Klara Glosova | Wonderland

Essay by Gretchen Frances Bennett | Photographs by Andrew Waits

Klara Glosova uncovers new realities
and moves them sideways into the light


After I visited the studio of artist Klara Glosova, I sought out the scene from the 1980 film, Caddyshack, in which Bill Murray is at the bottom of a drained pool in a hazmat suit. He is there to locate an unknown material. This scene describes that moment when you do not know if the thing you are looking for is “shit, or if it’s candy,” says Klara. Murray locates the mystery object, bites into it and says, There it is. It’s no big deal.

Klara has this same offhand manner when describing her studio practice and the vulnerability of pursuing a body of work, before she knows where it is leading her, but not worrying too much about the outcome. “I never wanted to take it really seriously. If you get too heavy-handed, it becomes dead, and then you are no longer addressing it. Humor or lightness keeps it alive, but doesn’t make it less serious. There is art that leaves out the darkness. There is plenty of darkness in the shadows.”

At first, Klara’s studio explorations feel foreign to her. “I usually pretend no one will ever see it.” A sideways approach. Once it is no longer strange–she gets to know it–then it settles and becomes OK. As she becomes more calm and familiar with the work, it grows in intensity and becomes even sinister—the work becomes wilder.

As she describes her process, Klara seems outwardly casual about following her impulses into the unknown.

Her work reminds me of the film Alice, Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer’s stop film animation retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland. In the Czech version, Alice falls into a cellar, where she plunges past shelves of preserves, cookies, nails, fire wood and stuffed animals.

Entering Klara’s studio is like entering a well-lit and airy cellar. And there is much to take in, on shelves, the floor, a table. And though it is crowded, it appears cataloged and presented, in the way a naturalist presents her findings. Like Alice’s cellar, it is part wonderland and part normal. The neat but full arrangement of ceramic works and paintings and furniture and kiln present an array of everyday but also quixotic household concerns.

However strange the initial thought process, Klara follows it, if it holds her interest. “It always happens, what is thought,” she says. “I think it’s the only way for me to speak about anything that matters to me. If it is not interesting to me on some deeper level of discovery, personally, then how can it be of interest to anyone else?”

As I stand in Klara’s studio space, among large-format paintings and clay works, my first read is that they seem to form a collection corresponding to the life of a swimming pool. On the floor there is a diving mask rendered in clay on found concrete with eyes; a stick propped against a wall seems to have a waterline painted on it; and in a painting of a still from Caddyshack, Bill Murray bites a small brown object. There is watery imagery of synchronized swimming men, bringing to mind Matisse and Picasso, dancers and bathers in a strange pool.

My second read is of normal daily concerns in the work, of repetitive motion labor performed in the privacy of home. There is a photo series of Klara restaging a scene at the bottom of a pool, cleaning, together with video imagery of the artist wearing a red hooded outfit and reenacting a kind of exercise video routine, which feels like housework. Klara becomes like clay in a Svankmajer hand, being arranged and re-arranged, as she does her calisthenics. The work speaks of drudgery, till repeated movements seem to turn exuberant, saying, Look, this is not dangerous, come in, the water is fine. “This may be for nothing, yet, it may be productive. You have to try. You question the value, but then you just get into a rhythm,” burning calories and unwanted toxins and becoming safer.

In the photo series and videos, her red garment gives her head to toe coverage. “Without background information, this can have catastrophic implications”, bringing to mind scenarios of contagion, solitary confinement and system breakdowns.

“In a pool, you are nearly naked, unprotected.” And maybe there is something, “you don’t want to be in touch with it, maybe it’s gross.” This garment isolates her body from the environment, keeps her separate until things stop feeling foreign. A boundary. She works in private, protected, waiting for the right time to re-sync and get out from under, but she seems to need, for a time, to be in it. To get to what is candy and what is not.


Interview By Olivia McCausland | Photographs by Andrew Waits

How would you describe your aesthetic?

I’ve been thinking about that kind of a lot right now, because I have been asked to do a solo show at Bellevue Arts Museum. That’s coming up in like 5 minutes—April—I’m hyperventilating. I am going to focus more on my work on robots and tools and gauges and little graphs and grids and things like that for the show.

I guess I have two creative sides—I work in fine gold; a material, in my view, that lends itself better to an organic result. With gold, the physicality of the process is much more obvious: hammering, forging, and leaving the metal sort of rough.
I also have this other half of creativity that I have to draw out and measure before I make it, rather than starting with a lump and making it into something. I think the two sides of creativity compliment each other—my studio practice and brain—but right now I have been really focused on the half that is measured and geometric: making a planned piece instead of an accident.
I pull a lot from pop culture of the 1960s and 70s, geometry, Bucky Fuller, and science in general. I’m always trying to find out about neat connections, and I love learning about new technology. I dip back into old technology—because I think when computers started influencing our lives, it all happened so quickly that our brains and society didn’t really catch up. All the leftover stuff—the old tubes and parts and connectors and on off switches—all that stuff is really beautiful to me. We just trample on so fast towards our new technology and throw that old shit over our shoulder.

How did you happen upon jewelry making?

When I was a kid I lived in The Netherlands, so we spent a ton of time in museums. I remember being just slack jawed staring at the Queen’s dollhouse—I stood in front of that thing for like 45 hours. My parents were asking where is my daughter? I was so fascinated by the house—even the candles had wicks! These things were masterpieces. I was blown away by the tininess and the detail and the thoroughness that they had built these dollhouses. [and I saw plenty of materpieces of sculpture, painting and architecture
that most kids from Boise, Idaho weren’t really getting to see…I was very lucky!]
Before we moved to Europe, I remember spending a lot of time in the garage with my dad while he made things. I remember digging through his bin of washers, just looking for the smallest one. I’m always fascinated with tininess. The scale of what the jeweler or the small-scale sculptor works with—the tools and the materials—I was always sort of around stuff like that growing up.
Then, I started sewing at a pretty young age too, so I was mechanical and good at putting things together.
Later we moved to South America and lived in Colombia. We went to a gold museum in Bogota, where you walk in to a bank vault, through this big safe door, and the whole room is black with suspended gold objects. It’s totally rad and ancient and tiny and gold and it really stuck with me. I was 13 or 14 when I saw that. I had started making little earrings and things like that—both my parents were makers.
Then, cut to high school in Indiana, which is a tragedy to even say those words out loud—my school won state in basketball, which was of course the most important thing for everyone except me, but it meant that my school had a ton of cash and it meant our art department was really well funded. I started taking jewelry classes in high school, and continued with fashion design and jewelry in college.

How would you describe the subject matter and/or content of your work?

Little bit of science little bit of technology, mostly old tech. Schematics make really good graphic patterns. SciFi plays a role but not directly: it’s more the aesthetic of SciFi and the big themes, and the sense of aspiration and wonder. Those basic things egg me on as well as the next guy, but exploration and adventure are important to my work.
The brain fascinates me and all those nerves that are popping around and doing their business—you know, the nervous system. Also, man’s interpretation of nature and mapping of nature is important. Humans thinking we’ve got nature handled—I like to make fun of how we think we do, but we don’t really at all. I guess that I like making jokes in my artwork as well.

What are you inspired by right now?

Right now I am gathering the main themes for my show at Bellevue Arts Museum. So I’ve been watching a lot of SciFi. Right now I am watching 2001, a hugely influential film, both aesthetically and intellectually, and films like Solaris. 1968-70 are really important years for my show. Then, currently, there is this stuff that’s just been released called Vantablack that I need to get a sample of. It’s the blackest material humans have created—only 4% of light bounces back. [Vantablack stands for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays]
I think a lot about elements and the properties of what I am working with. Essentially material science—I think about metals and carbon and all the materials that make us buzz around like idiots.

I think about targets too—about where we are vulnerable. I thought it would be interesting to wear crosshairs from rifles as necklaces as a way to bring awareness and also make oneself vulnerable. [series started in 2006]

Have experiences in your life affected your work?

We traveled a lot when I was a kid and were able to go to a lot of museums. I grew up in southern Idaho and Utah, then we moved to Holland—and I don’t know, you could probably find a place that was more different, but for an 8 year old, Holland was it. I remember picking up a globe and being like, Europe—what is THAT? Because, you know, I was an 8 year old in Idaho. So that was rad, and I just sort of blended in as a little Dutch girl. Having this cool opportunity, my family tried to go to all the museums. I never would have had any idea about the Queen’s dollhouse and things like that, had we not gone to Holland. And then, back to Idaho, which was a really interesting bummer,
and then we moved to California [the Bay Area] and then to Colombia [Barranquilla] in the mid 80s.
Then I went to high school in Indiana, which was also interesting because it was a terrible place. It was a university town, but it was super religious. That movie Footloose?
That is actually what happened to me in high school. I was that guy. I moved from Colombia, where everyone dances, all the time. No one dances—like, religiously—in Indiana. That was when I started sewing my all clothes, and shopping at thrift stores and wearing suits and things. I remember in my senior year—I had been at that school for 3 years and I was asked if I was a German exchange student.

What are you favorite materials to work with/where do you find them?

Well I like metal the most. As a jeweler, you can work with plastic or stone or whatever the heck is laying on the sidewalk. I like metal because it’s complicated and challenging and beautiful. I like the whiteness of fine silver and making sculpture with sterling silver. I’ve been working with gold for a long time—it is a love/hate relationship. Fine gold is amazing, and my Everchanging ring project is so much fun (LINK) and using gold as an alloy to change its properties and make different things. It’s like when you think of different types of steel for different engineering and architectural projects. I think about that sort of thing. I’ve made a lot of work with found objects and plastic toys and weird things I find—I like to work with accidental objects, but I also seek out bits and pieces, which I call Controlled Objects.

Where do I find them?

Well, fine metals: silver and gold I can get from jewelry suppliers and refiners, and I recycle the materials. To get gemstones, you can go to the wholesale suppliers or gem stores. I love science stores too. There used to be a store called the Old Technology Shop on Aurora—I definitely got a bunch of stuff from him.
I also like to happen upon things—when you find an image or have a conversation with people—just bumping into information.

What are you working on?

I am trying to learn how to put a whole bunch of things together that I think about disparately. I have a show in February called Outer Limits at Facere Jewelry Art Gallery. And, of course the Show at Bellevue Arts Museum in April, called Jana Brevick: This Infinity Fits in my Hand.


Interview by Aidan Fitzgerald | Photographs by Andrew Waits


Whatever a photograph sounds like, Megumi Arai’s sound like the exact moment two people stop talking in an empty warehouse. Her photographs sound like your bed after you’ve both gone to work, they sound like waiting. Megumi’s work is figurative, but she refers to it as abstract portraiture: the faces are often obscured or turned away from the camera, draped in shadow or hidden altogether. “A lot comes out when the camera is there. But then I hide it. I know how that person looks and feels and sees, but the reason why I hide it is because each person is completely unique. By obscuring these certain elements of the human, it could become anybody. It allows people to come into the work.”

Megumi’s work delicately captures the precise moment when her subject ceases to be a person – a “self” – and becomes a gateway for us to enter into the photo. In this manner, her work investigates just what it is to be ourselves, and allows us to try out another self, if only for that moment of the photo.

Although I’ve known Megumi for years, I have never seen her in the studio. I’ve seen her shoot before, at events and such, but that’s documentation, that’s taking pictures. When she’s taking pictures she glides through the crowd, exchanges hellos with just about everybody there, hugs and laughter, gotta move on, need a shot of that guy over there.

When she’s in the studio, that’s something different. I have never seen Megumi in the studio, in her element, on a shoot, but when I ask her about it her eyes go wide and her voice gets smoother. “I don’t like to be in complete control, because it feels weird, it’s not natural and you don’t get the best photographs. But I do feel out each person, and I do generally give very specific direction. Within that direction, it’s kind of like this push and pull game. It’s practicing being able to shed control, because with each person it’s totally different, there is so many variables… the quietness on that set. I work in complete silence.”

Megumi’s methodical practice is evident in the precision and depth of her work. She works mostly with a centralized composition; each figure is balanced in the center of the photograph. Her camera seems to focus more on the texture of skin than on the skin itself. Hair becomes an abstract shape, a form entirely separate from the body it covers. The shadows hold a deep velvet black, the figures are constructed from some material more dense and dry than flesh.

“The work is less about ‘who is that person?’ and more like what does this person represent. Each person looks at the photograph or the piece and they decide the piece represents. And what they believe that piece represents says more about that person than the piece.”

A while back, I walked into Vermillion, a bar in Seattle with a large artspace in the front section. Towards the back of the gallery section, I saw two women furiously painting over a huge portrait of Megumi. Thick black paint dripped down the photo, while Megumi stood next to the performance. Members of the audience were invited to paint over the portrait. After Megumi’s face was completely covered, another portrait was revealed. She told me the piece was about rebirth, about how we let other people silence us. Our identities are not such mutable objects. They cannot be covered with paint, no matter how thick. Identity and the ideas of the self are central in her work.

“We are objects, the human body is a sculpture. I like the silent moments. I like to make silent work, maybe because I’m so loud. That is a real part of me that maybe I don’t express as much. I think that my photos explore that silence in me… going back, in my history, I didn’t have the ability to be alone. Translating that into my inability to be quiet. But my need to be alone, my need to be quiet. Wanting those things, finding great value in those things, but being so fearful of them too. And trying to recreate those things in my images.”