'Queen Conch' (left) and 'Ricardo' (right), Embroidery Series, 2015
Which themes most often play out in your work?
I try to make my work consistent with what’s happening within me and around me. In the first year, my collages were all over the place when it came to themes; they could be political or absolutely silly just for shits and giggles. But after a while this randomness began to disturb me so I started attending a class where we could discuss our portfolios and production. My latest pieces are about the family and what happens within that realm; things like identity construction, domestic life and sexuality.
The collages can be quite visually arresting and intense – there is so much going on! How does your work engage with ideas of chaos?
The whole process leading up to the construction of the collage is a series of choices and attempts to impose some sense of order on the chaos. That’s how the first series started, and The Pink Series, the second series I ever made, was a continuation of that effort – trying to work with less material in order to control the disorder that working through hundreds of cut-outs can create. I’m not particularly proud of this series as a whole and the themes are a bit all over the place, but making it was sort of liberating because I had never had allowed myself to approach pink before then and suddenly it was mine to do as I pleased with.
Your work often has a sexual element to it – explicit in the Penis series and implicit in the Trans series. How do you engage with ideas of the sexual?
There’s also the PSSY series, which was made as a response to the initial Penis series, the name isn’t great, but I couldn’t call it the vagina or the vulva series because it also deals with internal female reproductive organs and sometimes with no part of the female anatomy at all.
Actually, the trans series isn’t a series at all, those collages are what happens in between series – transitional periods – I had to shorten the name so it would fit on the website and I loved that it could be shortened to ‘trans p.’, because of the association with the trans community, but that was just a happy coincidence.
That’s interesting – I assumed it had sexual connotations. What do you think fascinates us about sex in art?
I can’t tell – I guess it’s just something we can relate to. You don’t have to be an ‘art person’ to have a reaction to an artwork where the subject is sexual, it’s something that’s instinctive within you.
Do you think images of sex organs can ever not be sexual?
They can be non-erotic, they can be symbolic, but they would probably still be sexual or have a sexual charge to them.
What was your inspiration for the Penis series?
Every once in a while I decide to do something with penises in my work and, mostly, this comes from a silly place. I just decide on a whim to do something related to penises. Afterwards I tend to make a serious effort to work on something related to the female reproductive system – and I love that. I wish the PSSY series had got as much attention as the Penis series, because the so much more work went into it.
I love the mixture of sinister, more violent, photographic imagery with technicolour, illustrated images – like in “Rio” or “Paris” in your Pink series What roles do ‘the serious’ and ‘the silly’ play within your work?
The silly and the beautiful aspects of my work are there for the single reason of turning whatever is being said into a more palatable thing, or to get the message into people’s houses or minds without there being an automatic rejection of the subject at hand. Although sometimes I feel I might overdo it, and less and less people actually get to see through that layer of the work into what’s being said. Like I’ve always had a feeling that the bright colour I use was distracting people away, to a certain level, from what was actually being said.
You’re now embroidering penises and vaginas – what motivated this decision? Does using a different medium change the way you feel about your work?
The embroideries started because of the silly decision to embroider a flying penis with a halo, which ended up turning into something bigger. For the penis I worked with no reference picture, just did it of the top of my head. After that, I thought it was only fair to work on a vulva, so I did, but for that I had to use a drawing from an encyclopaedia as a reference image. I felt it was kind of sad that I, as a woman, couldn’t make a visual representation of the vulva without a reference image. After I finished the penis and vulva I felt weird about only embroidering Caucasian sex organs.
When I decided to embroider a black penis there were no drawings in encyclopaedias, only photos and even though there were TONNES of photos and entire Tumblrs dedicated to it, photos don’t translate well into embroidery, drawings are better to map out the colours, so I had to piece different images together to get the final shape and colour scheme.
When it was time to embroider the black vulva things became impossible, it was so hard that before I finished it I embroidered an asshole and a precursory reproductive structure. Vulvas have far more complex thread colour schemes than penises. Everything is so delicate and it takes a lot of work on light/shadow to try to make a decent depiction of it. But the number of images available online was way smaller than of any of the other genitals I had embroidered. So the white and the black vulvas I embroidered are absolutely different in the worst sense possible, I couldn’t do better work because what is available won’t even allow me to piece together a believable black vulva.
The decision to pursue embroidery as a new medium came from the fact that my work has a pretty acid way of approaching domestic life. Because the technique still carries those long gone idyllic values of women sitting at home and making things for the home and the family, I can actually enjoy shattering them whenever people ask to see what I’m working on. This is something I couldn’t have with collage at all since the technique didn’t relate directly to the subject matter.
I love the way you play with medium and subject matter in that way. Who would you say most inspires you?
One artist I’m weirdly attracted to is Tracey Emin. Not necessarily because I love her work, but because of the subjects she works with and the techniques she allows herself to use.
In terms of inspiration, I’d have to say, Murakami’s ‘The Wind up Bird Chronicles’. If I’m ever able to accomplish mixing everyday life with dreamlike and mythological elements as he does I’ll be a happy rabbit.
What does feminism mean to you?
This is a tough one. I’ve been struggling with this subject for a while now. I have feminist activist friends and I know feminism is a whole universe I haven’t remotely explored yet and I don’t feel like I know enough to even risk answering this, but I think it’s a fight for women’s rights, for equality, for a relevant depiction of women in mainstream culture and an attempt to break the overbearing white cis straight male axis.
Words Madeleine Dunnigan
Ingrid’s work is part of the permanent collection at Rio’s Museum of Modern Art. Alongside this, she has been displayed at SESC Quitandinha and SESC Ramos, as well as X CASA and Comuna. She recently exhibited at Kunstraum Tapir in Berlin and has a forthcoming exhibition, Collage #1: Imprint – Ingrid Bittar & David Woodward, at SomoS in Berlin on 1 October 2015. You can find details of the event here. Please visit Ingrid Bittar's website for further examples of and more information on her work.