You describe yourself as a “reality artist.” What does this mean to you? how did you discover it as an avenue to express yourself?
I view my life as an ongoing art piece. My curated reality is my canvas, my body and camera are my tools, and the media that I create from my reality is the medium. Even though my life plays out on the internet, I don’t feel like “net artist” or “performance artist” are accurate representations of what I do. The concept of “reality art” is malleable, be it through performing as different personas on the streets ( American Reflexxx; Make America Great Again) , photographing real places (dead malls and suburban sprawl), or in creating more fantastical scenarios in my studio or my computer. I’m interested in exploring the paradoxes of, “What is real?”, in an increasingly digital world.
Photos by Signe Pierce.
Watching your performance “American Reflexxx” reminded us that society is not as socially advanced as we think. What did you take away from it? Do you think the reaction would still be similar if you performed it today?
I took away a lot of things, but one of the big ones that I found to be funny was that only one person in the entire film accuses it of being “pretentious high art”. Only one person allowed the thought to cross their mind that “ Maybe this is art?”, and even in doing so they said it in a demeaning, derogatory way. I personally believe in art’s power as a vessel to open and expand minds. It works to change perceptions. It’s important that art is not just exclusive to big cities and cultural capitals. Everyone could benefit from increased exposure to new ideas and to opening our minds up a bit more.
I don’t think the reaction would be any different today, with Trump rallies as a living example that this type of hatred is considered to be normal in a large part of the country. America needs art and education, and to wake up from perpetual ignorance.
We are also really fascinated by the original concept for the piece—you mentioned it was inspired by how the internet has us fantasizing over a nameless, faceless woman. How do you think the crowd would have interacted with if you hadn’t been wearing a mask to conceal your identity?
The mask definitely played a huge role in spiking fear and anger. There is something really terrifying to people about not being able to see a person’s eyes. It implies that you’re hiding something, and people want to know what it is. I think people decided to latch onto the ambiguity of not being able to discern my gender as fuel for their hatred, allowing this disturbing, latent transphobia to come out of people. It was as though they felt more justified in hurting me if they convinced themselves that I was something “other”.
The entire experience was incredibly dehumanizing and is an aspect of life that trans people in particular have to deal with every day. It’s not okay and I hope that the piece holds up a “mirror” to this huge issue.
You recently tweeted: “We need a term for the modern phenomena where people fall in love with the idealized versions of others based on their social media presence.” How do you feel about this ability we have to fabricate an online identity?
That tweet/idea actually has come to form the backbone of my new project, Synthetic Lust,in which I’m exploring the relationships that we have with ourselves, our technology, and other people through the scope of a life primarily lived through the filter of screens. I think that there’s something both exciting and terrifying about our hyperreal selves/our curated identities online, and the priority that they’re taking over our actual realities. It’s exciting to be able to create our own mythologies and personas and to let them live in media, however I’m also concerned with what happens to our flesh and blood selves. I think it’s important to be a real person outside of the gaze of my second life, and I hope we can manage to maintain a sense of that reality as we go deeper into the singularity.
You recently did your “make America Great Again” performance where you documented an outing from MoMA to the Starbucks at Trump Tower. How did the idea for that come about?
I used to go sit in the Trump Towers when I would get off of work at the Met Museum in 2012, around the time of Occupy Wall Street. It always intrigued me because it’s this big ornate building representing the highest echelon of excess, a temple of the 1%. However, when you ascend the escalators in the main lobby to get to the second floor, you’re met to find a series of shuttered storefronts, and the only functioning business left is a Starbucks.
For Make America Great Again, I wanted to infiltrate that space as a means of showcasing the transparency of this bloated, excessive capitalism. In the performance I ran from the MoMA (where I was performing as a part of India Salvor Menuez’s BOOKLUB series) to the
Trump Tower, ran up the downward-moving escalators to get to the Starbucks, purchased a Frappuccino, and then proceeded to puke it all over myself in the Trump lobby. I ended up being escorted out by guards and staging a meltdown in front of the building. It just felt like something that needed to happen, y’know?
“I personally identify as part cyborg/part flesh and blood carnal animal.”
Can you elaborate on what it means to be a “cyberfeminist” and how this translates to your visual aesthetic? Do you see a particular “feminist aesthetic”?
Cyberfeminism to me is just an extended form of feminism for the digital era. The term has been around since the 80s, but I feel as though I, along with other artists, are using it as a way to assert our ideas, opinions, aesthetics, and interests through our online personas and platforms. For me personally it’s about employing the various colors, cliches, and tropes that have been typically prescribed to ideals of “femininity”.
I think that a lot of different artists are using different visual elements to represent what “femininity” means to them. There is not one particular aesthetic that can be applied to the whole of womanness, which is an aspect of intersectional cyberfeminism that I find to be important. There are so many ways that feminist ideologies can be represented, it isn’t just limited to the color pink.
Your set designs are absolutely incredible, especially the world you created for Dorian Electra’s “Clitopia” video. What was it like to construct a space that positively celebrates female sexuality?
Dorian specifically reached out to me saying that she liked the work I had been making under the label “Neon Classical” and that she wanted to fuse it with the history of the clitoris.
Being able to stylize the history (aka HERSTORY!) of this oft-neglected aspect of cis female sexuality by applying my color palette and conceptual flow was a dream job. It was an opportunity to reclaim women’s sexual representation by creating beautiful imagery that could educate AND stimulate.
How do you balance being a reality artist with using the internet as a platform to show your work and spread your perspective?
I’m trying to be transparent about how much my reality is infused with my digital life. It’s a bit of a paradox to discuss actual reality, aka “IRL”, when a large chunk of my IRL is spent staring at my phone/computer (that’s what I’m doing as I write this!). The internet is my platform to showcase my reality, and together, the fusion of the two bends and blends to become the hyperreal. The gap between reality, fantasy, and the internet is getting smaller by the day. I personally identify as part cyborg / part flesh & blood carnal animal.
Are there any other themes you are interested in exploring or social experiments we can look for in the near future?
Synthetic Lust is my current concentration, but I’m always exploring new ideas. If you follow me on social media (@signepierce on Insta, @sleazeburger on Tumblr) you’ll be able to continue watching me live out my hyperreality on screen.