Polina by Branislav Jankic
Polina Protsenko is a interdisciplinary artist and educator, entering her second year in the MFA Performance program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her understanding of the terms object, item and material go as follows:
Object: no strong meaning; anything tactile; art term; scale (landscape)
Item: Personal; differentiate; history + personal experience
Polina is Russian-American born in Estonia, moved to Florida with her mother, and did her undergraduate program at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her undergraduate program, Studio for Interrelated Media, was based in production, social practice, community outreach, and all of the aspects that go into a performance. She has just currently finished her first year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the graduate program in performance studies. I opened this paragraph with Polina’s place of birth, and where she ended up and her schooling because they both speak to a crucial aspect of Polina’s artistic practice: her body and the need for physical contact.
Moving from one place to the next can be an exhausting experience for the body; performing is a similar experience. Using her undergraduate experience, Polina found that she searched for others to experience artistic works with her. She found that performance was a medium that allowed others to become involved with her work, and to broaden that scope of interaction and relation to an artwork through having others participate in her pieces. She finds that using items in her piece, that individuals are allowed to take home with them once a performance concludes, has a lot of vitality. The emotions and experience(s) that occurred during the performance are still found within the piece that a viewer can take home with them, and the piece allows them to recall all of those aspects when gazing/touching the piece.
The body is a powerful thing. While object / item / material / me breaks down the very objects that artists use within their practice, and how they come to embody an aspect of the artist’s identity. But, what happens when an artists uses their body to represent the embodied?
Polina is interested in exploring the system and language that surround sex positivity, girlhood and the agency that the body has. This developed out of a search for what creates shame, why and where we experience it, by whom and how to alter the perception of one’s own place within the society to act and be the way we truly deserve to be seen and treated. There is an understanding of how shame about the body/sex come about, a cultural phenomena, but once this is recognized, how does one handle that shame and what are the next steps?
Just a Nip, 2017. Live Performance, Video Installation. Collaboration with Genna Gmeiner
In one performance, Just a Nip, Polina created stickers that resembled voting stickers that were different photographs of nipples. Along with this was a video interview series of different people, and it was just images of their chests (some wear shirts, and others do not). The piece was meant to create a discussion around the shaming of the female nipple, and by handing out these anonymous nipple stickers, there was a saturation of the nipple into the world that was a means of normalizing it.
The use of the nipple sticker as object had the potency to bring about a discussion surrounding the shaming of women's bodies, and the similar idea of focusing on an object but using the body as a catalyst to bring the idea forward can be found in Polina’s piece Dearly Intimate. Intimacy is a concept that is tied to the timidness to voyeurism; becoming intimate with someone or with oneself, physically or even emotionally, tends to be a situation that is vulnerable. When one is vulnerable, there is a sense of urgency if things go awry to cover up those emotions; and with that, a shame complex can develop. Within Dearly Intimate, Polina (and other performers; Christopher Huizar, Sungjae Lee, Kyra Lehman, Celia Wickham) lie on the ground holding pillows. One of the main rules of the piece is to become intimate with the pillow. The association with the pillow being a space where ‘pillow talk’ occurs, a place for dreaming, place for soothing comfort through squeezing, malleable motion of inner pleasure, and its overall softness become integral to the piece as the performances begin to roll around with it, close with it - and an extension of that relational desire to someone’s touch. The caressing, the whispering, and the tenderness of the piece come together to speak about the barriers we place on intimacy, but how easy those come crashing down when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable by giving ourselves the time to do so.
Dearly Intimate, 2018. Video Performance Projection and Collective Performance
What attracts me to Polina’s performances, besides the concepts of intimacy and vulnerability being brought forward, is the idea of the body as object. I am interested in the body as medium and everyday site as the platform; the body as an artistic tool as well as a tool for action and social and behavioral change. The body, specifically a woman's body, is just as much political as it is personal. With that in mind, I see Polina’s performances, along with the use of objects, as a cacophony of materialism. The objects Polina uses are charged with an energy that she embodies within herself; they become a component of her as she performs. I think, in the most literal sense, Polina’s performances are a visual representation of object / item / material / me. It is showing how objects are an extension of who we are, and how we are in this constant state of dancing with them.
Next up // Dear Reader from Graham & announcement of exhibition details!