Art Talk: Sophy Naess

Archer sits down with featured artist Sophy Naess to discuss her work, Against Compulsory Rigidity, and how it came to life.

Tell us a little about yourself… where are you from, where did you grow up?

I grew up in El Paso, Texas, on the US/Mexico border.

What inspired you to become an artist?

Like most children I loved drawing and painting and my parents must have encouraged me to see it as a vocation because “artist” is the only thing I can remember responding when people asked what I wanted to be.

Sophy Naess at the Met

What influences your work most?

The circumstances I find myself in are naturally going to influence what ends up in my digestive system. Needs and desires fluctuate. So — the changing conditions of being in the world, I’d say. And play is an important means of stomaching it all.

Where did you derive your inspiration for Against Compulsory Rigidity from?

My dear friend Matthew and I had been biking around Greece looking for archaic marble quarries and climbing around on toppled Kouros figures during the summer before this picture was taken. We used paper and towels and our own naked bodies to measure the giant ancient sculptures which we found in remote, empty places. The proximity to those things was a very special experience and led to this playful intervention at the Met.

Sophy working in Greece

Were you always planning on photographing your work inside the Met, or did that come later?

Yes, this work was made to be photographed in the Met.

Who took the photo? And what was going through your head during the photo op?

A friend took the photo. I was nervous and exhilarated at the time it was taken because on a previous occasion we had been kicked out of the museum. Interesting questions were raised:

The “paintings” in the photos are made on China silk and can function as large scarves or shawls. The friends who were assisting me would wear the paintings around the museum on their bodies. Dressing up to go to the Met is allowed, and taking photographs there is also allowed. So what lines were being crossed? Some of the guards who saw us “demonstrating” the paintings for the camera were amused and interested, whereas others seemed concerned we were breaking a rule. But no one we spoke to was able to clarify how we crossed a line into performance. The guard who finally threw us out explained that through photography we were superimposing my art onto another artist’s work without that artist’s permission. (This occurred when we took the “paintings” to the roof and photographed them amidst an Anthony Caro sculpture commission.)

Later on, the Museum cleared me to print and exhibit the photographs.

Sophy is confronted by a security guard while at the Met
Sophy poses with a friend while at the Met

What is your current focus?

Weaving is a relatively recent line of inquiry in my studio practice, and painting in various forms is a constant. But the biggest challenge I have been trying to rise to during this past year has been the imperative to figure out what I believe is important or possible to teach, and to figure out ways of asking questions that might be helpful in forming interesting art practices despite the hermetic conditions of a graduate studio program. Not sure how long this will last! It is an education in itself. I feel I am back in school myself right now.

What has been the most thrilling moment you’ve experienced as an artist thus far?

Well there have been many but common to all was that I was “divested of my clothing.”

Against Compulsory Rigidity is proudly hung in Archer New York’s Guest Rooms. You can find more of Sophy’s work at her website.

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