In conversation with artist Ohii Katya.

In conversation with Ohii Katya, the artist who combines performance, sculpture, and installation diving into the dark and gloomy process of metamorphosis. Exploring the practices, she evokes the subconscious and the spiritual transforming it into a tangible and moving dimension.

Your work revolves around practices of dark and gloomy twists and metamorphosis. How did your journey into this very specific aesthetic start? 

I have always been creative, but I didn’t make any attempts to make it a profession until September 2019, just 3 years ago, after moving from Kyiv to Rome. An engineer and 3d animator in the past, I had no knowledge about the world of contemporary art.  But there was a desire. At first, I went to an academic drawing course, then painted motley and ambitiously huge canvases. That time I thought that I would have probably continued with painting. However, I’ve never gotten proper satisfaction from the process. It seemed very monotonous to me, something was missing.  One morning I just woke up with the idea of ​​making something 3-dimensional.  I had no  sketch or knowledge about materials.  But somehow everything turned out exactly how I imagined, which never happened to me in painting.  Moreover, my body was in motion all the time while working on the sculpture, a kind of dance came out, I constantly slid around the work, never being static. Along with sculpture came an interest in performance, installation and video. I wanted to combine all into one whole world, into a visual tale or a quasi-theatrical play.
This desire sharply escalated after my first solo show MORULA in July, curated by Stefania Plaza Mora in the off-site temporary space Piano Zero. In just one month, I managed to create a massive site-specific installation, with the supportive team of my incredible man Oleksandr Radomskyi and curator Stefania, in collaboration with Australian artist and director Finn O’Hanlon, composer Michele Papa, american textile artist and printmaker Tilde Kay Snyder, and with the help of 1st assistant director Gabriella Trulli, writer Nika Varlamova, artists Damiano Tata and Flaminia Maura. “Morula” occupied 64 square meters of space in total. It consists of eleven sculptural objects, one massive wooden structure, splashing out to the corridor, sound installation, video and performance. I think this was the culminating moment in my practice, after which a new page has started.

The materials that you used for your sculptures and for the curated space featured in ‘Balia’, your latest short film are very interesting and particular. How did you find your way to these materials? How do they resonate with the concepts of your art and what you want to communicate to the audience? 

As you correctly noted, I use a wide range of organic and unconventional materials.  My favorites are: burned sugar, soy milk, fallen tree branches and natural latex wraps. I started to use sugar and foodstuffs when I had no money to buy any sculpture materials at the end of  2020.  So I simply started to create sculptures using the goods found in the kitchen. With the large scale wooden structures, which can be considered temporary architecture, I focus on the construction of “animated temples”, sort of a hybrid creations – “living houses”, both inanimate structures and alive creatures at the same time. They often frame ritualistic performances. Assembled from diverse materials – fallen branches and animal bones, leaking with burned sugar substance –  they are often inhabited by the ants, who bring life inside, but also exaggerate the repulsion of the viewer. The first attempt on these temporary temples was made with the support of the band Archivio Futuro, when we collaborated on their music video and performance “Deserto Giallo”. In the video and live performance BALIA, I was choking with soy milk, coming from a medical IV bag, mounted into the woodlice-alike womb. My eyes were glued with silicone, which made me completely blind during the performance to exaggerate a feeling of a newborn creature, a “blind puppy”. “Balia” is the first act of an ongoing project, which tells us a story of an entity going through the intense, even violent  process of metamorphosis. In my opinion, the use of organic materials, foodstuffs and liquids, create an extremely corporeal effect, that accuses strong emotional response from the spectator.
They bolster the feeling of the alien and odd, always present in my works and evoke an underlying tension between erotism and abjection. Characters clothed in skin-tight latex wraps, silicone suits fused with medical tubes and supplies, sugar “tentacles” sprouting from the masks, constantly melting and exuding liquid as if they were bleeding, they embroiled into phantasmagoric ritual, and framed by an eerie tree root structures, whether architectural or alive – all this plunges us into very personal and strange journey through the world at the same time modern and archaic, not really a human one, but rather chimerical and alienating.

Your work reconnects with a world of the absurd and the uncanny, an imaginary world that you made tangible and visible to the audience. Can you talk about the creatures born in this world, Golem and Bastet, they have some human features, especially Bastet, what were your inspirations in creating these beings? 

Let’s start with Bastet. Although she is the second sculpture I made after the Golem, she has a direct connection with where I would like to lead my artistic practice in the future. With the following projects, I would like to plunge the audience into dystopian realm stratified on dominant and submissive castes: voyeurs and executors, involved in the performance of phantasmagoric rites, that distort and transform participants, and often involve the erotic confluence of executors with the elements of non- human chimerical nature. Bastet-alike creatures are representatives of the dominant voyeurs caste. They are some sort of divinised bystanders. They almost never take part in the ritual directly, but often act as masters of ceremonies.
Voyeurs are deified and fetishized. They look alike erotic dolls, with hyper-feminized proportions, lack of clear facial features, as if hidden by a latex mask, naturalistic genitals, they often have many limbs.  They constitute both single figures and multi-figured “balls of bodies”, twisted together. In the next project I am dreaming about now, I want to make a costume of the Voyeur for myself and literally become her during the performance. As for the Golem, it was my first sculpture and a “bridge” between colorful paintings and the creation of uncanny immersive worlds, combining sculpture, performance, installation and video.
In Jewish mythology, Golem is a mythical anthropomorphic creature created from inanimate matter, usually clay or mud. The sculpture represents 4 roughly sculpted figures, human blanks frozen in either an act of confluence or a struggle. The black angular silhouette looks both tightly knocked down and disintegrating.

It is interesting the connection that you manage to recreate between the staticity of the sculptures and the moving reality of the art of performance. It seems you almost want this world to be alive. Can you talk about your connection with performance art? Or are they the same thing for you? 

I am very glad, Alice, that you caught the feeling that I almost want this world to be alive, because it is an absolute truth!  Ant colonies that come luring to sugar spilled over dry and dead branches, ritual performances  depicting painful and dangerous experiences mingled with pleasure, invariably leading to a new and changed state, and I even perceive the static sculptures as if it wasn’t static. However, it was just one of the dozen moments of transformation, put on pause or going so slow so we can take it as a static.  I think there is something tantalizing in this symbiosis of the inanimate and the revived. As for my connection to performance art,  to some extent it has always been part of my way of exploring the world, forms in sculpture and even the process of work has always included a performative element.  However, I never distinguished it as a stand-alone piece before BALIA.  It was rather a way to discover the world around me through my own body and feel the conversion of the objects and spaces with it. As for the sculpture-performance relationship, I think that I have never really separated them.
Performative element has always been present in the workflow of making sculptures, just as the creation of sculptural forms has always been present in performance.  The difference is only in the material: be it body or resin.

Can you tell me about your creative process when it comes to these practices?  

My creative process is always pretty intuitive.  Usually I start any work having in my head only a kind of vague and fluid image, visual sequence or some kind of an unfolding story, always in motion. At the beginning I never expressed the concept in words. This is such a peculiarity of mine, I never try to explain anything or sort it all out until the work is finished or at least major points are done. Often I do the work following body movements.  I think with my hands. However, later, when the work is done, and I look at it distantly, an intuitive language, used at the beginning, is organically translated into a coherent concept described in words.  Like both of the ways: using senses and using words were always present and you are able to choose which to use at the moment.

For example, ‘Deserto Giallo’ represents a counter-world to the world we know. And these worlds are connected with a gate that, at the end, happens to be closed. The characters remain trapped in the other reality and are transformed into masked beings. How do you resonate with this artistic collaboration with Archivio Futuro?  

My task in this project was to create masks and installations for the music video and performance of Archivio Futuro.
In the video, directed by Leonardo Parata, the characters are in a kind of self-contained space of dreams, the world of the subconscious and spiritual, where we become observers of a series of actions, a kind of ritual that goes in a circle, devoid of the usual logic of everyday life and incomprehensible to us. The characters do not have human faces, they are anonymous by means of baroque masks. Drawing from the iconic Venetian masks, originally worn by the common folks during the Carnival of Venice for ease of anonymity, my work there depicts surreal citizens, characters who inhabit the space of dreams. These assumed identities weave together an imagined reality with slight hints of illogical and absurd nightmares underpinned by an uncanny and seductive quality. Masks are constantly transforming due to the usage of burned sugar that never stops melting and pouring through the little cracks in the resin top layer. The idea of ​​using Venetian mask aesthetic originally came from the group members Lorenzo and Danilo, who supported the production of the works and all of my experiments during the project.
Venetian Devil mask was the starting point, because Lorenzo was already performing in the industrial version of it and felt very comfortable and natural within a devil character, a sort of trickster. From the inside of the spiritual world recreated in Deserto Giallo we can  see a construction – my installation “Izba (Hut on The Chicken Legs)”. In the Slavic mythology this is the home of Baba Yaga, it is a place of transition or a gate between the earthly world and the spiritual one. Made from organic materials such as branches, tree bark, and burnt sugar, this installation personifies the reverse side of the gate between the worlds, the exit from the other, spiritual world rather than the entrance. This gate is a sort-of Rubicon between reality and subconscious. At the very end of the video performance for which this installation was created, this gate was destroyed, sealing its inhabitants inside, cutting them off from reality in this space of dreams. I think it is very important to add that I was involved in the ‘Deserto Giallo’ project at a very difficult and strange moment in time. We were in the middle of working on it, when the war began in Ukraine, the country where I come from and where my family and friends live. My stress level that period went off scale, I almost couldn’t eat or sleep, and wanted to lock myself in the house forever. But a big part of the work on ‘Deserto Giallo’ had already been done, materials had been bought, it was simply impossible to backtrack and I had to continue working.  At first it was difficult to concentrate, but then I caught myself thinking that I was slipping into this fictional world from the disturbing reality, just like its “masked” inhabitants. I think that helped me a lot.

In your bio, you talk about ‘eroticism and abjection’. What is the link for you between these concepts? 

In my opinion this effect of simultaneous attraction and repulsion is quite natural and is always present in nature, because nature does not have only a “positive aspect”, there are numerous contradictory matters mixed in it. I also think that this effect in my work is associated with the allure of the alien and the odd, bolstered by the use of organic materials, foodstuffs and liquids, which are always acutely corporeal.

Ohii Katya / Metamorphosis


Artist: Ohii Katya / @ohiikatya
Interview: Alice Lipizzi / @strafiko
Editor: Maria Abramenko / @mariabramenko
Assistant: Camilla Di Pasquale / @micalliroe

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