Cecilia Salama is a New York-based artist and curator. We met up, at her studio in Queens, to talk about her work and learned more about her obsession with gymnastics and whales. We asked her about her pull up bars, meeting strangers online, and how it all collects into a growing hunger for the in-person experience. Her work investigates personal interconnections in the digital age. It questions: when social interactions can be satisfied by a clicking a button or swiping left and right, what happens to our IRL interactions and our pursuit for the corporeal experience? She has curated at 315 Gallery and Greenpoint Terminal Gallery. She was a part of our "No Vacancy" show at Squat Gallery in November. We hear she has a solo show coming up soon too!
Tell us about this piece, "Bela Butterfly."
This piece came from a series I did about a young gymnast I found on Youtube. I don’t know her, but I developed a love and obsession with her. By screenshotting her, manipulating her form, blurring her body, I could take control of her. The collage featured on the rubber mat also includes a pull-up bar, the same pull-up bar shown with the piece. I get all of these pull up bars from Craigslist, because I want to meet the people who have kept these objects in their house. I want to catch a small glimpse into their lives.
What kind of people use them?
One time I went to this woman's office on Wall Street. Another time I met someone who lived near me. We actually met on the corner of the apartment building I live in. In my deluded imagination, I believed we could be friends, based solely on our close proximity, the fact that we both had an interest in in-home exercise equipment, and our chance correspondence via Craigslist. How was it that I chose this pull-up bar on this date? It must be fate.
Did any of them make it to a friendship?
No, not yet. I wish.
I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
I hope so. We are constantly isolating ourselves. Pull-up bars are just another way to create distance from others. Instead of going to the gym, we can just stay at home.
What about the butterfly imagery in your work?
There was this one time, I was getting ready for a date, and I found a butterfly in my apartment. I spent an hour on the phone with my dad strategizing how to get her safely outside. When I finally freed her, she stayed outside my window and I kind of just wanted to stay in and watch her, until my dad reminded me that I was really late for my date. Then every time I would leave I would see someone wearing some sort of butterfly print, or an object with a butterfly on it, or in a store window. I started taking photos of them because they were reminders of a decision to not stay at home, to interact with society.
Were you really invested in the Olympics when the Olympics was going on?
Yeah, I watched all of the basketball (of course), and a lot of the women’s gymnastics. No one can beat Nadia Comanici in my mind though. I still watch her on Youtube getting those perfect scores and cry. How can someone be so perfect? And where do you go from there?
I can't imagine getting a gold medal when you are 14. That must be so hard. Where can you go from there?
She had a crazy life. Having all these men in her life trying to control her, finally defecting from Romania, only to be bashed by the press in America, finally finding peace and a home with another gymnast who she met when was fourteen.They have a gym together somewhere in the Midwest, and all these businesses. I'm so into them. Their partner performances are really romantic too. I think they were even on an episode of Touched by an Angel.
Can you explain your fantasy towel pieces?
They reflect the domestic space back at you. We spend so much time alone at home on the computer, so I made these fantasy towels in reaction to that. In my process of melting, pouring and
moulding rubber, I leave behind what could be seen as a ghostly remnant of my own body. I pour and swirl, I am in control but I am not the center. The gymnast printed in vinyl is present in all of these towels.
I was reading about your show "Domain / Domain"...
That show was about those same concepts. In the same vein, the exhibition was about domestic objects with a digital feel. It was about security and how much you need to protect yourself nowadays. Someone out there could know what brand of shampoo I use. It’s hard to know what information is public and how it becomes public.
What attracts you to this color palette?
A lot of time I think about fantasy and delusions. With gymnasts, I was thinking about the teenage girl and how much power she has (or doesn't have). She possesses strength, but at the same time, she is a "purple age," and vulnerable. When she puts herself on the internet she is an easy target to manipulate. The pallet is reflective of the balance between fantasy and something darker.
What was the last show that you curated at 315 Gallery?
"It started with a Rose." It's been my baby for the past year. I was thinking a lot about how we depict romance in art and how that has changed. When you think about classism (marble sculptures, etc) compared to sculpture today, they are very different. We don't go to school to learn finely tuned craft, so we come up with our own personal methods to portray romance. How much has romance changed and how much has our craft changed?
How do you think the act of romance has changed?
We can make it feel like we don't have to leave our houses ever (even to find love), and yet at the same time we make ourselves more available through digital means. We can do everything online. We can work from home. Order food from Seamless. Order all our stuff from Amazon. Dating apps make us think there are all of these romantic possibilities. I think that craving for human interaction has gotten a lot stronger, it’s just displaced.