Chroma Magazine

Alex + Aleia

Chroma Magazine
Alex + Aleia

Alex + Aleia

Alex Wallbaum and Aleia Murawski are a creative duo from Chicago. Drawing inspiration from their dreams, their work twists everyday situations, making reality seem confusing.

Their work encourages the viewer to ‘look harder.’ What may seem ordinary at first glance becomes extraordinary at the next. They tell us, 

‘There's something about a frozen moment that might not usually get a second thought, but if you look closely, something magical is happening right under your nose.’

Their images of suspended moments are thoughtfully constructed masterpieces. Aware that post production can make the image look ‘flat’ and ‘fake’, a lot of time is spent pinning and hanging objects, so their final product can look as believable as possible.

The pieces created for Chróma are about overindulgence- about over-styling and exaggerating a situation to the point where it becomes unsettling. We are given everyday situations, like ‘a bubble-bath’ and shown how it can be made extravagant and otherworldly. 

Chroma talks to Alex and Aleia about Dreams, the Suspended Moment and Ways of Seeing

When I look at your images, I am immediately reminded of that scene from ‘Inception’- that moment during Ariadne’s first dream, where suddenly all the fruit starts exploding in slow motion. How important is the concept of dreams to your work?

Dreams are extremely important to our work! Our goal is to make a photo that has as many moments still based in reality as possible and then add some element to bend that reality in some way. If the final image seems like something from a dream, we are very happy. 

When in the studio, do you ever draw on elements from your own dreams?

Alex: Many times, one of us will come into the studio saying, "you'll never believe the crazy dream I had last night" - and sometimes those will get translated directly into a photo. So dreams can be a very literal concept in our work. Other times we'll grab one detail from a weird dream and incorporate that into an idea we've been working on.

Aleia: Yes!  I’ll have some dreams where I am at a garage sale or something, and I am finding all of these incredible miniature rooms or strange objects… I will wake up and be so upset it wasn’t real. But then I’ll realise I just gave myself blueprints for our work haha. 

Your work often plays with reality, or ‘ways of seeing,' do you believe we all perceive the world differently or the same?

Alex: I think everyone sees the world in their own unique way. This is especially apparent when we collaborate- so many times one of us will see something or suggest something that would never have occurred to the other person. I remember an episode of Bill Nye where he asked “Is the red that you see, the same red that I see?" and that really fucked me up!

Aleia: Actually, that is really funny- I have this vivid memory of being about six years old in the lunch room with my friends; We were all trying to describe what colours looked like to us and I wondered if my pink was someone else’s purple or someone else’s yellow. Also, this makes me think of my first drawing class: my teacher asked us to draw what we saw and not what we thought we saw. I think Alex and I are trying to take these moments or objects of the everyday (a bowl of fruit or taking a bath) and attempt to re-present it in a way that makes it less understandable. 

Your work has been described as being like when ‘Pop Art meets Surrealism.' Have you as artist’s ever been inspired by a particular Art Movement?

I think there's a really funny mashup of art movements that inspire us both. Anything from Baroque Still life paintings to Memes. It can go from pretty serious to pretty ridiculous pretty fast, and we love that. 

Wilde states ‘All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril… All art is useless.’ Do you agree? Or do you believe that all art has to have meaning or purpose?

Alex: I don't think that all art has to be made with a specific purpose, especially because so many times that purpose gets lost in translation. But I do think all art has a purpose to its audience! People will connect to things in a way you may never have intended, which is almost better. 

Aleia: We are always sharing ideas, stopping to take photos when we are at lunch or walking around, sending each other, other work we’ve seen, collecting objects. We are always looking for things to inspire us, and we are always trying to share what we make with other people. There is nothing practical in what we do haha, but art is about ideas and exchange, and I think that in itself is both meaningful and purposeful. 

What is ugliness to you?

Alex: Ugliness is something that people internalise. It's malicious intent, selfish actions, anything that is meant to hurt others. I guess it’s a general lack of compassion that makes someone or something ugly. In this way, I don't think nature can be ugly- I think ugliness is inherently human. 

Aleia: I think ugliness is a deviation, maybe a rebellion, of the conventional. 

What is it that fascinates you about the ‘fleeting moment,' which we see so often in your work?

It's that break from reality that is so exciting to create. Something that still seems rooted in reality, but there’s something off… That is what’s so interesting to us. There's something about a frozen moment that might not usually get a second thought, but if you look closely, something magical is happening right under your nose.

Your work manages to capture the ephemeral- are you scared of how fast Time and moments pass? What are you most afraid of forgetting?

Alex: There are so many things happening right now, fads and weird trends (i.e. spinners, ikea bag clothing) that basically provide an endless stream of content for the art we make. It’s definitely very current, and these things will pass, but I don't see this as a bad thing at all. It will be really funny to look at a photo we did three years from now and be able to say "oh yeah, that was Spring of 2017 because it's about spinners!" It's also really fun to pair those kinds of objects with our parent's stuff, like an old wall phone or a clear iMac. I think that can give an image some more life. 

I'm afraid of forgetting the time we spend making these images. It's easy to look back at some images and just see the final product. I have more fun looking at outtakes and remembering how much fun we had in the studio that day.

Aleia: I try not to be, but I am definitely scared of how fast time seems to move. I am afraid of forgetting friends’ birthdays; I am afraid of forgetting someone’s name, I am afraid of forgetting Time in general!

You have commented that the aim of your work is to take every-day situations and flip them on their head- how do you achieve this?

Alex: We have a few approaches! Lately, we have been over-styling situations and making them as extravagant as possible. Other times it’s over the top special effects like dry ice or coloured lights. Often it’s just hyper-real lighting that will push some situations in the right (or wrong) direction. 

AleiaIt depends on the material or object we are using- We usually talk about the property of it or how we usually see it appear in our lives. Then we attempt to challenge that and find a new or heightened way for it to exist. 

Can you talk to us a bit about your studio process- how do you make these amazing suspended moments? 

For those floating shots, our goal is to get the image as close to finished as possible before taking the photo. We use a combination of suspending with thread, stands, strategic use of pins, etc., to get the setup. Then we go in with some post production, but the goal is to use as little of that as possible to make sure the shadows are real, and the objects interact in space in a "real" way. When we composite everything, the image turns out much more flat and less believable. 

One thing I’ve noticed, is that you seem to have a fascination with hands and long, painted fingernails?

Alex: Yes, absolutely! Aleia's nails are very important and must be protected.

Aleia: That is so sweet and funny. People are always asking how I get anything done. Alex opens my cans, and I do tear contact lenses easily. But I am not done seeing the world through long pointy nails!

Your pieces look like strange, otherworldly visions of the future- can you describe your future utopias/dystopias? 

Alex: That is a very tough question given today's social and political climate. I'd really rather not think about the dystopian future because it seems like we are living in it already.

Aleia: True. I am currently obsessed with abandoned love hotels and underground suburban fall out shelters. I keep doodling these luxury homes that are like seven stories underground. You are in your dream bubble, buried underground. 

Finally, what mood did you want these Chroma pieces to capture, can you talk to us a little bit more about the concept behind them?

We definitely wanted to capture escapism in these- in the most literal way. We used grand scenes from nature on various screens and prints to take you to a different place. 

We're hoping the viewer inserts themselves into the scenes we create, which is why we often include a hand or some kind of human element. 

But in a broader more personal way, these photos are our way of escaping into our everyday situations and surroundings. We took my boring, bland white bathroom and made it into the most absurdly extravagant self-care, maximalist, escapist, bubble-bathtub we could muster up. We always thought it would be nice to have an entire pound cake and fruit bouquet with us during our bubble baths, but that was always a joke in our minds- until now.

We approached the theme of "red" with this series by collecting a few objects we absolutely knew we wanted to use (the large window/beach sunset sticker for one). Aleia had been wanting to use one of those for a while, so we knew this would work for it right away. Then we brainstormed some situations where it would be really confusing to have it, and just built from there. Then it was "what red objects would we have in our most ideal bubble bath?" 

The laptop still life was meant to be romantic in a kind of "lonely bedroom, gross habits" sort of way, so red worked perfectly. We started with that laptop and worked from there!

We think this series was about inflated self-care. Going over, over the top to surround yourself with positive things, objects of love and leisure, that you actually lose yourself in it or stress yourself out. 

words: Emma Phillips