Bare Urban Citizen

In the name of Art, Erica Simone rode the subway, shoveled snow, window-shopped, borrowed books from the Library, and bought cigarettes naked … and “Nobody Seemed Surprised.”

What you’re looking at here is creative expression in its most primal and raw form. Also, the stark-naked physique of Parisian photographer Erica Simone. Who, armed with only a tripod, remote-shutter camera and quick-release bathrobe, makes a profound statement on the hypocrisy of materialism, censorship and individuality—while riding the train to the Bronx in her birthday suit.

You see, this 20-piece, uninhibited exhibition was not only designed to serve as the perfect backdrop for your third date, but also to shine a light on some of society’s biggest plights. Like delis that discriminate against the shirtless, shoeless and pants less.

And when you eventually bump into Erica you should absolutely feel free to ask her any questions that might pop into your head. She’s not exactly shy.

On the heels of an exciting new solo show at Dash Gallery in Soho, Jason Stopa caught up with photographer/artist Erica Simone.  Her recent show entitled “Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen,” is comprised of photographs that critique traditional values in American culture.  The show will be on view from April 14 – April 28th, 2011.  Each work seems to resonate with a particular strain of postmodern thinking  “namely that contemporary life is filled with things familiar and strange all at once.”

Jason Stopa:  What sparked this project?  Was it an experience, an epiphany?

Erica Simone:  I was shooting the runways for fashion week a few years ago and began to observe how we use fashion and clothing as a way of portraying our status and image as human beings. I started to ponder what life would be like if we didn’t have clothes to silently communicate our lives with each other… “if we were naked.” From there, it became a conceptual artistic idea, which eventually moved into a self-portrait project.

JS:  In that sense does it have anything to do with banality?

ES:  No it’s not about banality but it is about a casual and free-spirited attitude towards the body.

JS:  Was this originally conceived as a project or as a fully constructed art piece?

ES:  As a project and I sat on it for a while. I then changed the idea from it being about other people to just photographing myself. What if I photographed myself in some sort of mundane situation, but in the nude?  At first, I didn’t know what I was going to do yet. So I just picked a place and waited.

JS:  Waited?

ES:  Waited for no one else to be around really. I didn’t want to create a spectacle or scene. I would just wait for the right shot. It’s not about nakedness or exhibitionism. It’s more about being uninhibited, being free. People ask me “What’s it like to be naked in the street?”  American media has tried to sensationalize it, which is very different from the international media.

JS:  What was your upbringing like?

ES:  My parents are both liberal. My mother collected photography and had Irving Penn photographs in the house, lots of nudity too. Nudity was treated as normal, I learnt that sex and the human body is not some taboo. It has taught me to be uninhibited and comfortable with my body. I’d hope that regardless of my body shape or type, I would still feel comfortable doing a similar type of work.

JS:  What about the performance vs. the photograph, what are reactions to each one?  Has it been positive and negative?

ES:  I don’t see it as performance really because my goal is not to shock people in the street, but more so to capture an iconic image that will be interesting, entertaining and humorous.

JS:  Is it a subversion of expectations though. It seems that you are using the body as a sort of catalyst for interaction.

ES:  Yes. I’m interested in people’s reactions and discussions, whether negative or positive. The body is a way to get at those reactions. The reactions have been all over the board. I have definitely received some pretty bizarre messages as result. But I’ve also had reactions from women who feel empowered. They felt that it gave them a boost.  “Like they could say yes I appreciate what you’re doing and it helps me appreciate myself more.”

JS:  On your website you display a range of interests from fashion to conceptual works. I’m curious what your relationship to the fashion world is now.

ES:  I’m not criticizing the clothing/fashion industry. I’m not necessarily being positive or negative about it. There are so many other things that I’m trying to communicate about the work. If I were incredibly rich, I wouldn’t spend lots of money on clothes. I like to be stylish, but there are so many other things that are important in the world. In New York you have so many fashionable people and models. Yet people are still so conservative when it comes to their bodies. In other countries, people don’t find nudity to be so shameful. After all, it’s how we are born. I don’t really understand why something that is so natural should be treated as taboo or even illegal.

JS:  That brings up an interesting point about the arrest photo.

ES:  That is probably the most important picture in this series for me. I wasn’t actually arrested. I staged a scene. I wanted to make a play on society. The fact that one can be arrested for public nudity seems like a violation of human rights. It just doesn’t make any sense, that’s how we are born!

JS:  Good point.  Anything you want to get across in closing?

ES:  I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind in terms of wearing clothes. We need them for society to function. All I’d like is for people to take a step back and look at nudity as a simple part of being human and not particularly about sex or erotica, nor as something offensive.

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