Light on a Woman Artist
Marie Bagi presents to you,
♦ Tell me about yourself and your path…
SECRETS AND METAMORPHOSES
My genesis story as an artist was an Agenesis. I have created since I was a child, however, my art became a completely immersive obsession during my teenage years. My developing body resulted in a left-breast agenesis (the right breast developed fully and the left did not develop at all). I kept this secret, and built a life around protecting it. I threw myself into my artmaking as it was my safe place.
THEMES IN THE FEMININE
My secret body framed how I experienced the world and informed the topics I approached in my creations. From a young age, my left-breast agenesis revealed to me that we are defined in this world by our bodies: by our body parts, by our gendered bodily expression...by the color of our skin.
Inspired by my half-natural, half-synthetic chest, much of my artwork deals with the transition between the virtual and the real. I had surgery at 16 years old to augment the left side with a breast implant, and also had a procedure to make the right one look symmetrical to the augmented left side. I pondered ideas of what it means to be a woman: the “real” vs the “augmented” realities of gendered expression and identity.
Later, I chose to go to art school, but the similarities between school and a factory were too close for my taste. I dropped out, and pursued a BA in Creative Writing while continuing my art practice in parallel. It was through the media of fiction that I created Lala Drona, a mythed Artist running an art laboratory. I started using Lala Drona as a “nom de plume” but eventually, I appropriated this name and identity and used it in my day-to-day life. This process, helped me accept my body, and the transformations brought on by further surgical procedures for breast reconstruction.
I studied in South America for two years, then finished school and moved to Paris, France to continue my artmaking and research. It was there, that I decided to expose my secret and body through painting in a series of self-portraits called “The Breast Series” in 2012-2013. From there, my art practice deepened and my themes expanded. I began exhibiting in both solo and collective exhibitions in Paris and internationally.
♦ How did you get involved with art? Have you always created?
ARTISTS CREATE FROM A LACK
They say that artists create from a lack, and with my breast Agenesis, I embodied a physical lack. I felt an impulse to create, a desire to fill some sort of endless hole.
However, my artmaking did not start with the breast agenesis. I’ve always created. Having been brought up bi-culturally, by a Venezuelan mother, I suppose there was always the lack around my Venezuelan side, a part of my identity that was so far out of reach, and difficult for others to understand. All my skills (graphic design/video/painting) arose from a need to communicate ideas outside of the restraints of everyday language. My selection of the artistic medium is dependent on what best communicates the idea.
WRITING / STORYTELLING
Writing, both nonfiction and fiction, are essential in my process. Inventing worlds, and developing ideas from within those invented worlds liberates my creativity. The process is never ending, as an art video can lead to a painting, and a painting can lead to a fiction story.
From a research and development point of view, I also use writing as a means to understand my own work. Every painting I create requires a written statement, and that statement helps structure my ideas and inform (or inspire) my strategy for the next painting. The ideas extracted during this process expose my beliefs, and my experience as an artist in the 21st century. Those ideas inform art essays and manifestos.
♦ Why did you move towards painting, art video and digital photography?
Creating a universe with characters inspired by real “art-life” has provided a playground for me to create in all types of media towards a common goal. The project Based on a Fact 2012-present allowed me to create a universe, and invent stories within it. Through the form of mock-articles by invented journalists, I was able to liberate my creativity while also critiquing what I encountered in the art world. The mock-journalistic format required visual evidence, so I taught myself how to digitally edit image and video to provide “proof” of the fantastical stories recounted in these articles. The added visual support immersed the viewer into the story being told. The painting appearing in an article wasn’t just a painting, but the product of an entire story and context. The universe created on Based on a Fact, has gone on to inspire my current project “The LLAM,” a fiction podcast which takes place in an art laboratory where artists and researchers do experiments in order to extract inspiration from Muses (release in 2022).
MEDIA NOT SEPARATE, BUT IN CONVERSATION
Now, I use all my media to create a dialogue between each other. In 2019, in Gothenbourg Sweden, I had an exhibition “The Box” and had put paintings up on all the walls in the space. I thought about how the artist during the inauguration is sort of a piece of art themselves...someone visitors often observe during the exhibition. I thought, “I wish I could be up on the wall with my paintings.” Then I created a filmed performance of me lying inside a square taped on the floor. On film this gave the impression that I was stuck inside some sort of a box. During the exhibition, I projected this video next to my paintings, so it looked as if I were stuck inside a painting on the wall. This video was a conversation between the “real” artist as performer inside the “box” (white cube) of the exhibition, and her identification with the paintings that she creates.
♦ When did you first expose your work?
My first solo exhibition was in 2013 in Paris France at Galerie Duo. The exhibition was titled “From the Bed to the Lab,” and was an immersive exhibition with music, paintings, live performances, and even cocktails inspired by the topics.
I’ve come full circle since this exhibition. The “bed” represented my Breast Series, as after my surgeries, the bed has become a place of rest and healing for me. The Lab in this exhibition represented me leaving the “breast” topic, and broadening my research into other topics.
Recently, the doctors have told me that it’s time to replace the old implant, so I’m currently preparing for surgery again. However, I don’t want to go under the knife again. Therefore, in order to avoid all future surgeries, and to avoid any health risks linked to silicone in the body, I’ve decided to undergo a surgery to remove both of my breasts.
After this surgery, I will keep the removed breast implant in order to create an art piece with it.
My aim is to end this chapter, and conserve my energy and resources to be invested solely into my art. I hope that through my journey, I can inspire other women to love and accept their bodies, even after a physical loss. I hope that I can inspire women to research the possible health risks, and maintenance, that come with having breast implants. I hope that they can see that alternatives always exist. We have a choice, and if options are not presented to us, we must create them ourselves. How do we do that? We ask the question “What would make me feel most safe, healthy, and happy--in the long-term?” and then we design a solution to get there. In my case, my choice to remove everything is linked to physical and psychological freedom.
♦ How hard is it to get a recognition in America or in Paris?
As far as getting recognition in the US and in Paris: It’s dependent on so many things: the artist, their background, the cultural context, the art itself. I can see it being difficult in both. The US is a huge country with intense competition, but also has ample opportunity. The Paris art scene is a closed-off network, but once you are in, it’s a small and connected world. I’ve personally found my opportunities through the connections I’ve created online or IRL: through collective projects or events online and in the real world.
The online world is a fantastic place which enables us to find others with common interests and objectives. I think creating connections based on common beliefs or dreams are much more fruitful than simply asking someone to grant you access into X gallery, for example. Therefore, figuring out what topics you are passionate about, and making friends and connections who share those passions will be a healthy and sustainable way to build a community of connections. And who knows, maybe those topics and that community will one day turn into an art movement!
♦ How intimacy shows up into your art pieces?
THE PERSONAL BECOMES UNIVERSAL
The point of departure for my artistic research started from myself, my secret body, and my experience. However, in 2012, I decided to paint and publicize self-portraits of my reconstructed breasts because I wanted the viewer to understand my future work in context. The role of an artist can be influential, and with that power comes responsibility. I felt it wasn’t right to continue creating and showing my work without being completely transparent with the viewer. I wanted the viewer to see my experience and biases, and become an informed observer of the work that would come after.
CATHARSIS AND CONNECTION
The cathartic action of painting my body and exposing the story in the form of an exhibition connected me to others. People approached me and told me about parts of their body that they considered to be special, or outside the standard norm. Some viewers called these paintings feminist, however, for me, they were simple portraits of my body. I found it interesting how simply showing my body in public had been interpreted as a political act/statement.
WOMEN IN THE DIGITAL WORLD
Personal topics in my work moved toward universal topics. Having one natural breast and the other synthetic, I continued to reflect on topics regarding the transition between the “virtual” and “the real.” Much of our experience of the world is through our personal digital devices, so I began reflecting on topics concerning “Women in the digital world.” I became obsessed with how the feminine image is used online, and how the roles of women are represented in our private and intimate digital worlds. This led to my triptych of paintings called “The Power of the Click.”
INTIMACY THROUGH THE SCREEN
My art video series “La Minute Ladrona” (the stolen minute), is an ongoing video series made of improvised phrases and actions under topics concerning identity and technology. The superclose frame provides a playful moment of intimacy through the screen, and invites the viewer in for a moment of introspection.
♦ Can you talk about one of your art pieces and how is it important for you?
I can talk about my current topic: RAGE
PAINTING - RAGE UNDER GRAY:
I started this new series of paintings after I knew I would have to remove both of my breasts in breast surgery. My newest paintings explore concepts in RAGE, and examine what takes place when we begin to pull back the layers and reveal the rage hidden underneath. These paintings depict a sheet of grey being pulled down to expose a blood-red surface underneath.
The use of grayscale in many of my paintings represents the state of “transition” or “the in-between moments.” These moments are the most interesting sources of inspiration. From 2015-2019 in Paris, I painted only in grayscale to represent transition, moderation, and spectrum, which added a new layer of meaning to every piece made during this period.
THE (unwilling) RETURN OF THE BREAST
In 2020, I received news that it was time to replace my breast implant because it was too old (it has been in my body for 17 years). I had worked so hard, to move past “the breast,” and I didn’t want it to conquer my experience in the world anymore. I felt angry...that “angry at the goddesses” type of anger. I didn’t want my life to be framed by breast surgeries, so I decided to remove everything: explant on left side, and mastectomy of the natural breast on the right.
During my past breast reconstructive surgeries, I kept the rage inside, and did not express it. I knew that if I wanted to experience catharsis after this experience, I would have to first express my Rage through my art. Through this experience, I’ve come to realise that my decision to remove both breasts is a choice of freedom.
My surgery is in February 2021, and to crystalize the experience, I will create an art piece using the breast implant they remove post-surgery.
♦ Is there a place where we can see your work permanently, I mean, physically?
No permanent physical artworks yet, however, I’ve got lots of big ideas coming.
THE REAL VS THE VIRTUAL
I think of my viewers as (online) users. And yes, sometimes the user can jump out of the digital world and see the pieces in real life (which is the best way to experience art). However, I’m aware that viewers are first and foremost going to experience my art in the digital world. My paintings in “The Power of the Click” series depict the digital masses, whom I call “Drones,” in the form of image icons. These IRL paintings are dedicated to the online masses.
Usually, I’ll have exhibitions over the year, but since COVID has hit, things have changed a bit, and now I participate in online exhibitions, and sometimes give talks. I’ve mostly taken this COVID opportunity to dive deeply into my creation and topics, to reflect and build a stronger base artistically and psychologically. I’ve taken on bigger and more long-term projects as well, such as the creation of the fiction podcast “The LLAM” which takes place in my creative universe (mentioned previously), and I’m also working with a director on a documentary following my breast surgery and how it informs and influences my creations.
Other than that, I’m moving into my new atelier in the North of Paris. There, I have atelier visits by appointment. Once this pandemic ends, I’ll pop back out into the real world and have more “physical” art encounters.
♦ Are you proposing some activities around your work?
If yes, which one can you propose for Espace Artistes Femmes?
Or if not, which kind of activity can you propose?
Exhibition/presentation of work: I’m happy to participate in a physical exhibition. I can show my paintings and videos along with the other artists in the collective.
Reading: I could do a reading of one of my art essays.
Documentary: I’ll be releasing a documentary (date to be confirmed) (in production). Perhaps we could have a screening at the Espace Artistes Femmes.
VIRTUAL ARTIVITIES (COVID)
Virtual Atelier Opening: I’m moving into a new atelier at the moment. We could set up a webinar, and I could show viewers the intimate space of my artmaking + present some of my work + answer questions.
Virtual Reading/presentation: I could do a reading of my “anti-essay” called “There are no Great young artists.” + discussion at the end.
Themed presentation and talk: I can take a theme from one of my pieces, present and then start a dialogue with the viewers (we can talk collectively.)
Virtual Screening/Watch Party: Documentary to be released (to be confirmed) (mentioned above).
Published on February 1st, 2021