Ciara Cagemoe At what point do you draw the line between an object being animate or inanimate?
By Mary Truong October 7th, 2020
Ciara Cagemoe describes the current aesthetic of her art as “techno-romanticism;” think cosmic soundscapes from FKA twig’s Magdalene, cyborg swan boats, and teetering on the edge of a neon-noir apocalypse. Her artwork invokes this setting through maximalist detail: Cagemoe’s ceramic sculptures of otherworldly creatures wear vivid expressions, are embellished with machine-like buttons and switches, and are placed in manic digital environments. Her prints depict characters looking forlorn among backdrops filled with alien beings. The worlds she creates are textured with urban grit and neon colors whereas the stories she hints at are themed on disconnection and desolation— in one image, two characters hold hands while a text message to the side reads “i hold you close through telephone poles/hold you close across these moats.” Despite the figures sharing a touch, their gazes look away from each other, and the text implies a distance that can only be breached with technology.
“It’s a weird in-between of being alive and being an object.”
Cagemoe often characterizes the worlds she creates as “dystopian,” but the term isn’t entirely fitting; dystopia implies a narrow form of living under oppressive structures (social, environmental, or otherwise). Although her aesthetic uses “earthly grotesqueness,” her stories seem capacious and generous to the living— or rather, they seem to have an expansive consideration of what is deemed “alive.” Perhaps Cagemoe is drawn to cyberpunk dreamscapes because of how objects are imbued with animated life in these worlds. Artificial intelligence and robotics allows sci-fi items to act in “a weird in-between of being alive and being an object.” All too often, the constant animation of sci-fi environments are offset by cold and dispersonal atmospheres; technology seems to enhance detachment and isolation. Yet everything in Cagemoe’s worlds is charged with fervid sentimentality, resulting in an “electronic hopeless romanticism” that feels awkward, melodramatic, and rich.
“I think technology really unearths how we can have relationships with inanimate objects.”
This idea of animating objects with life isn’t limited to Cagemoe’s imagined worlds; she also treats existing things with similar feelings. She explains that fired clay is very static and therefore is a difficult medium to give life, but creating elaborate worlds for her ceramic sculptures brings her close to that. She also speculates on how electronic devices enable new types of relationships: “They’re the companions you spend the most time with, and you do genuinely care about them… People get really upset if they drop their phone or break it. At what point do you draw the line between an object being animate or inanimate?”
To Cagemoe, one marker of a successful artwork is if the audience becomes “transported” by its story. In one performance piece, she acted out giving birth to one of her sculptures and then read a book with things she wished she had understood growing up, including sayings like, “You are equally valuable in every moment of your existence.” The reaction by the viewers was severely intimate and on par to the emotion suffusing her art. “Everybody was level to the same plane of experience; there was no hierarchy or authorities between teachers and students anymore. Everybody was just kind of like, ‘Woah. We did not see that coming. Now we’re in this thing together.’”
“All reality is mixed reality.”
Fiction often engenders empathy by exposing its readers to different viewpoints and helping them relate to one another. Cagemoe also hopes that the escapism of her art allows viewers to be empathetic by reconsidering their connections to not only each other, but also the world. She says, “The thing with objects that always interests me is that they’re always meant to be used. Using a person has such a negative connotation, yet we make objects to be used.” By making art objects without a clear utilitarian purpose, by charging them with lush emotion, by giving them life, how do we change our relationship to things in this world? How can we reconsider our place in our ecology, the way that objects take up and change space, and our connections in this world? Cagemoe doesn’t have straightforward answers to these questions, but she offers plenty of immersive worlds for their contemplation.
See more from the artist at