DECEMBER 6, 2017 – JANUARY 28, 2018
CLOSING RECEPTION: THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2018 @ 6–7PM
REFRESHMENTS TO FOLLOW AT THE PALOMINO
LOCATION: STRIDE +15 WINDOW SPACE
ARTS COMMONS 205 8TH AVENUE SE
My name is Nikola.
This is me backstage.
This is me excited.
This is me barely containing my self.
This is me containing myself.
This is me without being present.
This is me at my most vulnerable.
This is me transforming.
This is me coming to you live.
This is absolutely me.
Nikola was here.
This is Nikola.
NIK is a Serbian artist working with performance and mixed-media, finishing the last year of their BFA at the Alberta College of Art + Design. They strive to find connection between their religious Serbian upbringing and their queerness. While working on their I am sorry series, which explores ideas of identity, vulnerability, and queerness, they have created a drag character which represents the state in which they are in right now. Through drag they learn about themselves, positives and negatives about their cultural background, and research regarding the treatment of queer people in Serbia. NIK uses symbols of Serbian Orthodox Christianity and the Serbian flag to create an atmosphere where they can perform as their drag persona called Nikola.
COVEN GALLERY is a student space supporting Queer, Trans, and BIPOC artists affiliated with the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) through exhibition opportunities and community-based events, aiming to foster meaningful dialogue and action on the respective issues of those communities within ACAD and beyond. Coven Gallery is currently under the directorship of Alicia Buates McKenzie and Taylor Harder.
by Alicia Buates McKenzie
I am sitting with Nik in his studio. It’s one of the best in the building: a large corner designated by green painter’s tape, a locker covered in graffiti by past students, a large desk, and a full wall of windows at his back from which the Main Mall of the Alberta College of Art + Design is visible from two storeys below (passersby can read ‘HELP’, ‘i sad’, and ART in a slashed O written with window crayons on the glass—a testament of the art college experience). On one wall, he’s tacked up old family photos next to an empty condom box featuring a naked male model posed confidently with arms folded above his head. On the others, several recent pieces of his long-term series I am sorry, which he has been working on for much of his undergrad, are displayed.
Nik is sitting behind his desk. His hair is a pastel orange, like sherbet. He wears a deep green button-up with all the buttons undone and a sweater that reminds me of a 90’s patterned couch, silver wire-framed glasses resting on his nose. We are talking about his work and as he speaks, his eyes are looking off in deep thought, hands gesturing softly, laptop perched on crossed legs. He cites Arcade Fire’s song Porno from their album Reflektor as a point of inspiration. It is most noticeable in the black, cloak-like garment from the documented performance and subsequent installation, I am sorry #33, on which screen printed text reads ‘It used to make me feel like something is wrong with me / It doesn’t make me feel like something is wrong with me’ written with Nik’s hand and worn by his alter ego, Nikola.
Nikola is Nik, and vice versa. They are distinguished by their attire and their place. Nik is here, in his studio, in his colourful eclectic fashion. Nikola is, at the moment of this conversation, hidden away in an ambiguous concrete bunker, clad in black lingerie and dark makeup. Nik is warm and open, flirtatious and sarcastic. I’ve yet to meet Nikola, but her photographs are filled with carnal desire and deep, lurking energy. I see them in each other.
I’d never heard Porno before. I listen to it for the first time shortly after speaking to Nik that day. It is anxious, confrontational and paranoid, in flux with anger and self-deprecation, yearning for a love that is not reciprocated. It reads like a sad love letter, and much like the artwork used for the album’s cover, a digital edit of a sculpted man and woman in stone, it attempts to reach someone (or somewhere) but ultimately fails to do so.
The art in question is a marble sculpture by Auguste Rodin, titled Orphée et Eurydice (1887-93), an homage to the mythical Greek tragedy of the same name. Here, the lovestruck Orpheus treks through the Underworld, eyes covered, the spirit of his dead wife following closely behind in an attempt to bring her back to the mortal realm; an allowance of the Gods, provided he does not look back at her until they’ve reached the sunlit threshold at the end of Hades’ kingdom. There is no turning back. Moments after what is depicted in Rodin’s work, Orpheus steps into the sunlight and turns to embrace his wife for the first time since her death, but his celebration is premature— Eurydice has not yet reached the sunlight and vanishes back into the darkness as Orpheus’ eyes meet hers.
Similarly, it is as if Nik is leading Nikola out of her darkness (and therefore, his own) through the progression of I am sorry. What was once a series of solo internal struggle is now a story of duality and growth, though one that is precariously placed between the confines of Eastern European homogeneity and Orthodox Christianity—a place in which queer identity and nonconforming gender expression remains in an underworld of its own. It is in this void that Nikola’s passion has grown from. Her concrete bunker has transformed from a place of hiding to a passage towards freedom.
They are on the brink of coming out into the world. I imagine Nikola standing at the edge of the curtain leading out onto her stage, the light just clipping the tip of her nose. Behind her is the dressing room: a space of transformation from one to another, a place in which the body becomes a vessel for the performance, the character consumes the identity, and the lines between the real and the act are blurred. Beyond her is the spotlight, all eyes on it, waiting in anticipation. This is the most crucial moment, the last chance to back down. There is no time left to repeat old lines (I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry…) and an odd stillness in the air as she stares into the stage lights. A stiletto heel echos as Nik/ola enters stage right.
There is no turning back.
“Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’: The Story Behind the Album Cover.” Juxtapoz Magazine, 5 Nov. 2013.
“Auguste Rodin | Orpheus and Eurydice | French, Paris | The Met.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Orpheus.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 May 2013.
ALICIA BUATES MCKENZIE was born a Great Aunt. She is an emerging biracial Filipina Canadian artist and writer from rural Manitoba, currently en route to receiving her Bachelor of Fine Art from the Alberta College of Art + Design.