Saturday, March 26, 2011

Silver Era Tarot: Interview With Aunia Kahn

Aunia Kahn's work combines many disciplines, wrapping them into a hybrid art form melding photography, painting and collage. She invariably designs, builds, and executes characters, non-existent places, dreams, illusions, fears and fables into creation, which meld elements of classical, and contemporary art. Each work makes use of her own likeness in movie-like stills, dealing in varied taboo and often controversial subject matter to challenge the viewer, their understanding and preconceived notions; yet she connects through honest feeling and emotions. Aunia’s work has constantly evolved, earlier works dealt more with her past, while her more recent creations delve into present emotional conflicts and inspirations.

JC: I tend to look at Tarot more as a collection of archetypes, an arrangement that can be used to create some pretty primal narratives. I'm curious to know what your perspective on it is.

How did you put together the symbolism for the deck?

AK: The deck was based on the original symbolism of the Ryder Waite deck. The symbolism from such an influential deck in the tarot community is something that you either embrace or stray away from. If you stay away from traditional symbolism with your deck, it can be considered a non-usable “art deck”, rather than a fully functioning deck.

It’s like Monopoly. If you create boards with different themes or designs, but stick to the traditional ideas of the game and how it’s played - then it works, yet if you changed everything and made it your own thing, it would become a new game all together. The symbolism of the Ryder Waite was the basis of where we started the foundation of our works and then I created artwork telling the same tale but in my own style and followed the journey of the deck while doing so.

JC: It's true that if the symbolism you use isn't accessible to people, it'll fail as a Tarot deck if not a work of art. However, there are many arrangements other than Ryder Waite. The symbolism of Crowley's Thoth deck was always the most accessible to me, which is somewhat surprising considering how obscure and esoteric some of the philosophy behind it is. Of course, without the accompanying book, it would've been even more opaque to most audiences. Was part of the intent in creating a companion book for this project to help people grasp variations in symbolism? Or is it a more general guide to Tarot?

AK: Although the deck does have its own symbolism, the creation of the companion book itself was meant, as you said, to be more of a general introduction with some of our own interpretations. We saw the Silver Era Tarot as a project that could, and has, brought new users into the realm of exploration. We only desired to give a very small tickler of information to inspire others to research or discover for themselves what tarot could mean in their own lives; there is so much information available, it wouldn’t have been possible to write something so encompassing.

JC: How much was from Russell and how did that collaboration work?

AK: Originally I was going to create both the art and write the book for the deck, but found working collaboratively with a very good writer would help my idea be more solid and I could focus solely on the art.

As a collaborative project, Russell came in as the writer of the companion book, and I got to focus on just the artwork and layout. We worked alone on both of our specialties, but always ran the final products of each section by each other. I created the cards in order of where I was on my journey, so it was all feeling with no specific order. Russell on the other hand wrote the book from front to back, Major Arcana through the Minors in order in which they would appear. When the book and deck was finalized, we both took turns looking over the finalized art and writing to make sure that we had found a delicate balance with both of our works.

JC: Was there a lot of research involved, or was it a personal process?

AK: For myself there was a ton of research that began with each card I worked on. I wanted to make sure I saw all the different takes on the cards, and was able to find my own emotions and understanding of each card before I created the art. Then setting up each artwork in lines with the original symbolism but making sure that I created something original and fluent was challenging but a great journey. Russell also had a lot of research to do as well, we shared a lot of what we found together and came to a middle ground.

JC: How does personal as well as traditional mythology influence your work -- or does it?

AK: Overall this was a informative and fun journey for both of us, and for me a very important one. I found that each artwork was something I could use to relate to my personal mythology and find answers, clues and even ways to change my life in the present. Each card has so much to offer when you look past the surface, when doing in-depth research.

As for traditional mythology, I find that doing all the research had a direct impact on how I saw other things linking us to our past in tradition and how many of them are still present today in many cultures. I also came to understand that so many things that are found taboo are really just something we are not opening ourselves up to due to the way they are presented to us. If we started as a culture to do research rather than to take what others say as our truths we would find that we open up ourselves to something very special.

JC: I've felt for a long time that all of our suppositions -- all our beliefs, even -- about the world are myths, and they have yet more myths hiding underneath them. I suppose we could classify different kinds of myths, like the sort that is an involved narrative that you might find in a movie is different than the myth that there is a subconscious, or the myth that some people hold matter to be "real," or mind to be "real"... But it essentially boils down to the same thing. So I certainly agree that delving into and questioning our beliefs can open up new possibilities, although that's not to say that I think there is any conclusion to that process. "I know that I don't know" is the closest we've got to wisdom.

What first interested you in tarot? And if I can go beyond the scope of this particular project, when did you first consider yourself an artist? Did that shift of identity change anything, do you think?

AK: Tarot has always had a fascination in my mind, but like many people I didn’t experience it until it was the right time, that time came as early as 2005 as I made the plunge (although inadvertently at first) to being an artist. When you hear about people ‘always knowing’ they were meant to be something specific it is amazing to hear, but with me it wasn’t that way, yes, I was creative in many ways for as long as I can remember, but my art as we know it was not originally created for public consumption, it was created as a form of self-healing from a past of turmoil. Only when I was prompted to exhibit my works did I even give thought to that possibility. As I have embraced and furthered myself, the identity of course changes; a person grows and becomes what they believe they want to be.

There are no shortages of struggles, doubts and tests that make one question their path, and if there is anything we all learn throughout life, change is inevitable. My works, motivations and abilities have changed to reflect a growth and expansion in themes from the calm and peaceful to the challenging.

So in a nutshell, yes it did change many things.

JC: And in the process of externalizing that as art, other people can possibly find something transformative as well.

Check out their Silver Era tarot deck.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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