Art in Quarantine: Tarrah and Ashley at Home
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Even before the pandemic, Instagram was a non-stop surrealist fantasy, a carnival of influencer culture, fashion photography, selfie tsunamis, outfits of the day, makeup tutorials and style tips, botanicals, food porn, and visual art of every possible variety. Now, it’s a life line. And while things are looking a bit different, there’s still art being made — and it’s amazing how creative our collective cabin fever has made some people. For example, gallerist Tarrah von Lintel and her girlfriend Ashley Hepburn, who are definitely making the most of the situation.
Their 80’s glam-punk still life soap opera is unfolding in its natural habitat, on Instagram, across a series of increasingly detailed and encoded tableaux featuring the striking couple in sexy, chic vintage and more gothic looks. They have meals, adventures, hangovers, housework, and high-concept studio-style shoots — all made in the house where they’re quarantined together, and all with clothing, cosmetics, props, books, and garments found in the house as well. It’s like Bob & Roberta Smith mashed up with Madonna’s Sex book. And there’s always a can of classic SPAM hidden somewhere in the frame.
Besides just basic self-amusement, the series has quickly evolved into something much more complex, touching on — and launching a not-so-subtle critique of — Instagram culture, social constructs of beauty, the practice of symbolism-rich still life in art history, and even a touch of Pop with addition of the SPAM, which also serves to locate the stories in the time of quarantine, or at least emergency. SPAM is earthquake kit food, an archetypal CostCo special, and an iconic Ed Ruscha painting with a superb logo.
Ashley is a stylist and make-up artist and had been doing this sort of thing for a while, had produced an online zine called Mariposa, and when she first moved to Los Angeles she was looking to augment her portfolio. She started using Tarrah as a muse and model, sometimes within the art / gallery setting but since mid-March, like everyone else, it all got moved to lockdown. The series is currently up to about 20 images, each with its own micro-narrative in the captions. Only one is a toilet paper meme.
The luscious but off-kilter color schemes and the melodrama of the black and white give each image a variably retro feel, flashing back across decades from the 80’s to the 60’s and back to the 90’s, in a confident Postmodern sampling of both fashion history (Ashley) and the history of photography (Tarrah). The blend is sheer perfection, pardon the pun. It’s no wonder a few curators from institutional programs have expressed delight and interest.
Though the styling ranges from red carpet to red light district, and the activities from clean-up to caught-in-the-act, there’s a pervasive sense of Decameron-level delight taken in their quarantine-imposed resourcefulness. And there are also antecedents in art history that speak to the process itself. A lot of artists whether or not they realize it are channeling an early Rauschenberg moment where he’d set himself the challenge of making art from only what he found outside on the sidewalk on his own block. Tarrah mentions photographer Marco Breuer who lived in a barn for a month and made work with only what he found there. Despite the prevalence of silks and jewels and fancy art books and champagne, the bricolage energy also evokes arte povera, but a far more seductive, decadent version. On one level it’s just a bit of fun, a sanity-keeping measure, on another it’s two creative women blending their talents in inventive works of art. The best part is the realization that it’s actually pretty close to real life.