Fashioning the Fragments of Female Form: The Debutante in conversation with Lilia Ziamou
Lilia Ziamou's practice inhabits the intersection of the material and digital worlds, merging technology, fashion and sculpture to challenge conventional ways of looking and seeing. Particularly preoccupied with fragments, her work seeks to undo traditional notions of the gaze, encouraging the viewer to consider the minutiae of the world and our surroundings and contemplate new potential in otherwise conventional or everyday materials.
With this in mind, The Debutante delved into this in conversation with Lilia - connecting with her from her base in New York through virtual means - to discuss her most recent body of work 'The Bone As...'. Working to excavate the fragments of the female form, Lilia embraces a juxtaposition of materials, approaches and forms, revealing that the fluidity of the mediums used is a conduit to opening up new ways of seeing and cultivating experiences.
In her exploration of fragmentary form, Lilia adopts a decidedly surrealist ethos: weaving together an interconnected tapestry of seemingly disparate elements and embracing the sense of latent disruption and chaos which is equally present in life and art. Ultimately, 'The Bone As...' teases out the fragments of bone as material, in turn creating a structure which is 'othered' from its original form, imploring the viewer to refocus and rediscover.
When speaking of your recent series ‘The Bone As…’ you describe deconstructing fragments as a means of liberating the body. Is your intention to move towards a posthuman view of the body, and in what way do you view this as liberating the female form?
I work with fragments, which is to say that I proceed from the assumption of fragmentation — from its implicitness in our constructed world. Having spent my childhood in close proximity to the ruins of an ancient civilization — I am Greek by birth and native to Greece — this mode of seeing is for me, very simply, the lay of the land: constituent. For this reason, I shy away from the word deconstruction, which might suggest that I am deliberately taking things apart.
I think we’ve forgotten to see the fragment. The task: To expose the body— with reference to this recent series, its bone structure — as a set of hidden coherences toward which the fragment gestures. So that a bone, a literal structure, fragment of some whole, traces the silhouette of a nightdress whose form it comes to determine, since it has been given the liberty to settle in one or another field and to choose its surfaces and extension -as in ‘The Bone as Nightdress’ (2021).
This metamorphosis of the fragmented part describes a pure possibility, and its movement is real. If it represents a posthuman view, it is because it evades the strictness of an anthropomorphic model. I work toward what Rosi Braidotti calls (I quote loosely) ‘the elaboration of alternative forces and values generated from the very core of the old schemes.’
‘The Bone As…’ is inherently haptic and produces an uncanny effect by distorting our perception of reality. Is this an objective for you when producing the work, and do you hope to alter or play with the viewer’s commonly held associations of these materials?
Indeed. And this is a good chance to point to certain aspects of my process, since this disruption of the familiar is not only an end, but also where I begin and how I work. To approach the object, I wade through successive physical and digital processes, each of which reconfigures the previous. A background in cognitive research means that I have a technical understanding of what it is that ingrains our perception in one or another framework and how to disentangle it.
My successive processes are also successive mediums, in that I am constantly engaged in the practice of dislocation. For example, I use digital modelling to dislocate the object from its traditional context, to reconfigure its language. I go between physical and digital processes, the material and virtual worlds.
The result is as much about the dislocating power of this migration as the particular materials and images in play. Cement can take on the suggestive texture of lace - as in ‘Probable Impossibilities: The Bone as Lace Lingerie’ (2021). Fabrics come into their own as the skin of a different kind of visible – as in ‘The Bone as Girdle’ (2021) and ‘The Bone as Bra’ (2021). I want the viewer to see, and then to see again, and to contend with these two sights, the one cemented, so to speak, and the other translational. I want the viewer to make a similar migration to the one I undergo and experience.
How has Surrealism impacted your work and creative process? Are there particular working practices you have adopted from surrealists, either past or present?
Breton says, ‘Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial.’ These appositions are telling, I think. I see “convulsive beauty” as the direct result of suspension or reconfiguration of categories and of the conditions of sight and comprehension.
The condition of surrealism — a kind of play, really — is central to my work. The pleasure the surrealists took in the contrivance of surprise — their sense of liberated possibility — has never been far from the way I think about the fragment and especially the body. The surrealist gesture is in defiance of a traditional anatomy of reality and in favor of the fabric of metaphor. It’s important to look on the body not as the sum of so many parts, but as a thing of potential. What else can it be, this thing we call ‘body’? What might already be constituent to it, without our knowing? These questions continue to inform my practice.
Alyce Mahon writes of the artist’s role as seer and the mannequin performing a mirror function and “acting as the artist’s double.” Does ‘The Bone As…’ series reflect this statement?
Certainly. The circumstances of my life have required that I knit together disparate experiences. I grew up in Greece, but I’ve also lived in France, Switzerland and Hong Kong, and I’m now living in the United States. I’m an artist, with a background in art & technology, but I’ve also carried out cognitive research and hold degrees in economics and business. When I come up against categorical limits, I look for overlap, I observe the attendant disruption — I embrace it.
I come to the material science of art with a diverse set of understandings as to what ‘material’ means in, for and to the world and body. As for my recent series, bone is this very primal substance. But when we enact and observe its entrance into the field of fashion — when structure becomes a garment and, as a result, the elucidation of an aesthetic or even an erotic form — the bone defies categorical limits and exposes the possibilities of fragmented form. I see the fragment as another word for openness — a fragment is something open to the discovery of its possibilities.
Akin to fashion design, Surrealism offers a ground for exploration of Otherness. The work of Dorothea Tanning, Toyen and Leonor Fini is replete with beings that fuse the animal, human and mythical realms. Do you similarly reference myth and the confluence of the human and animal in your practice?
I think that metamorphosis, which is so often the substance of myth, can also be understood in terms of simile and as the will to assimilate things which are different by migrating from one to the next. It boils down to a profound curiosity about the phenomenon of “difference”. If we can participate in “difference” — so the myth of metamorphosis seems to say — perhaps we can come into an understanding of its principle. My recent series plays with the notion of structure, in that the material of bone, primal and sturdy, becomes other to its traditional framework even as it maintains the associations we bring to it. In its otherness it others.
Before a nightdress of bone refashioned, so to speak, after the anatomical features of the femur — so that neither bone nor dress function as they ought per their material and formal indications (which are impotent and themselves contradict) — the gaze of high fashion is deprived of all bearings. This sort of mimesis and recombination is free from static categories and static interpretation. Its fluidity allows for new forms of experience.
Your practice encompasses a broad range of media and experiments with digital printing technology. Has your practice always been multidisciplinary, and what do you hope to achieve by crossing between different processes?
I began as a sculptor, but soon became interested, not just in the object and the presentation of its visual aspect, but also in the visuals of presentation — if that rhetoric is helpful. I started to photograph my sculptures, isolating this or that fragment, revealing the artworks within. And as far as crossing practices and combining materials, I simply did not stop. I used the photographs I had taken of my sculptures to create digital paintings, in what amounted to a further dislocation of the source material. It was not long before I discovered the vast potential of 3D scanning and digital fabrication techniques, which I quickly incorporated. When I say that my artistic practice involves several processes — isolation, amplification, combination, transfer — and that each process is a medium unto itself, I’m not speaking metaphorically. For me, the push and pull of these processes is the heat and the energy of the thing. And it is as time-intensive as it sounds, because each medium demands an understanding of its particular constraints and a sense of the fickleness of the given material. Each transformation turns a new side of the object to the attention. Finally, each transformation needs its medium. Between the physical and the digital, between this angle and that — in juxtaposition and in surprise — there are worlds, endless, unstable and "sublime!"
Lilia Ziamou is a Greek-American interdisciplinary artist based in New York City. Her subject is the female body; sculpture is her primary medium. If her work often deals in fragments, the preoccupation is inherited. Having grown up among the classical ruins of her native Greece, she has always understood the fragment to be, not so much evidence of destruction or decay, but a vessel for story: an invitation to look, to see, to refocus and discover.
Her art practice also references sustained academic research in the fields of innovation, technology and design, with a BS in Economics from Aristotle University (Greece) and a Ph.D. in Business from the University of Rhode Island. A professor at Baruch College of The City University of New York (CUNY), she chose to reenter the student world, obtaining a Master’s from ITP/Tisch School of the Arts (New York University). Her training at the nexus of art and technology, as well as her research on cognitive processing, with particular reference to visual stimuli that defy existing categories, has expanded her sense of the possibilities of fragmented forms.
Discover more of Lilia's work on Instagram: @liliaziamou
And on her website: https://www.liliaziamou.com/