interview by S(GBA) | Text edit Renata Iberia | All images Alexandra Zakharenko

“I think that erotic tension is a really unique feeling for everyone.” Alexandra Zakharenko

Touch, sensation and intimacy: from the innermost depths of the current human experience, these terms have been confronted and redefined from the inside to the outside on a global scale. Whether it is through fear or a new found liberation, the actual touch of other people’s skin and our own is always a political act it reveals the social bounds that constrain our understanding of the body and limit our full expression of identity and self. In WET, Alexandra Zakharenko (working under moniker Perila), explores this topic through the lens of sexuality, gathering elements such as poetry and sound to take a dive into the vivid, tactile experiences of eroticism in its most graceful state. WET, which stands for Weird Erotic Tension, steps into the zone where desire is allowed to meet fragility, tenderness and even ferocity.

This time, NSNS editor SGBA had the chance to exchange questions and ideas with Zakharenko, who shares the details on the process of translating a sensorial experience into sounds and words.

The fine line between erotica and sexuality is as complex as it is enriching, pushing our perspective of what might be considered taboo or obscene, too much for the eye. As a first question, SGBA inquires on the difference between “erotic tension” and “sexual tension” as a fundamental part of the project:

“For me, the key word here is tension, erotic or sexual or any other kind is just a frame and it often comes with a stereotypical connotation, say Zakharenko. Tension is about physicality, it is what you feel within your body and usually the cause is multi-layered. I see tension as a knot of unreleased emotions stored in a body blocking the energy from circulating freely. This tension could be released via movement practices, sex or another suitable way of self-expression. As tension usually goes together with toughening the muscles and blood pump to the area, there could be a parallel with sexual excitement.

I think that erotic tension is a really unique feeling for everyone, she continues. For me, as I said, it is about the muscle or emotional knot I trace in different parts of my body when I’m excited, overwhelmed or anxious. The more I observe it the more I understand it as a block or suppressed unreleased emotion, feeling, thought. It is also related to our desires and needs we neglect sometimes, since our societies drive us to lose contact with our bodies, a place where one can find a lot of answers.”

“Weird here could be interpreted as a word inviting to express the most strange and bizarre thoughts and sounds on sexuality, a kind of gate to open up and explore, push limitations and step out of your comfort zone to discover new.” – Aleksadra Zakharenko

In relation to all the undefined territory within the erotic and sexuality, Zakharenko chose the term “weird” in relation to tension for this project, opening up the space for multiple interpretation, and even self-discovery:

“Weird here could be interpreted as a word inviting to express the most strange and bizarre thoughts and sounds on sexuality, a kind of gate to open up and explore, push limitations and step out of your comfort zone to discover new. Look deeper in self and find out some hidden desires and fantasies and give them a green light for realisation. I always want to inspire more people to share and express themselves, providing a safe zone for it. I also think there is a certain pleasure knowing that there are people out there feeling and having all kinds of fantasies. Makes you feel less lonely maybe. I would like WET to grow as a community.

My focus here is more on researching new perspectives and perceptions of intimacy and sexuality as I think there is a lack of it in today’s world of the first one and skewed vision of the later.”

WET works with a different myriad of perspectives, gathering field recordings and audios from listeners. With each collaboration, the meaning of sex, intimacy, eroticism gets redefined in an urepeatable manner. Especially now, at a point when lack of touch is generalized, these matters are coming to the surface and revealing how fragile and tender our bonds with other bodies and our own might be. When asked about the research and selection process, Zakharenko shares:

“What interests me the most is honest subjectivity. The more sincere and open the response the better. By showing various interpretations I want to show how fragile, unique and intimate sexuality can be. Everyone has their own perception and peculiarities. The platform is about pushing and overcoming limits and boundaries around sexuality while at the same time creating a safe place for intimacy to flourish.

I’m sure there have been a lot of internal changes, discoveries and explorations as we finally have time and space for it. I think the need for intimacy has become even more prominent. Lack of physicality and touch are also huge factors to motivate looking for new ways of feeling closeness. It’s been hard but also inspiring to research these ways of feeling a lot while being far away from each other. I would be really curious to hear what people have been finding during this period.”

On the conceptual process behind WET (or other works like Zakharenko’s work on TIMEPIECE), the artist speaks on the importance of keeping the channel with the self open, and the crucial part that intuition and feedback also play:

“My works always start with a concept, for me it is the soil for sounds. I also ask myself a lot of questions every day, especially with the projects I do. They are all open questions I ask myself and invite listeners to think of it too.

My main focus I’ve been researching for some time now is how to reattach mind and body in order to become a whole. That is, knowing what your wants and needs are, how a sound can help unblocking emotional blocks stored inside, dissolving all suppressions, or the healing properties of music to encourage a deeper dive in self, connecting with the body and releasing tension.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more presence of a dialogue with a listener. It inspires me to keep exploring these fields more as it heals and teaches me a lot as well and hopefully others too. Besides the concept I also try to open up more space in expressing myself by being true to my inner spirit and trying something I never did before. New experiences are my driving force. I guess most of the work I do should be experienced bodily or have a touch of sexuality in it because it emerges from my body with intention.”

Perhaps as one of the most vulnerable states of the human spirit, love is a word that inevitably appears when speaking of erotica, intimacy and sexual experience. As a creative and receptive soul, Zakharenko relates the notion of her work to the act of love itself, a moment that strips people bare of their veils. SGBA mentions Erich Fromm, author of The Art of Loving, quoting an essay that says “he focuses on love as a permanent state of being, as opposed to the short-lived experience of ‘falling in love’ or being helpless in the face of love*”:

“It all starts with an idea and message I want to transcend and then the sound becomes a reflection of this process. As my works are mostly about self discovery and capturing the present, love as a universal feeling starting from finding self-love and then sharing it with the world is important. I still perceive love as something magical, as you can’t predict or plan it, but you can also develop and learn how to love yourself while taming ego. I think this is the core of love as a healing and universal feeling.

After finding a sonic language to express what I want I try to listen to it with my whole body and observe what sensations I get from it and where. If it resonates inside then I consider work ready. Another important aspect is to make a listener engaged in this dialogue while at the same time leaving now into some subconscious realms. My studies are based on observations, questioning the reality and constant inner work.”

Speaking also on her recent participation in TIMEPIECE — a collaborative project by australian composer Peter Ablinger exploring the concept of a live human clock — the artist chose to explore the intricacies hidden in the passing of time through matter, navigating words like “liquid” or even “sticky”. With Zakharenko, sensations become very palpable to touch and imagination:

“I was thinking of time as a thick liquid we are floating, drowning and flowing in, wrapping around our bodies and holding us in a particular mind state. Sometimes you don’t even understand where days have gone and sometimes one hour is such a drag. Thinking and observing our bodies and lives in time space has been really entertaining during never ending lockdowns.

Lately, I’ve been interested in creating sonic performances. So TIMEPIECE is another work in researching how we can share similar qualities and impressions of performance but in online space, how we can feel and immerse in that presence of space and bodies around. I like to create tangible textures, something you can touch or be touched by.

I really enjoyed working on this project as the concept of time has been very present to me lately since we live in this COVID era. TIMEPIECE is a sonic visualisation of how I feel it nowadays.”

On a final and serene note, SGBA asks the artist what she will be listening when she goes to bed for the night:

“I’ve been listening to very subtle calming and healing mixes of my friends lately. I hear a lot of resonating moods in there and feel a certain connection through music and support by it.”

*Source: Erich Fromm, The Art Of Loving, Harper & Brother, 1956