Can you tell me about your practice?
Currently, I am exploring how individuals project themselves in their surroundings with a term I have coined as Ornamental Symbolism. How people present themselves by means of populating their bodies with layers of decoration. I use anthropological principles to study the social performative rituals, cultural cosmetic elements and sycophantic behaviour we all employ to embellish ourselves with elaborate iconography and strategic manipulation to forge our own narratives in society.
Like “Masking”, one of the main negative coping mechanisms in neurodiversity. Masking, in very simplistic terms, is what neurodivergents feel forced to do to perform “at” life within the boundaries of normativity, by avoiding revealing the true self out of fear of being discarded. I make pieces that help me understand this façade that all of us, regardless of our brain function, employ on a regular basis. I translate informal materials into formal languages, thus allowing me to communicate my own internal soliloquies into these external self-reassuring visual components.
I draw upon an assortment of obscure references, materials, disciplines and outdated pop culture in an attempt to give shape to the constant noise in my head and my perpetual search for lucidity; sense of self and identity amongst self-definition; culture; heritage; westernisation; intersectional identities; migration; ethnicity; class; gender; dis/ability; ageism; cognition and belief.
A contemporary approach to philosophical elements of Naturaleza Muerta or Dead Nature, “Dead” meaning inanimate and “Nature” referencing a slice of life in any form, like an experience. Human nature, for instance as a depiction of a “slice of life”, to show a part of a human life in stillness. The actual origin of what English speakers call “Still Life” I activate textures, mechanics, concepts and objects that can be intersected, touched, accessed, lived via installations, assemblage, sculptural work and experimenting with the senses.
How do you get started on a piece of work?
I start with a feeling.
One of the aspects of how my brain is wired, is that it hardly stops, sort of like the millions of screens in the movie Minority Report every second of every day. With medical and environmental support, patience and research I manage to slow it down in order to be able to process the people and the world around me and even though that aspect is incredibly hard for day to day life, it is actually quite useful for creativity.
In that vein, my work and process starts as reactive. I see aesthetic potential in virtually everything, sort of like the kid in the movie The Sixth sense but with contemporary art. It’s hard to explain and even harder to communicate what you see, where you see it and why. In order for “whatever it is” to end up as a physical work of art I go into metaphysical mode in a matter of seconds. Examining this reality’s identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility.
So, imagine the above concept being dissected in seconds to a couple of minutes in Minority Report screens mode that is in parallel, sort of 3D printing this invisible virtual reality sample study in front of me.
This over the top convoluted explanation is mostly my process. At this point, I have it all worked out apart from logistics and affordability. So depending on what the end goal is, I can just go ahead and do it or add a layer of friction to compress it all to a more digestible size by exploring the best translation of that initial imaginary sample and not sacrifice its essence.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
I’m influenced by emotions and the proverbial spectacles they create. Depending on how we feel, something can have many different meanings. That’s why we re-watch movies or re-read books or go back to a museum and every time is a different experience depending on how we feel at that moment.
The song that was playing when...
The jacket worn by...
The flowers in...
I’m constantly pausing films on a Friday night to take a photo of a character’s wallpaper for example.
Also art; psychiatry; music; philosophy; fashion; neuroscience; film; nature; technology; pop culture, amongst others. People-wise mostly fictional characters as they are easier to know and figure out than real people and as of late myself as a third person. I can list some names that come to mind but it will DEFINITELY be too short of a list and will lack the desired depth that I’d like to convey for the right perspective. I’ll go “oh! I should’ve said X, dammit” but here it goes: Louise Bourgeois; Yayoi Kusama; Kara Walker; Jenny Holzer; Judy Chicago; Joana Vasconcelos; Doris Salcedo; Cornelia Parker; Sarah Lucas. Claes Oldenburg; Lucio Fontana; Nicolas Gesquiere; Virgil Abloh; Miuccia Prada; RuPaul; Freddy Mercury; Brody Dalle. Elle Woods; Cher Horowitz; Susana Kaysen; Forrest Gump; Kat Stratford; Kate Libby; Veronica Sawyer; Blair Waldorf; Will Smith; Alabama Worley; Derek Zoolander; Bridget Jones; Penny Lane; Beatrix Kiddo; Sarah Connor; Amelie Poulin; Lester Burrnham.
Also, Lego; TeamLab Borderless; The museum of ice cream; Cynicism; Arte Povera; Street Style; Flowers; Irony; Punk Rock; Hip-Hop; Pop; EnVogue; Bikini Kill; Weird Al Yankovic; Dopamine; Serotonin; Anxiety.
I first encountered your work at Unit-1 Gallery Workshop where you exhibited in the group show for Fair Art Fair Curated II - Womxn' showing a work from your "Hairpiece" series. Can you tell us more about this series and the meaning behind the works?
“The Hairpiece Series” is an exercise on decontextualization to question meaning.
Hair, in its regular context, is a source of conflict when it comes to meaning and value. To paraphrase Jonathan Van Ness: regardless of someone's socioeconomic status, the common thread is always the consequence of confidence in keeping up with patriarchal standards. Hence the added value, meaning and power that we end up putting on hair to defy conventions, keep professions, fight rejection through endless upkeep, rinse-repeat and beat.
A tool most are forced to use for the purposes of submissive integration in response to unnecessary conflict. In layman's terms, using hair or even the lack of it to fit into someone else’s narrative but in return, it forces us to reject ourselves, our identity and in turn all of that which forms the compendium of who we are as unique individuals. Our background, our traditions, our identity and self-worth.
Lately, I gladly sense that there is a renewed awareness about celebrating the importance, meaning and value of hair as a piece of iconography that forms an individual and not as a tool for submission.
Taking into account all of the above, I wanted to purposely find a way to create a hair display with the least intervention possible so the viewer could have more to add to the experience without any traces of my preconceived ideas. In experiencing it this way, my aim was for a renewed meaning to emerge from within the viewer.
It is important in relation to its purpose, be it conceptual or functional. A material is only required to perform to its full potential for the role it was chosen to play. No more and no less.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My favourite tool is the tool I’m using at the time.
Since my practice is so multifaceted, it’s not possible to pick a favourite. I also use certain tools or materials for new purposes and I sometimes make my own tools if I can’t afford them or what I need doesn’t exist. Looking around, on the surface, there’s a lot of different stuff to measure, cut, glue, staple, drill, sew, paint, draw, hammer. A big white board, multi-screen digital set-up. Making room for a new dremel.
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice?
For me books are tools in a way. Be it for the soul, for knowledge, etc. They serve different purposes for different phases and moments in life, so nothing and everything is crucial.
I am re-reading my 15 year old copy of Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama. I relate to her way of searching for lucidity and how she tries to make sense of herself through her practice. There is a passage about how she modified the inside of a whole outfit to smuggle stuff into the States back in the day. Her train of thought on going about it offers a unique glimpse into how she thinks as an artist between want and need. After that on my list is “What Artists Wear” by Charlie Porter. And “The Story of Art Without Men” by Katy Hessel. Can’t wait to read them.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I have a few things in the pipeline that I’m currently working on like a piece for institutional acquisition next year and two private collections this year and a few collaborative projects, some focused on cross-continental artistic exchange and others centred on neurodiversity to improve public understanding and raise awareness on the subject.
After that I hope I can continue to make work with a social function, addressing aspects of life and culture from my own point of view and ordeal by providing aesthetic experiences that could educate, entertain, provoke or just communicate a thought; aiming for viewers to relate to it and possibly be influenced by it in a positive way. Give back and pay it forward.
I would love for any interested parties reading this to stay tuned by following me on instagram. @elenasaraceni1
Hairography 1, 2021, Mixed media sculptural installation
Created for the Govea Meoz Foundation to be exhibited as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Zulia, Venezuela (MACZUL)
Floating Hairpiece Vanity, 2022, Mixed medias site specic installation
Built for Extraordinary Objects gallery in Cambridge, UK.
Hairpiece 54, 2022
Hand Embroidered Hair Fibre on canvas 90x65x7cm
Hairpiece 42 / Hairpiece 79 / Hairpiece 43, 2022
Hand Embroidered Hair Fibre on canvas No.79-146x203x7cm/No.42&43-68x18x7cm Part of the hairpiece series.
Elena Working on Hairpiece 79
Purple Cakeland, Large Scale Hand Embroidered Chion Tapestry 400x300cm
Red Snakes and Broken Glass With Love, Handcrafted mixed media