Sandra Jogeva is an artist whose work knows no limits, and the manner in which she has really pushed her work to the very edge of customary perceptions of art is truly impressive. For example, from 2005-2006, she worked as a dominatrix, partly to earn money and partly to get material for her art. I can’t think of many other artists who have gone so far into a world outside of the artistic for the sake of their art. More recently, she has been doing stand-up performances, creating confessional comedy routines as part of her artistic oeuvre.
Working as a dominatrix and incorporating this into her work has in some ways gotten the artist pigeonholed into that role. She tells me that she is very well known for this in Estonia, and whenever there is a news report about S&M, for example, she is always asked for comment. She was also just recently asked to comment on the publication of 50 Shades of Grey. While she did dedicate a number of pieces to her foray into the world of S&M, her work is about much more than that. For example, she tackled religion in her interactive piece Holy Bread (2008), where she brought special toasters into the gallery and enabled visitors to make pieces of toast bearing the impression of Jesus, Che Guevara, Charles Manson, or Lenin. Her sculpture Serving Trolley (2009) is a table with a plaster cast of a corpulent female body on top of it. As a “serving trolley” it could potentially be used to create something similar to Nyotaimori, the Japanese practice of serving sushi on a naked female body. While those females are usually slender, this one presents an alternative, and more realistic, body type. Finally, in her installation The Ranks (2008), Sandra created a series of sculptures that examines the “hidden” ranks of contemporary society. Although Western society does not officially have a cast or rank system, it is clear that people exist on different social and economic levels, and one can perceive those “ranks” by one’s outward appearance. In this piece, Sandra captured those different levels of society and immortalized them in a number of plaster sculptures that were painted to look as though they were bronze.
Following her stint as a dominatrix, the artist created an exhibition to communicate that experience through art. In the gallery she presented chocolate bars with wrappers bearing scenes of typical S&M sessions with the different types of usual clients, from the shy, nervous guy unable to interact with women, to the stressed-out middle aged business man who used this as a release during his lunch break. The wrappers also contained extracts from Sandra’s diary about the experience. She chose chocolate bars, she told me, because they are something that is both “sweet and sinful.” In some ways, the use of chocolate makes an awkward subject somehow more palatable, both literally and figuratively, because it presents an intense situation in the form of an everyday, pleasant item. Speaking of her experience as a dominatrix, she said that it “illuminated profoundly my understanding of human character, as well as the nature of a typical Estonian male.” The artist was a student of Jaan Toomik, who taught his students to look to the marginal places of society for inspiration.
Indeed, the artist found much material in her experience, and also used three “slaves” in a performance entitled Born Free, Born Equal at an event in the Polymer Culture Factory in 2009. The men, wearing nothing by leather masks, cleaned the gallery spaces and cleaned up after the performers. She also involved the audience in this experience, in a performance called The Gauntlet (2007), for the opening of the show “Sex Market” at Tallinn Art Hall. During the opening, the male visitors entering the gallery were whipped by females dressed in full dominatrix gear.
More recently, the artist has moved to stand-up comedy. She has taken the self-confessional aspect of art to a whole new level – instead of expressionistic painting or text-based two-dimensional work, in the manner of Tracey Emin, the artist stands before the audience and confesses her most intimate secrets and stories, for example, an embarrassing first date, her hypochondria and anxiety. She also reveals her opinions about the Estonian art scene and contemporary art in general. When asked how it feels to stand up and share these very personal aspects of her life with her audience, she replied that “you have to be brutally honest, so that no one believes you.”
Earlier in her career Sandra worked together with Margus Tamm and Kristin Kalamees as the performance group “Pink Punk,” which she described as “more anarchist than feminist.” That said, their performances examine female roles and notions of beauty, for example, in Fair Deal, a performance done several times and in several cities from 2003-2004, the artists appeared in public places, gussied up with dresses and full make-up, with signs that read “Give us money we are pretty.” The artist commented that the message was much simpler than it appeared – one sees people begging for money all the time for different reasons, so why not for this one? In I Could be Your Mother (2004, 2005), the women appeared on the street dresses as a hybrid hooker-power executive-urban bird, and sprayed people with milk from their breasts. Margus Tamm handed out business cards that read “I could be your mother.” The performance was about the undervaluing of the maternal role in contemporary society.
One of her earliest performances is perhaps her most poignant. In Guestbook of the Heart (2005) Sandra was tattooed with a “guestbook” over her heart – a place where those who capture her heart can leave her name. The tattoo remains to this day, however the guestbook is still empty. While the artist laments this fact, it is certain that she has in fact opened up her heart to her audience, and perhaps the reason the lines remain empty is because in that regard, there are simply too many names to fill it.