This weekend Laura Kikauka and hubby are hosting the Electric Eclectics festival at the Funny Farm in Meaford. This is a not-to-be-missed event. A serious hipster fest right in the heart of rural Grey County. Check out our interview with the ever-inspiring Laura Kikauka.
It’s tough to concentrate at Meaford’s Funny Farm. The home and studio of Laura Kikauka is wall-to-wall visual stimuli: beads, records and wigs of every colour hang throughout. Christmas lights, teddy bears and mannequins cover the floor. Tie dyed sheets, plastic dolls and costume jewelry complete the visual assault. To a neat freak with OCD, this house looks like a day-glo episode of Hoarders. For Kikauka and husband Gordon Monahan, the house is as much a living space and studio as it is an ever-evolving installation.
For the past 25 years Kikauka’s work has spread between mediums: installation, mixed media, electronic sculpture, drawing, photography, video, performance, the list goes on. In her self-written bio she says her, “‘excessive aesthetic’ is comparable to urban archaeology and addresses issues of consumer culture, and the question of good and bad taste. It also celebrates failure in a humorous and ironic manner.”
Kikauka graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1984 and has exhibited her work throughout North America and Europe ever since. Along with Monahan, she hosts the annual Electric Eclectics festival, a weekend of what they call “irritainment,” that is not to be missed.
ML: So what kind of artist are you?
Laura Kikauka: I don’t even go for that, but yeah, I’ll say I’m between, I guess, one term is installation, or performance, but I don’t do it as such, and then the other term we use for the festival is “irritainment,” so I’m an “irritainment specialist” or… so many mediums. To make it simple I often say “visual.” Like if I was at customs, I would say “visual artist.”
ML: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
LK: Immediately. There was no wasting time. It was not even a choice. I thought maybe I should try some other stuff, try a job or whatever, but, always, always.
My father was an artist too, but not just with visuals: with writing, his style, his humour, everything was art in that way. And my mom too, supported that. She is more of a philosopher.
I had a cave room as a kid, it had white walls and I slowly started drawing on them. Instead of getting me in trouble, [my parents] encouraged it. And I also think it was a language thing. I didn’t speak English until I was three. So if I had problems communicating, I could always draw it.
ML: What language did you speak?
ML: Do you get inspiration from the country?
LK: Constantly. I’m like the kid that turns over the rock and looks at the ants. Which is ironic, because the outcome probably doesn’t seem that way. It may be in conflict with it, but they always imitate each other. The quiet is what I like the most.
ML: Who are your influences?
LK: Many, many. Of course, first and foremost, my father. He painted a lot. But he did multimedia as well, like collage, sculptural work, and he wrote science fiction novels in Latvian. The buildings he built here, I call it architorture. He built everything here singlehandedly. So that’s generally an obvious one. But then in art school, I would say it started with Jean Tinguely, he did all kinds of simple sculptures with motors. Then with Norman White and all kinds of electronic art. Then I met all kinds of people by doing that line of work and travelling with it. People like Jim Wining and Matt Heckert, Survival Research Group and all of that. That was the ‘80s. The other influences aren’t people. It’s like lifestyle, art, experiences, nature. But also just having great friends that are also great artists, it’s so amazing.
ML: How do you get ideas?
LK: For me it’s always an accident. Like one guy showed me a photograph of Damien Hirst’s crystal skull (For the Love of God) and he goes, “Isn’t this beautiful?” and I go, “Yeah, it is, but first of all, he didn’t make it himself, he manufactured it.” And I said, “I can make you one.” And I found this skull and I started making them all jewel-covered in cheap costume jewelry, it went on and on and on. A lot of them sold. It was a parody of course, because Hirst’s skull was the most expensive artwork ever produced. So I thought, I’m offering the low-budget one and I played around with the name a bit and called it Damien’s Worst, for the Love of Gaud and all that stuff, and he’s the kind that would actually sue you, so I thought I better be careful…
And I thought oh, this is what I’ll do for the rest of my life, but then I had the offer for this solo show in Toronto and then, just goofing around last winter, I was trying some stuff and I kind of glued this laminated poem onto a painting and then at some point, I thought of a lyric and tried it on something else, and then it just released this euphoric thing and now it’s like 300 or so later… it’s really fun.”
ML: What’s the meaning behind this new work?
LK: It’s multi-faceted. What I really love about music in general, with lyrics is how it relates to everyone, all walks of life. Whether it’s a memory of the song, like there’s certain sentimental significance for people. That message is so great. Like a lot of artists, I went through a lot of phases of multimedia, for me it was poetry, I was writing poetry and then I’d think, if I can appropriate these, why can’t I appropriate those? It’s kind of like sampling. And it’s what you sample and where you put it that is my challenge. Sometimes it’s personal too.
I think any artist does that – communicates something from themselves. I don’t think there’s such a thing where you create a piece of art that doesn’t reflect something that you’re going through in life. Or something you’re thinking of.
And the other part of it, being a DJ (like everybody else) I love music, love musicians, it’s a perfect combo of those worlds: music and visual art. I hear them.
ML: How do you make a living?
LK: I have two commercial galleries that sell my work. The [Electric Eclectics] festival is just a break-even kind of thing. But living in the country is way cheaper than the city and also the resources are incredible. So you can be creative without a big budget.