Yulia Bouka embraces the surreal
VOID chats with the abstract jeweller ahead of Riot Collective.
Yulia Bouka is an artist who doesn’t appear to limit their mediums. From intricate line drawings to 3D watercolors to abstract jewellry—Bouka’s work embraces experimentation and deals in the surreal. Their ever-expanding output provides otherworldly imagery, a tempting rabbit hole for a cultural and historical moment which has us all searching for new ways to live.
CH-V chats with the artist ahead of their work being featured in RIOT Collective’s immersive exhibition exploring body autonomy through the lens of gender, Dismal Reflections.
VOID: Do you remember the first piece of art, regardless of medium, which really resonated with you?
Yulia: In Tomsk, where I’m from, there is a very old theatre culture—which is really quite strange, given its kind of in the middle of nowhere. There was a dedicated puppet theatre with an intricate wood carved facade, as was traditional for that region of Russia. Inside there was a museum of animatronics, and deeper, was the theatre itself. Exquisite puppets. Mermaids were submerged in fish tanks. The characters ran for real on treadmills. This is very deep in my brain and I suspect a seed for the fantastical, animatronic side of my practice. Having spaces like that transcends history and fosters fantasy in our empirical, rational world.
VOID: How has your artistic output evolved over time, if it all?
Yulia: My projects grow in ambition every year. I don’t really work outside of projects anymore, where I used to make many little, experimental works. Everything gets 200%, and I think I’m better for it.
VOID: How did you get involved with the RIOT Collective?
Yulia: Atomicx has been working with my colleague Isabelle Cowan for some time now. They became familiar with my jewellery through her.
VOID: What does body autonomy mean to you?
Yulia: My thoughts about the body always go towards mind/body dichotomies. To me, bodily autonomy is the desire to control my body. A loss of this control is felt when a virus hijacks my cells, when my kidneys are failing the rest of me, when I am fatigued or stressed, when a stray sperm might find its way to a cell of my body within an ambiguous window. It is a negotiation of the mind and body, which I always want to be in my mind’s favour. When there never even was “the mind” and “the body,” there is just me.
This abstract way of thinking is also symptomatic of never having felt my bodily autonomy taken away.
VOID: A lot of things in the world seem to be going very wrong. What’s something you think is going right?
Yulia: The current zeitgeist of mental health awareness, greater awareness of social and cultural structures, and an emphasis on the individual right to happiness seem novel. I think they can grow into something very transformative over generations. I suppose humanism has been around for a long time, but now it seems to permeate culture.
VOID: Can you speak about your artwork featured in Dismal Reflections—what was your process like?
Yulia: I reflected on my position and struggled to offer anything meaningful from my experience. It makes no sense to me to share with the audience something that they will inevitably agree with, which in my case would be anxiety about the possibility of rights being taken away.
It is essential that the audience be challenged in some way, and to me all discussion of policy is intersectional, especially when it is about bodily autonomy. More importantly, it seems obvious to me that if we were to lose reproductive rights… there has been rot behind the scenes long before that: what for me is a possibility, has been the reality for many minorities within Australia.
All I can do is use my platform to redirect my target audience, people like me, to see that for themselves. It is challenging to listen to those who have, for a long time, personally known of this rot, in which we are complicit. So all I really offer are links to articles by minority voices and a visual reminder of that moment.
I first encountered this rhetoric in a series of videos by Innuendo Studios (Ian Danskin). It was targeted towards white men on the issue of online sexism and fringe fascist communities. As far as I could track down, he made the analogy of popping the bubble, like checking out your weird mole that might or might not be melanoma. No one wants to do it, but we obviously should. And importantly, he highlights, that even a self-centred bigot will have a much harder time sustaining spite than ignorance.
If we confront the things that our privilege permits us to ignore, and help our community do the same, it makes it a lot harder to be complicit.
VOID: Favorite curse word?
Yulia: Cunt. Still packs a punch.
VOID: If you could have any other name, what would it be?
Yulia: I’ve already tested those waters. I went by Julia when I first immigrated here for a long time. I started calling myself Jane for a few years, and then went back, not to Julia, but to Yulia. Now I want to stand out.
VOID: It’s last call at the bar, what are you ordering?
Yulia: Tequila shot.