Artist Audio & Transcription: Genesis Belanger
Transcription of Artist Audio: Genesis Belanger
GENESIS BELANGER: Hi, I’m Genesis Belanger, and my day job was a prop stylist assistant.
FRANCESCA BALBONI, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton: Okay, so you were a prop stylist assistant and prop styling is an important part of creating images for advertising, but it might not be something that most people know the ins and outs of. So, I was wondering if you could tell us what prop styling is exactly and what your work as a prop stylist assistant consisted of.
GENESIS BELANGER: So, whenever you see an image in a magazine or on television, the esthetics of the image are conceived of by the director or a producer, in conjunction with the client. And the prop stylist’s job is to flesh that out so they’ll be told, “We want an office to look like it’s owned by a wealthy, successful businessman from 1960,” and they’ll probably be given some reference images and then they’ll go about constructing that reality down to every little detail that might possibly be visible in the image.
And the assistant of a prop stylist does a lot of the schlepping labor. So hustling around the city, trying to track down various elements from thread and fabric to pieces of furniture, taking a lot of photographs of things that they see to bring back to them later to get. And yeah, basically anything else that the prop stylist might need.
FRANCESCA BALBONI: A gofer.
GENESIS BELANGER: Yeah, like “You need a coffee? I got you.” Yeah.
FRANCESCA BALBONI: How did it feel working in advertising? To sort of be on the other side of the equation of material desire. Learning how the sausage gets made, as it were?
GENESIS BELANGER: Yeah, it was a lot of things. In some ways, it was sort of liberating to realize that these expectations of perfection that are presented are completely manufactured. So that was really cool. One of the most eye-opening experiences was going into a home to take pictures for some sort of Architectural Digest-type publication—it wasn’t that specifically, and fully propping the house.
So like rearranging all the people’s things and adding in more things, adding art. So that it became a completely constructed environment. But then it was sort of presented as if they were just images of a person’s home. So that was really fascinating and liberating because it was like, “Oh, it’s fine if I never live up to these expectations.”
And then it was frightening slash fascinating to realize how good this industry is at using beauty as a tool and as a weapon. You know, art sort of, at various different times, has like eschewed beauty and, especially when you’re in art school, it’s like making something beautiful sort of indicates that you’re making something trite or trivial and wasting your time. But advertising knows that that’s not true, and that by making something beautiful, you can really create desire. And therefore consumers.
FRANCESCA BALBONI: So, do you feel like you sort of picked up any tricks of the trade that factor now into your own strategies for like making these objects desirable?
GENESIS BELANGER: I do feel like I picked up some tricks of the trade, not necessarily in the way that I make the objects, but I think in the way that I utilize the space in an exhibition. I think about a narrative, and then I think about an environment where that narrative could play out, and then I prop the environment.
Genesis Belanger is a sculptor based in Brooklyn, New York who works in a combination of ceramics, welding, and textile arts. Belanger’s sculptural tableaus use whimsical, absurd, and sometimes grotesque pastel-toned ceramic and cast-concrete objects to question consumer culture and traditional femininity. She credits the five years she worked as a prop-stylist’s assistant with giving her an inside look as to how advertisements manufacture desire.
Belanger received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in combined media from Hunter College. She has had solo exhibitions at the Consortium (Dijon, France), the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Ridgefield, CT), and New Museum (New York, NY). You can find Genesis Belanger at @genesisbelanger on Instagram.
Photograph Claire Dorn, Courtesy Perrotin