fin simonetti

in Simonetti – Charged Marble

Nacre: LIFEMORTS was the first show of your work that I saw, in a basement gallery space. Pink insulation stuffed into partly completed wall carcass, a locked up freezer with a cut-in catholic feel vitrage, rose marble mutt heads on poles. A bodyguard followed you at the opening. You wore red. 

Looking through images of your work made me snicker with delight. Sopressata! But also made my eyes gorge on confidence, discretion and delicacy of the executed sculptures and layout of the space. Pledge, is a show where a midas touch is the curse of every familiar object turning devastatingly veiny and delicate, immobile, arrested, stagnant, history repeating in lilac alabaster. I am particularly delighted by what looks to be alabaster earplugs. Earplugs is something I think about a lot and use: living in creaky decrepit buildings for over a decade can be at times unbearably intrusive and loud. Though, that is living in the world: the world is full, sound and more.

My first question is: Why did you leave Vancouver and how does being in New York inform your work, why did you choose it as your base?

Fin: Vancouver is a beautiful city, but it didn’t have the intensity I needed.  When I was 18, I went to Toronto for school, and then a few years after graduating from OCAD, I rented a room in a warehouse in Baltimore. I didn’t know anyone in Baltimore, but the rent was cheap, and I needed to try something new… and I really liked a lot of the music that was coming out of Baltimore at the time (DJ Dog Dick, Schwarz, Sewn Leather, Nautical Almanac, etc).  While I was living in Baltimore I met Sigrid Lauren and Monica Mirabile, and we became close friends and occasional collaborators [Sigrid and Monica perform together as FlucT].  We worked together on a few videos and performances.  Eventually I moved back to Toronto because I didn’t have a visa for me to stay longer in Baltimore, and during that time Sigrid and Monica ended up moving to New York.  I was ready for another move, and it made sense to move closer to Sigrid and Monica both as friends and collaborators.  That move was about 5 years ago.

iving in New York is obviously very expensive, and that can make it a grind.  But I also find it energizing to have access to so much stuff…  Even though I can be pretty anti-social (I’m a studio hermit), I go to all kinds of lectures, poetry readings, art openings, etc.  It’s impossible to quantify how that affects my work, but I certainly feel stimulated living here.

Q: Where did you learn the technique of working with marble?

A: I’m self-taught in stone carving. My dad carved marble, and he was also self-taught.  I didn’t grow up with him in my life, so I never learned from him — but after he died I was tasked with cleaning up his house and estate, and I spent a lot of time with his sculptures.  Previous to that, I had it in the back of my mind for a long time to try stone carving, and after he died that impulse took on an urgency. I used the process of learning to carve stone as a sort of catharsis.  

The tools are pretty rudimentary: you have a hammer and a chisel, and you hit one with the other. Through trial and error, I just sort of pushed through.  

In terms of the actually carving, the process is incredibly hard on your body.  It’s taken me some time to build up the stamina to work a full day at the studio.  Carving pushes me to my limit physically, but also in terms of seeing. I had thought I looked “closely” in my other work —like in my drawing — but with stone carving I’ve had to look even more carefully.  I feel like the process has sharpened my vision.  You have to project into the stone to see what the next move is. 

Q: Where does the source material for you sculptural work come from? 

A: For some of the pieces in Pledge I didn’t use source material — like the candles for example.  For the pit bull heads [like the LIFEMORTS show], I printed a bunch of pictures of pit bulls from different angles and taped them all over my studio.  And then whenever I would see a pit out on the street, I would stare really hard and try to memorize the shapes.  

Q: Why did you choose marble as the material?

A: Marble has a “charge” that I don’t think is easily found in other materials.  It’s a combination of its significance historically and also it’s basic material properties.  Any stone sculpture is a singular thing — like if I break one of my pieces, that’s it. It’s precarious. 

Q:  Every artist has to contend with being embedded in a pattern or many, that are hard to break. Marble has a very specific sculptural and architectural legacy, one that historically linked to geographic proximity of cultures that used it, to the natural resource. Contemporary marble mining has to do with a certain brutality and long-haul distribution of the material, and with countertops in condos worldwide. How do you relate to addressing violence of excavation of the materials that you use? 

A: Most of the stones I use come from quarries in Europe — much of the marble and agate come from Italy, and the alabasters I’ve used are quarried in Spain. Obviously I agree that humans have a devastating impact on the environment, and the process of quarrying and distributing stone on a global scale/under capitalism is part of that.  But compared to other areas of my life, carving stone has a small footprint.  

Maybe it’s easier to connect stone to environmental brutality because it’s in a raw form — versus materials like silicon or hydrocal which are abstracted materially from anything we identify as coming from the earth.  

Metaphorically and materially, using stone does explicitly feel more violent.  And then there is an added layer of metaphorical “violence” because the process of carving uses brute force… hammering away at a piece of rock until it takes the desired shape is pretty dramatic.

Q: Would you then say that you intentionally evoke violence by the use of marble as the material?

A: Not necessarily… Ideas of violence consistently run through the “lower octaves” of my work.  By that I mean that I am mostly interested in subtle and implicit forms of cruelty and brutality, rather than overt and graphic violence.  The harsh physical reality of stone carving is just a fact that can be lined up with these themes.

Q: You perform or mock forms of masculinity, oppressive or dominating forces, self-inflicted (like sport reference in Pledge) or societal. How do these themes in your work find their way into the gallery spaces?

A: I hope my work doesn’t come across as mocking masculinity, but instead that I’m looking closely and critically at the culture of masculinity: where it is corrosive and where there is pain. In the Pledge sculptures, there was sort of a natural progression materially to make work about male pain and male absence, which then bloomed into a wider meditation on the culture of masculinity… which is partially why I am reticent to acquiesce to a “mocking” tone in the work.  It’s more about pain, and then empathy and rage.  Although, yes, the performance of normative capital-m Masculinity can be ridiculous and funny — but those aren’t the driving forces in this work.

Q: The distance between our intention as artists and reception of the work can’t be fully anticipated. Where flaccid shapes or the montage of straining athletes had less of an ambiguous read to me, somewhat subtler is the religious undertones of your work — marble, vitrage and candles: what is your relationship to this context? 

A: I’m interested in religion as a normative entry point into magical thinking.  That’s the main thing.  Nowhere else do we so comfortably process abstract ideas about morality and mortality, or have almost supernatural/superstitious beliefs that don’t interrupt the basic fabric of reality.