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Interview: “Yod — An Artist and The World”

I talk to the museum “Artkommunalka. Erofeev and others” after participating in the Artkommunalka Artist-in-Residence Program from 18th of January to 15th of March 2020 about Russia, France, liberalism, project in Kolomna and the mission of art.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

— Tell us more about your project.


— The project is called “Me. Human: World”. I have a series of portraits “Me. Human” and the word “world” is added here because I want to make a collection of identical real life landscape portraits in different parts of the world. And this time it would be diptych, i.e. combining two larger pictures. I chose diptych because my work is pictorial art, and is 50% digital art, which is a mixture of digital technologies and painting. I begin with 360-degree digital photography, then from two angles of the same landscape the diptych comes from the camera angles. In fact, it is like giving the painting a modern, actual form.


— Does this mean that you will travel choosing sceneries or keep on going with the technologies?


— No. I want to be on the spot, take the photos by myself. I usually do everything myself, from photography to digital sculpture to framing and, of course, acrylic work (I do not work with oils because I am allergic to it but I can allow myself to be a painter and breathe freely at the same time!).


— What would the choice of place depend on? Why Kolomna, for instance? 


— Selections are solely based on aesthetics. Departure from civilization is paramount. Kolomna is suitable as only a 20 minutes drive out from the city ingresses vast virgin wilderness. Some elements of civilization do not bother me, since I'm not going to make a landscape in a dense forest, it is not the point of my project at all. I needed snow terribly. All my previous projects are rather European so I wanted the Kolomna diptych to show a typical Russian winter.


— Have you already chosen other places?


— Not yet. Traveling the world depends on where I'm invited because the project is financially bounded.


— But you make photographs, so can you return home from travelling and work? 


— No. I think it's very important to work with momentum. After photo-documenting space, leaving, then beginning projects is not an option for me. I need visceral perception of the environment to lay out on my canvas. These large-scale projects need appropriate workshops. I have my own workshop, but my current studio is not big enough for this project. Money is needed to rent a suitable workshop in a big city. You can become a member of the Union of Artists to get a tiny room from the Union, but that's not my way.


— Are you a member of the Union?


— No! Membership is bound with obligations, such as making tradeshows or project participation… this is not for me. I want to keep my independence.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

Running in circles


— Tell us how you became a painter.


— Life just happened that way. My mother took me to art school as a child. Why an art school is a big mystery to me. 


— Probably you did well!


— Yes. All children draw well! All children have the ability to be smart and talented. It seems to me that this is solely from parental upbringing. I suppose that my mother liked me as a painter. She studied music in her childhood and hated the lessons! 


— Didn't you have the same feeling about painting?


— I did! I didn't finish school. Classes were interesting for me at first but then I felt I was running in circles. I soon tired of academics as I always need to progress. So we broke up with art school pretty quickly. At 13 I made an independent decision to be an artist. Having passed all my exams I entered the secondary art school with all the general education subjects. Honestly speaking, I also got tired of classes a year later but I had no choice as this was a public school. So I finished grade school before entering graphics design college. After two and a half years I again got tired of academia but still received a French language degree from the school in Poitiers. (at the age of 20 or a little more I quickly learned French.) I took part in exhibitions while in France such as at Winery the yet undiscovered Vladimir Potapov. Later, I started to work on commercial projects for capital to live more financially independently. You cannot be free today as an artist. You always have to seek a compromised solution. Financial independence gives freedom in creative activities.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

What must the painter tell us


— Do you have references or figures of authority of any kind?


— I suppose no. But there are artists I love such as Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov. I think these artists are worthy of respect. I don't even really mind Damian Hirst. There is typically no middle ground with his work. Opinions either admire or hate him. For me his work is bifoad. On the one hand, he is, of course, commercial, but on the other hand, he still tells some things that the artist should tell. 


— And what things must the painter tell us?


— Some true ones.


— Personally you, what are you telling us?


— I am trying to talk about what I see and feel in society and in people's lives, may be even trying to make an impact on it. I suppose that there are things that are wrong in our society, and I would like to change them.


— I hope to make a change in the society? What way?


— As an artist, I influence people with my creativity. In any populus, regardless of social status or position, these people can spread information. And if one person understands something from my work, those ideas can pass on to others to, spread virally.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

A squared man


— What will we see in Kolomna? What will it bring us?


— For Russia, perhaps, it is still quite incomprehensible, because here we talk among other things about liberalism, and Russia has no liberalism yet. Therefore, my project is more international, it may be closer to a Western person who already understands what liberalism is, or does not understand yet. With this project, I want to convey to people that they need to evaluate themselves more intelligently. The man has a tendency to see himself as beautiful, smart, intelligent, a star of this planet in total, the most remarkable creation of it. It seems to me that this is not quite right and fair, we need to evaluate ourselves more realistically, especially when we are given the digital and information reality. Therefore, my hero is a jedermann, but this person is square, cubic, consisting of cubes, or voxels (volume pixels). This man is actually a little scary. It seems a little intimidating to me, and it should be like that, because I would like the viewer to look and see himself from the side – and be horrified and became a little more modest, began to be a little more respectful of nature (this is why I need landscapes), thought about his real place on this planet, about its real intellectual development.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

Evolutionary liberalism


— How is the work liberal? 


— It's hard to explain, but I'll try. The fact is that I spent a third of my life in France, where liberalism exists, despite the communist views of this country. In my opinion, the main problem of liberalism is that when a person is born, he is initially recognized as perfect and beautiful, he does everything exceptionally right, and no one dares to criticize him. In such a situation, a person has no intention to improve, no motivation to develop or somehow intellectually educate himself. After all, he is already beautiful. I think it's wrong, it needs to be changed.


— I think it isn't natural for a human, to a greater or lesser extent, regardless of the system in which he was born.


— No, it depends very much on the system: each society has its own mentality, it changes with time, but still there are some common trends. For instance, despite the fact that each person is, without a doubt, an individual, let's say, all Russians are absolutely similar to each other in some way. The same happens in a liberal society, in this case in France, which I know. It comes from childhood, there are streaks that are characteristics of all French, in particular what I have mentioned - this belief that a person is perfect from birth. And in Russia it is not like that, because there is no liberalism. Selfishness is a perfectly normal form of human existence, the working state of his brain. But at the same time in any public place, if, for example, a child does something wrong, any grandmother will tell him quite calmly about it. In France, it's impossible! Yes, we also have some limits of decency while interacting with another person, but if I, for example, disagree with you in something, I will tell you about it, I will say that I do not share your opinion, do not approve, etc. you will think you're wrong about something, and if you do that, you're just a very poorly mannered person. You will be immediately internally banned and even told that you have been absolutely wrong. In France it is impossible to criticize anyone, never, even he does something wrong from your point of view.


— Would you like to go against the system?


— Yes, and to show the person that not everything is so cheerful. There is such a method of development, called evolutionary liberalism - it's a big ally of this direction. I believe that a person can be perfect, he has the potential to become one, but he needs to work on himself. And only when some work is done, then please, you can call yourself awfully beautiful, and you may not do that - other people will tell you about that, then you definitely will deserve a certain respect. But respect is not the "currency" that is issued simply at birth, it must be earned.


— Agree.


Oh, yes! Here in Russia we agree with that, because here we have it as mentality, it is a paradigm in which we live, it is even difficult for us to understand the French for their mentality "respect me, because therefore I am".

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

Changing people


— You have chosen a difficult task…


— Perhaps, changing people is a task of any artist, in general.


— But there are other artists that think that the most important is self-expression no matter if the audience understands it or not.


— Then you have to check if these artists are left in history or not!.. Maybe not all of the artists just understand that there is such a task. But it is impossible to take and say always that you do not care about everyone, and you have to give too. After all, you are living a society anyway, and without society art wouldn’t exist, art is communication, it's a way of transmitting of certain messages in time, space, etc. If you are telling that it has no interest for you whether your message is received or not than you are either not true or just don't understand what you are doing. There is, of course, such a role of an artist-hero, revolutionary... We once had this discussion with Vladimir Potapov. He adheres to the position of a revolutionary artist, strongly believes that the artist is a philosopher: he offers some ways of thinking, and it is not his task to see if somebody understands him or not. This position has a certain logic - if you really have something to offer, some concept, it needs to be a serious conception basis, not just plain word “I do what I want”. But still I am into communication.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

About the hype and the banana


— And what do you think about art... provocative one, when people draw, let us say, their bum or draw with it?


— It is hype and that is how I see it – as a hype.


— What for?


— Most definitely most people probably do it for the financial flow, someone does it for free, someone is having fun in this way. I am alright with this, same as the recent story, of the famous Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan who attached an ordinary banana to the wall with silver tape. And it was immediately bought for some colossal amount of money.


— Frankly speaking, in this case I am more interested in who ever buys. What is the point of purchasing then? Just to show your financial superiority?


— This purchase is also a hype. It is an opportunity to show that I can do whatever I want, even buy an ordinary banana for a lot of money, and yes - to show my status: I can buy a "golden" banana. Man is a social animal, and the hierarchy, no matter what they say, is a mechanism that is laid down in us, without which human society will not survive, as in wolf pack that cannot survive without hierarchy. The desire to improve the social status underlies in our reflexes. In fact, the absence of this reflex makes the human life much easier and impassive (Buddhists know it, all religions know it), but not everyone can go beyond their human behaviour reflexes.

Super Mario Bros by Nintendo, 1985

Asian mix


— Let's return to art. Since you are Russo-Franco. share your opinion: how are Western and Russian art developing now? Are there any common points?


— Of course we are different. We are trying to catch up and overtake the West, and this is normal, from my point of view, both in the socio-political system and in the arts, because these two components of life are closely interconnected. And here we go back to liberalism. I would actually catch up with him already in Russia and then would start to destroy it slowly, because in Europe liberalism is already at the dead end and drives everything to a dead end. And I see Russia as a nation that could not only catch up and overtake, but overtake and go in the direction of intellectual liberalism. Although, if someone knew exactly where to go, humanity would live much-much better, more interesting and exciting, and even throughout the universe. We have already tried socialism, thank you, nationalism, as a certain branch of liberalism, tasted it, realized that there is no need in that. So it seems to me that for now we need to move towards evolutionary liberalism. And then there must be new people, philosophers, who will offer something else. I believe that in fact the Russians are brave and quite clever pioneers: we tried a lot in the 20th century, socialism for instance, and the world should thank us for that. And we have advantages that Europeans don't have, that's what makes us very different from each other in culture. First of all, we are no longer Soviet, but not European yet. Secondly, we are semi-Asiatic, and I, as a person who lived in Asia, I want to say that not everything in Asians is terrible and wretched, as we sometimes think. We have everything to develop and improve, to become a decent society. And I would use this Asian mix that we have, because the result can be very creative, lively, interesting.


— So let us sum up by using our traditional question: what is art for you?


— This is the simplest question at the end, right? (laughs) Well, I have answered it already. But in a nutshell, for me art is a method of communication with people, an ability to have a dialog between live and unalive and the way of delivering of coded information.


Written by Olga Antropova

12th of March 2020 at 2:15 pm


Read it in Russian