When we saw Russian-born, Bangkok-based photographer Olga Volodina’s unusual portraits, we were wowed by the artist’s vision of women in white.
Volodina’s most recent project sees her subjects completely coated in white paint, sporting everything from masks, crosses, bandages, religious robes and mandalas to wounds, bleeding orifices, and head scarves.
Coconuts caught up with Volodina this week in the gallery at Ekkamai’s Nowhere, where her exhibition opens on Sunday, to talk to her about the concept for this series.
The artist is not one to mess with small talk. She immediately got into the gritty, real references in her work: religion, fragility, propaganda, unrealistic beauty standards. Volodina admits that her deep interest in these topics means that she may not always be the easiest to talk to.
Discussing the work on display, she explains: “Using symbols and metaphors, I tried to show how fragile human consciousness is, how easily it’s manipulated by mass media. It’s about an average person who lives in fear, prejudices and spends most of his lifetime consuming things that he might not really need.”
Volodina continues: “Metamorphosis is my response to the changes in the world.”
Some people might find this kind of imagery… say, freaky. Or weird. We asked her how she handles that kind of response to her art.
Says Volodina: “Every person has his own unique perception and experience of art. My works might seem odd or strange to someone if they are pulled out of the context of the concept. The concept is very important here. It’s not enough to briefly look at it to comprehend fully. You need to understand the idea behind it.”
She especially urged viewers to watch a four-minute stop motion video, also called Metamorphosis, which she considers an integral part of the project.
Take a look at that right here:
The video is a collection of 2,500 still photographs that give a truer feeling of what Volodina is trying to accomplish with her work — the fragility of our psyches, themes of change, looking inside oneself, scrutinizing the supposed virtues of humanity. She also explores ideas about enslavement — from actual ones like beauty standards, to the government-based variety (in one, she refers to the known practice of performing medical tests on unwitting people).
There are ideas on censorship circulating in there too — being made to keep silent, featuring eye masks to keep the models from seeing, and tape over their mouths to keep them from speaking. How propaganda and religion use love to draw people in and offer submission.
This particular series of conceptual black-and-white photos was created back in 2014. The bandages are meant to show human fragility and frailty, which means that sometimes, on her models, the bandages are on the outside — but sometimes, when depicting powerful figures, the bandages seem to be buried in their midsection, as if they are attempting to hide their fragility.
She is immersed now in new projects that are equally fascinating. Her Imaginarium and Queens of Bedlam series reference sane women in the Victorian-era that could be legally committed to asylums by their husbands — and eventually driven mad by the experience.
The series has been photographed and the concept performed live in Bangkok bar Mojjo. She wants to stage the performance again, but perhaps in a gallery, since she was not sure that the bar patrons knew what to make of it.
The newer work also references Marie Antoinette’s style and indulgences and rich people paying to visit asylums to watch crazy people, which was apparently a thing back then.
Though the works in the Metamorphosis series have been seen previously, both at Bangkok’s YenakArt gallery and exhibited in Moscow, the artist says that the show at Nowhere, known as an upscale, artsy fusion cafe, will be more of a friendly, hangout kind of space. Sunday’s launch, in fact, will happen over a champagne brunch (though anyone can stop by to see the art whether they decide to book for brunch or not).
We pressed Volodina to tell us what exactly her models are coated in, but she was coy in her response: “I don’t like to discuss the technical side of my photos. I believe it’s not that important if the setup and technical aspects of work were sophisticated or not. For me, the important thing in my work if I have managed to translate an idea into images without losing the essence of it.”
She did reveal that the clean up simply involved lots and lots of shower gel, though. “No magic formulas involved,” she says.
Metamorphosis by Olga Volodina
The City Loft Hotel, 6th floor
Ekkamai Soi 6
Opening: Sunday 11am-10pm (show will continue for approximately one month)
Images courtesy of Olga Volodina (unless otherwise specified)