Federico Solmi’s work is on view at 21c Louisville as part of the exhibition Truth or Dare: A Reality Show.
How are you feeling today? This week? This year?
Federico Solmi (FS): I am feeling great! I just finished setting up my summer studio in the gorgeous Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. I found a great studio in the town of Auburn, New York, just a 10 minute drive from our family summer cottage on Owasco Lake. I am thrilled! I think I’ll spend most of the summer here to develop a new body of work. I feel incredibly inspired here; I think the change of scenery put me in a good mood. What I love about this area is the combination of great historical sites like the Harriet Tubman Home and Theodore Case Museum who was the inventor of sound pictures, with wonderful wineries and nature and fun lake life. It feels special to be able to escape New York City’s summer heat and leave behind the pandemic. It has been a strange year, but also a very productive and very inspiring one. My solo exhibition, The Bacchanalian Ones, closed a few weeks ago at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles. Currently, I am part of the centennial exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and in September my work will be included in the exhibition Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking About History at the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
What are you looking forward to in your art practice?
FS: I am looking forward to developing work over the next two years for a series of upcoming museum solo and group exhibits in the U.S. that were put on hold for the pandemic. I am also really excited at the moment to keep experimenting with new ways of engaging with viewers and the public. For example, at my recent exhibition in L.A., I exhibited a new Virtual Reality (VR) experience for the first time in a gallery setting. It was a huge hit, and I was very pleased to see people of all ages really engaging with this media. I think VR has great potential in the arts; it simply hasn’t been explored enough because it is technically very challenging…but when the artist is able to control this media and able to create great content, the viewer becomes fully engaged like with no other media, because VR and its interactive quality has the unique potential to bring the viewer into the center of the art, going from a passive viewer to protagonist. This is something truly amazing for the public and I am proud to have believed in this media for so long. I did my first VR piece back in 2017 while I was teaching at Yale School of Art and meeting with artists and the former director of Yale CCAM, Johannes DeYoung. I had a great time with him discussing the development of VR and AR technology, so it was a great laboratory of ideas and very formative for me. This summer I am planning to spend a considerable amount of time working on a new series of mixed media drawings inspired in part by the digital skeletons and the digital worlds I create for my video work.
Basically, in this new series I am trying to interpret the digital realm that is hidden behind the hand painted textures of my videos. It is a very fascinating world that was originally meant to stay in the virtual space, and to stay intangible, but I am too attracted by this world of hidden images that lay behind many images of our everyday device, I am kind of inventing my own vocabulary to decode this language, which is very exciting for me, conceptually also, it’s extremely interesting and challenging—I love it!
To view a video of the VR experience, follow this link: https://vimeo.com/544051005
How can people continue to support artists in their communities?
FS: I believe that many people during the pandemic have realized the importance of art and culture and the role it plays in our society. Often people do not realize how hard artists work to realize their dreams and people definitely are not aware of the incredible amount of risks that these individuals are taking to create their works. Unfortunately, speculation in the art markets awards very few artists in the short term. I would say for the people and institutions that are in the position to help: to not hesitate and to reach out to the artists they love or that they admire, or that they think have potential. It does not matter in which stage of their career an artist is in, reach out to them, and ask what kind of support they need, help them to reach the next stage of their career.
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists?
FS: Yes, I do! I’d like to tell my fellow artists to never lose the intimacy with your work. Sometimes, when I am busy and anxious preparing too many exhibitions and too many art fairs, I lose touch with what is really important in my art practice. We need to stay true to ourselves and to not forget where we started out. I believe this would be the secret of a long and strong career.
What are you reading or watching or listening to that you would recommend to others?
FS: As always, I am reading several books on different topics and genres simultaneously. I am an avid and obsessive reader. Recently, I finished the following books, all of which I found extremely interesting and inspiring. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson, Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, Pulp, by Charles Bukowski, and I just finished one of my all-time favorite book written by Lawrence Weschler seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. It’s a book about the life of artist Robert Irving, a classic. I am also a big fan of classic movies. Last week I watched one of my all-time favorite films with my 13-year-old son Luca, The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino. It’s a tough movie. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest choice for a father and son evening, but I love this movie and I wanted to see it with him. I would recommend to the viewer another of my favorite movies, a more pleasant one, Amarcord, by Federico Fellini a great classic.
Have you been eating, drinking, cooking, or sharing anything special during the past year?
FS: Food and wine have always been a very important part of my life. When I am off work, I am cooking all the time for my family and friends. For me cooking is as serious as making art. I was born in Italy and obviously I am excited about using Italian recipes. For the summer, I would recommend making a pasta al pesto alla genovese and pasta with fresh ricotta cheese with fresh ingredients. They are very easy recipes so the results will depend on the quality of fresh ingredients you are able to find! I love wine in the summer; for sure it’s nice to chill after a hot day with a nice glass of white wine. One of my favorite whites is a dry Riesling from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in the Finger Lakes, one of the pioneer producers of the region.
About the artist:
Federico Solmi (Italy, 1973) currently lives and works in New York.
Solmi’s work utilizes bright colors and a satirical aesthetic to portray a dystopian vision of our present-day society His exhibitions often feature articulate installations composed of a variety of media including virtual reality experience, video installation, painting, drawing, and augmented reality installations. Solmi uses his art as a vehicle to stimulate a visceral conversation with his audience, highlighting the contradictions and fallibility that characterize our time. Through his work, Solmi examines unconscious human impulses and desires in order to critique Western society’s obsession with individual success and display contemporary relationships between nationalism, colonialism, religion, consumerism. By re-configuring historical narratives across eras, he creates social and political commentary works which disrupt the mythologies that define American society. Scanning his paintings into a game engine, Solmi’s videos confront the audience with his own absurd rewriting of past and present, merging dark humor and sense of the grotesque with new technologies. He creates a carnivalesque virtual reality where our leaders become puppets, animated by computer script and motion capture performance rather than string.
In 2009, Solmi was awarded by the Guggenheim Foundation of New York with the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in the category of Video & Audio. His work is currently on display at the100 years anniversary exhibition of The Phillips Collection, Seeing Differently, Washington DC, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s traveling exhibition, Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today, and the inaugural exhibition of the Ocean Flower Museum Island in Hainan Province, Danzhou, China. Solmi has forthcoming museum group exhibition at The Block Museum of Northwestern University, Evanston Illinois (2021) and solo exhibitions at Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson Arizona and Morris Museum, Morristown New Jersey (2023).
His work has been included in several international Biennials, including: Open Spaces: A Kansas City Arts Experience (2018), the Beijing Media Art Biennale (2016), Frankfurt B3 Biennial of the Moving image (2017-2015), the First Shenzhen Animation Biennial in China (2013), the 54th Venice Biennial (2011), and the SITE Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico (2010).
Solmi’s work was featured in Times Square New York for the Midnight Moment (2019) and in a solo exhibition in the Ronald Feldman Gallery booth at the 2019 Armory Show (NY). From 2016 to 2019 Federico Solmi was visiting Professor at Yale University School of Art, and Yale School of Drama, New Haven CT.
You can learn more about Federico Solmi on his website: https://www.federicosolmi.com/
Or you can follow him on Instagram @federico_solmi