It’s Summer. I’m in Slovenia as Curator-in-Residence for July-August 2019 at the Center Sodobnih Umetnosti Celje. It is my second week and I have started to have studio meetings with artists every day. Maja Hodošček, the curator and artist that invited me here, sets up the meetings; today I’m meeting Iza Pavlina. It’s Friday morning and we are supposed to meet in Salon (the nickname for the Likovni salon gallery) at 10:30. I step out and walk from my apartment so I can smoke as I walk… I see a young girl with long blonde hair wearing all black, carrying a backpack as if she just got back from school. She is standing outside the locked door of the gallery; we both understand and smile a little… Are you the curator?... Yes, are you the artist? Yes... Maja appears and apologizes for being late, although she isn't really. It’s so funny that she missed the “introduction”, which by the third time seems a bit unnecessary in this small town, yet I’m glad she takes the time to do this for me. I’ve heard a little bit about Iza and her practice from others so I have a good feeling. She doesn’t have a permanent studio so she suggested we walk to her place where we can have coffee and it’s only seven minute walk, so I agree and think it’s nice. The studios I’ve seen until now, only around TamKoUčiri, have looked a lot more like dusty living rooms/dingy galleries than active studios anyway.
Iza’s apartment building seems very cute; it’s newer than the ones in the old town, reachable by walking up four floors, each with balconies full of plants. We sit on a bench outside while I finish smoking before going upstairs. As I’m typing this I sit in this cafe near the town square, sipping espresso on ice while the radio plays purple rain :). Iza graduated last year; I tell her it's a rough year and I warn her that I will attempt to motivate her with speeches ;). I remember the difficulties of the transition from making art in an academic surrounding to creating with no support, feeling as if you are in a vacuum. Iza also made another transition when she moved back to her hometown, Celje, from the capital where she studied, Ljubljana. So this apartment is her brother’s and she shares it with her boyfriend. It’s a sweet and cool, spacious one-bedroom, or in Stockholm terms: all you really need.
Immediately I see a high shelf full of toys/action figures and immediately ask who they belong to, (as if a girl can’t have toys) - they’re actually belong to her and her boyfriend, Uroš Vnuk. They collect and actually also design and make toys as a side and sell them online-run business. The collection is made out of childhood toys, second hand and ones made by fellow toy makers. The brand is called "Official Toy" She shows me the latest creation, “BloodLizard”, a skull-headed cute, scaled, little red devil, wearing a minimal viking warrior skirt outfit. His body is red and his abs are orange, he has three fingers and three toes; with the horns and wings and all it seems like he’s definitely from hell but so damn likeable, kind of like Hellboy… the scale is also very nice. BloodLizard is standard but smaller than most and reminds me of my GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra figure (I think I had Duke). Iza shows me that the limbs and head are removable by magnets, so cool.
She offers me a variety of teas to drink, lactose free instant cappuccino, freshly ground coffee (coffee coffee black coffee :))). She also makes her own kombucha (!), but it’s still brewing in the containers above the cabinets. In Slovenia every coffee is served with a full glass of water next to it and Iza sticks to that; we sit in her balcony - it’s pretty sunny and we are cooking and chatting away in our black shirts.
I haven’t seen any of her work yet but I just like her; she is articulate and relaxed and we seem to be on the same page. We exchange knowledge and meeting in the middle.
We talk about how they make the toys with silicone molds using two components of plastic made out polymare... they will use a big pot on the balcony as a vacuum-forming substitute. It’s very DIY and I dig it- the packaging is really special and has everything a collector would want: a backstory for the character, a grueling print of an original bloody skull in the back made by their friend, printed on hard cardboard with a semi-shiny print waiting in a clear plastic bubble. The style is very good and original, I feel like Mike Kelley and Cameron Jamie will approve of this as that aesthetic that combines raw teenage drawings. As if taken from a high-school notebook yet slightly more refined because as Iza said it’s deliberate. The initiative to make these toys was definitely inspired by childhood toys: it recreates this aesthetic fascination with details in those modular objects. We continue to talk about toys, the ones that were great - Iza is more from the Pokémon generation, yet her boyfriend (like me) was into teenage mutant ninja turtles- and actually she has all of them in the flat :) We sit at her desk and as I hold my favorite Rafael (that I still have in a box at my parent's place in my hometown, Ra’anana- Israel).
I ask to look at some recent work on her laptop.
Inkei (ペニス) 2017, is a soft sculpture that was made for a group show in Račka Gallery*.
It is essentially a huge Plushie toy-like, life-size sculpture of an Octopus.
The creature looks as if taken from a trendy corporate startup lobby or a posh one-of-a-kind children’s toy store. In fact, it’s a self-made, imperfect attempt to create a personal object that embodies a representation of sexuality in Japanese pop-porn culture. Because of strict regulation in Japan concerning full frontal male nudity, a symbol in the form of an octopus was established as an alternative to the phallus. The top part is made from a white bed sheet that was previously used to make the top part (she confesses that it is spotted with her blood from when she (mis)used a sewing machine for the first time). The bottom is made of store-bought, red fabric. The combination of white and red references the Japanese flag.
The title, “Inkei”, is the phonetic English pronunciation of the Japanese word ペニス, which sounds like a sweet nickname for an Octopus or a squid (because they produce ink), but it literally means “Penis”. I ask about the logistics of moving this giant sculpture and she shows me photos of her bearded boyfriend carrying it on his shoulders and tells me it is now a bit dirty from movers and lives in her parent's basement. Somehow as a curator I reflect on how this chain of events added meaning to the piece, which did not stop collecting connotations after the show in Račka ended.
* An erotic gallery that was previously used as a peep show venue and later showed erotic art with nudes and such, but mostly from a male gaze. Recently it’s switched to a critical point of view: it features artworks containing sexual content, yet done by 4th wave feminists in light of #Metoo. It is now leading a queer art festival that will also challenge body types and showcase diverse points of views on sexuality.
Project Rule 34 (2017)
We move on to another exhibition she had in Aksioma Gallery (Ljubljana) based on a proposal for digital technology work. She produced and shot HD videos of herself modeling different acts directly related to specific fetishes.
There are 13 videos and they are all uploaded onto Pornhub, Xhamster and XVIDEOS as pornography under Iza’s “Pornstar" name /account name, Lizzypeacocks. There is random porn music in the background and typical porn video titles, but in fact in regard to aesthetics and actual content, they are very different- there is no nudity (the shots are only above the shoulders). The aesthetics are clean, dry and almost Shuttershock-like. “BDSM slave getting slapped” is simply Iza giving herself a slap- it could be like a version of self-harm performance art, as if taking from the 1970s. “Dirty lesbian eating feces” is her straight self (how should a lesbian look anyway?) eating some melting chocolate out of a Petri dish. It is a question of authenticity- that is anyway a constant absence in porn as fiction - the girl is playing a character and the props are fake. A woman can fake an orgasm, yet a man can’t. This creates tension within the title and the piece, which confuses and challenges viewers and consumers of the same thing in different spheres. Iza says she is fairly popular and gets a variety of positive reactions even if they are written in explicit language. However, a small percentage of people did complain that what she does isn’t real Porn. As I would imagine, some art viewers, as they always do, questioned if some things, such as this, are Art. I like the fact that Iza’s artworks are online. In many cases video works are unpublished unless done so by the artist on Vimeo because of copyright issues with the gallery.
We wrap up because Iza needs to meet her mom in town. We say we will meet again and perhaps do a workshop in the AIR apartment with her artist friends. She offers me a sweaty hug :) because it’s hot and we are wearing black. We hug and say bye and I go eat a burger in Hoodburger. The burger was a really nice, (the fries were just OK).