Alexandra Karakashian's recent solo exhibition 'GROUND,' held at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town until the 10th September 2016, is part of the artist's expaning oeuvre of work. ART AFRICA caught up with Alexandra to find out more about this work, and her inclusion as part of SMAC gallery's stand at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2016.
ART AFRICA: Your practice is rooted in the exploration of both global and local interpretations of land, environment and belonging. Where does this interest originate and how has it evolved through your work?
Alexandra Karakashian: I situate myself within the metanarrative of humankind’s relationship to ‘landscape’. I do this by first looking back at my own family history and the story of my grandparent’s escape from the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and how they eventually made their home in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through this narrative I reflect on ideas of exile, migration and refugee status. Engaging with concepts of forced migration and exile have led me to an exploration of how local and global issues of land, place and environment are represented in differing contemporary contexts. This engagement with landscape as a ‘construct,’ and the subject of the ‘contemporary sublime,’ positions my interest in current discourse, and I continue to explore these ideas through my process.
Please walk us through the process behind your work?
My practice and process of making is deeply rooted in my engagement with materiality, surface and process itself. I look at how these concepts are reflected in global issues of land and the environment. I have chosen to eschew traditional oil paint, and instead use a variety of alternative media for my paintings, substances and materials not usually considered part of the painter’s pallete. Three materials with which I engage the most are oil – in its used state (such as engine oil) – which I often refer to as ‘sump oil’; black powder (charcoal and oxide) or gunpowder; and salt. I try to explore as many potential uses for these materials as possible, always with their historical significance, symbolic meaning and conceptual relevance at the forefront of my thinking. Engagement with materials that are contentious in relation to the wellbeing of the biosphere serves to prompt a consideration of the shifting ways in which landscape can be perceived in current contexts of the ecological crises.
Please tell us about your recent solo exhibition ‘GROUND’? Is this the same body of work on show at the Johannesburg Art Fair?
The show is a solo presentation displaying some new work. I am constantly experimenting with and being bewitched by my medium. The works in ‘GROUND’ are a continuation of this process. As mentioned my work is very much about the process of making and working through every aspect of the medium. It is about experimentation and persistance. This body of work is part of this exercise and while this is a continuation of my practice, each work has been made with a different starting point, some extremely minor varients and some much bigger. In the end each piece is an exploration that informs the making of my next artwork.
My work for JoburgArtFair, this year, was created through similar working methods but with different conclusions in mind, such as the art fair as apposed to a solo presentation. The work in my solo show at SMAC in Cape Town, consists of paintings that explore traditional oil painting (on paper/canvas) with non-traditional painting materials as I attempt to extend the tradition of ‘painting’ to what has come to be known as the ‘expanded field’ of painting. I always prefer my artworks to do the talking, and I do the listening, as each viewers’ uninfluenced interpretation assists me in my process.
You’ve exhibited in a variety of contexts and will also be showing work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair London as a Special Project titled ‘Passage.’ How easily do you feel your work translates from one context to the next?
My paintings often advance and grow to become large scale installations that occupy different spaces, and attempt to ‘activate’ the space in which they are installed. This makes each piece into a site-specific work. As a result, the artwork will always change organically with its location. My conceptual concerns around land and belonging mean that the changing nature of space plays an important role in my practice. In my special project at 1:54 London the collection of artworks will be occupying one of the entrances and exits of the fair, and will therefore act as a space of ‘transit’ that the body physically moves through. This initial function of the space directly corresponds to my conceptual concerns around migration, movement and belonging. And as mentioned, viewers bring their own understandings and interpretations to all exhibitions. My aim is to facilliate each slightly varying context into a larger consciousness, whereby seemingly different kinds of audiences can relate and experience similar understandings, on the basis that the human relationship to land is universal.