Sofia Cianciulli Artist Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work

I was born in 1993 in Florence and and grew up between Italy and New York. My art education shuffled between the languid nude of renaissance art, and the individualism and diversity inherited from the third-wave American movement.

I was 17 when I got my first job: “You own the party. You come here to have fun, make friends and look beautiful. You will receive generous tips by the male customers and there is strictly no sexual interaction” the description read. $2000 later my entire reality was irreversibly distorted, and specifically the understanding of possibilities in which I could capitalise on my body. This went hand in hand with the wave of social media that influenced my generation. My self-awareness and sense of integration relied on an analytical validation system that rewards filtered beauty and a curated lifestyle of pleasure. It was clear to me that the key to unlock the stereotypically affluent virtual life, was indeed money.

Eventually, while broadcasting my New York privileged lifestyle, I started feeling trapped into a definition of desirability that hinged on unrealistic ideals. The failure to fully connect lead me to question my need to be outside the web and beyond the hyperawareness of my appearance. As a result, my art practice is a self-reflexive project, to negotiate a space for the production of identity. My work responds with absolute transparency to narrative conventions, investigating the value of the female body in an hyperconnected and commodified society. Through a combination of body art and media technology, my aim is to determine conclusions about how identity is converted into economic capital. Using my own body as an art object I allow myself to become the subject, and my personal experience with woman-hood is at its core.

Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work

The ideology of postfeminism deliberately provokes a response to feminism, inviting a critical approach towards the contradictions and deficiencies of its work. Labelled as ‘post’, also suggest that feminist theories are no longer relevant as equality, amongst other rights, has been achieved. But what if equality wasn’t the final destination? After so much hard work, feminism became a highly controversial statement. Saying that you’re a feminist today doesn’t really mean anything, two people can both be feminists but have completely different opinions.

I don’t have an opinion, or better - I don’t have an opinion of my own. My idea on feminism is much better described by the America comedian Iliza Shlesigner: “[...] in the wake of Me Too and Time’s Up, all of these important, very necessary movements, what’s come out of it is women policing other women and we walk around terrified as women of being called bad feminists by quite frankly other bad feminists. [...] Terrified. That if we give an actual opinion, we’re going to get crucified. [...] So we all walk around and all we’re doing is blaming other women for our own insecurities and all of a sudden everyone’s shaming everyone by sharing an opinion that you fought so valiantly to get to exercise”.

On this regard, as a young female artist emerging from a distracted audience, I am not here to impose or criticise on other theories that other people worked so hard to establish. Making my voice heard means that I can only talk about what I know and what I’ve experienced in first person. That is, unpacking the vulnerability of white female privilege and digital bodies, in a hypocritical and self absorbed society. And not essentially in a heavy critical way, but through as a sarcastic commentary exposing the contradictions of millennial generation.

Your work focused on the body, what image and concepts are you trying to convey?

My research is a timeline that starts with Yves Klein and ends up with social media, where the main focus remains on the female body. I’d like to highlight the body’s binary connotations as both an intimate, personal site and an object of desirability and pleasure. After exploring the representation of the female body in art through proximity and mediation, I felt the urge to experiment with my own body and analyse the work produced under two conditions: being a body and being a woman. As a body, I reconnect to a sense of self through the sense. Trough this physical awareness, I develop a unique and personal intimacy with my body and with the artwork. On the other hand, being a woman relies on a wider set of functions and conventions that are socially produced: when I separate from the art object, and observe the imprint from a distance, I clearly identify my breasts and crotch. In my mind these are associated with a definition of femininity trained by a long art history of sexual representation - therefore, I involuntarily perceive an object of desirability and pleasure. Through this juxtapositions I am able to detach myself from the embedded sexualisation but at the same time embrace it as part of my cultural heritage.

How has the pandemic affected you, your artwork and day to day?

The pandemic hit both my homes - first Italy, then New York. And artistically speaking, this was a good motivation for me. I’m extremely lucky to have a studio space in my home - and time to express all my feelings, experiment and make mistakes. My life b.c. (before coronav) wasn’t really structured to give me any time for creative thinking, and in order to generate ideas my mind needs to be relieved from any thinking. Cities like London and New York are great for art, but they don’t really give you a break. It’s expensive and competitive, and there is always a compromise to make between time or money.

I think this is a great lesson for humanity. After chasing money, status and gratification - where did we ended up? Being stripped of the inessential noise of life, really made me understand that nothing really matters, unless it matters for myself. And art is a great example. Before, I used to force myself to do new artworks, because the time at my disposal to do so was limited. So for example, if I knew I’d get 2 days off a week I would be pressured to make work in that small timeframe. Now it’s more the case where I get out of bed, and just start to experiment and get messy without hurry, letting art guide me.

What is your working process, what tools and mediums do you use?

I use a combination of body art and technology. For material productions such as paintings, my body is always the start and everything is in proportion to its actual size. My body is my art object and I am devoted to exploit it to its full potential in order to discover more applications. Although I have worked a lot with photography and body casting, my favourite practice is body imprints. I cover my body with acrylic and use it as a stamp tool.

On the other hand, my digital work is designed for one single purpose. I am using smartphone ratios and media formats to define a relationship between the female body and social media. Using more traditional practices to produce work, but making it perfectly instagrammable, is my main goal. My pledge to Instagram is simple, to take the platform and invert all of its dilemmas. That is, the narcissistic and self-obsessed pattern that young girls are being accused of. Presenting a semi-anonymous, yet authentic, body and letting the virtual community define the limits of its objectivity.

My work in progress, #digitalFeelings, is an instagram performance about social anxiety and addiction derived from excessive social media usage. It’s a video and it will be live streamed soon. Some times it’s really hard to make work being the subject and object at the same time, but that allows me to blend different positions and I think that is really interesting. People ask me - how did you do a casting of your boobs by yourself? Or how can I do a livestream and being behind the camera as well. I am simply resourceful and see obstacles as challenges. I could have an assistant but then how could the process be fun and interesting?


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