn’t really changed much for me.

ISW: For If So, What? you will be giving a talk about “using proxies as emotional distillates.” Can you tell us a bit more about what that means, and what people can expect from the talk?

ABOSCH: My work deals with identity, value, and human currency. My subjects more often than not are reductionist proxies for more complex concepts. Even my photographic portraits of people I view as proxies. I use proxies to present ideas without distraction. I’ll discuss this process with respect to my latest project “I AM A COIN.”

ISW: Can you tell us a little bit about the I AM A COIN project? How did you come up with it? How has it evolved? Why do you feel that it is so particularly relevant right now?

Kevin Abosch

ABOSCH: From the moment we’re born, society tries to ascribe value to us. I feel this too as an artist, when the focus shifts from the artistic value of my work to the monetary value. As my work is an extension of my being, I imagined what this commodification would look like and I envisioned a coin that could be distributed to millions of people. I created a body of work comprised of physical works on paper printed with my own blood that are connected to 10 million pieces of virtual art (crypto-tokens) on the Ethereum blockchain. Why and how we value things, from art to currency to human life is very relevant at the moment.

ISW: We’re at a moment where people are obsessed with things going viral – something that not only has happened to you, but which you seem to be responding to in your work as well. Can you talk a little about this phenomenon as it relates to you?

ABOSCH: Things usually don’t go viral for the reasons you would like them to. When you experience this first hand it can be a bit unsettling. I’m not in the camp that thinks ‘All press is good press.’

ISW: What drew you to If So, What? Why do you feel that your work and ideas will resonate so well with this event?

ABOSCH: The team seems excited about the intersection of art and technology, as am I.

ISW: How do you see yourself in the art and photography world and how do you see what you are doing changing?

ABOSCH: I think you have to as an artist, create your own universe and invite people into it. While I stay well informed about the state of art globally, as I get older I care less and less about how I fit in, or don’t for that matter. My career as an artist has had a bit of an unusual trajectory. I didn’t really want to do the gallery thing. I have collectors of my work and I’m in museums. In the past, the galleries controlled the art market wholly. I think young artists today have more tools at their disposal to reach collectors without having to sell through galleries. I’m excited for them