Your coming-of-age experience is not exactly average. Can you give a short introduction?
It started out with me moving from Constanta, Romania to Vienna in order to pursue my dreams of becoming a choreographer and dancer. After two hefty years at the Viennese State Opera Ballet Academy, I decided ballet didn’t offer me enough liberty of expression and as a result shifted my focus on fine arts and the exploration into anything art/fashion related. Having lived alone in Austria ever since the age of 11, I didn’t find it hard to mobilize and re-coordinate my life despite the drastic change. I started doing several internships at galleries, assisting for artists, expanding and maturing my practice, getting to know the art world and eventually applied for the Vienna Institute of Fashion, which I will be graduating from next year. I was fortunate enough to also be invited to show small projects, as well as organize my own group-show entitled »Hindrance to Modern Speed«.
I’ve often been the youngest in a room full of adults, but that never really bothered me. On the contrary, I’ve always felt the variety of my exchanges and experiences informed a dynamic awareness of how unprecedented, rich and peculiar (in a good sense) life can be, even at the age of 19.
What is your opinion about the scandal that has been uncovered by Falter around a teacher of the Viennese Ballet? There is a lot of exploitation in the art world, but I assume it is far worse in the ballet world.
The entire ideology built around the State Opera’s understanding of dance and training their dancers is in my opinion slightly fascist, ancient-regime-like and completely out of touch with liberal or progressive values (both in the social but also artistic sense). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that such an environment is a breeding place for abusive behavior and hierarchical constructs. I have personally experienced a lot of verbal abuse, but also things like getting shoes thrown at me for misunderstanding a command or being group-shamed for not being tall enough. Exposing children to the levels of stress, anxiety, competition and physical pain that the ballet system entails has no place in the 21st century and I strongly believe the entire cycle needs to be re-evaluated from the ground up. Furthermore, I am deeply saddened by how my ex-colleagues defend the school expressing positions like »No pain no gain« on social media. It seems to me an alteration of the Stockholm Syndrome, which is fueled by the internalized, claustrophobic nature of the ballet world and by the obscure dependency they have on the State Opera as a whole, regarding their future careers. I dismiss the idea that true artistic fulfilment can only come with a disproportionate level of sacrifice and endurance. In all disciplines one must differentiate between effort and torment. Neglected positions must collectively draw the line in order to create better future working conditions and abuse needs to be prohibited before it can even emerge.
Your show at the art institute was circling issues around sexuality. Can you tell me more about that?
»Stimulus« was a turning point for my practice, in the sense that it was the first time where I consciously decided to speak about a robust topic which intrigues me on a first and foremost personal level: sexual fetishization of toxic masculinity (particularly within the gay community). That fundamental paradox between political and sexual orientation really opened up a lot of other questions dealing with collective subconscious cultural as well as sexual awareness. Inquiring into the link between corrupt mentalities and dominance/submission roles made me want to better understand whether the mainstreamization of certain fetishes could, in any way, be interlinked with the growth in nationalism and the overall approval rates for the re-popularization of alpha male entities. The outcome of the show was quite humorous and not exactly a clear answer to any of the questions posed–but I learned that asking ridiculous questions is sometimes more valuable than answering them.
Great approach. If we think about John Oliver or Hannah Gatsby, humor seems to be the educational tool of our times. Since you mentioned alpha males in nationalism: Many people view Western culture as a champion for sexual liberty, but in the AFD/FPÖ-era you seem to have a different take on that.
Despite what both liberal and conservative ideologies preach, sexuality has always been a very political phenomenon. It is omnipresent and does not seize to have relevance once an orgasm has been reached and the sexual encounter set to an end. It is the most dynamic combination of primitive needs, deeply cognitive notions but also collective understanding because it consists of many different histories interlinked with systems of social as well as spiritual administration. Often the way sexuality has been practiced influenced the way societies have been conducted and power roles administrated; vice-versa also. Sadly, I don’t think that true sexual liberation has been accomplished in Western capitalism. It has of course become less of a taboo topic and different sexual orientations have been supported by legislation and society, however it has also formatted a different set of norms that can often suppress the individual. Consider for example Foucauldian ideas of bio-power and the interesting spin brought on by Paul B. Preciado’s concept of pharmaco-pornography, even earlier cinematic works like »120 days of Sodom« by Pier Paolo Pasolini or more recent ones like »Love« by Gaspar Noe, all of which argue that capitalism simply narrowed and categorized sexuality as a consumable commodity which supports the reinforcement of gentrification and stigmatization. The only thing more perverse than the oppression of sexual pluralism is the imprisonment of it under the umbrella of a pseudo-liberal-utopia. There is a lot of anxiety out there, caused by unrealistic standards, personal alienation and dogmas, which prevent sexual fluidity and true sexual discovery to flourish. Currently we are mistaking liberal promiscuity with the consumption of sexual partners for personal validation. Promiscuity is not the answer to an identity crisis. Much more a life-style choice based on impulse and curiosity fueled by self-confidence and the feeling of being at ease with one’s self.
Why is painting the medium you prefer? Where do you see its attractiveness still?
Since a lot of my work is about re-appropriating already existing paintings, frescoes and woodblock prints, the idea of repainting them prior to re-contextualizing them simply seems like the most appropriate way of constituting what I want to express in a medium-loyal manner. My practice is based on the observation that we are living in a renaissance of flat depictions, very much in tune with parameters, regulations and techniques typical for two-dimensional figurative historical genres of painting (high symbolism, restricted inherent meanings and forms of representation, clear communicative message etc.) such as in 20th century propaganda, Egyptian art, medieval art and countless others. I would strongly point out that most contemporary capitalist iconography which is seemingly not painting, actually re-established a stylistic relationship towards limitations and constitutions within conservative forms of painting. So ultimately it makes perfect sense that painting continues to influence contemporary discourse, even outside its primal space of existence.
Part of your practice is also writing essays parallel to your work. You are very knowledgeable about art history, sociology, global politics. I can’t think of anyone else who knows details about medieval paintings, satirical magazines from Azerbaijan and the complete history of the rise and fall of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan … How do you acquire all your knowledge?
I think, like most artists, I simply have a very curious mind. Thinking in different directions and inspecting hypothetical inklings between subjectivities is something that comes along with the desire to critically reflect the world we live in and perhaps open new meanings of interpretation. It also became clear to me that I wanted my works to be as informed as possible, because progression only happens when past occurrences, situations, mentalities, philosophies and forms of expression are fully acknowledged and taken into account. In many ways, the concept of time is so strictly cognitive that considering the post-modern context, art forms should strip themselves of segregating past, present and future. I try to do that with my work and reflect different propositions of being historically existential. To answer the question in short: I read a lot of diverse books or articles, watch movies and take the time to ponder things, pay a lot of attention.
You often insert your paintings digitally into urban contexts. How important do you see the presence of art in public space as accessible for everyone?
Art often helps communities unite under an umbrella of cultural identification: the more diverse art around us is, the more plural our societies become. At the same time, almost everything surrounding us in our daily commuting is some form of applied art. Architecture, fashion, urban planning, product design … everything we see is an accumulation of visual choices that constitute the world as we experience and interpret it. It’s very important to always remind by-passers of the power of creativity without inherent practicality, as it often gets disregarded in late-capitalist societies, which constantly shift the focus on blind actionism or models of executive labor chasing after a religious understanding of financial profit.
If there were one thing you could change about the art world what would it be?
I think the art world should be more open to younger people and younger positions: by that I mean under 30.