Bohemia After Dark: Artist Piera Gemelli

'''''I’ve always said that the best thing about social media was its ability to open the world up to amazing, talented artists from across the globe in a way that would have been impossible twenty-five years ago. Then, you had to either have already been a well established artist or at the very least have had your work in a gallery, otherwise the dissemination of one’s work to find an audience was extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. Social media has changed all that. It has now literally brought the world’s creative individuals right into one’s living room. This is how I came across the work of artist Piera Gemelli.

Born in Messina, Sicily, in 1984, Piera’s entry into the world of art began as a child. “My mother painted, and my father as well,” Piera says, “but I didn’t meet him. He died before I was born. I know he was very curious about many topics – photography, cinema, painting, etc – and he was a cheerful person with a great desire to live joyfully. Perhaps, I started painting for this reason – to be near him.

While in art school, she fell in love with Vienna Secession, Expressionism, Surrealism and informal art. “My artistic fathers were Egon Schiele for drawing, Euoard Munch for painting,” she says. “I madly love Schiele’s sharp line and Munch’s foolish chromaticism. Surrealism helped me to free my unconscious and approach to the dream. I love Max Ernst and his metamorphic style. Overall, I have been influenced by all the Avant-Garde.

She attended the University of Palermo, attending the art course Discipline dell’Arte, Musica e Spettacolo. Palermo was and still is my source of creativity and energy,” Piera says. “There, I ran into many people who shared my same passions. I experienced in Palermo my little “Beat Generation” – or so I like to think.” She considered experimentation a rule and the belief that it was the highest expression of the self.

She graduated in 2008 with a thesis on Cinema, Color in the Modern and Postmodern Cinema. My thesis had been mentioned and my professors asked me to collaborate with them. I did it for a while. I also wrote in the academic journal The Rope, but at some point I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. The academic life wasn’t for me. My life is art!” 

She began earning her Masters in Scienze dello Spettacolo e della Produzione Multimediale and has since been involved in multimedia art. “I started creating my Photo-Manipulation and Digital-elaboration work. I stopped painting in that period. In my digital work, the artistic influences are always the one’s I mentioned but Post-human, thus Mariko Mori, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, etc. My digital-elaboration works are very different from my paintings. Paintings are more instinctive, more lively. Instead, Photo-manipulations are darker, grimmer, disturbing, but both represent several aspects of my personality.” 

She cites a 2010 exhibition in Rome – Teotihuacan: La citta delgi deias a major inspiration. “It inspired me so much,” she says. “I started studying pre-Colombian iconography and it opened my eyes to exotic influences in my art – in my painting in particular but also my Photo-elaboration.

In 2012, she graduated with a 3D Projection-Mapping – Odissea – Transiti in Videomapping. “I have always been fascinated by mythology and ancient cultures and lost civilizations,” she says.

I recently caught up with Piera to discuss her work.

"Pierrotten"

“Pierrotten”

Let’s begin with your interest in mythology, ancient cultures and lost civilizations. Can you elaborate further on the impact these topics have on your work? How much does the vast history of Sicily figure into your work? 

I’ve been drawn to ancient cultures all along, without doubt I think this is related with my big passion with travel and research. I’m affected by each ancient civilization on the whole planet, maybe I came to fall in love with that, when I was a child and found a book about Ancient Egypt, from then to now I keep loving all about ancient cultures. By studying the ancient or lost civilizations I feel I’m able to span the whole world, to be very close to the ancestry. What I’m interested in, is a sort of common beginning of all the culture, it’s about the dawn of mankind, the sphere of rite, not in a religious sense but in an anthropological way. Rite is still among us, in several aspects of our life, and our instincts, fears and desires are still the same as our ancestors. Life/Death, Sex/Death, Eros/Thanatos. We are the same cavemen who live tying and hanging our lives between these two dichotomies.

This brings me to the other point: Sicily. I think that “she” is one of the most vivid and teeming lands in the world, in which these primeval aspects are still alive more than ever. It’s not about the worn stereotype of archaic, Old Sicily with black-dressed women and men with Lupara (shotgun) but it’s all about of our history and geography. Sicily is a jewel in the Mediterranen Sea, where many civilizations were born and passed through the centuries, Sicani, Sicels, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Arabs, Saracens, Normans etc…therefore, you can imagine how prodigious and motley the idea of identity. As far as I’m concerned, If you want to know more about history and human nature, you have to raise one of the many veils, layers of Sicily. There, you’re bound to find, as embedded and encrusted in the volcanic rocks, the secrets of the time.

Surrealism most definitely reveals itself in your photographic work. The imagery reminds the viewer of what one would see in a dream. There are also strong elements of mythology in there as well. How much would you say Surrealism has influenced you and how? 

I love all the 20th century Avant-Garde.  Actually, the Avant-Garde that has influenced me the most is Expressionism, in its way to express the body, the flesh. Just to mention two of the great artists, Egon Schiele and Edward Munch. I love Surrealism too, but it’s more an affinity than a conscious influence, my favourite is Max Ernst. I’m interested in expressing the unconscious drives, the instincts, the strange relations made by our mind. In my work, I believe to be very influenced by The Theatre of Cruelty by Antonine Artaud, if I had to define my works I’d say they are “set for the flesh of the mind.” Definitely, Mythology has been all along a way to read and understand the human nature, so I draw liberally from myths and legends.

"RRRRiottt"

“RRRRiottt”

One of the things I love about your work is its diversity. Your paintings have seem to have a very different sensibility than your photographic work but this doesn’t necessarily mean you approach them differently. Is there a difference in approach between the two? If so, what are you hoping to convey with each form? 

Definitely, my paintings are very different from my photo manipulations or video. Maybe it’s related to the dichotomy between life/death that I spoke about before. I mean, it’s as if there were two big drives, instincts in my personality: a vitalistic, bright, hedonistic side and another opposite dark, destructive, disturbing side. Paintings express my bright side, Digital works reveal my dark side. Obviously it’s very different the way to approach the two; my relation with painting is more physical then with digital works, because when I paint, or draw, I use the whole body, I feel the relation with the space, I have a physical surface to face, it’s a boxing ring, a dance floor, a bed. When I create digital works I use just my right hand and my eyes, so the most part of the work is set in my mind. If painting is a match, working with digital images is a journey. A journey in the deepness of your soul or mind, maybe for this reason my digital works look more dark. Basically, I intend to convey the same “tribal” idea, but the outcome is different.

What can you tell us about your experience writing for the journal The Rope? What kind of writing did you do? 

The Rope is the journal of the L.U.M. Laboratorio Universitario Multimediale, Michele Mancini of the University of Palermo. This journal examines and analyses Cinema, Performances, Multimedia, Visual Arts, through its own theory and school of thought called Neofigurativo, about an aesthetic resulting from the pure pleasure of the shape and its flagrancy, in which desire is a relation to a lack (manque) and art follows the tracks of Desire. I used writing about Cinema with a particular eye on Visual Effects, Colours, Shapes. I love movies in which every sense triumphs, without distinction between high and low, where each element proclaims the pleasure of vision. I also try to pursue that in my works.

Literature often figures into many artist’s work. The Surrealists, especially, which originally had its origins in literature before expanding into painting and film. How much, if at all, does literature figure into your work? 

Absolutely, Literature is a pivotal point in my imagination. It’s not just a quote, and I seldom refer to specific books, but definitely Literature shapes my mind. I am very affected with the atmosphere, and the “visual” style of the book. I really believe 80% of my mind lives scattered in thousands of story and books. When I was younger I was really intoxicated with the Poètes Maudits and the Beat Generation…maybe it’s for this reason I begun to cultivate The Flowers of Evil and afterward wandering about the Dharma ways in my works. Chatwin is another touchstone in my imagination and his The Songliness is fundamental in my vision of Identity. Currently I am wrapped up in reading J.G. Ballard, his idea of “inner space” fascinates me.

"Tentacle Erotica II"

“Tentacle Erotica II”

What is the art scene like in Palermo? Have you shown in many galleries and if so, what has the response been to your work? 

Palermo always seems to be on the verge of a turning point, but nothing ever happens. For example, two years ago the closed Teatro Garibaldi was occupied by many artists and art workers in general. It was a period full of wonderful exhibitions, performances, gigs, but although the efforts and total committee of the artists, it didn’t get through. Now different events have been happening. An interesting art space is the ZAC, an alternative to the official art of Museo Riso, and about theatre another space has been occupied from artists who have created the TMO Teatro Mediterraneo Occupato.  Actually, I didn’t show in many galleries in Palermo but in Italy and in my city Messina. People are bewildered by the paintings and upset by photo manipulation. I don’t care to like, neither do I want to shock or provoke, I just want to offer a vision, a vantage point. By the way in Palermo, I made a 3rd projection mapping about Odyssea with the L.U.M. Laboratorio Universitario Multimediale. Michele Mancini and people were very curious and interested in this kind of visual art. I think it’s because people need fantasy and illusion, to let themselves be enchanted by the  magic vision, as our primitive ancestors around the fire and under the stars.

What is the situation for a young artist in Sicily? How much support do young artists get? Are there any particular movements we should know about? 

Sicily is full of unsung heroes.  Of course, there are plenty of talent and ideas but there isn’t a real binding agent. Art isn’t promoted and the new artists struggle to come to light. Emigration keeps being massive, with the result that disappoints and disillusions envenom our creativity and hope. There isn’t a movement that collects the artists together under common ideas, there are instead many little organisations who are busy with events or exhibitions to promote young artists. For example I often take part in exhibitions with the cultural association Homo Faber working in Capo d’Orlando (ME). An interesting art place in Sicily is the Farm Cultural Park in Favara (AG), an art community created with the aim of restoring and reusing the urban space. It’s also a residency for artists.  Except for these kind of organisations, young artists miss a real link with the Art System, but maybe it’s always the same story everywhere, I don’t know. Fortunately the web allows us to show our works without boundaries or money, but  at the same time we are more and more isolated from our own cultural environment. Really the art situation in Sicily is disheartening but fortunately with our fire, passion and versatile creativity, inherited from our land, we never give up with art.

"Tentacle Erotica III"

“Tentacle Erotica III”

One of your most striking images is Tentacle Erotica III. Can you discuss the origin of this piece? 

As I’ve said so far, I’m very interested in all kind of civilizations, Tentacle Erotica is within the genre of Japanese erotic illustration, the most famous is probably The Dream of Fisherman’s Wife by Hokusai in the 1814. I came across this illustration and resolved to start a series inspired by it. Previously I had already used the Octopus image, so it’s not a new entry in my work, usually I work with iconography of water creatures, real or imaginary. I used the strong erotic power of these illustrations to speak about the hidden drives of our mind. I’d rather not to speak about every symbolism behind every element in the compositions, because I don’t want to offer an univocal interpretation of my work. But basically everything can be connected with the big dichotomy of Eros-Thanatos.

"Circle"

“Circle”

Can you further elaborate on the idea that “experimentation is the highest expression of the self”? 

When you experiment with something you learn a new thing about yourself and especially in art where you haven’t any rules, it’s not a big deal if you go wrong or go right – you just have to experiment. The result  isn’t important but the way. By experimenting you can find unpredictable solutions, you can express yourself without limits, for this reason I think it’s the highest expression of the self.

What are you working on at the moment? Any new projects? Plans? 

After my moving to Liverpool, I came back to Sicily to work on different projects. One of these is another Projection mapping in Capo d’Orlando, but I won’t reveal much more because it’s still in progress and I want to keep the surprise. Apart from that, I’m glad to announce that on May 2nd 2014 I’m showing in a collective exhibition in Noto (SR) Corpi solitari. Autoscatti contemporanei curated by art-historian Giorgio Bonomi. About other plans, I’d love to move again in another country again to enhance my cultural experience and enlarge my background. In doing so I can keep to dream up every possible world, by walking through “the songlines” as our ancestors and finally to mold my personal “Dream.”

Untitled: From "The Mediamorfosi Series"

Untitled: From “The Mediamorfosi Series”

For more information about Piera and additional work, please visit her website. 

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About the Author:

Born and raised in New York City. I am a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and also has 12 books under his belt:
"Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion" (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), "The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face" (Black Spring Press, 1999), "Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes" (Budget Press, 2000), "Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air" (Black Spring Press, 2001), "Existential Labyrinths" (Black Spring Press, 2003), "Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns" (Lulu Press, 2007), "November Rust" (Lulu Press, 2007), "My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains" (Lulu Press 2007), "A Symphony of Olives" (Propaganda Press, 2009) and "Divertimiento" (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel "Naderia" was released in January 2011 and his third, "Be Still and Know That I Am" (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte. View My Profile

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