Russian-born, London-based Karina Akopyan is a familiar figure to denizens of TG events, and unsurprisingly she and David Wood are old pals.
She’s also exactly the kind of alt/fet/creative person one could imagine as part of the line-up at a Club Vanitas event, as well as co-hosting it.
“Yeah,” David agrees, “we’ve been best friends for partying together and I go to most art exhibitions with her. We have similar tastes in fun and aesthetics.
“She’s been a big fan of Torture Garden, and her art costumes had a big impact, and I’ve been a big fan of her artwork.
“She staged a full fashion show of her art costumes at the TG Coronet and at Dances
of Vice in New York that I curated. So we’ve spoken about her getting more creatively involved in TG for a few years.
“But after I left TG there was an open page for new ideas and a full collaboration. We have very similar taste in performance, fashion, art, weird sex and cocktails! So for me, the perfect person to work with on a new event.”
What does Wood see her bringing to this slef-defined partnership of equals?
“I like to stay in touch with edgy young designers, artists, performers, venues etc, but Karina is younger than me and she’s out a lot. So she’s bringing a young freshness, different contacts and a second pair of eyes and ears.
“We want to get more creative with the shows, performances and themes, and style and create some ourselves.”
You can read the artist’s own thoughts about their joint venture in the panel below.
With an aesthetic rooted in fetishism and the decorative style of Russian folk art, London-based Russian artist Karina Akopyan’s work features painting, photography and costume pieces.
Her work has been characterised as a bold questioning of sexuality, religion, ritual and iconography — “in all their jarring coexistence yet inevitable convergence”.
Her distinctive costume creations have received many accolades. In a recent salute to her artistry, Lady Gaga wears Karina’s Floral Alien full body outfit in the video for 911, the third single off Gaga’s 2020 album Chromatica.
The song is about Gaga’s relationship with the antipsychotic medication she takes. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the video was largely inspired by Amenian director Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 art film The Colour of Pomegranates.
Asked how Club Vanitas — Karina’s new London clubbing collaboration with David Wood — came about, the artist says the two have been friends for a long time and have “a great creative connection” in terms of taste.
Talking about some of the aspects of the new venture that are important to her, she says:
“Back in my early days of just starting my life in London after moving from Russia, where life is very very different, I got truly inspired by the freedom and creativity of the night life here.
“I remember this moment very clearly. Being 18 and being in art school, I bumped into a bunch of dressed-up fetishistas in latex at an erotic exhibition at the Barbican.
“I couldn’t help but wonder who these people were, where I could find them again and how I could be a part of this. One of these people was actually David Wood and I went to one of his Torture Garden parties later that same year.
“I was fascinated by so many looks and performances I saw around that time. Being part of the scene shaped me as an artist probably more than any art education I ever had, and the costume branch of my art was directly inspired by it.
“I found my identity somewhere between my past and my present. I was a painter and Illustrator before, but as I started to put looks of increasing complexity together for the parties, it all eventually merged together into what my work is now.
“I was very much into the fashion side of it. It almost felt like an unspoken competition
between a lot of us of who could turn out most extreme looks.
“Unfortunately over the years, as the scene got a little more diluted and commercial, some of my favourite things faded a bit — and I would like to reincarnate those.
“I would like to be able to inspire the next generation of artists on the scene the way I got inspired. We have a truly wonderful community of creatives.
“I would also like to be able to give a platform to new performers and artists — young people that are just starting out after this covid world madness.
“Club Vanitas is meant to be an equal marriage of fashion, art and fetish for a very polysexual crowd, and the dresscode must reflect that. You could say I am imagining a sort of fetish ballroom culture!”
That dresscode, she says, will be based on “Xtreme looks only”. Which means your choice of edgy couture fashion, drag star, high glamour, animal exotica, fetish fashion, erotic fantasy, burlesque showgirls, heavy rubber, boylesque, historical costume and surrealism.
It’s not long until the club’s launch on September 3 at The King’s Head Members Club, so for those interested, a thorough delve through the dressing-up chest might now be in order.
At this point Karina is David’s business partner only on the new club. But the doors to future joint ventures are being left open, he confirms.
“It’s early days with the partnerships but let’s see where it goes and what it becomes. I thought Torture Garden would last six months!
“It’s hard to imagine how the next year will go with the pandemic. What I’ve learnt is no one can predict what’s next.
“We’re just hoping to stage a few events and ride a positive wave while we can… and fingers crossed for the future. But be prepared for changes!
“After everything being closed for so long and some young people missing out on clubbing at 18 completely, I’m hoping there will be an explosion of creativity and new ideas, and an explosion of appreciation for fun and the things we took for granted.
“I don’t want to go back to how things were a year-and-a-half ago, with the same old ideas. It’s time for a refresh and new ideas.”
One very obvious difference from Wood’s TG days will be the choice of the Kings Head Members Club on London’s Kingsland Road as the launch venue for Club Vanitas.
“The Kings Head Members Club has been a favourite venue for Karina and me for many years, and we’ve spent many a drunken night roaming every corner,” he says.
“I love taxidermy and it has the most amazing taxidermy you’ll find anywhere, so it’s the perfect venue for me, and an extension of my home.
“It’s also more like a grand, sumptuously decorated house than a normal nightclub, so we felt it was a perfect launch venue, with the feel more of a private decadent party.”
If there’s a downside to the venue, it’s that, spread over four floors, the individual rooms are relatively small, and even in the main club room there’s only a small stage.
“Therefore,” David promises, “we’ve gone more for lots of interactive installations spread over all the rooms.”
At time of publication, the launch line-up for September 3 is as follows:
As main acts on the stage, Lydia Circus Arts and Ego will be performing contortion and boylesque dance, while a House of Narcissism fashion show will use only trans models in installations around the venue.
Other planned installations include an aerial Lyra hoop show, Charlie Bouquett in her suspension bird cage, shibari suspensions by Figure of A, latex costume art by Electric Adam, and drag dancer Kalypso Bang.
In addition, club co-host Karina Akopyan will create a performance installation using the costume in the Club Vanitas promo images.
For more details there’s a link to the Club Vanitas Facebook event page at the end of this article (with tickets via Dice).
David Wood’s new Agent Vanitas entertainment agency, meanwhile, is London-based but aiming to be international, boasting a full roster of talent in New York and elsewhere.
He is careful to stress that Agent Vanitas has no links with Astarte Creative, the agency he shared with Shien Lee in NYC. He resigned his directorship and handed that business back to her before returning to the UK.
Agent Vanitas certainly has the look of a cool, ambitious project. But obviously its growth as a business will be dependent on how soon the live entertainment world gets back on its feet. Is David prepared for a slow start?
“Yeah,” he says. “As I’m starting from zero again, and as events are only beginning to open again, I’m expecting a few months of promoting before bookings fully come in. But I want to be up and ready.
“I worked as an entertainment agency curator/director on quite a few corporate and high-end events while at TG London.
“But my business model is mostly based on my experience of what works in New York, so I’m hoping it also works for London and the UK.
“As things open up, I hope there will be an explosion of energy to celebrate and enjoy life to the full, and a boom in extravagance.
“Some people and businesses have been badly damaged during the pandemic and some have done very well, so I believe there’s still a lot of money around and there’ll be a desire to have fun.”
At present, he adds, more performers seem to be appearing at corporate and private events outside the UK than in the UK.
“Hopefully that’s about to change. I’m aiming for the agency to be international though, and want to use my global contacts and experience.
“London currently has a strong performance cabaret scene at regular venues, so I’d like to get into that and curate a regular show if an opportunity arises.” [Updated 2021-08-12]