By Filippo Lorenzin and Arseny Vesnin
As the story goes, once upon a time a mermaid fell in love with a ship captain and, in turn, saved him from certain death at sea. As punishment, Neptune banished her to the bottom of the ocean, forbidding her to breach the surface and see her lover. The tears she shed became beautiful pearls.
It’s a heartbreaking tale of rebellion in pursuit of love passed down over centuries and featuring different characters in different settings.
At the center of the story lies a profound melancholy produced by the clash of logical and ethical systems. Inspired by this tale, Russian Athens-based artist Sasha Katz suggests an empathetic take with “Mermaid’s tears” (2021), a work that represents a slight change in the recent work of the artist. Katz has become known for her beautiful, hyper realistic digital illustrations and sculptures; when you look at one of her works, you cannot help but feel they are made of the same matter as lucid dreams. The human models look like real bodies but there is always a certain excess of details that makes you question their authenticity.
In most of Katz’s works, from “Your two breasts are like two fawns” (2021) to “Melancholic girl” (2021), there is a recurrent aspect that makes her portfolio such an unique example of artistic coherence and creative energy: a relentless pursuit of ways to speak to the viewer through a strategy build around how human senses perceive reality. The human bodies, often partially clothed or completely naked, are covered in textures that, again, might be mistaken for real at a first glance but that, after further investigation, are revealed to closer resemble materials like marble, glass or gold than human flesh – or even the organic world. These hyper bodies touch organic surfaces, sometimes the skin or the long curly hair of other human bodies, other times the furry backs of cats or the slimy tentacles of an octopus.
When you see the digital models designed by Katz pressing against these other bodies, your mind transported, you can feel the experience, as if you were the one in the composition. The smooth, pleasant touch of a cat’s fur is summoned in our brain and for a moment we take an active, although simulated, role in the work. The surfaces in Katz’s works are never dull: they aspire to represent the maximum amount of the qualities that make such textures so memorable in real life.
“Mermaid’s tears” is the sum of all Katz’s approaches to redirecting viewers’ senses. We see two feminine faces very close to each other. Trained to read pictures from the left to the right, our eyes gaze upon the figure on the left first. Her expression is numb, as if she were emptied of emotion. The only visible trace of what she is feeling is a tear pouring down her open eye. This tear doesn’t look like any other tears; its viscosity reminds one of liquid metal, its color and reflections of the mermaid’s pearls from the folktale that inspired Katz. Coming out of an open mouth, a lashing tongue licks the tear and visually connects the left side of the picture with the right.
The focus point of the work is the space occupied by the open eye, the tongue and the lips of the figure on the right; from there, the viewer explores the mermaid’s facial features: her eyebrow curving to contact with the tongue-lasher’s lips. The open mouth seems ready to swallow not only the tear but also the eye of the mermaid.
The point of view is tight, we are drawn into the two figures. We witness a tender act speaking of emotional support, of sisterhood. “Let me drink your sorrow”, seems to say the figure on the right, whose eyes are unseen. This sentiment is met by the anesthetized gaze of the mermaid directed straight her partner’s mouth; the tongue is what creates movement in the composition of the picture and, at the same time, leads to an emotional connection between the viewer and the scene.
It’s not by chance, then, that Katz has chosen this work about sisterhood to support Too Young to Wed, an organisation whose mission is to empower girls and end child marriage globally. The artist has minted “Mermaid’s tears” and, in collaboration with SuperRare, will donate all profits to the organization, currently working to arrange the safe evacuation of 175 high-risk female Afghan journalists, activists and their families.