Discovery Series: Elektra KB Interview
Rhoni Blankenhorn for COMPANY
(November 27, 2011) We first discovered Elektra KB's work during BFA Open Studios at the School fo Visual Arts, where she clearly stood out against the rest. Her undeniable passion is fueled by the daily suffering she endures due to humanity's current state of barbarism and the path of self destruction humanity seeks. Elektra works across four themes in her efforts to reveals ugly truths otherwise glossed over: Insurgent Women (stitching in fabric, felt and photography pieces); Revenge of the Piece of Meat (series of feminist portraits); Disasters of Humanity (photography and collage); and The Theocratic Republic of Gaia (photographs, collage and video). We were thrilled to have Elektra at our latest Collector Series event, where she created a site specific installation complete with video and performance with her as "The White Papess."
Look out for Elektra at Aqua 11 Art Fair during Art Basel Miami Beach 2011. Elektra will also be showing limited editions with COMPANY's roving art gallery, the ArtV, which can be spotted in Miami from November 29 - December 4 at Basel-related events about town.
COMPANY: Can you tell us about your background, and how that has influenced you?
Elektra: I was born in Odessa, in the Ukraine, from a Russian mother and Colombian father, and I was raised in Bogota Colombia. Both my parents are doctors, so I spent my early childhood in a hospital in a rural part of Colombia. People have negative ideas about hospitals, but for me it was different, and also the ingenuity of childhood shielded me from thinking about sickness. The place fascinated me. The women: nurses, cooks and the secretaries were my friends. There was a catholic chapel in the hospital and a Virgin Mary statue welcomed people in the gate. Growing up in Latin America has definitely influenced me: the political juncture, the struggles, the rituals, the imagery.
COMPANY: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Elektra: I wanted to be an artist since I can remember and I was constantly planning pieces in my head. I didn’t feel very skilled, since there were no art classes in my school; I had no space to develop. I just had the idea that I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t have the means and wasn’t encouraged to do it.
When I started drawing more seriously –life human figure- I realized I was good at it. I started doing drawing, then photography. One thing led to another, and soon I was doing video, works on fabric and painting. The first time I touched paint and put it onto the canvas I was completely free, because I had no rules that I had to follow.
COMPANY: You work with so many different mediums. Do you prefer one to the rest? Do you have a medium in mind when you begin a new piece?
Elektra: The work naturally tells me what medium it should be. I start with an idea in my mind, and in the process of making it, the form changes. If I did a direct illustration of what I have in my mind, I would feel very bored creatively, because I would have everything so resolved. There wouldn’t be any space for creation. The creation happens when you are in the process of doing it. When I am in the process of doing it, the visual and formal elements gain a life of their own and start becoming the piece.
COMPANY: Your art features some re-occurring images and symbols. Where do these symbols come from?
Elektra: I like to use rich symbology in every piece I make. In my Insurgent Women series, I play with many symbols at the same time, layering them on top of each other. Using in general the iconography of what is associated with insurgency and radical political movements. I also draw from colonial art and religious paintings from the 1400’s to 1500’s. Sometimes I use images akin to nurses, or nuns or women in dresses akin to Burkas for their aesthetic ritualistic value, without a religious connotation. They are my own creations that populate this world I constructed. I am interested in how people perceive them, symbolically and ritualistically. I expect the viewer to reflect her/himself in the painting and to allow the myriad of readings that fit in to one image. I don't expect a specific understanding. I want the viewer to loose themselves in the object, becoming a mirror of it. I also draw from autobiographical elements.
COMPANY: Do you draw a lot of influence from the feminist artists?
Elektra: I am a feminist, so I am influenced by my own politics. Drawing my own influence, of how I see myself placed in the feminist struggle. I am naturally interested in the struggle of women in patriarchal society. The anti-patriarchal struggle can be traced back to medieval times, if not further, and 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. Women’s essential incompleteness which needs to be fulfilled through her role as a bride and the construction of an artificial identity lead us to an artificial emancipation in which humanity has blinded itself from true instinctive animal morality and is lost in purposeless suffering.
What influences my work is that I don’t believe in discrimination of other species, and I don’t believe in oppression or in torture of another species just because we are the species that has the power.
COMPANY: Do you consider yourself an overtly political artist?
Elektra: Taking a stance in unveiling the state of barbarism we live in, is already taking a political stance. In my life it is necessary for activism, to also exist as a separate entity; it is a responsibility when one feels profound indignation in the face of injustice and suffering.
COMPANY: Do you see any separation between art and life?
Elektra: My artwork is not separate from my life - it is directly related to how I live. What you see in my work is very honest to who I am and to how I experience the world. My work is born from sincere emotion through experience, not just from something I saw, or something I read. In portraying a window into the state of the world as I see it, that is the barbarism that humanity is in and the path of self-destruction that humanity seeks, I am urging people to confront what is evident but not apparent. To clear the fogged glass that reveals truth. Pain and suffering is a force that bleeds through my work, but in that agony I find a space where it is as necessary to laugh as it is to cry. In that sense I can make of the most dark, the most humorous.
COMPANY: What about the more business side of art. How do market trends or cultural trends affect your process? Do you think about these things when you create?
Elektra: It doesn’t affect my work process in the slightest way. I think that’s important to detach yourself from market trends to do honest artwork. I do go to exhibitions and museums; I know what’s going on. But I would never think of doing something that other people are expecting to see, that would be too castrating. If you live as an artist thinking about that, you’re going to drive yourself insane! Your work stops being art and becomes a product. It loses its intrinsic value.
COMPANY: How do you feel about selling your work to collectors?
Elektra: When I sold my first work it felt strange, because when I make my work I have no business relationship with it. None whatsoever. When people express an interest in wanting to buy them, I don’t know how to let the pieces go. I know probably many artists say this but it really is like you have a baby – it’s not something you put a price on. I’m starting to learn how to cut the umbilical cord. You feel so humbled by the fact that someone wants to stare at something you make for the rest of his or her lives. They are willing to buy it and put it in their homes, and commit to it, live with it their whole lives. It gives me so much satisfaction that there is another human being that can build a relationship to my work.
COMPANY: You put so much of yourself into your art, it must be hard to let it go.
Elektra: It is a process of departure, and something you get used to with time. After I make a work, I have to live with it for a little while, and then I can be ready to let it go. When you make something that has so much of you in it, you want the entire world to see it. Otherwise is as if you where screaming and there was no one to hear you.