Floria Sigismondi: Italo – Canadian filmmaker, photographer and artist shares her future and past remembering David Bowie and more, in conversation with Maria Abramenko. Her coveted eye incorporates the ethereal and the mysterious, the whimsical and the grotesque, while her directing of music videos ranges from David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Marylin Manson, Sigur Ros to name just a few.
How and when have you decided to become an artist?
My family immigrated from Italy to Canada when I was two years old. Our house was full of Italian culture, opera and art. As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist and so my father traded opera lessons from a well-known local artist and in return my sister and I learned some pretty sophisticated techniques at a young age. I enrolled at OCAD for art and painting, but was totally taken by a photography class I took in my 4th year. I stopped going to class and shot as much as I could, experimenting until I achieved a painterly style by accident. I developed and printed my own photos and in that time I became super focused about every detail that went into an image.
My mother was going to be a nun and my father was an atheist so we had very interesting dinner conversations growing up. This had a great influence on me. It is literally a marriage of complete opposites. I carried that into my work being drawn to the beautiful and the decaying, light and dark, the body and the spirit, the conscious and unconscious. The pendulum of opposites, extremes colliding to create a type of friction that I put into my work. This is what excites me to create.
Then I was asked to create a site specific art installation for 2016 Nuit Blanche in Toronto and I created a piece called PNEUMA that dealt with these themes. In this piece I wanted to visually explore the idea of the body as the vehicle to move past the physical, towards a spiritual transcendence. I’ve always looked to the unconscious and the power of dreams, but in using my body to harness power in a physical sense, I wonder what does it mean to be fully awake? Ancient Greek medicine spoke of the pneuma — the ‘breath of life’ — as the mediator between the brain and heart, the body and spirit. Similarly, in this performance the viewer sees me struggling between my active and receptive selves, in a play between the creative and spiritual processes.
Pneuma is a site-specific installation utilizing the Freedom Arches of Nathan Phillips Square as a frame for a two-sided water screen with reflections and imagery thrown in constant flux, transforming reality, and mimicking our ever-changing consciousness and connection to our identity/self.
What are the main inspirations behind your amazing scenography?
I think locations become characters in their own way; they are alive, they hold memories and I feel that when I walk into a space. The main inspiration is what it evokes in me. I like playing with juxtaposing modern objects or objects that don’t belong in an aged and dilapidated space. The beauty of decay never ceases to amaze me. I look at what humans build and how mother nature always wins. She aggressively reminds you that there is earth and living ecosystem under all the concrete making its way up through the cracks. That to me is the most beautiful image.
What music are you listening to and how does it affect your work?
I play Julianna Barwick’s music when I want to zone out and dream up ideas. Her newest single is a collaboration with Jonse from Sigur Ros. I’ve been revisiting Grouper, because it puts me into a great mindset to write and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I play Park Hye Jin when I want to dance, which I do occasionally to clear the cob webs.
What is the most remarkable collaboration you ever had and why?
I collaborated with David Bowie on 4 videos. We are both experimentalists and found a common ground in pushing the boundaries of what we could do. He believed in the creative process and would get extremely excited about ideas which is how I get as well. I remember shortly after the first time I met David, I found myself lying in bed dreaming of a life where all I did was create and dream and create. By example he taught me that it was possible and that it was okay to be the weirdo. He created a persona that was supernatural and that is a lovely place to operate from. What other people thought didn’t matter to him. He lived his life trusting his inner guidance.
What are your future plans?
Make art, make films, grow, learn and love.