Anna Radchenko is an interdisciplinary artist and director who hails from Moscow but has lived in London since she moved there to study Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion. Specialising in short films, music videos, commercials, mixed media editorial projects and art installations, her work takes a surreal look at life, human psychology and philosophy. As well as being visually remarkable, it is stimulating, often asking the question, ‘what if…?’ Her latest project, GRANDmothers, is a strange, cool and humorous comment on ageism and social pressures that paints ageing in a fabulous new light.
A recurring theme in your work is the question ‘what if…?’ Have you always had an inquisitive imagination? What was your childhood like?
As a child, I’d be daydreaming all the time. For example, when I was stuck in traffic with my father, I’d be thinking about different creatures jumping from one car to the next carrying me across. The main thing that has influenced me was a game that I used to play with one of my friends. Basically, each of us had an imaginary land. We’d draw maps, define which creatures lived there and even come up with a political system. Then, every day for quite some time, we’d call each other and we’d tell what had happened in our lands that day – almost like a role playing game. I feel that this trained my imagination a lot, coming up with ideas and bouncing them off each other.
I’ve read that you actually graduated with a degree in International Economics before moving to London to study art. What brought about such a drastic change? Was it an easy decision?
I simply had to do it. I think this is a clear generational shift. What I mean is that for my parents what made sense was to study for a specific job. And that’s what you would do for the rest of your life. Our generation has the privilege to live in an era where we can come up with our profession and shape it in a unique way according to our strengths and experiences. I make it sound easy, but I’ve had my fair share of uncertainties. I began thinking I’d be a photographer, but then eventually realised that my strength lays in coming up with the creative vision and having experts around me help me bring that vision to life.
Why did you decide to start making videos as well as still photography and installations?
I’d consider myself an interdisciplinary artist. This means that depending on the concept and idea, I choose what medium makes the most sense. Sometimes it’s stills, sometimes it’s video, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. Stills and video have their own strengths. With stills, a whole image can tell a story, whereas videos allow you to build a story over the course of several minutes and engage with the viewer emotionally.
The surreal elements of your work are visually stunning but also thought-provoking, as if they have been carefully considered. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
As you mentioned before, everything stems from the question ‘what if…?’ This is large enough to grant you a great deal of freedom, but it’s also super easy to understand as a concept. You could probably trace it back to my interest in human psychology and philosophy. I just enjoy questioning what we take for granted and digging deep into how we work as human beings.
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Let’s talk about GRANDmothers, your latest video. What made you start thinking about the concept of older women being able to get pregnant?
I would say my mother played a big role. In Russia, if you are an older woman, it’s very uncommon to be out and about on your own – without a man. I see my mother as still very youthful, and it makes me angry to think that she feels that she shouldn’t do certain things because of her age. GRANDmothers is a reaction to this mindset.
What if our grandparents were able to get pregnant? Would they do it? What would it look like? And does it upset us to think about it? If so, why? This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed this topic. In 2017, I shot a fashion film called Silver Goddesses celebrating the beauty and lightheartedness of getting older. I’m just showing a different side to ageing, one that is not portrayed by the media very often.
Your presentation of these fabulous older women is inspiring. It challenges the way society can make us feel negative about ageing. What message would you like to give to anyone who is distressed about ageing or experiencing ageism?
Don’t give in. We definitely all feel the pressure, with thoughts such as ‘Have I achieved enough? I was supposed to do so and so by a certain age’ crossing our minds. But these are all human-made restrictions. The sooner we realise that (and it’s not easy), the sooner we can enjoy what we are doing and stop stressing as much.
The project also alludes to the pressure on women to reproduce by a certain age. What are your feelings on this matter?
I’ve recently become a mother myself. I was 30 when I gave birth to my son, and I had so many questions about how I would move forward. On one hand, I had my career and I didn’t want to give that up. And on the other, there’s society’s pressure to become pregnant and set up a family before you get too old. It’s definitely not easy for women, but we are slowly changing people’s mindsets.
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You have spoken before about the difference between Russian and European ideals regarding art and beauty and how you have been influenced by both in different ways. How did these differing perceptions come together in this project?
The main difference is that Russian artists focus on the idea without caring so much about the execution. Often, projects have a very strong concept, but the actual end piece comes across as unrefined. European artists, on the other hand, pay attention to the concept, as well as to how it’s presented. In my case, I try to take the best of both worlds.
I want to address issues that I care about. But how something is made is also super important for me. For example, the set design, the quality of the image, the choice of clothing… With GRANDmothers, I paid particular attention to the depth of field, making the images very sharp and giving them a hyperreal effect.
I love that you use humour and surrealism to make a serious point. Why do you choose to express yourself in this way? Is it a choice at all?
You could probably define my style as Surrealist feminism. I obviously want to explore topics in my work that are close to my heart, but I choose to do so with irony and a bit of fun. I think sometimes that’s the best way to get my point across, but ultimately, it’s just part of who I am.
You also bring together the old and the new in the set for this project, a gynaecological hospital that hasn’t been used since 2013. What was your process when it came to creating this space?
I wanted to work with an aesthetic of opposition. A traditional gynaecological hospital, only now it’s filled with fabulous older women giving birth. You’ll find Russian propaganda prints praising the traditional family and religious iconography hanging next to ‘90s boy band posters. Similarly, our models are dressed and made up in the way a sixteen-year-old would. Just have a look at their nails (courtesy of the wonderful Dasha Meshcheriakova – @naildose_). It’s an eclectic mix with the aim of playing with our perception and having us reconsider what is young and beautiful.
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GRANDmothers showcases a selection of up-and-coming and established international designers. Could you tell us more about the designers and brands you’ve worked with and featured in this project?
The focus is definitely on emerging Russian labels. Fashion to me is just another way to communicate my vision and tighten up the whole concept. I relied on the fantastic Maria Fionina (@masharadostnasha_) for the selection of the items. Once I explained my vision to her, she knew exactly what to do to fit within the eclectic, post-Soviet aesthetic of the project.
For the viewer, the atmosphere you’ve created is empowering and energetic. What was the atmosphere like on set?
The atmosphere was very special. During production, we become one creature with superpowers. There were more than thirty people on set this time. I loved this vibe! And the key thing is having a great producer, someone you can trust. And for me, it’s Anastasia Limarenko (@sonic_lee). She’s cheerful and energetic, and she knows how to inspire and manage people at the same time. It was a challenging shoot as it was very cold and the hours were long. But every single team member wanted to do their best because they believed in the idea.
Congratulations on recently becoming a mother yourself! How has that experience changed your work?
It’s hard to say as I’ve mostly been dealing with the lockdown since becoming a mother! Jokes aside, to be honest, I imagined it would make things harder for my professional life. I was even thinking that during my pregnancy – who knows, perhaps I was a little biased because of the way things are done in Russia. But on the contrary, I’ve shot music videos, as well as commercial campaigns, and no one has minded me being pregnant or having a kid. I realised that people were picking me because of what I did, because they liked my work. There were obviously situations where I either had to rush home or wasn’t able to fly to the location, but we always found a way around.
Your work has already taken you around the world. What or where is next on the horizon?
I have something in the pipeline that I have just finished. It’s a fashion film about the passing of time, with a fair amount of VFX (my latest obsession). It’s still unreleased, but I will make sure to share it with METAL once it’s out!
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