Interview with Petr Davydtchenko 19 195
Real Name: Petr Davydtchenko
Location: London, England
MOVING BETWEEN STOCKHOLM AND LONDON, RUSSIAN-BORN ARTIST PETR DAVYDTCHENKO WORKS MOSTLY WITH STAGED INTERACTION AND SCULPTURE. DAVYDTCHENKO STUDIED FINE ART AT KONSTFACK, STOCKHOLM AND IS CURRENTLY STUDYING SCULPTURE AT THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, LONDON. UTILIZING FORMS OF VIDEO, INSTALLATION AND PHOTOGRAPHY, HIS WORK SUGGESTS A RADIATION FROM SOMEWHERE INSIDE OF A NEW BORN FEELING. HE IS ROOTED IN THE FLUXUS MOVEMENT, THAT UNPACKS ART, MAKING IT HAPPEN RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW, ALLOWING RAW MATERIALS TO STAND FOR THEMSELVES. DAVYDTCHENKO IS INTERESTED IN AN ART THAT CAN BE VIEWED AS AN ETHEREAL SUBSTANCE, USING OCCULT SYMBOLS THAT BRIDGE CULTURAL CODES. USING A MINIMALISTIC AESTHETIC AND SOMETIMES USING HIMSELF AS AN OBJECT OF FOCUS, CULTURAL MEANINGS ARE EXPLORED AND BLENDED TO RETHINK AND REINTERPRET SOCIAL CODES
— What do you think are your main tools for connecting with the public?
— I approach each project in a different way, but I usually try to involve viewers in my work directly by inviting them to participate. When I create installations I consider an interactive aspect from the early start. My work is not fulfilled without its audience. One of the main tools of connection between public, artwork and myself is ritual. By preparing props and loading the space for a particular event I strive to create a dimension where codes that are known to us loose their original meaning. The new meaning that is created becomes open and unique for everyone involved.
— I think, that these so-called tools can be called collected cultural codes and references. Is that the right understanding?
— I have been able to collect codes from different societies as I have moved from Russia to Sweden and now the UK. In each of these cultures, and indeed subcultures, the codes vary. It takes time to adapt and to be able to understand and to read them, but I think that to understand them completely might be impossible. Combining my experiences and references that I have collected from places like Saint Petersburg, Stockholm and London, they form a kind of subconscious or intuitive space in which to base my practice.
— What is the main thing you reflect upon in your art practice? I think maybe there is a rethinking of the Russian orthodox church, Nazism and society — can you comment on this? How does your background influence your art?
— My background and experiences play a crucial role, imprinting upon my mentality and are a source of my inspiration. Through my practice as a ritual I try to deal with things that have affected me over the course of my life. I reflect on religion as being part of a social structure and in my practice I investigate and reflect on the way that these structures function or malfunction. There is always an element of danger or threat in my work, sometimes it is very visible and other times it fades, but it is always there.
— What are the main changes of reality in the society? What are the social themes you focus on in your art practice?
— I mostly focus on the themes of violence, fear and collapse of structures. I am interested in how things die from inside, I guess it is a violent cycle of life that fascinates me. But from this violence and chaos there is the possibility of something being purified or reborn.
— What are the new moods and themes in art nowadays and what is the closest for you? What art movements are you rooted in?
— Fluxus movement of the 60’s had a huge influence on my way of seeing what art can be. Today – the theme of protest is huge, which is good, but I think that this theme has existed for a long time, only the methods have changed. I am always looking for an art that grips me by the throat. I see a lot of shows in different countries, but it is seldom that I encounter a piece that really makes me feel this way. At the moment I am really fascinated and inspired by the practices of Elizabeth Price, Jannis Kounellis.
— Is the art a subversive act?
— I think that creative expression as with any other could be used differently depending on the reasons behind it.
— Have you ever had the wish to test political and social boundaries for the sake of art?
— This is a tricky one, I guess I do already. Boundaries should always be tested whether they are political, social or institutional. Then when it comes to moral dilemmas it becomes more complicated of course.
— What is your view of the Russian art scene and the great wave of interest in it due to Pussy Riot. What do you consider are the main things happening throughout the art world?
— I am not sure what the Russian art scene is, I cannot say that I am familiar with it. I wish that there could be more variety in what “contemporary Russian” art can be. It doesn’t only have to be an extreme act of rebellion, but I guess the necessity of it is unavoidable. Recently, I was at the opening of Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union at Saatchi Gallery in London. The show presented new art from Russia. I really liked it — for the first time I saw a show with contemporary Russian art of great scale. I hope that this growing new interest will give exposure to more young Russian artists.
— I have found out that you were a very promising skater. Can the influence of this sub-culture be seen on your personality?
— I guess that through skateboarding I learned to confront my fear in a physical form. I am not sure that it could be seen in my personality, more in the way I work with my projects. I try to accomplish my ideas at any cost and keep trying until the point of exhaustion. It can be similar to perfecting a trick for 20-30 times until you land it and can feel the satisfaction. Even falling can give a sort of satisfaction as it is a part of life or the creative process.
— Talk about your latest projects — what was the «Mental Properties. European Autumn» show about? What are you working on now?
— “Mental Properties” is an ongoing project and is planned as a series of exhibitions. European Autumn was a starting point and there I presented several works made during a three year period.
In this particular exhibition I focused on Mental Property in reference to religion and the power of State in relation to the human body and morals in contemporary society. I see this show as some kind of idyllic village, where something is not right. Actually there is something that is very wrong. At the moment I’m working on several things. I just did an interactive event that I call Petty Vanities. People were invited to drink vodka and to get their heads shaved. I am planning to use the hair that I collected during this event as sculpture. This material seem very loaded and uncanny and I find it exiting to work with.
— Do artists need to have a showy, signature style or it is impossible in contemporary art world when everything is repeated?
— I think that every artist has their own approach but this is not necessarily a “signature style”. This develops over years and even if you repeat or copy somebody’s work it will still be different in the interpretation. I do think that authenticity and originality is important, if you work from the heart you will have it.
— Skinheads and death. What do these concepts stand for and mean for you? What is the motif of choice?
— Skinheads vs Death is a title of my MA paper. For me it started out as a personal vendetta with skinhead subculture, due to my traumatic experiences of it whilst growing up in Russia. The paper is a very personal work that I found very hard to endure. Both of this subjects for me stand for something very negative although I find them fascinating. By approaching skinhead subculture and death through reflections on my personal encounters as well as sociological and psychological perspectives I tried to find a way to understand and to deal with them.
— What are you afraid of?
— Death or of dying too early. I want to experience all stages of life and to have the luxury of growing old. Another thing that comes to mind is to be able to keep the mind sharp for as long as possible, to stay focused.
Text: Darina Obuhova