CULTIVATING MYSTERY: AN INTERVIEW WITH MULTIMEDIA ARTIST CRYSTALMAFIA

Crystalmafia founder Kieran Behan talks about her latest installation at Berghain, and gives us a closer look into the ideas that drive her creative forces.

We’ve featured the fantastic artist and environmentalist Kieran Behan / Crystalmafia before on Archive Collective, and this time she’s back with a new video series recently launched Berlin venue Berghain.

Today we’re sharing some thoughts and images from this latest project, which explores the dualistic nature of our inner selves and the outer worlds we inhabit, as well as delving further into the history and purpose driving Crystalmafia’s creative pursuits.

Stay up to date on Crystalmafia here.

AC: Tell us about your latest project – how did it come about?

On May 4th, I built an interactive installation screening a video series commissioned by Nadia Says. It was shown at Berlin venue Berghain.

In a male dominated space and place such as the music/art/entertainment industry I’m drawn to adventures that tease a sort of feminine playfulness– an invitation to a game that starts a dialog. How do we balance the masculine and feminine energies we each carry inside of ourselves? I stumbled across something my friend Odin L. L. McEvoy wrote when I was coming up with ideas, and I would love to quote him here:

The de-moralization of dark/light. Night/Day. Female/Male. Woman/Man. Femme/Masculine. Inner/Outer. Think of a dream you had, of a memory under the night sky, of a blinding radiant sun, a woman you love, and a man you love. Where is the better in one or the other? Who told you so? Why?

AC: For those who missed it, how was the installation structured?

The piece consisted of two videos with interactive objects surrounding the work. When I was asked to participate in the exhibition, I was editing footage for a music video and everything naturally fell into place. I was on set with a gorgeous real life couple- Ana and Melinda – their best friend Melis by their side. I had spontaneously asked two friends Siobhan and Shira to be my second and third camera women and Halla came along with her incredible talent at styling. I was really impressed with this smooth sailing sort of feeling that came with the crew I was working with– it sparked the idea on what I could show.

I brought physical objects that represent elements you can see inside the videos and built an installation around this. Guests can physically engage if they wish.  It was incredible to watch people’s reactions to the strawberries and ‘hands’ – the space around the artwork became interactive and no one hesitated to eat the fruit or race the toys along the floor. I felt successful in my mission to bring absurdity to a place that can sometimes feel pretentious. Too many people take themselves seriously these days.

AC: What was the sensory effect of the viewers’ interaction with the artwork?

I think this work is about chemistry– this powerful group that I had the fortune to work with, an expression of sexuality, love and friendship. I wanted to play with time– some moments in the video appear frozen. If you happen to walk into the room at that particular instance, then it feels as if you stare into an intimate photograph. The tension builds and then suddenly the movement snaps into place. It’s a luxury to have so many hours to tell a story– as the exhibition itself was five hours long I had a lot of room to make long edits. The video work is slow and sensual and curious. You can wander in and out. I got to install my installation just outside the bathroom of Berghain— an extreme testosterone soaked space during a typical club night– so I wanted to bring a light-hearted feminine energy there to switch things up and balance things out.

AC: Tell us a bit more more about Crystalmafia – what are the origins of the collective and where are you now?

Film is the name of the game. I grew up analog so I like analog things – I studied professional photography, learning on a 4×5 camera and I know what it means to splash with all the chemicals in a darkroom. I always have a polaroid camera in my bag when I travel.

Crystalmafia was always a name I used to create fantasy worlds with groups of people doing untamed things. Over the past 14 years, it’s served as a creative outlet – shifting and changing. I like the fact it’s been hard to pin down – mystery is something I take pleasure in cultivating. It’s a disheartening situation when our society decides to puts everything into labels – if there is one thing I hope to inspire it is freedom from categorization.

​When I was younger I became disenchanted by commercial art school and hungry for something more. I was actively searching for kindred spirits who liked music and wildness. Was a funny scene at these American ‘jam band’ concerts, as the movement was heavily inspired by the migration of die hard music fans on Grateful Dead tours.  Kiddos would go on tour with their favorite group and travel from parking lot to parking lot selling drugs, tie dyed t-shirts and a multitude of things in between. We would joke that the true party never actually happened inside the concert venue- it was all about what happened on “the lot.”

We were actually a group of girls who made money selling our artwork. I remember Ashley Hayward was crafting these incredible painted collages and designing buttons with image transfers.  A magical time period with these women deserved acknowledgment yet we were lost in the midst of this beautiful chaos.  I wanted to find a way to make fun of the whole thing we were doing– as all the people I met seemed to be going through existential new age woes and wearing wire wrapped crystals around their neck as some sort of bling power statement– a status symbol. So I jokingly started referring to our rag tag team of misfits as ‘crystalmafia … a play on words… on a few different levels… so to say.


When I moved to Berlin in my early 20s I started working in the club scene to make ends meet. Everyone had started looking the same, minimal was in. I became heavily inspired when I started working the door at bar25 with this powerful woman- a force to be reckoned named Lotta that had beautiful fantasy camp style and ruled the door with a particular brand of powerful femininity.  I loved to dress up- to escape for days inside this whirlwind party and express myself with ridiculous costumes and behaviors. These days over the top WAS the top.

I started to organize a group of girlfriends – we would decide on hedonistic themes then unfold these ideas in the middle of a party. The idea struck a nerve and we traveled around the world doing this. I remember reenacting Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail with broccoli as our shrubbery. We had somehow found a giant stuffed bunny in the backstage and rigged it with fake blood and crawled all over the Arma17 club in Moscow. I remember performance artist Voin de Voin had accidentally slipped from the stage and fallen down – hiding his misstep he he began to repeatedly throw his body over and over again from the stage like everything was on purpose as the crowd howled in delight. I loved it. Sometimes during a particular festival like Sonar  in Barcelona we would have 7 gigs in 5 days- all different themes and props and costumes, running around the entire city like shapeshifting wild animals. These moments sit in a beautiful collection of memories that I would not trade for anything.


I remember the exact moment I realized it was time for a conscious shift. I had been booked to photograph a friend’s festival in Bali and was so eager to jump in the ocean and snorkel– I think I have been doing this since I was a little girl in any stream or pond I could wiggle myself in as I love getting lost in an underwater world.  When I started swimming I was struck by the sheer devastation and death of the entire coral reef system in this region. The ocean was almost dead in a place that should be teeming with life.

I began to really open my eyes to the world around me. I saw a disheartening lack of empathy in the entertainment industry and a world facing climate change and mass extinction. So my mind went elsewhere. Creative directing was inspiring – thinking of every little detail – the set design, the interactive performance art – the deeper concept behind it all that clicks the pieces into place. I wasn’t ready to be a leader of a gang skipping into commercial clubland. I loved traveling – but I disliked the aggressive machismo and packs of young things that attempted to copy our original ideas without the clever aftertaste. 

​I was taught a form of meditation that changed everything. My ways of thinking took a turn. What I could I do to change perspective? How could I communicate with people on a much larger scale? I feel I am transitioning into the world of directing – I want to make feature films for large audiences. I’m working on finding ways to transport viewers into situations that trigger emotional response without coming across as a preacher or fear-mongering lunatic. I aspire to articulate suffering in a way that emancipates one’s self while empowering others.

I lived for six weeks inside the Peruvian Amazon, traveling extensively and witnessing a lot of corruption within the NGO sector.  It was a huge learning experience because my emotions were running rampant, yet at the same time I was blocked from documenting a lot of what I saw. This ignited a fire burning deep inside of me. I will come back to this part of the world with my partner in crime Marie Alice Brandner-Wolfszahn to film an in depth look at the people who live here and their personal stories.  It’s based on the history, myths and legends of the Amazonians.

*All images and video footage by Kieran Behan, courtesy of the artist.

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