In Conversation: Olivia di Liberto
‘An Extraterrestrial Picnic’ transforms BAF’s Garage into an explosion of colour, energy, and retro-futuristic nostalgia. Olivia di Liberto brought dozens of unique cut paper elements into the space to create a playful environment saturated with countercultural symbols.
For this instalment of our In Conversation series, we spoke to di Liberto about taking inspiration from the past, moving into three-dimensionality, and how starting out as an artist means getting creative with limited resources.
What was your experience like creating this installation?OL
It was fun, A LOT of work, and a great learning experience. Trying to make work on a budget—since you’re filling up a large space—can become quite expensive, and requires being resourceful and innovative. These are conditions in which I thrive! I also really enjoyed interacting with the public as I was setting everything up. It’s fun to create in public spaces because you get to be a bit more social. That’s something that doesn’t happen with most artists’ projects. I got a lot of good feedback which is always reassuring and enjoyable, and finding recycled and thrifted items felt like an adventure.
It seems like there’s a mash-up of cultural references embedded within your work: the playful child-like whimsy of graphic shapes and colours, the symbols of psychedelic counter-cultural movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, and the al fresco extraterrestrial encounter. What inspired this premise?OL
I’ve always been really interested and inspired by history and things from the past. It’s so cool to do research and learn about how things came to be today, especially in art and design. I often think of my work as a contemporary take on vintage or retro design. One of my biggest influences for this installation (and a lot of my other work) is a book from 1968 titled The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. It delves into the lives of the Merry Pranksters, a collective community driving around America in a painted school bus in the 60s. Wolfe’s chronicle, along with the Beatnik era, are two of my favourites!
In your work as a graphic designer and muralist, much of the making happens in two dimensions, likely in the realm of the digital. What challenges and opportunities presented themselves in the expansion from two dimensions to three?OL
It was a big learning experience because translating my 2-D art into 3-D required a lot of work and attention! Trying to fill up a three dimensional space is both exciting and challenging but when everything comes together it’s super rewarding. It was really important for this installation to make sure that I activated all different dimensions of the space, so I had to fill up the walls, various locations on the floor, and then the empty spaces in between, which I filled with floating planets.
On one hand, references to psychedelics point to the beatnik movement, the hedonism of free-love, and the excess of 1960s and 1970s bohemian culture. On the other hand, your colourful palette, lively alien invitation, and exploding compositional choices point toward 1980s and 90s underground rave culture. Can you share your thoughts on nostalgia with readers? What drew you to these two points on the historical continuum?OL
I’d say that reading books, listening to music, and my travels have all had a huge influence on my work. More specifically, driving down the West Coast and my first trip to San Francisco caused a huge shift in my style. I was heavily influenced by that history and landscape and that’s when I first developed the kinds of work I make today! I’ve also always been interested in people who go against the grain and revolutionize their own way of living throughout history, whether they be the beatniks, hippies, or club kids. My interest in these subcultures has—and always will—impact my work and inform my own way of living.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?OL
More murals! I am also really interested in creating more wearable one-of-a-kind pieces, like jean jackets, shirts, and pants. Stay tuned for more and follow me on my Instagram @chillivia!
‘An Extraterrestrial Picnic’ is on view until Saturday, October 10th. See it 24 hours a day in the Garage, our public exhibition window facing East 1st Avenue.