Signe Pierce on the chaotic beauty of reality and its natural refractions

Art — 30.03.18

The New York-based ‘reality’ artist Signe Pierce examines the ambiguous intersection between art and technology in the 21st century. Her use of exaggerated light and colour is applied to scenes of the every day as she creates a heightened realism that negotiates between the realm of art and life. Her distinct aesthetic, which is often oversaturated, excessive, aggressive and perverse, is frequently reposted and shared via Insta platforms such as the notable @decorehardore given its appealing artificiality. Pierce also plays with the male gaze, which has commonly been associated with the hypersexualised and idealised women in mainstream media channels, as her self-portrayal is rooted in the art of seduction and the hyperfeminine.

Teeth Magazine met with Pierce to discuss her inclusion in the group exhibition Virtual Normality; Women Net Artists 2:0 at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, a show ‘devoted to the female gaze in the age of digital stagings of identity’. The multimedia artist also discusses her second solo show, Metamirrorism, at the Annka Kultys Gallery, techno feminism and why the chaos of reality inspires her artistic practice.

Lara Monro: Can you explain why you call yourself a ‘reality’ artist?
Signe Pierce: I studied photography, which meant I was traditionally labelled a ‘photographer’. People like to classify you as something: photographer, performance artist and so on. I’ve never liked this, especially when it came to the work I created with Allie Coates in 2013, American Reflexxx. This was a short film documenting a social experiment in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I’m walking down the street wearing a reflective mask in stripper garb. The scenes that unfolded raise questions about gender stereotypes, mob mentality, and violence in America. To me, there was something a little bit inaccurate when describing that piece as performance art. Yes, I am performing so to speak, but it’s not like there is a script or a plan. Essentially the performance that is happening is being left up to the chaos of reality. This got me thinking about how I don’t identify as a performance artist, which subsequently lead me to coin the term ‘reality artist’. The thing that inspires me the most in my work is the manipulative nature of reality. My show last year at the Annka Kultys Gallery was called ‘Faux Realities‘. It was a series of photographs that showcase American excess and decay through the vacant strip mall interiors, lush palm trees and omnipresent surveillance cameras that leave a subtle aftertaste of dirty money and artificiality. These images encourage the viewer to think about the actual reality of the images vs the presented reality? Is the lighting authentic or was it manipulated digitally? That is what I’m exploring – what separates reality from artifice – the digital from the real.

What do you think of the term cyberfeminist – do you relate to it?

It is a term that has been thrown at artists like myself and Molly Soda. While I transcribe entirely to it and what it stands for, I think that what we are now talking about is a Techno Feminism – this idea of amplifying each other as a way of promoting intersectionality. Some of my friends in New York are part of a DJ collective called Discwoman, and they have been using this term. I personally like it because it is creating a new avenue, one that uses technology to give those who have been previously marginalised a voice. Cyberfeminism was very much predicting what will happen in the future whereas right now we are living very much in a digital age with platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The internet has amplified all our voices and evened the playing field. We are in a sweet era – pre-net neutrality. Let’s enjoy it, because who knows what will happen with it all in the future.

You often portray yourself as hypersexualised as you play on this idea of the ‘ideal woman’ – are you playing with stereotypes that have been implemented by society and what is deemed as ‘conventional/acceptable’ beauty?

Hypersexuality is certainly a big part of my work. Before we had online platforms, women had to be ‘radical’ in a different way. For me my approach has long been rooted in the frustration I get from seeing how women are depicted in the media and on TV – often as objects. I have shaped myself to play an archetype as a way of tormenting and playing with the stereotype, turning it on its head. I didn’t look like this seven years ago. When I was in college and started to learn about queer and feminist theory, I began to develop my own ideas; exploring and questioning why women on TV have to fit into a particular category/mould. I suppose I am playing with the idea “if you can’t beat them, join them”. I’m embracing an aesthetic to twist the knife a little bit. It’s also important to acknowledge that sex sells. I think of it like this; who needs to hear about feminism, who needs to be dished a little bit of truth? It’s not the gallery goers; it’s not the people who are inclined to go and see a feminist performance. It’s the people who would never step foot in the gallery. How are we going to get their attention? By playing the role of who they would be most likely be drawn to on a superficial level. Maybe if we lead with a more subversive palette, which makes them horny, it may be the best way to get their attention.

Do you feel that living and working in New York influence your artistic practice?
I think living in America in general influences my practice. I’ve lived in New York for almost ten years, but frankly, I didn’t start making any of the work I am known for until I moved to LA in 2014. LA is tropical, neon, and hyper-real.

Can you tell me about your inclusion in the group exhibition Virtual Normality; Women Net Artists 2:0 at the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig and if there were any specific reasons as to why you were keen to be involved?

Overall every single person in the show brings a strong identity to the space. What I love is that even though there are some similar tropes and colour pallets between each of the artists, which very much helps us come together, everyone is uniquely representing themselves. I’m thrilled the work is being seen and taken more seriously. It was interesting in the run-up to the opening to see the two curators Anika Meier and Sabrina Steinke being hounded by the press with questions such as “can a selfie really be art?” It is so easy to throw stones at women who are portraying themselves in a way that they want to be seen. Women have always been observed in the media through the male gaze. Why is it that when we turn the lens back on ourselves, people get so offended? This is exactly why Virtual Normality is such an important show. I would prefer if we were all a little more refined in how we critique female intention. When women dare to speak their mind people are so much quicker to question it – we are made to feel as if we have to prove it. Well, we don’t. People need to open up their perceptions.

You have your second solo show at the Annka Kultys Gallery opening on Tuesday 27th March – can you tell me more about Metamirrorism?

In this show I am exploring reality as a medium, flipping it inside out. I will use cameras, projections and mirrors to create an installation piece. Using the cameras and projections, images will be able to bounce off the mirrors. I am playing with the way in which certain things make up our perception. For me, reality is a muse, a medium, and conceptual anchor. Chaos is something that inspires me about the notion of reality. We try to create structure in our lives by making schedules, plans – we seek order. Yet the beauty of reality is that our structure and order can change in a split second and often its explanation is unknown. I use it as a tool because it is one of the most real and authentic aspects of life that we can work with. I am ultimately musing the phenomenality of time, space and light as well as the beautiful gift of vision and cognitive perception. Cognitive perception is also a major aspect of this show. The experience of the installation will be different for everyone. Each spectator who enters the room becomes an abstract part of the exhibition and depending on where you are standing in the room you will see things in different ways. So much of my work talks about the digital and how technology alters our perception of what is real. In this case, it is not even very digital. There is no media manipulator, the only thing manipulating our perception is the way all these factors intersect each other. I like that for someone who talks non stop about digital manipulation I am taking a minute to focus on the wonder of actual reality and perception.

Are there any art institutions/collectives/organisations that you credit most for their exhibition programme?
Kimberly Rose Drew is the social media manager at The Met Museum. Drew is doing amazing work as a spokesperson for intersectionality and representation in the arts. She speaks to a huge audience and is using her job to raise massive awareness on subjects that are often overlooked. It’s not The Met that is doing the work; it is the social media manager! I am happy a major art institution is allowing someone like Kimberly to steer the ship in a direction that literally everyone should be following. Also Discwoman, who I mentioned earlier. They are determined to work on the world of Techno, which has been such a white, male-dominated world for so long.

Are there any exhibitions you are planning to see whilst in London?
I’m giving myself a few days after the show to do a big trip around the city. I will definitely go to see Sondra Perry at the Serpentine. I also want to go to Anthea Hamilton at Tate Britain and Eddie Peak at White Cube. I researched a few other galleries and am looking forward to visiting Arcadia Missa and The Sunday Painter. I’ve also heard that Juno Calypso will be talking at an event with Marguerite on Wednesday 28th so will make sure I get to that.

You can check out Signe’s second show ‘Metamirrorism‘, at the Annka Kultys Gallery in London until 28th April.