PHOTO: Courtesy, Yoko Molotov
︎ Sheherazade, Louisville
Undulating and indeterminate forms, pastel tones befitting a child’s bedroom, and odd, cosmic audio all contribute to the unique sensory experience of Yoko Molotov’s Sweet Dreams exhibition at Sheherazade. The visual aspects of the show primarily consist of five panels that are suspended in front of the white-painted brick gallery walls, seeming to form a continuous composition despite the panels’ difference in background color. On these, a rainbow of serpentine, soft-colored shapes fluctuate, ripple, and collapse into one another. Molotov is known for her style that is heavily influenced by Japanese comics of the 1980s and 90s, but she takes on a more freeform way of working in Sweet Dreams. She still retains references to stylized comics, however, by utilizing a muted palette and depicting a facial profile within the composition. Her forms appear to be nonrepresentational at first, but with time the viewer begins to discern cartoonish renderings of animals. Sweet Dreams is a Rorschach test of sorts, allowing both the viewer and artist to connect with the unconscious. If we consider Molotov’s practice of automatic drawing within the context of Art History, her work becomes much more complex and nuanced. Sweet Dreams creates a dialogue between recent technologies, contemporary aesthetics, and Surrealist thought and methodologies.
By appropriating Surrealist automatism as a strategy in Sweet Dreams, Molotov creates a wider conversation regarding Art History, lineage, and the enduring relevance of the unconscious. It is hard to deny the kinship between the automatic drawings of Jean Arp, André Masson, and Molotov. For all three, the unconscious can be reached by separating the act of creation from pre-planning, decision-making, and other conscious thought. We cannot, however, consider the finished products to be mere byproducts of the unconscious. As Tessel Bauduin says about the work of Masson, “His unconscious is not traced; on the contrary, I argue, his unconscious traces. … Rather than a metaphor, an analogy of the unconscious, rather than a simile, it is a fact. Thus the dream is manifested directly and in all its omnipotence.” While Molotov’s practice aligns with these older ideas, her work speaks 21st-century sensibilities. The artist’s stylistic departure allows her to cultivate her own niche, one which straddles the line between enduring ideas and new methodologies.
What is perhaps most interesting in the dialogue between Molotov and the Surrealists is the former’s use of new technology. She draws digitally and is able to work much quicker than she could with traditional media, particularly when it comes to color. In André Breton’s 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, he encourages his followers to “write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you're writing and be tempted to reread what you have written.” While this passage references automatic writing, it is still pertinent to drawing. Molotov’s unencumbered practice allows her to advance ideas developed by artists and thinkers almost a century ago.
Intensifying the presence of both automatism and technology, Sweet Dreams also features a machine that transforms Molotov’s drawings into audio. Musician Joe Frey collaborated with the artist to create this unique experience. There is a strange juxtaposition between the mechanism and the colorful, dreamlike images that surround it; as it produces an image, the barrier between machine and human is further broken down. Frey’s device takes a vector file of Molotov’s drawing and physically recreates it via a mechanical arm that quickly darts across a sheet of paper. This process is an antiquated method of printing that is given new life in the exhibition. Simultaneously, another software uses geometry to ascribe notes to certain points in the composition; as the image is drawn, it creates a “song” that is unique to each piece. The end result is a haunting track that sounds otherworldly and cosmic, something that might play during a dream sequence in a film. By removing the artist from the act of drawing, this algorithmic, generative piece further complicates the relationship between automatism and technology.
Sweet Dreams is a departure from Sheherazade’s first exhibition, Norman Spencer’s Light and Shadow, which is a testament to the flexibility of the space. Julie Leidner continues to activate local artists and encourage them to step outside their comfort zone. Some may see this installation as style over substance, perhaps an intriguing evolution of the artist’s work, and the didactic text does little to lead the viewer’s mind beyond that. It has much to say, however, once we consider its references. Molotov’s appropriation of Surrealist methodologies is not without forethought; by imbuing automatic drawing with contemporary technology and aesthetic, she shows that the unconscious can be pleasurable, cheerful, and colorful. Other artists in this lineage, particularly Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dali, found the unconscious to be a desolate place fraught with repressed desires. Almost a century later, with Sigmund Freud’s grip on psychology loosened, we can look for other modes of understanding that which is under the surface of our minds.
Sweet Dreams is on display through April 13th.
Sheherazade is viewable 24/7, from the sidewalks of West Magnolia Avenue, in the garage behind 1401 South 3rd Street, Louisville KY, 40208
- Yoko Molotov
- Bauduin, Tessel M. “The ‘Continuing Misfortune’ of Automatism in Early Surrealism”. Scholarworks, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2015.
- Breton, Andrè. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969.
Contributor to Ruckus
Photo courtesy, Sheherazade
Photo courtesy, Yoko Molotov
Photo courtesy, Sheherazade