Photo by Marie Haefner
Photo by Marie Haefner
Photo by Marie Haefner
Photo by Marie Haefner
Photo by Marie Haefner
Photo by Marie Haefner

Siggi Sekira: Moments Between Rest and Death

May 15, 2022
Text by Kathrin Heinrich
Photo by Marie Haefner

In drawings and ceramic sculptures, Siggi Sekira addresses grief and loss in a way that is just as dark and solemn as it is absurd and full of relish.

In her first solo show Parties to cover the Silence at South Parade, Ukrainian artist Siggi Sekira exhibits her signature mix of drawings and ceramics that playfully deal with themes of loss and anxiety. Calling the slow, almost meditative processes of creating her meticulous works a »focused experience« that can take weeks, her practice is very much opposed to the accelerated logic of the art market and, instead, reminds of a continuous practice of repair. In conversation with Kathrin Heinrich, the Odessa-born and Vienna-based artist expands on the monstrous capacity of teenage obsessions and shares how writing informs her visual art.

At the recent group show Craving Supernatural Creatures at VBKOE in Vienna, next to some of your drawings you presented sculptures of female figures in a striking way: on the ground, ribcages submerged in soil and decorated with red roses, suggesting burial ceremonies. Who are they?

They are sirens who – instead of luring in the sailor – heard their own song and were seduced and about to die because of it. The pieces represent this almost erotic moment that is just about the woman and not the male. Many of my figures are caught in that moment before you go to sleep. I’m interested in that kind of stillness, between being dead and resting. Here, I wanted to take that to the very end, literally. The display recalls funerals, so does the even number of flowers. It must be two, four, or eight flowers – they symbolize death in Ukrainian tradition. The theme of loss or anxiety is something that runs through my entire body of work.

Photo by Marie Haefner

You are quite open about the personal loss that brought about this preoccupation. How do these themes translate into your works, and does your process differ when you draw or sculpt?

When my mom died, I didn’t know how to approach it at first. I tried to be in control the first 10 years and then I realized that I feel much better mentally if I don’t hold back. Just let it all out and give it some life. Literally, because I use my mom’s facial features in the works, so I feel like I’m giving her life by doing that. Because I think about my sculptural work for such a long time beforehand, I don’t even need to sketch it. I just take a piece of clay and start working. Drawings I plan out, sketch, and then draw them in the same colors they are designed in. If I make a mistake, I just try to go with it.

Was drawing and sculpting your preferred mode of expression from the get-go?

I spent a few years writing before. But my hard drive broke and there was no way of retrieving any of my short stories or my novel. I was really depressed about it and drawing, things like realistic portraits, at first. A friend encouraged me to develop my artworks, so I applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where I first started to paint abstract paintings. Very different work. When I felt like it didn’t go anywhere anymore, I switched to sculpture, which I had thought about for a long time, but it really intimidated me. Some of the first few pieces didn’t work out because I didn’t have enough skill yet.

Photo by Marie Haefner

Do you still write?

I try to write sometimes, but I think you need to write every single day to call yourself a writer. You cannot just be called a writer, or an artist, without doing it. But I always look for the narrative. When I work, I see my art as a language that’s meant to be decoded. This is how I create narrative in my work. It directly stems from writing and has a rich story in my head while I’m working on the piece. That way I create a memory of the event in my life, so that I can always revisit it through my work.

Some of your creatures seem like shapeshifters, they remind me in a way of an aesthetic of fluidity, of the glitch.

This fluidity is a lot about the body for me as I identify as non-binary. But this fluidity also references waters. Although I come from Odessa, I cannot swim, because I almost drowned as a child and never managed to learn. Often, I portray something that I’m very scared of as a way of dealing with the issue. It’s sort of simple.

Photo by Marie Haefner

As your figures often carry stereotypical female attributes like braids and pink cheeks, they seem to also evoke the shift from girl to woman. Is this something you consider?

Oh, absolutely. I’m very interested in this age from, say, 11 to 13. It’s the last time you’re androgynous before you develop into something else and there’s this feeling of figuring something out. The notion of femininity interests me because I was a tomboy but had to wear a school uniform with a skirt my entire life back then – from primary school to the high-school uniform. But I like to betray my girls. I give them something a little bit monstrous. Because it’s also this very uncool age when girls develop their crushes, they get obsessed with celebrities. There is a monstrous dimension to that.

The same moment when a woman gains agency was, historically, also the moment she was married off and hidden in the kitchens with children.

In her book »The Monstrous-Feminine«, Barbara Creed describes the agency of women in box-office horror movies. Inspired by the early Cronenberg films, I developed a series of small ceramic works that played with the genre of body horror. They flirt with the common fear of producing a monstrous child and something terrifying growing inside one’s body. You know, like Rosemary’s Baby?

Photo by Marie Haefner

But do you think that it’s something that is, like inherent or is it something that is kind of projected on from the outside?

Definitely projected! I kind of see it as a humor in my work; I don’t think that people will go haha about it, necessarily, but I enjoy a kind of absurd humor and surrealism. I have always seen myself as a surrealist, actually.

You shared that you are currently working on these ceramic wreaths of grief. Can you tell me a bit about them?

We always have these big, artificial wreaths in Ukrainian funerals. Everybody has them and you really spend money on them, which I find interesting. So basically, that’s what it is.

Photo by Marie Haefner

In light of the war against Ukraine, they seem to not only relate to personal grief but also address the sort of collective grief that takes over a country.

This is a question of grief. The war began eight years ago, of course, but the moment the full-on invasion started, it felt like somebody had died – and then, of course, so many people did. But it was the same stages of grief, forming the anger, the acceptance, the denial, and so on. It felt very familiar.

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture run by Luca Büchler and Lewon Heublein. 

PW-Magazine is supported by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.