GS Artists: Anja Stenina

You Know What I Mean – Installation walkthrough

The work of Anja Stenina is concerned with the agency of marginalised members of society within the semiotic authority of dominant culture. 

An interview with Anja Stenina

You know what I mean – Solo show by Anja Stenina at GS Artists Swansea 2020

In this installation, the artist explores the breakdown of communication between ideological positions. “You know what I mean” exemplifies the way in which discourse is broken, limited without elaboration or resolution. She uses metaphysical personifications of the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces to symbolise antithetical ideological perspectives at a point of impasse and physically locates the viewer within the grey area between binary standpoints.


2019 UWTSD Joint Mres Degree Exhibition 

What would Mother say?

The artist presents a range of vignettes exploring aspects of the symbolic abuse that resides within our everyday lives. Seeking the myth within the mundane, she playfully re-examines situations and stories that are generally taken for granted. Positioning her work within a child-like framework of fairy tales, games and song, Anja tests the resilience of symbolic expressions of authority and dominant culture.

(…) 

It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. 

Death he’s ready for, or murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood… 

No, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse… 

Not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left. 

(…)The Shoelace, by Charles Bukowski


The Mule 
1.8m video piece.

The silhouetted figure of The Mule in the video is quoting the story of Pinocchio when he tells his unfortunate tale of becoming a donkey and being sold to the circus and forced to perform for the circus owner:

“Know, then, that, once upon a time, I was a wooden Marionette, just as I am today. One day I was about to become a boy, a real boy, but on account of my laziness and my hatred of books, and because I listened to bad companions, I ran away from home. One beautiful morning, I awoke to find myself changed into a donkey-long ears, gray coat, even a tail! What a shameful day for me!

I hope you will never experience one like it, dear Master. I was taken to the fair and sold to a Circus Owner, who tried to make me dance and jump through the rings. One night, during a performance, I had a bad fall and became lame. Not knowing what to do with a lame donkey, the Circus Owner sent me to the market place and you bought me.”

Quote from Pinocchio: The story of one marionette by C.Collodi

The story is told in the interwoven voices of a child, man and woman. The voices speak in a confessional, traumatised tone. The silhouetted, anthropomorphised figure appropriates the anonymous victims’ confession. The figure represents the marginalized members of society, telling a story of mundane symbolic abuse. 


Almost There…
1.35m video piece.

In this video piece Stenina looks into the disconnect of stereotypical cultural tropes with the everyday burden of living in contemporary society. She attempts to visualize the impact of the archetypical representations upon social identification. The artist explores the construction of the hero narrative and its effect on our wellbeing. Starting from performative sculpture, Stenina uses common figures such as the music box ballerina and drummer boy to present a narrative of contemporary conflict. In the video, at the first glance, figures appear to be static, but upon closer examination, the viewer can notice that the figures are balancing under tension in very uncomfortable poses. 

The soundscape accompanying the piece is a mix of the sound of a toy drummer boy,  the sound of a music box and the ambient sounds of the gym in the background.

The artist is investigating whether we are shaped by the role of the character or we have the ability to direct and step outside the story.


Congratulations!
2.29m video piece

The video piece displays the Buzzer game where a disturbing sound pops up if the ring touches the metal. In the video, an anonymous figure is playing the game, and upon the touch the buzzing sound appears with an authoritative voice (male, white, American) proclaiming:

Congratulations! You are no longer a virgin!

Congratulations! You’ve got the job!

Congratulations! You’ve got the promotion!

Stenina explores the symbolic authority of such phrases as “Congratulations!” and with the help of the toy adds tension to these phrases, highlighting their authoritative and ‘encratic nature’.


The Wheels of Abuse 
1.32m audio piece

The familiar nursery rhyme tune of the ‘Wheel on the bus’ is appropriated in the ‘Wheels of abuse’ piece, placed into a karaoke set-up. The intimate sound of a mother-like voice is singing the song with the lyrics changed into a ‘black comedy’ sketch.  The scenarios of ‘symbolic abuse’ that are commonly encountered in everyday life are sang out. 

The wheels of abuse go round and round

round and round

round and round

The wheels of abuse go round and round

all day long

The chivalrous man says let me help

let me help

let me help

The chivalrous man says let me help

all day long

The patriotic man asks where are you from

where are you from

where are you from

The patriotic man asks where are you from

all day long

The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry 

boys don’t cry

boys don’t cry

The mother on the bus says boys don’t cry 

all day long

The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute

isn’t she cute

isn’t she cute

The lady on the bus says isn’t she cute

all day long

The men on the bus say smile smile smile

smile smile smile

smile smile smile

The men on the bus say smile smile smile

all day long

The wheels of abuse go round and round

round and round

round and round

The wheels of abuse go round and round

all day long

Much of marginalisation resides in the inherent and implied, the assumed. Stenina analyses the structural relations of both inequality and domination that arguably reinforce social marginalization. The artist examines examples of ‘symbolic abuse’ within everyday life and applies Barthes’ semiotic analysis to a contemporary context. 


Jobseeker, 2014 – Jobseeker portrays the reality behind modern employment; the fear of uncertainty and the social and economic constraints on one’s professional potential.