Down the Rabbit Hole: Meet c0neja
“People don’t really know my real name.”
If the social media landscape has become a wonderland for the art community, Instagram is the castle at the center of it all. College, mentor-seeking, internships, the entirely calculated game of establishing your work has turned on its head. Navigating this landscape almost seamlessly is C0neja, a director and model in Los Angeles, who attributes her recent viral success in the Mexican art community to the keen eye and ear she uses to blend elements from Chicano, Goth, and cyber culture. We caught up to the rarely-interviewed rabbit to discuss her recent videography, turning a breakdown into a breakout, and her name.
So your real name is…?
Jean Pacheco, short for Jeanette. I don’t really fit Jean. My grandfather’s brother had a gap tooth and was really white, so they called him conejo (Spanish for “rabbit”). I was born the year he passed away and looked really white, so they passed the family name onto me. Later, it turned out that I had a gap tooth as well.
A lot of up-and-coming models, especially on Instagram, brand away from their given or childhood names. Do you ever feel uncomfortable when strangers address you by a name with such close family ties?
It’s weirder that people know who I am at all. Having people call out to me at events is such a trip and being asked for autographs, that’s the craziest part.
The novelty of a physical autograph is starting to disappear. What was it like the first time you were asked for yours?
I laughed. I was like, “Are you serious?” Of course, I gave it to her, it was this little girl, probably 11 or 12. I’ve had a few cases of parents coming up to me, asking if I’ll take a picture with their child because they’re too nervous to ask. I have to snap myself out of it because, at the end of the day, it’s ultimately humbling for people to see you in such a beautiful light.
How did you start growing your brand?
I modeled for this one brand with a pretty good following. It was the first time I’d ever taken a stab at modeling and it just grew from there. Anything I started to do or say, people would be so intrigued. At the same time, people are fuckin’ haters, but that comes with the territory.
It’s a great time for artists without the means or backing to heavily promote themselves.
It’s way easier. For example, if you wanted to be a photographer, you used to need money to develop film, buy a camera, and go to school. The internet is all of the foundation and stage you need now as long as you play your cards right. People are gonna see you, it’s gonna happen.
Did you ever go to college?
It took two semesters of community college to make it clear that school wasn’t for me. I don’t believe in doing what’s supposed to be done—it’s not for everyone. My parents are Mexican immigrants and the mentality there is that school is the golden ticket. They broke their backs so I could go to college one day and I’m really sensitive to that. But sometimes, you have to break your parents hearts. I would come home and say, “Look at this art I made,” and they wouldn’t understand because I wasn’t making any money. And it’s not about that, it’s just like, “I made this.” The art is the payment.
What led you to directing video?
My boyfriend and some of our friends were directing their own music video and it was…really shitty. I was like, “You know what, this is bad, let me help you. I don’t really know how to do this, but I know how to do it better.” I know that sounds a little bit pretentious, but being confident in my art direction and my eye has gotten me this far. Working on that project was how I knew this was the right path, it made me feel alive.
Do you think you’d ever make your own music?
I’ve always wanted to dabble in it, I’m actually working on something for a short film right now. My boyfriend makes music and I’m just like, “Fuck, if you can do it, I can do it too.” I’m working on this synth-heavy, darkwave song, I’ve got the foundation built and he’s helping me get all of the nuts and bolts together. In the next few months, I’m thinking it will be done. My rabbit chewed through my laptop cord and it forced me to step away from the project, which was actually really helpful to the process.
Speaking of your rabbit, you told me earlier that you’ve had her for three months now. How’d she enter your life?
I actually got her for a music video. I’ve had rabbits my entire life, but when I was in high school, my boyfriend bought me these rabbits from a swap meet that just weren’t healthy and they died. I said that I didn’t want any rabbits for a while because it was so traumatizing and my heart just couldn’t take it. But then I got Bonnie for this video and it was love at first sight, her temperament is so sweet and chill. She’s a baby, so I cut her some slack for the laptop cord.
“I don’t really know how to do this, but I know how to do it better.”
You recently moved back to Long Beach from L.A., what made you want to break away?
I went crazy, pretty much. I had one of those artistic breakdowns where you don’t know what to continue pursuing, where you don’t feel good enough. I was really unsure for a while.
That’s important to discuss. A lot of young artists go through that and no one ever mentions that those periods of self-doubt are a very real part of it all.
Creatives are very emotional and passionate. Mentally, I felt very claustrophobic, it was a cloudy time. Add that to my roots and my Mexican heritage—my family was very heartbroken when I moved out. It’s a very close-knit community, but I needed to prove something to myself, that I could break out on my own, and I did that. But you do miss your family, family is so important.
You blew everyone’s already high expectations out of the water with the photoshoot we did. Do you get that reaction a lot?
Sort of. It’s tight when I meet people and they have an over-the-top reaction, but there have been times when people weren’t so hyped over me because I don’t look like a typical model. I know I don’t look typical. I don’t have the model height. My proportions are pear-shaped. I’m just not what a high fashion model is thought to be and I’m completely okay with that. “I love my body, I love who I am, so fuck you, I’m gonna look however I want,” has always been my mentality. I’ve done shoots where they expect me to look super high-fashion and I don’t, but fuck them.
Do you have anything to say to the aspiring artist reading this?
Not everyone is gonna like or support you but at the end of the day, you have to grow a thick skin, believe in your work, and tell people to fuck off. There’s a lot of insecurity in the world. You have to learn how to shut off that negativity and know yourself. That will open up so many doors. Doubt comes with the territory, but you’ve gotta bite your tongue with that shit. That’ll get you to the point where people and their opinions won’t matter and you can just tell them to fuck off. That’s it. Bite your tongue, but also, tell people to fuck off.
Photos by Felisha Tolentino, Styling by Liza Ovakimyan