For Sandro Fieno, everything is fiction as long as reality itself is pure fiction.
Isaac Perez Solano,
Photographer Mario Sorrenti once said, “You don’t need to be technically great because, if you have a strong philosophy, people will be moved by your pictures regardless.” That makes for a pretty spot on description for the way that Sandro Fieno approaches his art. Photographer and painter by heart, body and soul. He is willing to reveal some small hints of his own self and work whilst creating an image that goes beyond a blank page or the tip of a crayon.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Let’s put everything in context. Can you please tell us a bit more about your background?
That’s a hard question to begin with! You know, it is always hard to describe oneself. I guess I want to start off by saying I’m a queer artist from the south of Italy, and both these two requirements have built my personality and perception of things. Studying and art have taught me to express my feelings and speak my mind through both actions and words, which came out to be extremely important to represent my ideals and my persona in general. As for the process of making art, being Italian comes very handy, especially if you’re from the south like me. Landscape and its quietness are a perfect virgin field where develop your thoughts and reflections.
How well do you know yourself?
Self-knowledge is a step-by-step journey. As a queer person, I had to face that time in my life when I had to come out, and that was the first time I got to discover something new about myself. Since then, I grew up some serious strength I didn’t know I had; being resistant is a good thing to achieve. Simultaneously, I just found out, after a dark period I experienced, how fragile a man can be in such situations of life. I found myself being too much afraid of death and the unknown, of future and time passing by. It is ridiculous how strongly you get to feel two different emotions, strength and weakness, invincibility and defeat. I guess that this dichotomy is so far all I know about myself, but it is really representative.
What have you learned from your Italian heritage?
See, I come from the very south of Italy, where people act just like the way the world portrays us; we are a fun and passionate population. Being Sicilian is a huge part of my being and my work, indeed. There is a sense of quietness, of “floating” here which allows you to be meditative about your work. You have your time to think about life and what’s important in order to get into art in the best way possible. I don’t think I would work the same outside of my homeland.
When and why did you first start photographing?
I don’t really consider myself as a photographer. I’ve never been that much into that medium either to be honest. Sometimes, I need to use photography though to document an action or a performance I am making. In that case, I think photography is not just photography anymore, but blends into something bigger, more complex. As a ‘support’, it is like part of an installation, in which it has its own role as the eye that caught what was going on. That’s what happened with The Arrival of Camelia F.O.S.
“THE ONLY THING THAT NEEDS TO BE RUTHLESS IS TRUTH.”
You reached out ODDA with a series called The Arrival of Camelia F.O.S., in which you are inspecting the human condition and its biological boundaries. Can you elaborate a little more on this?
Sure. When I first had the idea of this series, Camelia was not even a character. In the beginning, it was just me mocking some feminine postures in bucolic backgrounds, but then I had the feeling it was too weak. The final concept came to life after me reading a phenomenal book called The Posthuman by Rosi Braidotti. In the book, Braidotti explains how inconsistent the Humanism movement in current times is, since the human being as an untouched sanctuary is a dead believe, with its semantics and etymology being torn down. Reading of evolution and metamorphosis between different species, I had the idea to give birth to Camelia. The character I play is the representation of self-acknowledgment as ‘the different’, presented here as a process of (positive) evolution: being desexualized allows the character to become whoever it pleases, since the human body as a limit is transcended. Transformative potential is strong and basically is what keeps Camelia F.O.S. alive. The character has the name of a flower, echoing the mixture of different biologies that Braidotti talks about. The outfit was a specific choice: the goal was to be as neutral as possible, in order to get the viewer questioning, “What am I watching?” Becoming a ‘what’ was the key to freedom. Freedom to be ‘whatever’. What I wanted to recreate is some sort of prosthetic cocoon with a humanoid-like creature leaving on the inside. The title kinda refers to the arrival of an alien. Camelia is basically an ‘alien what’ representing freedom.
I’m asking all these serious questions because I think everything relays on your sense of humor. And, to get there, it is a lot of growing, studying, analyzing and observing. Am I right?
Oh, yes! I do think I have a big sense of humor, I think it is partly necessary to act in such situations like the ones of The Arrival of Camelia F.O.S. Humor is a serious thing though, even when you’re fooling around with your friends. To me, it has been a long journey full of studying and self-analysis to get to the point where I am comfortable in any context.
But even if there seems nothing more to be said, isn’t perhaps the individuality of the photographer what is really important?
Not really. At least, not for me. As I said, I see photography as a tool. What is important is what was happening when the tool was working.
You said that your inspiration comes from Matthew Barney to Björk, but also from drag queens, etc. And what can you say about your idols? Do you have any?
Oh, I have many. To begin with, the work of Matthew Barney and Björk is like the dream-goal. The Cremaster Cycle is one of the best pieces I have ever witnessed and, in my opinion, is the best representative of sex being a biological limit that needs to be pushed in order to be free. I also love both Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, and how they worked their homosexuality in art through the creation of alter egos that kicked in a very premature time the toxic masculinity we now know about. Félix González-Torres holds a place in my heart, as long as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Jones. Judith Butler inspires me everyday, Arthur Danto teaches me what art is and Giovanna Zapperi enlightens me on the power of women in art. I am a huge fan of drag queens, from Holly Woodlawn to Divine, to the extremely inspiring Trixie Mattel and Sasha Velour. I have a lot of names I could take out from the hat, but I like to keep something to myself.
For you, what is to be ruthless?
The only thing that needs to be ruthless is truth.
In words of Jean Stein, then could the lack of security, happiness, honor, be an important factor in the artist’s creativity?
Absolutely. From a personal experience, these dark feelings might look too invasive at first, but it takes a little journey to find out how beautifully they can become feeding for your needing of expression. It is important to mitigate these feelings through our own sensibility.
What’s fiction and what’s reality in the world of Sandro Fieno?
Everything is fiction as long as reality itself is pure fiction. The actual question is indeed what do we mean by ‘reality’? What’s ‘reality’? If you think about it, people interpret a role every day, depending on society, sex, color, religion, ethnicity, economic position, education and cultural heritage. We as actors wear a mask every day, and we still call that reality. When I dress up as Camelia I do the same.
Isaac Perez Solano
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