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Marina Fini
Courtesy of Marina Fini

The artist building hyperreal fantasy worlds that disappear

Marina Fini tells us what’s wrong with the art world, why she loves going to the bathroom and how she became obsessed with plexiglass

Marina Fini inhabits a world most people can only access via psychedelics or virtual reality or Lisa Frank’s day-glo Armageddon. When she Skypes me from her live-work space, introducing herself as a “cyber fairy hippie,” I wonder for a few brief seconds whether she’s doing so in front of a green screen. But then she gives me a tour, and it’s clear she actually lives and works inside an apartment-sized kaleidoscope. Everywhere you turn it’s plexiglass, more colourful than a shot-for-shot drag remake of the eldritch orgy scene in Society. Walls covered in huge plexiglass hearts and plexiglass alien heads and flowery plexiglass pentagrams, a chandelier dripping with plexiglass palm trees that moonlights as a disco ball, a Venus de Milo looking bored amid all that plexiglass carnage. 

“It was love at first glow,” Fini says. “The transformative aspect of plexiglass, the translucence, the ability to create any shape, there’s something about it I’m so attracted to. It looks like candy, it looks like you want to eat it. I don’t like real candy, but I like the idea of something that looks edible and you want to lick it, it looks so pretty.” 

But Fini’s fans want to do much more than just look and ruminate upon its digestibility. They want to wear it and live it. A multi-disciplinary performance artist slash photographer slash filmmaker slash designer, Fini was mostly known for her Miley Cyrus and Baddie Winkle-gracing plexiglass and crystal jewellery until she started building fantasy worlds. Today, the L.A-based artist is most famous for her art installations that transform unremarkable dwellings into pop-up fever dreams.

She unveiled her first at Miami Art Basel 2015, hijacking a room in the Miami Princess Hotel with three other artists, including fellow performance artist Signe Pierce. One guerilla makeover later, it became Motelscape, an art snob-critiquing “other dimension” that “revolves around the idea of human vice and materialism, explored as a hallucinatory, sugar-sweet environment that gorges the senses while leaving the viewer with a metaphorical toothache, a painful and nagging awareness of one’s indulgence in synthetic reality.”

Fini is currently in talks to design fruit furniture and fruit props for a pilot about a juice bar she described as “hyper fantasy Willy Wonka meets Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Seinfeld.” But it’s not all giddiness and psychedelia. Her most recent collaboration saw her photographing three artists dressed as Ronald McDonald indulging in ungodly shenanigans at Las Vegas’ Clown Motel. Before she leaves L.A., she wants to direct a psychological thriller starring a rapist-slaying serial killer and Los Angeles as the supervillain. It’s about “vain ego-deaths.” And her next project is partly about how she’s moving away from jewellery towards art direction, fine art, and video because she felt so used and taken advantage of in the fashion industry. As part of San Francisco gallery R/SF projects’ theatrical installation in October, she plans to be “put in a really vulnerable position” — that is, suspended from the ceiling, daring audiences to take the wearable art pieces hanging off her body. The aesthetic will be “rainbow bondage” with a plexiglass cage. 

“Where I’m at right now, I don’t really want to work on anything unless it has a positive impact and has something to say and is powerful,” she says. “I feel like as artists, we’re constantly selling our souls to just get by, and I would like to just put out there in the universe that I want only things that are good-intentioned.” In June, Fini had an “intense spiritual awakening” that led her to learn reiki and set her sights on an ambitious seven-room installation in L.A. that would follow the chakra system, with each room a different chakra colour, filled with crystals, reiki healers, and soundbaths. Although she works mainly with synthetics and plastics, she says that she’s a huge naturalist who firmly believes in spirituality and colour therapy. 

“Rainbows are ingrained in us all,” Fini says. “Whenever we see a fucking rainbow, everyone gets so excited, and I love that. It’s the best thing ever. No matter what language you speak or where you’re from. It’s a universal bliss.” We caught up with the plexiglass connoisseur to talk building fantasy worlds, the beauty of impermanence, and why she calls Art Basel “bougie Burning Man.”

What are your intentions when you make your mini-worlds? Do you do so with therapy or healing in mind?

Marina Fini: My friend sent me this link in March to this article about this concept called Snoezelen. It was started in the ‘70s by these Dutch people and they started building these rooms that are very similar to the spaces that I’ve been working on that are just psychedelic cushions. They started using these for kids with autism and with mental disorders, and they had significant improvement in their abilities to talk and calm themselves, and all of these beneficial things that have helped people in general with mental disorders. I thought that was so amazing and it was just this epiphany of mine. If something like that can be effective for people with autism, couldn’t that help everybody?

With many of your installations, like Motelscape for example, you’re building mini-worlds inside of existing spaces. When you do that, are these mini-worlds growing out of the bigger world or are they taking it over? How does that work in your head? 

Marina Fini: I like the idea of the spaces I already created being these fleeting, unobtainable spaces. When people see it online, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, I want to go there.’ But you can’t, because it was only a one-time thing. It’s kind of just like a photograph, this one moment of time, and if you were there, you were there, and if you weren’t, you weren’t. It’s like anything else that’s really special. If everything is oversaturated and overexperienced, how can anything be special? At the same time, I would like to have something be up for a month and be able to be experienced by a lot of people. I think that’s where I’d like to go with the larger installations that I’d like to do. It’s comical to me, when people say, ‘I want to go there.’ It makes me feel special, like I created somewhere that people want to go to, but it’s not there anymore. I could recreate it, but it would never be that same moment, it’s never going to be the same.

The whole idea of Motelscape is being this anti-art world façade, because the art world is so exclusive. This gallery is this prestigious, and you have to be wealthy to afford art and to attend art shows. The idea of Motelscape is this fleeting sexualization of art that is so real in the art world. I’ve gone to Art Basel two times before I did Motelscape, and I always call it this bougie Burning Man. There’s art everywhere and celebrities and wealthy people everywhere buying art left and right, and there’s this quick fix of, ‘I like that, I’m going to buy it’ aspect of art in general. I don’t like that.

I like art being available and approachable and affordable. I think that’s why I’ve been making jewellery for so long, being able to make something that people can enjoy and wear and make it affordable for pretty much everybody. But because of the fashion world being so draining at this point in time, I feel like I only want to create huge, plexi-sculptures and furniture and immersive spaces, because that’s where my heart is telling me to go. 

“The art world is so exclusive. The idea of Motelscape is this fleeting sexualization of art that is so real in the art world” – Marina Fini

A lot of your mini-worlds look digital, but you’ve created them using these real world, old-school, analog materials. Why did you choose to do that versus making a virtual world? 

Marina Fini: I like the idea of things looking fake but actually being real. There’s something about that that’s always fascinated me. I don’t use Photoshop on my photos. A lot of people are like, ‘How did you do that effect in post-production?’ I did that on camera. I think that’s where it started. It was kind of this analog theory and utilizing old techniques with anything, whether it be making a movie or building a set. I just love the idea of analog and using everything to make the photo happen in real life versus going into post. I definitely have a deep appreciation for post-production, but I’m very into creating the virtual reality of reality. It’s like being a magician almost. I feel like a trickster sometimes. Is it real or is it not? But if it is real, then it looks fake. I like playing with people’s minds. 

So if there was ever technology in your lifetime that would enable you to make holographic worlds indistinguishable from real life, would you go that direction or would you still be doing old-school, analog, real-world materials? 

Marina Fini: I think combining both would be kind of rad. Imagine making something that’s pretty unreal to look at in person to begin with and then layering it with holographic rendering, 3D projection maps, and then all of a sudden it turns off. I think combining technology with analog techniques is really fun. I definitely already utilize technology with the analog, but [this would be] taking it to the next level. I’m not a gamer at all, but I have an appreciation for the story and the creation of the game. I’d love to work on a videogame at some point. I love virtual reality, I think it’s amazing. I’m not a big Pokemon Go player, but I play it occasionally, and I think it’s so cute, seeing a Pokemon pop up on my screen. I have plushies all over my house. I’m like a 5-year-old in so many ways. I’m 26 now, but I definitely feel there’s a huge part of me that’s still a child. I just want to bring my childlike eyes to everyone. We already do, in so many ways. The idea of escapism into fantasy when things are horrible in the world is so essential for therapy and healing. So many amazing art movements happen through post-war. 

What sort of spaces do you have the most complicated relationships with? What spaces are you drawn to the most? 

Marina Fini: I really like the tranquility of spas. I really want to do a show in a spa or create a spa from scratch. I love the calmness. In conjunction, I have the hardest time being in a really crowded space. Really crowded areas freak me out. I used to go to festivals and raves and concerts on a bunch of psychedelics and be fine and be happy, but now that stresses me the fuck out. I can’t imagine all those psychedelics and all those people. It’s just too intense. I also really like bathrooms. The place I lasercut at, I’ll sometimes be there late at night when no one’s at the lab because I have a 24-hour access pass, and I’ll just hang out in the bathroom for like 20 minutes singing. I just like the solitude and the echo. But even when I was younger, I always liked going to the bathroom during class and just hanging out in the bathroom. Not even going to the bathroom, just hanging out in the bathroom was this escape and this solitude and tranquility that I always really liked. It’s a quick escape from the reality of school or the reality of life. I’ve just always enjoyed bathrooms! 

“When I was younger, I always liked going to the bathroom during class and hanging out - it was this escape and this solitude and tranquility that I always really liked” – Marina Fini

Other places that stress me out—bars. Downtown LA stresses me out. I get really sad seeing Skid Row and all the homeless people, it gets to me. I go down there at least once a week for supplies. At the same time, I’m also really attracted to the dirtiness and the grunginess and the rawness of a city, and the characters and the diversity that happen in a city. You don’t get that in suburbia or even in mainstream cities. I feel like LA and New York and Chicago are some of the only melting pot hubs of diversity and people of all walks of life tipping together. That’s very fascinating to me. I guess that’s also why I like performative, live arts aspects of putting performance art in the public space. It’s super fascinating having the diverse crowd, not just having people who already appreciate art and are already going to see the art. Putting people that aren’t expecting or don’t go to museums with the art is really special and it can be transformative for that person that day. Surprising people with another aspect of life that they never witnessed.