Touching Distance is the first exhibition in the “Empowerments” series of public events, hosted by Exposed Arts Projects in 2019. Founded and curated by Russian-born Sasha Burkhanova-Khabadze the space focuses on research-led art and delivers the programme of “survey exhibitions” and performances as well as workshops, talks and screenings. (Read our interview with Sasha here). 

Touching Distance, installation view (Alyona Larionova, Staying with the trouble, 2018). Courtesy: Exposed Arts Projects, 2018.

The current show explores the relationship between control, dependence and vulnerability in the context of the current climate of mass migration and hyper connectivity. Marina Maximova talked to Alyona Larionova, one of the three exhibiting artists, about the project and her work process.

MM: Congratulations with the exhibition opening. Could you tell us a bit about the show and your work featured in it? How did you become interested in the story of Kazakh eagle-hunter?

AL: In early 2015 I started developing a series of works that call into question our approach to storytelling and obsession with certain narratives that for too long have been and still are presenting us with the debased version of the world. I’m interested in what stories we use to tell other stories, especially those concealed in otherwise muted registers. Each of my films asks viewers to pay attention. It requires knowing how to resist temptation to separate what must be taken into account and what may be neglected.

A couple of years I came across a little known book by J.A. Baker ‘The Peregrine’, an obsessive and beautiful account in which the author tracks the comings and goings of a pair of peregrines across eastern England during several years. As he continues his obsessive quest, his sense of human self slowly begins to disintegrate and he attempts to adapt into an alien and mysterious consciousness of the bird of prey. As soon as I read this book, I knew I had to do something with this story. But it was only months later when the migration drama was unfurling across Europe and the Mediterranean and when I was conduction research into haptics at the Bristol Robotics Lab, that I came up with the idea for the film. At the time Terry Ryu Kim was also thinking about similar issues but from a more tactile, sculptural point of view. We then went on to develop our respective projects in close contact. A little later on I brought Sophia Al Maria into the show, as I couldn’t think of a better artist to offer up the third perspective on the ideas of control and dependence that came to define our show at the Exposed.

Still from Alyona Larionova, Staying with the trouble, 2018. Courtesy: Alyona Larionova

MM: Why do you think the issues of different types of control reflected in your video are urgent and topical now?

AL: I wouldn’t say that there are different types of control portrayed in my film, rather it is the relationship between being in control and being dependent that is a driving narrative force. From the start, I was interested as to what happens when the two roles are reversed. In all three stories in the film, these roles are in constant flux, questioning the very power structure in place in today’s world. I’m interested in how the power scales can be shifted and through what means. I explore this through the language of touch, a sense that is notoriously hard to contextualise. It is a bit of an experiment that underlines the urgency of asking and addressing these types of questions, but not necessarily offering any definite answers. The notion of touch control explored in the film is a fairly recent phenomenon that appeared as a result of the postmodern crisis of security as well as paranoia of a looming epidemic in the Western parts of the world (think the hysteria surrounding the Ebola outbreak for instance). In the film, I tried to directly delve into the dynamics and workings of this tactile field to gain an alternative vantage point over the bigger picture.

Touching Distance, installation view (Alyona Larionova, Staying with the trouble, 2018). Courtesy: Exposed Arts Projects, 2018.

MM: Is the issue of control important for your own creative process? How does it structure your work and the relations with your team?

AL: If I had to describe my process, I’d say it goes something like that: intuition – chance – control. The work starts on a hunch, with a feeling; I then follow this hunch and see where it takes me, without limiting my options at this stage. Later on the connections and clusters of common themes start to emerge by chance and this slowly begins to set the direction for the whole project. Once I go into production it suddenly becomes a lot about control, but also about letting go too. Filmmaking is a very detail-oriented and process-driven medium, you must have a very strict plan in place. On the other hand, it is also a collaborative process and I always listen to my team; they bring a lot of new ideas and solutions to the table.

MM: Exposed Arts Projects positions itself as a space supporting research-led art. How do you understand this notion and do you define your practice as such?

AL: Research definitely plays an important role in my process and I often spend months researching prior to going into production. Saying that, I don’t necessarily define my practice as a whole as ‘research-led’. Some of my works come very quickly and intuitively.

Still from Alyona Larionova, Staying with the trouble, 2018. Courtesy: Alyona Larionova

MM: Do you work mostly with film or other media as well?

AL: It so happens that a few of my recent projects are short films, otherwise I let the ideas dictate the medium. In past I worked extensively with installation, sculpture and drawing.

MM: I really enjoyed the music in the film, could you tell a bit how about it?

AL: For the film’s soundtrack, I teamed up with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, a NY based musician. I brought him on board at the onset of the project as soon as I finished writing the script. It was important for me to start working on the score before we began shooting, I wanted the sound to evolve together with the project, rather than as a direct response to the visuals. Jefre has been releasing music both in bands and as a solo artist since 1995 and has since amassed a substantial body of work. His approach to sound-making possesses a tangible sense of narrative momentum: a mixture of pop, ambient drones and natural sounds – this really spoke to me and the mood of the film.

Touching Distance, installation view (Alyona Larionova, Staying with the trouble, 2018). Courtesy: Exposed Arts Projects, 2018.

The exhibition runs until 8 March. Follow the link for more information.