MON STUDIO SESSIONS
“I think it's important that we have collectively had this experience of being “put in place” by
nature, this is something that I have portrayed in my work before, it was more of a fantasy
then- rather than something that actually happened.”
London, November 2020.
Interview with Gaia Fugazza by Michelle Houston
Gaia Fugazza creates paintings, sculptures and performances that explore the relationship between humans and the natural world which are personal yet universally relatable. She draws upon everyday life and her experiences of motherhood, creating figures that evoke our primal connection with nature interfaced with mobile technology and demands of modern life. Using natural materials, handmade pigments, scorching and wax to draw and carve within her works. Fugazza is based in London with her partner and fellow artist Haroon Mirza and their 2 children.
How did art come into your life?
Art came from a very early age as I started to draw and paint . Even as a child I’ve always envisaged that this was something that I would do. I was quite a good student, but art was the thing that I was most proud of. What has become increasingly challenging to achieve over time is making something that I am satisfied with.
Do you remember one particular piece that struck you when you were younger?
My family didn't engage with contemporary art at all, and in Italy back then there wasn't access to a contemporary art museum. So the art of others came to me through medieval and renaissance paintings in churches, public monuments or historical art museums.
I remember going to the Uffizi and seeing “Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. Firstly, they're huge. Secondly, the detail is just incredible. You can perceive the work very clearly and when you look closely, every leaf, every flower is very accurate. Everything in these pictures have equal importance. When you look at the grass, for instance in “Primavera”, it is full of life. In “The Birth of Venus” nature is portrayed in an animist way, the wind and the sea are characters as much as the goddess.
One characteristic I also really admire is in the work of Piero della Francesca, where there are actions taking place but everything is almost without time. The light is completely clear, there is no atmosphere, no direct light source, the characters are there as if they have always and will always be there. This refusal to assign a certain time to these characters is something I try to do in my practise as well. I am attracted to paintings in which artists make a strong synthesis of a situation, when I can see that there was a strong consideration of what is depicted so that everything on the canvas is somehow essential.
I think with paintings it's slightly easier to just look inside the frame - and consider just what's there and this can be a completely made up world. Whilst sculpture is still subject to a certain gravity, a consistency of material, the physical elements. Therefore is dependent upon certain limitations of reality, that you can stretch - but you ultimately cannot completely change.
What is a normal day for you now?
Well it was very different in the first lockdown as our children were not going to school. Then I was working only 60% of the amount that I am able to work now. My partner and I tried free flow for a couple of days but then quickly realized neither of us were managing to get anything done and we both were finding it quite stressful. Therefore, during that time, we alternated - one day each; to cook three meals, clean, homeschool, take the children out and go food shopping. During that period everything was even more regimented than now (laughing). So clearly the day that I was working was more relaxed compared to the day I was having to do housekeeping and homeschooling, it really made both of us appreciate that housework is actually harder work. Because of this pattern of alternating one day each we ended up working 6 days and just reserving Sundays for family day all together. I think this also helped our own relationship as I think that it puts a lot of strain when there is a lot of uncertainty. I think the lockdown brought more equality in our family. Now the children are back at school, so I am in the studio by 9:30 and work until either 3:20pm or 6pm. So it's like having an office job (laughing).
As we are both artists, working for ourselves and we are a family, we needed to implement a regimented routine. As a family there are a certain amount of needs and if suddenly, I have the family demands whilst I am supposed to be having time in the studio then there is no time anymore. One could easily just do stuff for the house and the children all day long since there is so much of it but I don't want to do that, so I have to focus my time into certain moments.
The separation between your studio and living space is quite blurred. How has being locked down changed or altered the way you think about that space?
During lockdown I made some paintings on wood which is something that I have been doing a lot in the past five years. Due to online exhibitions the work stays in the studio and no longer travels, so I started to have a problem of where the works actually go and how can be experienced physically?
Together with my partner, Haroon Mirza, we started collaborating with the architecture collective Assemble, to design modular storage systems, such as wardrobes, shelves, cabinets etc. I am taking care of the treatment of wood surfaces and mark making. I did some test pieces on existing doors within our studio, I felt some relief creating works for a specific space where they were intended to reside, rather than keeping them in the studio and showing a digital version of them, when they should be standing in an exhibition.
I think that incorporating artworks into architecture or functional objects is an interesting option and I would like to do more of such projects for others. It feels in some way more democratic as there are so many people that have a wardrobe that is maybe 2,5 meters x 3 meters, but they would never dream of buying an artwork that size, as most people just don't have an empty wall for something that big. Now I am doing creative work on tiling, on wardrobes, carpets, on all sorts of domestic things as I want to create pieces that I can communicate with everyday. Why can’t you have an artwork on a table or a door?
As a maker of images, you expect that created image to be retained and conserved, however when an image is on a used object there is a relinquishing of that image. Are you able to let loose on the probability that the image will be altered?
I see it slightly differently, since without this gesture those works just wouldn't be there. It allows a bit of freedom. I am not saying that I just want to make works carved into furniture, I am just seeing this as another support and I am not against it. This is a moment for experimentation. I am missing having conversations about my work and to see people experience the work, with some sort of direct feedback. Already being an artist is quite lonely, then missing the moment of exposition- it's claustrophobic. I am really eager for exhibitions to be back. However in the meantime I am thinking of all the things I haven't experimented with. Together with Haroon Mirza and Nik Void, we are launching an experimental music label (Outputs) from the studio.
Back in February with Luigi Galimberti and the curator Sha Li, we started the project “Post from the 1st Lockdown” , where we gathered artworks from the first enforced lockdown in Wuhan.
Since I first heard about CoronaVirus, I was wondering what this new thing was and it was very difficult to find reliable information due to Chinese censorship and the mediatic warfare with other countries. Back then there was lots of speculation that this was a made up thing or other fantasies. I was fascinated with what artists would be producing during lockdown. This was the first time, I am aware of, that a whole city was in this predicament during my lifetime. So I initiated an open call for artists based in Wuhan and gathered about 220 contributions, from 60 artists. The initial idea was to present their work in the form of a mail-art exhibition, however as the postal service was interrupted, we gathered a lot of the contributions via email and subsequently made a website.
MAMME CON L’I-PHONE
Beeswax, Oil colours, pigments, Bologna chalk, rabbit skin glue and wood.
This project prepared me for the lockdown and what I had to do, I was somehow forewarned by the artists in China on what was about to happen in Europe. When I first heard of COVID spreading in Italy, I was sure that it was a matter of weeks until it reached the UK. I had already planned for spring to be spent at home. When the first UK lockdown was finally announced, it was a strange feeling for me as I actually felt a bit of relief. After these months in February and March when I was receiving all of these emails in Chinese from artists who were very worried, that were not feeling well or that people they know or love have contracted the virus or died. I knew that this was coming here and observed people in Europe still traveling a lot, kissing, hugging and going to busy spaces and I felt like I was watching the disaster coming, almost in slow motion.
The fundamental basic human needs are what everybody seems to be focusing on now. Maybe we just never stopped to notice the extent of how much exterior factors are influencing this?
I think that generally, we find it easier to talk more about some of our more complex needs, but the basic needs are somehow overlooked. During lockdown, I as well as a lot of other people, became obsessed with the news. Every time I would tune in there would be something else more and more shocking, with so many changes politically and socially that were very worrying. There were some positive moves such as the black lives matter movement, yet initially this also came out of horrific crimes and very bad political response from the establishment. So it's a mix of taking care of little things and then worrying about what's happening outside.
One thing I heard from a friend in lockdown and I actually experienced myself, was that although I had the possibility to communicate to everybody digitally, I actually only wanted to communicate with people that were physically nearby as they were experiencing the same weather as me. Light conditions, temperature, smells, these elements became important. In the first lockdown I was going running everyday and nature felt louder, as there were less activities, less cars, less people. You could hear animals and plants more, everything was brighter. Suddenly there were smells in London, which just weren't there before due to the pollution.
It feels like a veil has been lifted and natural elements were brought out or brought to attention which have previously been overlooked.
I have dealt with this topic for years in my work, but I think during the lockdown more people are looking at the relationship between humans and the natural world. I think that the situation has reinforced the importance of these subjects
I’m currently working on two large paintings. The first one is called “Blue Tits”. There was an epidemic in Germany affecting and killing Blue Tit birds at the same time as COVID came to Europe. In the painting there is a large red plant, based on a houseplant that I have in the studio, which is dominating the scene and blue tits carrying a male figure. The animals and plants are the ones who are active and awake, whilst the man is sleeping and is about to be set aside for a moment and put into an enclosed space, resigned to a more confined place to be.
180 x 115 cm
The other work is titled “Plants like him”. In this painting there is a man, using his ability to hang from his feet - which is something we have lost with evolution. Surrounding him are plants, which in a playful way are stroking him and pushing him as if they were mastering him, engaging in a slightly sexual way, but the caress is more about touch, than sex. It's quite new that I have male figures in my works, as I usually depict the female form, although this is accidental, but the male figures have actually come out surprisingly submissive.
These works stem from feeling humbled as a species by the COVID situation. I think it's important that we have collectively had this experience of being “put in place” by nature, this is something that I have portrayed in my work before, it was more of a fantasy then - rather than something that actually happened. This has happened during catastrophes such as tsunamis or hurricanes but those are seen more as accidents of nature. The pandemic can also be viewed as an accident but then it clearly affects more cities, places that are very inter-connected, places that are polluted, so then it's quite hard to dismiss that a proportion of this mess is an effect of an attitude towards nature.
PLANTS LIKE HIM (CERULEAN BLUE)
Wax, watercolours, acrylic paint, metal powders, Chinese Ink on carved wood.
180 x 115 cm
I go running a lot and a year ago I made two performance pieces which were monologues based upon interviews that I conducted with ultra-runners about the visions and hallucinations that they would encounter whilst they undertook extreme races which lasted several days and nights. In their visions the landscape becomes more meaningful, more talkative and plays a more active role as it becomes their company on these experiences.
The athletes explained that as antidotes to the hallucinations, they would use everyday gestures, such talking with somebody or reading - written language is actually one of the main antidotes. When they partake in these everyday actions alongside sleeping and eating, they stop tripping. But they also say that the tripping is amazing - I mean if they do it too much then they can lose a sense of reality and this is not good obviously, but under control is a deeper dialogue with the landscape, similar to the ones experienced with psychotropic plants. It makes me wonder why our lives are structured so much to prevent this communication with the landscape, as we live indoors, in society and there is constantly written language around, so we force ourselves to stay in the action-reaction brain mode instead of in the contemplative/ present mode.
It seems somewhat of a paradox that something so mundane can take one out of something so sensational.
I think of it in almost the opposite way, that it takes a sensational act such as a 2-day run to be able to be in communion with nature whilst it takes something as small as somebody making a phone call to you to take you out of that. After all that effort, it sums up to how we are losing focus all of the time.
One of the interviews was with Johan Steene who is one of the world’s strongest ultra-runners and he speaks about the three stages of hallucination: Mirage, Déjà vu, then a Parallel Life.
As he undertakes so many races he had to learn how to recognize and control the hallucinatory stages. In some way it's almost a shamanic act to endure this level of fatigue alone in the landscape.
The other monologue was inspired by Mauro Prosperi, who is an ultra-runner, who in 1994 got lost in the Sahara desert for 9 days due to a sand storm. It was a miracle that he survived. Throughout that time, he kept very rational and organized to avoid being absorbed by the landscape. He told me how he would keep routines for himself such as “washing” but rather rubbing himself down and brushing his teeth, which seems absurd given that he had no water - but he said if he didn't maintain these little rituals he would have just turned to dust. These actions helped him redefine what was him and what was the rest. Being in this extreme situation allowed him to tap into a library of human survival, which contained information from humanity - not from him. He is an athlete and policeman from Rome but he was saying that in that extreme situation, he was suddenly able to do all these things that nobody had ever taught him and that he had never done before. Such as hunting bats with his hands and eating them raw or when it was cold at night he would make holes in the sand, set them on fire and then bury himself in the warm sand. Tapping into primal instincts and knowledge.
It poses the question what else is within the mind that we just don't see?
There are undoubtedly things that we don't see, but also with our lives so embedded within social routines and dependents on screens and language we are always talking and never alone outdoors. I ask what it is that we are losing as a society? All this knowledge is there but we just never access it - if we never access it, we lose it. If, for instance, you always use google maps, at one point you are not going to have any relation to your own sense of direction or if you always use the weather app then you are never going to try to observe what the weather will be like. It's all these small things that we are increasingly doing. A generation ago, people knew what time it was somehow naturally, my grandparents would have known what the time was from the quality of the light. I am really not against technology and think that it is incredibly important but I think that for every activity that we stop doing because our life is made easier by a certain technology, if we stop exercising, observing and exercising our abilities, we will lose them to a certain extent at some point. Is always a push and pull.
It's a de-evolution in some ways and what are we really freeing up that part of memory for?
MUSEUM OF NOW STUDIO SESSIONS