Sandra Zanetti is a multidisciplinary artist who exhibits internationally. Her work explores humanity’s relationship with reality by examining the shift of the human condition in relation to technological advances. By surveying various documentations made by both humans and computers throughout time, she compares places with what they once were, and what they have come to be in our trans-humanist present.
A: In issue 91 of Aesthetica, we displayed an image from your Atlas:\interface videography installation. Can you tell us more about the process behind the creation of this work?
SZ: Artistic process is almost like a jigsaw puzzle for me. There are just lots of different pieces to put in order. That being said, a piece usually starts with a general notion that eventually takes shape into a conceptual framework. My process is rooted in research. I’ll usually scan over a ton of library books that are relevant to my ideas and compile relevant words or visual information in the beginning. I use a lot of online resources like videos and archives as well that sometimes creep their way into the final product visually. For Atlas:\interface in particular I researched augmented reality and the science of perception.
The idea behind piece Aesthetica displayed started when a Google Earth car drove past me walking home from my studio in Chicago while it was photographing the streets. It made me consider the notion of accurate perception, or if such a thing even existed. I wanted to ask if one of our interpretations of this time and place will be more accurate than the other. I compared the process behind an automated camera, to myself and how we surveying our surroundings with different objectives.
From there I complied several Google Earth photographs from places I’d walk around in Chicago and compared them with the photographs I chose to represent that place and time, and created an installation with objects related to the idea of processing.
A: How did you choose the mediums for this installation?
SZ: I think shapes and objects we were attracted to in our childhood builds a sort of web of relational meanings. Those relationships differ from person to person, but we share an understanding of societal interpretations of some symbols. For example, everyone understands a dog symbolises fidelity, but, only people born in the late 90s, like myself, will make a connection between computers and their youth. When I was five, computers became more affordable and were all of a sudden a huge part of my world. That’s an association that only a certain group of people have. A part of my process is analysing these different relationships.
I spend time in places like fabric warehouses or large flea markets around the world. I don’t go with a specific Idea of what objects I want to find, but I know what I want to talk about, so I come home with the things that essentially serve as words. When I assemble them together with digital imagery they make a sentence.
A: How long does it take you to set up such a multi-layered installation within an exhibition space?
SZ: That depends on the particular space. Setting up an installation in my studio allows me to check on it for a few days in a row to be sure I’m conveying my ideas in the best way possible. Once I’ve decided I’m finished working with it, I take it down and set it up a couple times and write out directions so anyone else handling the work for exhibitions can do it efficiently.
A: Have there been technical and/or space constraints when setting up an installation?
SZ: Outlets! I always need more outlets! Overtime I’ve learned to always pack at least four extension cords. In terms of physical space, my pieces are not very large, and are travel friendly. I work in different cities around the world, so that effects the scale of the physical objects involved. The parts of the pieces that are digital imagery is usually projected takes up the most physical space, and give the illusion of being much larger than the actual space they take up.
A: Are current exhibition spaces well suited to your work or do you think there are challenges that need to be overcome?
SZ: I’ve worked with a variety of set ups and they’ve all been easy to make modifications for. I’ve actually been leaning toward exhibiting in public space to serve as an intervention. The only problem I’ve ever encountered was when I exhibited somewhere that hosted a huge party. People evidently tried to unplug chargers from my installations displayed on iPhones in order to charge theirs. I guess intoxicated people were a challenge that one time; it was pretty funny actually.
A: Your work explores humanity’s relationship with reality by examining the shift of the human condition in relation to technological advances. In light of this, how do you conduct your research?
SZ: I read everything about everything because everything is influenced by everything. I’m just naturally curious, and I want to bring a better understanding to the interworking of the world through my work. My process is influenced by several different philosophical schools of thought. While humanity faces the same patterns throughout time, we cannot go unaffected by the changes in technology around us. Technologies touch everything from gender paradigms to the global economy. It’s all interconnected.
A: How do you keep up the technical knowledge that is so important in the creation of your work?
SZ: The most exciting part of working is not knowing how to do something. When I start with new hardware or software I just start pressing different buttons and building up a kinesthetic memory of how to work with different elements. I prefer to work with hardware to software because of the physical nature hardware has.
I’m fortunate to have great resources, and a diverse group of colleagues working in different disciplines. I like working alongside scientists or engineers the most I think.
A: Where do you work? What is a typical day like for you?
SZ: I work from my home studio, but my days are pretty inconsistent due to the fact that my work is made in different geographic locations, and also for the fact that I’m finishing up my undergraduate degree this semester. When I’m not in university, I kind of work like a digital nomad.
I consider myself lucky to have a quiet home base to use, but the integral part of my process is observing life outside of the studio with the sensibility of a flâneur. I come back from these sojourns ready to go wild with an idea I observed. Wherever I am, I consistently start my day with a large hot cup of coffee or tea. I’d say actually creating artwork takes up about a third of the time and the other two thirds is researching, emailing or doing administrative work.
A: How has your previous experience in the French fashion industry influenced your work?
SZ: I have a lifelong obsession with fabric. Working in French fashion houses was a really formative experience. One of the first things humans use to develop personal taste is the fabrics they gravitate towards wearing. I think clothing choices are just a form of non-verbal communication, just like works of fine art. I’m one of those people that goes into fashion houses and just wants to feel the texture of different textiles and see how they move. I’m really fascinated by the manipulation of light that can be done with fabrics as well. That’s something I got to experiment with while I worked in a theatre. My work often utilises textiles and textures in the foreground. I’m in the very early stages of working on a small line of conceptual clothing, actually.
A: Your work was exhibited at the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art (CICA) in January – can you tell me more about the work and your preparations?
SZ: The piece in Cityscape 2020 is a video piece I made in Germany that I made after I saw the French Sci-Fi film, La Jetée. There’s a part in the film where the doctors in the background of a scene whisper “Half of him is in the past, and half of him is in the future.” A man turned to me after the film finished and said “Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” which is the German version of “Nobody said it was easy.” Those statements just really stuck with me as I travelled home. When I got to the U-Bahn station, an old man was playing a Hungarian tune on a dulcimer.
I felt as if I was experiencing what would soon be the past, before my body was dragged from it into the future on this train, with my fate as my destination. I started taking footage that particular train ride on my phone and overnight compiled it with other footage I had taken previously. I wanted to talk about the experience of observing the past in modernity. I think we will all forever have one foot in the past, and one in the future.
The team at CICA was fantastic to work with; really kind people. I wish I was able to go see the show myself, though they did send me photographs of the exhibition.
A: How do you think your work will evolve throughout 2020?
SZ: I think as a species we are witnessing a pivotal moment in history. A lot of technological advances coming out later in the year will definitely influence my work, but socially the landscape will continue to evolve the way I process my ideas.
With individual walks of life becoming increasingly interconnected to one another online and in person, I think humanity, in general, is beginning to apply a more dialectical approach to thinking about the issues of humanity and modernity. I think it’s the artist’s responsibility to spark conversations through their work that collectively addresses both the factual and the misinterpreted information circulating around through the globe. We’re certainly not living in a utopia, but there is no moving forward without analysing humanity through works of art addressing typical paradigms.
Personally, I’ll be doing a lot of moving around geographically. I’m graduating in May, and then I’ll be spending some time in New York and then Eastern Europe after that. Within my practice, I’d like to focus on feeling out some different softwares and fabrics within the next couple months as a base to build my upcoming works on.
A: Where can we see your work this year?
SZ: I’m so grateful to have been awarded two residencies this year which will both end with shows. I’ll have a solo show in Bulgaria with Artist Residency Vishovgrad.International at Heerz Tooya sometime in the summer, and in the fall I’ll be exhibiting in Hungary with D’CLINIC studios.
I’m also really looking forward to installing a group show I curated with Galerie Meno parkas in Düsseldorf this fall. My work will be shown alongside works by Benjamin Valentín Román, Jenny Nguyen and Will Crosby. The exhibition explores the effect that adaption has on the zeitgeist. I’m also working with a couple potential spaces in the western side of the US this year.
Lead image: Atlas:\interface.
The work of Sandra Zanetti appears in the Artists’ Directory in Issue 91 of Aesthetica. Click here to visit our online shop.