In Conversation with Lizzy Deacon & Ika Schwander

Words by

Robert Frost

In Conversation with Lizzy Deacon & Ika Schwander

The following conversation between Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, moderated by Robert Frost, took place between February 18 and February 22, 2024 in conjunction with the exhibition Prosecco Wisdom at 243 Luz, Margate, UK. Taking inspiration from the YouTube trend of girls’ post-breakup solo-travels to all-inclusive resorts, Deacon and Schwander engage with notions of abandonment in digital labour as a means to expose the frailty of influencer-capitalism’s aspirational model.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Prosecco Wisdom,’ 2024. Video Still

"I will live the rest of my life with horrific flashbacks of those lashes. I have stayed at roadside motels with shag carpet that was more enjoyable.” I’m hesitant to lead with an aleatory peg, but in our case I think it makes sense. The text for Prosecco Wisdom ends with an anonymous hotel review, and one of the last things I heard outside 243 Luz was an anecdote about your hotel room getting ransacked halfway through filming in Las Vegas. When I heard it, I thought, “There’s no way.” The film traces two characters’ pursuit of contentment! I’m dying to know: are we talking about the same hotel?

LIZZY DEACON: No, they were different hotels. It was at the first hotel we stayed at, and about ten days into our month-long trip, that a man broke our hotel room door off and tried to attack us when we were asleep. We ended up getting our entire stay for free, a complimentary rollercoaster ride and were moved to one of the luxury hotels on the Vegas strip where Adele and Kris Jenner were rumoured to also be staying. This gave room for the characters in the film to improvise within a spectrum from near-death to luxury. So yeah, the guy who broke in, in a lot of ways, did us a favour.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Prosecco Wisdom,’ 2024. Video Still

That moment was important for you…

IKA SCHWANDER: Of course we weren’t signing up to be attacked with a shoelace by a random man in a family friendly hotel…  Of course it did change our stay and the way we perceived Vegas. But I think the main inspiration for the online girl came from influencers we found on youtube with 18 views that would go to all inclusive hotels to drink and cry in eight different bikinis. It offered a glimpse into the insignificant, replaceable and recognisable life of the online girl. Their way of speaking, filming and being are all similar to each other. As if there is only one way of being ‘online’, taught by the successful online girls of the last decade.

LIZZY: A successful model being used unsuccessfully.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Prosecco Wisdom,’ 2024. Video Still.

Absolutely. Throughout the film we brush up against a commitment to exposing the horror and vulnerability behind the commodification of the self. Is the unraveling of this veneer a catharsis for you?

IKA: It is important to say that the characters we play are fictional. The 'self' we portray is a constructed, fictional version of the self. We begin with profiles of girls we find online and gradually develop these characters through improvisation and envisioning their behaviors, vulnerabilities, and more unconsciously how they are turned into commodities. In this process, there’s always a sense of release and relief when embodying a role. Going around the city in character allows us to explore and express emotions in a controlled environment, providing a form of catharsis through this engagement with make-believe. In a way it’s a fictional fakeness which gives a certain catharsis to play with.

Am I right in saying you were inspired by the viral material of what Grant Bollmer and Catherine Guiness term the “Corpocene”?

LIZZY: Like Bollmer and Guinness, we are interested in corporate personhood and the labour of the online girl. As Ika mentioned, we observe the lengths that influencers go to to get the right photo, perfect their captions, post discount codes for brands for free, with the hope that one day, they too will become a brand themselves to profit from. It’s time consuming, and in most cases, has a negative return on investment. I think that Bollmer and Guinness’ term ‘Corpocene’ perfectly describes this stage of capitalism that we characterise in this film.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Prosecco Wisdom,’ 2024. Video Still

How do those early sketches become a story?

LIZZY: Through filming, we learned how these two characters engaged with others and their relationship to the landscape of the holiday resort. We started the trip by going to H&M and finding costumes, as it was important for us to immediately start existing as these two characters. The improvisation was continuous, and we were experimenting and filming up until the last day of the trip. We therefore filmed a lot which then didn’t make it into the final edit, but it was through a fairly brutal editing process that the characters and their stories became refined. We wanted Prosecco Wisdom to be centred around these characters’ holiday pursuits and healing journeys, set in ambiguous holiday resorts. It was therefore important for the work to not directly reference the iconic and loaded geography of Las Vegas. We found it interesting to find spaces in Vegas that gave us room to establish our own narrative. Vegas is only buzzing Friday to Sunday, so on the weekdays it felt like we had the place to ourselves with conference halls, hotel gyms, pools and bars to try things out in. Vegas is completely unpredictable, with no limits and therefore felt like an exciting place to improvise and film. For instance, our Uber driver took us on a night out where, after a magic show, we came across the inflatable dick rodeo with the American flag on which features in the film. We filmed the scene there and then.

IKA: We’ve wanted to go to Vegas for such a long time. We already planned it so many times in our heads. It really was a dream. We would go onto google maps to find interesting places in Vegas and the surrounding desert to film. We found this small town, Blue Diamond, in the desert close to Vegas. We decided that we would film something around there when we would go to Vegas. We saved all the money we made from prizes and screenings from our last film Precautionary Measure to be able to make this work. So Precautionary Measure funded Prosecco Wisdom. It was a dream to finally be able to go. The first scene of the film is filmed close to Blue Diamond. Those things, like just driving off into a desert to film, to see something you know only from google maps is surreal and we would never do alone. And the excitement that comes with doing such things together is incomparable. It is the best thing really.

Tell me about your experience of working together.

LIZZY: Ika and I met in London in 2017, and immediately started working together. We haven’t really stopped since. We have a lot of trust in each other’s ideas and share the same love for making things. The two of us like to do everything ourselves, from the filming, the writing, the performing, the editing, etc. The entire experience is a shared one. We are in it together, whether that’s at a fun point, a practical point or a scary point, it’s great having someone to discuss it with who knows exactly what you’re talking about and has an equal stake in the project. We learn so much from each other.

IKA: By working together, we can really bring a quality to our work that is kind of impossible to reach alone. Most of the time we make our work in new environments. There’s a lot more freedom in making work in such places together. You know, when you are working, walking around in character, trying things out, you’re not alone. Things are a lot less scary or embarrassing to do when you are with two. Our way of working together is really built on a lot of trust. We kind of need no one else. We are each other’s outside eyes. We keep each other sharp. We hold each other accountable.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Precautionary Measure,’ 2021. Video Still

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander, ‘Precautionary Measure,’ 2021. Video Still

What’s next for you both?

LIZZY: We are now both based in Amsterdam and have plans to start on a new film where we will be choreographing something using bungee jumping and a JCB digger.

Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander (both b.1999) are an artist duo based between London and Amsterdam. Their practice employs video, as well as drawing and performance. They have recently exhibited at The Millennium Film Workshop, New York (2023), The Institute of Performative Arts, Maastricht (2023), Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2022), The 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival, Michigan (2022), Associação Audio-Visual CUT, Macau (2022), Indie Lisboa International Film Festival, Lisbon (2022), London Short Film Festival, Rio Cinema London (2022), Wet Dovetail Gallery, Middlesbrough (2020), LUX Moving Image, London (2018). They have been awarded The Barbara Aronofsky Latham Award for an Emerging Experimental Artist at 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival (2022), The Golden Frame Award for Best Film, Diametrale (2022), The Zubroffka Award (2022), The Goldsmiths Research Internship Bursary (2021), The Video Power Distribution and Mentoring Award (2021), as well as residencies at AUST, Lisbon (2021) and The High House, Norfolk (2021, 2023).

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