Remote studio dates is a series of conversations with artists, curators and researchers to document and explore coping mechanisms for isolation in the current health crisis. Each date focuses on one work, project, concept or dream, with digressions and slippages, without the need of ending somewhere but with the desire of opening something up.
Stefania and I met through common friends in London, a few years ago—she is another Sicilian who left though keeps going back. Her practice departs from drawing to explore the slippages between reality and fiction. Focusing on landscapes, she experiments with different mediums and forms, borrowing from the traditional techniques of fresco and oil painting as much as the digital world.
M: Ciao Stefania! How are you? It has been a while since we last spoke.
S: Ciao Miriam, yes. I am well! Thank you for your invitation.
M: Where are you at the moment?
S: I’m still in London, a place that I have chosen for its developed infrastructures—not only at an urban level but also in relation to the contemporary art field. I have always been intrigued by the functioning of the art system in London. I find it much more complex and multi-formed than the Italian one.
M: Do you still feel the same way about the city, after living there for a few years? I used to have similar ideas when I first moved to London, but things progressively changed for me as I discovered an art world whose principles and structures I would not fully identify with. I am thinking of the fierce competition and, paradoxically, rather small art community, difficult to penetrate for foreign artists unless they have pre-developed strong connections. Yet, I understand your disappointment with the Italian art system, which lacks solid support schemes for artists and art professionals alike.
S: I moved to London with the goal of joining the MA in painting at the Royal College of Art. I don’t identify as a painter but I am very interested in the medium. I agree that, although being a global city, London has a rather closed art circle. So, for many practitioners entering this world through an art course can be the key to unlock the door. I was surprised to see how different the approach to art is, compared to the Italian Art Academy. Speaking of my own experience, I can say that London has been a crucial platform for my growth as an artist.
M: I remember that the legacy of the YBAs was still quite evident in the practice of emerging artists—often in the guise of a popular aesthetic trend that did not leave much space for the exploration of different concerns. How do you relate to that?
S: It is interesting to witness and question the predominance of the YBAs’ tradition. YBAs stand to London as Arte Povera does to Italy. Sometimes, I ask myself how it would have been to live in Milan or Berlin. London remains inviting, but the truth is that I probably do not have other bases for comparisons apart from where I come from.
M: What are you currently working on?
S: As you know, my background is in architecture and set design for theatre. Drawing has been the fil rouge of my research on landscape, subsequently developing through the use of classical techniques such as fresco or oil painting. At the moment, I am growing an interest in digital landscapes. My recent works interpret different actions and reactions of the human body in relation to digital devices and the inevitable tension between what we take from digital technology and what we give back through our data.
M: Do you have a studio in London and did you have access to it during lockdown? Otherwise, what has working from home meant for you?
S: Yes, I have a studio in Brixton. During the lockdown it was accessible but I preferred to remain at home, trying to follow the basic rules of this extraordinary period. I was lucky since my flatmates allowed me to install my oil paint studio in our living room, and eventually even became enamoured of the smell. At that point, I was working on a site specific painting commission for a house on the beach in Hove, where it is possible to see the sea from all windows. I worked at home only with internet pictures of Hove sunrises and sunsets, with a fragmentary outcome of images in diptychs and triptychs, stealing colours from a digital palette that will confront itself with the reality of the sea from the house in Hove.
M: That sounds both fascinating and unsettling! It is also timely, considering what we are experiencing, to work on natural landscapes departing from digital images only. What is the biggest challenge that the pandemic has presented you with, in relation to your practice?
S: I terribly missed seeing art in person—that inner dialogue that takes place between you and a work of art when you are asked to apply all of your senses to engage with it. Suddenly, London—as any other cities would have, I guess—lost all its sex-appeal to my eyes, becoming a grey reality with rare sunny days at the ping-pong table outside the house. I found myself very jealous of my friends living in the countryside, they could at least enjoy the spring time during the lockdown, a revenge of nature.
M: Yes, living close to nature in these unusual times is a big plus. Would you say that the pandemic and the lockdown have surprised you with any opportunities?
S: During the COVID period innumerable platforms for art were born, most with charitable purposes and useful to promote your work. Among them I really enjoyed the proposal behind the project Ti regalo un’idea (I gift you an idea) curated by Michela Eremita for the Children Art Museum, Santa Maria della Scala in Siena. I presented a video tutorial called La mia idea sboccia in bagno (My idea blossoms in the bathroom), as the bathroom became my favourite place of the house, the most welcoming yet very intimate space. I accepted to participate just to detach myself from painting and everyday life, re-approach video making with a simple purpose for this little audience.
M: Speaking of bathrooms—that I have also come to appreciate more while in lockdown, especially my bathtub!—what are you reading, watching, listening to, right now, that has an influence on your work?
S: In my mind, I like to divide my readings in three categories: past, present and future. Past and future readings are usually historical and theoretical texts, my favourite ones right now are Yuval Noah Harari and Alessandro Barbero, skilled history translators who have become a viral phenomenon, while art theory-wise, I thank Hito Steyerl and Bifo Franco Berardi for their ability of throwing you into the future with some grace. On the other hand, all literature, from any period or medium, produces the present for me. In March, I was reading The plague by Camus and in May listening to an audiobook of Sostiene Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi, to which I cried. This emotion was, clearly, my present. Inevitably, all of them are essential to inform my research at different levels.
M: How has the experience at the RCA impacted your work?
S: I completed my MA in painting in 2018, and I found it really helpful to expand my artistic trajectory and embrace a new way of researching. I also realised how important it can be to have a daily relationship with other artists. At the RCA I met the two founders of Pinch, a London based collective with the goal of proposing art projects to maintain a rich and intense dialogue around making, exhibiting, promoting and dealing with art.
M: What is your next plan?
S: Raw Reality, my latest project, has a sculptural section that I am developing in collaboration with Lady Crab, a production duo exploring reality in narrative film. As a 3D generalist and digital matte painter, Crab collaborates with Lady, a writer and editor, to evolve fictional spaces and characters, doused in buckets of innovative filmmaking practices—or at least that is the aim. As a unified body, Lady Crab floats in a puddle of absurdity and visual refinement. The idea with them is to create a portrait / bust and fingerprint cast to reproduce biodynamic data in sculptural form. I am interested in how human features are digested from a machine, then in casting these intangible data and seeing human characteristics from a digital system point of view. In May, this project was selected to be part of the Creative Reaction led by the Postdoctoral Researcher Domna-Maria Kaimaki at the Imperial College in London. The aim was to facilitate a collaboration between artists and scientists. Unfortunately, the project has stopped following the University’s closure during the pandemic. We shall see what the future brings!
Stefania Zocco lives and works in London. She attended her BA and MA at the Fine Art Academy in Palermo respectively in 2006 and in 2012, and graduated from the Royal College of Art, painting department, in 2018. In 2019 she was a Bloomberg New Contemporary artist. Her practice ranges from drawing to oil painting and fresco, preferring traditional technologies for aiming the contemporary landscape, focusing on the value of the image and structure that surrenders us. Recent exhibitions includes Bloomberg New Contemporary, South London Gallery, London, UK, 2019; Espacio, luz y orden, Josedelafuente Gallery, Santander, SP 2019; Varie da km zero, Moon Contemporary, Carini Castel, Palermo, IT 2017; Temperature poco sotto la norma, MAS, Modica, IT 2017; Ficarra Contemporary Divan, Residency, Ficarra, IT, 2015; Pianeta X, Riso Museo Arte Contemporanea, Palermo, IT 2014.
Featured Image: Stefania Zocco, Pepe la Puke’s portrait studio, 3D print (WIP).