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Photography 'Legwear Loungescape', Ellen O'Brien

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10 March 2024

In Conversation With Lainey Whelan

CLARA POTTS

‘My practice is the pursuit of morbid curiosity through a post-internet lens’- Meet Lainey Whelan, the Dublin artist reimagining the future of funerals, the commodification of death, and the starkness of material merchandising in memorial commerce.  

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What inspired you to pursue a career in design, and how did your educational background contribute to your creative journey?

 

For as long as I can remember I've always loved art. As a child, I lacked confidence in myself, and throughout school, I struggled due to dyslexia and ADHD. Because of this, the art room has always been a space that has (and continues to) allow me to thrive and flourish. My family and school fostered such a supportive creative environment which encouraged me to pursue my current studies in fine art print at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. Through my recent studies at ArtEZ University of the Arts in the Netherlands, I further enriched my practice and research methodologies, which comprise various narratives and intense subject matters. My time in the Netherlands enhanced by artistic skills and techniques, which I am grateful for, and utilising for my final degree show that is taking place this June. 

 

Can you remember the first item of clothing you ever made? Did any early experiences influence your design style?

 

One of the first things I made was a little handbag. When I was six years old,  I cut up one of my sister's beautifully vibrant Irish dancing competition dresses and used the fabric to sew a bag. I must admit, I can remember her being extremely unimpressed, but I was primarily delighted with myself that I had made my very own bag. 

Lainey Whelan's Desk

Sleaze Magazine aims to spotlight young creatives. What is it like navigating the design world in your early twenties, in a constantly evolving and demanding environment? 

 

I'm still trying to position myself in the contemporary art world. Being on the cusp of graduating and entering the art world, I acknowledge that there is a lack of creative spaces in Dublin for young creatives and recent graduates. Frequently, artists’ studios and residencies are closing, with three major artist studios closing in the past year due to increased rent prices and unnecessary hotel construction. I believe Dublin has such a fruitful creative community that deserves more love and support which I hope will happen soon.

 

Existing as a young creative in the age of social media has allowed me to create and display my work. Through apps such as Instagram, I have gained opportunities for events and interviews that I never would have gotten without it. On the flip side, it also is a constant battle not to compare yourself to other artists, and to reject the allure of creating art for an algorithm. 

Can you tell me a bit about your design philosophy and any individuals/influences that shape your work?

 

My work has always been about uncovering life’s unknown or hidden aspects, with much of my work being centered around missing person databases and lonely deaths. I view myself as an investigator, as my art is primarily research led. I frequently find myself going down rabbit holes, trying to find some sort of a presence in absence. I enjoy floating between morals that question the ethics surrounding our relationship with death and media. Central to my pieces is raising critical awareness of the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and the digital afterlife industry, which seeks to immortalise humans through digital means. Think of headstones with QR codes on them. That is the reality now, and will be increasingly apparent in our future.

Legwear Loungeescape

Can you briefly discuss your current (graduate) collection and the inspiration/concept(s) that influence it?

 

My practice is the pursuit of morbid curiosity through a post-internet lens. Through extensive interactive research within online platforms and manifestations, I engage in a novel and somewhat nebulous line of enquiry. My core investigation surrounds what becomes and persists, of our digital remains when we are gone. I’ve been looking at AI deathbots that can turn the deceased into chat bots through one’s data by feeding it to an algorithm.  I question the ethical implications of digital immortality, and invite viewers to confront their own perceptions of mortality and memorialisation in the digital age.

 

You mentioned your focus on the realms of morbid curiosity, and within this, the implications of social media data, of archiving our every day and the future of funerals- how do you navigate the balance between creating designs that are intriguing and thought-provoking while respecting the sensitivity of morbid subjects?

 

My work reimagines the future of funerals, the commodification of death and what we leave behind. Recently, I’ve been exploring the starkness of material merchandising in the funeral industry, including mass cards, QR gravestones and floral foam. 

 

The use of these commodities and visual language within my work serves as a tangible intersection between the physical and the digital, creating an uncanny, satirical and fluorescent display that seeks to illuminate the darkness of the digital afterlife in a kitschy aesthetic.

 

In some of my previous work, such as the “trauma scene tights”, I used images from online depicting death clean-up scenes and then transformed them. This overtly raises questions of ownership and changing the context of images turning them into a commodity messes with the ethics. I constantly question myself and ensure that I never use an individual's story for my own gain. 

Legwear Loungescape

In what ways do you believe your designs contribute to conversations about forensic science, and what messages or emotions do you aim to convey through your work? 

 

I can’t say I believe my practice contributes to forensic science, but it raises questions of what happens to us once we pass. What imprints physical and metaphorical we leave behind. I work with numerous found images online and investigate the authority of who, and why we can readily access media depictions of individual’s last moments online. Consent, identity and ownership are critical components of my work. 

Legwear Loungescape

Lastly, can you share any future aspirations/events/goals you have for your design career?

 

I'm currently preparing for my final year degree show in early June so I am in the studio every day. I am looking forward to entering the art world and will continue to create more printed tights, with lots of exhibitions planned for the near future. 

 

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Lainey Whelan’s graduate collection will be available to view in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in June 2024. 

 

View more of Lainey's work at: ig @laineywhelan__art

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