by Katy Diamond Hamer
Andrea Mary Marshall currently has a solo exhibition on view at Allegra La Viola Gallery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The show titled Gia Condo documents the performative musings by the artist who uses her own body to allow for an ongoing dialogue between art history and contemporary art. Her work tends to be glossy and ripe with an element of the spectacle. However, when viewing the repetition of the artist’s likeness many times over, one is forced to question the very contemporary power that one has over his or her own identity especially within the realm of the internet and social media. As Gia Condo the artist embodies her own physical interpretation of the many stories and assumptions made about Leonardo Da Vinci’s famed portrait of Mona Lisa. The persona, body language and representation is quite different from her own, but she will readily admit that the character is an avid part of her own personality even if normally subdued. After attending the opening at Allegra La Viola, we recently sat down at Variety Cafe in Williamsburg to talk about her process, her paintings, and why as Gia she doesn’t shave her armpits.
Katy Diamond Hamer: Let’s go right into the nitty gritty of it all. For me I look at a lot and the first thing that came to mind at the opening was the word spectacle. Let’s start here with the word spectacle, the performative gesture and the masking of the self. It seems that through the performance you also strive to mask your own beauty by a particular physicality of body language, lack of depilation of body hair specifically in the armpits and genital region which appears to be used in an ostentatious way. As Gia Condo it’s as if you strive to go against the image we are fed through mass media, fashion and such while also being an active part of it all.
Andrea Mary Marshall: Gia doesn’t shave her armpits. When I did Toxic Women in my last show, the women I portrayed, these alter egos such as Rosemary Myst and Loretta Minx were these over the top fashionable, very glamorous women. In Gia Condo, this is the first time I’m doing something I would describe as “me against me”. In this show I wanted to evolve into this woman who is able to answer her own questions. I decided to take the concept of feminism as a symbol for Gia Condo in a way to also question it for myself. In questioning it, and because I have the mind of a stylist and think about fashion always, I wondered how I could build this characterization. It meant letting go of some of these ideas of perfection that I’ve had in the past. So I’m not going to shave my pubic hair or armpits and contradict typical ideas of beauty in my society and still create something that is beautiful but doesn’t have to be a standard idea of beauty. I felt it was necessary for the visual story telling of this character. Visually [not shaving] is one of my favorite things about her, that is raw and human and serves a purpose. She is a part of a more wild freer part of myself. [Her character and the performance] is about a balancing the energies of masculine and feminine.
KDH: Saying that, and touching upon the concept of the Mona Lisa, it’s still unclear if the portrayal of the figure in the painting was a man or a woman. Does this play into your perception of these two energies?
AMM: Well there are so many theories that I’ve researched and the main concept I [focused on] was the theory that the Mona Lisa is a portrait of Da Vinci in drag. That for me, as a self-portrait artist, was something I wanted to play with. Versus the concept of damsel in distress, I instead put on a black dildo. I question: Why can’t you be a sexual woman who can be empowered and fierce but also have a sensitivity and sensuality? Sometimes it’s hard for people to rationalize this [the dilemma of masculine and feminine identity] because people don’t want it to be both ways. If Da Vinci did paint a self portrait in drag, he was obviously quite advanced to do so. I’m inspired by that.
KDH: During the Renaissance there were different roles and understandings of humanity and now there are so many symbols we associate with gender and sexuality. It’s almost as if we are pigeon-holed by our own interpretation of these symbols which aren’t necessarily correct.
AMM: I want my frame [and the perception concerning my artwork] to be loose. If a viewer looks, I want there to be multiple layers to be dissected and somewhat ambiguous.
KDH: Why choose to use a wig with black curly hair?
AMM: Well, this for me was a fashionable choice that was inspired by Donna Summer in the 1970s and Giorgio Moroder (known as the father of Italian Disco). Visually I feel it works with the outfits etc.
KDH: I’m also wondering if you smoke or if Gia smokes since cigarettes appear in many of your paintings and in the performances.
AMM: I don’t smoke. I can barely inhale. Gia smokes, but I”m also going to be fading the cigarettes out of my work. They are a light symbol for the habits that we have for negative behaviors in our lives that we go back to over and over, wounds that we reopen, the bad boyfriends that we keep returning to. In a way, we pick up the cigarette box again. It has to do with the behaviors we have in our lives that we can change but choose not to.
KDH: You react to these certain tropes or characteristics within the personality you portray and the perception of who you are. For me there is a distinct relationship between the figure depicted and how they are perceived regarding a what feels like a more direct relationship to the artist which indicates a the difference between performance art and acting.
AMM: This is not acting. I feel very much like Gia and can relate to her. This character is actually quite difficult to perform for this reason. I wanted this project to be from the gut and try to turn off caring if people were going to like it. I made all 13 paintings in 6 weeks and felt that I really entered into the canvases. My goal with each body of work is to show evolution and to offer some change for the viewer. Call me Martha Stewart because I do everything myself.
KDH: The art version of Martha Stewart. [laughs]
AMM: It all started after a break-up. I had someone, an older artist I dated, to talk to about art for hours and hours and when that outlet was no longer available I found I had this energy that I needed to get out and react to.
KDH: I can relate to that so much. I know the feeling, when you are used to a particular type of artistic dialogue and then all of a sudden it’s gone and is no longer an option, at least with a particular person.
AMM: I breathe art, I bathe in it. I live it. So I needed to fill the void with the self-portraits and it became an obsession. My first body of work was photographic and extended from 2006-2008. After this exhibition, I’m going to retire Gia. There will be a few additional performances that will occur throughout the duration of the exhibition at the gallery. The I did I felt less me and more her. I became a complete fucking nut.
KDH: I think the works I respond the least to are the images (in the black and white film and photographs) featuring food thrown on the body. They seem cliché somehow. Are they what they appear to be, a reference to female body issues?
AMM: Actually not at all. For me, the food represents a full acceptance of self. I think so many woman allow themselves to be a side dish and I want to be the main course. I am sexy hear me roar.
KDH: Glad I asked since the answer is not what I though or attained from the work. Regarding the paintings, one of the things I’ve noticed, going back to early works of Vogue covers along with the recent works, is that stylistically it changes. In one of the Gia Condo paintings, the image of the Gia Condo with a lobster on her face, is highly rendered and a flat, smooth surface. Many of the other paintings are chunkier, crude and almost naïve in a way.
AMM: Well, it’s not actually a choice, it’s a struggle. I feel very insecure about it at times. I don’t necessarily want to change from painting to painting. It just happens. I wanted everything to be rendered like the lobster.
KDH: Really? Well, I guess that painting has the closest visual assimilation to the original Mona Lisa.
AMM: I personally prefer contextually looser paintings by other artists such as “The Sleeping Gypsy” by Rousseau, I can’t breathe in front of that painting.
KDH: It’s interesting that you are still going back to the past and art history.
AMM: I feel more confident with my paintings when they are rendered really well, but that doesn’t always happen. The looser paintings are more reactionary.
KDH: Let’s talk about the lower level of the gallery and the walls completely covered by spray-paint. I asked one of the girls who works at the gallery how long it took and she said that she was at the gallery the previous week and it wasn’t the way it is now.
AMM: I made that work in two days.
AMM: Yes, I work like the Tasmanian Devil. The painting that is down there was started two days before the opening. Right now it seems to be the only way I can work but I imagine it will change in the future.
KDH: I’m sure it will. How would you describe and relate this segment of the exhibition to Gia and her experience. It feels very old-school New York, offering a transformative experience from the white cube experience found on the street level.
AMM: As I went through the cycle of Gia Condo paintings, it felt more New York [especially] as I used elements from Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. I wanted the lower level to set a pulse and [feeling of] grittiness.
KDH: What about the process of Gia drinking Coke? During the performance, you started throwing it around, liquid spewing throughout the crowd. It reminded me of one of the early concerts of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Mercury Lounge. Karen O used to pour beer all over her body and then fling it at the crowd. It only stopped after a fan got beer in her eye and it caused a problem.
AMM: The cans were filled with milk and not coke. The milk represents fecundity and the idea that if the portrait of the Mona Lisa is Lisa Gherardini, then it might have been a portrait of her while she was pregnant. The milk represents lactation. The cans were representative of Andy Warhol, American consumer products, etc. Plus the character of Gia Condo loves Coca Cola, I will say that.
I feel like everyone has become a brand. I”m interested in the concept of branding and that Coca Cola is a brand almost in the same way the Mona Lisa is a brand within itself. You don’t need to know anything about art but you will probably know the Mona Lisa.
KDH: In regards to the concept of branding and comparing Coca Cola to the Mona Lisa, the major difference for me is that Coca Cola was always meant to be a brand while the image of the Mona Lisa has become a “brand” in a way but by no fault of it’s own. It was always just a portrait.
AMM: I do believe, or I want to believe that the reason [the] Mona Lisa still has a stigma is because she is surrounded in mystery. If you know too much about a person, then you’re no longer interested.
KDH: The last question I have is that I am intrigued in your own interest in Catholic imagery and the fact that you are not a practicing Catholic but have obvious visual symbols in your work relating to the faith, even choosing the Mona Lisa dating to a time when Catholicism was more revered. This also relates to my own interest in this particular form of symbology. Maybe you can talk about how this fascination came about and your use of the dove and snake particularly.
AMM: Its’ a loaded question for me. My mother is Episcopalian and my father Catholic. Growing up I was enamored by Catholicism. For some reason I wanted to be Roman Catholic.
KDH: I wanted that too! [laughs] Especially in regards to the allegorical representations and iconography.
AMM: At a young age my mother announced that she was atheist but is also interested in the mythology of Templar Revelation. So at a young age I was exposed to both kinds of thought and belief. Religion has always been a huge driving force and the idea of the Virgin Mary versus the Mary Magdalen. Even today how woman are identified by the Magdalen or the Virgin. I have those two sides in myself and this exhibition was an attempt to unify them. Even wearing a mask is a revealing process.
Katy Diamond Hamer is an art writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently contributing to Flash Art International, Sleek, NY Magazine, Whitehot Magazine and others. For more of her writing visit: http://www.eyes-towards-the-dove.com
Photograph by Takis Spyropoulos, 2012
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