Within my practice, I create oil painting, watercolor, and digital photo-collage to focus on issues of gender, body and the self. It is about the experience of women’s body and embodiment, whether erotic, abusive or metaphorical. I approach the body as a site or landscape of waste, abuse, and trauma as well as a source of vitality, desire, and pleasure. I explore power dynamics within heterosexual relationships arising from the intersection of sexual desire and patriarchal oppressive mind-sets by examining traditional myths, stereotypes, autobiographical, and fictional narratives related to gender.
My personal narrative informs my practice as a heterosexual woman and a recent Russian immigrant in America. Since arriving to the US, I have experienced geographical and cultural displacement, problems associated with expression through language, loss of identity and a general sense of disassociation, both personally and politically. While referring to large cultural, political and historical contexts, my artwork expresses the complexity of a woman's experiences in seeking and positioning herself in a new environment.
Painting is a physical process that has a direct bodily connection to the material and allow me to express the immediate emotion through a physical gesture. Digital format associates to the contemporary way of life where our lives are lived through isolated moments on computer screens. Gender relationships and understanding of the body are changing in the world of new technologies while the embodiment existence basically remains the same as it has been for millennia. I create the collages of amorphous bodily forms mixing and layering photos of human bodies which I source from the internet. They retain the tactile sensations of the skin while the distinction between the female and male bodily features is mingled; poses and gestures barely recognizable, referencing the concept of "cyborg". The works represent the fluidity and non-binary nature of gender, transformations of the concept of the body within contemporary society.
My aim by making my visceral paintings alongside my digital collage is to compare the historical, contemporary and timeless aspects of gender issue. While my paintings show heterosexual relationships in their antagonism, attraction and repulsion, my collages represent fusion and blurriness of genders boundaries as well as existential isolation and autonomy of a body.
Elena Chestnykh was born in Novosibirsk, Russia and currently, lives and works in New York. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally including at the Museum of Contemporary Art Erarta (MCAE) in Saint-Petersburg, the Art Center WINZAVOD, in Moscow, the State Museum of Novosibirsk, Tomsk, and Kemerovo in Russia, and Nord Art 2010, Rendsburg, Germany. In 2013, Urban Reflections travelled to MCRAE's Erarta Gallery in NYC and became Chestnykh’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Also, Chestnykh presented her work in New York at R&Dstudio BUSHWOOD, SFAprojects Gallery, IIAF group exhibition at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, and in a selected group exhibition at the School of Visual Art Gallery in Chelsea, NYC, Trenton Artwork Center, NJ.
In 2011, she created a multimedia installation “City. Meeting Place”, exhibited at the Museum of Local History, Novosibirsk. The project investigated the problems of dwellers’ alienation and interaction within the modern urban cultural structures. “City. Meeting Place” was based on the documentary research included photographing and interviewing Novosibirsk residents and resulted in a multimedia installation.
In 2015, Chestnykh wrote a series of interviews with American artists including Petah Coyne, David Chung and Mark Tribe about New York art scene and higher art education in America for MCAE’s blog and various Russian magazines.
She presented an artist talk and contributed an article for the International Conference “Art in Modern Education” (2015), Novosibirsk on the state of the New York art scene and opportunities for foreigner artists.
Chestnykh is currently developing a curatorial practice to create a community of artists whose work focuses on the bodily experience. “Breach”, exhibited at the Rabbit Hole Gallery in Brooklyn was her first curated exhibition.
Her work is held within the collections of the Novosibirsk State Museum of Fine Art and Kemerovo Regional State Art Museum in Russia.