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KUNST.EE SPRING ISSUE STILL ON SALE: "The fact that the artist is a beggar who essentially pays the state for art – for the opportunity to make art – was articulated very clearly in Estonia in the noughties by female artists in particular." – Eha Komissarov: "The noughties are a very difficult theme to brand.(KUNST.EE 2/2021)

 

Everyday magic for a sticky existence

Keiu Krikmann (3/2021)

Keiu Krikmann analyses Darja Popolitova’s practices.

 


5.–30. VIII 2021
Hobusepea Gallery


Darja Popolitova's exhibition "Tactilite. Stone That Tickles The Gaze" is her third exhibition researching haptic visuality in the context of contemporary (digital) jewellery. Within the context of the exhibition, tactilite, a fictional stone envisioned by Popolitova can be understood as a metaphor for the artist's research as a whole, rather than a material expression of the idea. "Tactilite" continues with many of the themes and approaches that first appeared in her previous exhibition in summer 2020 titled "Magical Hotspot" – I would suggest that this exhibition can be seen as its direct continuation, or even as its sequel, so the following text will look at the two exhibitions side by side.

In both exhibitions Popolitova presents a theatrical view of a fictional jewellery witch called Seraphita. This character is inspired by the image of a spiritual medium as a media personality and/or performer, rather than a community healer, for example. And this is definitely a typological example with historical lineage – from the many sensationalised spiritual mediums working in the 19th and 20th century, like the controversial occultist and theosopher Madame Blavatsky, to the contemporary practitioners of various kinds of magic publicised on the television and in the media.

Seraphita also acts as a vlogger, helping her viewers overcome various obstacles in their life through light-hearted humour and unique pieces of jewellery. In "Magical Hotspot" she tackles issues like loneliness, integration into Estonian culture, sexism and the discrimination aimed at the LGBTQ+ community; in "Tactilite", she teaches, for example, how to trigger intimacy, speak a foreign language without mistakes or make someone feel confident.

Through Seraphita's rituals Popolitova also highlights the relationship between magic and technology, in the videos the character integrates items such as phones and laptops into her rituals. With this, too, a historical relationship can be traced – technology and the spiritual world are not strangers to one another, especially when it comes to the showmanship aspect of it. Here I'm thinking about, for example, the early automatons of 18th and 19th century, which in the popular imagination were often the meeting point of scientific and mystical thinking, or a later example from the 1920s, Madam Radora, a life size automaton modelled after a fortune teller, supposedly reading minds through radio waves. Popolitova's performance as Seraphita also brings to mind the work of Chiara Fumai, who often centred reading in her practice – both in the sense of reading mostly feminist texts in character as well as in her interest in the occult.

In recent years a strong renewed interest in spirituality, magic, esotericism, the occult and native practices has emerged in contemporary art. That always makes me curious about the particular relationship between the artist and the practices they are borrowing or drawing from in their work; is it used just as an artistic tool or is there a deeper engagement with said practices. To me, it seems that witchcraft, as it is presented in the context of this exhibition, relates more to the social context jewellery is placed in and not so much to anything mystical. In a way, there is a link between witchcraft and jewellery-making – both are considered a highly specialised craft, often used to solve mundane, everyday issues. But from the perspective of haptic visuality, maybe witchcraft could here signify the ability to make the viewer feel something in their body – is that not one of the most magical ways we can connect to another person?

 

 

 

 

Darja Popolitova
How to Speak A Foreign Language Without Mistakes
2021
Video screenshot
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

On the one hand, this can be achieved on the level of involuntary reactions provoked by the video – making the viewer's skin crawl, giving them goose bumps, or sensing a touch that is not really there. On the other hand, through discussing socially intense situations, familiar to everyone, yet evoking awkwardness and possibly also embarrassment. In that sense, it is practical magic, used to achieve the effect the artist desires. In any case, Popolitova's jewellery demands a response, a reaction, it needs a body to press against, even if only through the ether, leaving me to wonder – are the wearers and viewers the same thing here?

Regardless, as Popolitova has stated, she creates jewellery to be mediated. But jewellery also acts as a mediator of social interaction and thus brings to the fore the social role of jewellery. Popolitova is also interested in the stickiness of existence. So, naturally, sensuality is evident on various levels – in materials, jewellery, video and even in the language used in the show. In a way, the exhibition is stepping down and away from the idea of jewellery as something noble and solemn, something that elevates the wearer and their status and instead focuses more on the everyday. She is embracing it and not shying away from the awkwardness we so often encounter in our day to day lives. There really is no way of escaping it, so why not revel in the stickiness of it, looking at your digital self, looking back at you, adorned in fabulous jewellery!

 

Keiu Krikmann is a writer, curator and translator. Her most recent curatorial project was a group show "Excess and Refusal" (28. VII–22. VIII 2021) at EKKM, the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia.

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