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Announcement
August 12, 2021

Ilana Harris-Babou
Tasteful Interiors

Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Ilana Harris-Babou, Finishing a Raw Basement (still), 2017. Single-channel 4K video, edition of 4 + 1AP, 6:41 minutes. Courtesy and © the artist.

Ilana Harris-Babou, Cooking with the Erotic (still), 2016. Two-channel HD video, edition of 3 + 1AP, 11:37 minutes. Courtesy and © the artist.

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Chattanooga at University of Tennessee Chattanooga presents Tasteful Interiors, a survey of Ilana Harris-Babou’s (American, b. 1991) early career video- and installation-based sculptural practice from 2016–20. On view are four key video works—Cooking with the Erotic (2016); Finishing a Raw Basement (2017); Reparation Hardware (2018); and Decision Fatigue (2020)—installed alongside “fantastically distorted, dysfunctional” ceramics and improvisational sculptures such as tools and utensils that are rendered entirely useless and absurd, and accompanied by several recent collages.

What is taste, and what then, is tasteful? Is taste a set of values either learned, experienced, or sought? Is taste a basic human sense that can be pleasurable, satisfying, tactile, even absent or abject? What does your taste say about your past experiences, present identity, and aspirational futures?

Witty specialized language and jargon is deployed in each of Harris-Babou’s video work through various leading characters—from the DIY home improvement or cooking show host, to the online wellness guru or self-care social media influencer, or the high-end design shop designer. Harris Babou’s digital “realities” spill out into real space creating installations masking as quasi-retail spaces via the presentation of oddly crafted sculptures, tools, utensils, and lamps that serve as props in her video works.

Harris-Babou’s practice asks urgent questions—in tongue-and-cheek delivery—about relationships, violence, and consumption. Her work thinks about possible answers to questions of taste and of interiors, both physical and psychological: how can histories, complexities, and even individualities be washed away vis-à-vis the glossy facades of contemporary design and wellness brands in our seductive economic system of American capitalism? In many of her works, she looks to these aspirational spaces of retail and consumption as contemporary anthropological sites—they serve as barometers and as tastemakers of human desires and ideals—in order to investigate the erasure, omission or disregard of specific histories within them.

Where we situate ourselves in today’s contemporary digital milieu—from the things we watch, click, and buy—is a question Harris-Babou asks, and even implicates, within herself: “all the things I think about in my work are things that I’m seduced by.” Her work supports the argument that the objects that we surround ourselves with are extensions of who we are or desire to be; they represent our past and also manifest our future. Harris-Babou’s Tasteful Interiors are gooey and hand-formed; they are witty and intelligently marketed; they are personal and personable; they are suspiciously on-trend and critically self-aware; they are simultaneously amateur and ace.

Harris-Babou is also the subject of a solo exhibition Wholesome Fun at Kunsthaus Hamburg from October 2–November 28, 2021. The ICA at UTC and Kunsthaus Hamburg have co-commissioned Dessane Lopez Cassell—a curator, arts writer, and editor based in New York—to write about Harris-Babou’s practice in the form of a digital exhibition brochure, to be jointly published online via both institutions’ web platforms in early October.

Tasteful Interiors has additionally been made with the support of Triangle Arts Association, where Harris-Babou is artist-in-residence from March 1–August 27, 2021.

Ilana Harris-Babou holds an MFA in New Genres from Columbia University (2016) and a BA in Art from Yale University (2013). She has exhibited her work throughout the United States and Europe, and was included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Her work is held publicly in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

For information contact: Rachel Reese, Director and Curator, hello [​at​] icachatt.org

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