I was recently asked to write a monograph for an upcoming show at Latitude 53, a contemporary art centre in Edmonton, Alberta. The following is that monograph - if you are in the area, come by the opening on October 1!
Kristi Malakoff is a hard working and prolific artist. The temptation to talk at length about her process, obsession, compulsion and commitment is heady, but I have become hung up on one quote about her work. Bear with me while I turn off my i-Phone and then turn on my i-Pad while I try to make my i-Point.
What is more interesting to investigate than “i”?
Malakoff does not directly state it, but I hope she’ll forgive my extrapolation: you and i. “Dualities are always more interesting to investigate than singularities”. Blazzamo. On an impromptu drive from Edmonton to Calgary recently, I learned that her background is mathematics. This is not terribly surprising, less so when dissecting the meaning of that quote in relation to her work. In math, a singularity is a discontinuity. A duality, however, is “a symmetry within a mathematical system such that a theorem remains valid if certain objects, relations, or operations are interchanged”. In laymen’s terms she is referring to something that contains its opposite. Or "the condition of being double". She likes contradictions.
So what does the math have to do with the art? Blazzamo is an assemblage of work from last five years and this iteration addresses Malakoff’s fascination with the absurdity of man made amusements and entertainments such as Vegas or Disneyland. The scale and commitment of gluing an eight foot tower of Fruit loops in an Islamic inspired design, the playfulness of a paper replica of the iconic Vegas ‘Stardust’ casino sign or the origamic melting pots of currency sculptures from Cambodia, China, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Bolivia, Iraq, Paraguay and Russia all reflect the absurdity that Malakoff identifies. The materials are ones we could easily dismiss or relegate to utility – but her use of them denies that possibility – the first of many contradictions.
By describing the show as being about the absurd - the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless or irrational world – she gives us a window into her intentions for the work. In early artist statements, Malakoff points to her employment of slipping her subject matter back to 3D from 2D as being a deliberate strategy to make people pause, to break them out of their everyday assumptions. She is a bit of an alchemist, with apologies to her grounding in math, one whose work demands contemplation. Our conversations about Blazzamo brought us to reflect on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, in which all the immigrants to America have unconsciously brought their gods with them. These gods scrape by. They subsist in this land that is unfriendly to gods, even those of Telegraph and Railway, so quickly supplanted by Media, TV and Internet. In this story, roadside attractions (of which Disney and Vegas are larger, tricked out versions) are places of power, nexus for energy and adoration. Herein, I think, lies the kernel of what makes Disney and Malakoff’s work so compelling. You could go to Disney by yourself, but it would be absurd. Without considering others around you, your similarities and dissimilarities and the slippage between, such an experience would be excruciatingly lonely. The lead character in American Gods is accused by his lover of not being alive – and it is only in death that he learns how to live. When gazing upon these works – familiar in their content but not their expression, we can slip with them between states of being, start to recognize bits of our opposites in ourselves. The loneliness we all encounter is an illusion, this work seems to say, and all we need to do to move past it is acknowledge that the illusion exists.
Consider as you view the work the economy of her choices. While visually rich and pleasing, nothing extraneous exists in execution. How is this straightforward approach so disconcerting? The answer to that lies in the juxtapositions she exposes. Money is only paper, she implies, and so folds it into symbols which themselves are representations of other ideas. Paper can explode, she shows us, into colour and form that implies something far more glamorous than expected. This colorful marking tape can not only place an actor on a stage, but create a portal through which we are all welcome to travel.
So is there an i-Point? Regardless of your thoughts on that, there is an opportunity to walk away seeing the world and ourselves a little differently than we did moments before. That is the heart of successful artwork, and Malakoff delivers with admirable candor and simplicity.
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