John Kinross Scholar in 2018
How did the experience affect you as an individual?
I went to Florence planning on constructing a visual study of the contrasting historical and contemporary representations of the male body. For the historical, traditional ideal form I chose the many Classical and Renaissance oil paintings, frescos, and marble sculptures which ornament the city. In contrast, I decided to explore the profile images on contemporary meeting apps, as they are the realm in which we currently find the most accessible forms of idealised self-portraiture. With this basic structure in mind, I began my research. Very quickly in my study of the historical male nudes throughout Florence, I was delighted to find a wide variety of pieces supportive of queer readings, such as ‘San Sebastiano’ (1842-44) by Pio Fedi and ‘Apollo e Giacinto’ (1768) by Stefano Ricci, both in Palazzo Pitti, and ‘Les bains mystérieux’ (1934-36) by Giorgio de Chirico in Museo Novecento. These works hold a prestigious place in the established canon of queer culture, as James M. Saslow’s work ‘Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts illustrates. Next, upon my first cursory look at the local Florentine profiles on meeting apps, I was surprised to find a somewhat wide-spread habit of users choosing to represent themselves through Classical and Renaissance works; ie posting an image of Caravaggio’s Bacchus instead of a photograph of themselves/ their own body. I feel that this phenomenon creates an immersive experience in a parallel world in which historical ideals and attitudes are merged with contemporary social expectations and interactions. It is here that the evolution of the male form’s ideal is condensed; the historical and contemporary cult of the body meet and meld together. Looking at these Classical images used in such a contemporary context, for a moment I felt trapped in a loop wherein the cause and effect of our values as human beings are not linear, but circular. In the past, artists used models as objects of study for aesthetic, emotional, and scientific communication; today we use these historical communications to represent ourselves in the virtual realm as idealised objects.
As a queer artist, the discovery of sort of anthology of queer visual artworks in Florence was quite remarkable and, personally, very moving. This experience helped me to feel connected with my identity as a queer artist, and the legacy of queer artists and subject matter throughout time and space. I am profoundly grateful for my time in Florence, as their particular collection of artworks and the historical and contemporary importance/ popularity of the city allowed me to be at once fully surrounded by history and connected to the current heartbeat of social interaction and artistic innovation.
What was the impact on your practice?
Florence sparked within me a keen interest in developing a transversal and multidisciplinary project. I was especially inspired by two features: one, that Florence is composed of a wondrous diversity of aesthetics from a multitude of time periods, and, two, that the city is perceived (and partially constructed) as a tourist attraction in which every corner has become a ‘photo opportunity’. Because of Florence’s ‘photo opportunity’ ambience, I began to use photography as the main resource in documenting
my search for queer coded artworks throughout the city. I also maintained my usual practice of keeping a sketchbook, in which I collected a wide variety of drawings and oil paintings on both paper and plastic (in order to better render the effect of a virtual screen).
The multimedia nature of my project necessitated the expansion of my usual artistic process; branching out into photography and the collecting of screen-shot digital images allowed me to fully realise my project’s plans. Fascinated by the large number of souvenir shops in Florence, I used Guy Debord’s work The Society of the Spectacle to analyse and deconstruct this apparent engine of social transformation meant to serve capitalistic consumption. These souvenir shops are spaces that offer a seemingly infinite number of products, all presented in series, giving the consumer endless opportunity to choose and obtain. Here is the seed of Neoliberalism; the “ideal” form of unrestricted capitalism. I wanted to compare this mechanism to the marketplace of physical intimacy advertised on the Grindr application, wherein the bodies of the users are presented in a virtual showcase as consumer products. My fieldwork for this project began with an attempt to investigate all possibilities offered by these concepts surrounding the historical and contemporary objectification and commodification of the male body. The consolidation of all these ideas led me to a multidisciplinary project that it would have been all but impossible to imagine before engaging in the aforementioned research. I started using Photoshop to superimpose the photographs of the Queer Renaissance works with a design reminiscent of Grindr profiles. To complete my project, I printed postcards of my images to frame them as cruising memories. In this way, a parallel was established between the objective consumerism of social engagement applications and the constant role of the ideal in capitalism. I then placed
these postcards in local souvenir shops throughout the Florence’s city centre in order to create a public representation of the symbolic role of the work within commerce. Thus the project title, ‘My Florence Souvenir’.
What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
Over the past two years, my artistic practice has focused on exploring the different effects of technology on our social interactions, our self-perception and our most intrinsic values. This particular development of transversal and multidisciplinary work in Florence has expanded my vision as an artist and allowed me to learn new skills in my practice. Since finishing my residency, I have continued to be inspired by the legacy of the plethora of masterpieces I had access to in Italy; my sketchbook and photographic documentation has proved to be an invaluable source of intellectual and creative motivation. Lately, I have delved deeper into the study and creation of pictorial works; an echo originated by the classic masters of the Renaissance. ‘My Florence Souvenir’ has played a fundamental role in the evolution of my artistic process. The various layers applied in the postcards I created using Photoshop remind me of the infinity of overlays and information that we create in the virtual realm in order to see and to be seen. I am currently applying this concept, these techniques, to my pictorial works; after making a design with illustrator, I work with laser cut to articulate
the various shapes that form the Perspex support.
Next, I superimpose this base with another layer of Perspex, symbolising the quality of virtual space. I chose to work in oils in order to highlight the contrast between our contemporary technology-based social interactions with traditional means of communication; a reference to classical portraiture’s role in courtship before the advent of photography. On the one hand, I use oils to create the figure on the back of the perspex. On the other hand, I also intervene the front of the perspex. For example: I use sign painting to represent the typography and the signs of the meeting application. The contrast of the theme is reflected in the means used and, therefore, in the aesthetics represented. It is necessary to be very organised and careful when painting on perspex, since the first brush stroke placed on the support will be the first one the viewer sees. My artistic practice centres on socio-political issues of contemporary society, but in Florence I realised how to explore and communicate the historical roots of these themes. Our perspective is our main vehicle, which today guides us increasingly towards a dichotomy of producers and consumers. A universe where all experiences are marked by an aesthetic dominated, according to Guy Debord, by an image-generated spectacle; the cause and effect of which leads us to a hypothetical case of Stendhal syndrome.