In 2008 the duo of Russian artists Andrey Blokhin and Georgy Kuznetsov came together to create Recycle Group. Their exploration of the nature of non-existing has challenged how we understand the relationship between human and machine by shifting the audience's perspective to see the world through a machine’s eyes and mind. Recycle Group has showcased their work around the world and are concerned with the rising level of material waste generated by our population.
Heavily edited due to being lost in translation their conversation became confusing at times, but their artwork resonates on a clearer plane.
Growing up in the 90s in the towns of Krasnodar and Stavropol at the beginning of the digital era, did it help the formation of Recycle Group?
We grew up in the 90s, in the town Krasnodar and Stavropol, we were kids in the 90s and we spent a lot of time together because our parents are artists. We spent so much time together at an art residence in the center part of Russia, in Vologda. We were in a big community of artists, called Sun Square, and we saw a lot of different artists, types of art - from performances to classical paintings, it was a big event for all of us. It was really cool and definitely influenced us, because we saw Indian artists, European artists, Russian artists of course and different projects. We’ve been living in that atmosphere every summer for 10 or 12 years. Also, we saw the beginning of a new digital era and felt it ourselves. We were in this strange context. We were teenagers as well. And we didn't spend so much time in the Soviet Union, so we don’t have that background, because it was before us, and we’ve been growing in the new era, that was not linked to the Communist party.
The advancement of technology in the last two decades has played a significant role in impacting your work, particularly the internet, what are your thoughts about it?
We can say that the Internet is like plumbing. It’s part of life that we use every day. Our lives run deep in the net and it gives us a lot of knowledge. Of course, technology plays a big role in art and life, since all contemporary art answers questions about our daily reality. The Internet is another instrument that we have everywhere. [As artists and the Recycle Group] we are discovering and working on the idea of the mortality of personality, with new technologies [through] the Internet we wonder could we live forever?. For us it’s a part of human evolution, it’s part of the natural process which is happening now. Even if it’s a digital process, it is also kind of a natural process. That seems like part of life - if you asked what do you think about plumping, we'd say we use it every day and of course, it is a way we are connected.
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Is there a connection between your Western Contemporary artistic traditions with domestic Russian reality? Do you tend to get inspiration from your past or personal experiences?
There could be any connection between your western contemporary artistic traditions with the domestic Russian reality. For us, we think they are linked to each other, because of everything we can think of that was brought to Russia from Byzantium, from the West, was from the Roman Greek culture as well. Even if we go to the middle part of Russia and see the old monasteries and churches that were inspired by Byzantium and different cultural traditions as well, we can see that everything grew in an international atmosphere. We’ve been traveling a lot with our parents as well and we saw lots of western art and this art was part of us as well. And not divided as Soviet or Russian. That’s why it’s a kind of organic thing for us. And of course, we are getting inspiration from classic art, from western art as well and sometimes you can see our art grow from roots in Ancient art.
“We are currently in the process of laying the foundations of the philosophy surrounding human and machine” you mentioned, could you share a few key concepts behind this relationship between man and the machine?
The relationship between human and machine is an important thing that we should all care about. Because it’s a philosophical question about our world and how we live together. There are a lot of ethical questions, like when we are programming AI and machines that control our world, health conditions of humans, and traffic, like self-driving cars, how should this algorithm work? It should be more humanistic.
We should think about ethical questions as well, like for example, who is going to die. If someone was crossing the road and was about to be hit, traditionally the person driving would make the decision of where or how to swerve. For a driverless car an artificial algorithm would have to be programmed to make these kinds of decisions. We should care how the world might change, how we should live together and that’s an important part of our works. We are trying to understand how we are going to follow, who should make the decision. The algorithmic world is growing and growing. And we are like teenagers in this world and there are no rules. The Internet is everywhere, everything is changing, we want to understand what is going on
I’m curious about your piece Stream 1&2 (2015), it is intriguing to see a man piercing his head with a sharp substance made with the mix of plastic and acrylic; what inspired you to create this particular piece of work?
As for the work Stream - it takes us back to 2015. We must say that there weren't that many streams in 2015, unlike now with Internet bloggers streaming. But maybe it does talk to now as well as then. This work has plasticity, it was exhibited in Venice Bienniale and we wanted to talk about information waves that are going into our heads every day and we just visualised this process. We created the shape for this process. We’ve taken a human head, corpse, and rectangular pieces, that are going through mobile phones and killing parts of the physical body. In form and concept it was one of the important works. That’s why we’ve exhibited this work in Venice.
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New Nature explores the theme of telepathy and advanced used of technology improving networking and communication at this point in time; can we assume that recent global changes due to the pandemic has contributed in the generation of this theme? How did you come up with something involving the experimentation on the human mind with the use of technology?
As for the project New Nature in St. Petersburg. The first exhibition that we did as a Recycle Group was in 2008 and we had an idea about artificial nature and after some years we realised that we wanted to use this concept in a new context, because for us new nature is our world that opposes real nature. So, all the digital things are very natural and there are a lot of questions which we are asking at this exhibition to ourselves and to the visitors, like: what will tomorrow bring? Who is taking care of the situation - humans or the machine? Is there a virtual hell or virtual paradise? Do we show our real personality in social media platforms or our avatar? Which is a chimera? Which is not real and which simulation do we live in? And what could be the new signs of our civilisation? Before it was a cross now we understand that it’s a symbol of null, zero, which is related to the new époque. What is our new religion?
It’s the first project we’ve used algorithms and artificial intelligence in, taking data from visitors to make predictions for the future. We used a lot of media which we’ve not worked with before.
Can you tell us more about your experience while partnering with Ultima Yandex Go? Will it also be part of the exhibition at Manege in 2021?
Yandex Go are actually our friends and we did a project with them a year ago at Cosmoscow with the garden of self-moving stones. They are great with new technologies and share our interest in broadcasting. Our mutual interests at the exhibition led to us becoming partners. And it’s a good partnership when you are friends with someone.
The Manege Central Exhibition Hall in St. Petersburg Russia is presenting your solo exhibition, how do you feel about this and what are your views about the architectural design of Manege?
As for Manege, The Central Exhibition Hall is a big space and we created the architecture inside together with Manege's team. We’ve been creating it altogether. We proposed moving some walls, during the year and a half project, we were trying to keep the space as empty and open as possible. And we’ve been using the eternal place for the exhibition. We just covered the windows and created some urgent light on the top of a celling to make the effect of simulation. We want visitors to feel like they are in the simulation, not in the real world. It was actually very cool to work with this building.
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Recycle Group has made a massive contribution in introducing the idea of new means of expressions based on scientific methods, how does virtual reality support these methods?
We’ve been creating the New Nature project since before the pandemic, and thinking about the idea of telepathy and body-less communication for a while. During the pandemic everything combined together and we had an extra year to prepare the exhibition. We’ve been looking at the works of Bekhterev and different scientiftic experiments on telepathy: how people communicated together at the beginning of the 20th century, for example. Now we can see how we really talk, with which senses and which feelings. We can then use this for big data and for machines to make machines more human. That’s our kind of impossible idea - to make a chimera as a real person with a real personality. We are trying to create some kind of a chatbot or virtual character very very close to humans in our mind, a project to make the machine understand people's feelings. We would like to make a machine feel something.
As for virtual reality that’s an interesting question. Real people can live in virtual reality, create their worlds and spend much more time on the web than in the real world. And sometimes it’s not good for their health. The important thing is balance. For example, we imagine, there are some people who are living in hospitals in VR headsets and they are living in virtual reality because they can’t come back to the real world. But at the same, this virtual world brings us another dimension of living.
What other contemporary artists do you think are helping in laying the foundation of the art of the future?
There are a lot of artists now, actually, new directions, such as NFTs going on around the world. Artists are starting to use a lot of new tools, which we access through new apps and VR. It all helps our imagination, projection of the future and perception of the world.
What are your arrangements for the following months? Any undertakings, pieces or displays?
The following month we are planning to make some more exhibitions, which is not that easy after such a big project. We have a lot of plans. We will present a new project this winter in London in Gazelia art house. As well with new work we will make for a new exhibition in Paris this April.
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