Interview: Alena Kogan
Luca Curci talks with Alena Kogan during OUT OF BALANCE, second appointment of CANVAS London International Art Fair, at THE LINE Contemporary Art Space.
Alena Kogan lives and works in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She has participated in solo and group exhibitions since 1998, and her works are in private collections in Russia and France. Her installations are presented at major European festivals in Germany, the Netherlands and France. In 2020, Alena Kogan’s project was accepted at Burning Man 2021. In Russia, the artist’s installations were presented at the Russian Museum, the Hermitage, the Street Art Museum and the Mikhail Shemyakin Center. The focus of the artist’s work are large-scaled art objects and ‘total’ installations using recycled materials. Alena Kogan creates location specific objects tributing to the characteristics of the surrounding architecture and landscape. Subject of the artist’s creative experiment is not just the correspondence of a sculpture or installation to a specific location, her work is ideally based on human-object interaction. A person not only looks at an object, s/he touches it, steps on it; s/he her/himself becomes part of the installation.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Alena Kogan – I’ve got various experiences – in 1987 I graduated from Gorky University with a degree in applied mathematics and in 1997 the St. Petersburg Art Academy named after I. Goldfinch. At the university and the academy, I had great teachers, a city of divine architecture and the masterpieces of the Hermitage. Perhaps the most significant event for me was the realization that I want to create ephemeral, temporary spaces – microcosm that are appropriate to and surpass human beings. The key moment was my first complete installation “Wings – The fall”, which was shown again in 2016 at the Nord Art project in Germany. It was my first experience with a room more than 20 meters high, and I still remember all the discoveries I made back then.
LC – What is art for you?
AK – Art is a different point of view. It enables us to see the world differently, because each one of us has developed a system of ideas over the years. Humans are verbal beings. The ability to think figuratively and create new stories from it is what distinguishes a person from all other creatures. We know that the sky is blue, that there exists gravity and an earth below. But someone else might see everything differently. And this act of introducing paradoxical thoughts into the existing value system can change a fixed framework. You need art for that, we all need emotions. Even in primitive societies, humans were not satisfied with just getting food, arranging accommodation for the night and having children – we can tell from the works that have been preserved. The indicator of the success of a society is its culture. It is what frees us from the ordinary and prolongs a development. No culture – no development.
LC – What is your creative process like?
AK – The process of brainstorming and developing is complex and stochastic. I can go different ways. I always work “about something”, I am not interested in doing “something”, because I am not interested in an object as such. I am interested in a phenomenon or event and a philosophical understanding of it. It seems to me that this philosophy resides in everyone’s basic perception of the world. We try to understand the structure of the universe and to find our place in it. We see events, phenomena and objects. They surprise, inspire and excite us, they form a chain of associations. There is no point in looking for a certain origin, it can something different for me than for you. In one room I can find certain emotions related to meaning, visual representation, light and sound. And all of this together is my inspiration.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
AK – The subject of my current creative research is not only the construction of an installation that reveals the genius loci of a particular space, but also the interaction with this new human space. The contact between the built space and the observer is already established during the creation of the installation and is intended to evoke a certain emotional state of the subject, creating a series of images and triggering the mechanism of metaphysical interaction between person and object.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
AK – This is a philosophical question. Why were artists historically always located outside of society? The act of creation, the birth of a plan, is a divine act. An artist is on the one hand a miracle and on the other hand a pathology. If you as the artist are existing within the stream of images, it is impossible to correlate your consciousness with reality. You are out of the game, at least for the time of project creation. An artist always works and life throws subjects at him, regardless of the events in the world. In terms of specific current conditions, I carried out a total of 16 new projects in 2020. It was a year of intense and successful work and I am proud and happy to be an artist.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? How did it inspire you?
AK – In the concept of the festival, the strongest emotional reaction in me was caused by the motto “Out of balance”: “The meaning of ‘OUT OF BALANCE’ is linked to the fact that the world in which we live inevitably reflects our identity and personal development”. This meaning applies as well as to a specific person as to human communities of different sizes and social compositions. For me, one of the most powerful images for creating a new identity is the phenomenon of social revolution. This is what my work “Scheme of the Birth of a New World” is about.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
AK – The overall idea is: A homogeneous material, colored and structured differently, comes into conflict. There are actually three forms that work in the installation: white plane, red wedge, and void. Multi-directional white lines form a plane that cuts the black space in two. In my scheme this is like a social cut or like the lifelines of people who exist in the same time axis. The lines are indifferent; they just overlap, but each of them has its own starting and ending point. The white layer fills the entire room. It looks solid but is permeable at the same time. It’s like white noise, like an unorganized mass – each object follows its own trajectory, carries something of its own, but the result is chaos. The same material, but in deep red, which is focused into one direction and accelerated by light, forms a rigid structure – a wedge, a kind of ideology of permeated threat force that orients towards a certain direction and penetrates the indifferent white layer. If this wedge moves further, the white surface is torn, and the layer destroyed. This creates a shadow of the dying white layer on the floor. I perceive this space as a projection of the energy of a battering ram breaking through the surface. This is just a projection of power, not the future arrangement of the new world. The shaded mesh layer can replace the cut white. It can or cannot happen – it is not an established fact that it will actually happen. It is kind of a hypothetical future, a
projection of a breakthrough.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
AK – This is my first collaboration with the ITSLIQUID GROUP and I am very satisfied with the result. The exhibition reopened despite major obstacles related to the pandemic. The event received adequate media coverage, and new publications and interviews appear in various internet sources. All of this speaks of professional work and a serious and attentive attitude towards art.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
AK – Working with the ITSLIQUID GROUP is a serious professional interaction, from the first contact to the implementation of the project. Yes, of course I recommend my colleagues to work with you and I hope to be able to participate in your projects in the future.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
AK – Yes of course! In the wide world of art, it is very important for an artist to find a project that not only interests him, but also fits his creative expression. The creation of various festivals and exhibitions is an important part of professional work. The ITSLIQUID GROUP not only offers artists the opportunity to participate in their projects, but also general information about cultural events.