Featured in
Issue 232

Do You Remember Your First Art Crush?

Kelly Akashi, Gina Fischli, Atiéna R. Kilfa, Sung Hwan Kim and Jordan Strafer tell us about early important encounters with art

BY Kelly Akashi, Gina Fischli, Atiéna R. Kilfa, Sung Hwan Kim AND Jordan Strafer in Interviews | 10 JAN 23

Kelly Akashi

Before search engines were really a thing, I spent a lot of time with magazines: reading cover to cover, scrutinizing advertisements and absorbing 1990s editorial images that are still ingrained in my mind. I discovered an article on Nan Goldin’s work in a November 1996 copy of Spin magazine with Gwen Stefani on the cover. Coming across Goldin’s work that way, at the age of 13, completely changed my relationship to art. I didn’t really understand it before that moment. The little that I had been forced to see as a child seemed detached from life as I knew it.

Goldin’s photographs taught me what art could be. They showed me something about the power of art in relation to lived experience; as an artist, observer and recorder, Goldin could create enduring conversations. This early encounter with her work, and later encounters with her books, taught me about the kind of intimacy and experience I want my work to carry eternally. 

Nan Goldin, Nan in the bathroom with Bea, Boston, c.1970. Courtesy: the artist

Gina Fischli

In 2008, I went to Art Basel Unlimited, my first art fair. I had just finished school and spent all my free time making art. On my train to Basel, I didn’t know what  I should expect at the fair. I had read in a newspaper that the highlight of the fair were the visitors’ expensive handbags. Once in the hall, I tried to make sense of the environment, but it was overwhelming. I was glad when I found myself alone in a dark cubicle with a single film being projected. It was Karen Kilimnik’s video Heathers (1994). Made using footage from the eponymous 1989 film starring Winona Ryder, the work is like watching the original movie with the artist holding the remote control: certain sentences and scenes repeat several times while others are fast-forwarded or paused. It was so good I couldn’t stop watching: the elegance of Kilimnik’s minimal intervention created something new and twisted. The poses of those teenage girls will stay frozen in time. 

Karen Kilimnik, Heathers, 1992–93, single channel video, film stills. Courtesy: © Karen Kilimnik, Sprüth Magers and Galerie Eva Presenhuber 

Atiéna R. Kilfa

I spent my teenage years in Paris, surrounded by bohemian-bourgeois art and cultural institutions that seemed like they could never change. Like many teenagers, I naturally gravitated towards music as a portable art form that could act as a counterpoint to my surroundings. I got really attracted to contradictions, like listening to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s ‘I Put a Spell on You’ (1956) on my MP3 player while walking by Le Musée d’Orsay. It felt like his voice could cast a spell over the whole building. I later learned that this method of using music in deliberate contrast to on-screen action – contrapuntal sound – is commonly employed in film, like in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), when Mr. Blonde cuts off a cop’s ear to Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ (1972). To this day, I often use this sense  of friction as a point of departure in my work. 

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins at the Chicago Blues Festival, c.1996. Courtesy: Getty Images and Michael Ochs Archives; photograph: James Fraher

Sung Hwan Kim

When I was 19, I read Touch (1981–86), a multi-volume manga by Mitsuru Adachi. The story revolves around twin brothers on a baseball team and a girl on a high-school gymnastics team. The version I read was bootlegged, since many Japanese cultural products were still banned in Korea due to post-colonial restrictions. Adachi’s characters’ bodies move within sporting contexts or stand facing silent counterparts. Revelatory scenes are often succeeded by pillow shots (everyday tableaux) that suggest diegetic sound. I noticed that the faces of the boys and the girl were identically drawn, except that the girl had longer hair, a bust and shorter stature. Their gender fluidity was subtle and unironic. I shared the crushes that the three characters had on one another and was possessed by the gazes, behaviours and silences that they adopted in front of each other. 

Mitsuru Adachi, Touch, 2005, photocopy of cover

Jordan Strafer

I was a ‘troubled teen’ and attended four high schools and two behaviour-modification programmes over a five-year period. My last school had a darkroom and, despite my lack of experience, I was determined to get into the advanced photography class because I wanted to use a medium-format camera. I begged my roommate to teach me darkroom skills so I could convince the teacher that I was qualified for the class, and I succeeded. Earlier that year, I had discovered documentation online of the Vienna Actionists’ extreme and graphic performances, which delighted me because, until then, I hadn’t known something like that could be considered art. I spent prom night in the photo lab printing my Günter Brus imitations of my friends covered in a thick layer of white paint. My work is still driven by the impulse to remake or re-enact artworks or memories. Art has always been a way of psychic survival for me.

Günter Brus, Selbstbemalung, 1964/2005. Courtesy: momok; photograph: Ludwig Hoffenreich 

This article appeared in frieze issue 232 with the headline ‘Frozen in Time’.

Main image: Nan Goldin, Self portrait with scratched back after sex, London 1978. Courtesy: the artist

Kelly Akashi is an artist.

Gina Fischli is an artist. Her recent solo exhibitions include ‘I love being creative’ at Swiss Institute, New York, USA, and ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ at Chapter NY, USA, both in 2022. 

Atiéna R. Kilfa is an artist. Her first institutional solo presentation, ‘The Unhomely’, is currently on view at KW, Berlin, Germany and will travel to the Camden Art Centre, London, UK, in January 2023.

Sung Hwan Kim is an artist working in film, video, drawing, painting, architecture, literature, installation, performance, radio broadcast and print publication.

Jordan Strafer is an artist working primarily in video.