Nika Kupyrova: Creating myths of home and demons that hide within

'Head Hunter', photo: Nika Kupyrova

Nika Kupyrova has traversed Europe from East to West and back. Born in Ukraine and having grown up in Prague, she went on to study art in Edinburgh and Iceland. Now Nika lives and works in Vienna, and partly in Prague, creating installations and photographs of dream-like creatures and spaces. Currently, the young artist has an installation at the Windows Gallery in Vienna - the new art space of the Czech Center in Austria.

Nika Kupyrova,  photo: Nathaniel Murrell
I visited the articulate and spirited artists in her Vienna studio and spoke to her about her work, life and the various art scenes she has been a part of. I began by asking her to describe her art and technical approach:

“I work a lot with found materials – old furniture, old objects – objects that come from our general surroundings, often household objects, things that you would probably recognize, but some of them you may be seeing for the first time. So I take the things that we know and put them together in a different way and try to bring out their hidden qualities and hidden associations.

“My recent inspiration come from mythology and contemporary mythology. I’ve tried to re-create traditional mythological characters using contemporary materials and associations.

“In terms of technique, I combine photography and sculpture. I create sort of photo-sculptures. They are compositions created specifically to be photographed and they are taken apart after the photo shoot. So, the final artwork is a photograph. I also do sculpture and other types of objects. When I work with space, I like to create an all-around experience that allows you to walk in the space and build your own narrative with the hints that I leave around.”

'Head Hunter',  photo: Nika Kupyrova
You now have an installation at the Windows Gallery. Can you describe what it is about?

“Originally I created this work for another exhibition, but I usually create installations in a way that they can be adapted to different places. The [Windows Gallery] space is very specific. It is kind of like a window display, but it is also closed from the back, so it gives a display cabinet of sorts that you see from the outside.

“The series, which is called Head Hunter, is made of small objects that are hanging from branches from the forest, which seem to be growing out of the wall. I was working here with mythology and the boundary between living and non-living and trying to create a new kind of being.

“The title of the series is a wordplay, similar to the way that my sculptures are a play with objects. I tried to take this expression, which became quite contemporary, to mean a person who recruits people for jobs. But at the same time I look at the other meaning as someone who actually hunts for heads.

“ I took this word from its usual context and put it into a new context, and asked who really is this headhunter. Is it a person? Is it a creature? And this led me to the creatures I created. They look a bit like heads, but it’s really hard to say, because they don’t necessary look like body parts, but more like simple creatures living their simple existence. “

'Head Hunter' exhibition in Windows Gallery,  photo: archive of the Czech Center in Vienna
You’re quite a world trotter. You’ve lived in Prague, in Edinburgh and now you’re in Vienna. Tell us a bit about how you actually got here?

“I was born in Ukraine and my family moved to Prague when I was eight years old. And it was never the same as the place where I was born, I took it as just another place where I lived. And after living in Prague, I just kept going. I moved to Scotland, and I thought ‘Why not? Why not go somewhere else?’ I just got so used to it. After Scotland, I started exhibiting more and I had a show in Vienna. And I really liked it here and I met my boyfriend here as well. So I thought ‘maybe this is a place where I would like to be for a while’. And I’ve been here since 2009.”

Do you think the movements in your life – geographically and even culturally speaking – inform your art in any way?

“I think it does. Probably not in a way that has anything to do with specific countries. For me it is more about the experience of the traveler, who doesn’t have a particular home. I kind of see this idea of home as a conservative idea of something permanent, that it is somewhere where you are born and where you live. But this concept adapts to the life of a traveler, who makes a home in different places.

'Naked Lights',  photo: Nika Kupyrova
“So, some of my work had to do with the living space and with how you make a new space into a home. Even when you move into a hotel room for a couple of days, you still put your coffee cup or your book in specific places, and you unpack your things and put them in the cupboard. So, you start to build up certain compositions around yourself and try to create a sort of comfort zone, even if it is temporary. This is the same process that you go through when you move into a flat. It’s about building a habitat.”

If we go back a little bit, you started talking about mythology and said that it plays a big role in your work. Given you diverse background, how do the different mythologies from the different places you have been combine in your work?

“I guess my interest in mythology comes from this living space and from the experience of living in a lot of different places – flats, hotels, different countries, spaces and habits. And I came to see the living space as a sort of safer, more controllable version of the outdoors.

'Drawers',  photo: Nika Kupyrova
“We try to build it around ourselves in a way that makes us feel comfortable, at the same time there are some elements which are symbolic of the outdoors. For example, we have the light on the ceiling – which is somewhat of a symbol of the light outdoors. We would feel uncomfortable without it, but at the same time we can turn it on and off, it won’t burn us, it won’t be too bright.

“And this brought me to the idea of mythology that we create. There are there elements that we create in the living space – light, water, heat – but at the same time, even though they are much more controllable, they still make the shadows in the dark corners and the spaces under the bed and all those places that phobias and demons can hide.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on April 5, 2013.