The video explains both the physical process of making the mosaics, as well as the meaning and the artist’s intentions. Below is a written description of how the project came to fruition.
Angela Lorenz’s process in general has been written about extensively by herself and others (links below). In short, she gets curious about something, an artifact or a person from the past or a phenomenon in history, and researches it extensively consulting experts on each topic, or their published works. As she learns, she imagines how this information might be communicated in visually. Each project might be in development for years, and the potential formats, materials and processes experimented with over time might change dramatically. This is actually the fun part: experimenting, learning, and having unlimited scope. Because this particular artist’s work is research-driven, and based on ideas, each project uses different materials and has different formats, reflecting the content of each work.
The tough part is actually executing the final work, after the glitches have been resolved in a series of maquettes or mock-ups. This is a leap of faith, as there is no guarantee any project will ever be resolved, and while an artist might have an idea of how long it will take, chances are, it usually takes much longer than expected. Even decades longer.
Victorious Secret represents a situation in which two distinct projects unexpectedly melded together. The artist had been researching Roman mosaics from Africa, Asia and Europe for a decade with the intent of creating an invented narrative using images piecemeal from many Roman mosaics, painted in watercolor. She also had a huge collection of buttons she was planning to make into a monumental portrait, with the buttons becoming pixels. After a conversation with Italian archeologist Isabella Baldini Lippolis, when Lorenz learned that the extremely famous and widely circulated images of the Roman mosaics of women in bikinis were actually competitors and victors in elite sports, the artist decided to combine her two projects temporarily into one.
The archeologist, whom Lorenz met coincidentally when their daughters became best friends in a first grade elementary class in Bologna, Italy, insisted that she had to publish an article on the “bikini girls” in an academic journal before the artist could circulate her findings informally in a work of art. Lorenz continued to prod the archeologist to publish, and she finally did in 2006, thanking the artist in the notes. In the meantime, Lorenz continued to research the making of Roman mosaics, and the ultimate format/appearance and technical aspects of the work.
The physical making of the mosaics took place over a period of three years, June – August, 2011-2013 in the artist’s home in Searsmont, Maine. The vintage buttons used in the piece were shipped from Italy, and the other buttons of local provenance were donated to the project. These were thousands of extremely old and filthy humble buttons from the late 19th to mid-20th century. They needed to be sorted, washed, and have their old thread removed. Emilia Figliomeni aided the artist in this long, dirty and tedious process. Figliomeni also aided in drawing the figures onto a grid, and redrawing the grid with life-size figures onto acid-free form board. Then an attempt at a first maquette of buttons on foam board with a faux-cement background of acrylic medium finished the first phase of work in 2011.
The initial attempt at a mosaic utilized the buttons whole, but they suggested the idea of limpets or mollusks more appropriate for mermaids than Roman athletes. This complicated matters in several ways. When it was determined the buttons needed to be cut into squares as to better resemble actual mosaics, this was not only an incredible increase in labor, it also forced many potential buttons out of service, as they would not cut properly. Some buttons were too hard, others too brittle. Many were destroyed along the way, which was challenging, as specific colors and sizes were needed, and supplies were limited.
The second period of construction from June-August 2012 focused upon creating the faux-cement backgrounds on the panels with graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum that the artist “scratched” into the wet acrylic medium with a nail. Susan Weinz assisted the artist by applying the acrylic medium to the foam board. Weinz also assisted in the process of cutting the buttons into squares with wire clippers and in some cases scissors. For information regarding the translation and meaning of the Roman graffiti, the artist consulted the Latin scholar and author Drew Keller, and databases of Latin inscriptions.
The third period of construction from June-August 2013 involved cutting more buttons, sanding the ones that needed to be matt, and arranging and rearranging them on the panels. The room in which they were created facilitated the process, as the artist could keep the panels flat and view them from a distance above, on a balcony. When the pattern was deemed correct, the buttons were held down with straight pins and archival adhesive until they were ultimately attached with hairpins after piercing through the buttonholes with an awl.
Gianni Figliomeni helped create the wooden frames for the nine panels, which reflect the industrial frames of wood or metal used to frame mosaic fragments in museums and archeological sites.