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Gender, Brutalism, and Performance: A Look into the World of Adrian Kiss
NCO 020

Adrian Kiss, a contemporary artist born in Romania, has developed a distinctive artistic language that delves into the duality between sensuality and rationality, the interplay of strength and softness, and the exploration of gender and societal roles. His upbringing in two former socialist countries influences his affinity for Brutalist architecture and postmodernism. In his work, the human body finds itself abstracted and reconstructed through various materials and shapes, creating an erotic tension between the art piece and the viewer.

Through his exploration of juxtaposing materials and shapes, Kiss challenges societal norms around masculinity and gender inequality. His fascination with fashion and design fuels his innovative use of materials and desire to create objects that interact with the human body.

Kiss's future projects aim to delve deeper into the concepts of excavation and decontextualization. He envisions creating large-scale archaeological excavation sites that expose the remains of unknown civilizations, challenging the observer's perception of time and reality.

In his work, Adrian Kiss constructs a narrative that invites the viewer to ponder the intricate connections between our environment, personal history, and the human experience. His installations, with their deliberate use of materials and forms, offer an immersive journey that encourages us to confront and redefine our own understandings of identity, society, and the world around us.

N: Hi Adrian, how are you feeling and what are you working on these days?

A: Hey, thanks for asking. I'm a little anxious these days, but happy and motivated overall. I'm currently working on a new solo exhibition for Vunu Gallery (Slovakia) titled "Burial" and curated by Lilla Lipusz. I'll be showing new textile-based objects and metal installations that have been on the shelf as sketches for years, waiting for the right venue to be hosted at.

The exhibition space at Vunu Gallery used to be an indoor swimming pool; the walls and floor are uniform concrete, creating a perfect blank canvas for the new structures and materials I'm combining. The visitors of the exhibition will descend into this otherworldly atmosphere where enigmatic textile bodies lie on the ground or hang from tall metal frames.

The central piece of the exhibition is the monumental work titled "Stomach." The opening of this gigantic spherical clay container, situated at about eye level, pierces through the quilted and folded black leather that stands in front of it. Inside the container, there is an amplifier murmuring a deep sound, while a fan is gently blowing air through the opening. The position of the mouth forces the viewer to look into the dark empty void, from which the sound and the breeze come.

N: Your textile installations emanate a strong erotic tension, as hyper-masculine torsos seem to emerge from soft quilted fabrics. How does the stereotypical correlation between strength and manhood inform your work? Are you playing around with the idea that men are actually "softer" than they look?

A: I'm often playing with juxtaposing objects, materials, and shapes that might have opposite values; hence, the masculine quilt design on soft leather. In general, I'm playing with the roles of men in our society. With this, I'm interested in creating some sort of tension that makes the concept of the work visible.

There is a sexual tension, and often questions about gender, in my work. This has more to do with my own personality—me trying to find my place in this world and answering what it means to be a man today.

It is also my own reflection of the (gender) inequality that, unfortunately, still shapes our world.

N: You were born in Romania a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union. You then moved to Hungary and finally London. I perceive a deep influence of Brutalism and Soviet architecture in your work, would that be accurate? How do your cultural roots influence your work?

A: Yes, that's true. I spent my childhood and my adolescent years in two former socialist countries. I have strong memories from Romania, admiring the simple geometry and materials of the postmodern architecture. Growing up in a small mining city, Bălan, I was surrounded with concrete panel blocks, overground gas and water pipes, monumental public buildings, and squares, all in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains. Retrospectively, this all seems very utopian; I had a great time. In my work, this relation of material and shape is primal, almost functional. Everything is deliberate, planned, and has a purpose. In contrast to this industrial environment, having had the Carpathians close, I now draw much energy from nature. I'm still exploring how I could use this inspiration better. In the future, I would like to put more emphasis on the use of natural elements and possibly outdoor exhibition sites.

N: You have expressed a fascination for the idea of "decay'' before. Some of your works also remind me of artists like Ben Sang, who seem to have pushed the relevance of apocalyptic aesthetics into the cultural zeitgeist. What draws you to the idea of decay, and how optimistic are you about the future of our planet?

A: A somewhat new direction in my practice is to create objects with particular attention to how they interact with time: they transform, decay, and fuse as time passes. I find this performative quality very interesting. My interest with this might also be directly correlated to my childhood memories: playing in rubbish, attending the Sunday mass at the local Orthodox church, or looking through the debris of my grandparents' burnt stable.

Here, I was finding objects out of their original context (rubbish). I was the audience of performative actions I couldn’t relate (church) and found stuff I couldn’t recognise (debris). These are the values I try to recreate in my new work.

Along with the performative aspect of the change of objects through time, I’m also interested in the performative nature of the observer. The passing of time is not only documented on the materials of objects, but it can also be detected in how the observer changes through time. As our cultures and languages are in continuous change, our interpretation of objects cannot stay the same. This idea of performativity is something I’m currently working on, researching semiotics and trash found on the internet.

Regarding our planet’s future, I’m not so optimistic. But it might just be the bad weather making me melancholic.

N: There is a strong sense of "style" to your work. I could easily picture an AdrianKiss X Insert_Fashion_Label collaboration in the future...How does fashion inform your work?

A: Yes, and thank you! I am looking forward to a collaboration with a fashion label. There were initiations in the past, but I haven't found a dedicated partner yet. During my time at CSM, I did feel like a frustrated fashion student, wanting to design garments yet being forced to do fine art. Fortunately, I did find my way around.

In my creative work, I combine the contemplative mindset of contemporary visual artists with the controlled design processes typically applied by designers. The discoveries made by fashion designers, as well as industrial designers and architects, often inspire my work.

The examination of other disciplines is a valuable tool for me with which I can look into how objects, materials, and shapes intersect the human body.

N: Any favorite designers?

A: Recently, Ann Demeulemeester. But I never really had any favorites.

N: Lastly, what is next for you Adrian?

A: A future grand project I wish to work on deals with the idea of excavation. My aim is to build a large-scale archaeological excavation site to expose the remains of an unknown civilization. Archaeological findings are, in a way, dehistoricized through their time spent isolated, and I’m interested in this notion of “decontextualisation”. Being abstracted through degradation and our flux in cultures and languages, these artifacts become empty vessels.

I am currently at the stage of researching and gathering ideas. This project is truly large scale. It is a performance and land art piece at once, incorporating the digging process, ephemeral compositions, textile works, and metal structures.

All images courtesy of Adrian Kiss.
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