Artist Nick Alciati’s bedroom installation xoxo, Darlene feels immediately familiar to anyone who was a teenager in the early 2000s. Photographs of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Alicia Keys almost completely paper the walls. Trendy clothes lie strewn on the bed and floor. High school yearbook photos are wedged in a mirror above a row of cutesy thrift store tchotchkes. Even if your bedroom wasn’t a pink shrine to mainstream pop culture, Alciati’s contribution to the SVA Photo, Video and Related Media’s 2016 MFA Thesis Exhibition is accurate enough to spark memories of classmates’ similar spaces.
Between images ripped from magazines, Alciati hangs posters of his glamorous alter ego Darlene. Darlene, with her long auburn hair, sultry poses and crop tops that reveal just a little chest hair, represents Alciati’s attempt to embody the pop idols he worshiped as a teenager in Syracuse, New York. In addition to the cheesy centerfold photographs, Alciati also presents Darlene’s recreation of three music videos from that era–Britney Spears’ Everytime, Mariah Carey’s Honey and Ashanti’s Rock Wit U (Awww Baby).
At first, Darlene seems like a hilarious drag critique of the artificiality and overblown sexuality of these commercial pop superstars as she seductively lounges on the beach and dances in a sticky stream of honey. However, the video After Britney (Confession) depicts how xoxo, Darlene means much more to Alciati than just campy nostalgia. Darlene, instead, is a tool for Alciati to explore his own gender fluid identity. In a revelatory interview between shots of Darlene’s version of Britney Spears’ Everytime, Alciati explains, “Darlene is not just a project for school. Darlene is not just a project for art. Darlene is a project for me to be who I am…”
Reminiscing about teenage aesthetics and pop culture, I spoke with Alciati about the development of xoxo, Darlene, the role of bedrooms as a safe space for teenagers and the power of role models to influence our identities.
Read full interview here