I guess it was the combination of getting a diverse education at school, then traveling outside of Russia in my late teens and seeing many new things: people's lives, professions, social structures, comparing them and deciding that there is nothing I want to tie my life with but art. This is an area in which a human being can explore him/herself and the world around in the richest and freest way. Life becomes a 24/7 research laboratory of inner and outer worlds.
I use a broad variety of techniques and prefer to mix and experiment with them and not get stuck in any one of them. I usually start with an idea and then think what materials are best for exploring this topic. For example, now I work with common construction materials and I'm curious to what point I can make poetic situations out of these unromantic and tough materials, how much I can push those materials to that elevated point. What I like most about working with a diverse variety of techniques is that I learn from the process and that, out of failure of my first ideas come new unexpected interesting forms that push the initial idea further, thus creating a chain reaction of the form and the idea supporting each other. I try to invent solutions, moments in which the process of learning and creation is combined, thus the projects develop organically where I mold materials and they mold me.
To tell you the truth I like working with everything. Another question is what am I better at! All materials have their own challenges, traditions and history, whether it's paint on a wall, oil on canvas, photo, video, trash/found objects or computer-based art. For example, oil on canvas has a huge history and tradition. It is an extremely pleasant process but at the same time very challenging, as I always think how I can push its territory, make something new with it; play around with it and make it look fresh while expressing my thoughts and feelings at the same time. As you can imagine this can be a sublimely exciting process, and at the next moment extremely depressingly frustrating.
Growing up in Russia in the 1990s and 2000s had a huge impact on me that I will never be able to depart from, and I'm not willing to. It was a trippy childhood in which I was brought up in a science oriented, mathematics-astrophysics-geological family with an extremely low income and the everyday struggle of surviving with a family of 4 kids. We were therefore forced to invent things from nothing. This was a 20 year-long school of transforming minimum into maximum, and I still use the same principles in my life and work today. To create something with the minimum means possible is already in itself a strong political gesture in our predominantly consumeristic, capitalistic, polluted world.
Having been born at the end of the cold war and during the collapse of the Soviet Union definitely played a big part in that. Failure and disappointment, construction and reconstruction are the everyday feelings that each individual regularly experienced in the early 1990s in Russia. I personally find a rich soil of ideas in those feelings, and after recognizing and transforming them, a huge anarchical energy of mental freedom can potentially be released. Especially as a kid growing up in this environment, it's the best part; you transform these massive fallen structures into playgrounds and construct your own worlds out of them. All my life my family and I were all about transforming ruins into livable spaces, turning shit into gold. That's what happens still, I just decided to do it professionally using the different ingredients of visual language, human history and personal experience.
I met Maurizio and Massimiliano while working at the V-A-C Foundation in Moscow, an institution where I worked on the presentation of many fascinating exhibitions of Russian contemporary art including "Modernikon", curated by Francesco Bonami and Irene Calderoni; and "Ostalgia" curated by Massimiliano at the New Museum. I worked alongside Massimiliano during his research trips to Russia, showing him around the various local artist studios for several days, and later on met Maurizio at the opening of "Modernikon" at the 2011 Venice Biennale. When I eventually moved to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts, they were the only 2 people I actually knew in NYC, and after my first semester while looking for a job they surprised me with the news that they were opening a new gallery and were ready to take me into the Family!
It was an extremely intense learning process for which I'm very grateful to both Maurizio and Massimiliano. I was a student then and it was a perfect time to have this type of job. Understanding structures is very important to me as I find the final visual artistic form, whether it's an art piece or an exhibition, to be just a wallpaper of a larger idea's architecture. Exploring the architecture behind the wallpaper is what interests me. So I would say it was a very important process that helped me a lot in understanding these types of structures on the practical level whether from the artistic, historical, socio-political or economic perspectives.
I started making books first out of curiosity and the desire to explore the process. I also wanted to experiment at how I could present my performances if not on a video screen, and whether it's possible to have the experience of a performance in your pocket, always available for you. After making the first series of flip books, I later made a self-published catalog of my first personal exhibition in Russia at Aperto Gallery, "Path through Long Grass". There I included the interviews with David Ross, my professor at that time, and Russian art theorist Olesya Turkina. I was very happy with the result because again, something was made with little or no means, and no institutional support, in this case an exhibition catalog. Later, I curated an exhibition "Yes, but Less!" in the US and published a catalog for it in which I invited emerging writers and journalists from different countries to share their ideas about the subject matter of the exhibition. Fortunately there are ever more independent publishing houses and bookshops that support these endeavors and I was happy to collaborate with them on some occasions. Thus my flip books are now presented at Printed Matter in New York and in 2013, I was lucky enough to bring a big show of self-published books from around the world to my home town of St. Petersburg ("Tamizdat", at New Holland Pop-up Gallery) where only a few know what a zine is. I will definitely continue to work with self-published materials and would encourage any creative individual to explore the medium as well, whether it's a person in art, science, music, literature, etc…
The visual language of art as with any other language, verbal, scientific, or otherwise is not always easy to understand without some prior experience, and I would say that one should educate him/herself both practically and theoretically to begin applying and understanding it better. What I find extraordinary about visual language is the richness with which one art piece can express so many ideas, time patterns, structures, chaos and personal emotions. It's a kind of door out of reality into another reality that is much bigger and more mysterious than the one we are commonly used to. So I would say that yes, the language I am working in is universal, but it will tell much more to people who know how to read and to open up to it, regardless of where they come from or what profession they have. To put it in simpler terms, when speaking to a foreign person, the better you know his/her language and the more you feel interested and open, the more you'll find out about this person, potentially making it an exciting and inspiring conversation, but on the other hand, with little knowledge of their language and low interest, it can be a frustrating and boring experience.
I used to travel and change environments much more in my late teens and early twenties which influenced me a lot. Traveling was basically my main source of education. While I was living in St. Petersburg, I was exposed to so many things, the traditional forms of art and an academic way of thinking. I was going to the Hermitage museum frequently, which has an extraordinary collection including great works by Rembrandt, El Greco, Da Vinci, Titian, as well as Egyptian and Asian art. When I started traveling outside of Russia for the first time at the age of 19, my mind was blown by the alternatives that existed for social, cultural, political structures and contemporary visual forms. I became super hungry for traveling, exploring and learning more which led me to living in New York now. These days I'm mostly traveling on work related trips and traveling has become more like missions to accomplish and projects to make. Otherwise, I spend most of the time in my studio at Greenpoint, experimenting, exploring and 'traveling' in another way.
The Russian and New York art scenes are two completely different worlds. In my point of view, in the core of all differences lies the freedom of expression, its history and tradition. While artists in US and Europe can enjoy the freedom of experimenting with whatever and whichever way they like, in Russia however, artist's experimentations and thoughts can lead to major troubles such as jail sentences and genuine threats to their lives. Therefore artists in Russia are trying to gain basic freedoms and as a result many of them are becoming passionate political activists fighting against Putin's dictatorship. So the core foundation is completely different, as different as democracy and dictatorship are in their ideological relationship to each other. While in America and Europe the freedom of expression has a long and rich history, in Russia it has almost none. As a result, the majority of the Russian population don't have any habit of alternative or creative thinking, and it's not in the dictator's interest to give his people such. It creates a vicious cycle of a low level of interest from the general population, low levels of education and curiosity, with no resources for anything other than a very specific and unique arts scene that due to the minimal support it receives, is tiny. And that's the most fascinating thing to me! Because the environment is so extreme, some artists are becoming fighters in a perpetual struggle, and often in a physical way too. Each of them is very special, but I would say that what unites them all is that they are big thinkers, great dreamers and uncompromising fighters, qualities I think that make up the best core of any human being whether an artist or not. On the other hand, because of such a difficult environment, Russian artists very often don't have studios, financial support and can't work so fruitfully and continuously. This in turn influences their body of work, making it weaker than what it could potentially be. New York on the contrary is filled with artists, thousands and thousands of them. It seems that because of a relatively long history of freedom of expression, each individual is exploring their individual creative way whether in art, business or science. The population's interest is very high, the supportive infrastructure for artists is huge as there are so many museums, exhibitions, lectures, and so on. As a flip side to this democratized effect, one can also perfectly see here in New York how art transforms into a big business structure, resulting in that many young artists serve the market by producing very desirable and trendy things, making in my view something more like design pieces, created by working with the terms of design aesthetics of advertising and marketing. I try to balance between these two worlds of Russia and New York, take the most interesting parts from each, and try not to fall completely into just one.
I'm working currently on several projects simultaneously where I experiment with painting and sculpture mediums, collapsing one into another. From the conceptual perspective, I'm in the process of exploring the area of dead ideas, the dreams and expectations that evolutionarily cannot survive and thus died, in the past, are dying now, or are doomed to fall apart in the future. As I was myself brought up on the Soviet Socialist branch of the enlightenment period's evolution, that itself did not survive and collapse, I'm interested in exploring the history and life cycle of an idea, to see its birth, its life and its death. This pattern exists everywhere, whether in humans' everyday lives, in nature, or in the larger structure of the universe. I'm exploring these cycles and evolutionary dead ends, and looking for what is behind them, how not to forget about these experiences, and rather transform them into new life cycles.