Artist Interview: Rossella Agostini

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GENDER THEORY

Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist. What are some of the main focuses you like to present in your art work? How would you describe the medium that you work in?

It always starts with the question: what do I care about in this precise moment? There’s always a particular topic I want to talk about at times. So far, my work covered issues around gender, sexuality, relationships and identity. I like to work both with film and digital medium depending on the project and I constantly switch between motion picture and still images. Some themes seem to be more suitable for photography and vice versa.

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Talk a little bit about your thesis with “Gender Theory” and why you wanted to create a series of an images based on the subject matter.

Gender Theory was inspired by the homonym cognitive study introduced by Sandra Bem. She was the first one to say that gender roles are a construction of our society. Children learn at a very young age how they are supposed to behave according to their sex. Even before they were born, the parents have already decorated their bedroom with colors suited for the gender. They soon learn that boys wear blue, girls wear pink and that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation. Gender Theory therefore, explores a parallel reality where identity is not defined by social constraints. It rejects gender binarism and demonstrates how biological sex, gender identity and gender expression are not always aligned. Talking about gender also opens up a broader discussion on several different topics like history, culture, sexuality and psychology, all strictly connected to one another. Therefore, to break the stereotypes we need to have a clear idea of the contributory factors that formed this situation. On a broader level, creating a photo series about this topic was about starting a conversation on gender inequality.

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With “Gender Theory,” what were some of the steps that you took in your planning? How much of it came out to be an organic expression on set and how many images were a static creation?

Pre-production is the part of the process I enjoy the most. I am not the kind of person who goes on set and improvises, because it wouldn’t be as fun. I love coming up with concepts, collecting reference pictures and storyboarding each photograph. I probably stole the process from film. It also helps me defining the goal of the project so then when I am on set and I experiment, it will still be coherent with what I am trying to achieve. In the case of Gender Theory, I dedicated three weeks to pre-production and location scouting, one day to shoot and a couple of days for post-production. I’d say all of the pictures were planned except for two or three.

When it came to using the models that you did, as well as the location, how did you decide what would make the most sense?
I love minimal photography, so I knew I wanted a location that helped me crafting something in that style. I looked for a clean landscape with few tones and linear elements. Almost every picture has a linear composition, whether it is visible or invisible. Sometimes these lines are parallel, other times they intersect or overlap, just like what happens with biological sex and gender identity. Regarding the models, I wanted a clean and androgynous look to better communicate the idea behind the series.

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How did you come to choose red to be the reoccurring colour in the series?

I feel like those are instinctive choices at the time of the creation. I knew I wanted a bold color that could work for both genders. I looked at the location and immediately thought of red. Now that I look back at it, I notice that the main colors of the series are red, blue and white, which happen to be also the colors of the American flag. But these were not conscious decisions back then.

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Tell us a little bit more about the symbolic references within the images such as the use of the mirrors?

Similar to lines, mirrors represent the idea that gender identity and biological sex sometimes match, sometimes they don’t. Unlike the linear elements though, mirrors are more effective when communicating this message. The pictures with mirror props are usually the easier to understand for people, besides the fact that they make the photo visually more interesting.

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Talk a little bit about the image where there is only a single hand in it, rather than the two individuals. What is the significance of this image in comparison to all of the others?

The picture of a hand opening the door opens up the photo series. It’s a sort of analogy of the Rabbit Hole, a conceptual path that leads to an imaginary world. In fact, the reality presented in the pictures is not yet the reality we face every day. Non-binary genders and untraditional gender roles are still not well integrated and, therefore, it sets the tone for a parallel representation.

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Of your series, which image do you feel is most representative of your statement on its own?

To me, the most representative photo is definitely the one of the girl holding the boy’s head. It became the symbol of the whole series. However, according to people, the one that communicates the concept the best is the picture of the girl holding a mirror to her face and her features match the boy’s. Maybe because It’s more immediate.

How has this topic related to you on a more personal level let alone the observations that you see from others?

Gender Theory opens up a conversation on gender inequality. Talking about gender roles has always been an interest of mine, maybe because of the industry I am currently in. It’s slowly changing but women are still underrepresented in film, especially in cinematography. But gender stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our society that we don’t even pay attention to it anymore. I challenge you to go to any superstore and look at how many unnecessary gendered products there are and what’s the price difference. For example, why do we need gendered razors? Why do men’s haircut cost less even if they have long hair? It seems to me that society always tries to reinforce gender binarism.

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ROSSELLA AGOSTINI

Of you are in love with this series as much as we are, we also are including Rossella’s work with a more in detailed interview with them as an artist in general. Keep an eye out for it in our upcoming volume release!