Picci's dreamy art critiques identity in our hyper digital age
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“I grew up with the myth of the tortured artist and, because of that, I didn’t feel entitled to be an artist due to my happiness. I thought I didn’t have battles to fight for,” says conceptual and digital artist Andy Picci on the journey that led him to his artistic process. Because it was exactly these fears which ultimately drove him to explore the themes of perception, identity, spectacle, and expectation that now sit at the core of Picci’s body of work.
Picci’s art is both sharp and playful as it examines the effects of digitalisation on society and identity and tries to get to the bottom of the central question of “who are you?” It’s a question that has become more and more complex as identity in our digital age proves ever more mercurial; as our personas profilterate through the dimensions of endless social platforms.
This quest for self-identity has led Picci on a journey across mediums, his work evolving and shifting as technology and social media have advanced and grown increasingly ubiquitous. Early projects focused on fame and celebrity, like the 2015 piece which saw Picci transform himself into Pete Doherty, succeeding to fool paparazzi and the media alike (photographs of him impersonating Doherty were published in French newspaper Le Parisien).
This appropriation of identity has morphed more recently into exploring identity of self. A series of AR Instagram filters act as a commentary on selfie culture, while his surreal and dreamlike 3D lettering came to define a moment in time during lockdown when the only thing that made any sense at all was how surreal everything was.
Throughout quarantine, Picci chronicled his daily experiences on his Instagram account which became a diary documenting the collective ups and downs we all went through. ‘#Quarantine Day 3: “Selfiesolation”’ he captioned a stylised selfie of himself, tears dripping down his masked face. ‘#quarantine day 12: “I miss the outside world”’ accompanied an image of a vast ocean contained in an iphone screen. ‘#quarantine day 13: “I was about to do it..”’ he wrote alongside his 3D letter art reading ‘...Then a pandemic spread’. “What did you procrastinate?” he asked his followers.
“Lockdown was a very unusual experience. Not only for the cause and situation we went through but also because it is the first time our generation shared the same situation worldwide,” he says. “So I believed that by sharing my feelings there was a good chance I wouldn’t be the only one feeling this. These extreme and unique situations are very interesting material for artists, as it is very rare to explore topics that will really resonate to the whole world.” Here the artist talks Kanye West, constructing identity, and the effects of lockdown on his art.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
Andy Picci: I was born and raised in Lausanne, Switzerland from Italian parents. Most of the people that grew up in small cities might relate, but being different or eccentric wasn’t what society was expecting from you. As an Italian immigrant, my father was always worried about what people would think of him. I guess, by opposition this brought me to a place where I was afraid of being ‘invisible’. When I was younger, I was diagnosed with contraphobic sociophobia. This paradoxical state of mind might be the source of my artistic research.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Andy Picci: When I was around 13, I saw a movie about a very shy ‘weird’ teen who met an alien that made him become the coolest kid in school. The very next day I begged my parents to let me dress up exactly as the ‘cool’ version of the said-teen. The look was black derbies, black jeans, white unbuttoned shirt, spiky wet hair, and (obviously) black Wayfarer sunglasses. I ended up with the whole school asking me if I was attending a wedding after class. That very same day I learned that sadly, society’s perception of yourself represents 50 per cent of who you are.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Andy Picci: There’s a picture of Kate Moss and Peter Doherty at Glastonbury in 2007… She was wearing a full black outfit with leather trousers, he had a grey suit and a burgundy shirt. I remember thinking ‘they are so cool.’ This led me to a whole research about rock, poetry, dandyism and the research of absolute beauty. Through Wilde, Baudelaire and Chateaubriand I started my own quest of beauty alongside the meaning of identity construction. Then, I discovered that this perpetual research would be a life’s quest. My current mood is: what would come out if we merge Elvis Presley with Salvador Dalì and reincarnate them into Kanye West?
Why are you an artist? What made you want to become one?
Andy Picci: I understood I would be an artist the day it appeared to me that I was more interested in the ‘cause’ rather than the ‘consequence’. I wasn’t interested in learning how to do things, however I was truly passionate about why people were doing things. I never tried to answer any question, but I always had a new question to ask. Eventually this led me to analyse society and its functioning, instead of taking part of it the way I was expected to.
How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft?
Andy Picci: I always knew I was pursuing something, but I don’t think I found it until my Masters research at CSM. During my study, I had two truly amazing tutors who helped me focus on the meaning of what I was doing. I then discovered what an artistic process was. How the meaning is more important to me than the aesthetic and that I shouldn’t have to stick to one medium.
I grew up with the myth of the tortured artist and, because of this, I didn’t feel entitled to be an artist due to my happiness. I thought I didn’t have battles to fight for. They explained to me that this was an extremely interesting point of research. What society expects an artist to be. What it means to be opposed to society's perception. They introduced me to Baudrillard, Debord, and Deleuze, to the simulacrum and the society of the spectacle, the paradoxical relation we have with intimacy at the age of Social Media.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to ‘beauty’ (whatever that word means to you)?
Andy Picci: I don’t focus on ‘beauty’ as what used to be isn’t necessarily still beautiful and what is beautiful today might not be any longer tomorrow. In my opinion, beauty as an aesthetic cannot be defined. It is a perpetual evolution depending on trends, and social context. I don’t see how a universal beauty could exist.
However, inner beauty can be associated with honesty. Beauty cannot be limited to a perception, it has to be experienced. In this sense, I hope that by working on genuine feelings and opinions my work could, one day, capture some of the greatest human beauty. My work delivers honest thoughts about the way I feel our society acts, and I simply adapt the form to visually fit the context that will speak to the current audience. Therefore, the context cannot be ignored as an artwork that does not meet its audience, cannot deliver its message.
What is it about social media that you find so fascinating? Why do you think you are drawn to exploring identity through it?
Andy Picci: What I found truly fascinating with social media is the freedom it offers to people. Constructing ourselves used to be a long-run through a lifetime. Through social media it seems that constructing our identity is only the starting point of our life. Even more, we can have more than one life; we can evolve or start from scratch in a very easy way. Social media is a place you can find people like you, whoever you are. It is somewhere you can be who or what you want, whether it is who you are or not. It is an exhibition of our intimacy. This very paradox of the evolution of so-called intimacy is truly interesting. How do we place boundaries between our private life and our public life? Between whom we are and who we want to be?
Are our online personas just an extension of who we are in ‘real life’ or do they change when we have that online audience?
Andy Picci: From my analysis, our online persona is simply an extension of ourself. Society has taught us to be ‘normal’, therefore to be all the same. Our current sociological context would want us to be and act as per the majority. However, the majority is made from a lot of minorities. And all these differences have been hidden inside each one of us, as something ‘weird’ we shouldn’t show.
Social media came as a place where we could express all these differences. We have finally been allowed to be who we are or who we want to be in a place where we could find other people who share the same interests. It isn’t surprising then that the more someone acts differently in society to who they are, the more this person will be contrasted online. In opposition, the more someone has felt entitled to be who they truly are in society, the more their virtual persona will be coherent with how we know them. Good thing is, once you experience being who you truly are, you eventually end up having enough courage to act the same IRL.
Has lockdown affected the way you approach your work?
Andy Picci: What did change for sure is people’s understanding of virtuality. Lots of big brands and institutions had to follow digital strategies, even the ones who used to pretend it wouldn’t be necessary. This opened an awareness from the audience that really pushed my work in an unexpected fastness. I felt I had to do the research of five years in five months to follow up with the hectic rhythm on which people jumped into new technologies from one day to another. It is hard, now, to go back to a slower thinking and to try to anticipate what the mass-willing direction will be once we go out again. Will we be bored of that much technology or will we properly integrate it to our daily life? I am really looking forward to a pro-techno world.
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Andy Picci: In a good way I guess. I’d say the more times goes on, the more all industries are looking for newness rather than obviousness. However, in the recent race to go digital, some entities just rushed without thinking it through. I think it is a problem when institutions use virtuality to replicate reality. Virtuality should be a reality-enhancer! Today it is clear that some things are made to be experienced IRL and some others are better URL. I don’t see the point of copying your physical show in a digital medium. They should think out of the box, and find a way to use the infinite possibilities virtuality offers in their advantage.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Andy Picci: The best advice I’ve got is very corny: FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT. If everything had already been made, no one would succeed anymore. If you do things the way other people think things should be done, everybody would do the same thing in the same way. Everything has been or will be hype at some point, so don’t chase it. Follow your thoughts, and you will eventually succeed. Also, keep in mind that no one has the same vision of ‘success’. Find what will make YOU feel successful. Trust yourself, Always.
What are you currently working on?
Andy Picci: I have no clue yet. I’d like to write some kind of Happiness Manifesto, under the form of some visual representation of the way we intellectually interact with each other. All those subtle sentences we say without thinking about what it means anymore; ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine,’ and so on… All these little sentences that used to mean something. I feel we should target unity over comfort in order to build a better tomorrow, and if we want to build ourselves as individuals, we need to build a society where it is allowed to explore various forms of what we can and want to be. So I guess, somehow, I am trying to build tomorrow.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?