Monday, 21 November 2016

A Review of Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

by  Flora Alexandra  I

Defined as the voice of a generation, the American photographer Nan Goldin is known for capturing the most intimate experiences of her friends and lovers across Boston and downtown New York. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a slideshow of her iconic collection of images The Ballad of Sexual Dependency compiles nearly 700 photographs. Much of it is shot with only available light between 1979 and 1986 amidst the hard-drug subculture of the Bowery neighbourhood. Although the exhibition begins with an assemblage of posters, flyers and photographs from the museum’s archive, it’s the gentle rhythm of The Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties in the screening room that makes you feel like you’ve walked into Goldin’s downtown apartment. Given the slideshow’s soundtrack, it’s unsurprising that Goldin’s early influences include Andy Warhol’s films shot just a decade before as his studio The Factory moved further and further downtown.

Named after Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, the series of 35mm photographs in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency depict love, drug-use, gender, sexuality and domesticity. When the collection of images was first shown, Goldin hand-picked slides as friends spontaneously chose the soundtrack and her subjects looked on spellbound. In 2016, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency has already been viewed by thousands of strangers, but feels no less intimate. As a girl who has spent much of her youth running around New York in the company of a diverse array of artists, musicians and photographers, taking my place in the audience felt like the end of pilgrimage or perhaps just an important stop along the way. Undoubtedly, this sentiment was also intensified by my recent audience with her erotic The Boy at the Art Angel takeover of HM Prison Reading in England. 

As an opener, the title photograph Nan one month after being battered 1984 serves as a powerful reminder that her photographs explore the good, bad and the ugly. Not only does Goldin capture the romance of the last bohemia in downtown New York, but also the harsh realities of addiction, domestic abuse and the AIDS epidemic. She described The Ballad as, “my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.” As we millennials move into the realm of hyphenated job titles and over-sharing our emotions and space, there’s no doubt that revealing our vulnerability is becoming an asset. As tear-stained, tired and often lacerated faces stare down from Goldin’s projected images, their honesty makes them feel like friends and it feels like Goldin was far ahead of her time in depicting their struggles for the world to see.

Across the image, my favourite photograph was Nan Goldin and Brian in Bed 1981 in which she watches her shirtless lover smoke a cigarette in the morning light, and I longed for it to arrive on the screen. Although, I knew what to wait for give that Goldin had vaguely organized the collection of photographs into loose themes such as intravenous drug use, couples on their way to parties, sexual encounters and portraits of the children born from those affairs. These images were all set against the backdrop of iconic songs like Screaming Jay Hawkins’s You Put Spell On Me, which, makes you feel as if you’re there dancing with her subjects. What is so unique about Goldin’s work is that her vibrant, colourful photographs are taken by a participant, not an observer. You feel what she feels. This gritty, “grunge” style has since been reflected in indie publications like Dazed & Confused and I-D.  

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is equal measure beauty and despair, and as the slideshow draws to a close there’s no doubt that death and loss have become prevalent themes. By the 1990’s, most of her subjects like Greer Lankton and Cookie Mueller were dead. Although Goldin admits to romanticising the image of drug culture in the early days, now she mournfully describes it as “evil.” She captured a time when her bohemian contemporaries longed for deeper feel and rarity and for those they were willing to risk everything. As she documented the highs and lows of her friends’ and lovers’ lives, Goldin was never afraid of showing the dark effects of their hedonism.

Personally, having documented my last decade in daily journal entries, reading Goldin’s declaration, “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read," makes this exhibition feel like a necessity for every young woman negotiating the perils of life in the city. Take a couple of hours to experience it before February 12th 2017, it might be the most important history lesson you ever take.

Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is at MoMa, New York until 12th February 2017

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Review of the Georgia O'Keeffe Retrospective at Tate Modern, London

by  Flora Alexandra  I

"I paint because colour is a significant language to me." 

Georgia O’Keeffe’s retrospective at Tate Modern coincides with the much-anticipated Switch House extension, but has independently attracted thousands of summer visitors. It is perhaps because the great American modernist gave a voice to those influential female artists overlooked during the twentieth century. Curated by Tanya Barson, the exhibition brings together six decades of O’Keeffe’s work; from 1915-63. Supported by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico the retrospective presents 221 objects from paintings and sketchbooks, to iconic photographs by Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand.

Born to dairy farmers in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O’Keeffe went on to study at the Arts Students League, New York. From 1916 she became involved with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who she later married. Her early charcoal drawings were exhibited in his iconic Gallery 291 – a nostalgic space cleverly evoked by the décor of the retrospective’s opening room. But past those first charcoals lie the gifted colourist’s abstractions like the seascape Abstraction - Alexius (1928). O’Keeffe read Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art and explored the relation between form, music, colour and composition with paintings.

Painting aside, I appreciated the focus on O’Keeffe’s friendships within the Stieglitz group and the 'optimistic cultural nationalism' they embodied in New York. In competition with a male-dominated art scene, she decidedly re-claimed the urban space with linear works like New York Street with Moon (1925). Contrasting O’Keeffe’s architectural works, I was moved by the intimacy of the nude photographs Stieglitz took of his lover. Georgia O'Keeffe Breasts (1919) is a powerful expression of her sexuality and interestingly it was he who suggested an underlying eroticism in her work - despite her displeasure at critics gendering her art.

Critics assumed works like Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow (1923) were representative of female genitalia, encapsulating femininity. O’Keeffe dispelled these assumptions stating that, "when people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they're really talking about their own affairs." In painting flowers she considered her purpose to be a re-engagement with nature rather than an expression of her sexuality. In reference to those blooms, she declared, "I’ll make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers." O’Keeffe also played with scale, magnifying subjects like the fiery bloom of Oriental Poppies (1972).

O’Keeffe’s abstractions are often described as an experience of something, rather than the object itself. However, her style reverted to an almost photographic realism in works like Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1 (1932), as she dispelled the sexualisation of her work. This painting being the most expensive ever sold at auction by a female artist when it was bought for £34.2m in 2014. O’Keeffe’s engagement with nature continued with Oak Leaves, Pink and Grey (1929). Despite her protestations one can’t help but see a sensuality in the curvature of the leaves. But rather than casting her as a feminist icon, the curator respected O’Keeffe’s denial that her work is erotic.

Ever the pioneering spirit, O’Keeffe explored her beloved New Mexico alongside artists like Marsden Hartley and the photographer Ansel Adams. She created a body of work inspired by those Southwest landscapes known for the calming, subdued palettes she channeled in Ranchos Church New Mexico (1930-1). Oddly there’s nothing haunting about the sun-bleached skulls in From the Faraway, Nearby 1937 or Horses Skull with Pink Rose 1931, because she sees life in them. Again, O’Keeffe subverts expectations, because they aren’t symbolic of death.

O’Keeffe’s retrospective was long overdue. In fact, the celebration of a female modernist’s work is long overdue. Whilst decidedly overlooking the suggestion of eroticism in her work, the curators illustrated her unique balance between the figurative and abstraction. Although her paintings lack textural distinction, they are rich in colour and atmosphere. O’Keeffe survived two world wars and 17 Presidents, never failing to whole-heartedly embrace her surrounding landscape; from New York to New Mexico – a lifetime beautifully captured by Tate Modern.

Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of

Saturday, 21 May 2016

An Interview with the Conceptual Artist Anna Fafaliou in her Dalston Studio, London

by  Flora Alexandra  I

The conceptual artist Anna Fafaliou and I first met after a talk I gave on ‘artists of the digital generation,’ but ironically we had actually shared an Instagram flirtation before that. Just as her beautifully curated digital presence has attracted thousands of followers, her purist white installations and sculptures are continuing to make waves across the international art scene. Anna’s unique work explores the relationship between object, memory and space as well as the interplay between reality and abstraction. With her sculpture and installations she creates imaginary environments questioning the visual and physical ways of considering materiality and how we perceive, process and record our immediate environment. 
I visited the conceptual artist in her white studio high above Ridley Road Market, Dalston where you have the pleasure of experiencing a diverse array of cultures as you pass through the market. This perfectly complements the international artist who is in herself a blend of cultures. Drowning in natural light, the space reflects her minimalist work. As I immersed myself in the works on display it seemed that her artwork distorts commonplace objects, materials and forms in order to create new dialogues with the viewer. By focusing on how spatial relationships can be disrupted and open to interpretation Anna comments on how consumerism forces us to justify ourselves through our possessions.
 Anna came to London in 2011 after studying Fine Art in her native Athens, Greece. With experience in both performance and fine art she underwent a Film and Visual Arts masters in London and took up roles as an assistant to a broad spectrum of revered artists. Since then her work has been shown around the world from Nostos at the Venice International Art Festival to Going South at the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art in Malaga, Spain and Maps at Scene Art, London. In 2016 – once you’ve followed her on Instagram - look out for her beautiful, evocative work at the Brick Lane Gallery’s Abstract Art show and at the Bennetton Foundation, London.

Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion?
Deciding to move to London was a pivotal moment for me. Trying to escape –mostly from myself- I landed here and I found a ground where I could start from the beginning and follow my dreams. It was very hard at the beginning but the love that I developed for this city and the few mind-blowing people -I was lucky enough to meet here, gave me wings to fly. I wouldn’t have been the person and artist I am today, if it wasn’t for London. And I absolutely love what I am today.

What piece of your work would you like to be remembered for?
I think the one I haven’t done yet.

What is the significance of the colour white for you?
Through researching colour theory, I became fascinated with white, because many theorists say it represents a lack of memory, an emptiness. I found the associations between white and memory interesting, because I believe that we remember and feel in colour. Our emotions are stimulated in colour. When you add whiteness to commonplace objects you take out an important part of their identity, distorting part of your sentimental attachment with them. 

If you could be born in another period of history, when would it be?
I’m more curious about the future, rather than the past. So I would love to see how life is going to be in 2300.

How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
Self – evident & effortless.

Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
The brilliant existentialist Jean – Paul Sartre is one of my favourite writers, his book Being & Nothingness and his play No Exit, have inspired –and shaped on a certain extend- not only the body of my work but the way I experience life in general.

What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Food. I can eat like there is no tomorrow.

 What fictional character from literature or film would you like to meet?
I remember as a child I desperately wanted to meet Peter Pan and go to live in Neverland for a while.

Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?
Absolutely. Every form of creative expression is always in response to the environment we live in, to our current reality let’s say. And whether we adapt, react or even push further, it’s always in response to our environment, to our world.

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
With my All I Can Remember installation and performance piece, I had two workshops asking my audience to bring an important object that they had a positive or negative association with. They talked about the object, then I would ask them if they were willing to give it up to the installation and paint it white - they had to do it themselves. Some said yes and some said no, but that’s how this installation was created through audience participation. For me, the process was about the stories of the people involved, it was almost overwhelming with objects on the walls that surrounded me in the middle. It felt like I was surrounded by their voices. 

What do you wish every child were taught?
To keep the qualities that make them unique and not to be afraid to be different. Different is good, very good! But the kids are fine, it’s the adults that worry me the most. It’s us who teach them how to become all the same. Same goals, same lifestyle, same outfits.. So if I could teach a child something that would be, be yourself even when everything is pushing you to become any less.

Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
All the time.. I question my self, my choices, my way of living and being, my work, the way I drink my coffee, the tone of my voice..everything! I believe that’s the only way to get to know yourself a little bit more and realise you can’t be sure about anything. It’s the only way to self-development. So, for me everything is always under question.  

What is your favourite museum or art gallery and why?
It would be too predictable to say the Tate.. But it’s still one of my favourite places and whenever curators like Frances Morris curate an exhibition –such as the Yayoi Kusama in 2012- then that’s the best it can get. 

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I’ve been so lucky to have met so many interesting and super-talented people, I really wouldn’t be able choose one. I’m always very open to collaborations and share of ideas. 

Why do you use commonplace materials and found objects in your work?
My practice relates to the sense of attachment that people have with the objects from their past; from old houses, family heirlooms, presents from lovers etc. Somehow these trace the story of our lives and where we come from, therefore capturing who we are. I've always liked the idea of what we own reflecting who we are. 

What is your daily routine when working?
I wake up very early in the morning and during the day I try to finish with my emails and meetings, and then usually do some research either for ideas or materials etc… I prefer producing my work from my studio at night, when everyone is sleeping so nothing can interrupt me.

What has been your most inspiring travel experience?
Cuba. It’s their rich culture, the history, their music, their educational system and the so warm & positive people,that makes Cuba a unique place. 

What advice would you give to a young person following in your footsteps?
I feel too young to give an advice. But one thing I know for sure is that you have to be mad about what you love. Work hard –not because it’s going to be appreciated –it most likely won’t- but because the harder you work on something the more you own it, and that will make you more determined as to where you want to see your work going.

Do you find that London’s culture inspires or influences your art?
London has given me the space to find my own identity and create art. Wherever it is in the city, you always find something that can inspire you for the next step. For me London is about the blend of cultures and how we communicate them that interests me. 
Why do you love what you do?
Because when I’m doing it, it feels like it couldn’t be any other way.

Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of