Aika Akhmetova: Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture at A.I.R. Gallery, New York (Review)

Aika Akhmetova, Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture installation view, A.I.R Gallery, photo: Sebastian Bach.

Aika Akhmetova: Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture at A.I.R. Gallery

April 23 – May 23, 2021

Entering into Aika Akhmetova’s first solo show Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture echoes the memory of walking into a twistedly-familiar childhood home. Seemingly discrete objects under the yellow-ish lighting, are encapsulated by a reflective off-white floral wallpaper. The viewer is situated in an interior space in distress. Akhmetova reconfigures everyday household objects into playful sculptures, considering and poking at the original role the objects have held; a sculpture made out of a mirror will reference and act as a mirror, a rug will be a rug, a cabinet will stay a cabinet. In Akhmetova’s installation at A.I.R. ‘s Gallery II an entryway, a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom all clash and make up one room. All these modified household objects are personified. In some cases it’s done through treating an object like a body (accessorizing work with piercings, chains), in other cases, the reflective surfaces added or already present in those objects “steal” the viewer’s reflection to become human.

Aika Akhmetova, Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture installation view, A.I.R Gallery, photo: Sebastian Bach.

Reflections, mirrors, and glass seem to be a dominating theme in the show. The first work that meets the eye is The Back of It (mirror, stick on mirror, chains, piercings) 2021, where, as the title suggests, the back of the mirror that has been made back into a “broken” mirror is displayed to the viewer. Most objects in the show are either broken or made dysfunctional; things are cut up, reconfigured, shoved, pressed. This work simultaneously personifies the object and breaks it, which brings into consideration themes of abuse, pain, and violence. The mistreatment of human-like objects is normalized through the show and becomes a part of the home scenery. Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture reveals an element of disappointment and unmet expectations of care. Care for the objects, care for the suggested people who once occupied the space, whose objects were witnesses, victims, and agents of violence. A Rug for You to Live on (carpet, acupressure spike mats, pillows, wooden coasters, floor insulation material) 2021 occupies the center of the floor. The name of the piece clashes with its reality: the carpet is cut and put back together with two torn up seating cushions on top of it, the surface of the carpet is covered in disassembled acupressure spike mats and wooden coasters suggesting a place to sit on (“live on”) and drink tea but making it impossible with the spikes covering the entirety of the carpet.

Aika Akhmetova, Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture installation view, A.I.R Gallery, photo: Sebastian Bach.

Perhaps the most melancholic piece in the show is a suggested window of the exhibition titled Hole in the window (video projection, window shades) 2020. White window shades are parted to make way for the video projection which captures a hole in the center of the glass with rapidly changing clouds behind the dirty window. Being a window, this piece naturally suggests a look outside of the space, an escape. However, the painfully obvious projection of the clouds from inside the gallery and the broken shades make it painfully clear that while this object wishes to be a window to the outside, it is stuck in the interior and will never be what it longes to be.

As the viewer moves along through the exhibition, their reflection gets twisted and stolen by the domestic object time and time again. Your Bed (twin size bed slat, stick-on mirror, pillow) 2019, an implied bed of the space, puts the viewer’s faint reflection onto itself, almost forcing the viewer to lay down on the bed. You will meet your reflection again, looking at Secret Stack (candy wrappers, 2 ashtrays, mirror cabinet) 2021, a mirror cabinet with candy wrappers standing in the way of your reflection. There is a weird sense of “minimal abundance” in some of the works, hinting at addiction, binging, shame and secrecy.

Aika Akhmetova, Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture installation view, A.I.R Gallery, photo: Sebastian Bach.

The only part of the exhibition that is sectioned off in this abject apartment-like space is the bathroom. There is no wallpaper that unifies the rest of the exhibition, the lighting takes on a colder tint and becomes a bit theatrical. Once again, the viewer can find their reflection in My Mirror (medicine mirror cabinet, traditional Kazakh horsewhip, tiles) 2019, a partially transparent bathroom mirror that was broken and put back together. The bathroom rug that accompanies the mirror (Thirsty rug, 2019) is not particularly something one would want to step on or be around: the dirty rug has sunflower seed shells sticking out of it, an infestation of sunflower seed shells.

It seems fitting that the exhibition takes place in a transitional space between two other galleries at A.I.R. Traditionally Unnurturing Nurture twists the mundane by focusing on objects that are forced to become victims and witnesses of violence that happens behind closed doors of domestic spaces.

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Roni Aviv

Roni Aviv is a multidisciplinary artist and writer based in New York.

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