Interview by Julie Wilkins
Dress Ltd, Project 0 / Black Phase
A Kind of Magazine
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I first encountered Simona’s work through the beautiful giant mirrors of Double Zero (2006), and a (mutable) stack of black leather sand bags (Fort Worth series, 2007-). I associate her work with black for obvious reasons - as it’s the only colour I think she has regularly used, but also thematically because her work is somehow all about inversion and negation - the implied and the un-present - and there is always a deep, edgy glamour to it and a sense of the strict edit. Plus her hair is black (surface matters).
Simona’s studio is like a zip file. All content is compressed into containers and storage boxes, labelled and filed - even the storage is layered in upon itself, an archaeology of her thought processes made physical over the last 10 years or so. An upright boat shaped shelving system is a previous work, now divided, each part on wheels and used to contain other previous work - but still in this new life fitting exactly into itself - a symmetrical cupboard jigsaw - and still looking like work, just with altered potential. Another shelf contains archived moulds from 48 pieces of concrete rubble that were individually recast from resin, marble dust and pigment (Dead Air, 2011) - an intensive process also involving plaster, silicone and lots of time. Now these invert twin make-shells are cast-off and stacked industrial catacomb style - uneven skulls with several surgical incision points and white rubber brain linings - tied, numbered, bubble wrapped.
The physical space stands as a good metaphor for Simona’s work, where process upon process, from thought to hands, layers up – though we only usually get to see the refined single end point of her intention. Her work is process heavy and craft in a way that has nothing to do with craft as we associate it, as it mostly comes out looking super clean and almost clinically conceptual. Except when you examine it closely (a line from the casting mould deliberately left in the rubble) or talk to her about how it was achieved (she learned rope making in order to plait rubber, saddlery to create a sculptural avant bridling) - when again you encounter the compression, and the engagement with the means of making, the meaning of the make.
Simona’s latest work was part of a group show, The Making, at the Agency Gallery in South East London, where 8 female artists were invited to show their process, and exhibit a form of deliberate work in progress. I am fairly obsessed with make being visible in my own work, and regularly thank the forces of accident for their contribution - and my idea of a neatly turned phrase is when grammar check says “fragment, (consider revising)”, so maybe that's why this is among my favourite of her work: a lightning zig-zag of beautifully wrought and polished aluminium parquet balanced on a found chair stand, and a Rapunzel noose plait of rubber. Also, partly because the materials and means of her work are so necessarily determined and maybe traditionally masculine (using steel, welding, petrochemical based industrial materials, etc.) that this letting-in and incompleteness adds a whole new counter un/weight layer of light and radical femininity (another of my favourite themes –non-gender specific, energetic).
Just as I was leaving Simona’s studio, I saw 2 bricks on the floor – one painted grey, one black. I had to tap them to check what they were - I now expected them so be soft and bouncy, maybe rubber? – part of a work. They were bricks, but Simona took this as a little victory - I'd got it.
I asked Simona about some of my favourite pieces of her work, her process, and the colour black....
LONG RIDER, 2008
S: Long Rider is a dub-plate recording of a needle stuck in a groove. Whenever I have used sound in the past, I have mainly been interested in its sculptural qualities.
The work exists in a small edition of 10 and the choice of material is significant. Unlike mass-produced vinyl, dub plates are cheap acetate plates made for one-off test pressings. They are intrinsically experimental objects, often used to try out new tracks in dance halls. Most of this music was never released commercially. Dub plates have an inferior sound quality and a finite life span. Because acetate is less durable, the needle ‘eats away’ at the groove and so the sound will start to degrade very quickly after a certain number of plays - the recording eventually effacing itself over time.
Photo series of FOUND BLACK OBJECTS, 2013-
S: This is an as-yet-untitled series of photos which I have not shown. Each image features a ‘disembodied’ found object, which has been wrested from its original context, disassociated from it function and which is re-presented here, staged as sculpture for the camera.
They are all black and all have a relation to the body - more specifically, to sitting. I have this idea about sitting, or a particular mode of enforced, prolonged sitting, as being essentially a form of coercion, of violence. I don’t think the scale of the objects is necessarily very clear in the photographs, which I like because it makes things slightly more confusing.
FORTH WORTH, 2007
S: Fort Worth is a pile of black leather-covered sandbags arranged to form a sort of fortification. It’s an ongoing project, which is meant to be shown in different versions. The idea is that each time it’s exhibited more sandbags are added, so that the layout changes and the piece gets larger - a burgeoning, shape-shifting obstruction, but also a fetish-ised object/structure recalling luxury furnishings, automotive interiors and biker wear.
SACRED SYMMETRIES, 2015
S: This is part of a series of new works in which I am re-making fragments of parquet flooring in hollow metal tubing.
One of the recurring motifs in my work is the idea that our relation to space is always mediated by a series of objects and infrastructures. You could say that a floor is a kind of infrastructure or technology, however rudimentary, that allows a body to stand upright in an indoor space.
The nice thing about aluminum is that it’s a softer material than, say, steel, and so this floor fragment has an inbuilt instability. It’s s trinket-shiny and fragile, quite brittle, not something you’d feel safe to step on - particularly as it’s precariously balanced on a found chair base.
AS IF, 2012
S: This piece loosely approximates a pair of metal grab rails, perhaps of the type that would be found on the edge of a swimming pool. Only here the sunken negative space of the pool is denied - there is nowhere to go.
This piece sat in my studio for about three years before I found the right context to show it in. It is wonkily hand-made out of thin-gauge metal, which would be far too flimsy to ever be approved for industrially fabricated safety rails. I like it for its weakness and its irregularity. It’s like a tentative, slightly cartoonish drawing in space.
LIFE SIZED, 2005, and DOUBLE ZERO, 2006
S: Life Sized is a three-dimensional zero made out of mirrored acrylic. It’s exactly the same height as me, 163cm. It was the culmination of quite a long project about numbers and rankings (like Top Tens, Best Ofs, and so on), which involved a series of drawings and sculptural works, and at the end of which I decided I was really mostly interested in zeros. I’m fascinated by zeros, in a similar way to which I am by black. So you have this big mirrored sculpture which stands for abject nothingness and it’s an inconsistent thing. It looks like a self-contained, highly formal and sleek sculpture - but it dismantles and de-materialises itself by engulfing its surroundings through its reflective surfaces, so the viewer and space become implicated in the sense of void generated by the work.
QUICK GRIP 2015
S: This is a length of rope I’ve hand-made out of rubber tubing. The type of rubber I chose to use is very spongy and has practically no tear resistance. If you tried to hang something off it, it would break. I guess, like in much of my work, I’ve taken something from the everyday and deliberately asetheticised it in such a way as to undermine its reliability and disrupt its coherence as an object.
The BLACK QUESTIONNAIRE...
WHY BLACK IN YOUR WORK?
Sticking to monochrome allows me not to worry about colour on top of whatever else might be going on in the work. So it’s a kind of non-choice. But l do very often choose black. I’m drawn to it for different and contradictory reasons. It allows for a pairing down and a distilling of things. There’s a reticence, a severity achieved partly through the use of black. Sometimes the work incorporates elements that are deliberately loaded with recognizable associations and the uncompromising anonymity of black plays against that familiarity, reduces the objects to a condensed starkness, a muteness. Black can also be used, in the opposite way - as an intensification in the sense of excess.
You could take an object, almost any object, and paint it black and you would find that it is suddenly transformed, that it has taken on a power, a strange sort of allure. Anything could become a fetish.
...AND WEARING BLACK?
In my mind, at the moment, I like to think I’m aspiring to the look of a Mediterranean grandmother. Southern Gran Goth. It’s not so much a nod to my roots, as a way of acting them out: I’m actually from Northern Italy and dye my hair darker, so that whole identification is a bit of a lie, or not entirely accurate, like playing to type.
Text by Julie Wilkins, 2016.