Every so often an artist will come by that makes the weird and wonderful both engrossing and bizarre to observe, beyond the clichés of generating the usual shock factor or inducing general indifference. Cue visual artist Astrid Gnosis marking her own stamp in dissecting the all-consuming capitalist structures in which we are all so very knowingly self-aware of our role and yet willingly partake in. In straddling the cyclical nature of consumerism, Gnosis in equal measure swallows, digests and expulses these elements in her work, with a healthy sprinkling of socio-political and cultural seasoning.
Having inhabited conflicting worlds simultaneously and taking from traumas past, Gnosis similarly takes an empathetic approach to age-old struggles of childhood, familial relationships, religion and beyond and how they all play a part in shaping our future selves. Gnosis has the ability to hone in on this, to adapt and stake out her own future in an uncompromising fashion – thumping through to you via the throbbing joys of industrial gabber and brutal lyricism delivered with a striking left-hook. Directing and producing her own videos, on a surface level the visuals play out in a tongue-in-cheek fashion with a blink-and-you-miss-it message and symbolism. The use of seemingly gratuitous violence only further enhances the dark humour at play when juxtaposed with comically absurd imagery (as seen in her latest video for Drop Dead). With her second EP Heady having just dropped and our curiosity piqued, we very much relish the opportunity to get up close and personal with Astrid Gnosis.
KALTBLUT: You just released Heady. What would you say is different from your previous release?
Astrid Gnosis: This release is more like an introduction. Heady is a bit like a character that has developed through my live shows and consolidated its voice in the studio. Heady has an attitude that resulted from a lot of pain. Hence why this EP is a bit more hostile than Agnosis. Agnosis was a criticism to willful ignorance. Heady is about the joy in collapse.
KALTBLUT: Given your Catholic upbringing, Colombian Spanish heritage and being in the multicultural hotbed that is London, how do these different facets inform your creative output?
Astrid Gnosis: I grew up a Catholic, with all its rituals and ceremonies, until the age of 11. Early on I understood that religious and dogmatic indoctrination serves as a form of social conditioning, creating symbolic bonds through traditional practices, that are so engraved in our culture and society, that even if I didn’t believe in God, I simply had to play along. My school had a chapel and its own priest. A strange man with an intense perfume and a high prescription. Religion was taught in school and graded alongside subjects like Maths and Science, both of which could be understood rationally, whereas Religion demanded faith in someone else’s beliefs, and with that, the acceptance of opinions as facts. It made me question authority and its validity from an early age. School as an institution had little to no coherence for me, and in many ways, thanks to History and Religion and the incongruous doctrines they imparted on us, my approach towards the educational system was with great distrust and cynicism.
Of course, morality is a huge and problematic part of Catholicism, it encourages people to stay within the boundaries of binary logics such as good vs evil etc. It justifies and reifies the structures of power, like the one placing men’s interests above women’s. The notion of cleanliness for example is applied only to women restricting socially the female body to not engage in carnal pleasures, and that those belong only to the man and for the purpose of breeding. Virginity is a myth, it is not something a woman possesses that can be destroyed or taken by somebody. This is one of the most brutal myths propagated by the Catholic church to control female bodies. I have a bit of fun turning around the roles of ownership of bodies in my song Yes We Can.
That our societies are based on Judaeo-Christian values is reason enough for it to influence my work as it affects my life. Marx famously said that Religion is the opiate of the people, and it is the result of what Nietzsche called the slave morality, but I claim that it has gone further than that of numbing society. It has established a system of violence towards the female body specifically and historically, seen throughout colonialism and the crusades. The church is responsible for all sorts of cultural pillaging and the violence of mestizaje which was targeted against women.
My Colombian great grandfather fought in the War of Independence in Cuba, he died shortly after. He and my great grand uncle fought against each other in the Thousand-day war. My family was always divided between liberals and conservatives, I’m a revolutionary at heart and of heritage. I’m also a mestiza, according to the Spanish class system. My mother is Spanish, and my father’s family is all Colombian. Growing up in Spain I was heavily bullied for being the only brown kid in school. My earliest memory of school is being circled by kids of all ages, spat on, pushed, called slave, the N-word, and blah…I must have been 5. I have many more memories after that, being thrown down the stairs, chased to be beaten, all sorts that my school and parents did not know how to process, other than by saying kids are mean, they’ll pick on anything that stands out. Yet the big elephant in the room was always that, conveniently the history or version of events we were taught in school justified these kids to joke about my ancestors and see me as a less worthy classmate that had undeservingly made it all the way to the white people’s school. It wasn’t my time or place to restructure the educational system. I grew a lot of internalised racism. I’m not brown enough and I’m not white enough, to be anything but proudly me.
I left Spain at 19 to come to London and I haven’t left. I always felt I was on a different wavelength to the culture, the way of thinking. It’s not perfect anywhere, but I grew tired of Spain’s racism, and the lack of vision. London is a strange bubble, it’s a very inspiring place to live in. It is decadent, damp, and dirty, the epitome of our globalised Capitalist civilisation. I can’t think of a better place to talk about collapse and hack the culture industry than this beautiful vibrant hell hole. One of my favourite pass times is going to Abney Park Cemetery. Despite having rejected religion personally, I’m fascinated by religious iconography and sepulchral silence. There is obviously a monumental degree of respect I hold towards the Catholic Church, the sort of respect I have for a guard with a gun. And with that, I’m in awe of its majestic representations in architecture and art.
KALTBLUT: You have an insanely compelling hybridity in your sound. What are your own musical influences or inspirations?
Astrid Gnosis: Sound has a subversive potential. My voice and the use of language was my first source of inspiration. I’m bilingual with English and Spanish. I learnt German and French too, but those haven’t aged well without practice. The sound of words inspires me to find their etymology. Just as words give context, sound sculpts space, it can transport you much like a scent, you could be in a room full of people yet isolated wearing headphones.
I was born in Valencia, during Fallas (the festival of St. Joseph), but it is of pagan origins and has extremely powerful and violent firework displays every day in the centre of town. These displays happen for 18 days, and they are probably the most influential sonic experience I have ever had. It is organised chaos, and a perfect representation of state power, people are fenced at a safe perimeter around the square where a group of pyrotechnics begin the performance only when they receive the order to from the balcony of the town hall. The sounds of folklore culture in Valencia have for sure influenced my music. When there are motorbike races in the stadium, just outside of the city there is a town called Cheste, where people from all over the district come with their motorbikes to do performances where they burn rubber and show off their pimped bikes. There is so much smoke from burnt tyres, and the sound is so huge when you’re arriving you can hear it from the motorway, and the whole village is covered in a red dust.
I listened to a lot of US rap and hip-hop when I was younger. Feeling disenfranchised growing up in Spain I turned to music that spoke about pain and revolution with an attitude I idolized. At home, my parents would listen to classical music, jazz, and a hell of a lot of Cumbia! I did 10 years of Classical Ballet and 3 of Flamenco until the age of 14 so I still love live performances of Classical music, and I like listening to Wagner, Shostakovich and a bit more modern Erik Satie. I use the name Gnossienne sometimes after one of his works. Of course, I became immersed in techno at 16, when I started going out to clubs in my hometown. Valencia was one of the most exciting places in Spain for electronic music and club culture. Along with Ibiza, Valencia was at the core of “La ruta del Bakalao” which is a whole other topic of conversation in itself. If you don’t know about it, that was an exciting time for Spain’s identity after the dictatorship ended. Notably, I will mention the influence of Dutch Hardcore, Aphex Twin, Death Grips, Death in June, and Madonna. But I enjoy silence the most because in London there is no true silence. I’m overwhelmed by information constantly already, so whenever I can, I find a spot in Hackney Marshes where I can semi get away from madness.
KALTBLUT: There are overt socio-political and cultural notes in your work. How important is this for you to maintain?
Astrid Gnosis: Everything we do is political. Everything we say, the ways we engage with one another. With all the regressive tendencies in Politics, Global Warming, Wikileaks, etc., it has become impossible to be impartial when in public. Even those who claim to be uninvolved and unmotivated politically, that claim in itself is a political statement. It is important to think, what are you promoting at a personal level, with friends, family etc. and through your work, with colleagues/audience. Are you inclusive? Are you privileged? Like with anything nowadays, there is a trend to make political art. Music, like the state, is the order of noise/chaos. In this sense, I see music as the grounds on which to explore the semiotics of culture and language. Historically an attribute of religion and political power, now a fetishized commodity, music is illustrative of a society of repetition. But it prefigures a subversion, one that may lead to a new organisation never yet theorised.
I speak to a wide audience. For me, it’s not so much about the style of music, but the experience of music, and the message within it. I’d like to influence people that come to see my shows, to stand for something worth a lifetime even if that takes a lifetime of pain and madness to accomplish. Celebrate the struggle. Embrace collapse, it is a part of growth. It takes a lot of courage to see things beyond face value and not fall with the death drive. I’m my own case study. As an artist, I find it is essential to talk about the catastrophes of my generation. It is through art and philosophy that humanity evolves, and art bridges a gap between reason and affects that philosophy and science alone cannot.
KALTBLUT: Are there any other recurring themes that you explore in your work?
Astrid Gnosis: The themes of violence (love, human nature), self-destruction and collapse (mental, institutional) run through my work.
KALTBLUT: As a multidisciplinary artist, is there a particular medium which you have a preference for?
Astrid Gnosis: Poetry has been a huge part of my life as a creative. Writing has been consistently the main way to process things within me, and through song I can give every word a depth. I think it comes the most natural to me.
KALTBLUT: Strong imagery runs through your videos; the viewer is confronted with a combination of the surreal to (an almost comical) violent thread as seen in your recent video Drop Dead. Tell us a little about how you envision this with your music?
Astrid Gnosis: I’m very comical in real life. I come across as serious maybe even hostile on stage but I don’t take myself or anything so seriously. Comedy is a huge part of life. Tragedy can be comical at times. There seems to be a misconception in our narcissistic world that our ultimate goal is to be happy in life. I disagree. To enjoy life one must have a certain tragic disposition, a concept forwarded by Nietzsche, as an affirmation of life, to love one’s fate. Is this not a comical predisposition towards life? Here I agree with Quantum theory in that I think reality is pretty much what you make of it, and it is important to maintain a sense of humour when things don’t go our way because they will more often than not be unexpected.
The truth is life is a paradox, the nature of reality is perplexing and we all must come to terms with our inherently human dualities, life and death, feminine and masculine. See, comedy is essential. I find it interesting that it comes out through my videos, I’m thinking maybe you mention this because of the baby at the start that gets shot playing with a gun and then decomposes into the soil. See, written it sounds so harsh, yet in the video, it is fiction, and that baby is by Claudia Mate who is well known for low fi 3D graphics. It all adds to the comedy of the human condition. If you watch the news, however, violence has become it seems part of normal daily life at a disturbing frequency, I guess the video Drop Dead comments on the desensitization. On the cognitive dissonance between fiction/entertainment and facts. The perversity of enjoyment of information for information sake, as a voyeuristic pleasure creating what Lacan calls a plus-de-jouir, a surplus enjoyment in not being supposed to enjoy.
KALTBLUT: Given the performative elements of what you do and your work in visual installations, we hear your live shows are quite a show! What is your favourite part of the live process?
Astrid Gnosis: Every artist needs an outlet for their creativity. It’s built-up energy otherwise, it becomes toxic, like a nuclear reactor. I find I come full circle in the experience of my work with an audience. The purpose of my work is to be shared, lived, discussed. Otherwise it asphyxiates itself in a vacuum. Performing music live is a huge part of that creative process, it purges the mind from the experience of the body, like a process of sublimation, in the Lacanian sense.
KALTBLUT: You’re described as ‘self-made’. What has been the most challenging aspects of independently curating your vision, sound and getting your work out there?
Astrid Gnosis: The most challenging has been to learn to rely on myself alone. To see my mother ill and dying all the way in a different country and not be able to afford to be present with her, or help her. To see my friends turn into enemies, to have no mentors. It’s been hard to be insulted and humiliated for being a strong woman. It’s been the hardest to ultimately understand that before my ideas people see me as a threat to an established order of things. I think ultimately people just are afraid of assertiveness and vision when it comes from a woman, it is more commonly expected to need others to be strong, and I came without introduction and have proved consistently I can stand alone. It’s been hard to see the idiots winning. The biggest challenge to getting my work out has been to build an audience, without opportunities to play live. The wait.
As a solo artist, with no representation, well it feels like screaming inside an empty well. I enjoy solitude and silence but physiologically like every human I am predisposed to be social and work in collaboration. But I have dealt with the struggle on my own, which has made me resilient. I wouldn’t trade that for anyone.
KALTBLUT: Having dropped your EP, what else can we expect from Astrid Gnosis in the not too distant future?
Astrid Gnosis: I’m working on a project that will see the light in March 2019. This will be my most ambitious project to date. Before the year ends I will be in Paris on the 15th playing a live concert at Parkingstone, and DJ-ing at Rinse Fm.
Astrid Gnosis’s latest EP Heady is available on Bandcamp
Photos by Pablo Más