The Secret of Zolitude Swamp
By Rosanna Stevens
To find Katrina Bolshakova’s studio, you have to walk through what looks like someone else’s dream – tables filled with pieces of a miniature world: tiny robots, levers, reel-to-reel tape machines, being assembled and laid out by a team of full-sized humans. As we walk through the remnants of a little world strewn across tables, Katri explains that she rents her studio from the Director of a stop motion studio. The animation team scans the miniature objects they have made by hand, and transfers them to the digital world, so they can create video games. Even before moving her studio here, stop motion was already something Katri has begun to integrate into her practice at times: the first thing I notice when we walk into her attic-like studio, is a series of cloth panels pinned to a board with various stages of a glass bead flame crackling, stitched into frames, for a work she and John (her romantic friend and other half of Attitude Apoteket) are animating.
Her studio is, itself, a world, adorned with whitewashed wardrobes, a white ceiling, white walls, a canvas hammock knotted onto the ceiling’s structures. ‘That is the mood in the studio: everything is very DIY, and connected by strings and hands,’ Katri explains. She observes that these sentiments spill into the work she does. But the clincher of her studio – and the giveaway in terms of her approach to her work – is in the details of the room. There’s an old sewing box stool pulled open to display three dimensional glass beaded flowers, chokers and floral headbands she has prototyped, a large working table laden with the intricate stitch and beadwork, a desk with a computer, clothes she is designing and stitching glass beaded words into hanging from bare beams above us, draws, tables, and bookshelves neatly ordered with analogue elements of her history and memory, such as diaries and journals, a table tiled with photographs, and stacks of fabrics on a stool.
Katri can pinpoint this practice of collecting creatively and purposefully to fourth grade – the same time she changed schools and started writing diaries. These two childhood beginnings are intertwined: her first-ever diary entry details a class she began to take at her new school called ‘Developing Your Creative Abilities.’
‘We only had a few years with it before it was taken off the curriculum, but it was a great class.’ Katri explains. ‘One summer we had to make a collection of stones and fossils. Another summer we had to set an experiment about growing your own butterflies. So I was growing several kinds of caterpillars to become butterflies. Many of them developed. One became infected with parasites - all these flies started coming out. I found this huge caterpillar - nobody knew what it was. We waited for it to become dormant, but it died – honestly probably because I carried it around too much. But I think that’s where this fascination came from; collecting things: bus tickets, matchboxes. Because of that I started writing my diaries and my dreams.’
ZOLITUDE SWAMP, her upcoming exhibition with AARHUSMAKERS at END OF THE LINE, collaborates the several labels and studios Katri has created to house her work – Attitude Apoteket, KIRSE, and Porcelanity – and uses Katri’s creative work, collections, and sleep diaries, to ask what it would be like to wake up, as an exhibition viewer, inside someone else’s dream.
‘I always entertained the idea that I’m a little psychic. So in my dream journals I would always look for commonalities between dreams and real life. If there’s this dream I had several months ago - are parts of it happening now? I have had dreams where things would happen and then in the following week, a lot of what I dreamed would actuate. I note these instances down, because it helps me believe that there’s more to the world than there seems to be.’
There was a period of time where Katri became fascinated by the idea of lucid dreaming, and began to research it, figuring that dreams would be a fantastic place to test creative ideas. The logic was that in lucid dreams you can summon whatever you want – so money, a studio space, and materials, are no longer obstacles to getting work done. She carried this concept of lucidity into the exhibition, creating a dreamscape that allows audience members to walk into a dream she has created, and offers them tactile and interactive ways to interrupt, change, and grow the dreamscape she has built into the gallery.
For example, in one element of the exhibition, Katri offers audiences a swamp: strips of clear plastic pierced with tiny rings suspended from the ceiling, and boxes filled with clippable objects she has made for audiences to select from and add to the swamp.
But why the name ZOLITUDE SWAMP?
‘Zolitude is literally the name of the district in Riga, Latvia where I grew up. It only dawned on me a year ago that it’s actually the word ‘solitude’. Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure I was sublimated by the name of where I lived: it’s on the bus, the street signs - and I hadn’t thought about it consciously until last year.’ She explains.
‘Zolitude feels like a canvas. I grew up reading a lot of romantic books and being naive, and living in a place like Zolitude - post-Soviet, brutalist and falling apart - really grew my love for juxtaposition. And that’s something I use in everything: in expressing myself, in talking to people. I say nice things in a rude manner. I’ll make a really pretty dress but put a word on in that you could not interpret nicely - things like that.’
‘And Latvia has so many swamps - if you think of things that are very descriptive of a country then for me, ours would be swamps, beer, and singing.’
The swamps captivated and terrified Katri as she grew up in Zolitude, which also, at some point used to be a swamp.
‘I was fascinated by the swamp lakes, and how long it takes for a swamp lake to form. We have these nature trails that are a walking train with wood planks, and they go for 1-3kms, and really long ones for 10-15kms, and you just walk around a circle that takes up the whole perimeter of the swamp. There is signage explaining each particular swamp and its ecosystems. It takes hundreds of years for any lake to form in a swamp. It’s so scary, but so fascinating at the same time.’
‘My dad is a hardcore fisherman, so he’d take us fishing, or he’d go and I’d trail along. And sometimes he’d go through swampy areas - but there’s this feeling to not knowing if a place where you put your feet is going to be safe or not: and thinking about the bottom: some places just… did they even have a bottom?’
The sense of eerie otherworldliness given to Katri through her childhood of Zolitude and swamplands, is threaded into the tone and language she uses to describes these places: always calm, always distant, yet fond.
‘So to me,’ She adds, ‘A swamp is also how you describe any persons dream world.’
The work is laden with these elements: the place she grew up, hand-crafted glass jewelry and couture, photos, outtakes from diary entries, retro games, dream journals, animation, swamps. It stitches and stitches into itself until it’s a singular piece: a cohesive, ephemeral dream belonging to the artist, that you’re invited to step into and change. That’s the secret of ZOLITUDE SWAMP: it is a real place – it’s Katri.
ZOLITUDE SWAMP runs from JUNE 6-June 30 — learn more here