Portrait of An Artist: On Latex, Personal Mythologies, and Other-ness with AGF HYDRA

 

Anna Gloria Flores is an Italian born multimedia artist, theorist and practitioner living and working in London. She’s perhaps better known as the entirety of her creative practice, HYDRA– a “phygital”* space and “augmented” identity wherein she has created a world of costume, rituals, stories, design, and personas, that fit into an aesthetic language which mirrors and honors the science of the body in an effort to reconcile the dichotomies between the anatomical experience and digital reality. Her methodology pushes the definitions of these ideas in order to explore in-between states and places which hold exponentially interesting material for posthumanist fodder, and for healing. It’s hard to see where Flores stops and where HYDRA begins, and it is exactly this line that she walks and sinks into, finding depth in this intangible space which allows for infinite questioning. As are most explorers of the posthumanist frontier, Flores is mesmerizing, and slightly alien. Yet she also exudes a warmth which is reflected in her work. She urges us to touch the soft, transparent lilac latex of her piece HYDRA Uniform, whose massive womb-inspired design is enveloping and comfortingly feminine. Not to mention, her diamond tooth grill gives her a smile that is – in the best way –  almost cartoonishly joyful. Upon meeting her at the gallery Ciccia Levi, where HYDRA Uniform is currently on display, Diane jokes that we all look like witches of the same coven. So naturally, I needed to chat with her a little more about exactly who she is and what she does…

*phygital refers to something both “physical” and “digital

 

Rianna Murray: Can you introduce me to HYDRA? What is the project? Who is HYDRA?

Anna Gloria Flores: I can tell you what it is today, but it morphs all the time, its language changes and evolves. HYDRA is a creative practice. It is a body of work. It’s a place created through mythological storytelling. It is a research program as well. It is an ecosystem and a circuit where I feel like I can test ideas and narratives that I don’t necessarily know in the physical world, which is why I work within the artistic field, because it can stay speculative. I can keep on running empirical research in a way that is hypothetical. It’s also a simulation of future mythologies. I’m very interested in the simulation aspect of it.

RM: Is HYDRA you?

AGF: I operate within HYDRA.

RM: Does anyone else operate within HYDRA?

AGF: The HYDRA practice is something very intimate and that I tend to develop in isolation, but project focused collaborations and one to one residencies are an essential part of HYDRA activity and growth. I am extremely interested in contamination between fields, collectively testing methodologies and practices  outside of their usual territory, and collecting data and recognising useful patterns in the process. Ultimately, I find curiosity, empathy and trust the most important aspects of a collaborative effort.

RM: Maybe HYDRA is also a goal or sort of, or like a set of ideas which guide you in the right creative direction?

AGF: I have never thought about it this way but you are probably right. Although I often perceive it as an augmented version of myself, it doesn’t necessarily identify with me as a person with my own personal history. I take what is personal and try to distill it into a universal narrative or collective experience. I think – I was talking with Diane about this, actually – often we tend to get stuck in our own limiting personal beliefs and narratives, so we just make choices and see the world and say things according to what we think is expected from us, according to the persona that we have created as a result of our life experiences. And I guess when I think about HYDRA as its own transpersonal entity, I’m freed from those types of origin stories about myself. I can surrender to its flow.

RM: Do you think there’s any separation between your creative practice and personal life? I don’t know if it’s possible for artists to separate work and life. The nature of being an artist is consuming- right?

AGF: I see no separation between personal life and work. My creative practice has offered me the infrastructure to grow and heal and brings me a feeling of safety and freedom while indirectly addressing personal struggles that would have otherwise been extremely difficult to deal with. So, no, I don’t think it’s consuming. I think it’s actually nurturing. I tend to hyper focus on things. So filtering reality under the HYDRA lens gives me methodologies and guidance that I rarely jump out of. I am constantly in creating mode, either active or receptive- especially when I feel like I’m not. Most of my creative process is me just sitting and staring.

RM: The importance of doing nothing..

AGF: True! I mean, it looks like nothing… but really my body goes into a catatonic state because my brain is overworking and processing.

RM: I see. Do you think that having a fragmented cultural identity pushes you to seek out an equally fragmented creative identity?

AGF: I tend to seek out union over fragmentation, actually. Since I was very young, ever since I can remember, I’ve struggled with understanding the finitude of physical reality. By default, I perceive things as liquid fluid or in more like plasma form. So often I have to remind myself that I’m having a physical experience. I struggle a little bit with understanding social identities and roles and systematic structures. So I guess with HYDRA, I have the freedom to engage with my narrative and create an alternate experience, and maybe also share a little bit of what it is- this feeling that I experience constantly and to test if it’s something that can actually translate into day to day interactions. So, it’s not something that I fabricated, it’s just something that I started representing as an expression of what I’ve always experienced. To me it feels more real than reality itself.

RM: That’s very interesting.

AGF: The thing is, I’m sure that it’s not just me feeling this. We live within very rigid structures, and what if we start engaging with everything that is in between these structures?

RM: What does that mean exactly?

AGF: Yesterday you told me that you perceive wearing latex as a separation because it keeps you tight, right? And what I was telling you was, for me, it’s actually a membrane that creates union through breathing and touch. So let’s say, for example, that this is the way we perceive our body. My body, especially my external body, my outer body, my skin, my shell, it makes me a finite me. And then on the other side of the table there’s you with your own clothes, with your own smell and your own voice and your own skin. So this is very clear. And we have a table and some air in between. But if we start, if I do this, if I touch you, and if we acknowledge this concept, then suddenly the bodies become a vessel for a union, no longer a point of separation. Obviously this is very basic. So, the latex is like a vessel for unification, and it can also just be a metaphor for the liquefied body itself.

RM: Can you tell me more about the latex piece at the gallery- the HYDRA Uniform?

AGF: Yes. One part of the HYDRA practice is the fabrication of the HYDRA Uniform. When I was investigating the costume design side of the project, it was never about collections or capsules. It was more about the shaping of an archetypal character. I designed this “phygital” uniform so that it exists both in the digital and in the physical world. From project to project, every time, it’s just the same uniform that shapeshifts and produces its own offspring. A little bit like a plant or a polyp. And this, again, from a mythological point of view, is a narrative that I often engage with. But also it’s not so much a criticism as it is a reflection on our attitude towards consumption and choice. Adopting a minimal approach towards production has given me great freedom. To strip down to the bare minimum and create this one uniform that was the essence of my visual practice.

RM: What is it about latex that is attractive to you?

AGF: I was looking for a translucent material that felt the most like an organic membrane- like the stomach or the womb. From the very beginning of HYDRA, I have been working around the idea of alien embryos and wombs.

RM: How do you feel wearing latex?

AGF: Well, the HYDRA Uniform is not made of regular latex. I treat the natural rubber through a chemical process that alters the texture permanently, so it becomes silky and smooth. And also, I work with cuts and shapes that create a very oversized and liquid shape which allows air to circulate outside and around the body.

RM: So it’s not the traditional sensation of wearing latex.

AGF: Right, it’s not the usual sensation that you would experience when wearing latex clothing. I also like to work with performers a lot and with people who are having a constant conversation with their own bodies and who exercise mindfulness around their bodies and their movements. Because, I think wearing the HYDRA Uniform is almost a way to experience your body for the first time. Not so much the way it looks, as much as about the way it feels. It’s more linked to bodily functions. When wearing the HYDRA Uniform, you’re hyper aware of the way you’re breathing, the temperature of your body, and the space around you. Also because it has such a liquid fit and because it’s quite heavy, the material is present with every movement you make- it’s almost like moving underwater. So it helps me, and it helps whoever experiences it, to remind oneself of the experience of the body itself. The piece presented in the exhibition is like a carcass of a ritual. Like the shedded skin of an understudy. It’s also arranged in a way that is vaguely clinical- I fabricated a stainless steel structure which resembles medical retractors to hang and dilate it.

RM: I thought you looked like a surgeon when I walked into the gallery! With the glasses and the coat and your latex gloves and everything!

AGF: [Laughs] There’s a part of me that has a very cosmic and surrendered approach, and then there’s another side that needs structure and repetition, to dissect everything and break it down and put it in a predictable and identifiable order, to recognise a pattern and ritualistically replicate it.

So there’s always, like, this conscious conversation between contraction and release, between experiencing fluidity and the illusion of control. And I think a lot about breathing as a circular movement guiding me through this conversation. It’s always like breathing. It’s never static. It’s always expanding and contracting. The transition between opposite sensations, opposite ideas, opposite experiences. I like to think we are all constantly transitioning across equally valid contrasting emotions, and they sort of almost feed out of each other and exist through one another.

RM: What are you working on now that we have to look forward to?

AGF: I recently relocated part-time to Puglia – my native land – where I’ve been undertaking a decentralized and regenerative approach to culture: this is the first time I have consciously let myself get closer to embracing my roots. My ongoing research and newly introduced methodology is about acknowledging hidden and neglected resources within the self and integrating lost or rejected personal mythologies. It is based on a philosophical meditation on the nomadic tradition of pastoral transhumance (from latin trans ‘across’ and humus ‘ground’) – it’s a shedding process of “Phygital Transumanza.”

More specifically, I am deepening my research on the concept of other-ness and focusing on the development of applied methodologies around the experience of  transpersonal intimacy and interspatial integration. Actually, I was reading this passage today that gave me a lot to think about. It’s quite beautiful. I’ll read it to you.

Anna pulls out a heavily annotated copy of “Philosophical Posthumanism” by Francesca Ferrando.

It talks about “freak” as humans who “represent the bridge, the dissolution of strict binaries. Only the true freak challenges the conventional boundaries between male and female, sex and sexless, animal and human, large and small, self and other, and consequently between reality and illusion, experience and fantasy, facts and myths.” And then it talks about how, to preserve this sort of normalized perception that we have of human beings, not only do we attack people that are perceived as less than human, but also those who are more than human. So then it talks about witchcraft and witches that were burnt and demonized because they were supposed to have supernatural powers and therefore needed to be controlled.

She points to these underlined excerpts:

“In ‘Signs of Wonder and Traces of Doubt: On Teratology and Embodied Differences’ (1996) Rosi Braidotti redefines the figure of a human ‘monster’ as ‘a process without a stable object’, pointing out the superstitious roots of teratology, which often attributed the manifestation of these not normalized embodiments to supernatural causes, such a woman’s power to create -and consequently deform- life…The feminization of magic is one of the key elements in the European witch trials of the late Middle Ages/early Modern period. The witch hunt proved superstition as one of the hidden forces behind lawmaking apparatuses, next to biological determinism, scientific racism and ethnocentrism, proving another discontinuity within the human frame: not only the lives of those humans considered inferior should be taken, but also the ones of those who are believed to have supernatural powers shall be sacrificed, in order to keep the human realm safe… the trajectory toward human enhancement of the transhuman may escape the normalizing dynamics of the historical process, and project, of humanizing…While the monster and supernatural stand as social and mythical archetypes delimiting the domains of the comprehensible body, it can be argued that the ‘human’ project has formed historically and theoretically through the construction of the ‘Other’: animals, automata, children, women, freaks, people of color other than white, queers, and so on marking the shifting borders of what would become ‘the human’ through processes of performative rejections.”

 

RM: Fascinating. Thank you, Anna.

 

“HYDRA Uniform” is on display as part of the collective show “Hydropic Figures, or About a fat wench from Normandy, who pretended to have a snake in her belly” through July 15th at Ciaccia Levi Gallery alongside works by June Crespo, Katja Novitskova, and Kyvèli Zoi. Ciaccia Levi is located at 34 Rue de Turbigo in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris.

 

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Rianna Murray

American in Paris. Interested in Art and Fashion.