United by the tragedy of war and the many effects it’s having on Ukrainian society, Volodymyr Kovpak and Oksana Sushko decided to start a joint project. Thanks to the Internet, their deeply spiritual connection and shared interests, the multidisciplinary artists – their works span from photography to digital art and architecture – have created Subconscious War, a dystopia-style series of pieces portraying several key evolutionary-conflict progress stages.
Oksana Sushko
Volodymyr Kovpak
First of all, can you tell us more about yourselves? What is the story of Volodymyr and Oksana so far?
Volodymyr: I was born in Lviv (Ukraine). I’m a 21-year-old student of Architecture. I dedicate most of my time to architecture and Photoshop. To me, the Internet is a surrealist view of the 21st century, which is also the main message of my work. My work often tackles themes like mass consumption and ecology, inner harmony and sincerity in the net. We got acquainted through the Pasika Art Platform about half a year ago. I felt a great spiritual connection with her work and started to follow her on Instagram. She has a crystal of pristine thoughts inside her. You simply can’t stop thinking about in-depth themes when talking with her.
Оksana: I was born in Kyiv in 1994 and I still live here. My mother and father had a mental disorder – schizophrenia. I guess that’s the reason I got into an orphanage, where I grew up from 1997 to 2012. My mother died in 1998. My father is still alive but incapacitated. Throughout the entire orphanage period, in addition to standard school education, I took an active part in the creative life of the place, which made me start to believe in a better future.
After graduating from the orphanage, I entered the Kyiv National University of Technology and Design, Faculty of Design Environment, from 2012 to 2017. This was my first real introduction to the world in all its varied expressions. I’d been adapting to the playing field and studied all its rules. After graduating from university, I started to ask myself the same question: why did it happen to me? From this impetus, I plunged into the world of self-knowledge in various manifestations. One of these manifestations is the process of realising my body as my path, which lasts throughout this life.
The main topic of my research is the life path of Consciousness (soul), which unites and nourishes my personality and manifests through three bodies on physical, emotional and mental levels. Namely: The way of life she (soul) chose, the interaction with it, her manifestation and condition that affect the external environment and vice versa, as well as the integrity of the internal processes, the interaction between them. That is why the main message of my work is: I am the one that manifests itself through the way of life. The path is the body. The body is a path of the soul.
You are both living in Ukraine. How did your roots affect you in terms of discovering your interest in digital art and graphic design? And how did it eventually influence your work?
Volodymyr: Looking at the history of Ukraine, you can see it shows a great love for its beautiful aesthetics regarding art and design. Although, at the same time, my view on these topics was actually formed by the Internet. ‘Globalism’ as an ideology influenced me more than my place of residence.
Оksana: In my case, my biggest influence was the historical development of the whole country, which I also consider something connected to my personal history. Next to that, digital art is for me a tool for fixing and observing the things that surround me, both inside and outside.
You said that it has been six years since the war at a part of Ukrainian territory began. And that all the inhabitants of the country still feel it not only physically but also emotionally and morally. “A war is like cancer, it spreads metastases of fear and insecurity at the subconscious level”, you say. In what ways is this still visible?
Volodymyr: This is absolutely true. Every morning, there is something in the newspapers about the number of injured or killed. And the worst thing is that you are getting used to it. At the same time, it puts a certain pressure on you, of course. You can either talk about it or be silent, but the question keeps hanging in the air. And you can’t just ignore that feeling.
Oksana: In my opinion, this topic is being manifested in insecurity as you can see the fear in people’s eyes. It causes a leak in everyone’s critical self-analysis and its responsibility to control their thoughts, emotions, words, actions and life. Most of the time, people don’t understand themselves and their internal processes; they aren’t able to figure out the way its internal part affects the external one. People can suppress fear but that doesn’t change nor solve the situation.
War shows us where we, as a big nation, made a mistake throughout our history. We have spawned it with our actions and now a war is turning against us. The main question is how quickly can we solve this national problem. I think the solution lies in the conscious living of every citizen of a country. For me, a large nation is comparable to an individual who grows through his/her mistakes, but it all depends on how quickly that person decides to take part and adapt to that particular process. And that is the same for a country dealing with war.
You’ve recently worked together on the project Subconcisious War. Can you tell us more about it? What were your initial motivations to start with this idea?
Volodymyr: We wanted to talk about something important by creating a social project. Art should bring hope and be able to show us a bright path. Our message is to show the role of one person within the scale of war, while at the same time, we want to tell a story about the positive inner light in each of us. There are too many negative vibes floating around the world.
Оksana: Volodymyr and I met on the Internet. I was confident that we could create something great together, but the question was, when and how? Time passed, and during this period, the presidential elections started in our country. This political activity stimulated my further contemplation. I started to ask myself questions like, what is wrong with our nation? What is the reason that we are in such a situation? Why does everyone act so unconsciously? How does one unit affect so many people, a nation, even a country? So in the end, during our creative processes, we decided to work with the theme of martial law and we tried to discover the important interrelations and manifestations between the conscious and the subconscious meanings behind the entire war situation.
How did the creative process start? What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face along the way?
Oksana: We began to develop the idea of martial law in terms of unconscious and conscious processes. We started to exchange our vision, and from there on, we were trying to find the connecting dots. We decided to take my body as the basis for our pieces. We didn’t get into any conflicts during our creative process. We tried to listen to each other and trust each other’s vision without showing any denial or assessments but with reasoned adjustments. We tried not to stray away from the initial concept, but sometimes, this was inevitable as we got overexcited and inspired by our teamwork and the process itself.
Volodymyr: We started creating the general concept together, which became more and more complete during our process along the way. The general vibe was created by Oksana; she started taking pictures of herself. This process is called a dive into the energy river. After that, I started thinking of a concept for each separate ‘stage’. This way of working came into existence quite easily and naturally. I felt that everything went exactly as how it should be. But one of the biggest challenges I experienced during our process was during the full moon period.
How come?
Volodymyr: It’s been proved that the level of energy of creative people depends on the moon. One day during midnight, we wrote to each other at the same time saying that we felt bad and that we weren’t able to do anything about it. This is also shown in our artwork Death. It’s magic when there is such an understanding between artists. As soon as the moon waned, the energy returned and during the next day, I created two art pieces.
What about you, Oksana?
Oksana: The biggest challenge I experienced during our process was a misunderstanding regarding the piece Death. When Volodymyr showed it to me, I did not like it as I didn’t understand how it was able to fit in our project – the piece had no name then. Eventually, we decided to postpone it and continued working on our other pieces. After a while, taking my personal factors into account, I started to understand the piece as I came to the conclusion that without liberation from death, harmony and further development aren’t possible. And precisely this is part of the inner light expression of each individual.
With Subconscious War, you mentioned that you want to focus on the attention of society. “Each of us is the bearer of light, whereby the totality of lights is destroyable for darkness”, you said. Is there a political message behind this statement? Do you hope to evoke any particular reactions in and around Ukraine?
Volodymyr: The message we want to convey is that this inner light lives in each of us. The true strength of society – as well as of humanity in general – only exists when it is united. One beam illuminates the road, however, a set of ray leads the way.
Do you think that art could be a remedy to help the Ukrainian inhabitants process these emotions of fear and insecurity on a deeper level? Do you think that art can be a sort of miracle remedy for peace?
Volodymyr: Art is a medicine for the soul. All our problems and illnesses are being created in our head. We would like to bring hope into everyone’s everyday life.
Оksana: I do think that art can be a miracle remedy for peace but not always. Art is as diverse as the artists themselves and their thoughts and emotions during their creative work process. When an artist is creating something in a negative mental or/and emotional state, then his creative work can resonate with these feelings. This will start the process of involution and decline of the emotional and mental state and vice versa. Art is not only just art; it’s also about the human activity behind it.
Each of your pieces symbolises one of the key evolutionary-conflict progress stages. Like for instance: Birth (Народження) – “Birth of consciousness, as a manifestation in the subconscious.” What were your most important conceptual starting points in order to come up with these different progress stages?
Volodymyr: We divided the conflict into several stages and we tried to reconsider all of them. We asked ourselves questions like, what is the meaning of each of the stages? Where does it lead to? It is actually like the birth of a human being – his life and transition to another form of being.
Oksana: For me, the most important starting point is seeing myself in the process of a life path. Watching myself but also other people’s lives, the world around it and how it expresses itself through what and whom. Thus, I can observe the same processes that include different implications while still being eager to understand the manifestation of cause-and-effect relationships, and in what form these processes turn around since it contains a ‘both above and below’ tendency.
As all these pieces are created based on our subconscious levels, what is the right way to properly reflect on it individually? And which of the key evolutionary-conflict progress stages do you value the most and why?
Oksana: In my opinion, the most important stage of this process is the ‘Conflict of War’. If you experience this stage consciously, then this will no longer be a conflict but a specific task. I think that this process of evolution will accelerate significantly both for the nation and for an individual’s life.
Volodymyr: For me, it is difficult to say which art piece I appreciate the most. All my works are akin as I’ve got to experience all of these stages myself. My lifeline combined with my inner feelings was the beginning of this subconscious artwork.
You mentioned that you are able to see and discover some of the various life laws processes on subconscious levels, on the inside of each person, in their own environment and at the level of nations and countries. In which way are you able to discover these life laws features for each person?
Volodymyr: Discovering life laws features for each person is only possible when you can evaluate the situation without any emotions or feelings of worry; taking the world as it is. Normally, I start this path of discovering with an idea and usually in a few days I’ve found a way to embody these thoughts.
Oksana: I discover these laws by abstraction and observation. I will be included consciously, but I won’t be emotionally involved. This will prevent me from seeing myself in the situation and it will prevent me from seeing the whole picture, which will lead to drawing more objective/colder conclusions.
Volodymyr, you’ve said that you find inspiration in nature, Salvador Dalí and the modern Ukrainian culture and Demna Gvasalia. How do you approach translating this kind of inspiration into political-based projects?
Volodymyr: Anything that can be considered as an inspiration source can have different connotations. For example, it would be wrong if I said that I see the work of Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia only as a fashion story as it also contains a very captivating personal life story, as well as it is connected to a political context. Georgia has gone through the same situation as Ukraine is going through now. Thus, when I see the work of Demna, I think about Georgia. And when I think about Georgia, I see the work of Demna. I think that nowadays, in this spirit of the times, it is impossible to stay apolitical. It is rather fear of taking responsibility. I simply can’t avoid the fact that the zeitgeist and society are incorporated into my creative work.
Subconscisious War shows a significant combination of different shapes, elements, colours and assemblage techniques. How do you manage to put all these elements together without affecting the primary message you want to convey?
Оksana: I think the main message behind all these different shapes, colours and this mix of techniques does speak for itself in this context. It reflects many factors, especially as an art form which has been influenced by the history and the martial law of Ukraine.
Volodymyr: We want all our art pieces to express a ‘stage of conflict’ as accurate as possible including all the right forms, shapes and colours. For example, the piece Goal shows the manifestation of willingness. The goal eventually leads to a result. But what will the result be? Where will it lead to? Nobody knows. Therefore, the art piece Aim is coloured in violet and pink, which expresses a transcendental concept relating to a spiritual realm. The art piece enhances the emotional feelings of the viewer as it keeps asking questions without giving any answers.
When looking at the artworks, it’s like stepping into a visual utopia. Could you enlighten us about how you’ve managed to morph this otherworldly universe with the real one?
Volodymyr: All our work apprehended a kind of visual utopia. But it is important to say that this ‘visual utopia’ is built on a conscious perception of reality. Things may have a different meaning but they are all taken from real life.
Оksana: I think that when a human is in its unconscious state, it’s all the same compared to when he’s in his conscious state. Everything that happens on the inside will happen on the outside. Although the manifestation can differ depending on the context.
What are your interests outside of digital art and graphic design?
Оksana: Some of my most exciting hobbies are esoteric philosophy and the practice of self-enquiry.
Volodymyr: As I said before, I am very inspired by architecture. My graphic work portrays important events of certain days or years while I think that architecture is an indicator of the philosophy of the centuries. My interests outside digital art and graphic design lie within the practice of self-analysis, the fashion industry, politics and technology. I feel proud that society can produce electric cats, Space X and 3D printers that can print human organs.
What else can we expect to see from you? Are you going to have more collaborations any time soon?
Volodymyr: Our works probably will meet by coincidence, so we will definitely make new projects together soon.