Kea Bolenz on role-playing, subcultural vacuums and how to fill them, the need for deinstitutionalization as well as on trolls and (other) kin.
The Leipzig-based artist Kea Bolenz deservedly attracts interest outside the academic sphere. A vast pool of ideas and juxtapositions, an intriguing examination of inner desires and external effects – and the fallacy of this dichotomy – characterize her work just as precisely as her Instagram posts, which some would wrongly dismiss as merely provocative. In February she showed much of her spectrum in a solo show at Fonda in Leipzig, where she studies at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst. Currently she is showing works on paper together with Evelyn Plaschg at Pina in Vienna. An interview by Jakob Dibold with photos by Marie Haefner.
Your artistic work shows so many facets, it’s not easy to choose one to start with – so, nolens volens, why not start with Instagram: The way you use the app, it genuinely feels like an integral part of your work as well as a surrogate for a website. Could you tell us about your handling of online dynamics and your motivation behind a strong presence on this one app in particular?
When I talk or write, I layer metaphors in order to specify – in their intersection – what I mean: every image I make or take contains that within itself and reveals to me and the world how I think and feel. This concept relies on the nexus of collectiveness, because it fractally refers to that.
I often perceive the art world as an echo chamber for professional gestures, whereas a social media platform formally revokes gatekeeping.
Understanding the platform as an immersive MMORPG (ed.: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, for example World of Warcraft) makes it much easier for me to find my way around, because the sensual overload of encounters is lost irl – and the whole process of filing is outsourced.
The Internet provides a perfect infrastructure for singularities. In this sense, virtual space, especially the seemingly monadic part of it – referred to as your »profile« – feels like a membrane between inner and outer perception, where interlacing poetics become the ground for a deeper connection.
The assembling of many different layers is a constant in your work, one may especially identify a strong interest in dark surrealist man-machine-animal crossovers and an affinity for the obscure, the occult, their symbolism and their possible reconfigurations. Am I wrong in thinking that you like to cultivate an aesthetic of the uncanny in contemporary design?
To begin with, I have religiously embraced things I love; garbage, antiques, hair and fingernails – or any material residue of (anticipated) life, and even more so to explore their metaphysical situatedness as long as I can remember.
I hear a lot about my »aesthetics« being sexually provocative, dark, or indicating mental health issues (lol). For me it’s really more the desire to share and make accessible what I like. When I went to school, subcultures had already vanished. The individualization and pluralization of lifestyles had dissolved the formerly monolithic block of hegemonic culture. As a result, new youth cultures, especially subcultures, found no demarcation foil. »Honey, are you bored? Have this infinite array of stimuli to filter!«
The Constitutive Other in the form of endless possibilities clamors for a docking site, thus the mode you describe could be seen as a manifestation of feeling other; devoting oneself to feeling as a fringe phenomenon and exploring its periphery to stake out one’s own identity. Especially when (physical) nausea is involved, because there the increasingly Cartesian self-image is challenged. In this respect, I believe that in an age where there is literally tmi to navigate through, overdrawn features become the Archimedean point for the mapping of an environment.
For the project Garden of Death by the Russian curatorial group Plague, you worked with the self-proclaimed »art troll collective« Kotz from Leipzig on the off-site-show »Kotz, if you exist«. How urgent is the need for art trolls and exhibition venues outside the white cubes?
Actually, I love the White Cube and the classical museum in their heterotopian nature. Their quiet and emptiness cools my head. Off-site exhibitions, on the other hand, are low-threshold, which is great, and being in nature can also be quite calming.
Wikipedia reads »In net jargon, a troll is a person who limits his or her communication on the Internet to contributions aimed at emotionally provoking other participants in a conversation. This is done with the motivation to achieve a reaction from the other participants,« which sounds like a legit artist’s dictum to me. Or perhaps a revolt against strict etiquette and elitism in the art world which is due. Although I personally would prefer radical warmth, transparency and permeability as a strategy.
Together with Evelyn Plaschg, you worked on a show for Pina in Vienna, which is still on display until September 25. Do you enjoy working with others? To what extent is it a challenge?
It really depends! I love working with people I like and share interests with, like Evelyn. Otherwise I’m pretty reclusive and sometimes lose myself in thoughts, the chaos in my head often doesn’t resonate well with joint plans. That said, I believe that kinship in artistic practice can serve as a template for building a deinstitutionalized future and is therefore inevitable.
In 2018, you contributed an artwork to Drangsal’s single Turmbau zu Babel, in which mankind starts playing God. You also tend to »create« new species: e.g. a baby frog with big breasts (Exile). Do you enjoy rearranging nature?
I do! My approach is to ceaselessly reassemble disjointed limbs and attributes in their part-object-relationships. I recently read somewhere that it is more reasonable to identify as a tree than as a woman, because the former is more precisely outlined (as a concept) – to me they’re the same!