Working at the intersection of art and technology, Olive Allen’s latest creations – cute digital koalas, ice bears and other species, called the UnBearables – comment on climate change, the extinction of species and inevitably coronavirus. Her adorable collectible bears – who wear masks, cuddle up to packs of Purell, and nibble on bats – act as manifestations of hopes and anxieties of the present moment. A play on the word unBEARable, they are a clever comment on a global reality.
With experience working in Silicon Valley, Olive focuses on creating digital character-based artworks that can be owned by several people. With a strong belief that an artist has to be driven by the urgency of modern life, she reflects and comments on the current state of affairs in the world while engaging the audience. We chatted to Olive about art making in the digital age, climate change and the UnBearables.
Your work is collected digitally, how did you come to decide to make digital work?
As an artist, I don’t want to limit myself to one particular medium. I enjoy painting — the actual process of mixing colors, putting paint on canvas, waiting for it to dry, layering. But I also enjoy experimenting and exploring new ways of realizing my ideas. Boundless ever-changing and expanding nature of the digital space has always fascinated me. The infinite is a powerful notion.
You spent time working in Silicon Valley, how did that influence your art-making?
I definitely did my time in Silicon Valley 🙂 Living there and working on my startup was a rather challenging time for me. But I grew as a person — learned not to be afraid to take risks, always grow, and innovate. I realized that failure is not the worst thing, not trying to build your dreams is. Artists are, in fact, lifetime entrepreneurs!
What gave you the idea to create the UnBearables?
I believe “art work” is never static — it’s an infinite journey. So I let the “nowness”, sense of urgency lead to the creation of the pieces. Back in December, when I started working on The UnBearables, I intended it to represent the human impact on climate change, which, among other things, results in the extinction of many incredible species, like polar bears and koalas. Down the line, ironically, we became the ones facing the external threat. We’ve come to realize the fragility of our own existence and systems we constructed to protect and serve our best interests.
Your work comments on issues pertinent to our generation: climate change, coronavirus, economic worries. As an artist, do you feel responsible to comment on the challenges that affect society?
Absolutely. In my work, I aim to reflect on the essence of “now” through deeply personal experience. Art should be an honest conversation about what matters, what matters now, not yesterday, not decades ago.
What do you personally think the future of the digital art world will look like?
I’m very optimistic. I believe the intersection of art and tech is very powerful and has great long-term potential. We will be seeing more AI-powered art, works created in virtual reality, various gamified experiences… The pandemic, financial crisis, social distancing, and new virtual spaces people are getting accustomed to will inevitably push new media art forward.
How are you keeping busy during quarantine?
Well, you know…overthinking, standing in line at a grocery store, working on new art pieces, Tweeting about the previous ones, telling myself I should cook and exercise… Oh, and I’ve just attended a virtual concert — so much fun!
Who are your art world Sheroes?
The Guerrilla Girls! These legendary women are my heroes. They paved the way for all of us, art girls, by exposing and fighting against gender biases and other acts of injustice.
What advice would you give to young women looking to make a career as an artist?
Must say, it is one of the most challenging and uncertain career paths out there. “Artist” is not a job title — it is your life choice. Don’t do it unless you are really passionate about the process of creation, love the art world despite all its flaws, and don’t care that much about making money.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I’m trying to do the best I can in the circumstances — stay busy and positive. Nothing lasts forever, including COVID and economic recession. I don’t want to plan too much ahead, but of course, I hope to exhibit my new work in New York soon, see my friends, have a reason to wear something other than sweatpants and pajamas.
Text Lizzy Vartanian