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Lealudvik: The Other of the Same

04 April 2024 > 26 April 2024 Kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition "The Other of the Same" by the art collective Lealudvik, on Thursday, 4 April at 7 p.m., to Alkatraz Gallery, ACC MEtelkova mesto. The exhibition is curated by Nina Skumavc.

When the English writer and occultist Aleister Crowley formulated his own spiritual doctrine of Thelema in The Books of the Law (1904), he highlighted the goddess Babalon, also called the Scarlet Woman, as one of the central deities. It is no coincidence that the name is reminiscent of the city of Babylon, since Crowley changes the name and the idea of ​​the prostitute of Babylon – a feminized and highly sexualised vision of evil. Babalon thus represents a liberated woman who indulges in the full range of feelings, and is also characterised by the explicit expression of her sexuality. At the turn of the century, such a figure represented the opposite of social requirements for women (purity, virtue, passivity), but is still tied to the opposite, male sex/pole. Because of this, at least since the 1990s, there has been an increasing number of criticisms of early interpretations of the goddess and the occult tradition, whilst the key to new approaches are feminism and gender studies, including the so-called 'sex wars' within the second wave of feminism, where the issue of femininity and female sexuality was an important part of the polemics.[1] The key characteristic attributed to Babalon is precisely femininity, which transcends the idea of ​​normative femininity in contemporary occultist articulations. The discourse on Babalon has thus become one of the platforms where, beyond the binary understanding of gender, by attempting to question the attributed characteristics, we can wonder how to consider various forms of femininity as independent, integrated positions; in relation to ourselves and independent of masculinity. What the artistic collective Lealudvik is interested in and which is what the very title of the exhibition refers to are alternative ways of occupying gender and sexuality, alternative femininity (and masculinity).

From the very beginning, Lealudvik have had a recognizable and refined artistic language and specific content: their work is characterised by an eclectic approach to the transformation of content and images from the (popular) occult culture of the Western European world. Through the images, they touch upon current social topics, especially gender, relationships, assigned roles and the position of the individual. The conceptual basis is the continuation of the work Teufelskreis (2018).[2] The vicious circle, in Slovenian terms, talks about the image of being trapped in socially determined gender roles and the capitalist system – 'the protagonist's endless crawling in a repetitive clip ... represents the inability to escape from the rigid systems and rituals in which we are brought up'.[3] In this video at the screening, the protagonist is dressed in a robe, on which a multiplied image of her naked body is printed. The materiality of the robe can be associated with ceremonial clothes, whereas the gesture of undressing is reminiscent of the shedding of the skin, which can be understood either as a symbolic martyrdom or a moment of transformation, which, however, does not culminate in catharsis or bring salvation. Red is the colour of the Scarlet Woman's clothes, the colour of blood and the symbolism connected with it, and the video performance itself assumes the form of a ritual, where it is not so much about invoking the goddess, but rather about bringing her context as a possible platform for reflection. By means of exaggerated appropriation, Lealudvik collective predominantly aims to open up questions about social constructs and the entrenchment of rigid systems, which are also present in the occult. With this, the artists continue the practice of (self)purification through ritual gestures and query the roles and limitations that determine modern relationships, including their intimate partnership, meanwhile thinking outside the framework of heteronormativity. A constant in their methodology is also a free recapitulation of symbols and creation of their own symbols, which is even more noticeable in graphic works – printed textiles – banners that surround the video and the object – the robe.

On the ten banners in different shades of red there are depicted symbols that are the authors' adaptation of tarot cards. The two main cards, the devil and the tower (from the so-called major arcana), were chosen and the authors understand them as symbols of patriarchy, capitalism (the devil) and their destruction (the tower), which is also evident from their visual image. The remaining eight cards, which served as the basis for the images, were drawn randomly from the set of cards. The minimalistic, graphically designed images feature the symbols of chalices, swords, wands and coins (minor arcana), supplemented in places with the authorial photo. The use of the system and the room for coincidence open up the possibility of additional meanings in further interpretation, both by the viewer and their own (tarot cards can also be described as a tool for introspection and finding answers to questions about oneself). We could say that in their integrally designed placements, the artists want to indicate artificial and conservative constructs as well as binary perception that create our reality, both on the spiritual and intimate relational or individual level. After all, the Scarlet Woman symbolizes a way of approaching life, whereas the dilemmas of actual liberation can also be discerned in the presence of a naked body, which is also regularly present in the works of the Lealudvik collective. If at the turn of the century positive (as opposed to misogynistic) images of femininity and women's desire for pleasure were marginalized, today sexualised images of femininity abound in popular culture and advertising, as a result of which women are subjected to a double stigma – of being too much or too little sexualised. A naked body is not (necessarily) an invitation or provocation. The role of Babalon is thus not exclusively magical or ritualistic, but rather refers to the roles of women in society more broadly; by transcending gender and sexual norms, it is associated with queer and trans themes and gender non-binaries (the meaning of femininity is not limited to cis or trans women). As the primary space of mystical experience (within Western esotericism), the body is extremely important, which is the reason why the feminized deity, the worshipping of the (female) body, which is historically defamed, is one of the paths towards a different perception and the beginning of awareness, of occupying one's own space. The discourse on Babalon does not offer a single ideal of femininity, but rather opens up a flexible space where different understandings of femininity can be articulated and challenged. When we overcome the socially constructed gap between religion, science and magic – the latter does not belong to the world of rationality, but basically originates in underprivileged social groups (lower social classes, women, people of colour) – we can also include the field of magic in the narrative for the purpose of achieving greater equality or transcending social norms.

Nina Skumavc


 

Lealudvik (2013) is an artistic collective, consisting of two artists, namely: Lea Jelenko (1986) and Matjaž Komel (1987). Lea Jelenko graduated from the Department of Textiles and Graphic Arts and Design at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering in Ljubljana, majoring in graphic and interactive communication, while Matjaž Komel graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, majoring in visual communication. They are active both in the field of visual art and graphic design as well as in the field of zine production. They participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions, including: V. Independent Biennial (Kino Šiška, 2015), ZineZine (Gallery P74, 2016), Zins! Contemporary zine production (International Centre of Graphic Arts, 2017), Watch out! wet print! In the waters on Leviathan (Tam-Tam street gallery, curated by MGLC, 2017) and Photo book and photo zine (DobraVaga Gallery, 2018), Four Eyed Monster (Kino Šiška, 2018), OFF THE HOOK | Crude: Body, Colour, Realism (ISBN Gallery+Books, 2018), AIR4 [100 artists] [100 artworks] (Ravnikar Gallery Space, 2019), As it is, so be it (Škuc Gallery, 2020), Based on real events. Duck Festival 2022:Spaces and articulations of sexuality (Celje Centre for Contemporary Arts, 2022), I've seen the future baby, it's sexy (Škuc Gallery, 2022), Lealudvik: Piazza (interior mural, Kino Šiška, 2022), I've seen the future baby, it's sexy (KULA Cultural Centre, 2023).

[1]  For an overview of the history and contemporary interpretations of the goddess Babalon within Western esotericism, Manon Hedenborg White's publication entitled The Eloquent Blood: The Goddess Babalon and the Construction of Femininities in Western Esotericism (Oxford University Press, 2020) is of key importance.

[2]  The work was exhibited at the solo exhibition Lealudvik: As it is, so be it, 23 January — 20 February 2020, Škuc Gallery.

[3]  Tia Čiček, author of the text accompanying the exhibition Lealudvik: As it is, so be it, 23 January — 20 February 2020, Škuc Gallery.

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Curated by: Nina Skumavc
Production: KUD Mreža/Galerija Alkatraz
Proof-reading of Slovene: Sonja Benčina
Translation to English: Ana Makuc
Photographies of the exhibition by: Nada Žgank.
The programme of Alkatraz Gallery is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and City Council Ljubljana.