Talking To Alex Kisilevich

Libby Dierker
Alex Kisilevich, Hands, 2013, courtesy of the artist.

Alex Kisilevich is an artist and photographer from Toronto. His work has been shown at Angell Gallery and Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, and he is the winner of an Emerging Visual Artist Grant awarded by the Ontario Arts Council. His photography has been featured in BlackFlash magazine and the Magenta Foundation’s publication Flash Forward for emerging Canadian photographers.

So you're based in Toronto right? What's going on there that's interesting?
I usually recommend galleries like The Power Plant, Mercer Union and Clint Roenisch Gallery for anyone who is visiting the city and looking for contemporary art. For better or worse, though, I tend to look outside of the city for art-related things. Artwise, there isn't as much going on in Toronto as compared to an art-hub city.

Alex Kisilevich, Legs, 2009, courtesy of the artist.

I see a lot of elements of Cindy Sherman and Hans Bellmer in your work.
I was shown and aware of their work very early on in my studies, and they certainly paved the way for artists like myself, but I wouldn't necessarily hold them as influences.

What do you see as the differences between your work and Cindy Sherman's? She's uses lots of prosthetics in addition to dramatic costumes and make-up, which is something that stands our in your images.
You know, you're probably right. I was thinking more along the lines of her self-portraiture in the Film Stills series, which still must have played a roll in my formative years in art school, where I was slowly discovering my voice. But her use of prosthetics isn't something that I was conscious of while making my own work. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out what my fascination is with prosthetics and medical supplies.

Alex Kisilevich, Hair Rainbow, 2012, courtesy of the artist

What is the secret behind iridescence in your work? It shows up various places like on that poor little dog and the walker...
It ends up showing up in a number of works and I am not exactly sure of its significance more than the material being pure eye candy to me. I had the idea of a dancing walker for some time, and I thought it would be pretty funny if it were covered up with something gaudy. I ended up acquiring this Radiant Light Film, a material made by 3M and it was so beautiful to me that I had a brief phase where I pretty much used it on everything. I've made other videos and portraits using it, including the dog cone.  

How do you find your models for these photos?
Photographing people has become a rarity for me. For a while, I stopped doing it entirely and used a mannequin. Now, when I do photograph people, they are usually friends, or friends of friends. I look for people that have an interesting look, or a quality that suits a particular photograph.

Alex Kisilevich, Something about Thom II, 2013, courtesy of the artist

Could you give an example of an “interesting look” that you've noticed in a person you've photographed, or even just something that struck you during a moment of people-watching?
I find a particular characteristic, whether it's a body shape, eye colour, bald spot, buck tooth or whatever, and somehow incorporate this into the image; it’s usually the main element and the subject becomes an object. In terms of people watching, I am struck by everyday things, all the time: someone walking with bad posture, seeing people arguing or being shitty to one another, an older couple holding hands. It all affects me in more ways than it probably should.

I have to clarify, in your photograph Midnight Dip is that a bald head peaking out of some water?
Yes, it is definitely a bald head, but it's not in water. It was a fun fur fabric that took me a while to find, and I put a hole in it. The image ended up kind of looking like water so I decided to call it Midnight Dip. I actually used it in a show I titled Vanishing into Thin Hair, which is what I originally wanted to call the image. 

Alex Kisilevich, Midnight Dip, 2013, courtesy of the artist.

It's winter, and Toronto is known to have a pretty cool climate. Do you have any favourite winter activities you're enjoying or looking forward to?
I've never been very good at sports, including winter sports, so if you're envisioning me skiing, snowboarding or ice-skating, those are definitely not in the cards! I do love to walk, though. Regardless of poor or great weather, that is something I always love to do. It probably stems from having had to walk a dog everyday for fifteen years.

15 years of dog-walking is dedication, tell me about your dog…
His name was Thunder, his breed was entirely unknown, though a combination of husky, terrier and magic were suspected. Unfortunately, he passed a couple of months ago. He's the dog with the iridescent cone in the photograph.  

Alex Kisilevich, Thunder with Cone, 2013, courtesy of the artist.

Follow Alex Kisilevich on Instagram, Tumblr and check out his website here.

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