Elijah Innes On Making Art And The Power Of Remaking Yourself Online (Forever)

To celebrate Syrup’s launch, we profiled five young Australians who are doing their very best at being their best selves—throwing typical ideas of career paths, style norms and patriarchal status quos out the window. These interviews are our way of foregrounding the diverse voices that are shaping our communities and digging a little deeper into the things that shaped them.

We have all grown up with strangers, in various ways. Anonymous, aesthetically pleasing Tumblrs, the extended circle of peers who you *kind of* knew and added on Facebook, the hum in the background of a YouTube content creator you’ve seen grow up, move city, get married, and leave YouTube behind like a childhood bedroom. 

Can you know someone from their feed? What does it mean that all these digital ciphers of ourselves float around the internet while we layer new posts and comments and selfies on top of it all? Is the real you at the bottom or the top?

Elijah Innes has been online and ~thinking~ about being online for a long time. The Sydney-based artist, writer and student explores what identity means for this generation in his visual and mixed-medium art, pondering everything from the selfie to selfhood (his Instagram’s on private though, u lurker). 

We sat down with Elijah to chat artistic influences, making the online communities that you always wanted for yourself, skirting traditional gender aesthetics (literally) and his generations superpowers: complex emotional intelligence and meme-literacy.

First off, hi, how are you, can you tell us where you’re based and what you’re up to right now?

Hiya! My name is Elijah, I’m a twenty-one-year-old Sydney-based sentimental Scorpio. I am an artist, writer and student working two jobs, and I like, really, really like to dance. I guess you could find me either tending to my indoor plants, dancing my mullet off at a rave, or hosting an ambient, unhinged vegan dinner party with a beaut’ natty wine in hand. 

How long have you been Extremely Online for and where did you first spend a lot of time on the internet? 

I have been too active online since I was about fourteen or fifteen. I graduated from my MSN days to actively blogging on Tumblr, using Instagram and Facebook and watching vines. 

I grew up pretty rural, so being online was a really big deal for me. It really allowed me to connect with the outside world and other people regardless of our differing locations. 

I initially spent a lot of time on Stardoll (also known as Paperdoll Heaven), as I was a crazy little kid wanting to be a fashion designer, doing sewing lessons and watching Project Runway. The site had this weird fan-created gossip, blogging and graphic design sub-culture, which had me editing blog HTML and using Photoshop before I was even in high school. 

How did you first begin making art?

My uncle who was an artist, minded my sisters and I a heap growing up, so we would spend our time with him painting or drawing portraits. Then in my fashion moment, I was constantly drawing out of Vogue and a little later I started using Photoshop to create vector art for Stardoll related fan content. 

From there I got into digital painting on a Wacom tablet, which directed me towards Post-Internet art. I’ve always made portraits I guess, though, moving away from Post-Internet art, my work has become very personal or emotionally driven and text-based. I now mainly work across printmaking, performance or installation works. 

A lot of your art is focused around online spaces and how identity is created, dissolved and distorted in these spaces. Did being online come first, or did marking art—how do they influence each other in your work?

I think growing up online, I treated a lot of the nuance that comes with the territory as uninteresting and normal. I came to notice after reading papers like Katie Warfield’s MirrorCameraRoom: The Gendered Multi-(in)stablities of the Selfie really made me feel differently about the line between virtual and physical selves and made me want to think critically about how I personally was interacting and creating online. 

Growing up and using sites like Tumblr to form and visualise identity as markers for myself was really important, so in some ways, the work I create about Internet performativity and the complications of trying to encapsulate the complexity of a corporeal form online is always going to be something I will enjoy in struggling to articulate. 

You mention Basquiat as one of your artistic influences, can you tell us where else you’re drawing a lot of inspiration from these days?

Hmm, I don’t think my work is inspired by particular artists at the moment, perhaps subliminally, but is rather formed more through theory. With what text-based works I have been working on at the moment, I can owe a lot of my thinking to Igor Pjorrt’s notes on their series Betelgeuse, Irmgard Emmelhainz’s touching essay Shattering and Healing, and Joshua Foster’s poem Yin/Yang. I can’t stop thinking about that damn poem.

What are you working on now/next?

At the moment I am working on a small, personal zine of poetry and photographs to commemorate the last year or so of intense change and self-development. Next, I am slowly working on a solo exhibition. I really want the work to be very strong and edited, so I don’t mind how long it takes. 

Oh, and I am trying to learn how to use the keyboard I just stole from storage from my parent’s house.

Who is @gushyboy, how did that come to be your IG handle? 

I used to be @uglyboy and then my full name, so it does reference that. It came to be after some etching classes with my friend Izzy. Her and I are opposites but it’s amazing. My over-emotional, sentimental self and her blunt like ‘ew, feels’ energy became a running gag, in which I found a pic of a plush toy, guppy looking scorpion, that I either sent to her or she sent to me. Then it became @gushyboy.

How much curation or calculated carelessness goes into your personal Instagram feed? It’s also private! Can you tell us about that choice?

My feed has always been somewhat visual as well as documentary. Pre-@gushyboy was very curated, each post being graphic and edited. After I broke up with my ex and I archived like 800 posts from high school til early last year, I wanted to be more honest and just post whatever the fuck I wanted. I know at times I still fall into aesthetic considerations, but it definitely has a different energy. After I broke it off, I lost like 800 followers in a month or something, cut a lot of ties and it’s honestly been the best.

Going private meant it was more of an intimate place. I can share things that feel more personal; poems, soft-core nudes, and feel like the space is more of the community I was seeking, rather than just general or some bullshit networking traction. Being private is weird in a world of self-marketing, especially as, at times, freelancing and getting your coins is real, but I think it has been one of the best things I could have done. Y’all should go private too. 

How do you think about your identity, personally? Have you faced any challenges as a result of your identity?

Honestly, the signifiers of my identity have given me a lot of privilege. I don’t want to take up too much space and honestly, it generally has been an easy enough ride, though I work hard for it. I suppose being queer and with some visibly femme influences of style or use of make-up, there can be tensions. Though, the spaces and people I interact with have always been very affectionate with me. I am very lucky for that and to feel very comfortable wearing or being whoever I want to be is a huge blessing. 

What do you think is special about Gen Z’s relationship with their own identity?

It’s so complicatedddddd! I can’t even get all intellectual on it because generationally, we seem to have such a self-awareness, particularly now. It is all so conflicting and hilarious. It all is because of our technological reciprocity. 

Like, we are the first real generation whose relationship with social networking has been serendipitous/intrinsic to us as we grow and are socialised, with the impending doom of the climate crisis. Yet, we are out here being intellectual, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, confrontational, socially literate, Co-Star reading baddies and it’s impressive. 

When/how did you start wearing makeup, what’s your relationship with it like? What do you think of this movement of more people who aren’t cis-women wearing makeup regularly?

I started wearing makeup when I was in high school, just politely filling in my brows a little, but when I moved to Sydney, and starting working at my Sushi Mambeaux (Broad City reference) waiting job, I started to wear it to extend in visualising my identity. Since then, I guess I have enjoyed living somewhere in societal tensions; being hairy as fuck in a sheer pink pussy-bow blouse, with a sleek eye look. 

I think when I watched Hunter Schafer in Euphoria, I was like fuckkkk man, I can really go much harder than a red tint under my eye and do the WHOLE thing. I don’t ever wear foundation though and do a full mug but instead I’m about flaunting this post-acne and post-Roaccutane skin (just enhanced with some bronzer and shit). 

I think embracing a feminine act like makeup isn’t really that much of a stir. I’m very grateful for those who paved the way for someone like me to make it safe to wear makeup, or strap a killer heel on. I just hope my beat does them proud. 

How do you feel about going out in Sydney, given the atmosphere in recent years?

I didn’t really party in Sydney until late 2019. As I am involved with wine service, I tend to inhabit wine bars and stuff more than I would a club. I discovered the rave scene though and it was a beautiful antithesis to what I was seeing around Oxford St in Sydney etc. It has become a space I wouldn’t feel safe in. 

Whereas raves (generally) have such a community mindset, we are all there to dance, sometimes as something healing and cathartic, sometimes just to let loose. It’s not about Instagram culture or getting drunk, or hooking up, it’s about marking a generously safe space that opposes hegemony. In this secret space, we accept each other.

What do you think people get wrong about your generation?

I think sometimes I get worried that we are being distracted with things like TikTok or like commodities that we become inactive in social or political acts. I think it’s weird how being present, connected and unmediated is seen as rebellious. 

What do you think the biggest challenge facing your generation is?

The climate crisis.

How do you want to be remembered (if at all)?

I want to be remembered for being present. If you’re around me, I’m giving you one hundred percent. Doesn’t have to be intellectual and serious, but I want to be giving you full time and full energy when in your company. I want to feel electric, and if that doesn’t translate, at least I tried to navigate life that way.

How are you practising self-care in 2020?

I am doing well so far, joined the gym, drinking less, partying more and trying to remember to maintain my fifteen-step skincare routine. I also started drinking like two to three-plus litres of water a day and I feel so much better. 

What are you manifesting?

Manifesting growth, wisdom, soft-core thotness and people that radiate good intentions in my life.

If you could only wear one brand?

I love everything that Terminal 6 stocks, particularly Ramp Tramp Tramp Stamp, Vaquera and my friend Steph’s label L.IAXS, very hard to narrow it down. 

Fav artist/creative/person you think is doing cool shit?

I love my friend Chloe’s (@chloerose______) work. They started out posting videos of outfits under the intention of ‘fashion in motion’, but I think now after visiting them in Melbourne, I view it with much more tenderness. Though, I think Joshua Alvear-Valageorgiou’s intimate bodies and work is fucking impressive too (@weaweyon).

Fav meme account? Fav meme?

@djinn_kazama is real and hilarious. I think at the moment my favourite meme is a Lady Gaga impersonator doing the “oh finally you’re here bitch, you got a dollar?” TikTok video meme.

What’s your fav place on the internet?

My DMs with my housemate, we send each other the funniest self-deprecating memes and outting each other’s chaos.

Production/Makeup/Styling – Elijah Innes elijahinnes.com.

Photographer – Samantha Turner.

Monisha is a writer with a background in publishing and digital media. A chronic Pisces, she’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.

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