Sophie Utikal lives between Germany and Austria and is a visual artist and writer. She studies fine arts in the class of Ruby Sircar and Ashley Scheirl at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In her works she deals with her body, experience of migration, of being in between several worlds and reconfiguring herself all the time. firstname.lastname@example.org sofiedelutikal.tumblr.comfacebook.com/sofja4ever
SeptemberNo Stop Non Stop curated by Katja Kobolt, Lothringer 13, München
2018VBKÖ, A(r)mando Vo(i)ces Part II *Back/s together* curated by Imayna Caceres and Verena Melgarejo, ViennaHeulsuse, Kalvarienberggasse 19, ViennaSomatechnics, curated by Simone Frangi, Museion, BolzanoArchipelago, Insel des unvorhersehbaren Denkens, Into the City x Wiener Festwochen, Vienna
Book Presentation, Anti*colonial Fantasies, X Space, Kandelgasse 24, 1070 Vienna, AT Book Presentation, Kuratieren als Antirassistische Praxis, ECM, Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 2, 1010 Vienna, ATThreads of Selves, SoloshowWe Dey X Space, curated by Sunanda MesquitaVienna, ATStitching Stories, BPOC-WorkshopWe Dey X SpaceVienna, AT
Motherlands & MothertonguesBPOC-Workshop at the festival Tell TalesMainz, DENo Shame in Scheitern with Stefan HornbachPerformative installation at the festival Panama PlusMünchen, DEPMS, Textile PaintingLazy LifeVienna, AT
2016Decolonial Tarrot, Performancewith Petz Haselmayer, Gerardo Montes de OcaCantina Corazón at the festival WienwocheVienna, ATWith my thick hairGif-installation at Bibliothek AkbildVienna, ATI see a bent mountainFoto and Text at A(r)mando Vo(i)ces Bibliothek Urban Loritz Platz, Vienna, ATFlexingTextile Painting showed atVBKÖ, Vienna, ATSub-Documenta, Athens, GRCLo sentia debajo de mi pielPerformance-series at Organized Orgasms Festival, Mainz, DEBritney Festival, Schauspielhaus Köln, Köln, DEVBKÖ, Vienna, ATYou’re just jealous with Magdalena Fischer and Stefan HornbachDrachengasse, Vienna, ATAnti*colonial Fantasies with Sunanda Mesquita, Imayna Caceres, Stephanie MisaFriday Exit, Vienna, AT
2015Wurstlandwith Kollektiv EinsBerlin, DEInstitutionsaufstellungwith Helmut Draxler and moreMUMOK Vienna, ATWelcome to the Wrong Shopwith Selina Ruffing and Julia KotheBegehungen, Chemnitz, DE Grazing Hurdles with Magdalena FischerSonnenhaus, Vienna, AT
2014(don’t) breakKunstraum Niederösterreich, Vienna, AT
Lecture Perfomance Open Modes, Graz, AT
2013YORGO GOKleine Schwester Verlag, Munich, DE
Sofi Utikal – Textile Imaginations: Landscapes of Bodies and Geographies of Selvesby Peter Haselmayer, September 2017.Vienna, Stitching Worlds. The visual works of Sofi Utikal constantly circle questions of identity. In her first Solo exhibition, she contrasts topics of longing for wholeness, complexity of experiences and representation of the self.Sofi Utikal is performer, visual artist, curator and filmmaker. For her first solo exhibition in WE DEY in Vienna she is installing large-scale textile portraits. Life-size imaginations of herself cut out35, stitched and sewed together again, each of it a world of its own, appear like landscapes of bodies and geographies of selves.» Our bodies are geographies of selves made up ofdiverse, bordering and overlapping “countries”. «Gloria Evangeline Anzaldúa¹
Stitches, threads and woundsThe first questions which appear what come to my mind when I see the works are: Is every stitch a painful wound? Isn´t every stich going through the skin? Or is every stitch to heal the cracks of the fragmented body parts? Do the scars hold all parts together in the end? But if the watcher look in such a binary way they might not see the whole picture. It is not about an either/or but challenging binary oppositional ways of perception.
Puzzle, cracks and bridges. This kind of deconstructive spirit runs as a thread through the works of Sofi Utikal as the threads through the fragmented body parts holding them together to become whole again. It is forcing an ambiguity that shakes me and let me shrug while at the same time the lightness of the materiality as well as the brightness and warmness of colors let me dive into its lofty heights.
Colors, patterns and rhythmical structuresObvious or not every crack may function as a bridge too which can be read as a direct reference to Gloria E. Anzaldúa when she is speaking of the (new) Mestiza and identity. Well, the desire to disintegrate, seen in the search for an image, leading to dismembered body parts which result in patterns that point to a framework that contains a new reconstructed whole – a process Anzaldúa envisioned symbolized by Coyolxauqui, an Aztec goddess, which stand for a fragmented self. Yet, in Utikals work the conducting threads in between connect the different parts to the (back)ground. Liminalities, spaces in between highly emphasized by black diagonal stitches are visualizing both the deconstruction andreconstruction. The Methodology, the way of work, of Utikal is to depict a process of transcending, delinking and relinking herself to (re)exist.
Webs of identityUtikal designs identity relational, like when the knives on one image point to the inside and outside. It’s not about judgement, there is no opponent it’s the body itself which is fighting doubt, pain and/or awakens to a new self.
Surface, background and body landscapesThough the images seem to have no ground the figures flying like angels in a groundless space – on which a history can be written, Utikal is writing history by finding halt through emerging in the air. Well, one get a hint of a ground by reading the shapes as geographies of selves who resonates in landscapes of bodies or even the “bodymind”. This is the ground and soil where Utikal is digging and creating. It´s surface is to evoke a sensory experience through the unconscious and conscious parts and the body. The material itself is the existential investigation of substance. Digging in the soil of interiority realized as cloth.
Demons, plants and dreaming selfMarks and objects stitched on the bodies, plants growing out of bodies, uncanny and familiar feelings fuel the works by an unconscious fantastic imagery. Dreams of dreams. They are both, on the one side a collection of scattered images and on the other side a search for balance and wholeness, connecting symbols, abstract fragmented parts stitched over and over to unfold multiple layers of meaning.
Light, myth and breathWatching the works in its physicality they seem to shine from the inside as they are hanged in the from the roof installed in the room and lit from the back. Its mysterious appearance seems to be woven through with magic. Like a visual metaphor, the works are reminiscent of Vor-hänge(curtains) which use to hide something. Hanged to the outside so the interior is not to be seen. The curtain hangs in front of that which remains invisible. And yes, it is well-thought-out, the outside is created from the inside. By favoring to think about interior questions Sofi Utikal takes on the train to the space of dreams and myths. She is to create new visions of her own through the silence of the night while everything to the outside is all bright. Escaping the frame and classical western models of art. The paradigm of the canvas or framed canvas. The works have no frame, no straight end, they fade out and away. They move as the room is breathing. Like plants or trees, they are translucent and opaque, movable and permeable to air. They inhabit the spaces of the liminalities.
Self-presentation, representation and anticipationThe way of work is anticipating and balks discipline of the classical-western-modern framed works of art while at the same time refers to it by the single wooden stick on top taken from a canvas´ frame. The methodology of representation in Utikals work also contains non-western elements of so-called traditional culture but are not marked as archaic though. Rather integrated and whether outside the logic of archaic or modern aesthetics but through simultaneously complementing instead of excluding.²
Denying the body is a question of privilege.Sofi Utikal is challenging subjectivity from a decolonial perspective and plays on, delinks and relinks in complex, conceptual ways on multiple layers from the position of exteriority. The size of the Portraits remembers of the beginning of the era of modernity where rulers used to let them be painted on big canvases. All the symbolism in these self-presentations could be found also in Utikals work but less than taking serious the powerful strong and illustrious imagery her works seem to be an ironic comment on exactly what they represent: patriarchal white supremacist habitus. Yet her work is powerful by its daring gesture and its direct expressions of vulnerability. Still the normative of selfies in the digital cloud represent a positive, successful, beautiful, strong(men), desirable(women) etc. image of the subjects.
Ella es gente, y no una sola persona.Many of the figures have no face or they turn their head away. Nevertheless, Utikals works embody the painful and difficult negotiations of identity. By leaving out the faces she wants the watcher to shift his/her perceptions which are trained to focus on our faces. In this sense Utikal is re-imagining identity in new ways and calling without calling to re-write identity narratives.
Dissolution of the body/mind splitErasure of the body is a term bell hooks wrote about in her book Teaching to Transgress. It means educational work without the body, so no emotionality and subjectivity has place, done only with the mind.³ The question showing up is, how to speak? If it´s only the body, emotionality, vulnerability and subjectivity which is performed we would end up in circling around ourselves. So, it is both what is needed to be considered and integrated in a new way of envisioning a bodymind language. Now, looking at the works of Sofi Utikal and reducing it to subjective expressions, we would do wrong again. As said, more times before already it is again possible to read from different angles and on multiple layers. Complexities of subjectivity, theoretical reflection and intellectual analysis of antiracist, feminist and decolonial politics are perceptible.
“You´ve seen my hair?”Hair in some of the works is created like a mountain range in a topographic map or black flowers blooming and/or growing out of the picture. Talking about hair using it as a weapon to talk about identity, injury and self-distinction. Bringing the body itself into discussion is not new. We still hear the echoes of Spivak´s question of the past century: “Can the subaltern speak?”¤ Well, representation did not wither away. The bodies still matter to be able to speak. Contrary to the belief in neutrality and objectivity, that it does not matter who is talking, the bodies in Utikals work are key to understand power structures. Once we start to talk about her work we must challenge the way power is orchestrating itself in form of white-supremacism, racism, colonialism, sexism, patriarchy and capitalism.
“My hair is a mountain range! The moment you reach out, you reached too far.” It is therefore that I feel so trembled and challenged when I see the whole picture of these works which show so vividly and openly vulnerability without despising, imperfection without willing to optimize and to see a self which takes up with such an easiness. It is amazingly estimable and admiring how dualistic thinking is challenged by this complex, multilayered work of art: Magic and profane, tender and tough are the works; mourning silently while calling out: “Look at me! I am not your fantasy. Pack up! I am not your object. Expect me to belong to myself!”
¹) Gloria E. Azaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro; Re-Writing Identity, Spirituality, Reality; Edited by Analouise Keating, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2015, p. 69.²) Madina Tlostanova, Postcolonialism and Postsocialism in Fiction and Art: Resistance and Re-existence,Springer International Publishing, Cham, 2017, p. 42.³) bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, New York, 1994, p. 139.¤) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the subaltern speak? in: Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (Ed.): Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1988.
Bibliography: ˜Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro; Re-Writing Identity, Spirituality, Reality; Edited by Analouise Keating, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2015.˜bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, New York, 1994.˜Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the subaltern speak? in: Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg (Ed.): Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1988.˜Madina Tlostanova, Postcolonialism and Postsocialism in Fiction and Art: Resistance and Re-existence, Springer International Publishing,Cham, 2017.#
Interview with Sunanda Mesquita from X Space, Octuber 2017In preparation of Sophie Utikal’s solo show at WE DEY x SPACE, Sunanda Mesquita asked Sophie Utikal, a few questions about her artistic practice and what she is expecting from exhibiting in this particular space focused on BPoC arts in Vienna. Her current series “Threads of Selves” is on view from 12th -29th of October 2017 at WE DEY x SPACE, Kandlgasse 24, 1070 Vienna.S.M.: Thanks Sophie for taking your time! How would you choose to introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know anything about your art works yet?
S.U.: My work is about stitching together textile fragments into self portraits of the different landscapes and imageries I see within my body. I use very soft and harmonic colors but stitch everything together with black thread, this makes the borders seem very rough. Because my drawings do not care so much about the “right” proportions and are very simple, the images look childish, which I really like a lot. And still, my technique of sewing everything together by hand is such a difficult and also intense process. I think my images are about breaking binaries of simple/complex, soft/hard, beautiful/disturbing, superficial/deep.
S.M.: Textile art production is embedded in many indigenous communities and communities of color- can you tell us a bit more about your work process and if/how you are referring to these herstories? What made you start to work in this medium?
S.U.: Yes, this is true, the women in my mother’s family from Colombia work with textile and produce textile images that are very simple and complex at the same time. They depict scenes from the everyday life on the countryside, farm animals, trees and houses. I was always fascinated by these images and wanted to apply their storytelling to my surroundings, my body and point of enunciation. The way the borders of my textile fragments are stitched together is a very clear reference to their works. In my case though, I chose to use a black thread to emphasize every stitch I make, instead of hiding them, which would a more common method. I want to make the process and the work visible which are necessary to create these highly complex artworks which are usually called naive art in the Colombian context.
S.M.: Can you tell us more about the series “Threads of Selves”, which you are going to exhibit at WE DEY x space?
S.U.: It is a series of my bodies in different situations and moments I have experienced. You can see me in very powerful positions, flexing into all directions throwing knives towards my surroundings but also in more calm in melancholic moments, lying around in my bed on an island. On one image I am embracing another body, we flow into each other and thereby create a new body of fragmented bits and pieces. Right now I am working on a new piece for the exhibition which will show me in a position I learned for healing traumas. You lie on your back and lift your pelvis until it starts shaking by itself. This movement is very common also for some animals like rabbits, that after the moment of danger and shock has passed they start trembling all over their body to release the anxiety and fear. Humans usually do not do this, so the trauma might stay within their body forever. My images are my own way of storytelling and making my insides visible.
S.M.: You are planning a workshop named “Stitching Stories” which will focus on collective textile painting making. Can you tell us who the workshop is for and what you are imagining as a possible outcome?
S.U.: The workshop with be exclusively for Black People and People of Color. And as a possible outcome I wish to manifest ourselves into a material form, while connecting what was meant to stay separate. While stitching we will talk, relax and meditate on what it feels like to inhabit our bodies and how we navigate ourselves through our everyday life. I will provide all material necessary. There will be drinks and snacks. The workshop is for free. All skills are welcome.
S.M.: Where & how was your work presented before and what did you like about it/ what would you want to be different this time at WE DEY x space? What are your expectations?
S.U.: Until now my work was presented in informal everyday life settings of my home or of friends. I wouldn’t mind if bigger institutions would invite me to do a solo show, since i still depend on their capital (resources, prestige, networks, cash). Still, I would not expect the audience to identify with my works or be touched on an emotional level. I am sorry to say that in Vienna the big institutions are still white ones, that also attract a white audience with their own white reality. Since my images deal with my body which is outside of the white eurocentric norms, I think the gap will be too big to feel what I feel in my works, but of course I am open for surprises and even hope that my works can create connections where there were none before.
As WE DEY is a self-organized space by black and people of color I also hope for an audience of Black and People of Color. I am the most happy when I feel understood and I really hope that this will happen with people who share some of my experiences as a Woman of Color.
S.M.: We have focused previously on the topic Self Care at WE DEY x SPACE- I would be very interested in knowing what does radical self care mean to you? Did you work before with this particular focus?
S.U.: The process of creating, feeling my body and recognizing myself in Others is what radical self care means to me. This can be writing a letter to my ass and designing free posters with a portrait of me embracing my butt and the love messages I feel for my body. This is what I did in my other work called “culo con orgullo”. Connected to this work I also did a writing workshop, where all the participants wrote love letters to one of their body parts, then we exchanged the letters and another person answered from the perspective of the addressed body part. It was a very intense, funny and healing experience for all of us.
S.M.: Thank you Sophie Utikal I am looking forward to your Vernissage this Thursday 12th of October!
Sunanda MesquitaCo-founder of WE DEY
Eoin Cunningham about With My Thick HairDecolonizing western AestheTis through Sophie Utikal’s “with my thick hair”: in pursuit of a decolonial AestheSis? Final Paper Intercultural Dialogues 2Tutor: Dr. Aylin KuryelASCA - Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis
Imayna Caceres about Culo con Orgullo in the book Anti*colonial Fantasies - Decolonial Strategies, 2017The work of Sophie Utikal strongly resonates with what Gloria Anzaldúa describes as a new consciousness. She writes: “I will not be shamed again, nor will I shame myself.” It is a vision of self-validation; of uncovering our true faces, our dignity, and self-respect and to see ourselves anew in light of our history: to see ourselves no longer through the fictions of white supremacy as the false racial personality that has been given to us and that we have given to ourselves. New images of identity, new beliefs about ourselves, our humanity and worth no longer in question. “Todas las partes de nosotras valen.” (Anzaldúa 1987). Analyzing white supremacy, Charles W. Mills speaks of its somatic dimension: “Being a political system predicated on racial superiority and inferiority, on the demarcation and differential evaluation of different races, a white somatic norm assumes hegemonic standing, serving as an important contributory measure of individual worth. In this system, the non-white body is clearly demarcated as alien. The young Marx made alienation from one’s labor a central concept in his indictment of class society. It could be argued that under white supremacy, one has an alienation far more fundamental; since while one can always come home from work, one cannot get out of one’s skin. Non-whites socialized into the acceptance of this somatic norm will then be alienated from their own bodies, in a sense estranged from their own physical being in the world. Necessarily then the resistance to oppressive corporeal whiteness takes the form of a guerilla insurgency on the terrain of the flesh itself.” (Mills 2003)