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nico mazza

february 8, 2018

gainesville, florida ↔ richmond, virginia
via FaceTime

Adele: Are you a cat or a dog?
Nico: A cat.

Ava: Can you describe your studio practice as a party?
Nico: Well, I have a stripper pole right there.
Adele: That’s amazing!
Nico: Dance party! Yeah, I love just putting on music. I spend a lot of time with my roommate and she is usually doing something over there, and I’m doing my thing over here. So it definitely feels really active or it’s like, creepy, and I’m listening to crime podcasts. But only during the day.
Ava: That kind of sounds like a CSI: Miami vibe.
Nico: Yes, that’s it! Well said.
Ava: That’s exciting.

Adele: What is your definition of romance, and how does it play out in your work?
Nico: I have two definitions that are not necessarily related. One is that romance exists but that love doesn’t exist. Basically, that feeling of intimacy can be created between any pair of people if the two people want to create that intimacy. It’s kind of a sad thing to think about. It feels like we can create any emotional or physical landscape that we want, and it doesn’t necessarily matter what the other person thinks or feels. I’ve been dealing with that a little recently. I am in a relationship right now, and I do feel love and romance, but it doesn’t feel tumultuously passionate. When I was younger I felt like I needed that tumultuousness in order to feel romance. As an adult now, the definition for me has changed, and it’s more calm feeling. And I like that. 
Ava: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean with the passionate tumultuousness. It’s like, if that tension isn’t there, it’s not real love. Or you even hear people say that if a couple doesn’t fight, there must be something wrong with the relationship. I like the idea that there can be a relationship that doesn’t have that tumultuousness but can still be strong, if not stronger.
Nico: Yeah, for sure. It feels more familial. But with that said, I often think about how that feeling can be created so easily if you let yourself go there. Having gotten out of my last relationship and moving into my next, I’ve been more conscious of those stages of intimacy and allowing myself to go to the next stage only when I’m ready and when the other person is open to it. I feel like you can create that so quickly, and then all of a sudden you’re like, married to the person. What the fuck!
Ava: Yeah, that’s something I’ve been thinking so much about. Taking things slow.
Adele: It’s really nice, putting intentional slowness or distance into relationships to make sure that I’m being as self-aware as possible.
Ava: I think it feels so easy in this day and age for you to meet someone and for there to be a little bit of chemistry and it’s so easy to spend every single day with them. With texting it’s so easy to be like, “hey, wanna do this? wanna do that?” I don’t know, it just feels so immediate, and the person feels so within reach all the time.
Nico: Yeah, absolutely. Recently, I had a situation where I was dating someone for just a couple of months and I was trying to be really self-aware and really clear. That person still created this fantasy in their mind, so that’s why I feel like it doesn’t matter, in a way. As much as you try, the other person is still totally in control of their own feelings, and if they invest more than you, you can’t even say anything. I struggle with the fact that I feel like he still owns a part of me just because he has feelings for me. And it’s not fair for me to be like, “you can’t feel that way!”

Ava: You might have touched on this a little bit, but can you talk about how intimacy plays into 1) your idea of romance and 2) your work? Touching on tango, specifically, but also the embroidery.
Nico: As far as my work goes, the embroidery is definitely an intimate act, just because of the time spent with each piece. For me, embroidery is also a solitary thing. I’m oftentimes alone when I’m doing it and the intimacy I have with myself it the most important thing, and taking that time to be alone is really important to me. I also feel like all of the themes in my work, whether they’re about relationships or sexuality or religion, which is another theme that I often use, I still feel like they are a part of my history and my personal narrative and upbringing. In order for me to make work about something I need to have an intimate relationship with it. As far as relationships go, like I mentioned before, intimacy can be created. I talked to Roz [Crews] recently about publishing a guide on how to create intimacy through her press. I feel like I’ve done these things and I’m like, oh my god, all of the sudden, I’m in a really serious relationship because I introduced them to my parents too soon, or just like— looking at someone really deeply for a long time after sex? That moment where you’re like, I love you! But it’s not that! I don’t know. These little tiny things. You allow someone into your life for those moments, and I feel like that’s where the intimacy lies, in letting someone into all the nuanced moments. Not just going on dates, but the little stuff.
Ava: Yeah. I like that a lot.

Adele: How does that view of intimacy relate to the way that you interact with your tango partner when you’re dancing?
Nico: So, I’ve been dancing for a really long time— well, not that long, but for 12 years—
Adele: That’s a really long time!
Nico: Well, in comparison to the lifetime of some other people who have been dancing. I never really felt like it was part of my practice because it feels like another culture, and it is another culture. I feel that the groundedness you have in dancing is something that I oftentimes think about in relation to my work. There are three points of connection: the ground, your partner, and the music, and I really like feeling grounded in the earth, grounded in someone else, but also grounded in this airiness. I feel like that really relates to my work because a lot of it is about fantasy, but it’s also rooted in tradition. I like the idea of two forces pulling me, one from the above and the other from the ground. The act of tango is extremely intimate. I can’t really describe the feeling, but when you have a partner who allows you to give yourself to them and they give themselves to you and you can really dance as one, it’s a really addictive feeling. I actually lived in Buenos Aires for two years and I would go out almost every night to tango dance. It’s really beautiful because you do feel so connected and intimate with your partner—many partners, because you’re dancing with, you know, 10-15 people in a night. You can feel that sense of intimacy with so many people. But then, it’s also a very lonely feeling. You’re basically experiencing a person for a very short period of time and then you just let them go and it’s like it never happened. It’s kind of a metaphor for life, for sure.
Adele: I never really thought about loneliness in terms of something being an ephemeral experience. That’s really beautiful.
Nico: You can really burn your loneliness away by dancing tango because it does ease that pain a little bit, but at the end of the day, the music turns off, and the lights go on, and you’re just… in a weird club!
Adele: And you’re like, kind of sweaty, maybe?
Ava: Do you use the pole in your studio for pole dancing?
Nico: I do a little bit. It’s really good exercise. I can hang on it a little, and my friend Rachel, she really tries to teach me some moves every now and then, but I’m definitely not that good at it.
Ava: It seems so hard.
Nico: But it’s really fun!
Adele: It is really fun. I took a couple pole dancing classes, maybe four years ago, and it’s really fun.
Nico: Yeah. And it seems like the more strength you build up, the more opportunity you have to do moves that are like, hanging upside down and swinging around forever. I love watching my roommate do it, it’s awesome.

Adele: I’ve been following you on Instagram, and I’ve been following She/Folk as well. I noticed recently on Instagram you posted pictures of you teaching workshops about embroidery and you’re teaching your family how to embroider and I see on She/Folk you’re creating this network of women artists. I see you cultivating these communities around your work, and maybe that happens on the dance floor as well. Can you talk more about She/Folk, your goals behind it, and what’s happening with that project?
Nico: Community organizing is definitely a huge part of my life. Making work is so insular and private, I feel like I do really enjoy organizing other people to make work, as far as the embroidery workshops go. It’s really cool to share something that I know how to do, that’s easy for other people to do. I like teaching kids because it’s great to get them off their phones and make them spend a couple hours making something, you know? As far as She/Folk goes, my friend Ariane Keegan and I started it four years ago, as a collective to organize woman-identified artists, writers, activists, and anyone who wants to contribute to the conversation. Our goal is to share women’s stories, personal experiences and practices. She/Folk has mostly lived online but we curate art shows and events every now and then. Arianne and I curated our first show a couple of years ago in Brooklyn at IDIO Gallery. Since then, we’ve done a couple other events in Gainesville and NYC. It’s so great when She/Folk can get out in the world physically! It just another point of access for people to be a part of the community.
Ava: I think that’s what we’re trying to do with our space, which is going to transition to an online-only kind of thing in the next few months, at least temporarily.
Nico: It’s really hard, you know? It’s not easy to keep it going and keep generating content, especially when you can’t pay artists, or there’s not an incentive. It’s like, how do you get people to be excited about something? That’s a difficulty that we face sometimes, too. In our case, she lives in New York and I live here, so it’s often harder to organize. But the website is nice, because we can do that from different places.
Adele: Yeah, I wanted to ask how you find working in different cities in a partnership?
Nico: It’s definitely harder to organize an event, because obviously one of us will have to travel, but we’ve done it before and it’s been successful. With the website, we can both manage from home, so that’s easy. But yeah, it’s just a lot of Skype meetings and texting and communication, for sure.
Ava: Have any positive outcomes occurred due to the distance? Like, maybe you’ve been able to connect with more people, or people in different communities?
Nico: Ariane is an amazing woman. She’s an activist and writer and artist and works for the Legal Action Center in New York. Being in New York allows you to experience such a great diversity of people. Arianne is very passionate about social justice and I admire her so much for the work she does every day. As far as me being down here, I feel like I’m living in this little oasis of blue in a really red state. Everyday though, come face-to-face with people who might not share my point of view, or my socio political stance. I’m also a hairdresser, so I talk to a lot of people and I’m made aware that everyone is coming from a very different background and we have to be compassionate to that. I do struggle living in a small town, though. It gets really boring.
Adele: Yeah, Ava and I both struggle with that. Richmond is really small. Before both of us lived in Richmond we lived in Charlottesville, which is smaller. There is some power in being a big fish in a small pond, because it’s like, “I”m the only person doing this!” In Richmond we feel like there’s space for us to have Corner Office and have this dialogue—
Ava: —but there aren’t necessarily resources to keep it going. To pay ourselves...
Adele: …to pay rent… would be cool…
Nico: The struggle exists everywhere!
Adele: That’s the cool thing about having an online gallery! Your labor is still unpaid but your space is a lot cheaper.
Nico: It will give you guys an opportunity to look for other spaces and if you travel, you can curate a show somewhere else. It gives you freedom, for sure.

Ava: What is your relationship to Instagram? What are your thoughts and feelings and usage of that app? That popular app!
Nico: Well, I primarily use Instagram for sharing pictures of things relating to artwork. I don’t really like posting a lot of personal stuff on there. For me, I love the immediacy of it. It’s really bad but I don’t really update my website that often. I like Instagram because it’s a good way to show progress and have your portfolio feel accessible. I used to be really against hashtags and any of that, but now I’m think it’s so useful! My friend’s mom is a weaver and she’s been looking for weavers because she’s curating a show, and I was like, just go on Instagram! Use a hashtag! You can find so many things on there. That’s really cool. And also, I think it makes artists more accountable because there are groups of people working in similar circles, so it makes you accountable in a way. Artists now are part of this social community and we all can see each others’ work more easily. I think its really important t be aware of who else is making work, and who’s making work in the same vein. With that said, I think that also goes the other way, with appropriation and plagiarism. Because it’s so easily accessible, you can have anyone looking at your work and ripping it off. I think that’s the downside.
Adele: Definitely. I think that along the same lines of what you were saying about accountability— you use a hashtag, and then all of a sudden you’re categorizing your work in a certain way, and so you’re accountable to the language you’re attaching your work to, which is interesting. In my experience teaching, it’s really hard to get students to quantify their work in words and use language as another medium to describe their work.
Nico: Yeah, I hadn’t ever thought about it that way, but it’s so true what you’re saying. I feel like Instagram is kind of playful in that regard. Maybe I’ll title a piece and hashtag it in a way where I kind of guide the person into what I want them to feel about the piece, and so for me, that’s a way of clarifying things. Outside of Instagram, that also helps me to talk about my work, and maybe title something. I think it just makes it more lighthearted. I think that’s really cool, to see how titles and other text about work is a medium and informs each piece. That’s why I like writing poetry or prose to go with certain things, because I feel like that gives it a really luscious context.

Adele: Luscious context, I love that. What are you really excited about recently? That question extends to all facets of life and art and work produced and lived experience.
Nico: I’m really excited about my road trip coming up! And I’m excited to travel and to dance again, because I haven’t danced in months and it’s really hard to not be able to do that. As far as work goes, I’m working on a series of collages which is really fun because embroidery takes so long. I really like working in a more quick way. I have a show here on Sunday and I usually make new work for shows because I like the pressure of it, so I’ve been working on some religious imagery. [holds up artwork] I did that yesterday, and this is what I’m working on today. Because it’s so quick, I feel like I can make moves that are more impulsive and just play around and have a really good time with that. And I’m excited to reunite with my She/Folk partner in New York.
Adele: Great!