Alisa Yoffe: I'm officially naked
by Mary Laskina
Alisa Yoffe's project «What's the Address&» has started in Nizhny Novgorod. It's dedicated to an image of the modern Bohemia, to wandering and communicating positions of artist and viewer. Mariya Laskina spoke to Alisa about erasing borders, transformation of curatorship experience and life position.

Alisa Yoffe at the opening of the exhibition «Curated by Alisa Yoffe» in Aperto Raum, Berlin 2019 //
Photo: Karina Ekizler-Kirillova
Mary Laskina: I'd like to begin with the fact, that, judging by social networks and your latest interviews, your life has changed quite drastically in the last few years. What pushed you to it, what happened?

Alisa Yoffe: And what changes do you see?

ML: For example, change of the social circle. In Igor's Mukhin's photo book «Bohemia» you are represented as a «punk queen» and now in one of you last interviews you said: «I don't drink or smoke. I don't use nothing». And also that work is your main priority.

AY: Yea, I decided not to support tobacco, alcohol and narcotic distributors and use my brain to the maximum. One day it will stop functioning and pathologists will pronounce my death. Why should I, being quite alive, turn off my brains. I make art and don't waste myself on useless fussing.

ML: Did your artistic and ethical benchmarks change as well due to this decision?

AY: Yes, in the process of working I realized that before I was limited by my attachment to such oppositions as left and right, commercial and non-commercial. Everything is both left and right at the same time, it depends on what direction you move by a centimeter – to the left or to the right. My previous position was naive. Now my choice is to rise above the situation. Only by being objective as a photo camera I can register contemporary occasions happening without involvement, without feeling any type of emotional experiences about them.

Alisa Yoffe in her workshop at the «Fabrika» Center for Creative Industries, 2016 // Photo by Igor Mukhin
ML: Is punk alive in Russia, I mean as a life-attitude?

AY: I think, for those who lives by it – yes. Punk is aesthetics forwarded to fast and vivid death, to gorgeous burning during the downfall. But when you start falling you understand that an organism is intoxicated. You start losing productivity. It's difficult to work in such condition, cause for drawing something, especially big paintings, I need energy. Energy to climb up the step ladder or drag it from one place to another.

ML: Three of your last exhibitions are: the collective project «What beauty is, I know not» in Koenig Gallery, Berlin, the exhibition in Aperto Raum space, Berlin containing your curatorship experience and experience of, well, many other artists and the exhibition «What's the Address?» in Nizhny Novgorod in the Futuro Gallery, where you operate as self-curator. In what role it was the most comfortable for you and what do you think about relationships «curator-artist»? Was the shift to the side of curatorship is deliberate or just coincidental?

AY: When an exhibition is curatorial, that becomes a meta-position, especially in case of Kasper Koenig. I understood that the main exhibition touches politics but not as deep as my work that could potentially make the whole thing even more politically engaged. I wanted to lead my work to a radical simplicity, when you enter and see a double-headed eagle – that's what everybody is anticipating from Russia, that's what people are scared of. AK-47 in one claw, Molotov's cocktail in another. It seems to me that this resenbles to an artist's image as well. The exact approach people wait for. Or it just seems, that they asked for it. Kasper was an amazing director of this show. And he is very talented. And that's when I got an ambition to run a similar show for myself, to compete with him.

ML: The project in Aperto Raum is multifaceted and consists of paintings and a newspaper.
Tell me how you and gallery's owner came to that decision?

AY: Lena Yushina said she also makes a newspaper and the third issue should have been released during my show. And I offered to fill it up with my content. I filled it with «not fresh news» from my life and with my images represented on those exhibition. Non-fresh news were photos by Igor Mukhin documenting the process of making works. The very exhibition was structured as a dialog «masculine/feminine», it had a certain rhythm – one-two, one-two, one-two-three – two works are composed into one. Two works on one wall – two men, one with a smile, the other one with a penis and a bow tie. On the second wall there are mirrored scaled-up female portraits of a sort: one with clown's smile and penis hanging from above, with sperm drips flying down into the mouth, another one - the same face, but a bit transformed, bloated cheeks, leaking eyes and stuff.

The newspaper was circulated and thrown on a floor. It was in tact with reproduction, ready for distribution. So were images drawn with the help of digital – thus you can make a million smiles for one Mona Lisa.
ML: By the way, penises in Russia are provocative. And what about penises in Europe, are they still provocative out there?

AY: A human reaction on penises is the same, because feelings that they have, sexual feelings in particular, are alike. May be it's a degree of legitimacy of my image that is slightly different. It's easier to demonstrate that in public there. But feelings of embarrassment, smiling and sexual arousal would be the same as here.

ML: Do you have a favorite curator?

AY: Yes, it's Kasper Koenig. He thinks as an artist. He is free from the belief that's it's always necessary to interpret artistic activities, to explain the creation of one or the other image. He says that we need to look at art, not to explain it. So cool to have such people who truly perceives art as an ongoing event or situation. Many curators are trying to justify the necessity of art instead.

ML: In connection with your intense artistic activities in western countries tell us about the protest potential of your works. In Koenig gallery it's obvious.

AY: Yes, the name of the work is «Politics in def Luft», «Politics in the Air». Not somewhere in Russia or Turkey. It's between the boundaries. Everyone is connected, but as an artist I can represent myself as aggressively as Russia represents itself in the international arena.

ML: An artistic gesture.

AY: Yeah-yeah.

ML: How do you think, how does the theme of this work correlate with protest movements situated in Berlin today? Are they close to you?

AY: There will always be plenty of protests. One pushed another – he doesn't like it. People don't' like fascism, for instance. I don't know, people protest an kill each other. The whole species extinct. Dinosaurs went extinct and out biological specie will one day do the same. I can't attach myself to it, can't choose the position or waste my time on fighting for someone's political views, because it would mean I spend my time not on painting.
ML: Tell me about your exhibition in the Futuro Gallery. How did Berlin exposition influence you personal curatorial project?

AY: When I was painting sketches to an exhibition in Koenig Gallery I used photos from the gallery and tried on my works for one of the halls. But later I was told that the painting of Susi Pop was going to hang there, you know, the big pink one. That's why I decided to throw my work on the floor as a pink carpet for the exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod.

What is pink when it comes to a ground. A spit-out chewing gum, most likely. But pink is also an eastern color, overt, very bright. There is no pink in our culture as a technical alarm color. It's lacking and has no functions. I understood - this lacking is what I need. So I made a pink blob as it was occasional. I used fluorescent paint. The color is laid on canvas with a glaze so that it's glowing in a certain way. The beam of light pierces it and goes straight through.

ML: The Futuro Gallery has very energetic and magnetic space. How did you even handled it?

AY: The space is very active, it keeps the traces of time, a destroyed fretwork. I want to give up to the vivid beauty of these walls. But I don't want anybody comparing my project with the gallery space itself. That's why one work is crawling on the floor and the second is transparent to make the walls visible. It keeps just layers of paint, tiny elements, imprinted in the translucent cloth layer. The paint is floating in the air easily. These elements are digital dashes, and a background could be anything.

There is a niche in the wall where the Futuro.minor space is located. It's a non-commercial project inside of the commercial one. Ivan Seryj, an artist, is the gallery owner of that gallery. He chooses painters and declares himself as a person independent from the main space. This is where I installed an iPad with videos there when I worked with other artists such as Vitaly Akimov, a director, and Dima Stukovnikov, a camera operator. We also used Igor Mukhin's photos. And Bhima Yunusov created the music for our video - we made a video clip about a process of paintings' production. As for me, the process of production is as important as the result, or as what I undergo, how I enjoy the feeling of laying paint. Really, how many ambitions and efforts should one go through to climb up that 5-meter tall step ladder and paint something. And then realize it's impossible to make everything in time and call artist buddies for assistance. That's a very interesting interaction with a body, with your physical capabilities.
ML: Did you create works in Nizhny Novgorod? As I assume, it happened not in Futuro gallery, but in some other friendly spaces?

AY: I picked several spaces. The first one is the «Imperya Grez» cinema networks. The truss stretch shape is like a open-air cinema summer screen. And I thought, why not place this stretch shape in the cinema hall where I would look like Belmondo's hero in Jean-Luc Godard movie «Pierrot le Fou» - he paints a picture he participates in. As an actor who is painting the movie he is in.

Then we moved to a shopping and entertainment centre«Nebo», with a fitness centre built on the last floor. This place fits perfect as a filming point: upper floor, city panorama, elements of architecture. The Silk trade route came through Nizhny Novgorod once, and I thought it would be symbolic to paint a picture here with an image of Turkish carpet.

ML: «What's the Address?» project makes an impression of a finessed full production, so you are not only the painter and curator there, but also a producer.

AY: Earlier you've asked about politics, so, I approached the production of the exhibition as it was some political project – artist as political leader. My own pre-election campaign, where I elect myself and play out a history of nomadic city, where you can relocate from one object to another.

ML: Tell me about your collaborations with designers. These are famous names and non-trivial decisions. What this story is about for you? You told that commercial and non-commercial are two sides of one coin but are these project more into an artistic context or into money making?

AY: In this case what we have is a certain brand – Comme des Garçons, led by Ray Kawakubo. Ray used deconstruction and inspired me, when I was fourteen. All those deconstructed shoulders, sleeves, knots and humps. The unprepared eye can't easily identify this imagery as beautiful and acceptable at first sight. Such structures are very fluid. I was told that Ray Kawakubo likes my works and invites me to cooperation. And I was glad and thought «Yes, this is where I want to make it».

Soon they offered me to do a performance for Maison Margiela. While learning history of the brand, I found out that Martin Margiela drew inspiration from Ray Kawakubo's art and from Comme des Garçons. So I decided that I need to do it [a performance] if life itself offers me an opportunity.

I perceive clothing as a canvas. For some time now, I have been buying white clothes and paint on them. I rebuild body proportions through these images. With a help of a few geometrical figures, I painted a naked body on a costume and exchanged the status of being dressed in official costume to «officially naked» status. The conceptual game is essential to me.
ML: Another important theme is an insignia you use. Brand logos, including your name that turned into a brand as well. In the «What's the Address&» exhibition, the BMW logo is depicted on works «I'm a driver» and «I'm a passenger». You said this story is life-based and it just happened so that both times BMW cars were involved. Are you afraid that signs you use can just become a trivial advertising?

AY: If someone behaves aggressively, loudly and takes a lot of place in informational space, and I understand that I need to document something because it exists, I will definitely do that. I'm not choosing the position in fighting for rights of those who is less covered in media against everyone who takes a whole lot of media space. I don't want to participate in someone's wars. And I do not unleash my own wars. I prefer to rise above the situation.

In my world there is only me and something that depends on me. Why should I seek for someone from outside to be my savior? I understand that everything is inside me and my head. God and Devil, victory and defeat, desire and it's absence. Everything is in my organism that sooner or later will lose it's ability to sustain and will join the deceased. The new generation will show up. A biological unit of a sort. While life pulses in me I look through my prism. In one moment I understood that I'm the one with my body. And will be one forever. It's desirable to be healthy so that I could use it. I gave up my heart to dancing, red some Nietzsche about «God that knows how to dance». It's not necessary for me to listen to musicians. There is a rhythm. Heart beating, some inner cadences that play for me. The pulsation. I can play along with myself or just run [further].

The essey was published at site
Original publication is here
English translation of the text is made by Ivan Loginov