Letta Shtohryn: People, stop taking criticism so personally… it’s seriously not helping

Ukraine-born, Malta-based visual artist Letta Shtohryn speaks to MaltaToday about her participation in the currently-ongoing collective exhibition Object, Objetc, Objecc, on display at Spazju Kreattiv and also featuring the work of Liza Eurich (Canada) and Katri Kempas (Finland), her fellow participants at the SIM Residency in Reykjavik, Iceland

Letta Shtohryn
Letta Shtohryn

Could you tell us a little bit about what the SIM Residency in Reykjavik entailed, and the fruitful collaboration that seems to have arisen out of it?

SIM is run by the Association of Icelandic Artists. For us, it was a space of encounter with a different environment, harsh nature, and way too many hours of daylight in May 2017.

During the residency, we all worked on our own and very different projects, but closer to the end, when we saw each other’s work, the idea appeared that it would be interesting to do a group show, seeing as we worked with abstract concepts of spatiality, experiences and modes of refusal.

‘Crypto Heaven’ by Letta Shtohryn
‘Crypto Heaven’ by Letta Shtohryn

What were some of the common thematic/aesthetic concerns that led you to continue collaborating with the international group of artists that makes up ‘Object, Objetc, Objecc’, and how did the parameters of the exhibition begin to shape up?

After the end of our residency, we started a group messenger chat where we came up with an idea of a project that uses three different visions on objectness as an interpretation tool for the process of communication that became the core of the project.

We started sending each other prompts, texts, links and screenshots that responded to each other’s material.

This became the basis for creating artworks on the material we circulated among each other.

Object, Objetc, Objecc became a process of associative translation, a mutation in a DNA chain, a growing email thread that doesn’t seek to stick to the theme of the conversation. It changed with every message, becoming something new for each artist.

People, stop taking criticism so personally… it’s seriously not helping. Generally, we need more conversation in the arts, more openness, less elitism, less nepotism.

What is at the root of the concern about ‘objectness’ that lies at the core of the exhibition, and how did it tangibly manifest in the works themselves?

Each of us considers objectness from a different perspective, forming unique responses based on our own practices.

Liza Eurich’s work focuses on this thematic through juxtapositions between text and object, investigating the permeability and transience of language, as well as how this might exist within a physical space.

In this exhibition, text manifests in various formats: as recycled didactic panel, cast book, signage and postal notification. Katri Kempas works with experiences and found objects that she uses to create narratives.

I work at an intersection of digital and material, looking at the relationship between digital technology and the place of humans in a world increasingly governed by algorithms.

These views shaped our exploration into objectness. For example, I looked at death in the crypto world, exploring an encounter with something very material in a world operating on a purely digital and a semi-abstract premise of belief; Liza investigated not only the relationship between where objects are made and where they are displayed, but also how they are transported between these two realms; and Katri responded by sharing her encounters in poetry that shaped narratives via the surface of pressed fabric.

This project would not have happened without the support of Malta Arts Fund, that awarded us a Project Support Grant, and Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council.

What do you make of the visual arts scene in Malta? What would you change about it?

The visual arts scene is growing: it’s becoming more research-based and is gaining substance.

There is still a problem here of the arts being considered as a side job, or a hobby. That has to stop in order for more serious and exciting growth to happen.

We need more daring works, more works that are timely, and more conversation about Maltese online and offline reality and how they overlap.

We need more honest works and less sexist work (as an example insert here all-male shows happening in the last 12 months with men exploring the ‘nude’ as some kind of poetic act, objectifying women by portraying them as passive wallflowers).

We need greater female representation in the arts and more active criticism and show reviews; more ability to take criticism and engage in conversation about it.

People, stop taking criticism so personally… it’s seriously not helping. Generally, we need more conversation in the arts, more openness, less elitism, less nepotism.

What’s next for you?

Firstly, we’ve got two Art Additives events at Spazju Kreattiv coming up in mid-May and the end of May, where we’ll be discussing our works in depth.

Watch Malta’s favourite social network for updates. Everyone is welcome to join, to ask questions and criticise our work.

As for other work, my project Algorithmic Oracle is part of the playlist/group screening Little Hell Gate by Daata editions at Frieze, New York, and between 6 and 31 May, Algorithmic Oracle will be shown at Vanity Projects in Miami.

Later this year I’ll be a resident at Zaratan Contemporary Art Space in Lisbon, exploring low res imagery and fake heritage, which will be followed by an online residency at Offsite Projects.

Object, Objetc, Objecc will remain on display at Spazju Kreattiv, Valletta until June 16