Jakob Rowlinson & Alexi Alexander IzmaylovIn Conversation
JAKOB ROWLINSON: It’s so nice to see more of your work in the studio. Kinda feel jealous that you have your own studio space at home. How did you come to set up Sexy frog biscuit and TETRIS? How has this coped with all the recent turmoil?
ALEXEI ALEXANDER IZMAYLOV: Ah yes, Sexy frog biscuit. This studio used to be an experimental project space and residency with the emphasis on crossover of domesticity and visual arts. During their TETRIS stint, the invited artists would stay here, experience the space, come up with a response — perhaps a new work, a show or whatever fit their particular vibe or process. With the lockdown this has sadly been put on hold and my own studio has sprawled all over the place and into every nook and cranny,
JR: Yes I can see you have spread out a lot, there's a really nice blend between your home life and work
AAI: Sure, but now it is just too convenient and therefore challenging to give up. Having said that, I have been chatting with my co-founder Vincent Crapon, and we have been thinking about taking the project down a nomadic route, and perhaps in time looking for an alternative fixed space. We miss working with artists and collaborating on shows from an organisational perspective. I feel now, more than ever, we need more artist opportunities.
JR: Absolutely and it's really important to be working collaboratively and share more opportunities together. So I didn't know till recently that you had a background in fashion. In your recent collaboration with JORDANLUCA, how did you transfer your interests into an art context, and do you see a difference between the two aspects of your work?
AAI: You are too kind. Before I focused full time on being an artist, I briefly dipped my toe into the world of design, and then mainly practiced as a photographer and image maker for the industry. An industry which has its own set of rules and a tasty language. Of course my experience in fashion does still shape my work, sometimes literally. And when Jordan Bowen and Luca Marchetto came to me with this collaborative proposition I agreed to lend my aesthetic to their cause under a pseudonym #izmaylovismylove. Mainly this was due to nostalgia and a yearning to open up more to collaboration. I wanted to make objects that, by proxy, would extend into editorial fashion images. One of the key underlying principles in my practice is the idea of play, and I ask or encourage stylists and photographers to engage with my floral pieces in their own professional game. I guess this somewhat narrows the gap between these two aspects of my work. The main difference is that someone else does the ‘playing’ on this occasion. I do not really see this work as fashion ready for commercialisation. The flowers were always going to be crafted as sculpture and these ‘accessories’ would eventually be installed as objects with their own agency. But perhaps I am less decisive when it comes to categorising and labelling, and that makes the line a little hazy from the outside? Does my arse hurt from sitting on the fence you ask?
JR: Hahaha. No, that's very coherent and I agree that it's almost pointless to delineate between different strands of our work. But I am always curious to hear how people frame their practice.
I remember seeing some very interesting things coming out of your residency with the Freud Museum? It feels like there were really interesting parallels to be drawn between your work and Freud during lockdown.
AAI: It was a research experience into the Freud Museum archive looking through the lens of Object Oriented Ontology. The museum staff were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. What stuck with me was Freud’s collection of antiquities and ornaments — phalluses, vessels and vases, amulets, all sorts of intriguing items really. This and his love for his dogs, he owned a few in his time, in particular fluffy Chows. Put this together with my interest in Winnicott’s approach to psychology, and the resulting exhibition project "FUN WITH FREUD" came to be. This included a series of CGI chew toys inspired by the archive, faux classifieds posters and a short ad clip cutting together CGI animation with video footage of my own pet Samoyed by the name Toozik. Actually I have been working on developing this further since... I guess something resonated and these toys found a more permanent presence in my practice.
JR: I adore the titles you use in your work — "UNCTUOUS SMARMINESS" and "BOYS TOYS" for example, tend to have a wink wink to them, or are coded in some way to have a double meaning. To what extent do you find yourself addressing explicitly queer culture? And within this context can you talk more about the materials you use?
AAI: Hahaha, don’t forget "SCULPTURE CULTURE #fecklessmates”?... I think there's double, triple and even more meanings to be had. I love the ambiguity of language, and I enjoy words which are familiar and others which are anxious. And in this coded sphere there is plenty of space for interpretation. I prefer to trust and be guided by my instincts and, weather permitting, usually go with a spontaneous reaction when I assemble the work, this includes the titles too, most of which lack the suffocating precision. Absurdly some of these titles are born prior to the making, and others come after when the work is finished... If one can even say that about my perpetual play propositions.
I like the history of "untitled", and simultaneously I feel that the act of naming adds extra leg room for uncertainty, room to store hand luggage, kick, manoeuvre and even to be generous. Occasionally the meandering titles are much more straightforward and even forgiving than the works themselves, for instance "FLORALS? FOR SPRING?", the title for the Spring Summer 22 floral ‘accessories’, is a direct reference to Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada". And that, of course, comes with its own landslide of connotations.
As for addressing the queer culture, explicitly or otherwise, it really varies. Would you be satisfied if I said somewhere between 43-77%? But seriously, it is an underlying question in my work, an ongoing, omnipresent challenge. I’ve always used loaded materials that are charged with their own seductive potential: the powder coated support systems, the flexible, sleek and specular vinyl that has been imbued with a UV print, the honest weight of steel and the cold and sensual stainless hardware crossed with knotted rope, these are all part of my warped propositional language. I like to think that this enables and simultaneously disables any fixed interpretation without being deceitful. I recently did purchase a can of glitter spray, though not sure I am ready to dive into that section of the pool...
JR: A lot of queer artists have a tendency to be autobiographical in their work. I guess this is in part due to a fear of being seen to 'speak' for a wider audience if one were to make work about being gay for example. Is there a hint of the autobiographical in yours?
AAI: I have previously indulged myself with more biographical work when I was making my solo show for Luxembourg in 2019. The exhibition was peppered with a heavy dose of ambiguity drawn from mixing up art history, poetry, porn, and more. The end result dug into various aspects and challenges of being an ‘outsider’ artist, as well as one exploring queer circumstances. I trust that my practice has moved on since, and now the work approximates a wider stance on interaction and desire — illicit or otherwise. I figured it was no longer necessary for me to make gratuitous thirst traps, and now I create objects that aim to challenge the binary archive with a healthy dose of cynicism. Instead seeking alternatives while building my own peculiar world. I would not say I am a voyeur, as much of the work comes from my own experience, and in some way making is an act of catharsis, but I would not wish to deliberately ‘speak’ out of turn either.
JR: So you are in a show at Haze projects in October, what are you proposing for this show?
AAI: Ah yes, The Factory Project at TATE & LYLE which, may I add, you are also a part of. Honestly it seems that the cohort for our show is a tight one, both Camilla Bliss and Solanne Bernard of Haze Projects have come up with an exciting premise and I look forward to seeing the results. Whilst the factory space encourages larger works and grand displays of affection, I have chosen to maintain my own pace and bring into the physical realm some of the digital works from the horny “FUN WITH FREUD” family... Knowing the propositional nature of my work this can all change last minute, so no guarantees.
By the way, thank you for inviting me to have this chat. ❤
Pronouns: He / Him
Alexei’s practice ping pongs between image making and sculpture. His work is primarily composed of original ‘functional’ objects and procured industrial elements that perform as part of a propositional and evolutionary ecosystem — threading together notions of play, power, commercialisation and illicit desire.
Born in Russia, Alexei now lives and works in London alongside his dog Toozik where he co-founded Sexy frog biscuit project space and TETRIS art residency - a European exchange programme.
Select solo and group exhibitions include: PROXY, Cromwell Place, London (2021); Scenes of Inclination, Manor Place, London (2021); iObject, Freud Museum, London (2021); Like A Sieve, Kupfer, London (2020), Bloomberg New Contemporaries, South London Gallery, London (2019-20); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds (2019); Cherry Pickers, Podium, Luxembourg (2019); Dirty Hands & Revelations, Standpoint Gallery, London (2019); PLACID & LIMPID: 3AM MIRACLE, A FRAGMENT, Nosbaum Reding Gallery, Luxembourg (2019); Forårsudstilling, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2017)