|Irina Urumova has a knack for conveying the liminal in experience and culture; this talent was abundantly evident at a recent exhibition of her work at the Broadway Gallery, her first solo in New York City. This show, aptly titled kids:cute:sinister, offered a portrait of prepubescent desire as a Never Never Land where innocence, violence, and pop imagery perversely intersect.|
Christine Kennedy on Irina Urumova
Irina Urumova has a knack for conveying the liminal in experience and culture; this talent was abundantly evident at a recent exhibition of her work at the Broadway Gallery, her first solo in New York City. This show, aptly titled kids:cute:sinister, offered a portrait of prepubescent desire as a Never Never Land where innocence, violence, and pop imagery perversely intersect. Urumova’s artistic practice is complicit in this exchange, evident in her choice of medium, computer art, her penchant for postmodern pastiche, techniques of appropriation and cartoon figures: references to pop culture, consumerism, fashion, and traditions in comics like Japanese anime are staples and thematic points of departure, but Urumova’s core preoccupation is the unsavory underbelly of desire, the liminal experience as a pop production, and she explores this from the point of view of the problematic conjunction of desire and innocence.
Her exhibition, comprising a selection of works from her series depicting mischievous comic kids, featured images that are playful and disarming, combining light-hearted humor and irreverence. Her digitally composed and computer generated images of cute comic figures, doll-like girls in pink bunny-rabbit onesies and kitty cat knit bonnets, postmodern felines prepping their way to membership in the American subconscious, subcultural waifs, sweet, feminine and feminist, are poster girls of a delinquent pop sensibility. They are narcissistic and defiant, refugees of a colorless and mundane world, inhabitants of a netherworld of obsessive, morbid, and perverse fascinations and inclinations.
Urumova’s cartoon figures are innocent deviants—think Hello Kitty as a suicide girl or a suicide girl reading Foucault reading Nietzsche. No matter how you slice it, desire is without moral judgment, neither on this side or that side of good and evil, neither transgressive nor co-opted, neither blameworthy nor notable, and, in Urumova’s vision, desire is therefore innocent. Her bemused comic girls do not reflect a loss of innocence, and there is no paradise before the fall. They are instigators and provocateurs; their game is child’s play, and child’s play does not rule out a matter-of-fact cruelty. Desire is subversive precisely because it couldn’t care less. Urumova is gaining recognition as an upcoming artist precisely because she is able to combine different sensibilities, such as that of outsider art and underground subversive comics.
Urumova’s choice of medium is significant. She deliberately eschews traditional aesthetic forms in favor of computer art—a means and method of working that allows her to import, appropriate and manipulate images—then produces Lambda prints on foam. The production process and materials she employs has allowed her to develop a distinct visual vocabulary.
Her method and choice of medium give her works an outsider status; they are not straightforward works of the comic genre, rather perverse substitutes that allude to the comic tradition and render this tradition subject to appropriation. Her works are self-referential and narrative. By layering images, she creates a distinct narrative space, collaged contexts, landscapes, and backgrounds for her comic figures.
By employing contrasting styles and aesthetic modes in a collage format, Urumova creates landscapes within landscapes; the pictorial space of representation doubles and redoubles, and the boundary between interior and exterior is blurred. Urumova employs this strategy to undermine conventions of space and distinctions of inside/outside. She manipulates proportion; her characters, with their enormous heads, are over-scaled and set against colorless and photo-realistic images, like a New York City playground in city girl goes for a walk.
In her recent series, Urumova uses her evolving vocabulary in narrative space to express a conception of “innocent desire” as a netherworld zone of the in-between. Her shifting landscapes and topologies suggest a collision of cultural narratives and the subversion of hegemonic narratives of desire. Collage is not a mere eclecticism for Urumova, but a deliberate strategy that allows her to cultivate a critical subtext, a space of negotiation and contestation, and a provocative rejection of conventions and propriety. Habitable scenes become inhabitable and vice versa.
Urumova’s cartoon figures inhabit and author these scenes; defiant and detached from their surroundings, they emit an oddly powerful vulnerability that makes them agitators of desire beyond the space of a cultural narrative of propriety. They inhabit a world of their own creation, albeit one that is imaginary, phantasmagoric, and pathologically laden in the extreme; it is a world populated by the paraphernalia of everyday life, consumer products, and ordinary objects.
The themes of narcissism, death, and sexuality form a constellation that Urumova explores through pop culture’s economy of desire. She recycles the imagery of subversive comics and pays tribute to the ubiquitous bunny in subcultures of subversive comics. The image of the bunny is recycled: assassinated bunnies, dismembered bunnies, and girls in bunny costumes. Cartoon girls in bunny costumes gaze bewilderedly at dead bunnies while icons of underground comic-lore, bunnies, become a twisted resource for a renewed idiom of desire. A desire that would take the metaphor of psychic self-mutilation, purging, and transfiguration as a source of reflection on the very nature of the liminal experience. Her images of bunny girls killing bunnies constitutes a reflexive gesture on Urumova’s part, one that does not merely reinstate a theme of subversive desire so central to the underground tradition, but supplies a reflexive commentary that bites back. Urumova offers pop a feminist rejoinder.
Fetish objects of adolescent fantasy life populate Urumova’s images. She navigates the treacherous terrain of adolescent desire, replete with its contradictory impulses and obsessions with self and identity; these girls are guileless but inquisitive deviants, narcissistic and dangerously self-absorbed. Tapping into a cultural duplicity that pretends to amnesia about its own perverse attachments, Urumova redoubles this tension. On the one hand, Urumova documents the formative power of culture on identity and conceptions of the self, the influences of pop culture imagery and fashion, and narrative of desires and, on the other hand, her “kids” are superheroes and poster girls of deviance and irreverence, oblivious to cultural and narrative constraints.