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the "Megapaintings" - by Kari Cholnoky
“When I saw Kari’s works for the first time they appeared like otherworldly objects that just survived the heated journey through Earth’s atmosphere to end on our planet. Like a piece of landscape from an alien world, or a ripped open thorax of an alien body.”
Even though this is how most people like to view Kari’s work at first, they have nothing to do with any Sci-Fi notion but are a sole transmission of her feelings and identity at the moment of engagement: “I'm doing my best to turn the feeling I have of being alive today into an object.” In doing so the artist blends a variety of references - be it sex toys or imagery of weapons, faux fur or synthetic hair - into the objects to reveal formal similarities and relations between real existing objects and herself: ”In relating myself to objects and feeling a disconnect with my own physical body and my own image, I find that I'm making paintings that look the way I wish I could look, and the object becomes a body.” On average, Kari takes a few years to “finish” one of her "megapaintings", so that many layers of current and past experiences as well as feelings evolve within her works.
STK The installations you create look poisonous! Are there any specific emotions or feelings you want to spark within the viewer?
I don't have a specific agenda with the viewer, but I anticipate how they will react. In a sense, I think of the work as being aware of the gaze or judgement of the viewer. The work appears the way it does because it's aware that it's on display or is in a situation of potential vulnerability. My hopes for the work are that it encourages a more complex consideration of what it means to be alive today, and builds new frameworks for understanding and rendering beauty.
STK What materials do you use? and where do you get them from?
Kari It might look like there are a ton of different materials in the work but it’s almost entirely five materials: faux fur, acrylic paint, epoxy putty, paper pulp and collage that I have printed on polar fleece blankets. The images I collect to use as collage are sourced from BBC articles, from Google Image queries, from Amazon product pages for masturbators, and I also use images of things I make. Occasionally I include some biological material from myself or others like teeth, used band aids, fingernail clippings, etc, or synthetic body material like fake hair and slices of masturbators. Almost all of the material is sourced online, except for the paint, which I buy locally.
STK Any other references you are hiding within your works that need explanation?
Kari I have a huge "catalogue" of images and objects that I draw from in making the work. I love the absurdity of the sextoys/masturbators -- the abstracting of the female form is both violent and hysterically funny to me. I find the same element of absurdity in aspects of gender performance, and when I look at an image of a masturbator I can't remove the image from my own understanding of myself, or how I am viewed or objectified or represented in the world. I find formal similarities between the images of the internal structure, or "ribbed interior" of the masturbators and medical imagery, cross section imagery of bunkers and missile silos, and the rifling inside guns that spins a projectile before it leaves the barrel. I'm interested in the long tradition of giving weapons women's names, and the notions of control, fear, and manipulation that it inspires. So I have included images of weapons -- both real and toys -- and consider the impact that objects and people have as projectiles. I find formal similarities between multiple rocket launcher systems and the cardboard display stands commonly found in big box stores -- both mechanisms for sending objects out into the world. I consider how the assumption that what we consume will eventually become trash affects our relationship to things, and when the thing is a masturbator -- an abstracted blob of a woman, for example -- how it affects our relationship to people. Our trash on the planet officially outweighs all natural biomass, and geologists say that our time on earth will be marked in the earth by a layer of synthetic waste. So I work in a purely additive process, never removing any material from the work. I'm interested in the paintings themselves becoming thick through time and waste and compulsive consumption. In relating myself to objects and feeling a disconnect with my own physical body and my own image, I find that I'm making paintings that look the way I wish I could look, and the object becomes a body. These are some of the dominant things I'm considering when I'm making the work.
STK The work looks quite time consuming. How long do you need for a piece on average?
Kari Most of the work takes a few years to be finished. I’m beginning to question, though, whether anything is really finished if it’s still in the studio with me. When a piece goes out to be in a show there is a physical separation that makes me unable to continue working on it. So in that sense it’s forced to be “finished”. But if the work returns to the studio I might continue working on it for another couple years. I feel that I’m ruthless about the quality of the work, and if it doesn’t stand the test of time I have no qualms about painting the entire thing yellow and continuing to push it.
If you get creatively stuck, where do you find new inspiration?
Kari I tend to find inspiration through the destruction or defacement of my own work. When I’m feeling stuck, I have an awareness that the only path forward is through actually working. For me, reading or looking at other art or some other process doesn’t cause “inspiration” that fixes the problems I’m experiencing in the paintings. The only thing that helps is actively modifying the painting, and generally this means making it sometimes drastically worse before it can get better. Usually the paintings that are so extremely bad, that really scare me or make me feel like I can’t paint anymore, end up being the ones that push the rest of my practice and open up new possibilities in terms of what a painting can be. So I’m at a point now where I’m actually excited by the really awful ones, because I know it means there are changes coming.
Do you have an ongoing exhibition or new projects planned?
Kari I have a show opening November 29th in Chicago at an artist-run gallery called Julius Caesar, and then I have a show opening at Nicelle Beauchene here in New York on November 4th.
CHECK OUT MORE OF KARI'S WORK
STK Is there something I didn’t see and which is important to know about you and your work?
Kari People talk about science fiction a lot in terms of my work, but I want to be clear that I'm not thinking about the future when I'm making art. I guess I understand that there is a future in theory but there's very little to support that idea. My work is entirely due to the context of the present, and the build up of my past experiences. I'm doing my best to turn the feeling I have of being alive today into an object. I'm not thinking about fantasy, or escape, or some kind of notion of progress -- never. I think by making original objects (or by not referencing art history or some other kind of established aesthetic), people see the work as alien. But the images are all pulled from this world, the materials are fake versions of real material (as in the case of the faux fur and synthetic hair), and the forms all reference real objects -- bunkers, weapons, body parts, etc. Perhaps people are reacting to the color, but then it's important to remember the world of plants and animals, where signs of danger or poison often come in technicolor bursts. Perhaps it's of value to consider how we label things as "alien" or "other" and where that impulse comes from.
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