nycARTscene Interview: Elektra KB
Elektra KB’s work can be seen at concurrent exhibitions in two New York galleries, BravinLee (526 W26th Street, NYC; thru June 28) and Allegra LaViola Gallery (179 East Broadway, NYC; thru June 22).
nycARTscene’s Hannah Krafcik leads us in conversation with the artist:
HK: You have two exhibitions showing right now. Would you tell us a little bit about your work “There are Women At the Gates Seeking a New World” at BravinLee, summarizing this world and mythological story that you bring to life?
EKB: I created a personal mythological realm of opposing forces, The Theocratic Republic of Gaia (currently running at Allegra LaViola Gallery) which takes place during “an imminent period of intense geological and social upheaval during which tensions built up over centuries will be discharged” and The Cathara Insurgent Women—dancing warriors in a colonized territory—an oppressive hierarchical state and its rebel counter parts.
I am interested in using art’s critical power and, at the same time, bringing elements of ludisme and humor. The work has a comment on Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism. The cloth artist’s book of the Cathara Insurgent Women at “There are Women At the Gates Seeking a New World” is akin to a window that opens into the realm of the rebels of the Theocratic Republic of Gaia. I employ personal mythological imagery, parallel to humanity’s quest for liberation, connoting a mix-tape historical survey oriented to Decolonization.
I use text that I appropriate from elements that have questioned the relationship of art and society, such as a situationist poster that reads: “Abolition de la Société de Classe.” I am also building a discourse on colonialist attitudes in a broad sense, not only socio-political, but also towards the female body. Hence, biographical element inspire the hierarchy—the Beings and the White Papess—of the Theocratic Republic of Gaia, which I use as colonial characters countered by the primitivist Cathara women.
I often use black shadows, which I can compare to a redacted text, suggesting what has been repressed. Elements such as the veil—a constant for women in the semiotic vocabulary of every religion—and the balaclava, inform a hiding, while the image of vomiting threads refers to a process of catharsis.
HK: Do you believe revolutionary art should be an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth?
EKB: Primitive art, such as the Upper Paleolithic at Lascaux, is proof of art being an essential part of humanity before civilization, and not thanks to it. I am interested in art as an integral part of society and also in how it develops in indigenous cultures. I do look into Pre-Columbian art as well, which I often reference in my collage work. I am interested in building narratives that create realms of resistance and alternatives to the destructive relationship that art and capitalism have.
HK: How do you imagine the narrative imagery of “The Cathara Insurgent Women vs. The Theocratic Republic Gaia” informs viewers understanding of their “reality.” Do your ideas about “reality” shift as you immerse yourself in bringing these mythological stories into existence?
EKB: The Theocratic Republic of Gaia is a world that exists parallel to ours and shares uncanny similarities to it. It is informed by our world as well as by biographical elements. From a young age, it was a necessity for me to be able to create a world inside this world, where one could express anything without any fear.
Apart from using a personal mythology, with elements of play and a strong sense of humor, the work currently at Allegra LaViola Gallery brings elements of our world. The body of work is also informed by books such as Foucault’s Surveiller et Punir (the actual title of one of the works), Marx’s Philosophic Manuscripts and Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle among others. Offering a contemporary critique on subjects such as alienation (having stronger relationships with objects, than with persons or nature), excessive surveillance, and lost of freedom.
HK: Tell us about the different mediums you use to create work — how do the paintings, fabric, photographs, etc. operate as different viewing points into your mythology?
EKB: I use, in both the show at BravinLee and Allegra LaViola Gallery, quite a lot mediums historically associated with women’s role in art, e.g. photographs that are stitched on to fabric, felt, embroidery, and printmaking techniques. The shows include photography, video, and works on paper as well as works on fabric and a carved wood sculpture. For The Theocratic Republic of Gaia’s official state-clerical-body, I use mainly photography, video, and works on paper with a palette predominantly made of black, white silver, and gold.
The White Papess and the Beings of T.R.O.G are regal and sober. The work of the Cathara Insurgent Women is multi-colored, predominantly composed of works on fabric.
I start with a photograph that I print on to canvas and I use cloth as a medium. The cloth’s design has to be cliché-stereotypically “feminine”—and colonial—something that I find disgusting in a sense: colorful, and flowery, and something that I can subvert. I make these works to be somehow abject in my view. Incorporating the Cathara Insurgent Women and their clash of colors, I thought about indigenous dancing warrior women, in a territory colonized by the Trogians.
HK: Can you speak to the détournement of feminine identity, symbolism, and the historical silencing of women in your work?
EKB: I am interested in the anti-patriarchal struggle, which I found during my thesis research (it included authors such as Silvia Federici) that can be traced back to medieval times, if not further. Surely this was manifested in art—not always by women artists who often worked under a hidden identity, but by records of historic events such as the crusades and their insurgent rebel counterparts, the heretics, and the fight for land against the monarchic theocracy and landlords in the feudal setting.
I want to explore women’s identity, which has been constructed despite a violent effort to invalidate women as their own agency. I found out that, at one point during the middle ages, the clerical institution demonized women (witch-hunt, temptress) with the specific means of capital accumulation, the accumulation of land and riches. As the clergy held one of the most tyrant regimes, they used the imaginary and the superstitious as a powerful weapon to keep control of the power, not only creating a false and fictitious moral, but also deciding the evil nature of one sex.
Elektra KB: ElektraKB.com
Allegra LaViola Gallery: allegralaviola.com
BravinLee programs: bravinlee.com
nycARTscene Interview: Elektra KB
nycARTscene Interview: Pavel Acosta
Pavel Acosta’s site-specific artwork, “Wallscape,” was recently installed directly upon a wall in El Museo del Barrio’s permanent collection gallery. The large scale collage will be featured in El Museo’s upcoming biennial exhibition “La Bienal 2013: HERE IS WHERE WE JUMP” opening June 12th, 2013.
nycARTscene contributor Keith Schweitzer leads us in conversation with the artist:
KS: You recently installed an artwork directly upon a wall in El Museo del Barrio’s Permanent Collection gallery. The wall is scraped almost completely raw of paint, leaving only a large rectangular section at the wall’s center, within which we find a meticulously detailed collage. Please explain the collage and the process used to create it.
PA: My work at El Museo del Barrio is titled “Wallscape.”
In the process of making it I actually scraped the whole wall. I lifted all the existing layers of paint I found on the wall — about five of them— until reaching the brown paper of the sheetrock. Only then, I started pasting the scraped paint chips back again, to make a collage. It has been a long process that always starts by classifying the different textures and colors found in my scrapings. Although the material found was pretty homogeneous, there were different tones of white and beige, which allowed me to re-create the forms and contrasts in the picture.
I wanted to reproduce the piece that was in front of the wall I was assigned to. I was not thinking of any specific image, but Macarulla’s painting was perfect. It is a very challenging image, colorful and baroque, and I needed to achieve it with a very limited palette. On the other hand, this process is a way for me to engage in the dialog with the history of the institution, because these walls have accumulated layers and layers of paint that relate the stories which other artists have come to tell, throughout the years.
KS: Years back, you began a series, “Stolen Paint,” while living in Havana, Cuba. Please describe this series and the motivations behind it.
PA: Back then, I decided I needed to find the way to make a living as an artist, and I did it through stealing —in the middle of the economic crisis in Cuba everyone was doing that. As a painter I use pigments, and I realized I could obtain them from anywhere in the city without buying expensive art materials. The streets of Havana are filled with aging and falling bits of paint, as buildings and objects are not regularly maintained. I started scraping layers of paint and using them to create collages on canvas and on paper. I found a range of possibilities this way. This variety made every collage different. The quality of the paint chips would determine the look and style of the work. I developed an ability to adapt myself to whatever I found, and I thought this was interesting, both formally and conceptually. The recycling and re-utilizing of found materials somehow echoed the whole Cuban experience of the time.
KS: While viewing your “Wallscape” at El Museo, there is no placard or signage to indicate who or what we are looking at. It’s as if a vandal broke into the museum, destroyed a wall, and left behind a gift in the form of an artwork. Gazing across the gallery, we realize that what we’ve been looking at is a reproduction of Manuel Macarulla’s painting, “Goat Song #5: Tumult on George Washington Avenue.” You’ve previously described yourself as a thief and here appear to be a vandal. Are you either of these things?
PA: Sure. I am possibly a thief and definitely a vandal. However, I am not sure whether it is a bad thing to be. I have been destroying one of the Museo’s walls, and copying another artist. Only I did not break in, they just let me in this time.
KS: Why did you choose Manuel Macarulla’s painting?
PA: I didn’t choose that specific work; the curators did. They assigned me that wall, and Macarulla´s work was across from the wall. All I knew was I wanted to reproduce whatever work was in front of my wall; even a sculpture if that was the case. I am very happy it was Macarulla’s though, because of what I explained before.
KS: How long have you been living and working in New York? Do you feel that New York has influenced your work and artistic practices in any form? How has your experience at El Museo affected you?
PA: I came to New York two years ago, and the experience has definitively changed my work. I still am in the process of digesting the vastness of what this city offers visually, and even materially. Looking at my former work in Cuba, I realize that the person who started the Stolen Paint series has very different concerns now. The links between the technique employed and the context where my collages were generated have definitively disappeared. I felt I had to re-think my approach to painting and to art as a whole, in relationship with new subjects and issues. I am opening up to new possibilities, including developing site-specific projects, such as Wallscape. This is only my first intervention in a U.S. Museum, where the relationship between the artist and the institution is quite different. I really appreciate this great opportunity at El Museo.
“Wallscape” will be featured as part of El Museo’s Bienal, but in the context of the permanent collection galleries, and it will be on view for almost a year. I look forward to the reaction of the audience to the dynamics that this work activates inside the gallery.
Pavel Acosta: pavelacosta.com
Keith Schweitzer: keithschweitzer.com
Video of the installation: https://vimeo.com/67144633
El Museo del Barrio: elmuseo.org
1230 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10029 (at 104th Street)
Since its first edition in 1999, La Bienal – formerly known as The (S) Files – has been a significant means for creating ties between institutions and artists, while building networks and opportunities for a wide variety of talented Latino artists.
images courtesy of El Museo del Barrio and the artist
Opens Wed, May 22, 6-8p:
“There Are Women at the Gates Seeking a New World…”
BravinLee Programs, 526 W26th St., NYC (#211)
an exhibition in the gallery’s project room by Elektra KB of new works on paper, photography, and a selection of cloth pages of her 20 page, hand-sewn artist’s book. The pages of the book, each a sewn and embroidered felt collage, depict guerilla warfare in a mythological, semi-autobiographical world parallel to ours: a female rebel army revolting against the forces of a tyrannical police state. The women are primitivist and often uniformed and weaponized—most wear only short petticoats and veils or ominous balaklava. They pose brazenly with machine guns and chainsaws in photo ops, but Elektra KB has rendered these weapons more like toys, and according to her rule-set for this alternative world, they shoot rays of light not ammo.
Opens Thurs, May 2, 6-8p:
Lyons Wier Gallery, 542 W24th St., NYC
Gortner’s first solo exhibition in New York City presents a series of paintings based on his relationship with photographer Carolina Palmgren, the symbolism found in the Tarot, and his theories on artistic production. - thru June 1
Opens Tomorrow, Mar 13, 6-8p:
“Bed on the Floor”
Zürcher Studio, 33 Bleecker St., NYC
narrative collage, paintings, sculpture & installation