Performance informs many aspects of Italian artist Francesca Fini's work, be it the medium of performance art itself or the wider concept of performative identity. Fini is an interdisciplinary artist, combining experimental cinema, installation and digital animation, and often juxtaposing art-historical forms with new media to striking effect; recurrent subjects within her work span femininity, beauty and societal perceptions of women.
Fini has worked both as a digital artist and in digital media and television for fifteen years, and has taken part in events, festivals, biennales and exhibitions across Europe, the Americas and Asia. She also took part in the inaugural Venice International Performance Art Week alongside Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic and Hermann Nitsch, among others. She spoke to Sedition about the conception and execution of her latest works, just released on the platform, and her wider practice.
Thomas Barrie (Condé Nast) spoke to Fini as part of our Digital Practice series of artist interviews, where we speak to artists whose practice tests the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds. Read a recent interview with Philip Clemo here.
From a practical point of view, once you have an idea for a work, can you tell me how you execute it, from its conception to it going online on Sedition?
The creation process for my works on Sedition is no different from that which underlies all my video production. What characterizes my videos is essentially a surrealist look, which uses the technique of video-collage and the juxtaposition of languages that belong both to the past and to contemporaneity. The main theme of my work is often that of identity, an interior landscape which I explore playing with the language of portraiture and the self-portrait. However, when I made my first video for Sedition, I also addressed the issue of the device in which the videos would be probably displayed, and in a very natural way, the frame of my videos changed, and so the pace, often frenetic in my films, has slowed down. Sedition encouraged me to broaden my perspective, instead of having the cinema screen or monitor as the only reference, to make a profound reflection on the production of video linked to a familiar device such as a smart-phone or tablet.
You reference older works of art and art-historical movements in works like Custom Size, Girl With Butterflies, and The Time Machine. Do you see your own work as part of an older tradition? How do you see it relating to the past?
Kierkegaard said one that life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. I feel great love and gratitude for the past, for all the men and women who lived before us, building this crazy carousel in which we still find ourselves now. I live in a city, Rome, where the layers of history are visible with the naked eye, where you can get stuck in traffic, and under the red lamp of a traffic light you can see a piece of the Coliseum. As a child, on school trips, I used to put my hand over the Roman bricks and think of the people who had touched those same bricks over the centuries: a magic that still enchants me.
Today I feel part of an eternal present that contains everything and everyone. My work reflects all this: it's a "time machine" that collects objects, images and suggestions from the most diverse historical periods, and mixes them with glimpses of the present. This Dadaist collagism also reflects in my work as a performance artist, where time does not exist at all and you live the "here and now", the eternal and ritualistic present. My most successful feature movie, "Ophelia did not drown" (https://ofelianonannega.tumblr.com/), is a close dialogue between the contemporary language of performance art and the historical documentaries collected by "Istituto Luce", the national film library, in a process of osmosis between past and present. A time machine that ultimately allows the Shakespearean heroine to save herself, and to betray her romantic destiny in order to become "a normal person".
When looking at art history, you take inspiration from many different eras – alongside Old Masters you reinterpret Pop Art, Dada, Rococo and modernist paintings. Do you think any of these loose movements are particularly interesting to bring into contact with digital technology?
I have been often called a "neo-futurist" artist. Indeed, Futurism, as one of the greatest cultural movements of the twentieth century in Italy, in its conflict against the dreamy bourgeois culture, the romantic "moonlights", the decadence of museums and archeology, showed a strong impulse towards the renewal of the past, while celebrating the dynamism, speed and energy of the future of industrial civilization. I believe that today we still live on income compared to the great avant-gardes of the recent past. Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism and Pop Art are the nourishment of all contemporary art. In fact they already had in their core the concept of digital culture, they somehow prefigured it in every possible way, anticipating its aesthetics and sometimes even its devices: just think of Duchamp, the experimental music by the futurist Russolo, precursor of the "Musique concrète" and electronic music, the Dadaist collage or the concept of reproducibility and reuse in Pop Art.
In my practice, this "steam-punk" or "cyber-punk" drive is constantly present. I think that exploring and renewing certain tensions, certain suggestions that come from the legacy of these artistic movements, is a way to complete the process, to close the circuit, so to speak.
You address the female body in your art, which is one of the oldest subjects in Western art. What new perspectives do you think digital media can offer on femininity?
The large-scale availability of media and tools for creative production, and dissemination, represented by digital culture, has allowed women artists to express themselves more freely, and this has led to the spread of a new aesthetic in the representation of the female body, indeed of an extraordinary plurality of aesthetics. This process ended up positively contaminating the main-stream media, even that of commercial, television and advertising. I believe that in the MEME era - where the MEME is intended as a code, a package of information that is disseminated to future generations - one of the most significant elements of our times is the reappropriation and re-elaboration, by women, of the subversive device of irony, which becomes a redemption tool of their bodies. These are the reflections that also characterize all my live and video work.
Considering your interrogation of femininity, do you see digital spaces as particularly gendered?
Absolutely not, digital spaces are happily neutral, and this allows an unthinkable freedom of expression, whose scope has yet to be carefully examined and used in all its revolutionary potential.
You also work in performance and installation. How does having a physical element change your work in comparison to something purely digital?
In my performances and in my installations digital culture is almost always present. In almost all my live actions I use video and audio generated live, through mechanical, electronic and interaction design devices. The body is amplified by a landscape of sound and visual suggestions that are produced by movement, by action in space and time. The device becomes prosthesis of an increased, amplified body. The basic concept is always the same, however, and it is profoundly analogical: the search for identity (virtual, real), and the illusion of control that characterizes our species, explored with a certain, unmasked, dose of irony .
You’ve worked in television and other commercial digital media; what effect do you think digital art has on the accessibility of artworks when compared to physical art? Do you see a different relationship between digital art and mass media to that between traditional fine art and mass media?
Digital arts have a kind of natural flexibility in dealing with contemporary mass media and not just for promotion and distribution. Digital arts can easily absorb the dynamics and languages of contemporary mass media and share the same audience, which is larger and more diverse than that typical of fine arts. All this is revolutionary. Furthermore, there is a sort of conceptual osmosis between the two systems. Just think of net art and gif art, but also the numerous artistic explorations made on social media and the interesting and prolific "machinima" artistic community that has colonized Second Life over the years.
Given your works currently hosted on Sedition have been created on a two-dimensional plane, do you consider your work closer to painting? And when you’re working in three dimensions, do you think about sculpture? Or do you relate your digital work to traditional formats in a different way, or do the similarities to traditional media not hold any strong meaning for you?
Pictorial language is a very important reference, both in my video production, in my 2D animations, but also in my performance art pieces. I'm very stagy in my live artworks, of which I obsessively create the scenic layout, the visual tensions, and the lighting. I still believe that aesthetics is an essential value, at least as important as the concept.
What’s next? Do you plan to continue working on the same loose themes and in the same media?
I'm working a lot with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. I have just completed an augmented reality installation where, again, we start from painting: it's a diptych on canvas that comes to life and whose protagonists, a man and a woman, interact with each other through the space that divides them. I am also working on a new animated feature film, which is dedicated to climate change and the tragedy that Venice is experiencing these days.