Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

susan cianciolo

Cotton, cardboard, and ink t-shirt Susan Cianciolo, Photo Angalis Field Susan Cianciolo, Angels Do Exist, 1996, water-based paint on paper, 16 X 14 inches, from Run 2 Collection Run 2 Collection and Pro-Abortion; anti-pink film screening invitation, 1996 Rosalie Knox wearing Run Collection in Chinatown, 1996, video still Models wearing Run Collection in Chinatown, 1996, video still Look from Run 7 Collection, 1998, Photo Rosalie Knox




portrait by ANGALIS FIELD



An icon in the ’90s NY fashion underground, Susan Cianciolo is a beacon for a younger generation of designers. She has chosen to work consistently and patiently in the tiny interface left in the USA between art and fashion. She uses fashion as an exploratory platform for experimental performances involving friends and collaborators, multiples venues, and DIY poetics.


BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I want to start with how you relate to your practice and how you got to where you are now. Where do you locate some of your more essential beginnings, whether it’s memories from Parsons, crafts you liked as a child, or working in fashion?

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — I work by myself every day — that is my practice now. It’s a very peaceful, meditative practice alone in my studio. I work half outside and half inside in all seasons. Those two practices combined are important to me. I’ve learned that I need time alone to find the answers for the work. I need silence. That’s something that came from all the years of being in the fashion business, having a fashion collection, and working with a lot of people around me. Little by little over the last few years, I would welcome people from abroad, especially those asking for internships. And I’m learning so much, too. It has been a gradual lifetime process up to this point. I do have flashbacks to being a student at Parsons or to many other moments in my working life. They’re all treasures of things I learned living in other places.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — It’s so special to hear that you have arrived at this place where you have a daily rhythm that is woven into your life. I know you’re a spiritual person. How does that come into your work? I’m also curious about your thoughts on ritual. Much of your work — your performances, fashion shows, and even the video film piece that I got to work on with you — has a sense of ritual, which invites a kind of spiritual gathering.

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — In the video film you performed in, I was repeating over and over with each subject that would come in. I generally do that. I pick a scene and ask every person to do the same thing. I’m fascinated to see how one thing can come out differently each time, and it’s an exercise for myself to see the beauty in that. I like repetition in every single show, performance, or film. And that relates to some kind of meditative practice. When there’s repetition, it’s calming to the brain and the psyche. I like repeating over and over again, and then seeing the subtle differences each time. It reminds me that I don’t have to try to go out so far to find something when it’s already there. It’s very important for me to reach this peaceful place with my work. That’s probably more of my discovery.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I love that. It’s about letting things come to you. How do you find your materials — or rather, how do they come to you? The plants, the fabrics, the food… What is the filtration system that brings them into the fold of your work, and how do you draw those lines between life and work?

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — I definitely see no difference between the life and work, and there’s a common statement that I constantly repeat to myself, “Life is art.” Every artist uses their instinct. What you feel is what you do. I feel relaxed when I’m cooking, and there’s the freedom of trying all these things and not thinking about whatever’s coming in. It seems like it’s a microcosm of everything else. But then again, I’ve been working with food for a long time so I’m repeating that act because it feels comfortable, and it’s part of what makes my work make sense to me. There is always a striving to offer something to a person who takes the time to come and interact. Serving food is such a traditional no-brainer.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — People aren’t always familiar with the way you’ve worked with food. When I think about some of your zines, like This Cookbook Is Made for Jesus, or “Run Restaurant Untitled,” which you did at the Whitney [Museum of American Art], I think about relationships and the way in which your work is part of relational aesthetics. What relationships and forms of relating are you trying to facilitate with your work?

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — I like that you said that food is not always an apparent aspect of my work. That makes me happy because it’s something that just pops out at certain moments. And honestly, it takes a lot of physical effort. I’m usually really exhausted if I do long periods where food is involved. The presentation at the Whitney happened because the curators, Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, asked me to recreate the “Run Restaurant” that I did at Alleged Gallery in 2001. At Run #8 in the ’90s, we served truffles with peanut butter inside that we made by hand. That was my cousin’s recipe. Then there were years when I was so inspired by being in Japan, where there were always sweets and tea served at my exhibitions in Tokyo. Then it became everywhere, so there was a subtle crossover. But I don’t feel I have ever incorporated my motherhood into the arts. There has always been this sense of “how the hell do I even pull this off when I have this kid?” When Lilac was younger, I would bribe her with ice cream to paint those mannequins for the Brooklyn Museum, South London Gallery, or MoMA PS1 shows. [Laughs] We still have those exchanges. We’re always trying to just fit all this normality in, but there’s a lot on my plate and hers as well. So, that’s just how it formed. She’s so skilled in handwork and as an artist, and even though she has a different direction for what she wants to do, I’m just thankful that she still helps me.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Food is a material that connects the work back to the feeling of home. It makes sense that all the different materials of life are invited into the space of making your work. I think that people perceived you as someone who created collections the way that fashion does. And now, you are with a gallery, and you show work in this different context. I’m curious about where you draw the line between art and fashion. What is the value of that line, and what does it mean to you?

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — I’m still trying to work that out. I perceive everything as an art piece, and that’s more of a mental challenge because I think I’ve gone so far from the wearability and function of fashion. So, when I’m approaching garments that I’m working on right now, there’s a relationship between me and the garment that has no limits. The sky’s the limit. I never think about functionality, wearability, or practicality. Everything to me has energy. So I’m communicating in the same way, whether I’m working on a painting or a tapestry or a drawing. To me, it’s a very different relationship than the one I had when I made a collection. With an abstract painting, it was always about how I can balance the colors and the shapes, and then the performance became a visual version of that. And when I started making films, I realized that the editing was actually collaging. Now in my little practice, everything is more personal.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — Going back to meditation, is there a sense of therapy in making the work?

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — Yes. It’s so calming. Plus I allow myself to take a long time to finish something, maybe a year. The opposite of what I used to do when I had to send a collection to production. But I’d like to do a fashion show again. I’d like to see what would come out now.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — That would be exciting! What are you working on now?

SUSANCIANCIOLO—Well,we’re preparing a show in Japan for the Yokohama Triennale at the Yokohama Museum. And I’m also preparing a show in New York that will open on May 30 at Bridget Donahue. It’s a combination of several kinds of work. The main part will be a selection of tapestries from the long span of time I’ve been working on them. Then there’s the performance element and the fashion show, and I’ll continuemyworkshops.There is also a series of outdoor sculptures I’ve been making very consistently since the pandemic and seeing how they live through the winters outside. And those are made with found wood — going back to your question about materials. There’s a big part of the work that is made with found materials, and it’s fun to see how you can forage.

BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ — I’m excited to see it all. Also, the fashion show is something that requires a community coming together.

SUSAN CIANCIOLO — I think that’s what I’ve learned. There’s time for me to work alone, and then there are beautiful times to come and work together.


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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