Elen Alien (b. 1990, Ukraine) is a staunch cosmopolitan. In her works, she combines elements of different times and cultural communities, thus pointing to the absence of the need for separation, and labeling, to the fact that together all people and nature form a common organism. The art of Elen Alien expresses the unity of the sacred, natural and aesthetic, in their striving for a common goal. Her research unfolds at the points of contact between nature and humans, again addressing questions that people have tried in vain for centuries to find answers to with the help of science and technology. In her artistic practice, the artist tries to "preserve forever" the elusive beauty of the moment. Combining the tenderness of flowers and the hardness of epoxy resin, she reveals the ambivalence of glorifying the beauty of imperfection and contrasts art with digital immortality.
I believe that our world has a dual structure - physical and metaphysical components. Thereby, everything that forms it: plants, animals, people and objects are designed the same way, everything spreads energy. To emphasize this vision in my practice I create finished products having an element of life on their own represented in natural materials - plants and mold. In this sense, my artistic practice can be attributed to the ideas of animism, Shinto religion, and the contemporary philosophical branch called "object-oriented ontology" with the idea of empathy towards things. You can always find traces of aging and damage in my sculptures and paintings, reminding the scars on the body, which also make my artworks alive. For me, any drawback, like a trace of the inexorable elusiveness of time, and proof of experienced involvement, is a tool of self-identification, opposing the immortality of art to digital immortality.
The main question of my art is “What does it mean to be alive?”. My research is addressing questions that people have unsuccessfully tried in vain for centuries to find answers to with the help of science and technology. As a metamodernist artist, I believe that we could find an answer in non-obvious fields. I refer to different sources from psychology to mythical traditions to understand who I am, and how our world functions to build healthy relationships with it. The metamodernist manifesto says “Just as science strives for poetic elegance, artists might assume a quest for truth. All information is grounds for knowledge, whether empirical or aphoristic, no matter its truth-value. We should embrace the scientific-poetic synthesis and informed naivety of magical realism. Error breeds sense.”. I cannot agree more.
Engaging plants in my creative process began by reusing waste from buckets that were gifted to me before my move to Moscow in 2013 as an attempt to save the memory of the moment. My full-time artistic career started when I moved to Denmark in 2020, since then I have lived in all Scandinavian countries and inherited their sustainable approach to nature that I have always appreciated. I work with flowers and other materials that are usually going to waste to underline that what is important for real is not what is imposed and to show that we should appreciate what we already have, even if it is considered invaluable in society. I have found a similar approach to the material in the practice of my contemporary Marcin Rusak. I enjoy playing with the idea of value by placing my objects on the floor instead of the wall or using waste as gold, for example. Currently, I also collect leaves and petals from the streets in the appropriate season, which makes me closer to nature and therefore - to my inner essence. For me, it is important to be involved in all stages of creation to get the right experience. I take objects out of their natural cycle, elevating them to the status of immortality, idealizing them, making a semblance of the infinite out of the finite, following the romantic ideas of poet Novalis and his redefinition of the ordinary. He identifies the real world as a fairy tale, where everything ordinary is miraculous, while the miraculous, in turn, is ordinary.
I explore the neo-romantic aesthetic and philosophy, which perceive art as the sincerest form of understanding and exploring the world. My artworks express the unity of religion, nature, and aesthetics, in their striving for a common goal, with the focus on the interplay with the concept of time and oscillation between opposites. The way Azuma Makoto works with the same concept inspires me, but I am trying to "preserve forever" the elusive beauty of the moment from real life imagining that it is possible. In a historical sense, my art could be contextualized as a metamodernistic approach to Japanism and European romanticism, in a phenomenal sense – as the continuation of the traditional concept of "a sensitivity to ephemera" with its aesthetics of imperfection and attention to temporality. I appreciate the Japanese vision of beauty - blurred, unsaturated images, with the traces of time playing with the pale light in the shadow.
I celebrate the beauty of imperfection in my artworks to show that this is how real life looks like, it has never been ideal, its beauty consists of changes and imperfections. Only through the deep acceptance of that fact, we can reach harmony inside. In contemporary Western culture, people usually feel that there is a perfect world somewhere and we have been banished from it. This feeling, based on the central myth in our culture about the Garden of Eden, causes us to be unable to reach satisfaction in our endless striving for unreachable perfection. My position here could be illustrated with the quote of Novalis: “The imagination places the world of the future either far above us, or far below, or in a relation of metempsychosis to ourselves. We dream of traveling through the universe—but is not the universe within ourselves?”
I investigate fading plants’ decorative and symbolic properties, their intertextuality, transformative qualities, energy and mood. I explore contrasts by combining flowers’ tenderness with the hardness of epoxy resin, thereby defining and uniting opposites, revealing the duality of being: “Days of honey, days of onions”. I confront and merge opposites into an innovative visual language, which can be defined as a continuation of “memento mori” and “vanitas” traditions in art, reminding people of the ephemeral essence of life. The surprising appearance flowers acquire in mold or under the resin top provides me with an expressive, emotional, and endlessly varying medium to show the decay and the death as the inevitable part of the life process. Beuys’ concept of the freedom of accident and the ability to do whatever you want suits me a lot in this sense, as well as his belief in the healing properties of art. The working process itself, its randomness, and errors resulting from experimentation are important to my artistic practice, it shows me often that we can not control everything, and thereby there are things we should accept and just live with them.
In the essay on Japanese aesthetics “In Praise of Shadows” written by Junichirō Tanizaki the main difference between the Westerners and Orientals is defined as that Orientals accept reality as it is, while the Westerners always want to upgrade it. The understanding of this concept can be very illuminating for our daily lives. I aim to fill the gap in the western culture with acceptance through my art practice, as I feel its relief power myself. We want to have heaven, but we cannot have it right now. The longing we express drives us toward union. United in the desire to recreate heaven in our world we form the best part of humanity. We need to build inner rods accepting both the impermanence of life and the sad feelings we experience about it.
This is something modern European culture will never tell us, that is why here I will refer to the mystical syllogism from Kabbalah. It says that all the creation of our being is originally one vessel of divine light that was then broken. We are living now in the world after that break, divine shards of light are still around us, and our goal is to pick them up to discover the light wherever we can. Everyone will notice different shards, and mine has always been connected with pain. If my art was music, it would be the song by Kylie Minogue & Nick Cave “Where the Wild Roses grow”, or its video clip, which reflects the transformation of pain into beauty.
The tradition of transforming pain into beauty has been with humanity for centuries, while in contemporary western culture, we do not have even a language for longing. In psychology, all negative aspects of mood can be explained as depression only, but “bad” emotions are also necessary to experience, and they could be beautiful, too. People are forced to be happy and successful all the time, it is ashamed to complain, but it is not natural at all. Squeezed by the social norms and demands of the material world people become the slaves of the system and have forgotten how to feel, and how to live fully. Figuring out that the world is dual; we have started to pay more attention to the spiritual part of us again, referring to traditions, rituals, practices, nature, religions and art. It is the New Renaissance, and the aesthetical aspect will have a high value again and the unfinished discussion about eternal values will be continued to balance us.
In my artistic practice, I do not seek to express an active political or social position; My artistic optics are directed inwards: where inner sensations or conversations emerge. To illustrate my position better I will use a Novalis’s quote: “The external world is the world of shadows—it throws its shadow into the realm of light. At present this realm certainly seems to us so dark inside, lonely, shapeless. But how entirely different it will seem to us—when this gloom is past, and the body of shadows has moved away. We will experience greater enjoyment than ever, for our spirit has been deprived.”
I see no reason to impose anything on a viewer living in a world oversaturated with information. I create art as a filter to mute this external noise using the psychoanalytic method. My visual language endows the work with a meditative effect in order to immerse the viewer deep into himself, to give the necessary silence and emptiness, to learn the secret laws of life through the art’s mirror, the Other, to search for the inner constant in a fickle and changeable world. My artworks are filled with small details: cracks and veins of dry petals, mold spots, bubbles, and streaks in epoxy resin. Watching these details carefully, the viewer flows into a meditative state. To enhance the relaxing effect I use natural motives like melting or cracking ice, waves on the water, wind, etc. I create an aesthetic experience at the subconscious level because I think that rational thinking somehow leads to the iteration of imposed clichés. My art is a magic, a transformation of pain into beauty, an inner rod, a way to live, to change reality, influence people’s vision, and travel through time.
Born in Kremenchuk, USSR in 1990, Elen Alien's artistic journey began at 7-years in Novokuznetsk, Russia. From studying in the art school for 10 years, she went on to complete a degree in architecture in Novosibirsk. After completing her diploma she moved to Moscow where she continued her eclectic practice combining interior architecture, graphic design, art, and illustration. After a decade dedicated to experiments, Elen Alien was relocated to Denmark first, then to Sweden, where she decided to devote herself to contemporary art only. Currently, she lives and works in Oslo, Norway.