Pool & Marianela about Barbie the Plastic Religion
Forgive me Father, I have sinned… I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Pool & Marianela
Since breaking on to the scene, lowbrow contemporary artists Emiliano Paolini and Marianela Perelli have made giant waves across the globe. Whether it’s a show featuring a crucified Ken wearing nothing but a loin cloth, paintings of rebel football players, a giant carousel made of political icons you can ride, or serial killer collectables of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley; the Argentinian rebel duo never fail to create work that gets people talking!
Their infamous exhibition Barbie the Plastic Religion picked up worldwide press, including coverage on the BBC and CNN, after their 33 Barbie and Ken doll versions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Buddha, the Hindu goddess Kali… and even Barbie of Guadalupe, prompted a frenzy of heated Argentinian catholics and hindu’s, protests and even death threats; with the whole thing called off for a year until shit cooled down!
But despite the controversy surrounding their work, in person Pool & Marianela are much less naughty, then they are super nice. I caught up with the brilliantly colourful and talented duo for chat, as they prepare to pack up their Barbie’s hit the road, and bring their much talked about show to Europe!!!
Hola! x Muchas gracias por su tiempo! Soy un gran fan! First where did the idea come from to use Barbie as your muse?
POOL: Hola Trace x We chose Barbie (and Ken) for several concepts. They’re both considered pop icons worldwide, and we wanted to experiment with mixing the most popular toy in the world (Barbie) with something imposed on us from birth (our name and religion). The other concept is because undeniably Barbie is the most popular and well known image for unattainable beauty and perfection (whether or not we agree ha!) and all religion’s always seek the ideal of maximum beauty to represent their entities.
The idea for our show Barbie the Plastic Religion came from a trip in 2013 to Mexico, where we witnessed the tradition of Day of the Dead. We were captivated by the statues of various Catholic saints and came to the conclusion that Barbie is the only icon that can measure with the popularity of these saints in our modern consumerist world.
Did you ever predict the reaction you would get?
MARIANELA: We knew we would attract criticism and controversy but no where on the level the show did, or from the local authorities!! Provocation is part of our life and what we do, but it’s harmless, constructive and without bad intentions. Barbie and the Plastic religion came from a place of peace and love, and mutual respect for all spiritual, religious beliefs.
A year ago, when we first wanted to debut the show we weren’t ready to deal with how our work was being misinterpreted. After that break and much deliberation we felt that we still needed to exhibit the series. This time we only gave 10 days’ notice to limit any negative repercussions.
Which doll caused the most controversy?
MARIANELA: The first figure to cause controversy was the Gauachito Gil ( Pagan Saint from the province of Corrientes) that was the one that created the most scandal and massive attention here in Argentina. When the news reached San Juan, reports on television, in print media and various scandals broke out! These maintained until the day of the show for almost a year!!! Letters, death threats, you name it!!!
The one which gained the most worldwide importance and attention of the BBC was the Hindu goddess Kali. There were prayers that took place because of it, and lots of coverage throughout news channels in India. Here’s a short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FOS9MP8HMM
Is there one Barbie or Ken that stands out as a favourite over the others?
POOL: In my case the figure of St. Cyprian ( Carthage ). I’m a true devotee, I worship this saint. I have a tattoo on my leg of him that fills my entire right thigh. For Marianela , it’s Siracussa Santa Lucia and the Ekeko ( a pagan god she worships in Bolivia , Peru and northern Argentina and Chile) .
You guys are never really afraid to stir things up. This year you added another exhibition and just debuted a new piece?
POOL: Yes! We opened a new show this year called Saint and Sinners . This was a combination of the two universes of Pool & Marianela. Barbie and the Plastic Religion and our exhibition series the Bad Boys Sideshow which is painting and figures of the “outsiders” of the world culture including serial killers, rebel football players, and obscure writers.
Our newest big piece is a carousel that we’ve presented in the art space BAMBOO PROJECT (San Telmo, Buenos Aires), which opened and coincided with the recent presidential election. This piece tells the political story of my country (Argentina). 7-presidents, each referring to a peculiar and ridiculous act committed within their mandate are on the merry-go-round. People can climb and ride them for a few laps. For example, you can get on the amphibian that the tyrannical government of Leopoldo Galtieri used to invade the Falklands or the recently recovered Argentina airline, etc.
Describe your design process?
POOL: The process is different for each work. The inspirations are sometimes born of nothing, from travel , watching TV, or reading a newspaper . We are fans of American culture of the post-depression, toys, pop culture, punk, history, ’77 England. We put all this in this great mental blender and the work is born.
What’s the studio like where your creating your work?
MARIANELA: We have 2 small studies. One is in our house in Rosario the city where we live. It’s very small and is full of religious figures, collectible dolls , books, and lowbrow art. Here we produce paintings and sculptures.
The other studio is in the house of the‘Fathers of Pool’ in Arroyo Seco near Rosario. This is where we develop the major projects. We have people using welding machines, and tools with ample space to build pieces like the carousel.
Where is your biggest fan base, collectors ?
POOL: Most of our collectors base is in Argentina , as many works are made to order in our workshop. But we are lucky to have sold works all over the world. New York, Paris, Toronto, Los Angeles, Zurich, Barcelona, Madrid , Fortaleza (Brazil ) and Lima. Hopefully England next! haha
Where do you get inspiration from? Who are your favourite artists?
POOL: Inspiration for us comes randomly. I suppose a lot of the time we get a lot from visiting toy stores and junk shops and antiques. They always seem to have this feeling of a magical universe that we feel is the same as ours.
In terms of artists, I’m more inspired by the messages of people like John Lydon, lean poetry of Ian Curtis, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Then aesthetic of Jeremy Scott, and also super fascinated by anonymous painters of old circuses and fairs, true Americana style. I love Coney Island, and for us we believe it’s the best museum in the world!
Marianela as well is inspired less about particular artists and more about her major love of cartoons. She’s a fanatic of old school, retro one’s like Supersonic, Scoobie Doo, Hanna-Barbera. She also loves retro toys usually ’80s to ’90s or Top Mattel Toys.
What is a dream place where you would like to exhibit or see your work?
MARIANELA: Pool and I are independent artists. We have displayed our work in museums, large formal galleries then also exhibited at bars or houses occasionally turned into galleries! One of the dream places (Pool especially) to show is La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles. It’s a place that really gave rise to legends of lowbrow art like Mark Ryden, Robt Williams, Robert Crump, Joe Coleman among others. We visited Billy Shire and Matt Kennedy of the gallery last year and have agreed to put a sample there in December 2016 if all goes well.
Here in Argentina the genre for our work and lowbrow art has not yet begun, and it still misunderstood and hard to digest. We have no ambition to expose in places with high artistic reputation or hierarchy. So our next step and ambition is to expose our work worldwide to different countries, cultures, etc. like Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, New York and hopefully London.
If you had to make a doll/ piece for London or Britain who would you make?
POOL: Ha! Well we have actually made figures of British culture as a pack of dolls we created representing Margaret Thatcher and Leopoldo Galtieri in relation to the Falklands wars. Also and dolls of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. We’ve painted Morrissey, John Lydon , George Best, and many more .
But if we’re talking about a London icon for Barbie the Plastic Religion than maybe Aleister Crowley would be a modern English prophet, magician, poet, occultist who we should integrate into our future collection. Saint George is another icon you can not miss, and in fact also integrates our current collection which bears the English flag in its packaging. Mellitus of Canterbury patron of London is a good one as well. There’s too many to choose!
Any hints on what we can expect next?
POOL: It’s top secret!! We have some very exciting surprises planned for next year !!! Watch out for us in Europe and hopefully London sooner than you think.x
Words by Tracy Kawalik and Pool & Marianela
Photos By Pool & Marianela