When Dark Matter turns into gold by the touch of the young artist Lina Iris Viktor.
Some Are Born To Endless Night — Dark Matter.
Lina Iris Viktor, who was born in 1987 in the U.K. to Liberian parents, doesn’t discriminate when it comes to time periods and geographies. Past, present, and future are one cyclical continuum that she mines for inspiration, and different cultures and communities converge in a singular, universal experience—“the oneness of things,” as she puts it.
The result of this expansive perspective is a body of work that blends a dizzying range of references and styles: the figurative with the abstract; Babylonian goddesses and Western madonnas with Japanese geishas; mathematics with mysticism; rich, multivalent black tones with shimmering, luminescent gold and blue. These allusions come together in images that are alluringly difficult to put a finger on. Though they are organized into series whose names speak to cosmic space, deep time, and fraught history—“Constellations,” “Materia Prima,” “Dark Continents”—they all feel like slightly different angles of one enigmatic point of view.
With 60 works, it’s the biggest show east London photography gallery Autograph has yet mounted, and its two floors evoke very different sensations. “There’s the more hectic, rich, lush version downstairs and then one that’s more contemplative and meditative,” Viktor tells me. The New York-based artist talks fast — and, I suspect, thinks even faster. Formidably intelligent (when I ask about her influences, maths, science, architecture, engineering and astrophysics are the first things she says), in conversation she switches between zen-like sagacity and wide-eyed delight.
In the downstairs space, visitors will walk through a work called The Black Ark — free-standing, lattice-like structures inspired by 19th-century Liberian fishing nets — surrounded by her signature canvases, which bring together photography and delicate, detailed patterns of paint or gold-leaf. In these, Viktor is her own model, her body made universal, painted and surrounded by cosmological symbols.
Upstairs, the room has been painted entirely Majorelle blue, inspired by Viktor’s own studio, and will only contain four works. “That blue does something to people,” Viktor tells. “It has a crazy frequency to it.” Both floors are characteristic of Viktor’s fascination with space – she never shows her work on white walls.
The show’s title comes from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence (the fact that Tate Britain’s Blake show opens at the same time is a beautiful coincidence) and was picked out from hours of conversations and notes shared between Viktor and curator Renée Mussai. Visitors are in for an arresting experience but for Viktor a lot of the work is going on in her head. She quotes Yves Klein – another artist obsessed by blue: “My paintings are the ashes of my art.”
Working across multiple mediums, she adheres to the colour palette of blue, black, white and 24-karat gold to create paintings, sculptural works, photography, performance works, and installations.
J Viktor's work fuses apparent contradictions, synchronizing the monumental and the minuscule, decadent and the minimal, the spectacular and the invisible, seeking to heighten the experience of the spectator by creating immersive environments that transport the viewer into other worlds.
'Lina Iris Viktor’s magnificent work centres the black figure as the universal human form through which narratives are weaved, histories entwined and possible futures imagined'
Renée Mussai, Curator
Lina Iris Viktor is a conceptual artist, performance artist, and painter. She lives and works itinerantly between New York and London.
Raised in London to Liberian parents, she traveled extensively in her youth also living in Johannesburg, South Africa for many years. The multi-disciplinary approach to her work, which weaves disparate materials and methods belonging both to contemporary and ancient art forms calls into question the nature of time and being. Her works are a merging of photography, performance, abstract painting, along with the ancient practice of gilding with 24-karat gold to create increasingly dark canvases embedded with “layers of light” in the form of symbols and intricate patterns. Viktor regards these dark canvases to be “light-works”. Each provoke a philosophical commentary through material that at once addresses the infinite and the finite, immortality and mortality, the microcosm and macrocosm, in addition to the socio-political and historical preconceptions surrounding ‘blackness’ and its universal implications.
Viktor’s multi-disciplinary practice is informed by a background in film which she studied at Sarah Lawrence College, and her continued studies within photography & design at The School of Visual Arts, along with an education in performance arts during high school. Viktor creates her own mythology as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and performance artist.
Viktor has exhibited at The Ford Foundation, New York; Somerset House, London; New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana; Harvard Art Museums and The Cooper Gallery, Harvard University, Boston; and Spelman Museum of Fine Art, Spelman College, Georgia, among other institutions. Viktor has engaged in critical talks, panels & lectures at Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Harvard University, New York University, The Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), King’s College London, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Saint Louis Art Museum, and Autograph ABP.