"Interview with Alicia Ross," for The Absorbe Magazine, January 2017
I came in contact with your work at Bushwick Open Studios, where you showed The Distress of Uncertainty series. What is “the distress of uncertainty?” What do you want to convey with the title of that project?
“The Distress of Uncertainty” series explores themes of neurosis and its connection to the physical body, female identity and sexuality. As women, so much of our identity, sexual and otherwise, is wrapped up in how society views our exterior.
In this series, I’m interested in visually examining how those exterior gazes can alter or breakdown our physical selves, as well as the effects those strains have on our mental health and sexuality. The series depicts dislocated bodies manipulated and abstracted into various states of fragmentation, which comments on the public dissection of female forms and roles.
The title also nods to a more universally felt state of anxiety and societal fracture so many of us are feeling at this, the beginning of 2017.
You use embroidery in your work, a technique that is historically associated with women and therefore traditionally classed as craft rather than art. When I first saw your pieces the combination of using this technique and showcasing female bodies had a very strong impact on me. How did you get started with using embroidery in your work and what importance does that play for your pieces?
Coming from the medium of photography, the connotations between needlework and “woman’s work” was precisely the reason I started experimenting with embroidery in 2005. While the interpretation of modern femininity varies greatly from artist to artist, I do think that because of its historic connotations as “woman’s work,” embroidery and needlecraft still resonates as a near-universal female gesture. Therefore, the juxtaposition between a female nude, fabricated through needlework communicates these uniquely feminine tensions I’m most interested in.
The female bodies in your work are often “unfinished” and therefore fragmented. I associate that with how female bodies are presented in media, fragmented and therefore dehumanized and easily objectified. Is that what you are trying to convey or what does the fragmented imagery imply?
My work in previous embroidery series’ were far more blatantly sexual in the figures’ poses, and often more complete in their overall appearance. In this series, the bodies are more deconstructed, fragmented, and therefore more minimalistic.
Creating physical objects from digital nude images is surely a nod to the objectification of women. My intent is not to enable the viewer to objectify the figures more so, but through recontextualization and remediation elevate the figure into a more fine art discourse. Wherein doing so, I aim to regain ownership over the gaze.
I read that you base your pieces on images of women you find online. Where do you find these images and how do you choose which ones to use?
Within my embroidery work, the line has been distorted between the context of the original content. Though some of the figures were remediated from pornography sites, others were appropriated from sites that display famous works of art and fashion websites. The figures are digitally manipulated and are oftentimes a result of compositing several figures into one design. By blurring the line between these female figures the viewer is invited to distinguish between them without context. The finished embroidery pieces are created using a mixture of machine and hand techniques.
I don’t think it’s a secret that the figures I am typically drawn to look similar to me, or more accurately, similar to my own aspirations of physical beauty…when we get down to brass tacks most artists are self portraitists in one form or another.
What is your view of working as a woman artist today? What challenges does that bring?
I think the challenge for most working artists regardless of gender, is to balance the task of making enough money to live comfortably, and creating the work you feel compelled to make. I have very few colleagues that make a living solely from art making without having a secondary source of income, myself included. Because of societal pressures on women, inequality regarding pay, and other barriers such as pink taxes, this feat is oftentimes even more challenging for female artists. I have seen some museums and galleries make a concerted effort to show the same amount of work by female artists as they do male artists, but this unfortunately isn’t always the case...even in 2017.
What process do you go through when you start a new project? What inspires you?
Much of my inspiration over the years has remained rooted in the masterworks of the Renaissance. Some of my favorite master artists include Caravaggio, Titian, Rubens, and Goya. Their treatment of the flesh in chiaroscuro, in addition to the momentous scale they often worked, has always been something I’ve revered.
I draw additional inspiration from a slew of female artists spanning the last century. Some of those artists include Hannah Wilke, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Francesca Woodman, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson and many, many more. It is my hope that through my artwork I am able to make a contribution to a much larger, necessary dialog started and cultivated by some truly fearless women.
A couple of days after the election I attended a talk at the Brooklyn Museum where photographer Ryan McGinley stated that “art is going to get really good in the next four years.” You’ve done some political pieces, such as portraits of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Is the recent election going to affect your work and your thought process in any way?
My work has always been powered by my interest in pop-culture, politics, and gender issues, although I have witnessed several artists who have never made “political” work become inspired to do so in the last months of 2016. I think Mr. McGinley's statement is probably a pretty fair assumption. I do feel like a broader audience is now looking towards the art world for a voice, for unity, in light of this very unorthodox election year and the “reality show” tone of the current political climate. As American citizens I don’t think we have the luxury of not engaging anymore. Attention and involvement is imperative.
The current “reality show” climate is one reason I drew from this early embroidery series I started in 2010, which depict a grouping of young women that were the obsession of media outlets for a short span of years around 2010. The original “Phrenology Studies” series on white backgrounds includes oval-shaped, stitched head studies of women such as Britney Spears, Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Octomom, and others. I was inspired to expand the series recently (the more recent studies on “suit grey”) to include political women being dissected and scrutinized by the media and society at large.
In this series, my objective is not to emphasize my own political agenda, but to implore the viewer to reassess their own scrutiny of these women.
"Interview with Alicia Ross," for The Absorbe Magazine, January 2017