Interview with Sonja FOurate
Sonja Fourate: I understand that "The Great Farce" is mainly about world leaders, mixing politics with entertainment and re-writing history. What did inspire you to write this story/film?
Federico Solmi: “The Great Farce” is the title of my new video installation, which will be projected nine screens wide on the facade of the Frankfurt Opera house at the end of November 2017, during the Frankfurt B3 Biennial of the Moving Image. It goes perfectly with the main B3 theme of “ON DESIRE”. One of the biggest inspirations for the series was the book “Interviews with History and Conversations with Power” by Oriana Fallaci. The book blew my mind, exposing the weaknesses, ruthlessness, and theatrics of some of the most influential political leaders and dictators of the 21 century, including: Benito Mussolini, Henri Kissinger, Ariel Sharon, Gaddafi. The absurdity of their uniforms, and methods used to impose fear and intimidation, are what led to my cast of world leaders in “The Great Farce.” They exist in an amusement park where all of the events of history are re-enacted for their enjoyment. This is how celebrity and entertainment combine with politics, through a spectacle where historical accuracy no longer matters, and contradiction is everywhere. It all leads up to the present moment, where these inaccuracies and injustices have caught up with our contemporary society.
SJ: In your view, what do the inaccuracies and injustices you are talking about in your first answer, what do they do with our societies?
FS: In the United States, we are living in an era dominated by an unreliable media, “alternative facts” and “fake news.” The political situation of today cannot be isolated from the deep, and turbulent history of this or any country. “The Great Farce” re-imagines controversial histories through parody and thereby highlights events that have been otherwise downplayed in our textbooks. The connection between contemporary society and the injustices of the past is inextricable. With today’s political discord in the US and Europe alike, I believe we are witnessing a great cultural disillusionment, and people feel bereft of power.
SJ: Part of the work are iconic historical figures like General Lee. Do you think that he is an example of history that was re-written to make him look better than he was?
FS: What has struck me the most is that, depending on your heritage, you will be brought up with a different perception of history and its figures. For example, General Lee was considered a hero for one group and a monster for another. Even George Washington, who is glorified by our school systems to this day, was nick named “The Town Destroyer” by the Iroquois tribe. To me, all the leaders in the series are rascals, ruthlessly serving their own interests as counterfeit heroes in positions of power.
SJ: Donald Trump is a popular subject for many artists now. Don't people get a little tired of it?
FS: The series analyzes leaders since the beginning of civilization, from Alexander the Great and Socrates, to Genghis Khan and Benito Mussolini. There are a selection of American presidents are included as well, and it is fitting to include our current one in order to complete the cycle. Donald Trump is not the main character, he is part of the ensemble who shows our problems are not contained to the past. The Trump character I have created fits perfectly within my grotesquely poetic satire.
In my experience people are very interested to see artwork that speaks out. For too many years the US art scene has been completely disconnected from the world in which we live, and political and social commentary art has been marginalized. Now, finally, I see that important museums and curators are becoming interested in political work, and I believe it is necessary for artists to step up to that role, and speak out.
SJ: Do you feel that the atmosphere for artists changed after Donald Trump became President?
FS: I believe that in this cultural and political climate there have been big changes, especially in the urban centers like New York and LA. Artists have inevitably become more engaged in political issues as people simply cannot stop talking about politics right now. We are bombarded constantly by updates about the President of the United States, and New York in particular feels like a hub of political electricity. For me, it’s hard to take the news seriously anymore. I have never experienced anything like this. From both sides of political spectrum there is a constant stream of rhetoric that is invasive and can be depressing, but I also find enjoyment out of the news when I imagine it in the context of a soap opera. Unfortunately, I feel that whether one chooses Fox News or CNN, there is no trustworthy journalism and us, the citizens, are likely the real victims of these manic days.
SJ: Will you show "The Great Farce" in America as well? The reactions could end up to be more controversial than in Germany/Europe.
FS: Of course, I will exhibit this series in the US, why not? All of my galleries can’t wait. Part of the reason that we don’t see edgy, political work, is because artists seem afraid to speak out. I don’t blame them, it is quite intimidating to express yourself in a world where art is treated just like another commodity. Often political art does not sell well, and galleries tend to prefer more decorative and polite artworks than hard core political or controversial artists. In the studio, I try not to worry what other people will think. I’ve kept away from trendy and fashionable movements, and stick to doing what I want, or feel compelled to do. I try to teach my students at Yale this sentiment as well. It is very important for an artist to be honest with themselves, and distrust trends. They should create works that reflect their strongest beliefs if they want to have relevance.
SJ: How did you get in touch with the Frankfurt Opera House and how did you convince them to work with you?
FS: I was invited by Bernd Kracke, Anita Beckers and Katharina Gerson from Frankfurt B3 Biennial of the Moving Image. Initially, I did not know what they had in mind for me; I thought they wanted to show several pieces from my previous body of work. At the beginning of 2017, Bernd came to my studio in Brooklyn, and he unveiled the possibility of a large scale video installation. I signed immediately; I was super excited to make a projection of this scale, and my team and I went to work immediately. I use a combination of 3-D digital and gaming technology with traditional drawing and painting techniques. A work of this kind requires many months of work, with a whole team of skilled painters, modelers, programmers, editors, and more. I have about twelve assistants working on the project, and it will take up to eight months to complete.
SJ: What do you intend to achieve with your work (specifically "The Great Farce", but also your work in general)?
FS: In “The Great Farce”, reality has become a spectacle of conflicting events where celebrity culture and consumerist society collide into archetypal myths. The absurd adventures of deluded idols perpetuate a cultural narrative that is full of incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the past and present. I intend to communicate to the viewer that they should not accept what they are taught without question, and I want people to consider the ways technology and the hard-wiring of cultures and traditions are controlling their own actions. My characters act as puppets populating a virtual world, animated through motion capture and computer scripts rather than strings. This technology, a result of humanity’s pioneering hopes and dreams, has pervaded contemporary society through a chaos of entertainment, diverting attention away from those in power, and dissolving any distinction between what is true and what is counterfeit.