Interview by Pippa Eason
Published in April 2020
Evy Jokhova is a multi disciplinary artist whose practice engages with dialogue and relationships between social anthropology, architecture, philosophy and art. Working with drawing, sculpture, installation, sound, film and participatory events, she aims to bridge gaps between these fields and their inherent hierarchical structures.
Hello Evy- so glad we finally get to talk! I firstly wanted to talk about the show ‘I dance for you my edifice’ at l'etrangere, London. This is where I first saw your work in person, and I had a curiosity around the exploration into ‘stone like’ forms, alongside its links to Greek Mythology. Where did the discourse for this exhibition stem from?
The discourse for this exhibition came from an ongoing project I started about 3 years prior that explored the significance of stone in contemporary culture. I was looking into new material synthesis – basically artificial materials like gels, silicones, and resins intended to mimic stone that are used both industrially and at a hobby level. I was fascinated by the concept, as it seemed strange that we (especially in the West) still maintain this connection to and reverence for stone, and feel an inherent need to mask the plastic nature of many contemporary products. There is also the discrepancy of making something cheap and unsustainably produced look better or appear not as it is. Other observations that lay the foundations for this discourse included the use of classical ornaments and architectural details in entirely bizarre contexts, such as misplaced caryatids propping up 60s Modernist housing blocks in Highgate, London. Caryatids traditionally carry a very political meaning.
“‘But he must acquaint himself with many narratives from history; for architects often incorporate many ornamental features in the designs of their work, of which they must be able to give a reasoned account, when asked why they added them. For example, if anyone erects marble statues of robed women, which are called Caryatids, instead of columns on his building, and places mutules and crowning members above them, this is how he will explain them to inquirers. Carya, a city in the Poloponnese, allied herself with the Persian enemy against Greece. Later the Greeks were rid of their war by glorious victory and, by common consent, declared war on the Caryates. And so the town was captured, the males were killed and the Caryan state publicly disgraced. The victors led the matrons away into captivity, but did not allow them to lay aside their robes or matronly ornaments. Their intention was not to lead them on one occasion in a triumph, but to ensure that they exhibited a permanent picture of slavery, and that in the heavy mockery they suffered they should be seen to pay the penalty for their city. So the architects of those times designed images of them specially placed to uphold a loads so the a well-known punishment of the Caryates’ wrongdoing might be handed down to posterity.”
[Hugh Plommer ‘Vitruvius and the Origin of Caryatids’ in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 99 (1979), pp. 97]
The meaning and origin of Caryatids has, in most cases of their recent use, been long forgotten and they have become mere decorative additions, which to me seems like an architectural ‘lost in translation’. In 2015 I began my research into Greek mythology, classical architecture and the canons of painting and sculpture history that were influenced by Antiquity. My project slowly evolved through 2-dimensional painterly panels that depicted a trompe-l'œil of stack stone slabs painted and sprayed onto linoleum flooring panels, to sculptural objects that looked like a variety of stacked stones mimicking cairns made of out anything but stone - mostly various types of contemporary synthetic materials.
The material integrity was the first thing I became curious about upon visiting this show, even before reading the information on the concept, I noticed the sculptures had a sacred ambiguity about them. But to learn they are making commentary on stone usage in the western art world sparks intrigue, considering the rise of materials such as Jesmonite in our current times.
I was curious about the possible links of the raised space, I resist calling it a ‘set’, but could this have correlations to the notion of Caryatids? It almost felt pedestal-like, semi shrine-like, and seemed to be paying homage. Does this platform element of the installation have a narrative link to worshipped integral stone sculpture, crossed with the steadfastness of the 60’s modernist housing including these Caryatids in Highgate?
The raised space, as you call it, does indeed have the connotations of a set, in all the multitude of interpretations of a notion of a set. As a podium for sculptures, as a podium for viewers to explore art objects, as a podium for dance (one of the sculptures emits sound in reaction to the movement of the viewers), as a set that is pre-arranged providing preordained vistas, and as a set where decision on what is included and what is not have already been made. For me, however, the primary point of departure was the desire to recreate a ruin – the remnants of what could be interpreted as an Ancient Temple. The patterned raised area – the foundations of a temple and traces of its tiled floor; the sculptures on the platform – potential fragments of pillars; the triptych behind the platform – a nod to a faded frieze or mosaic; and the charcoal wall drawing – colonnades of other temples visible in the back ground. All the elements are abstracted but retain the use of a formal temple layout as a guide. This is also why I added steps leading onto and off the platform at two ends, rendering it a walkthrough space as much as an area in itself.
I see the raised space primarily as a set in the sense that ancient ruins present themselves as a set for tourists, enthusiasts and historians to enter, engage with and imagine numerous realities pieced together from architectural fragments, historical texts, stories and imagination. Some visitors to ‘I dance for you my edifice’ had commented that the raised area gave them an impression of a podium. So you are correct Pippa, the created space is meant to feel somewhat like a pedestal and evoke feelings of a shrine in the way many ancient Greet temples did, and still do now, albeit in the form of ruins. The sculptures on top of the platform nod to the dichotomy between the worship of ancient scared stone and the cultural oblivion of more contemporary architectural references; the atmosphere of sacred temples crossed with a visual cacophony of styles, materials, mimicry and appropriation present in some Modern and contemporary architecture.
In reference to you mentioning Jesmonite, this project was the first where I used Jesmonite on such a scale and as one of the main materials. Prior to this I worked predominantly with concrete and clay. Through material research I discovered how versatile Jesmonite is, and that there exist in many different prefabricated mixes of Jesmonite, some come with granules of granite, other with a metallic finish, and so on. I use the Jesmonite-granite mix for works in this exhibition and when sanded and polished it shines and shimmers just like a natural stone, adding to the faux image of the work.
It’s interesting you say the work had elements of mosaics and ancient ruins, it happens that I saw the work straight after being in Florence, and I saw similar curated spaces throughout the trip regarding sculpture, and processes of sculpture. I found the separation from ground level space to platform or pedestal altered the psychogeography, shifting the viewer from being a flaneur, to being at a level with the forms.
Upon walking into the space at l'etrangere, I felt a sanctity to the forms, whilst admiring its curatorial layout. But it’s interesting you mentioned a space for tourists to enter- often when observing tourists, they enter spaces curated and changed for the benefit of learning and consumption, usually the latter. This space had a dichotomy of material ambiguity, contrasted with a heavenly utopia.
Jesmonite certainly works with the nature of your practice, and the various contexts of materiality that you’re delving into. I have discovered Jesmonite is fast becoming the most popular material to use, I have also found its versatility to be useful in my own practice, providing a defamiliarized output, and also is super handy as it doesn’t make things too heavy.
I wanted to ask about your piece ‘Weighed down by stones’. I was reading the accompanying text alongside the piece- could you explain the narrative a little, and perhaps the links to the topic we have been discussing so far?
The writing is beautiful and tender, ‘When I cleared her house, I fell upon a series of things – things I recalled, and sometimes hated – from childhood. There are the cobbles she brought back from Lisbon, parcelled up in friends’ suitcases and smuggled home. A photo of her sister, my aunt Carys, whom we only knew from the photos of her modelling in America, cut from magazines. Then there is the table from her nursery. I never saw anything very special about this table. It is relatively small, an odd shape and the table top, which sits on a central pillar with claw feet, is insecurely fastened and wobbles at the touch’
The text for ‘Weighed down by stones’ came out of an encounter I had with Michael Amherst, who wrote the text, at his book reading and realised we had many interests in common, especially with regard to stone, Antiquity and notion of ‘sacred’ in contemporary culture. I thought it would be great to commission Michael to write a creative text instead of having a standard press release, giving a more personal insight to the exhibition. Michael came to my studio, familiarised himself with all of the objects I was making for the show and the concepts behind the body of work. The text stemmed from our conversations, some of the narratives that surrounded the materials I used and where I found them, as well as his own personal memories. All of this was interwoven into a piece of creative fiction. The text and the exhibition dealt with the sacred, objects and sites imbued with meaning, from domestic to pilgrimage sites and above all how and why we instil things with meaning. For example, the cobbles mentioned in the text are a direct reference to cobbles I collected in Lisbon. These were later brought to me in London by a friend as flying only with hand luggage I could not take them back myself after my trip. The underpinning narrative of text references a memory of Michael’s where he re-enters a relative’s house upon their passing. The characters described, however, are fictional. Much of the text also deals with the understanding of the meaning of objects, what and why they could have meant to someone else, and whether they still hold that meaning after the person who imbued them with it is no longer here. Parallel to this, the exhibition ‘Weighed down by stones’ deals with questions of personal rituals and treasured items, how these may gain collective value and notions of inclusion and exclusion in rites and rituals.
For the exhibition I created a charcoal wall drawing across all of the walls in the main gallery space at Lily Brooke. The charcoal was smudged in circular motions to give an impression that the walls were charred, perhaps from a fire that had taken place at some point. I also had the gallery space, which is situated in the front room of a Victorian house and has an original fireplace, re-carpeted to bring back a feeling of domesticity. In the centre of the space I placed a totem like structure built to resemble a wood-burning stove. It was made out of wood and jesmonite but painted in dark grey to resemble steel. The top part it was a luminescent yellow-green Perspex cube containing the cobbles brought back from Lisbon. The cube mimicked both a museum glass vitrine that ‘ancient treasures’ are often displayed in (in institutions) as well as a flame, due to its luminescent nature – a reference to a fire. The aspect of the fire had connotations of campfires, ritual fires, fireplaces – all of which people usually gather around. The Lisbon cobbles, sacred to me, were rather a literal play on treasured objects. The sculpture was fitted with 3 motion sensors. Each sensor was linked to 3 musical components, which could be activated by the audience at different distances, and when played together made a song. To re-construct the full musical track 3 or more people needed to interact, one to activate each sensor. The music could be heard through linked headphones. There were only 6 sets of headphones, however, so only 6 people at a time could be part of the ‘ritual’. This was important, as I was interested in how the audience who could not hear the music would engage with the exhibition and view the audience members who were dancing around the sculpture and activating the music. This created a sense of ‘watching from the outside’, of not being able to take part in the activity for some of the audience; and thus the idea of inclusion vs. exclusion was played out by the audience themselves. The idea of control was also central to the exercise, as in the previous exhibition ‘I dance for you my edifice,’ here questions of who controls who – the sculpture/the audience by making them do certain movements to hear certain sounds, or the audience/the sculpture by making it produce certain sounds.
The conscious to unconscious consumption was evident from the second I walked into the space. It felt like a space to learn, absorb, and try to piece together certain tensions, both materially and spatially. I was and still am fascinated by that show, with the way that each form was strategically curated to form a dance, to form a gathering of kinetic energy.
The text is refreshing - a much less stuffy version of a press release, which can often be so off-putting and jarring.
This idea of object relations is something I often query when thinking about objects: the personal experience of objects, the personal material connection, a memory associated with a certain form or material, and the impact that has on a person forevermore. Object relationships are perhaps a huge part of the life of a human. Using fiction as a way to discuss the poetics of forms, and the ways people, and in particular creative people make connections with forms/locations/spaces is diaphanous, ephemeral. Alongside this is the ritual, as you said. Rituals are what form routine, meaning and calm to people’s lives, and it is inherent. Giving an audience autonomy to make the sculpture react to their presence again feels spiritual.
I can see the recurring theme of igniting a relationship between your work and its audience, and this piece (although I haven’t seen it in person) made me curious to learn about how further you used materials to create a choreographed interrelation. Aside from the beauty and spectre of the forms and the spaces you create, do you see choreography and gesture being a primary element of your practice?
Yes, very much so. With each project I try to develop my research on gesture and approach to choreography. In my latest exhibition ‘Within these line I operate’ at Galeria Foco in Lisbon, I transformed the gallery into an abstract rendering of a domestic space that acted as a set for a performance. Operating on its own as an exhibition, individual objects in the show were activated when Patricia Keleher, who I collaborated with on a commissioned dance piece for the exhibition, interacted and moved the sculptures.
The site-specific installation at Galeria Foco explored the grid and the role of women in domestic architecture. The grid, a relatively new term, was developed in the late 19th century with the expansion of cities on a larger scale. Men, as architects and city planners vs. people who inhabit the grid was the starting point of ‘Within these lines I operate’. Having moved around a lot in my life brought me to question the effect that living space has on the individual, their psychology, culture, family relationships, values and sense of national belonging.
Being familiar with inhabiting impersonal modular structures of large residential developments, my interest has always been concerned with the bodily: how these ‘cubes’ are occupied, experienced, lived and personalised. Mimicking an apartment, many of the sculptures in the exhibition were replicas of elements I found in familiar domestic interiors. Using fabric, clay and embroidery, all of which reference crafts traditionally associated with women, as the main media I created a series of smaller ‘domestic size’ objects and photographs as a way to explore the tension between intimacy and austerity and how this is played out through personal and private domestic rituals. With Patricia Keleher we staged two live performances in the gallery, were she re-enacted play and daily routines of a child and an adult, moving sculptures around, wearing the sculptures and at times involving the audience. The performance was intended to break barriers for the audience between viewing the sculptures as ‘art objects’ and as ‘domestic objects’. The audience was invited to handle, explore and return the sculptures to their original place after the performance mimicking the way a guest would help tidy up after a dinner party at home. The language of gesture and repetition were the forming blocks of Patricia’s performance. Constructed from everyday body language used in domestic interiors: dressing, undressing, pouring tea, playing with a toy horse, walking around furniture, rubbing up against walls, intimate codes and so on, a gestural alphabet was created. Some of these gestures were unintentionally mimicked by the viewers when they visited the exhibition, as the art works were placed in the space in a way that at times dictated the way people could flow through the gallery. Using the placement of objects to choreograph the movement of audience throughout my exhibitions is something I started exploring a while back. In I dance for you my edifice the platform and sound elements were my aid, in Weighed down by stones, just the sound, but now I am exploring this purely by working with the placement of things in relation to the space and for the time being not relying on any other factors.
As I read this latest answer, we are in isolation. I feel I’m beginning to look at navigating spaces differently, in this short time we have been confined to our homes. A small flat, with seemingly little dimension. Now I’m looking at the way you have articulated these ideas in a far more visceral way. You say, intimacy and austerity; it couldn’t be more poignant. The handling of defamiliarized domestic objects, navigated around. We navigate the world differently for now. ‘Intimate Codes’ are being re-written, and we find ourselves connected with our senses in a fresh new way. Your work opens the mind to how we poeticise day-to-day tasks, alongside appreciating the beauty of sacrosanct sculptural forms.
And here I thank you Evy, for your insightful and beguiling responses. I wanted to learn more, and I certainly have.
Images from l'etrangere, courtesy of l'etrangere/Andy Keat.
Images from Lily Brooke are courtesy of Lily Brooke
Images from Galeria Foco in Lisbon are courtesy of Photodocumenta
Born in Switzerland, Jokhova has lived in Austria, Estonia, USSR & Russia, and is currently based between London, Lisbon & Vienna. A graduate of MA Fine Art, Royal College of Art, and MA Political Communications, Goldsmiths College, Jokhova is the recipient of numerous awards including Arts Council Individual Grants Award, Royal Academy Schools Fellowship, Royal British Society of Sculptors Bursary Award, Wien Kultur Förderung and Amsterdam Fonds voor Kultur. Residencies include Belvedere Museum Vienna, Yarat Contemporary Art Space, BijlmAIR Amsterdam, Villa Lena, Nida Art Colony and Florence Trust amongst others. Solo projects include: Between these lines I operate, Galeria Foco, Lisbon; Weighed down by stones, Lily Brooke, London; I dance for you my edifice, l’etrangere, London; The Shape of Ritual, commissioned by Belvedere Museum, Vienna, AT; Towering in the conditions of fragments, Passen-gers, London, UK; Staccato, Marcelle
Joseph Projects, UK. Recent group shows include: On Photographic Beings, Latvian National Museum, Riga; Nuovo Cinema Galleria, Galeria Vera Cortes, Lisbon; Prevent this Tragedy, Dateagle / Vongoetz Art, London; The Garden, Lisa Kandlhofer Galerie, Vienna; Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer, William Benington Gallery and Better Living: Tenderflix film festival, The Horse Hospital, London.
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