Curated by Deb Thompson
Malakoff’s work centres on the world of fantasy as a path to finding the transcendent in the everyday. Her work speaks of paradoxical relationships both in its conceptual concerns and formal approach to making the work. Her installations move beyond the literal to a visionary world layered with symbolism that is derived from the simpliest everyday material.
Swarms of bees, dancing children, paper cut outs and fruitloop towers are all part of installation artist Kristi Malakoff’s exhibiton The Golden Bell. Inspired by life’s paradoxes, her passion for nature and her love of making art Malakoff offers the viewer a glimpse into a fantasy world of awe and beauty. Through her meticulous craftsmanship she tranforms everyday materials and familar objects into works of art that are both playful and subversive at the same time giving her work a immediate simplicity and an underlying complexity.
Most of Kristi’s pieces are made from paper. Kristi’s use of paper is not a random act of manufacturing, rather, it is an employment or re-employment of a particular paper into something new. With a paradoxical wit she builds upon the existing associations of the original material and, as Kristi says, breathes new life into insentient things. Kristi’s clever merging of materials and concept is what gives her work such authority.
In the piece, The Hole Punch Tower, Kristi uses the discarded paper circle associated with the work-world to form an ascending tower. Lean and precarious this tower recalls the exorbitant efforts made in the work-world to achieve perceived higher potentials. Perhaps, it suggests that our efforts towards transcendence must be imbedded in the eminence of life’s toil.
Maibaum was inspired from her experience of living in Berlin, Germany, as well as bringing to mind her childhood memories of dancing around the May Pole – an annual celebration of spring. In conceiving of the piece, Kristi did extensive research into the history of the Maibaum, including its pagan roots and its being banned in parts of the United Kingdom. In order to bring her paper children to life, she made costumes designed in Victorian-era style (the May Pole celebration was revived by Queen Victoria) for local children to wear as they danced around a May Pole of her own making. She then photographed the children and used these images to develop the intricate paper children in the piece. Maibaum (only half of the full piece is installed in the gallery) draws the viewer in with its haunting polarities. Children made from black paper joined by a fervour of black paper birds above their heads dance around the perennial phallus in a scene that is captivating for its beauty as well as its foreboding quality. This image suggests a coming to terms with a loss of innocence that accompanies a child in her passage to adulthood and asks viewers to visit their own associations with growth and renewal. The vertical pole can be seen as an axis mundi, other similar vertical elements exist within the exhibition, expressing the theme of ascension that has come forth in The Golden Bell. This call to spirit is certainly felt in the exuberance of the artist’s work as a whole.
Kristi’s uncanny ability to serve up the carnal aspects of life is seen through her choice of subject and materials. It recalls the work of medieval era artists such as painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) who depicted people made from images of fruit and vegetables, or of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) who created scenes of the archetypal underworld that convey both life affirming and death embracing aspects of life. The term Carnival Grostesque was used by Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) to describe life’s primary cycles of death, decay, birth and renewal. Kristi’s own wish to add to the mix the experience of the corporeal for her viewers comes forth in pieces such as Swarm, Maibaum and Resting Swarm where the primal instincts of renewal play out in the work.
Kristi’s interest in Swarm Theory (Peter Miller, National Geographic) led to the creation of both Swarm (2005) and Resting Swarm (2008). The idea being that the wisdom of the collective is greater than that of the individual alone, suggesting a colony-type mindset where the action of the individual is at the service of the greater mass. In Resting Swarm, honey bees are gathering in what might be considered an instinctual act of collective immortality: the result manifesting in the making of life’s sweet honey. As we stand before Resting Swarm, what might be at one moment perceived as chaos is in another moment extreme order, tossed between experiences of horror and beauty.
Kristi’s process in making Resting Swarm is worth noting as it is indicative of much of her work over the past decade – first photographing the object of interest, then reproducing the image on paper, and finally meticulously cutting out the images to create multiples of small objects( there are 25,000 paper bees), which she then pins or glues into place. Cutting, pasting, folding, hanging, placing…her handwork is like the busy bees in Resting Swarm, where attention to every detail of a laborious process manifests in the desired outcome.
Lastly, The Golden Bell exemplifies the work of Kristi Malakoff. Seen here is her meticulous craftsmanship in transforming everyday materials and familiar objects, in this case a $100 Canadian bill, into works of art that are both playful and subversive. The impression is one of immediate simplicity and an underlying complexity. This small piece stands as an icon to our collective shift in spiritual values towards materialism.
It is with great enthusiasm and a desire to recognize the work of this emerging artist that Touchstones Nelson presents Kristi Malakoff: The Golden Bell.
Kristi Malakoff Kristi Malakoff is a Canadian visual artist who has returned to Canada after time spent living abroad, most recently in Moscow, Russia, where she participated in a 2-month residency at Proekt Fabrika in the spring of 2010, and previously in Berlin, Germany, Reykjavík, Iceland and London, England where she attended the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Malakoff is a 2005 BFA graduate of the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, Canada where she was the recipient of many awards and scholarships, among them the Alvin Balkind Memorial Scholarship, the Helen Pitt Award and the Governor General’s silver medal for the top Emily Carr Institute graduating student of 2005. Since graduating, she has also participated in artist residency programs at the Banff Centre, the Stride Gallery, Calgary, and SÍM, Reykjavík, Iceland. She has exhibited in an exhaustive schedule in both group and solo shows throughout Canada and the US and in England, Germany, Mexico and Russia.
Kristi has remained humble in her creative processes and open to a variety of inspirations including nature, lyrics from songs, and her interest in other cultures. Kristi’s ark work subversively explores themes that are deeply embedded in the history of art such as, life and death, eminence and transcendence, beauty and horror. This discursive engagement, combined with her ability to craft everyday materials into new symbols, anchors her in the forefront of contemporary art. In 2009, Kristi was chosen to participate in How Soon is Now, a group show organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery to present the work of up coming new artists, those breaking new ground and leading the way in their field. This coming year Kristi is scheduled for numerous solo shows across Canada, including Hamilton Artist Inc., ON, Nuit Blanche in Toronto and Dunlop Art Gallery, SK.
As a child who grew up on Disney movies and books by Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, I have always been intrigued by notions of fantasy and the possibilities for escape into new, marvelous worlds via mundane objects such as a wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), a peach or an elevator (Roald Dahl). Parallel to this fascination was the delight I took, and continue to take, in the possibility of inanimate objects coming to life. As a serious child who was engaged from a young age in heavy discipline and competition, fantasy was my escape from the rigors of daily life.
It is this notion of fantasy that is the umbrella over much of my practice and has expanded to include man-made sites of culture and celebration – manufactured escapism – Disneyland and Las Vegas come to mind. In particular, I am intrigued by those sites in which dreams, desires and destruction collide. As such, my practice is about dichotomies. I often look for and create unexpected relationships between concepts, ideas and materials. In my personal life, I frequently bounce between living in major urban centers and extreme rural communities – my practice is frequently exploring the contrasts and connections between these two ways of being. The urban manipulation of nature is a theme in my work. The notion of “spectacle “ features prominently – both in the common and Debordian senses of the term.
Inspired early on by Walter Benjamin’s essay “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, I strive to take a contrarian approach to this idea – taking 2-dimensional mass-produced materials, I transform them back into unique objects, back to their pre-representational, 3-D state. By removing these materials from their intended context and placing them in new situations, I aim to both surprise the viewer and create a new, multi-layered conversation. To this end, I work with photographic images, cereal boxes, stamps, paper currency and wallpaper.
Through my installation work, I am interested in creating immersive, transformative environments. I have long been fascinated with ideas of swarm intelligence and the behavior of self-regulating communities. These works are often trompe l’oeil. As I am intrigued by the idea of the stage set and “movie magic”, much of my work is consciously one-sided – perfect vs. not perfect, real vs. not real. I am intrigued with concepts of illusion.