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Multisensory Space. Interview With Sonia Cillari

They are talking very much about her recently and her works are much requested in every new media art centres all around the world. We saw her at last year’sArs Electronica in Linz, where her performance As an artist, I need to rest (http://www.soniacillari.net/As_an_artist_I_need_to_rest.htm) has been practically unanimously considered one of the most interesting proposals of all the variegated and famous festival.


A few months ago she won the first prize in Vida 13.0 Fundaciòn Telefònica competition, with her project Sensitive to Pleasure
(http://www.soniacillari.net/Sensitive_to_Pleasure.htm). This just to mention her most recent successes and leaving out, for a moment, the residenz series , and in the past years, at institutes the likes of V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media (2004), Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (2004-2005), STEIM: Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music ( 2006 and 2010), Netherlands Media Art Institute/NIMK (2006 and 2010), [ars]numerica (2009) and Claudio Buziol Foundation (2010).


We are obviously talking about Sonia Cillari, original artist carrying on by long time a personal and coherent project, by offering to the public a way to enter, feel and live her work with body and soul. Awarded with a Honorable Mention at 2007 Prix Ars Electronica, Interactive Art, she is today a professor at Frank Mohr Institute, IME Interactive Media Environment Department, and she is part of Optofonica Laboratory for Immersive ArtScience based in Amsterdam.

 

Silvia Scaravaggi had already interviewed her (http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=882) for Digicult in 2007, but the interesting evolution of this artist, capable of cutting more and more short the distance between work and public, forced us to pay her another visit. During her path, ranging from architecture to media art, from Italy (where she was born) to Amsterdam (where she lives), Sonia shows us how space and body are two interfaces acting on one another, through the language of perception and sensation.


Barbara Sansone:
Naples, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam: such are the five principal steps of your educational path. Not to mention the various phases of your artistic career, that brought you and keep on bringing you in different parts of the world. Do you think this sort of nomadism, now typical of new art, is fundamental to make an artist grow? Has it a more particular meaning in a path like yours, where space plays a really key role?

Sonia Cillari: Luckily I am curious and this helped me in the choice of my educational path. I do not think nomadism is fundamental for an artist’s growth, but no doubt it encourages a certain “attitude to live”. Moreover, it contributes to foster an expressive creativity, necessary when facing the different conditions of a new artistic and social environment. As far as I’m concerned, to travel a lot and especially to expose my works in different countries excites me, mostly for the questions that arise on the topic my works involve. The reaction of the public is indeed a fundamental part of my research and so when the comparison is different I feel enriched by that. When I can, I try and live in beautiful cities. For example, in the last few years, for work or personal choices, I have often spent time in wonderful Venice.

Barbara Sansone: What are the kind of problems encountered by your works during conception, realization and distribution?

Sonia Cillari: My works require a sometimes longer than expected period of research and experimentation and this can lead to problems. Experimentation is no doubt the most important step of the realization process and so, in any case, any effort I am forced to make is paid-off. As for the distribution of my works, in the last few years one aspect in particular has become more and more concrete. The fact that my most recent works are conceived as performative events having a more or less defined duration (and at the same time they imply a permanent use of their exposition space) sometimes makes it difficult to put them into an exposition schedule.

Besides, it seems to me that the artistic expression form we can call as interactive or participative performance has not been fully understood yet. We are still much tied with tradition, that once imposed a clear distinction between active artist and passive public. Nowadays then the borders between activity and passivity are still very difficult to comprehend. My works require the public to full concentrate in order to perceive its spatial experience.

Barbara Sansone: Did you ever ask yourself how you works in the future will be? Did you forecast a form of preservation so that they could live through time, despite the rapid change of technologies?

Sonia Cillari: Among the competent institutions, an active debate concerning the forms of preservation of works using technologies is in course. Right now it seems very difficult to keep them alive in a distant future. I am not personally interested in the preservation of my works, and rather I accept they are not eternal. Yet I think it is very important to gather as much information as possible on the concept and research process, so that we can comprehending them better in the future.


Barbara Sansone:
You stated your starting point is not the technological research and so you are often forced to create the necessary devices for your works. Nonetheless, one is naturally led to wonder: can sometimes the new technologies at your disposal suggest new ideas, if not in the concept, at least in the form?

Sonia Cillari: No, they can’t. The idea of a work and the desire to realize it in its social and experience aspects are the only factors that push me to create a new one.

Barbara Sansone: Your works are a perfect balance of elements of different nature, performance and sound included. How does the creative process of all these ingredients work? Do you rely on experienced collaborators in every field? Have they a creative role or are they mere performers of an a priori vision of yours?

Sonia Cillari: I can tell you the idea born out already complete. In general, the process starts with the identification of the aspect to be investigated and the subsequent choice of a strategy to do that. Afterwards, by means of the preparation of a methodology, the innovative aspects requiring a wider experimentation can be located. The performative aspect is then fundamental in the last part of the process, for in order to experiment it accurately all the integral parts of the work become necessary.

In the first phase of the process I choose a team of specialized collaborators, depending on the parts to be investigated and/or realized. My collaborators enter a pretty defined methodology of work, varying on the base of the results to be integrated. Their creative contribution is limited to their specialization field and must always satisfy the needs on the starting idea. Our relation has a constant feedback. Instead, the musicians and compositors I collaborate with enjoy a wider expressive autonomy, particularly towards the aesthetics of the sounds to be used.

Barbara Sansone: A clear path can be followed in your work. It guided you more and more from the geometrical forms to the softest forms of body, from the surrounding spaces to the ones inside us, from the screen to the real space, from the interaction with the environment to the sensation of physic touch. What did bring you to this evolution?


Sonia Cillari:
I studied as an architect and in time I chose the electronic arts and scientific research field, in order to explore no longer how to realize space, but how we human beings make experience of space.

In the last few years, tired of forging objects or interfaces allowing me to manipulate digital environments in order to investigate their spatial characteristics, I focused on a field of research that sees body as an interface, concentrating on bio-electricity and bio-magnetism. I was mostly interested in the human ways of perception of the physical space and in the mapping of the interior and exterior worlds we perceive through our senses. Then my interest for the interaction systems that put us into relation with the others broke in.

Since our process of conscience of reality become true through the information discovered with our senses, it is necessary for new spatial behaviours, complex levels of dynamics and physical interactions between us and the environment to emerge. The inhumanity of the contemporary experience can be intended as consequence of a negligence of our body and its senses and as a failure of our senses, only in favour of what we can see through our eyes. To the purpose of expanding our spatial experience we need to experiment immersive multisensory environments. The objective of performative spaces is just to activate evolution systems where a more refined perception is possible.

Barbara Sansone: The performative phase of your works, as the two most recent ones testify (As an artist, I need to rest e Sensitive to Pleasure), is often very tough, if not even painful. And not surprisingly…


Sonia Cillari:
These works are realized on the performative aspect through time, that reflects on me and my public. As an artist, I mean to gradually enter a state where to push my body and mind over the top, because i think performance is a very important means of artistic research.

Barbara Sansone: Up to now, in your performances the public’s pleasure means a pain for you. What does this relation mean? In the future do you intend to involve public more and more in not necessarily pleasant physical experiences?

Sonia Cillari: I intend to provide the public with a possible voyeuristic condition through which to take its time to analyze the work. I intend to draw it with me in the slow but increasing escalation of the performative event. The sufferance aspect then requires the public to put itself to the test and make a personal choice: whether accepting the experience or not. Not every performance of mine means physical effort. That is not a key element in my work, but it becomes integral part only when it is necessary to create an experience.

Barbara Sansone: Did you solve your “frustration due to the sensation of feeling yourself unconnected to your work” (as written on Vida’s site in the description of Sensitive to Pleasure)?

Sonia Cillari: To solve a frustration is never easy. Nonetheless, the Sensitive to Pleasure experience made me understand very much about me, my work and how it is perceived by others. It is a very controversial work that proved to me that there is a thin line in the fruition of a work and it can be balanced or not.

Barbara Sansone: What does it determine your performances’ duration?

Sonia Cillari: The extreme limit body can reach. Obviously this aspect changes depending on environmental and physical conditions.

Barbara Sansone: The interaction you offer to the spectators is often a very close experience, totally different from the passive fruition many artistic works still force them to attend to. No doubt this research (not only an interaction oriented one, but also the research of an innovative form where it really makes sense) is key in your work. But more generally speaking, if you were in the spectators’ shoes facing artistic works by various artists and different genres, would you consider participation as essential to the quality of fruition?

Sonia Cillari: This is really a key aspect for me. The spectator is often considered as a detached observer, deprived of a solid relation with his “surroundings”, above all through the suppression of the “other senses”. We need to activate and refine our perception as well as our spatial experiences. These are the experiences determining how things exist for us and how we experience the huge non-void surrounding us, where we are immersed with our body, feeling emotions.

Barbara Sansone: What does feed you? As spectator, what kind of art do you like? What do you like to read? What to do you like to listen? What are the artists (or non-artists) you draw your inspiration from most?

Sonia Cillari: I read books and contemporary art reviews and I am very critical about electronic art ones, for which a valid theoretical support practically does not exist, but only archives of works do. While I am working, I often listen to Bach or radios discussing social topics. I relax by taking a long walk and I am really fascinated by auteur cinema. I try and find in myself and in my desires the cues for my works. Privacy is necessary to the success of an idea. .

Barbara Sansone: Do you already have in mind a new project? Or are you working on a new one? Would you please tell us something in advance?

Sonia Cillari: I do have an idea I would like to make a project out of, but it is not finished yet. Better not to spread too much…

Barbara Sansone: And how does Sonia Cillari live? What does she do in her leisure time (provided she has some)?

Sonia Cillari: I have never been good at taking care of me. I dedicate the greater part of my time to work and travels, which are a direct consequence to it. I love to stay alone. But I obviously meet regularly someone new and this enriches me a lot. Moreover, in Amsterdam, with my dearest friends, I run Optofonica Lab, an artistic and scientific research laboratory. This gives me the opportunity to conciliate friendship and work.

Sitography:

http://www.soniacillari.net

http://www.optofonica.com/

Videography:

Sensitive to pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3u3QGMwEXk

Sensitive to pleasure – Process: http://vimeo.com/14253730

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