Sunday, 14 February 2016

A review of the Bettina Rheims retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris

by  Flora Alexandra  I

28.01.2016 - 27.03.2016

Bettina Rheims is a French photographer known for her iconic portraits of female models like Monica Belluci and Lara Stone as well as those of transsexuals, acrobats and strippers. Her oeuvre spanning thirty years is currently being exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Le Marais, Paris with a queue around the corner. Despite the sexuality of her work, there’s a visible sense of trust between the photographer and her subjects as reflected by Lara, January 2008 where the supermodel is at her most vulnerable in an implied post-coital scene with fresh marks on her skin from vacant jewellery, which makes it - a quite literally – stripped back photograph.

Fascinated by the female form, Rheims famously declared, “I love flesh, I am a photographer of the skin.” There is a raw sexuality to her evocative work that her audience find addictive as seen in the arguably pornographic Morceaux Choisis series of “four women making love for real” and portraits like Heather Graham in a strange mood crushing a Tab can, November 1996. Shot in LA, Heather is a lip-gloss drenched erotic fantasy with near-exposed breasts as she crushes a symbol of consumerism whilst writhing on a fur rug. It carries all the clichés of a retro porn film, but also asserts its artistic integrity.

Rhiems began shooting strippers and acrobats in 1978 and later published Female Trouble, 1989 with her portraits of both famous and unknown women. She also dabbled with photographing the fixed stares of taxidermy animals when she played with the idea of, "expressing something beyond death." These fixed stares also carry in her portraiture as with Kristen McMenamy with Black Make-up on her Hand, June 1994. Rheims visibly allows literary and artistic references into her images as the girl is interrupted in her bathroom – the domestic sphere – reflecting the composition and eyes in Edouard Manet’s Olympia.

As her subject matter suggests, Rheims was interested in women's place in society, but also how they were represented in art. Gina and Elizabeth Kissing, March 1995 in LA is a scene depicting two glamorous women with feminine motifs like the exposed bra strap and diamond earring. The magic lies in the underlying sense of uneasiness between them, which reflects Rheims’s ability to record on film the intimate, unsettling emotions that create a special kind of tension in the photograph. Although, remember that Rheims didn’t take herself too seriously and there was a heavy dose of both humour and irony in her work as illustrated by Karen Mulder with a Very Small Chanel Bra, January 1996 shot in Paris.

Everything about the photographs Rheims takes is controlled and deliberate as her subjects are placed within carefully staged settings. This is embodied by my favourite photograph from the exhibition Breakfast with Monica Belluci, November 1995. Taken in Paris, the subject embraces all the stereotypes of Italian women’s sexuality as the leather-clad actress twirls pasta and licks sauce from her red nails. Despite the risk of sterility that Rheims’s stage sets could present, there’s also a vulnerability to her subjects as seen in Claire Stanfield crying in the Formosa cafe, 1994, LA where her soaked dress exposes her figure just as her tears expose her soul.

Aside from the Robert Mapplethorpe and Alice Springs retrospectives, it was one of the best photographic exhibitions I've ever seen in Paris. Not only challenging, but aesthetically pleasing portraiture, but the way Bettina Rheims assessed gender in her controversial portraits of both known and unknown women and transsexuals. Unlike so many photographers, her erotic portraits are empowering rather than exploitative of the female form, because she understands her subjects and there is a visible rapport between them.

Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

An Interview with the Conceptual Artist Lina Iris Viktor in her New York studio Atelier LVXIX

by  Flora Alexandra  I

The conceptual artist Lina Iris Viktor works between the real and imagined in her spaces across London, Geneva and New York. We first met in her studio off Wall Street, which is somewhere between a laboratory and an ancient Egyptian tomb. Adhering to her strict colour palette of gold, blue, black and white, the interiors are sublime. As both a private gallery and studio, the white half of Atelier LVXIX is a homage to the purist minimalism of Brancusi’s Paris-based atelier. In a stolen hour before my flight home to London, we drank green matcha tea together and discussed her plans to abandon New York for a new life in Japan. Although she’s a free spirit and an adventurer at heart she has both a work ethic and discipline, which defines her as a contemporary artist to watch.

Following the success of the exhibition Yellow Sun: The New Contemporaries in Lagos, Nigeria and her stand at the Scope Fair at Art Basel, Miami it’s unsurprising that Lina’s exquisite work has captivated a broad spectrum of collectors, journalists and galleries. Born to Liberian parents in London, both the distant travels of her youth and her study of film in New York are reflected in her exotic work. Experimenting with photography, sculpture, performance art and painting, Lina has also exhibited her work alongside revered artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

After just an hour with Lina, it soon became clear just how philosophical and methodical her creative process is. Using basic geometric forms in a multitude of repetitive patterns and sizes, Lina seeks to use the empirical to refer to another level of consciousness. As we spoke, she explained how her work is, "governed by a purist color palette, my work considers the natural laws, hermetic philosophies, mathematic and scientific principles, and seeks to instill a divine order to all around me." I look forward to seeing the trailblazer’s homage to Alexander Lee McQueen in Visionaire’s 25th Anniversary project in April 2016.

Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your passion?

Yes, but it was more of a time period. The best way to learn about yourself is through trial and error. There were a great deal of trials and I made a number of errors. I look at them as blessings in disguise that led me to realize what I was no longer going to do or willing to put up with. And to this day I refuse to do anything that doesn’t fulfill, challenge, or make me happy.

Why have you made Atelier LVXIX into both a private gallery and studio space?

Experience. I like bringing people into my world within the space-time continuum and create a home for my vision. I wanted to have a private space dedicated to the showing of both unfinished and completed work where my collaborators and collectors can come to view it.

How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?

Beauty is a mathematical equation manifested into the physical. It is divine proportion that we regard as the golden ratio at work.

Can you tell us about the process behind the making of your work?

It’s very concept driven and there are different ideas ingrained in my work so I tend to spend a good few months just researching and aligning my head with what I want to create. Then I prepare the base photographic portrait before putting together the puzzle. I compose the pattern schematic around the portrait before gilding and painting.

Do you have a favourite book, film or painting, which inspires you?

I don’t have a 'go-to' for inspiration, because I believe it comes through the process of working - and in that process comes illumination or a spark of “something’ that aligns with the search. Thus, inspiration can be anything. As for films or rather directors I love, there are both Tarsem Singh & Wong Kar Wai. I read books about the sacred sciences, astrophysics, and spirituality. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was also genius and groundbreaking.

As an artist of Liberian descent, what is your relationship with Africa?

This year marks a Renaissance in my national identity as I take my work to Africa. I just did a show in Lagos and hope to exhibit in Cameroon and South Africa. I take the egalitarian view that I want to exhibit in cities like London and New York to stay relevant, but am equally interested in those unexpected places in Africa.

What is your greatest indulgence in life?

Following my heart and intuition without question. Most people don’t trust themselves enough. It is a luxury.

Do you believe that true creative expression can exist in the digital world?

Of course, because it would be foolish for creatives not to use the contemporary tools at their disposal. If Da Vinci had a computer I'm quite sure he would use it and still be Da Vinci.

What do you wish every child were taught?

To allow their imagination to run free past their childhood. That imagination is their greatest asset - it is what divides those who do from those who don’t.

Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?

Everyday. I think it’s healthy. Until now the question has only ever propelled me forward down my path - it is a daily confirmation I am doing the right thing. If I decided I wanted to do something different tomorrow and I felt strongly enough about it - I would follow that path.  As Socrates wrote - “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

What is your favourite museum or art gallery and why?

The Metropolitan in New York is currently my favourite museum, because i've been falling back in love with it’s extensive collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?

Stephen Hawking, because he is an artist at heart - as are all pioneering and inquisitive minds. Artists, architects, scientists, mathematicians, philosophers etc - we all create and explore from the same impulse. I really believe in taking art to different frontiers.

What has been your most inspiring travel experience?

Morocco - it visually aligns with my soul.

What advice would you give to a young person following in your footsteps?

My advice is less about following in my footsteps and more about life. Follow your heart, trust yourself and don't care too much about what anyone else thinks. Surround yourself with like minds - those that accept your crazy ideas and challenge you. Find mentors - those that know more than you and can guide you. Don’t question your urges - don’t follow all of them, but definitely rid yourself of judgment.

As an international artist where do you hope your travels will take you next?

I’m both an artist and traveller and this year I plan to spend a lot of time on the continent in Egypt, South Africa, Cameroon and Dakar, but I’ll also be in Costa Rica in February and am excited to be in South America for a while. Although, eventually I’d like to expand my studio to Kyoto, Japan as their culture fascinates me.

Why do you love what you do?

It allows me to live in my truth and that is ultimate freedom.

Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of