Cherry Kino (Martha Jurksaitis) is an analogue photographer and filmmaker based in Leeds. During April and August 2013 she spent time in Arteles, Finland, on an artist residency, where she formed a project entitled ‘Feels Like Velvet, Feels Like Rain’. With the help of her production assistant the artist aims to self-publish a beautiful book of polaroids and poetry surrounding the project. This work sees the artist jubilantly embracing the Finnish landscape and culture while exploring herself, revealing and welcoming her vulnerability and sexuality.
K.C: What are some of your fondest memories of Arteles? What did you learn while there?
C.K: One of my fondest memories from my time at Arteles is me and my friend Sena Wolf (who I met there) going on a post-party ramble through the forest just before the dawn began to break. Trekking through the snow and the fallen branches and moss, seeing her figure ahead of me in the early crepuscular light, and feeling a deep connection with her, nature, and myself. Another memory is of a group of us going down to the lake because the mist had settled on it, and taking images of the milk-glass look it gave everything and how the reeds were looming out of it, and finding fresh elk tracks in the snow. And the group saunas had a very special dynamic.
The greatest lesson I learnt while at Arteles was a lesson of perspective. I somehow realised, surrounded by blanket snow and huge forests, that I had been weighing myself down with equipment and with endless choices, and so sparsity and simplicity became immensely beautiful to me. With that, I found a true focus and a discipline towards my work that came very naturally. I’m convinced it has to do with the snow, the many windows, and the forest walks. The connection I found with Sena was also crucial to that. The book is in fact dedicated to her, but she doesn’t know it yet!
K.C: What made you feel compelled to take photographs of yourself in this setting?
C.K: I was enjoying myself. I mean I was really, really enjoying myself. I explored my physical awkwardnesses, my grace, my sexuality, my animalism, my love of extremes. I enjoyed taking images at my own pace. I enjoyed the strange ghostly effect of taking a pinhole with me only in it for half the exposure. I enjoyed not knowing if the images I was exposing would come out or not (I was using a lot of expired Polaroid 4×5 film, some of which was totally dried up!), and in that moment, understanding that that moment would never again be there, and that that really was ok. I began to let go of holding onto time, especially through the pinhole images I took (ironically), but also through the double exposures.
Everything was so temporally fragile and yet so damn extreme at the same time. The ice and snow melted as if in a day, for spring to burst onto the scene immediately and feverishly, yellow butterflies dancing over yesterday’s huge thick icicles. Getting naked in that kind of environment felt so exhilarating. A shock, a wake-up call to the humdrum of being physically comfortable and unchallenged, and one that I welcomed.
There was also so much opportunity for privacy, for personal space. That’s a concept that the Finns I met were very in touch with, and I learnt that quickly, and enjoyed it. Being able to have as much private time and space as I wanted meant I tried things I might otherwise have felt too hurried or exposed to try. I think I was also exploring my own beauty, struggling, and trying to feel a deeper connection to it. Seeing my body as part of nature helps me in that respect. I never expected to become so consumed by taking polaroids there. I thought I’d do most of my work on Super 8 film, as I usually do, but the stillness of the forest seemed to ask for something different at that time.
K.C: Were you conscious of constructing a narrative within the polaroids? Do you consider these works to be at all fictional?
C.K: The polaroids are really just deeply personal explorations and most are incredibly of the moment and improvised. So the narrative is largely just me and my feelings on that day! But some are more constructed with narrative in mind. The two images ‘Riding Pink, Little Hood’ (parts 1 & 2) explore the mythologies of Eve and Little Red Riding Hood, considering the sexual daring and bravery of both as something that is part of a wild feminine nature, and a certain bold female perspective (I took the shot, and I stare straight back at the camera in the shot). The wolf-skin in those images was partly because of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, but also because there are wolves in those forests, and I somehow felt I was inviting them to come and get me, to claim me, as one of their own. I really do remember having that feeling, that they would be there, yellow-eyed and ready to take me back into the bosom of my own wild nature. I mean I really thought they would come.
I love Clarissa Pinkola-Estes’ book ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’, and that was definitely an inspiration for those two images, but also for others, such as the images where I have antlers between my legs. I wanted to bleed menstrually into the snow and photograph that, but it didn’t happen that way. I think the red berry images (one in which I rayogrammed red berries directly onto an unexposed polaroid image, and one where I literally smashed the berries onto a white polaroid and let it dry in the sun) were a continuation of that theme. Something bloody and wild and unashamedly so, directly pushed against the material of the film stock, no lens in between, just c**t and blood and snow. The images of me with a single horn held up to my head began as an idea for a theme called ‘The Horn’. The horn images are based on how we as women are often encouraged to repress our sexual natures and fabricate a consumer version. I envisaged the ‘horniness’ we are born with manifesting as a literal horn – a single one, only on one side, showing how we’re kind of broken, kind of incomplete beings when we go along with trying to hide or fabricate our sex. I’m holding the horn to my head, showing a kind of injury, and even implying a kind of prosthesis. ‘Civilised’ feminine sexuality as a deer (or stag) shot in the forest who has had to limp out and live in a house.
K.C: Had you been to Finland before?
C.K: I’d never been to Finland before. It was such an alien place for me. Everything about it. The language, the mannerisms, the landscape, the respect for silence that I misinterpreted early on as formality and emotional coldness… The best word I can use to describe it is Alien. And I loved that! Here was a place that was wholly new to me, and that I could simply experience for the very first time. No prior knowledge or preconceptions. No guessing at the words. No flirting with feeling ‘I belong here’. None of that. Just a beautiful Alien. Simply that. There were about 8 of us there, for a month. That was in April. I then went back in August for 2 weeks, to complete my work, and that was a totally different experience altogether. Still good, but far less intense, less transformative. In April, there was really something magical about how fast the winter turned to spring. It was a violent transformation. It was seismic. It changed me.
K.C: Before this trip, had you practiced much self-portraiture? What draws you to taking photographs of yourself? (Is there an element of finding oneself through self-portraiture here?)
C.K: When I was about 18 I did a series of enormous painted self-portraits. But that was simply because I used to paint at funny hours and I was always available to myself as a model! I worked as an artist’s model a lot too in my twenties so saw many representations of myself that way. I’ve made a few films featuring my body, such as ‘Anningella Queen of Cups’ and ‘Birthday Suit’. I believe very much in the power of being deeply personal. I feel that by being as personal as I can possibly be, hopefully something universal may become sublimated from that and touch others. I hope so, anyway.
In the case of ‘Feels Like Velvet, Feels Like Rain’, the personal has been figurative – i.e. me and my body. The responses I’ve had from people about my images have been really overwhelming, because they have also been incredibly personal, and have connected with me on many levels. Some contacted me to tell me my bravery inspired them to explore their own feminine freedom, and that really excites me.
K.C: Are there any key influences for this body of work?
C.K: Yes. I find Tarkovsky’s polaroids totally mesmerising and otherworldly (I also adore his films). I like to see the relationship a filmmaker has with photography (I considered myself exclusively a filmmaker before I went to Finland). I love ‘Stalker’ too, and its forest, and the movement between colour and black and white film, like the images in my book. Russian cinema is a big influence, come to think of it. I remember thinking a lot about the film ‘The Cuckoo’ by Aleksandr Rogozhkin, about one Russian and one Finnish soldier, enemies, who both impregnate a Sami woman who gives birth to healing and peace from her womb in the form of twins fathered by both men. I also thought a lot about ‘The Cranes are Flying’ by Mikhail Kalatozov, as the cranes were indeed flying back to Finland for the spring. And ‘The Return’ by Andrey Zvyagintsev was really on my mind when I would surreptitiously use the rowing boat that was moored at the little jetty by the lake (which I drown myself in, in the image ‘Lady in the Lake’). I think the experience of being in a very vast landscape and extreme climate meant I had the space and also the stimulus to let myself experience an expanded sense of soulful grief, and to explore it as a beautiful part of a healing process. Like I did when watching those films.
K.C: How has your art progressed since this residency? What are you focusing on today?
C.K: The Arteles residency gave me the courage to launch an Indiegogo campaign to self-publish my book, and the confidence to consider myself a photographer as well as a filmmaker. I’m currently working on a number of short films, and am gearing up to make a feature film on 16mm. It’s a huge dream for me! It will be entirely hand-processed, and a mixture of abstract and figurative, experimental and narrative. I think it will take me some time, perhaps a year or two or maybe more, and I’m so excited about it! I think it will take me to Mexico and Madagascar, so keep an eye on the Cherry Kino website for updates!
Cherry Kino’s Indiegogo campaign is live until 17th November. For further information on the project and a lovely video see the campaign page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/feels-like-velvet-feels-like-rain-photobook