University: University of East London
Artist Statement: Elika Bo is an experimental visual artist, currently based in London, UK. Elika explores identity, works on real stories and introduces them to the viewer as an abstract piece. Within her recent work, done by using a scanner, she creates an image by using her own body and materials she can find in her surroundings. The creative process of illustrating the stories is a true emotional ride, that involves the subject as much as the artist. Series PLATEN is an ongoing project, that identifies memory as the main tool. Building the image on the scanner is like building a wall for memories, visualising the exact memory and recreating it for the participant.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I guess final year exhibition and participating in Free Range at The Truman Brewery in London. Thanks to the university and help of tutors and staff, we pulled off a great exhibition. The pressure of the first exhibition helped me to make very important decisions about my work and with help from fellow students and tutors it was an incredible experience.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? It is experimental abstract photography, I guess.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? Since I have known, I was always been interested in identity. I find the Nature vs. Nurture debate fascinating and an incredible way of figuring out some sort of issues within yourself. I feel inspired by stories and people, which is key in my latest project PLATEN. It would not happen without contributors that were keen to share their life changing stories with me and work together on understanding their identity, and debating Nature vs. Nurture.
What are your main inspirations when making new work? People. I work and travel a lot so I get to meet new people all the time. My work involves a lot of contact with people, and lots of communication. I just find people and their life stories fascinating and inspiring. I spend a lot of time analyzing others and their motives, while I am a great listener I am not such a good talker.
Also, I guess PLATEN would not have come together if it wasn't for my own curiosity of how things in life work, how things that you have no power of can change you even if you don’t want them to. Chuck Palahniuk once said "Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I have ever known“; this made me think that most of the time we are learning about ourselves, about who we are. I used to ask myself why I am the way I am, I was stressed because I wasn’t happy with myself, until I realised that I should look back to the moment that changed me, the moment that built me up. There are so many answers in the past that we try to ignore, because they are bad memories, they are haunting us as we try to look forward in our lives and not the other way around. I worked up all my courage to look back, work on my memory, and worst – visualise it. I had to see it on the paper, in front of me to be able to come to terms with myself. Human mind, the impact of pain, outcomes of religion and national identity are main things that inspire me, and help me to understand and develop my work.
You mentioned that your standout moment from university was participating in Free Range. Can you tell us why you enjoyed it so much? Free Range gave me an understanding of how exhibitions are curated and how all the magic happens. Being part of such a big event made me feel special and welcomed, and it showed that actually there are no limits to achieve what you want to. It not only opened new doors for me in the art world, but it also helped me to meet the right people. I had a chance to speak up about the issues that concern me, show my work and talk about it out loud to people I have never met before, to inspire them and help them to move forward.
Have you got any tips for when it comes to degree shows? I just want to say, go all in and do whatever it takes for you to be happy with your own work. You have only one degree show so make sure you are proud of what you have done. My sleepless nights filled with worry, money I have spent on prints, long hours of research and experimenting was all worth it in the end. If you are looking for advice, go to people and ask for it, look for different opinions and don’t leave anything until the last minute, experiment and print your work before hand, so at the end you will know that you did everything you possibly could. A lot of things go wrong the last minute, so make sure you are prepared, and don’t have to worry so much.
What’s your reasoning behind using a scanner to make the images in PLATEN? Did you experiment with using a camera before? When I started thinking of the project I was sure that I wanted to create abstract images without a lot of digital manipulation. I tried using a digital camera but I have always enjoyed using analogue more. I experimented using black and white film, and manipulated images in the darkroom, but it did not seem right, and so I thought of using colour film. This was a major issue for me as I had little money at the time for colour film. I really love experimenting so I came up with idea of building the image on the scanner, which worked for me very well. This was also at the early stages of working on the whole idea of PLATEN as I realised that building images that resemble memories and later on scanning them, somehow made a lot of sense. I even had a joke going around that I scan emotions, that visualise themselves into abstract images.
Can you talk us through how you make your work? I have always been a person who likes to observe. I am especially interested if we can be who we want to be, and if our choices in life are made, because the traumas of the past shape who we are today. We all think identity is something of your own, that is private, and under control. You can do whatever you want to do, you can be whatever you want to be. Right? So many books have been published about how to become happy, how to make friends, how to become extrovert, and yet here we are, still trying to figure out why are we like this? Why can’t we be who we truly want to be.
I have been working in hospitality for some years now, so meeting new people on a daily basis is something that happens constantly. I usually spend quite a long time observing and listening to a person before asking if he/she would like to participate in my project if I think that their story is fascinating. I always ask what they think of their identity, and what do they think about the Nature vs. Nurture debate. I ask them to write down a story that they think might have shaped their identity and if they think they had any power to shape it differently. The answers I get always fascinate me.
Once I get a story, I read it restlessly, and visuals just come to my mind. Mostly visuals start with colours and shapes, and later on I integrate things that I find in my surroundings and I have a feeling that it will fit the image well. I pick up on most important words in the story, the outcome of it, and little details.
When using a scanner, getting the lights, colours, and shapes right is tricky work because you never really know the outcome. It surprises me quite often how much you can actually do with a simple scanner. Funnily enough sometimes I do feel like a little part of a scanner, I am that connecting wire between the individual and scanner. It can take up to couple days to produce one image, and it can take up to a couple of weeks to really get into the mood of creating it. Some stories are so heavy, that I feel drained reading it again and again. But once it’s done it actually looks like a picture of a nightmare, of a bad memory, details make you get lost in that image, wondering what all this means.
What visual and theoretical research have you used to implement this work? I think my first research days started with reading books about identity, trauma, religion and body talk. To start with Identity: Sociological perspectives by Steph Lawler, also publication by INCITE, The colour of violence. My reading list was so long I had to read day and night. The only things I wanted to discuss was identity and how do we get it. I was wildly inspired by moving image and not only documentaries. At some point Louis Theroux documentaries were the only thing I wanted to watch and talk about.
Photographers that inspired me were Ervin Olaf, Roger Ballen, and Henrik Knudsen. I have spent hours researching identity, the Nature vs. Nurture. debate, mannerisms, and symbolism. I wanted my work to stand out, attract attention and speak up about how bad memories stay with us as haunting nightmares.
Can you tell us your favourite:
Lingering Ghosts by Sam Ivin
Go away closer by Dayanita Sigh
OutsideIN by Pablo Bartholomew