08 September 2015

Author, artist and stylist: a portrait of Translantics actress Ella Plevin

By Anna-Lena Werner

Having grown up in West London, at the age of 11 Ella moved with her family to the more rural adjoining county of Buckinghamshire. Her parents, who both work in film, still live there. Yet Ella herself felt oppressed by nature and the provincial world, and longed for the stimulation of city life. On a trip to Berlin she found she liked the city’s relaxed lifestyle so much that she moved to the lively Neukölln district soon afterwards. She says she can’t see herself moving back to London even in the long term. It was in the London borough of Hackney that Ella recently photographed a piece of graffiti that reads “Social housing, not social cleansing”, which she sees as emblematic of the fact that society in the British capital has become characterized by growing inequality and neoliberal values.

Upon moving to Berlin Ella began to write. She has published articles in Sleek Magazine; she writes about fashion, up-and-coming designers, and “Me, myself and art” – a series about art selfies. Other art and culture magazines, such as Dazed Digital and Novembre also publish her texts. In the early days after moving to Berlin, Ella could often be found in the now closed Times Bar in Neukölln, which was originally set up by American artists Lindsay Lawson, Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff as a venue for contemporary art. It was there that she met numerous artists – for example Britta Thie – with whom she networked and sometimes collaborated artistically. In general, she is very open to cooperation, as she believes, “the artist as an individual is just not realistic anymore”. Everyone collaborates in one way or another these days.

It was also in the Times Bar that she met her current partner, American artist Daniel Keller, with whom she has since worked on joint projects. The couple has just recently produced the screenplay iDRIVEat the Wysing Art Centre. The story takes place in a near, “post-neomodern future”, and its main characters are Kai Zuckerberg, the fictional daughter of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Dalston Kutcher, the fictional son of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who are sitting on the back seat of a self-driving car discussing political systems.

“Kai: CAR! Display location status! It’s simple D, we don’t need to be physically anywhere to be our own state. It’s all virtual technicalities, and we’ll be the pioneers. We’re standing at the brink of an incredible opportunity. We can build a new society from the ground up; a society of two. We’ll be the first non-geo-located state in the world. Wherever you go, there we are!
Dalston: Doesn’t that mean our bodies could, like ... be invaded? [Increasingly anxious]”

Utopian social theories are something Ella takes very seriously, and she asks the fundamental question: “In the face of all the problems that we have inherited: What future do we have?” Impressions of new systems, as addressed in “iDRIVE” using the example of the “non-geo-located body” as a flexible state, represent a theme Ella and Daniel have experimented with in other joint works too: the sculpture “Seastead Figures (Polypool)” shows a group of three people who tell a “cli-fi” – or “climate fiction” – story. They form a utopian society through Seasteading: a practice that actually exists, whereby mobile living spaces, such as platforms, are established at sea. If any residents do not like the ideology of a place, they can simply leave it and join another one. Or they can create their own platform, provided this lies outside territorially claimed areas. Both this sculpture and “iDRIVE” have emerged from the artists’ examination of new models of society: in a changing world of the future, freedom and flexibility, human relationships and their exchange represent important premises for Ella and Daniel. 

While categories like post-Internet and sci-fi serve as an operational framework in collaborative works, Ella also uses them as a means of post-digital aesthetics in her work as a stylist, for example for the music video “Interference” by Holly Herndon, directed and produced by Metahaven. For Ella, new technologies are fundamentally a positive thing, whereby communication and social presence can potentially be multiplied and improved. She also communicates a great deal herself – often in a self-deprecating tone – via social media such as Instagram, tumblr and Facebook, publishing pictures from her life there. The influences from the online and offline worlds visibly merge in Ella’s various professions to form a digital collage of human stories, which she interweaves as plots in styling sessions, texts and artworks: “I am drawn to places where stories overlap. I am driven by narrative tropes and archetypes – building up a story and a character, trying to find out what someone’s motivation is and how it plays out.”