Free space in the surrealist zone
Pia Mauno interviewed by Paulina Sokolow
In Pia Mauno’s works, the textile and the eternal, platonic forms of the Adidas stripes and the human form are given free rein to soar around in a secret fitting room. Do step in!
Tell us how you became the artist you are today.
“I’m not from an academic family, so my path to art went through my family’s interest in textiles and fashion. My Finnish aunts were, and still are, modern women who took a great interest in both traditional textiles and more contemporary ones, like Marimekko and other designer fabrics. However I was barely even aware that you could go to school to learn this stuff. My mother is a trained pattern designer, but like many Finnish immigrants, she worked in the ready-to-wear garment industry.
Growing up in Sweden, I didn’t have any immediate connections to art, apart from possibly graffiti, which was a big thing. I ended up making a bunch of false starts before I finally ended up in a drawing class where the teacher told me about an art school in Västerås. After that, I attended the Houvedskou painting school, and then Valand in Gothenburg. The exchange year I did at the Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts was a formative experience for me, where I came into contact with the art scene, and rediscovered the textile tradition.”
But you still ended up working in painting rather than textile?
“I deal with textile subjects in my painting and now I can tell is was there from the beginning, only now, it’s more like a source of motifs. Clothes can serve as a deconstruction of a human being. A bow can designate mental activity. A symbol of humanity. Hats and garments play an important role. I think that the surrealists did this a great deal – surrealism is an important inspiration for me, and it also incorporates textile elements, like mannequins, folds, bows, and scissors. The surrealists were searching for their inner space through those very objects.”
I get the sense that your art contains a lot of references to art history. What do you think about that?
“I feel a sense of familiarity when it comes to the world of the surrealists and the great interest they took in everyday objects, such as the glove as a symbol of an absent hand, a shell of a human being, as used by Giorgio de Chirico. I found what I was after in surrealism: A displacement of sorts. My basic idea is to work figuratively, not just abstractly, but I want that displacement. The surreal. Through the work of Elsa Schiaparelli, I discovered that the garment is also an artwork. Perhaps the reason why I see dual meanings everywhere is that I’m bilingual? Toyen was another important female surrealist. I wanted to find female role models, but I’ve also found myself being drawn to artists like Max Ernst and Torsten Andersson.”
Tell us more about your relationship to surrealism?
“During my time at the Valand Academy I found it difficult to connect with contemporary painting. To make progress and make my painting my own, I created a free space that I called the surrealist zone. There I explored recycled image fragments and compositions from art history, and created new pictures that told more contemporary, current stories.”
How does it fit in with your textile references?
“I’ve refined the idea of a surrealist zone and turned it into a mental fitting room where I combine ideas taken from textile culture with surrealist ones. In my fitting room, I’m free to test ideas, take them apart, and rebuild them, like dreams that seem familiar but still contain absurd elements and displacements. It’s a point where pop culture and more metaphysical, abstract ideas can be united.”
What inspires you, other than art history and textiles?
“I’ve taken to Plato’s ideas about the forms. How do abstract concepts such as the fold function within his concept of forms? In a series called “Adidas in theory” (2018) that is being shown at CFHILL, I’ve tried inserting Adidas into Plato’s world of forms.”
The Adidas stripes are an eternal form, the three lines could extend infinitely, but they can also be divided. It could also be about body, class, subculture, sport, or hip-hop culture. Letting philosophy and pop culture collide can yield interesting results. Adidas is also an abstract idea, however folksy it may be. I test an idea that I have about something, and sometimes it’s street aesthetics. If you look at Malevich’s series of farmers, and place it alongside hip-hop fashion, you can find a lot of similarities in the juxtapositions of abstract, monochrome surfaces.”
Does the fold represent anything else?
“It’s what you don’t see, something that exists behind the rest, in the next layer. The bow is like a twist, something that’s been turned inside-out; a bodily fold, something girly. I think of each painting as a window display that I’m looking into, where various objects and body parts have been arranged into macabre still lifes. Surrealist objects that symbolise human beings, and the depiction of the body; e.g., the hat (brain), glove (hand), shoe or sock (foot), mannequin (body), hat block, wig, uniform, or various prosthetics. Even textile, which is essentially malleable, folds in reference to skin and the folds and of the body.”
Your titles make me curious, too. What does “Licking the Blue” mean, for instance? As in, licking the abstract?
“I think of it as the artist eating colour. It’s something you’re trying to get at, without knowing what it is at first–you don’t know what it is until you’ve done it. The passion of the artist. The eye on the tongue, the tongue on the eye.”
Pia Mauno is one of five artists chosen for CFHILL ANNUAL 2019, running through August 30 – September 19.