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Ana Marić | June 8, 2022

Interview with Heidi Campana Piva

Ana Marić: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? Where do you come from, what was your field of study before enrolling into the MA of semiotics programme, and what are your main areas of interest?

Heidi C. Piva: I come from the city of São Paulo, in Brazil. Back in 2018, I got my Bachelor’s degree in social communication, with a special habilitation in broadcasting, meaning that I mostly focused on media studies. Initially, I researched fan-fiction, but I migrated to the field of narrative complexity for a couple of years. On my last semester, for my final dissertation, I focused on screenwriting for television. After I graduated, I worked for almost half a decade in the job market, spending some time in the movie and marketing industry. However, I knew I wanted to go back to Academia, so I developed – independently – a study on participatory culture in Brazilian soap opera. Sadly, I didn’t get to pursue this study to the depths that I wanted to, since I was hired to work at the Innovation Office of the University of São Paulo, to be in charge of all audiovisual production. For the 2 years that I stayed there, I didn’t have time to pursue my parallel studies. Nevertheless, the article you will find on this present issue of Hortus Semioticus is the fruit of the work that I had started to develop before the Innovation Office. I am very happy to see that it did not go to waste. Finally, today I am interested in the field of scientific communication. While I am here in the University of Tartu, I am pursuing this field, focusing on the semiotic analysis of anti-science movements, which are such a mystery to me.

AM: What motivated you to come and study semiotics at Tartu University? What is the most fascinating aspect of semiotics according to you?

HP: While I worked at the Innovation Office of the University of São Paulo, I was in direct contact with the university’s scientists and their many interesting projects. It was my job to help divulge their work through our YouTube channel, and this is how I got into the field of scientific communication. Nevertheless, I had only a hands-on approach and felt that I lacked some hard theory. I was always a humanities nerd, after all. I applied for masters programmes all around, mainly in the field of communication. However, I remember stumbling upon the Helenic Society of Semiotics webpage, where I read about the University of Tartu. I decided to apply just out of curiosity, since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get accepted. In the end, UT not only accepted me but offered me a scholarship, which was what determined my choice of coming here. (It is sad to say that my main reason to be here is a monetary one, however it is the truth). I am so thankful for UT for giving me this opportunity. I knew so very little about semiotics when I first arrived and now that a year has passed… I realise I know even less than I thought I did! There is just so much to be known. I think this is the most fascinating aspect of semiotics to me: it is endless. I can study it forever and I’ll never know everything.

AM: Can you tell us more about your art? What is your usual creating process like and where do you find inspiration the most?

HP: When I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. As such, my mother made sure that I studied art at every opportunity. Even after I changed careers, I kept on studying art, because I love it. I love seeing it, I love engaging with it, I love making it. I must have gone through a dozen different art courses in my lifetime (classic pencil drawing, ink painting, digital art, 3D modelling, and so on), and I’m sure I’m still not done learning, nor will I ever be. My art today has reached a point where it’s mostly digital. (I did a pencil drawing recently and it was very challenging… I kept searching for ctrl+z on the keyboard next to me!). For the past 4 years, I’ve had a small business where I create artwork for science journals (you may find my portfolio here: I mix image editing with digital painting and 3D modelling to create molecules, sensors, particles, and other sciency things. So far, I’ve created 12 cover artworks that were published. (It is important to clarify that I only did the artwork; the papers themselves are from my clients). This cover of Hortus Semioticus is the first cover that I created for myself! Regarding my usual creating process, I must say I never thought about it much. When I’m doing art on commission, I do not need inspiration. I follow the narrative that the client wants me to portrait. I guess my creative process can be described as “figure it out as I go”. I just start, and go from there.

AM: And finally, about your winning cover art for our special issue; why did you decide to use Juri Lotman’s portrait as your main model? What inspired you the most in making this particular cover art?

HP: My inspiration for this cover was Lotman’s Centenary. The theme of this issue (Pop Culture, Media, and Transmediality) offers many roads. One can virtually draw pretty much anything and still be able to fit it in the theme if one accounts for the aesthetics and format of it. The idea of having Lotman as the content just popped instantly into my mind. In fairness, we’re all sort of surrounded by him, in our semiotics department of the University of Tartu. There is a statue of the man on our floor! I would argue that it would have been harder for me to think of anything other than a portrait of our beloved mustachioed semiotician. So, I decided that homage was needed. The picture that I used as reference is the one on the upper right.

Regarding the form, it was less intuitive. I had to work with many different ideas before I reached the one that you see on the cover. First, I thought about doing some Pop Art in Andy Warhol style (image on the left). Then, I thought that maybe I could incorporate different forms of art, such as pencil drawing, black-and-white TV image, retro comic book art, pop art… to give the impression of transmediality (image on the right). For a week, I toyed with the idea of transmediality, varying the order and number of paintings before I decided that the retro comic book style just looked the best by itself. So, the development of this artwork was by trial-and-error. I think most of my art is like that, actually. I get started and then try a bunch of stuff until I’m happy with something. And I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I’m also incredibly thankful to the journal Hortus Semioticus for having chosen my design.

hortus semioticus

Hortus Semioticus is a peer reviewed online journal of semiotics featuring new generation of semiotic researchers.

Hortus Semioticus on eelretsenseeritav semiootika võrguajakiri, mis on pühendatud uue põlvkonna semiootilistele uurimustele.


Our blog is a digital resource where everyone passionate about semiotics can share their knowledge, questions and experience on stuff that matters.

Meie blogi on koht, kus semiootikahuvilised saavad vahendada mõtteid ja infot kõigest, mis loeb.