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By Harriet Shepherd

In light of her current show at Tina Kim Gallery, New York, we catch up with Gala Porras-Kim, the Colombian-born artist with an eye for the anthropological.

In our increasingly fast-paced digital age, it’s rare to see young artists engaging with ancient history – where once art students would spend hours painstakingly learning traditional techniques and studying the art historical canon, these days many art schools actively encourage their students to think outside the box, to experiment with bold concepts and embrace emerging technologies in a quest for the new. But not Gala Porras-Kim, the Colombian-born, LA-based artist who’s quite literally taking an old-school approach to things, and whose work is currently on display at New York’s Tina Kim Gallery.

Porras-Kim’s work traces the line between art and artefact, between anthropology and art. “My sister’s an anthropologist,” she tells SLEEK. “And I’ve always been interested in how undocumented objects get documented, and then legitimised.” It’s the motivation behind Porras-Kim’s quirky eBay-sourced artifactual works, comprised of pieces that she bids on, and then recontextualises. “In the US you can buy artefacts,” she stresses, “which is insane to me!” She points to one such object, a ceramic fragment, apparently from the South West, mounted on a graphite “blob” (her word, not mine) purely because “there’s no bigger likelihood that the original was not this shape.”

It’s this quirky re-envisionment of the anthropological that allows Porras-Kim to frontline the often ridiculous (and defunct) nature of the ethnographic approach, where the question of legitimacy and documentation are inextricably tied. “The project has a lot of documents,” Porras-Kim explains. “It has the eBay receipt where it says like ‘two grandmas collected it in the South West’. And then there’s this certificate of authenticity — but it’s the sketchiest looking certificate. I’m interested in why that feels sketchy, when we don’t actually know. And why the conservator form from the Fowler museum at UCLA looks super-legit. What documentation will make a historical fragment seem more legit than not?”[...]