06 June 2019 [Translated text]
This is not the first project where you move away from purely graphic solutions. At first it was a movement towards monumentality, but then a chamber element suddenly appeared - ceramics. Where did it come from and how did the idea to put it into the installation arise?
Victoria Lomasko: For several years in a row, I participated mainly in activist exhibitions and graphic festivals, where the question of what material and format to show the work did not arise - it was prints due to a lack of budget or originals in frames. 'Separated World' is my first exhibition in a commercial gallery, The owners of Edel Assanti offered for me to work in any medium that would be good for the realization of the idea, and this allowed me to think more freely. I immediately showed up with the image of the table, covered with a tablecloth painted with verses, on which there is an exquisite service for two people, resembling in form the product of the Leningrad Porcelain Factory. The service is the heart of this exposure. All the images in the exhibition have several meanings, but it is in the paintings of the service that the intimate message is encrypted, which I am not going to disclose. The second open meaning is an invitation to dialogue with people from different cultures.
And in general, the genre of this work is difficult to determine: in addition to ceramics with a painted tablecloth, there is video, drawing, mural, and poetry. After your book came out in five languages, in my opinion, did you decide to completely abandon the graphic reportage?
I think that in 'Other Russias' I have sufficiently revealed the potential of the “graphic reportage” genre. This does not mean that I will no longer do any work in this genre, but a new step was necessary. My murals are not picturesque but graphic. In them, I continue in some measure to follow the school of Vladimir Favorsky, whose own monumental works resemble linocut prints on the walls. In Separated World we seem to find ourselves in the author's book, printed on the walls - going around galleries, can be considered a story about how the idea of The Last Soviet the Artist came out of the ruins of the Soviet empire with a suitcase filled with her splinters, went to conquer America, but first hit the ghetto. The large format of the murals allows me to build complex symbolic compositions in which different times and spaces are combined. I still find almost all the elements — characters and places — in reality, but I turn them into symbolic images that have more than one meaning. Metaphors and allegories that fill the murals bring them closer to poetry. In addition, I began to include my poetic texts in the compositions. And the video for the exhibition is made on the basis of my poems. From journalism to poetry - this is the main vector of the last three years. Perhaps in the future I will move towards the theater in search of a complete synthesis of the arts.
The founders of Edel Assanti say that your work interests them more as part of an international field, rather than the Russian scene. What is it like to be an international artist from Russia? And when, in your opinion, have there been such changes in your work?
I suppose that those who work in modern art business cannot be interested in the promotion of a “Russian” artist, or “Chinese”, or “Hungarian”, or “African”.The scope of talent and professionalism is interesting, and not from what country is the author. Reaching a certain level of professionalism, you automatically enter international artists . In the collective projects in which I participate, I quite often meet the same authors from different countries - we are united by the level of professionalism. There are other projects that are so far inaccessible to me, where the level of professionalism, realization and scale of the statement is much higher.
I find it difficult to compare my position with that of a European, English, or American artist. I suppose that getting to a person in New York or in London is easier if you were born in America or in England, and not in Russia. I would like to represent a country that plays an important role in the artistic process. But now, in my opinion, it is difficult to work professionally in Russia. The reasons for this are: strong censorship, lack of state support for culture and/or developed system of patronage of arts, bohemian thinking in a large part of the art community, lack of orders and competition, lack of an international environment, even in Moscow.
There are some fantastic compositions on the walls. Tell about their sources and motives. On the central part, as I understand it, your parents are depicted, but what is this old church?
I called the main track “Russian World” for myself. Some characters are fragments of the Soviet era, others express new patriotic and religious sentiments. Here, the parental figures are the mother, a disgruntled Soviet woman with a plastic bag in her hands; Dad, as a more creative and passionate personality, keeps his picture “Clownery”, which criticizes Putin's regime. Behind the ruins of the church, in which the dad lived as a child, rise because his house was destroyed during the war. So he describes the life in his diaries: "They lived like animals, on an earthen floor, there were no beds, therewere a pile of boards and a stove-stove". In this composition, I wanted to create a feeling of abandoned, ownerless space, where weeds sprout from everywhere as symbols of uncontrolled internal energy. An important motif that is repeated at the exhibition is the border between the prosperous white world and the ghetto. The sketch from the Pittsburgh ghetto is presented in the form of a graphic sheet, and I sketched a Chicago ghetto into a fresco. Another recurring theme is how geography changes social status. I do not fully understand my own status during business trips, but my professional skills are in demand, and this is still enough.
In mid-May, London gallery Edel Assanti opened Victoria Lomasko’s new exhibition called ‘Separated World’. Reflection on how international art exists at the crossroads of the global "divided world" embodied in an unusual synthetic project that combined fantasy and documentary images, video works, ceramics, installation, wall paintings and graphic originals. We asked the artist herself and the owners of the gallery, Charlie Fellows and Jeremy Epstein, about how Russian art is perceived in Great Britain, about the sense of the project and the possibilities of art synthesis.
Each gallery in its own way is working on the discovery of new names. How did you find Lomasko and why did you want to work with her? Did you suggest painting the walls or did the initiative come from the artist?
Jeremy Epstein: I learned about the work of Victoria Lomasko when I read her graphic novel “Other Russias ”. in my opinion, this is one of the most monumental art projects I have seen from artists of my generation.
About six months after I discovered this book, we began to plan a collective project dedicated to the crisis of democracy, and invited Victoria to take part in the exhibition. We were glad to meet in person, and the conversation quickly turned into plans to make a personal exhibition in the gallery. The idea of the fresco came from Victoria - in the past few years, the creation of wall paintings has become a central aspect of her work.
As far as I am aware, in Edel Assanti you have had several exhibitions of Russian art and have worked with people such as Lyubov Popova and Timur Novikov. Tell us about the choice of these names: why exactly did they interest you?
In our gallery there is a thematic program that explores the artistic practice as a means of understanding contemporary problems that cannot be unambiguously described. We showed Popov and Novikov in the context of a group exhibition devoted to textiles as a material of the avant-garde epoch, which clearly has deep roots in the history of Russian art. My personal obsession with the artistic culture of the Russian avant-garde and its heritage definitely influenced the Edel Assanti program , but the main interest for our gallery is precisely the theme, the idea of the work, and not the artist’s identity or nationality.
How is contemporary Russian art now perceived in Great Britain, and what does it lack?
Russian art does not have much visibility in the UK. Several contemporary artists from Russia are represented by British galleries, but these authors mostly live outside Russia. The activities of most Russian galleries are almost unknown to us, as is the modern Russian artistic landscape. The main interest in Great Britain is directed, rather, to unofficial art movements of the USSR times - for example,Moscow conceptualism or social art.
In Russia, there is still a tense discussion on the interaction of form and content in art. Lomasko is well known as the author of graphic reports, but in her frescoes she moves to more symbolic and decorative forms. Do you think social meanings are reflected in non-figurative art?
I believe that most works of art reflect social meanings, intentionally or in context, we just need to look back at the origins of abstraction in the history of avant-garde art in order to understand that non-figurative art can be heavily politicized.Vika's graphic reports of are distinguished by their honesty towards their heroes and availability for the viewer or reader. It is clear that her strong feelings are behind this, since one of the main themes of Lomasko is vulnerable or voiceless social groups. As part of our exhibition, she allowed herself to speak more freely, turning to symbolic images with double meanings. I think this is due to the fact that the project provides a picture of her personal path, where her current experience is interlaced with memories, political events and observations. Despite this autobiographical structure, the work tells us a lot about our era, offering a fresh look at familiar spaces.
Tell us a little about your gallery: how was Edel Assanti created , what goals do you set for yourself? What would you like to change in the modern market and culture?
Charlie Fellowes: The gallery was founded almost ten years ago as a pop - up project space in central London. We initially worked in partnership with property owners, independent curators and a small group of artists and friends: in the midst of the recession, we implemented a wide range of exhibitions and public programs in empty buildings. Over the next five years, the program has organically shifted to a more focused, professional model. Relations with a select group of artists have shifted toward greater representativeness, as can be seen from this project.The culture of the modern art market is extremely global and is developing at a rate that is completely inaccessible for previous generations. Not that I didn’t like it, but I miss the days when gallery visitors could spend several hours perceiving the exhibition in a relaxed atmosphere. The focus of the audience, of course, shifted the growing popularity of platforms such as Instagram. The exhibition is not always able to be physically present, but one should not underestimate the importance of the moment when you are standing in front of a work of art, and not just watching it on the screen. This is a completely different experience, and modern technology is simply unable to truly reproduce it.
How do you think a non-European artist can enter the international scene exactly today? What is the most successful strategy?
The world in 2019 (not to mention the world of art) is becoming more and more flat, and the differences between "European and non-European" seem to be more distant. Nevertheless, any acting artist gets obvious advantages, having moved to one of the traditional centers of contemporary art (New York, Paris, London), and these advantages are still difficult to underestimate. As for the strategy,any artist outside of Europe and America has a sufficiently representative and well-made website and an active presence on social networks in order to be within walking distance. It sounds simple, but it is these basic tools that easily enable curators, collectors, and art lovers from around the world to discover and explore new names.
The modern art world is quite plastic, and it seems that there is nothing impossible for a gallery owner and an artist, but there are still borders in this world that are difficult to cross or move. Tell us about such boundaries in your work.
The essence of ambition and professionalism is to overcome certain problems at each level of the industry. On the one hand, work in London is a salvation, if we take into account the existing infrastructure of modern art in the city. We have a constantly growing and very active audience, wonderful museums and a seemingly endless number of international commercial galleries that continue to open in the city and create projects of an institutional level. On the other hand, behind these advantages lies tremendous pressure associated with the cost of retaining the physical space in the city. This applies not only to galleries, but also to artists who must rent workshops. There must be some kind of solution here, otherwise the living, creative heart of central London will disappear into the sea of similar retailers and coffee shops.
The Lomasko exhibition is a combination of a multitude of solutions: these are mural and video, ceramics, installation, graphic series. Do you think analog art will give way to digital or the future in the synthesis of the latest developments and traditions?
The content of the work will always exceed the environment in which it was produced. Obviously, there are collectors and organizations that specialize in a particular narrow field - from photography to video, sculpture, and so on.Nevertheless, the longevity of the work is provided by his idea, and for our work with artists, when we consider new names, the idea is of paramount importance. I would like to note that for our exhibition Vika first turned to ceramics and animation. We always encourage such a multifaceted approach to the creation of exhibitions, but it is usually preceded by a balanced discussion, so that the experiment will benefit the final result of the project.
Answering the question about digital and analog - the audience of modern art increasingly comes precisely from the Internet, although the same people tried to get to the exhibition only ten years ago. I think this is a good sign for us, and, as gallery owners, we are obliged to develop and support this movement - so that both the exhibitions we hold and individual artworks can be made available to every viewer regardless of whether it is online or in the gallery.
Photographs copyright Geraint Rhys