In her current solo show »Galvanic Couple«, Irina Lotarevich deals with the dynamics of human relationships in regard to her own subjective as well as collective reality. Her sculptural practice generates a certain emotion through form and materiality and is guided by the internal logic of the artist. An interview by Lena Katharina Reuter.
You completed your BFA at Hunter College in NYC and moved to Vienna in 2016 to continue your studies at the Academy of Fine Arts. What drew you to Vienna?
I was born in Rybinsk, a mid-size city in Russia, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. New York is great, but after finishing Hunter I was burning the candle at both ends and needed a change. I knew some friends here and moved in 2016 to study sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts with Julian Goethe. Being in Vienna has provided time, focus, and a welcome respite from the social matrix.
After a duo show with Anna Schachinger at Sophie Tappeiner Gallery in the beginning of this year, you recently opened a second show in 2019. Galvanic Couple is a solo show of your work at Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA in Prague. Could you tell me something about the concept of the show and your new developed pieces?
The centerpiece of the show is »Galvanic Couple«, a steel sculpture of two boat skeletons, joined together by an insect-like connection. A galvanic couple is a technical term for the electrical pairing of two dissimilar metals under water, which causes the »weaker« metal to corrode. For me, it is an apt metaphor for what sometimes happens in human relationships – romantic, sexual, platonic, or professional ones – where there seems to be a power imbalance, or a power negotiation happening.
Surrounding the »Galvanic Couple« are many burnt wood and steel wall objects, with attachments that resemble file folders, the kind one would use to archive documents. Some of these files contain a book that I produced specifically for this exhibition. The gesture of filing refers to mental compartmentalization; the filing away, categorization, and making sense of our experiences. The wall objects are meant to be window or balcony-like, evoking a romantic feeling, and also the image of a society which looks down on and observes the Galvanic Couple below.
With your artist book in the exhibition, you give viewers an insight into your imaginary world and inspirations. I also remember a trip we took together where you used to photograph metal frames and decorations of windows on every corner. Why did you decide to produce the book and fill it with your personal archive?
The inclusion of the artist book is a way for me to communicate more to the viewer, to allow them in on my often hermetic logic, and to own the narrative which surrounds the work. The book contains all of the images and texts that I found and generated in preparation for the exhibition. It is intended as an integral part of the exhibition, one which does not water down the content I absorbed, but rather re-presents it intact, keeping its energy and texture, and showing the connections between different elements.
Your earlier work can be described through the set of terms, »perforating, slicing and burning«. Whereas in your more recent work, »Galvanic Couple«, as you mentioned, we might use the words, »filing, sectioning and compartmentalization«. Can you talk about the transition of your work from one to the other?
This show is very much linked to my past work. The shape of the boat or the vessel is part of a lineage of like forms which have made an appearance in my practice in the last few years - such as the knife, the »Confessional« sculptures from my show at Kevin Space in 2017, and, most recently, fish, as in the work »Positions of Power« shown at Sophie Tappeiner earlier this year. The surface treatments and sculptural acts you name, such as perforating, burning, and sectioning, have also always been present in my work. Sculpture is very much related to our self-image - both the physical and mental aspects of it. So, for example the divided vessel, built in segments, could be likened to a body made up of segments, but also an entity which is made up of many different non-physical aspects, and can join with another similarly complex entity. It is not clear which half of the »Galvanic Couple« is the corrosive agent. Burning wood destroys its immediate surface, but then hardens the body underneath and increases its longevity – an act of regenerative and defensive corporal shielding, similar to tearing and growing muscle, or persevering through failure.
Recently I just came across a few sentences from a Keren Cytter performance in which one of her performers says, »I think you’re too emotional when it comes to feelings«. I had somehow immediately thought of your work, too. How do you specifically deal with personal histories and emotions in your work?
Personal histories and emotions are the fuel for my work, but they are filtered and sublimated. I am very sensitive, but I also grew up doing a lot of jobs which were very rote, systematic, and structured, which I should point out is the reality for a lot of immigrant and working class people. So that kind of mode and the aesthetics of those situations - for example, the file folders, from when I worked as an office assistant, or the syntax of computer programming, which I also did, has really woven itself into how I also approach sculpture. The systematic and structured approach of these professional roles – a skill which I had to learn to be good at out of a class-rooted necessity of basic survival – became the language that I used in my sculptural work to address the more nebulous world of emotions, psychology, sexuality, and my personal history. Ultimately, I think the job of the artist is to sublimate.