Culture + Arts > Visual Arts

November 13, 2015

…not in Kansas anymore – painter and photographer Julia Biasi

Maximilian Mayr

“Going out by yourself as soon as you can, as young as you can, makes you stronger but at the same time it makes you more vulnerable… it’s a very lonely path, you meet a lot of friends, you lose a lot of friends, you never spend enough time with family and old friends, and that takes a toll on you, anyway you wanna put it…” Immediately after having red these words, written by Julia Biasi, I felt a strange connection to the latter, even though we had never met in person. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I think that every open minded member of my generation, which would include anyone born toward or after the end of the cold war, can somehow relate to this statement and knows how it feels to cope with different traditions and to start out in a totally new environment. Well, Julia Biasi for sure does; as a matter of fact, she gives “globetrotter” a good name.

Biasi began her artistic career in Gröden/Val Gardena, Italy. She went on to study architecture in Innsbruck and Vienna and painting in Florence to eventually leave university and spend a full year of travelling and taking pictures in Southeast Asia and Australia. After a successfully completed degree in Fine Art Practices at Central Saint Martins, London, UK, she finally moved to New York and subsequently lived in a commune in Arizona, where she took part in a greenhouse project. Today, Brooklyn, NY, is the center of her, both private and professional, life. 

Julia is a young and very promising multimedia artist and photographer and was one of the winners of 2013′s “Triennale ladina dell’arte contemporanea”. Her latest exhibition,  M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction), in the Bunkerforum Kasematte near Bolzano, Italy, deals with the relationship between war and commerce and is open to the public till November 15, 2015.
In the interview I did with Julia Biasi, she tells us about her artistic work, her feelings about South Tyrol and the reason of her particular interest in toilets. This is the portrait of a tough and fascinating woman.

Since 2008 you live in New York City – why did you decide to move there? What do you like and don’t like about living in the Big Apple?

the first time i was in new york city, that was in 2003, i felt an incredible ease – a feeling of relief that i had never felt anywhere before except when i stood on top of a mountain, a plateau or snorkeling in the sea. it felt like i could breathe a little deeper. i think it was the big atlantic ocean that almost divided me from the past, europe to something new. that feeling stuck to me, and made me come back in 2008 to go work at rudi stingels studio. this is also when i first met my now husband, jeffrey (filmmaker and photographer) with whom i have been with ever since and with whom i also moved to arizona with shortly after for almost a year. 
what i don’t like about new york sometimes is the feeling of being stuck in a hamster wheel, you just have to run run run to keep up the pace with everybody else, you end up becoming what you’d never thought you’d be… the kind of person that goes to a yoga class and has a “fuck off i’m meditating” attitude. Julia Biasi New YorkWhere do you get your inspiration from? What inspires you?

i think my prime source of inspiration is what i don’t understand, the mysterious, the unconscious, horror, beauty, the whole mystery of life revealed in a single leaf or shell, simple but so complex. most of the time i feel like i’m searching for something that feels “true” to me (whatever that means). true in the sense, that i can relate to it, feel it, be it, feel deeply passionate about it. trying to find and reveal something true, even if at the end, all it is and all it will be might be just my truth, and there is no single truth. sometimes i feel like the tension between knowing and not knowing reveals a certain energy that is more revealing of something true then knowing. for example the thought of birth, and death…

You have spent one year in a commune in the desert of Arizona – can you tell us something about that experience? Did it affect you as an artist to a certain degree?  

my husband jeffrey hagerman and i got married there actually. we spent almost a year at the “peyote way church of god” in klondyke arizona. the church was founded by a native american apache “roadman” (road man, or road chief, is a title given to the leader of the peyote ceremony in the native american church.) he was a longtime member of the native american church and very experienced, more info: they also run a small pottery business on the 600 acre property, besides offering regular “spirit walks” (personal journey’s where you’re given peyote to take alone in nature) to members of the church who would come to arizona every once in a while to fast for 2-3 days by themselves, and then drink the sacramental peyote tea for medicinal cleansing and spiritual enlightenment. we built a greenhouse while we where out there, grew lots of plants and vegetables, worked on the property, in the pottery studio and i had a art studio in a shed in the middle of the desert, with no cell phone reception and no sight of any neighbors. it was an incredibly inspiring, magical time, and i am sure it deeply influenced me. 

What do you think about the artistic environment of South Tyrol? What is positive, what has to be improved?

i think a lot has improved in south tyrol, since i have been to art school in st. ulrich/groeden. for example i remember having to fight for english classes in school, and fight for affordable housing, now they have both, and also ladin (!). which is great, because looking forward should not make you forget about where you actually come from, so keeping traditions is a good thing to a certain extent, it helps inform you. then there are new museums and galleries popping up here and there, the university in bozen… it’s good. i am not sure though how open people in south tyrol are to art in spaces where you don’t expect it, in non-spaces or undefined spaces. the public that is interested in art in south tyrol obviously is of a certain caliber that expects things being served to them on a silver platter, or with a certain “standard” otherwise they don’t know what to do with it or how to engage with it. 

As far as you are concerned, would you be as successful as an artist if you hadn’t gone abroad? 

well firstly, i do not really consider myself a successful artist as i am not yet really able to just pay my bills off my artwork alone. i do not profess anyhow to really know how to give a “know how” kit to anybody at this point in my life, as i am still trying to figure things out myself as i go. definitely i think going out by yourself as soon as you can, as young as you can, makes you stronger but at the same time it also makes you more vulnerable. suddenly you don’t have all the comfort anymore a home gave you, you speak different languages, eat different food, go through different streets, deal with different issues all together. it makes you step out of your comfort zone, which is challenging, that’s why i like it. at the same time, it’s a very lonely path, you meet a lot of friends, you lose a lot of friends, you never spend enough time with family and old friends, and that takes a toll on you, anyway you wanna put it. at the same time, you open up new connections you would have never made otherwise, learn that the world can be your oyster, that there is no reason to be afraid of breaking down walls and realizing that “you’re not in kansas anymore”… Julia Biasi painter photographerCould you imagine moving back to South Tyrol one day? Is your Austro-Italian background relevant for your work? Does it affect you somehow?  

when i was at art school in groeden, i always dreamed of new york. now i am in new york, and i always dream of the dolomites. it’s a catch 22. i wish somehow for the future i could make it work to be in south tyrol more often, but we’ll see…my mother is from val badia, my dad from meran and i grew up in meran, so i definitely feel like a southtyrolean, german/ladin italian, it’s all there, it makes south tyrol unique and also conflicted and i think it reflects on the personalities of southtyroleans. we are all a little conflicted, that’s why when you are abroad nobody ever really understands where you are from and why you don’t have an italian accent… blablabla. i love being southtyrolean! we are a special little hard knock brew of people.

You are a painter and photographer – how would you describe you artistic style?

i consider myself a painter, because that is what i formally trained in (studied). i love taking pictures, but i take pictures like a painter would, i play with the camera. i remember my dad giving me a microscope once as a kid, and i was mesmerized. i could look at bees wings and dragonflies from a different perspective. that was incredibly inspiring, i remember, and maybe that is why i like tools, cameras, lenses, its a pure sense of curiosity of seeing the world through a different lens, to maybe understand it a little better. it never occurred to me to really want to analyze what i was looking at through the microscope, catalogue it, to follow a scientific path… even if that definitely fascinated me at some point in my life. to the second part of your question, about style… i honestly always tried to avoid having a pre-specified style, because i always felt it would constrain me. i loved writing in different styles, changing my calligraphy, unconsciously since i’ve been a kid. i felt like teachers didn’t like that, society didn’t like that, if you don’t have a prefixed style almost like a label. but i liked it. i guess that can turn into a style to, in to not wanting to have a style, it’s another trap. i feel like it’s good to really learn something well, to the point where you feel like you are mastering it (to your own judgment), then move on, try a different game. why does a painter just have to paint? i see the beauty of mastery, but i also see the beauty of challenge through a different tool. it’s like learning a new language, sometime you might be able to discover a part of you, you didn’t even know before.

What are you searching for in your artistic works? Which themes interest you? 

the project i was just working on, entitled M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction) that is showing at the bunker in haselburg/bozen, deals with the atrocities of war crimes. it specifically addresses the horror of war, what lies beyond good and evil, a paradise lost, such a dark chapter of humanity that only the military, soldiers, families of those and victims of war deal with. we prefer to look away. it deals with birth defects in fallujah, something so dark, that i got nightmares from it, and that is also why i decided to create something about it. the fact that what happened in fallujah was left in the dark by most media outlets in 2003 is no surprise. there are plenty of documentaries and papers out by now, most of them apparently “speculative” as there does not seem to be a definite answer to what really happened in fallujah, why the woman of fallujah are having so many birth defects and high cancer rates up to this day. the more i researched the more i felt like getting stuck in mud, nothing to hold on to, nothing solid. the truth is a strange thing, and history is written by the victorious. some things are better left unsaid… that does not mean, they did not happen and through artistic expression you can help to lend a voice to the voiceless.M.A.D. Mutually Assured DestructionWho are your artistic or real live role models? 

hm… i never really asked myself… as i definitely feel like there are characters i aspire to, for certain qualities… like tesla’s ingenuity or lauren bacall’s coolness, niki de saint phalle’s fierceness and kittens playfulness, children’s innocence and whole other worldliness, that we forget of way to soon growing up. the beauty of a butterflies wings, and its unconcernedness with life and death, but just metamorphosis. mozart, bach… geniuses in their art… i have always been extremely fascinated with inquisitive, bubbly intelligent people. i would say my grandmother was definitely a big influence in my life, and my mother, both strong woman, that yielded under man’s rule, letting them think they are the masters of the world but never giving up being wonderful, loving, birthing, nourishing, letting go, moving on, and smiling at it all.

You are an intern in the oldest holographic studio of New York – would you explain to us what holography is exactly and why you are so fascinated by it?

i was an intern there. a hologram (1949 coined by hungarian born british scientist dennis gabor, who in 1971 won a nobel prize in physics for his work in holography). to keep a hologram (the word stems from greek holos = whole, gram = drawing) simple, it can be imagined as a three-dimensional recording of light on holographic film. you could imagine it as a light relief, a laser is split through a beam-splitter into a object-beam and into a reference-beam, the object-beam is directed onto the object we want to represent, the reference-beam is projected onto the holographic film through a mirror, and so the two initially split beams find their way back together on the holographic film and create a interference pattern, this interference pattern will be recorded onto the holographic film and create a three-dimensional image. 
i am currently working on a upcoming group-project with dr. laser at the holographic studio in new york city, it operates the world’s oldest gallery of holography, now entering its fourth decade at this location. it is new york city’s only holography gallery and laser laboratory. the first time i walked into the studio i was mesmerized, just as much as the first time i looked through a microscope, wow! a whole world i would have never expected! and since then i have been puzzled in trying to understand this beautifully fascinating art called holography.  

On your homepage I read that you are interested in toilets? Would you tell us why? 

haha…that’s funny you picked up on that. this galerist came by my studio and i showed her a series of collages i made of vintage playboy magazines and space-images. she liked it and i told her i used to cover my whole walls with collages, so i suggested covering her toilet in the gallery in collages and she agreed. i guess the interest in toilets, since duchamp has become quiet normal. the visceral, the everyday, and the ugly as a mainstay in a gallery is not a new concept. the toilet, almost like a black hole. …where everything just disappears to the abyss, is a quiet fascinating object indeed. why is it that we associate black holes with female qualities and rockets with male? the logic with man, the illogic/abyss with the female. i think there are some very old stereotypes that create these dichotomies, but more than stereotypes, it’s almost like our bodies define our surrounding, in how we design our surroundings and world and relate to each other. so is identity something related to our bodies, our orifices? or is there something more complex going on? …i think of the toilet as this almost surrealist monster mouth or rabbit hole, that you could fall into and, who knows, where you’d come out?

What can you tell us about your latest exhibition, M.A.D. in the “Bunkerforum Kasematte”!

i think i answered this question above. but… what i would like to add, is that the possibility of doing this show is an incredible opportunity. the coincidence that a friend of mine’s uncle own’s the bunkers, that we talked about this last year, that erwin seppi, heimo pruenster and matthias schoenweger had founded the “bunker forum kasematte”, that i was working on this project since over 2 years as a concept, doing research etc. that we got support from the southtyrolean german cultural office, and that it all worked out at the end in a raw, humid, space with no electricity, like a bunker, with the help of my father that fixed all the technical difficulties and just so many other hands and hearts that made it happen, is quiet incredible and i feel very blessed and grateful about this. M.A.D. Mutually Assured Destruction - Julia BiasiNew York with its endless number of museums, exhibitions and galleries offers a vast range of cultural and financial possibilities and artistic exchange or, to quote Frank Sinatra, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere”. At the same time, however, it is difficult to find another place on this planet, where professional failure, due to the immense competition in the artistic environment, is more likely.  How do you deal with this situation? Have there ever been moments along the way, when you thought you wouldn’t make it or wished to change profession? Which advice would you give young and unknown artists at the beginning of their career? 

well i am not sure i am the right person to ask this question, as i am surely struggling myself with all these issues as we speak. but yes of course, you could jump off the horse, run back home… and then what…? i think jim morrison of the door’s put the artists’ plight quite well when he said “ i’ve been down so god damn long that it looks like up to me” the only thing to do is to just keep going. don’t try to go back to the person you once where or cling to the past. instead, grow and change, and become an even better version of you in the process! where to go? …that’s what alice asked the cheshire cat in the woods in lewis carrols tale of alice in wonderland. the cat replied: well that depends where you wanna go. – alice: i don’t know. – the cat: well then it doesn’t matter where you go. – alice: why is everybody mad in here? – the cat: you must be mad too, otherwise you would not have come here. – i think the moral of the story is this: you are entirely bonkers. but i’ll tell you a secret. all the best people are. lesson i take away from that is: you have to be a little crazy to make it in this world! some of the happiest people in the world embrace their own eccentricities, and don’t judge others for being “normal”.  

Your biggest dream, both personally and professionally, for the future is… 

to never stop growing, learning, loving, sharing all the love, peace, and joy i have in my life with my loved ones, family and friends and to stay strong, positive and healthy, as an attitude. everything has got a moral, if you only can find it! we have something to learn from virtually every experience in our lives, even the most horrid and difficult. when you come out the other side of a difficult period, you’ll look back and see how much you learned and grew from it. that is my biggest dream, to never ever forget that, to truly understand this, is in my eyes true success, in every aspect of life, love and profession….and if one day i do forget, i wish something or someone to please remind me of it!

Pictures: Julia Biasi


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