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
Artist Talk, Tomorrow, May 30, 6:30-8:30p:
“Never Ending Story”
Porter Contemporary, 548 W28th St., NYC
Charcoal, ink, acrylic, photography and mixed-materials. -thru June 22
“The ‘story’ in these works is my contribution to the timeless practice of harnessing the primordial power of animals and nature to express the mythology of human imaginative existence. That this mythology must constantly be reimagined and retold for each new time is what makes it never ending.” - Jennifer Murray
RSVP Required to attend the artist talk & after party on May 30.
“Circulation: Date, Place, Events”
Yossi Milo Gallery, 245 Tenth Ave., NYC (bt W24th & W25th St)
first solo show of Japanese photographer Takuma Nakahira in the United States. “Circulation: Date, Place, Events” was first exhibited in 1971 as part of the Seventh Paris Biennale. Each day, for seven consecutive days Nakahira photographed, developed and exhibited approximately one hundred photographs. The photographs are random glimpses from Nakahira’s daily activities in Paris, including strangers’ faces, produce stands, subway platforms, street posters and even his breakfast setting. Developing the photographs each night, Nakahira exhibited them without omission the following day. Once the walls of the exhibition space were crowded with photographs, the artist spread them onto the floor. The resulting project presented a limited reality dictated by guidelines of “date,” “place” and “events.” A selection of approximately 75 gelatin silver prints produced from the original 35mm black-and-white negatives will be on view. - July 12
Opens Tomorrow, May 23, 6-8p:
“Not a Rose”
Stux Gallery, 530 W25th St., NYC
a solo exhibition of photographs by neoconceptual artist Heide Hatry. Hatryʼs serene scenes of flowers are actually photographs of trompe lʼoeil arrangements of the offal, sex organs and other residues of deceased animals. Seamlessly juxtaposing flowers assembled from grotesque, immaculately manicured flesh debris and picturesque, nonchalant nature, Hatryʼs works bring aesthetics and ethics into an explosive head-on collision that is both conceptually corrosive and visually arresting. - thru June 22
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.
thru June 16:
“Day is Long”
Lisa Cooley Gallery, 107 Norfolk St., NYC
For the past few years, Shirreff has explored the effect of mediation on our experience of form. In works that draw together the mediums of photography, sculpture, and video, she has explored how the body responds to moments that are largely imagined, and the uncertainty at the root of knowing something that has transpired in a time or place other than our own. An extension of these interests, the new body of work on view in Day is Long both reflects and speaks to ideas of process. The photographs, sculptures, and videos allude to the daily labors of a studio— repetition, vestigial form, documentation, remnants, blunt material fact. But of interest to Shirreff are the broader ideas at play: the twin acts of making and un-making, the burden of permanence, and what remains of an object once it is gone. Taken together, the works in the exhibition speak to a more general anxiety about finding one’s place within our moment in time.
nycARTscene Interview: Michelangelo Alasa’
Michelangelo Alasa’s “Confessions of a Cuban Sex Addict” runs through August 9th at the Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), 62 East 4th St., NYC.
nycARTscene’s Hannah Krafcik leads us in conversation with the writer/director/producer/artist:
HK: Confessions depicts your personal narrative through imagery and performative tropes. Can you elaborate on why you’ve chosen to do this sort of work featuring interactive and visual art components at this point in your career?
MA: The creation of Confessions began with my need to bring to life the interior safe place I had created in my mind since the age of 8. After a failed suicide attempt, I decided to fight my abusive parents back using style, wit, intelligence. I became a button pusher…a provocateur at an early age. At that same time, I found art, film, and theater and used it as an escape as well as a way to fight back. From an early age, I used collage as a way to bring disparate images into a homogenous whole that spoke to me deeply.
There was always a duality to my early years, which has continued into late adulthood - a tightrope dance of balancing a very strong sexual impulse with an even stronger passion to share my story. I think this came about from being sexualized at such an early age. The performative nature of the work stems from the fact that, for many years, I have been working in theater. It was natural for me to tell my story using actors along with a physical representation of the home or “House of Terror,” where I grew up, and the “safe place” in my mind, where I disappeared to when life became too trying or painful. As the work has progressed I came to the realization that what I had created was a classic self-portrait and that it would be important for me to embrace my own story and tell it as only I can tell it, without artifice or performance.
HK: Tell us a bit about the mediums and artistic practices you’ve intertwined to construct Confessions. How have you used collage throughout the work?
MA: I see myself as a 21st century muralist. I use video, still images, and found objects to create the two worlds that I have inhabited all my life. I use the power of word(s) in conjunction with the visuals to bring to life and to explore the complexities of feeling and thoughts that have challenged me since the age of three when a rather delightful sexual relationship with my father began. At the age of six, when the sexual relationship with my dad ended, I lost my mother and father emotionally for ever, and art and story telling helped me survive. The work is still very much in process and progress, and it grows on a daily basis. My feeling is that I will know when the canvas is complete.
HK: Confessions tends to be catharsis inducing for viewers, and particularly those from the queer community. How do you hope viewers will interact with and experience the work?
MA: The piece is about redemption, healing and about moving on. I am using gay social media such as Manhunt, Adam, Daddyhunt and Grindr to reach out to the queer community. I am astounded at the number of men who, on a daily basis, reach out to me to tell their own stories of sexual abuse. My own frankness and directness in speaking about and bringing to life my own story of pain using visuals and words within in a physical space seems to raise questions in some concerning their own abuse. My belief is that abuse, whether it is sexual, physical, or emotional, is rampant in our society. I created this piece for myself because I needed to physically inhabit and experience the safe place. Only when my nephew walked through the an early version of the “safe space” discussing my tale of abuse, did I see the impact it could have on others. After each performance, I am approached with words of encouragement and support as well as people who need to share their won stories with me. I created a wall of “confessions” where audience members are able to share their won thoughts with the world.
HK: You have a long history with Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), where Confessions takes place. I’m specifically interested in your connection to Andy Warhol and his previous occupation of Duo Theatre. As you continue your work in the space, Duo seems to be taking on a modern “Factory-eque” atmosphere. What do you envision for DMAC after Confessions?
MA: In 1969, I went to 62 East 4th Street and saw Andy Warhols Boys To Adore Galore series of gay porn film screenings. It is amazing to me that 40 years later a company that I run, DMAC, is co-owner of the very building where I first met Andy. DMAC, is like an artistic “complex” where I provide free space to dancers, film makers, theater and visual artists in which they can create. These works sometimes are presented at DMAC and other times they are premiered at other venues. Although Andy continues to have a profound influence on me, other mentors have also influenced what I do, e.g. Cocteau, Chanel, Picasso, Arthur Janov and, of course, Gertrude Stein whose Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas I stole from the local library (it was a first edition). This opened a new world to me, leading me to Diaghilev and The Ballet Russe and the expatriate world of Paris at the turn of the century. I myself am an expatriate of sorts, as I was born in Havana Cuba mid-last century. I have plans to next explore the pre-Aids NYC and the golden age of unprotected free-for-all world that I experienced in the early 1970’s, in particular the Continental Baths. I plan to open that work for Pride 2014.
HK: Why do you believe it is important to tell this story in the way that you do?
MA: I tell my story for myself every Friday evening. I bring into being and I inhabit fully my own world for that hour. People come and witness. It is served raw and freshly as a plate of oyster nightly, as I am still making breakthroughs during each “performance.” I use the word performance as I don’t know what else to call it. At the end when audiences applaud, I am very uncomfortable, but I understand their need to applaud, and I accept it.
Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), 62 East 4th St., NYC.
[Reserve Free Tickets Here]