Cosmic Crisis: An Interview with Artist Stephanie Cortazzo

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By Monica Z

For her last exhibit, “Cosmic Crisis,” Stephanie Cortazzo— a NY based multi-media artist— creates a pictorial language of anathema, abjection, and gendered violence to produce a discourse on the bankruptcy of love. Her dystopic renderings on modern romance rattled heads at the Brooklyn Collage Collective’s group show in Bushwick this past summer. Below, Cortazzo speaks about the process behind her exhibit and the feminist dialogue she hopes to facilitate with audiences.

What is Cosmic Crisis?

Cosmic Crisis is my latest conceptual collage series where I narrate the lives of lovers faced with tribulations of modern love. Set in dystopian and supernatural universes, these characters struggle to come to terms with their lovers’ decisions, preoccupations and ego. Cosmic Crisis challenges the idea of ultimate love and conveys the endless possibilities of coupledom. Contrary to conscious coupling, Cosmic Love, relates to the idea of the “soulmate,” and does not rely on instinct— rather, the exhibit treats the concept of acquiring “love” through the cultivation of energy and chance. The characters in my works are threatened and even possessed by the universes that control them and their ability to harness love connections through unexplainable phenomena.

What is it supposed to represent?

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The exhibit attempts to package the chaotic, dark side of romance within the “real” and mystical. Each work is a proposed event beyond science or one’s cognition. At one point in time, lighting, meteorological phenomena like rainbows, seasons and origin of life itself were considered to be otherworldly events due to their sublime qualities. Today, we know that things such as natural disasters are scientific occurrences, yet I believe it is important to still consider their impact on civilization’s imagination, spirituality, and culture. Like archaic notions about natural disasters, I view cosmic love, as a phenomenon that cannot be predicted or intercepted by humans. I believe that love as a movement asks us to withdraw from the control that we try so hard to maintain as humans. It is eerie to relinquish certainty and control. My work conveys the chaos that comes with the uncontrollable variables that occur in one’s life – love, lust and loss.

What was the process – beginning with its conceptualization to its exhibition with the Collective? 

At the time of the works’ inception, I had been in several failed relationships where I felt merciless to my lover. My ego was completely shot. I felt not only powerless in these traditional relationships but confused about the ways men would appreciate and reciprocate love. While considering the complexities of a monogamous relationship, I was also fascinated by the extraterrestrial vastness surrounding Earth (also known as an existential crisis) ergo the fusion of love and space which developed into Cosmic Crisis. It feels to me that the world of human experience is dependent on the idea that we give and receive love in our lifetime. If we cannot love or be loved than we are seen as inadequate. The work is motivated by my personal shortcomings. Yet, it is not made solely for audiences to understand me— I want the series to speak to the vulnerability women feel in relationships without it exclusively being my story.

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I sourced from publications such as National Geographic, Playboy and color aide and decided to use relatively anonymous or non-descript images so that the viewer can insert themselves or more easily relate to the female lead. Each work takes place in a different galaxy, planet or supernatural civilization – the location is intentionally unclear. In several of the works, you can see an act of chaos as the central subject matter, i.e., a lightning bold, an atomic bomb in flight a volcanoes, juxtaposed by the human reaction which is conveyed through a woman tremoring in anger or a cropped image of a pensive expression. In scenarios where there is both a male and female character in the same work, the male can be seen toying with or summoning the woman through body language. Every piece assembled aims to evoke the raw emotion one feels when lost or manipulated in love.

Who structured the exhibit?

Morgan Jesse Lappin, founder of the Brooklyn Collage Collective curated the group exhibition for Bushwick Open Studios which included my colleagues Jessie Laura, Joseph Karwacki and Morgan Jesse Lappin. The group show was held at Brooklyn Collage Collective headquarters.

Were the pieces juxtaposed in a certain way?

I sequenced my work to read as a tight knit series.

Were there elements you think could have been added?

Yes, in the future I would love to collaborate with an animated collage artist to bring the characters to life within the dystopian worlds they exist in. I show lots of the characters “in motion”, and would be excited to see them come to life.

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How did you get involved with the Brooklyn collage collective? 

I had been making collages seriously for about a year when I was just about ready to show them and it kind of dawned on me that I had no sense of a collage community within my area. As a photographer, I am fortunate that so many people use and talk about the medium which invites tons of forums and communities. Photography has so many different facets that I’m able to tap into the process and the culture. A large part of my photography practice is engaging with and mentoring other people. It was difficult to find other people working in collage. I was living in North Jersey at the time making collages on my carpet in my room with no real workflow or objective. After moving to Brooklyn this summer, I approached the Collage Collective and they were open and supportive of my work and we’ve been collaborating together ever since. In September, I showed my work alongside the Collective as a featured artist in Brooklyn’s Bushwick Open Studios, where I presented both my collage work and latest series Cosmic Crisis, for the first time.

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What does the photograph mean in your art? Is there a personal or sociopolitical foregrounding to your use of photographic images in your art?

The photograph, for me, is a loaded and flattened moment. Sontag talks about a “visual code” that photography unlocks. The relativeness to the photograph as a thing is its ability to act as a mirror and reflect society back onto itself. I don’t think there’s really a difference between looking at and taking pictures; the denominator is the act of seeing something worthy of remembering. Despite the spontaneity we associate with a snapshot, I think photography is a much more thoughtful practice especially when it’s used to record truth in existence.

Photography enables us look back on ourselves. My approach to the medium is with a critical eye. I examine the tension between observation and voyeurism. Through a lens I can see human existence teetering so gently between its sensual moments and its sadistic.

I use images to challenge how we imagine our everyday routines and happenings. It’s important to acknowledge how we decide to portray life through the lens and how this in turn, determines how people think of that particular time, generation, decade, etc. I think I’m always looking to capture the marks made on the world around me and it’s important for me to take pictures or use images in collage that represent the complexities of stamping time.

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In your “cosmic crisis” series, the visual vocabulary is frightening, transgressive, abject bodies, and supernatural. At the same time, there are images that refer to the bankruptcy of late capitalism — slivers of cut up business suits, snapshots of bustling cities, pop advertisements of couples. What do these transgressions challenge or support? Where are these transgressive energies going?

My objective is to challenge discursive rhetoric about women’s agency and male privilege. In the last year, women, I believe, have become more empowered to observe, critique, expose, and take pro-active action against sexualized trauma and misconduct. It feels like everyday, a new story unveils a man in a position of power using force and fraud to enrich their life. I am motivated by the women who like myself, are sick of excusing and validating male privilege and constructed gender roles.

I see the “Me Too” movement as a flame of justice in an otherwise bleak and repetitive history of woman’s agency. The mirror reference can be applied here – the spectacle of “Me Too” merely buffed the glass for society to look in its reflection yet there needs to more action and intersectionality to address the ongoing social and economic inequality and mistreatment of women. My series conceptually generates a discourses about the body and gendered violence. I believe that the photographic image—the camera— as a device proves its morality through its ability to support the documentation of the movement.

My female protagonists are in dystopian chaotic universes to suit the tension and ridiculousness of the circumstances they are asked to endure in today’s age. The violent reactions of these characters are meant to show their discontent and torment over patriarchal control of female sexuality through our bankrupt rituals on dating, romance, and marriage. For more

For more work from Stephanie Cortazzo, visit: http://www.stephaniecortazzo.com/



Film & Media, editorErin Bagwell