conversations – Text by Margaret Murphy – 10.02.2023
MARTINA MENEGON: EXPLORING DIGITAL BODIES AND IDENTITIES
FEMINISM AND VIRTUALITY
Interview by Margaret Murphy
Inspired by the endless artistic potential of cyberspace and evolving technologies, Martina Menegon’s art explores the multidimensionality of the body—specifically her own. Viewers pinch, push, and drag 3D scans of Menegon’s nude body across a screen, inspiring questions regarding the consumption of the female body both on- and offline. While many artists hesitate to incorporate a virtual practice, Menegon is embracing it and setting the stage for feminist art in the fast-approaching Metaverse age. In conversation with Margaret Murphy, Head of Community, Menegon discusses the expanse of the Internet, her relationship to her physical form, and the importance of female artists supporting one another.
Over the last three years, virtual and augmented reality artworks have been increasingly prominent, showcasing new ways of experiencing and creating art. Menegon, however, has been making interactive digital works as far back as 2016 and paving the way for women in the typically male-dominated mediums of AR and VR. Menegon's avatars, as she calls them, have become the artist's signature and reflect her interest in blurring the lines between the physical and digital, especially in a post-social media world.
Margaret Murphy: How would you describe your relationship with the Internet?
Martina Menegon: It's complicated. From the moment I had Internet access, I was online. Hyper-connectedness has been both wonderful and draining for me, especially in the last couple of years. As a result, my relationship with the Internet is in the process of being rebalanced, but my attempts have been mostly unsuccessful so far.
Murphy: In what ways has the Internet influenced you as a woman and an artist?
Menegon: The Internet has significantly impacted my thinking, understanding, creating, and sharing of my art. Having access to the Internet and being online has not only allowed me to explore and discover resources, but has also allowed me to learn skills I would not have had access to otherwise. I have always enjoyed exploring cyberspace for literally anything that crosses my mind.
Along with the obvious benefit of reaching a broader audience online and showcasing my work globally, the Internet has also made it easier for me to discover and connect with other artists all over the world.
As an artist and a woman, the greatest and most profound impact the Internet has had on me is connecting me with a network of strong and like-minded artists that I admire and look up to—an inclusive community that cares, shares, and supports one another rather than competing.
Murphy: In the age of the selfie, the use of self-portraiture is sometimes considered frivolous or rooted in narcissism. Have you been met with this kind of criticism of your work?
Menegon: Sometimes, yes. I believe this is especially true because I almost always reveal myself naked in my art, making it easy for people to interpret my work as narcissistic and me as an extremely confident woman who adores herself. This couldn't be further from the truth.
As I have always had a tumultuous relationship with my physical self, creating my self-portraits is a very delicate and fragile process for me. Through them, I can better understand my body, and my identity, and release myself from all the crises surrounding my physical body.
Murphy: The feminist art movement is significantly focused on how art made from a woman’s perspective can create a dialogue between the work and the viewer, challenging political and social landscapes to enact change. Do you consider yourself to be a feminist artist?
Menegon: I get asked this a lot. I think the very nature and concepts of my art are inextricably linked to my experiences as a woman and my feminist beliefs. In my artistic practice, I expose my avatars in all their vulnerability, so they become perceivable to the viewer, and I use user agency to invoke awareness and to initiate a dialogue between my virtual self-bodies and the viewer.
Murphy: Your art is predominantly interactive, both online and in IRL exhibitions. By asking the viewer to interact with your subject matter, the nude female body, what kind of dialogue do you hope to achieve?
Menegon: All my artworks explore the concept of avatars as tangible and perceivable entities, despite their virtual nature. As interaction is always given as an option, user agency becomes a way to reflect on the virtual as a part of our reality and, therefore, on the realness of our relationships with and behaviors toward digital bodies and identities.
Murphy: What about creating work that straddles both the physical and digital realms—or "phygital"—and feels most authentic to your artistic identity?
Menegon: It is a way to embrace virtuality as part of our reality. I'm always thinking of new ways for my digital works to exist virtually while maintaining a connection or dialogue with physical reality (and vice versa).
Murphy: Your project, "Virtual Narcissism" (2016), is a "live simulation/game iteration that creates a story, a narrative of the bittersweet reality of a lonely self, struggling through an identity crisis between physical and virtual realities." Seven years later, has the identity crisis subsided?
Menegon: I wish. I am afraid not, at least not fully. Even though I use my avatars to gain self-awareness and heal from the complicated relationship with my physical self, there are times when I wish I could leave my physical body and be them instead.
Murphy: What advice would you give to women artists beginning to create work about identity in today’s culture?
Menegon: Embrace all the facets and shapes of yourself. Explore deeper than you thought you would. Be curious, be critical, and stay fluid. Be connected, not competitive! Always!
Martina Menegon is an Italian artist who works predominantly with interactive and extended reality art. In her works, Menegon creates intimate and complex assemblages of physical and virtual elements that explore the contemporary self and its "phygital" corporeality. Menegon’s work has been exhibited internationally, online and offline, at festivals, in galleries, and in institutions such as the MAK Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, Roehrs & Boetsch, Les Rencontres d’Arles, and the House of Electronic Arts Basel. She is based in Vienna, Austria where she teaches at the University of Applied Arts.
Margaret Murphy is a visual artist based in Los Angeles, California. Her work focuses on topics such as femininity, sexuality, and identity in a post-social media culture. Murphy’s art uses bright colors, lighting, props, and aesthetic accents to create visceral responses within the viewer. Be it a negative or positive reaction to her work, Murphy hopes her art prompts dialogues around gender, the male gaze, and beauty standards. Photography is Murphy’s main artistic medium; however, she also creates image and text collages and digital art made with artificial intelligence tools.