I first met Petra Szilagyi ’10 three years ago in her room, wildly decorated with 20 cap guns of varying sizes and empty bottles of J&B. This year, Szilagyi’s room is much more modest â€“ the change seems to be representative of Szilagyi herself, who admitted she has “mellowed out” in the past few years.
You’re a studio art major. What kind of art do you do?
I don’t know, drawings and video. I like to do video, and I like to draw.
What kind of videos do you make?
It’s hard to say. I sort of started out with more concrete ideas but I’m having a harder time doing that recently, so I’ve sort of just been experimenting with the medium. When I started out I didn’t really know how to use the equipment so it was sort of half-baked production . . . I like clowns and psychics a lot.
Like psychics who wear turbans and have crystal balls?
Yeah. I got my palm read in New York a couple weeks ago.
What did it say?
It said that I’m lacking in spirituality at the moment.
Do you think that’s true?
Yeah, I think it’s so easy to get caught up in work and being productive and being active all the time, and I think spirituality can be as simple as going for a walk â€“ just having to connect with yourself and something greater than yourself.
What else did the psychic say?
She said I’m a good person and that I’m meant to be happy, which is something another psychic said to me. She also told me that for $40 we could do more research on the subject with research candles. I was like okay, right.
You also focus on clowns?
I mean I don’t focus on clowns. I just think they’re interesting. I hope I work with them more in the future . . . Clowns are sort of interesting visually and, I don’t know, clowns have so many faces â€“ there’s the scary clown, happy clown, sad clown. But they all laugh, you know.
You shaved “Tampax” into the back of your head a while back. Was that a performance art piece?
Yeah that was for a video. That was a series that was supposed to be formatted like a children’s program but it wasn’t, obviously . . . I can’t really get into too much of it but I shaved my head and I shaved “Tampax” into the side of it and it was as if “Tampax” had taken advertising space inside my head because I was in my little video world. It was supposed to be the Petra who plays the person in the children’s videos. So it was me interviewing myself. It’s very hard for me to get anyone but myself in my film or my videos.
Can you tell us about your tattoo?
It is a watch with no time . . . It’s interactive. If I’m bored I’ll draw on it or I can color it in or something. Most of the time I don’t realize it’s there.
Did you leave it blank to mean there’s no time? Or . . .
No time. You know, I was like 18 and “I don’t need numbers telling me what to do.” I’m a lot less adamant about it now than I was.
You’re from L.A. Were you culture-shocked when you got here freshman year?
I was really sad to leave L.A., but I found it was pretty easy to make friends … I don’t know, there aren’t a lot of smokers here. That’s the big thing.
Did you know that they just banned flavored cigarettes, like cloves?
Really? Yeah cloves are gross. Have you ever smoked a cigarette?
Yeah. Um, cloves, mostly, every now and then . . . and a few regular ones. Only when I’m drunk, which is the thing here â€“ bumming cigarettes off of other people, right?
Yeah . . . that’s how I meet a lot of people â€“ I’ll run out of cigarettes and I’ll be like hey, my name is Petra. You do meet people that way, definitely.
I saw a cartoon you drew called Purple Paranoia, and one of your interests on Facebook is paranoia. What’s this motif of paranoia?
I don’t know, it’s something a lot of my friends talk about. You can just describe it as anxiety, feeling there are forces bigger than yourself that you can’t deal with at times.
Do you consider yourself paranoid?
Probably by most standards no, but I think paranoia is not such a bad thing. I know a lot of paranoid people who are definitely interesting characters. You have to be careful what you say around them, though.
Yeah, definitely. [I see a page on her Facebook with a photo of a familiar face, and realize I’m very close to solving a year-long mystery.] Oh! What is Kelle Calco? I’ve seen them around campus.
That was the band I was in last year.
That’s the mystery of the pirate-looking guy walking around campus.
Yeah, that’s Kelle â€“ Kelle is a mysterious character. I met him and his girlfriend, Nevada, through a friend in North Adams. North Adams is amazing, by the way, people don’t get out there enough. There are so many odd characters. Even for somebody coming from L.A., there are some odd characters. At Mass MoCA there are always weird artists in residence and if you’re really slick you can make your way to artist’s housing or if there’s a band that’s playing you can find out where they’re staying and crash their party.
Do you have any good stories from North Adams?
Well there was that Hell’s Angel’s guy . . . There’s a bar called the Crystal Hardhat, which I would assume in L.A. to be a gay bar but it was full of Hell’s Angels who looked like they were on something . . . something I would never do.
Any parting words?
Vote for me.