I like working with people who dare to look their pain in the eyes – interview with Elfie Kristiana by Nicole Jašáková

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There was nothing left. She felt like a prisoner in her own body. Then she discovered the real magic – art. Guided by her physical and emotional pain, she transferred her inner fragile world into reality with pencil lines and shades of light. Elfie Kristiana is a Belgian artist who expresses herself in drawings, paintings, mixed media, performances, short films, and more. Her creative flow is enriched with ultimate freedom that radiates sort of mystical silence. The art allowed her to see the dark side of things and now she helps others to blossom creatively.

How did your journey in expressing yourself through various art forms start?

It had a clear beginning. I’ve been very ill for several years. I had to entirely give up my past life. I was too weak to play tennis or to go out with my friends, I couldn’t take care of my household anymore, and I even had to give up my job as a teacher. I was a prisoner in my own skinny body. There was nothing left. No future, just past and present.

One day, a therapist advised me to start drawing. Hanging on the couch, with my dog “Sky” and my cat “Feewken” next to me, I started drawing. Magic! I felt real Magic. I felt free as a bird while drawing. Everything could exist! I was guided by my physical and emotional pain. I felt intense happiness during the creating process. You know, sometimes I was overwhelmed by fear during the drawing. I never told this to people, but sometimes I was afraid to heal because I was worried that I might lose my inspiration, my passion, and ultimately my freedom. Meanwhile, fortunately, I healed, and the passion stayed.

Why did you decide to take up photography?

I always liked to take photographs. On the road, on the beach, at theme parks, at family parties… I always found a reason to take photographs. At first, I worked very traditionally with a disposable camera. But for my 30th birthday, I bought more professional equipment with a telephoto lens. I wanted to see things closer (literally), and take pictures of people and nature without being seen. Freeze a moment of beauty in an image. I think that it was all about that at that time.

When the road on our street was being fixed for several months, I took pictures daily. Men with machines turning our road into a real warzone… that was fascinating. My husband Wim, who is also very sensitive to the beauty in an image, found my pictures very interesting and he said that I should do more with it. He negotiated with the mayor and before I knew it, my pictures were exposed. I enjoyed it, but it was also strange. (For a long time, I found myself a minor) When I was sick, I could hardly use my camera. It was way too heavy for my weakened body. Nevertheless, I felt an unstoppable hunger and I had to take pictures.

At that time, in the beginning of 2015, I bought a smartphone and started taking selfies at home. Lying exhausted on the couch, ill in my bed, even on the toilet during the attacks of stomach cramps and diarrhea. Expressing my feelings in an image… That’s what it was all about. I tried to strengthen the feeling with different apps on my phone.

Besides photography, you express yourself in drawings, paintings, performances and short films as well. Why do you use so many creative forms?

 I do also collage, monotype, and mixed media. I like change and discovering new things. I find so much joy in all these forms of expression. I feel like a child in a play garden, dancing from one joy to another. I’m never bored! All these expressions have their power. They all need a different approach.

To be able to draw, I need to get into some kind of meditation. I prefer to draw on my own; it’s very intimate to me. I try to connect with a storm, the tragedy, or the tender love in me. Through pencil lines I express my feelings. Sometimes I cry during drawing because it touches me so deeply.

Recently I made my first video clip called “Moxie,” for a song from Lakland. It was a very big challenge for me, but luckily, I like challenges. Normally, I’m not so good at working together with other artists, but this time it went very well because I got the complete trust and freedom from Lakland. During those months I got deeper into the song. I drew, painted, and danced to it. I had to breathe in the song to be able to create the final image.

So, the different forms of expression were a real blessing for me. Making a video clip demands empathizing, an eye for timing, décor, color and rhythm. You have to act, take pictures, and film. I stood both in front of and behind the camera. It’s like you are walking on an endless edge. But what an experience! Difficult, but somehow it went by itself.

Afterward, it gave me a lot of stress, because the success of the clip depends on a very big audience. Because for all you know, you will put the clip on YouTube and nobody will look at it. Experiencing this pressure confused me. The clip had 3500 views after 2 weeks.

You are a female artist. What does art itself mean to you? 

It’s a difficult question for me to answer. Would men react differently to it if they were women? As a child, I never felt any affinity with art, maybe even a slight aversion. My father was also an artist (He finds it difficult to label himself like that, but he is! Even as multifunctional as I am.) For years he went to the academy and my brother and I sometimes were forced to go to the final exhibition, and we also visited other exhibitions as well. Maybe it was because we had to look at an art that didn’t excite us for too long? Maybe we went to the wrong exhibitions? Or maybe it wasn’t fitted for children?

My husband and I sometimes go to exhibitions, but I’m still very selective when it comes to choosing where to go. Luckily, we both have almost the same taste for it. I don’t waste time on work that doesn’t touch me. Maybe it sounds a bit neglecting, but I’m just being honest.

Art is a language, and I admit I don’t always understand it, but it is not necessary. I only need to feel it. When it can touch, cut, surprise, or inspire me it has a meaning to me.

Did you study art? 

I never studied art. I never felt the need for it. Maybe I’m too quirky to follow lessons. I don’t like to be told what to do; I prefer to find out all by myself. I don’t like rules or structures. Maybe it’s because of the 8 years of illness that I don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t inspire me. Maybe I have a kind of social disorder, although I seem very social. A group of people can overwhelm me, and sometimes I just prefer to be on my own. Though I do love people.

Last year I signed up for a course called “Making Photozines”. It was the first creative workshop I was going to follow. But in the end, Wim went instead of me and taught me at home. Quite interesting! I immediately started to make my own little books. With a private teacher who has a very good affinity with me it could work, but I haven’t met him yet. (I am not searching for one.)

Recently I started studying piano with a private teacher. I admire piano music so I hope one day I will be able to play some myself.

A woman and a child. Why are these subjects important and what leads you to display them?

I worked long and intensively around the motherhood theme. I don’t have children myself, but I felt a curiosity and need to display the “secret” world behind motherhood. Mothers have written me frank letters that gave me insight into their life. While I was creating, I became one with them, and I felt like a “Mum”. My respect for mothers only grew with it. I finished this theme last year with a small homemade book about motherhood and sexuality.

A few years ago, I worked with the daughter of my brother. She was 8 at that time. I was searching for the child in myself and through her I could connect with it. We painted our faces for months. We brought our feelings outside, each in our own way. We danced, I filmed and photographed her, and made several works about it. It ended with an exposition where she was proudly represented (me too). We offered the benefits of the sold work to daycare for abandoned rabbits. I also made a short film; it will probably be shown at an exposition in May, in Belgium. She’s 12 now and I’m thinking about working together with her again if she would like to.

Your work reveals that apart from the bright side there is also the dark one. Who is the inspiration of the art world you create?

Before I became ill (and before I was doing art) I had learned to ignore my feelings and my physical pain. My dark side couldn’t exist; there was only a place for happiness and perfection. I did everything I could to be loved by others. I didn’t know better. Until I became ill. Suddenly I wasn’t perfect anymore, ignoring my body was impossible, and being happy every day…no way.

In all those years I was ill I learned to look at everything in myself honestly in the eyes. Physical pain, tiredness, emotional pain… they all have a hidden message and show a way to the light. Drawing and taking pictures gave my dark side the right to exist. In my work, I could see her beauty and love her. Therefore, I like working with people who dare to look their pain in the eyes. They choose life. There is a damned lot of courage needed for that. They inspire me. My internal realities and the world around me are one source of inspiration. If something touches me, I feel almost an unsustainable need to create. I love it!

Besides creating new content, you also organize workshops where people can learn how to express themselves with creative materials. What led you to come up with this idea?

Nobody thought I would heal. Me neither. But the power of acceptance, the deeper freedom I felt while I was creating, and the healing force of intuitive work on paper played a very important role in my healing process. What I experienced myself, others should experience too! And that’s where the idea of organizing workshops has started.

Everybody is born creative. But most people lose contact with that part of themselves. It already starts in toddlerhood. A drawing has to meet certain expectations of the teacher: A face shouldn’t be blue. A child you drew with 6 fingers, that doesn’t exist. Classmates that say, “what an ugly drawing,” Parents who immediately put the drawing you were so proud of in the cupboard, or even worse, into the paper bin. And so, our fantasy, together with our creative flow, slowly but surely evaporates. Almost everyone who starts at my workshops are afraid to fail with their drawings. Luckily, I have some tricks they can use to slowly liberate themselves from it. I consciously work with smaller groups. Maximum 4 members. People learn to create from their souls, and this can be confronting. So, people have to feel safe and salvaged. Small groups, a soft but clear approach, and a cozy and intimate atmosphere help a lot.

Regarding photography, do you have an icon; someone you look up to? 

“Looking up to” is a big word, I think. There are a lot of photographers that make works now and then that charm me, although I am quite picky. I have to “feel” the image. That’s how things are with me. I love images that radiate a sort of mystical silence. But I love also photographers that work with tight compositions and equal tight lines as long as it feels right.

My knowledge about the existence of many good photographers is limited because I have not studied it very long, and I do not fanatically delve into it. Luckily, I have some friends that try to deepen their understanding of photographic work. Very occasionally they send me a name over Facebook and I Google it. (Unfortunately, I am very bad at remembering names, a remnant of my disease or maybe I am just laxer in those things. There are other things occupying my head).

I like to surround myself with nature photography. Pictures of nature can truly bring me to a higher sphere. I admire photographers who can create a kind of humble gratitude in me when I look at their images. I appeal also to erotic photography. The work of Marc Lagrange and Araki can certainly charm me. Sexuality is a theme that I will be working on in the future. I don’t know yet in which way.

It is said that art is the artist. Who is Elfie Kristiana?

Elfie Kristiana is probably highly sensitive. When it’s a full moon, she sleeps badly. She gets drunk after 2 beers. She smells someone’s armpit odor or breath from a 3-meter distance. She hears noises that her husband doesn’t hear. She sometimes cries at certain live concerts. She adores animals and loves her husband. She sees the best in people and is curious about their dark side. When people hurt her and they don’t want to talk openly about it, she draws a line to protect herself. She loves French fries and even red cabbage.

Elfie Kristiana can feel strong emotions and sometimes think doomy. She is a postponer, which is why she has to work under pressure, and she hates that. She’s working on it. Elfie likes to walk in a cemetery, it makes her relaxed and humble. She believes in the soul that leaves the body after death and even in a greater power. Elfie Kristiana loves the mountains and nature. She adores the snow and still makes snowmen. She truly loves her friends even if she doesn’t see them that often. Her head is quickly full. Her husband calls her funny and “a pure soul”, although she sometimes gets in his hair.

Elfie Kristiana often questions herself and is intensively busy with her inner growth.

And there is more….

You can follow Elfie on her webinstagram or facebook.

Elfie Kristiana