Ana Janevski: At the beginning of April, during the initial days of the pandemic, I found your email in my inbox with the subject “masque-culotte” and with the following note: “The masque-culotte is a very simple cotton mask made from a pair of underpants, preferably bikinis. You put your head through the waistband and pull a leg hole down to your nose. It takes a bit of experimentation. One can add a safety pin. I call it a masque-culotte.” It was the best thing I’ve read in forever. It was funny, witty, and very practical. It went viral on social media. Had you imagined that it would become so popular? Were you unhappy with your mask?
Simone Forti: I knew the masque-culotte was a good find and I wanted everyone to see it. I’d originally made it because I needed a mask and for a time I enjoyed wearing it on my walks. My neighbor took a couple of pictures of me wearing it and I sent them out to a dozen or so people who I knew would pass them on to their friends. I knew it was going to be a big hit.
You made Figure Bag Drawings and Fire Bag Drawings during the pandemic as well. Why did you decide to use the bags?
When we couldn’t bring our used grocery bags into the market anymore—and actually I’m having my groceries delivered—I was accumulating all these bags and wondering where to put them and what to do with them. The idea of cutting them open and drawing on them just came to me and I felt right away that it would be beautiful. The color of the paper, the shape, the familiarity. And the context of the historical moment, a time to make do with what’s already in the house. A feeling of possible coming scarcity, as demonstrated by the hoarding of toilet paper.
In the Figure Bag Drawings the figure crawls closer in each drawing. While observing the drawings on my screen I imagined you moving while drawing, and I recalled the paragraph from your recent book The Bear in the Mirror: “I am a dancer of sorts, rather I am an artist and movement has always been my medium ever since as a child I used to roll down in the garden in Hollywood Hill. After observing the movements of the animal in the zoo I would go to the studio and try the moves out in my own body. I loved the feeling of crawling on hands and knees. The weight of my upper body on my hands, the closeness to the ground.” Did the sense of disorientation remind you the animals’ movements?
Sometimes when I draw, not always, I feel like I’m squeezing energy out through my hands and the energy gives support to my heart. The crawling figures came quite naturally, with a strong feeling of disorientation. I felt that the combination of the pandemic and the death of George Floyd had brought us to our knees. I didn’t feel this in words. It was a feeling in my body. Also, the bags themselves opened up into a horizontal shape well adapted to a crawling figure. When, years earlier, I was drawing animals in the zoo it was different. I was focused on the animals rather than on my feelings, and on trying to catch a sense of their movements. I wasn’t so much moving while I was drawing, but it’s true, I must have been imagining the feel of moving like that.
What about Fire Bag Drawings? They seem more abstract.
The fire bag drawings started out as drawings of rocks using black acrylic paint that was thick, like a paste, and applied with a lot of pressure. Definitely kinetic. In this second round of preparing the bags, I had left the bottoms of the bags attached, forming an extension. Kind of like a chimney. Somehow, the rocks ended up looking more like ashes floating up the chimney.
Yes, it’s a very domestic feeling. That reminds of See Saw, one of your Dance Constructions. In See Saw two performers stand on a plank atop a sawhorse. Their balance—or lack of it—reveals their physical and emotional dynamics. You define it as a “domestic drama,” a balancing tool between two people. Negotiating and balancing time and space with members of our households has been a big part of everyone’s life recently. I was wondering, what will happen with the new interpretations of See Saw?
That’s interesting. I like the term “pod” for people living together during the lockdown. I’m sure there are a lot of negotiations about time and space that could translate to a See Saw performance. I’m sheltering in place alone, which makes me think of a solo See Saw performance. It could be good. Maybe humorous or poignant.