GS Artists: Anja Stenina

You Know What I Mean – Installation walkthrough

The work of Anja Stenina is concerned with the agency of marginalised members of society within the semiotic authority of dominant culture. 

An interview with Anja Stenina

You know what I mean – Solo show by Anja Stenina at GS Artists Swansea 2020

In this installation, the artist explores the breakdown of communication between ideological positions. “You know what I mean” exemplifies the way in which discourse is broken, limited without elaboration or resolution. She uses metaphysical personifications of the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces to symbolise antithetical ideological perspectives at a point of impasse and physically locates the viewer within the grey area between binary standpoints.


2019 UWTSD Joint Mres Degree Exhibition 

What would Mother say?

The artist presents a range of vignettes exploring aspects of the symbolic abuse that resides within our everyday lives. Seeking the myth within the mundane, she playfully re-examines situations and stories that are generally taken for granted. Positioning her work within a child-like framework of fairy tales, games and song, Anja tests the resilience of symbolic expressions of authority and dominant culture.

(…) 

It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. 

Death he’s ready for, or murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood… 

No, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse… 

Not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left. 

(…)The Shoelace, by Charles Bukowski


The Mule 
1.8m video piece.

The silhouetted figure of The Mule in the video is quoting the story of Pinocchio when he tells his unfortunate tale of becoming a donkey and being sold to the circus and forced to perform for the circus owner:

“Know, then, that, once upon a time, I was a wooden Marionette, just as I am today. One day I was about to become a boy, a real boy, but on account of my laziness and my hatred of books, and because I listened to bad companions, I ran away from home. One beautiful morning, I awoke to find myself changed into a donkey-long ears, gray coat, even a tail! What a shameful day for me!

I hope you will never experience one like it, dear Master. I was taken to the fair and sold to a Circus Owner, who tried to make me dance and jump through the rings. One night, during a performance, I had a bad fall and became lame. Not knowing what to do with a lame donkey, the Circus Owner sent me to the market place and you bought me.”

Quote from Pinocchio: The story of one marionette by C.Collodi

The story is told in the interwoven voices of a child, man and woman. The voices speak in a confessional, traumatised tone. The silhouetted, anthropomorphised figure appropriates the anonymous victims’ confession. The figure represents the marginalized members of society, telling a story of mundane symbolic abuse. 


Almost There…
1.35m video piece.

In this video piece Stenina looks into the disconnect of stereotypical cultural tropes with the everyday burden of living in contemporary society. She attempts to visualize the impact of the archetypical representations upon social identification. The artist explores the construction of the hero narrative and its effect on our wellbeing. Starting from performative sculpture, Stenina uses common figures such as the music box ballerina and drummer boy to present a narrative of contemporary conflict. In the video, at the first glance, figures appear to be static, but upon closer examination, the viewer can notice that the figures are balancing under tension in very uncomfortable poses. 

The soundscape accompanying the piece is a mix of the sound of a toy drummer boy,  the sound of a music box and the ambient sounds of the gym in the background.

The artist is investigating whether we are shaped by the role of the character or we have the ability to direct and step outside the story.


Congratulations!
2.29m video piece

The video piece displays the Buzzer game where a disturbing sound pops up if the ring touches the metal. In the video, an anonymous figure is playing the game, and upon the touch the buzzing sound appears with an authoritative voice (male, white, American) proclaiming:

Congratulations! You are no longer a virgin!

Congratulations! You’ve got the job!

Congratulations! You’ve got the promotion!

Stenina explores the symbolic authority of such phrases as “Congratulations!” and with the help of the toy adds tension to these phrases, highlighting their authoritative and ‘encratic nature’.


The Wheels of Abuse 
1.32m audio piece

The familiar nursery rhyme tune of the ‘Wheel on the bus’ is appropriated in the ‘Wheels of abuse’ piece, placed into a karaoke set-up. The intimate sound of a mother-like voice is singing the song with the lyrics changed into a ‘black comedy’ sketch.  The scenarios of ‘symbolic abuse’ that are commonly encountered in everyday life are sang out. 

The wheels of abuse go round and round

round and round

round and round

The wheels of abuse go round and round

all day long

The chivalrous man says let me help

let me help

let me help

The chivalrous man says let me help

all day long

The patriotic man asks where are you from

where are you from

where are you from

The patriotic man asks where are you from

all day long

The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry 

boys don’t cry

boys don’t cry

The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry 

all day long

The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute

isn’t she cute

isn’t she cute

The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute

all day long

The men on the bus say smile smile smile

smile smile smile

smile smile smile

The men on the bus say smile smile smile

all day long

The wheels of abuse go round and round

round and round

round and round

The wheels of abuse go round and round

all day long

Much of marginalisation resides in the inherent and implied, the assumed. Stenina analyses the structural relations of both inequality and domination that arguably reinforce social marginalization. The artist examines examples of ‘symbolic abuse’ within everyday life and applies Barthes’ semiotic analysis to a contemporary context. 


Jobseeker, 2014 – Jobseeker portrays the reality behind modern employment; the fear of uncertainty and the social and economic constraints on one’s professional potential.

GS Artists: Claire Annabel Francis

Jam

GS Artists director Claire Annabel Francis‘s work examines the duality of binary structures within society and the ways of human thinking that often determines us as outside of, in opposition to or above our counterpart.

The primacy of the natural world is in many ways forgotten due to the meanings inculcated onto it, we forget that we are a part of it. For this reason, ‘nature’ features within the work as a metaphor, it is presented to the viewer with a multifaceted role addressing gender, space and place.

Hide is a current WIP taken from a previous undergraduate exploration which involves the deconstruction of a man-made fruit box, taking away its purpose and use within society. The material is pieced back together to form a hide or skin. The holes within the work are a mark of the industrial
process, joining nature and human together.

Jam is a body of work displaying assumed feminine objects (jam jars) containing ambiguous, chaotic and conceivably dangerous substances from nature, playing a subtle, sinister role within the work, disrupting the perpetuated image of the feminine as the caregiver e.g. Wife and Mother.
Footage is a section of video work documenting an experiential exhibition event which created a liminal space between the dualistic worlds of the ‘Man- Made’ and ‘Mother Nature’.

Footage – what would mother say – Claire Annabel Francis 2018 from Claire Francis on Vimeo.

A poisonous plant was deconstructed and displayed within large pods, in order to view the material visitors had to wear protective clothing. At any point, the natural element contained the chaotic potential to overcome the man-made safety equipment therefor becoming the dominant force, arguably turning the viewers into the liminal.

Refugees was an installation work looking at the notion of belonging in relation to space and place. These non-indigenous plants teeter on the edge of a precipice, leaving the viewer unsure of whether they are falling into the darkness emerging from it.

GS Artists: Tomos Sparnon

Mae gwaith Tomos yn archwilio’r hyn ydyw i fod yn ddynol. Trwy baentio, arlunio, cerflunio a dulliau eraill, mae’n archwilio perthynas dyn â’i gyd-ddyn, â’r byd, â gwrthrychau, â’i hunan ac â Duw. Ei nod yw dal y gwrthdrawiad rhwng y gweladwy a’r anweladwy, rhwng realiti a’r hyn nad yw’n real.

Gellir gweld rhagor o waith Tomos ar ei wefan: www.tomossparnon.com ac ar ei gyfrif Instagram: @tomos_sparnon

Tomos’ practice is an exploration of what it is to be human. Through different media including painting, drawing and sculpture, he explores man’s relationship with his fellow man, with the world, with objects, with himself and with God. His aim is to capture the conflict between the visible and the invisible, between reality and what is not real.

More of Tomos’ work can be seen on his website: www.tomossparnon.com and on his Instagram account: @tomos_sparnon

GS Artists: Demian Johnston

Installation detail photograph by Jeremy Gluck

Demian Johnston’s practice builds on a growing body of work with energy concentrated by its confinement – “thinking inside the box”. These ideas value spontaneity, the positioning of objects and making of marks based on inner instinct and expression.

Perverse in its initial conception the practice shows dimensions of unpredictability, naturalness, glimpses into the unconscious, dark and monotonous, allowing the viewer to become a participant in creating discourse, helping the artist try to understand his own internal dialogue and find some sense in this illogical world.

Says Johnston, “It’s time for everybody to stop and look at the world with a view to seeing who is watching us and why. It is increasingly important that people step back, look at themselves, they’re surroundings and the world.”

Installation, Volcano Theatre, 2019 Photograph by Mitja Zupanc

GS Artists: Jeremy Gluck

I’M FREE ALREADY, 2020, Text-based art

I conceal what I reveal

I reveal what I conceal

MY GENIUS HAS NO SOUL, 2020

Brave No World, 2020
Manifesto of Nonceptual Art, 2017

Jeremy Gluck mainly works with contemporary strategies. By rejecting an objective truth and global cultural narratives, Gluck creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art often collides with ambiguity and concealment. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used, obscuring a subtext speaking to process as practice.

Jeremy Gluck Axisweb

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Anja Stenina Knows What You Mean: An Interview

By Jeremy Gluck for GS Artists

You Know What I Mean Photograph by Hywel Edwards

Anja Stenina‘s show ‘You Know What I Mean‘, appealing to the intellect but also evading it, is apparently cerebral. Posing many questions beyond its name, the show embodies a fundamental challenge: You Know What You Are? The latest expression of a body of work that is as engaging as it is deceptively elusive, its theatrical and performance elements are grounded in an earthy and even sometimes matriarchal matrix, feeding back life, love and an arch wisdom and insight into the human condition.

Stenina’s work, by turns literate, literal and articulated in popular tropes, in this case is cast in a low, blue light to emphasise its marine themes, and employing the renowned sea shanty, What Do We Do With a Drunken Sailor, as a platform for undermining and investigating assumptive perspectives. You Know What I Mean is, literally and figuratively, a delightful, compassionate and enlightened collision of ideas, light and Jungian shadows.

Anja, interviewed here, supplies context to what is a growing body of work deserving reflection.

GS Artists: Question one: What is question zero?

Anja Stenina: ‘What should we do with a drunken sailor?’ questioning the influence of the authority of collective judgement. The fundamental conceptual question is: how in control are you? It is a progression of my work in a wider sense that explores our relationship with society. That traces back to my BA Degree exhibition in 2016 ‘Are you in control?’, where I explored how power structures manipulate us quite blatantly just below the superficial skin of our everyday lives. In the installation I would draw out the stage directions to life on the floor, but using invisible ink which could then be discovered, piece by piece, by the audience using black light torches. I also wanted to present the physical metaphor of the whole process – that the audience is surrendering themselves to my authority when they come in, yet they are still entirely in control of their lives – they always have a choice – they can turn the torch off at any point, or simply choose to stop following the instructions.

The revision within the Drunken Sailor song is an exploration between different standpoints. It specifically raises questions of judgement and morality, how opinions are arrived at and how often do people actually consider where their opinions are coming from. The idea connects to Barthes’ idea of the encratic language of authority and to what goes without saying.

I employ a dialectical approach to create a reflective environment for the observation of shifts of perspective. I’m not passing judgement; I am just creating a space for the unpacking of ideas, locating elements of control.

You Know What I MeanPhotograph by Tomos Sparnon

GS Artists: What are the chief elements of control?

Anja Stenina: Fashion and style. The style of social protocols and social rituals that are dictated by the dominant culture. With the metaphysical personifications of the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces, I am presenting two fashions, two standpoints. The viewer, therefore, is free to try on each of the ideological perspectives. My show is, basically, a changing room.

You Know What I Mean by Hywel Edwards

GS Artists: And in that room, what changes?

Anja Stenina: Who knows? It’s a private space.

I would only hope that the fitting helps one to engage critically with the dynamic between opposing standpoints and that the naturalness/comfiness of a certain garment aka certain established social construction is reflected back to the visitor and perhaps the dominance of one style is questioned by the alterations of the new style. Dominant trends/positions can be switched to more transgressive standpoints. I’ve presented opposing cultural constructions for the individual to try on and I hope that, as with the dressing room mirrors, the reflective experience of the self ‘wearing’ the different forms can influence one’s value judgments.

My work creates a potential space for change, it is the viewer’s reflections in the dressing room that complete it.

GS Artists: What is this “self”?

Anja Stenina: The knower; the chooser of the outfits; the one that catches the reflection.

GS Artists: In the simplest language, starved of any elaboration, what is your practice and what is your art? Is it necessary?

Anja Stenina: I am a poststructuralist and semiotician in my process and I am a conceptual mixed media installation artist. I work with elements of morality. Is morality necessary? Necessity is a question for the critics.

’You Know What I Mean’ by Anja Stenina

March 6th until March 28th, 2020

You Know What I Mean: A Show by Anja Stenina

Anja Stenina’s GS Artists solo show explores the break down of communication between ideological positions. “You know what I mean” exemplifies the way in which discourse is broken, limited without elaboration or resolution. She uses metaphysical personifications of the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces to symbolise antithetical ideological perspectives at a point of impasse and physically locates the viewer within the grey area between binary standpoints.

Anja Stenina

Anja is a conceptual mixed media artist from Latvia. She holds a first class honours degree from Swansea College of Art (University of Wales Trinity Saint David) – Anja will complete her Research Masters degree in Art & Design there last summer – and was a recipient of the Brian Ross Award from the Arts Council for Wales. In her work she explores themes of dignity and human agency, and the obstacles on the journey to a fulfilling life. The artist’s visual practice reflects upon the dominant culture from the perspective of marginalised members of society. She looks at choices people make, and the reasons behind them. The artist investigates the effects of the semiotic authority that underlies the symbols and stories of a dominant culture. In her visual practice, Stenina echoes the more commonplace manifestations of semiotic authority such as mundane behavioral protocols, societal norms and stereotypes. In her work Stenina playfully portrays the effects of the everyday mythologised body of ‘reality’ that arguably manifests itself in situations of symbolic abuse. Stenina’s artworks provide an environment for reflection upon the mundane ritualised objectification found within stereotypical acts.

Rhythm: The Day GS Turned Dayglo!

Rhythm installation

Please join us at GS Artists on Friday January 10th at 6 pm for the opening of our next Artist at Work project. Rhythm, a solo art show by local Swansea based artist and GS intern ‘Fraser’, explores the comfort of familiarity and altered memory. Depicting universally recognised forums and disrupting the familiar via syncopated rhythms of light and sound, utilising the inherent, faint, buzz of her contemporary medium.

The show includes LED installations, box television sculpture, video, mixed media sculptures adopting everyday commonplace materials, and UV sensitive drawings.

The show continues until January 17th. Open 12-4pm everyday except Sunday.

🚨 WARNING – SHOW CONTAINS BRIGHT LIGHTS & FLASHING IMAGES & STRONG MAGNETS

Abigail Fraser

Abigail Fraser is a twenty-year-old Welsh artist, currently studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art at UWTSD Swansea. Fraser’s artwork is an unreliable, dreamy, psychedelic exploration of memories appertaining to previous events. Her mixed media sculptures and installations evoke a response to light on the senses, projecting a sense of self and an inquisition of reality. Frasers’ work often contains simple LED drawings of universal forms, exploring how the energy of light permanently surrounds us all in a very personal manner. Endeavoring to harness this energy and penetrate our mass consciousness through her artwork, Fraser portrays a seemingly infinite space within the gallery interpreting the inherent attraction to light and being human. In September of 2019 Fraser worked as Artist in Residence at The University of Rio Grande, Ohio.