Uliana Apatina: That Side Where Real Is

Here’s a heads-up for an exciting new show previewing next Friday at 6pm at the crypt of St. Mark’s Church, opposite Oval tube station, London. A review and more pics will appear after the preview.

It’s a multi-room installation made largely from three kilometres of cardoc brand monofilament (transparent fishing wire) – the distance from Mile End to Whitechapel. Two months in the making, the work is the creation of Siberian-born artist Uliana Apatina, whose  practice combines her background in architecture and installation art and who prefers to be called simply an artist who ‘creates space’.

Her last work, 88 Windows, was an impressive affair in which she created new spaces by using 1300 meters of black elastic shock cord of varying diameter at a variety of angles. Viewers were invited to move through the space pushing the cords apart as they wished.

See more on her blog.

She recently, very kindly, conducted an interview by email with me which follows. It gives a really unique insight into the her approach to her work:

What made you want to become an artist?

Desire of being independent. Desire of not being controlled. In architecture, you are briefed by a client, in writing – corrected by an editor. I just wanted to be uncontrolled. Unedited. Free. And the most important: to mix and combine everything I have professionally and  personally experienced – create something totally new out of it all. Art – is a perfect place for that to happen.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration have a very much internal character. Thoughts I think in the morning, thoughts I think in the evening, thoughts I think during the daytime and at night. Totally unpredicted random experiments in the studio. More closely to installations, a site is very important – it opens me up, gives me a new energy, obsessions with unexpected new ideas – dramatically new life experience in a way.

Which artists do you enjoy?

It’s going to be a very long list, I’m afraid. Both ways. And with a lot of weighted reasons behind. However, I’d rather name  artworks that impressed me the most recently: Miroslaw Balka ‘How It Is’ at Tate Modern, Turbine Hall; Mona Hatoum ‘Current Disturbance‘ at Whitechapel, Bruce Nauman  ‘Untitled’ /Helman Gallery Parallelogram/ at Hauser & Wirth and I am enjoying the overall title of Nauman’s exhibition ‘Mindfuck’ a lot.

Which artists have influenced you most (if different)?

They are, actually, not only artists – but great people from other disciplines as well. I think, I will name the most amusing ones. Julio Cortazar – was a very important to my writing at that time – I was kind of writing my texts  with his book lying opened on my knees. Then, I came up with the idea that it makes sense to read books only if they inspire your own writing. This kind of things. After being at Zaha Hadid’s lecture on receiving Pritzker Prize in Hermitage – I decided to apply to the Architectural Association. And on receiving a scholarship, I moved to London. The greatest ever madness I have done.

What are the three best things you learnt in art education?

The best thing that was learnt by me in education is to unlearn things you had been taught in education.  You see, I had too many [educations]: ranging from academic painting via media art technology to experimental architecture. If I am to be serious then – education, at least a way I see it, is a methodology of experiencing things through the eyes of someone else who is not you; it is an artificial set-up pretending things to be real. What you need to do after getting your degree is to experience the world yourself. It tastes great.

Can you say something about your last work?

A detail from ’88 Windows’ installation by Uliana Apatina

Called  ‘Eighty-Eight Windows’ It is a space where the physical borders of art and prison are crossed. Where the perspective flattens and flatness is acquiring the depth and volume, and where the action of going out of the multiple windows is an act of liberation.

‘Eighty-Eight Windows’ – a double sign of eternity when being put on its side [88], an installation that is so much site-specific that really-really cannot to be transplanted anywhere else. Moreover, it was my first and so much wanted experience of building something without any preliminary plan or model. In fact, that happened by chance: I just had not been warned that it was not possible to drill into the floor because of the tiles it was covered with – so all my reflected blue on blue plan had collapsed. I still believe that it was great that it had happened. I did not have too much time to think and had to attack the site directly. So I did. I tended to talk about this way of working for quite a while. But talking is never making. And when things clashed in the most unexpected way – it all was there. My desire. And condition of the site. As a result, an unpredicted dizzying-stereo effect had emerged and my great enjoyment of the construction process. When you create it in a way you create a painting – spontaneously – here and now.

On the other side, it is a very much prison-based piece as Bounce Back where it all flourished deals with ex-offenders and prisons, consequently. I have never ever imagined of thinking about prisons – that is why done a lot of research in this direction at the beginning of the project. In principle, spaces were constructed using extracts from Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison’ and the title itself were transplanted from a Foucault text into the installation. A way he considered schools, hospitals and other establishments alike to be a prison-based structure is fascinating and very much believable. Under the influence of his text nearly everything at the time of ’88 Windows’ construction were perceived by me as a prison including feelings and emotions.

However, if I look back, I see so many personal things inside this installation, including references to several of my other projects and a childhood invention of a country to where you travel at night through the window, that I can doubt that Foucault really had a place there. Though, I know that Foucault too was very much on place – it is just… Foucault thing was a conscious one, but all the other – unconscious that happened as a result of alive construction process and were perceived as a shocking revelation by me afterwards.

What are your views on installations within the ‘art market’?

I believe, all installations are different and it varies from artist to artist. That is why I can, basically, talk only relating to my type of installations. To my mind, site-specific installations are so much innate to the site that cannot be transplanted anywhere else without becoming another installation. However, there is already a history in a museum-practice on rebuilding installations for the collections. Equally, installations are collected by private collectors. So, I think, from a practical point of view they are fine – installations and the market. Although, installations are not objects – they cannot be removed out of the context and put somewhere else that easily. They require a certain amount of space to be present. In the ideal situation, a new installation is being built, let’s say in a collector’s house or garden [if it is an independent structure], or inside museum premises. This way whoever is buying an artwork is ending up with acquiring a completely authentic an unique piece that has to be arranged to be seen by curious visitors separately as it would not be physically possible to experience it anywhere else. A direct life experience is paramount in relation to the installations.

Tell us about your current work in progress?

That Side Where Real Is – is a series of phycically contructed, site-specific, inter-connected installations challenging our perception of space and the idea of  the space as such that can be built from ephemeral materials or materials that become ephemeral when being constructed into the space.

 How did it come about?

After seeing my installation ’88 Windows’ Steve Coulson, a vicar at St Mark’s Church,  – you know? this beautiful big church sitting just in front of the Oval tube station,  – invited me to convert the crypt there into a new installation. Being totally anti-religious person in the most straight and obvious way you can only imagine, I was very intrigued by this offer.

It is all started from me visiting a site on a Sunday morning and being completely fascinated by it. Amazing long vaulted corridor with several separated rooms coming out of it with a fragile beauty in the textured layers of exfoliated paint in some of them. And all this vast space is all mine. The greatest chance ever to test several ideas in one go!

It was early December. A church was sinking down in a crispy dry leaves – I wanted this sound in my installation. With a great help of Steve in an hour and a half one room was filled with leaves. They just had to be preserved till March, –   and Steve was taking care of them turning them from side to side during Christmas time. I am incredibly grateful to Steve Coulson for being such a wonderful and supportive host!

While my installation was gradually progressing, Steve was more and more thinking of actually converting one half of the crypt into the art platform. And I was a great supporter of this idea foreseeing a very interesting place for experimentation and an incredibly unusual one: being run by a vicar rather than a curator or an art dealer. Somehow, very radical art set-up. Steve entitled it: Crypt@St Mark’s. A separate art universe on its own, without rules and programs. With a fresh smell of freedom. The birth of this little universe –  is what we are going to celebrate at the opening of my installation, I believe.

How do you approach it?

I am enjoying being different with each work approaching it from a fresh way all the time. Repetition would be a killer for me. It’s like being different when talking to different people. But it is a very honest difference without pretension – just… each person turns different tunes in you.

Oh! I’ve found a comparison: it is like each site aspires you on individual approaches. And honesty with the work is crucial. Because the work is yourself.

With That Side Where Real Is everything is coming from exactly nowhere. On a cold early morning after New Year, I woke up, looked out of the window – and I knew that I want the installation to be transparent. With a clear picture of a fishing wire roll being somewhere in my studio left over from long ago forgotten previous experiments. Immediately, I went to the studio and found this roll…

 How does it evolve?

That Side Where Real Is distinguishes from my other installations in its core – being not a one installation as such, but several of them merged by interconnected ideas. As with ‘Eighty-Eight Windows’ it is a very much process-based work, even more so, as materials and methods of handling them changes on the way I am working over them. At the moment, I do really enjoy things being unpredicted, but while I am building those spaces I have come up with two ideas that are very much prefabricated. But I urgently want to make them  happen! You see, it all depends…on something that is flying in the atmosphere.

With That Side Where Real Is – I do spend time here on observations and fixating them – as I know as long as they are out of the process, those sensations will be gone. It takes a form of notes scratched on different pieces of leftover materials that were at hand, text messages sent by myself to myself, some writing in a sketchbook that is also used to analyse [by drawing] what is actually build rather than to plan it. It is a very much inverted process of construction.

Not understanding or not knowing what you are doing is very challenging. It is like balancing on the edge of the blade, or even more – moving smoothly along the edge of this blade. Because it is all in motion.

 How does it varies from working in a mode of understanding what you are doing?

In a mode of understanding you are conducting test trials. By model you are always protected: you can try several of them, figure out which of them work the most and evolve the idea in a final work. ‘I’m Not Scared’ is, actually, a model-based installation. And it is very visible there how the installation evolves from the model changing on the way you are building it in a real space. But it is too far from constructing alive, where what is going on surprising you the most – and the most interesting that those process-based unexpected discoveries are very close to revelations that never-ever a planning would guarantee.

What ideas were behind your ‘I’m not Scared’ installation?

‘I’m Not Scared’ at the Chisenhale Project Space appeared out of my anti-museum [museum off] with a concrete-metal compression couple being exchanged on a wall-rope tension. So, there were several anti-museum models and a model built specifically for the installation as 1:20 prototype. Quite a long detailed planning, you see. However, ‘I’m Not Scared’ marked my departure from the world of scaled spaces and scaled people to the world where everything is real. At the opening night, I thought I’m going to die on seeing real people coming inside physically constructed by me space. And it is all was 1:1. So, this is a main significance of ‘I’m Not Scared’.

Characteristically, a title was invented by the artist Harry Pye who was making a wall of smiles there, his the most large-scale painting so far as he told. We were arguing with him on Facebook about the title of the event. There was a limitation time-wise at the project space, so I can use only one or three days for my project. Taking this condition into account, I turned into my long-term idea of merging different activities at one place and one moment, I wanted to organise an event. I invited Harry Pye to create a wall of smiles (Harry paints amazing smiles ever) and Piper’s Son band to play their wonderful music or make a gig, as it would be a more appropriate way to say. Installation was supposed to embrace it all, including people, making a condition for the event to happen. By my understanding, the event should have happened on Friday the 13th – my dream day for the opening. Unexpectedly, Harry cancelled the date motivating it by having a film-screening including his work in collaboration at Tate. But I didn’t want to give up my date that easy and was teasing Harry that his real reason, in fact, – he is scared of Friday and 13 as an evil combination. A reply typed to me was: I’m not scared of anything, babe. And it followed by: Actually, it is a very good title. This way we became both happy with it. And it happened to be an incredibly friendly and cheerful night, although it occurred a day before the thirteenth.

Back to your current installation: are there any other specialities of ‘This Site Where Real Is’?

What is also new for me here is that I’m utilising things found on site or deliver them from the streets; – and all those ‘imported’ elements trace themselves back to my other projects done in different mediums or texts. It seems to me that  I’m very much self-referential artist in this way.

In effect, there is also a some mysterious thing happening with a black corridor. I see it is being originated out of my collapsed model, meant to be built as an independent standing structure or a pavilion. However, I don’t have an empty slot of land at the moment but I have a long beautiful corridor that echoes our long corridor at Chisenhale where you meet people by chance, like ghosts, when emerging as an alien out of the intensity of your own studio. An atmosphere is coming from there…

But a pavilion… I still obsessively want to build that pavilion!

How difficult is it to execute your multiple installations at the moment?

It is such a great fun! Very much physical. A lot of drilling inside the walls, painting on the outside of the walls and planting millions of strings into all that mess. It is also choosing parts to be untouched the way they were, bringing some external elements like found bed-mesh, or something discovered on-site as leaves or TV sets. Experimenting with light and newly discovered coloured filters.

What is the work saying?

The work is saying that we are all confused creatures. And all real is not the absolute.

How do you feel about the temporary nature of such an installation?

I feel very much unease about it. And dreadfully frustrated with the fact of impossibility to document the life experience of such installations. Especially, all the visual distortions, disorienting wonderfully confusing and dizzying stereo-effects that, actually, exist only in human perception. It can be perceived while while moving throughout the space and carefully watching it from different points and perspectives. All the time I am showing photographs of the installation, even if they are supplied with diagrams and all the explanatory drawings on how it all works, I always feel as if I am presenting an ephemeral ghost or a dead body that ceased to exist.

I know – it is strong but I don’t believe in its strength while holding a naked documentation of the whole exiting act in my hands. And then… as long as they are gone… you can never come back to them… ever… However, on the optimistic side of the process, it is very good that they are departing forever, because it keeps my mind empty and clear. Open, vibrating and reacting. Emptiness is good for creating new.

Consequently, I never have a past – and with a way of working-in-process a future is a very much unpredicted idea within a horizon of which everything is possible – so, I have to live in the present moment somehow.

And it is a far better way than multiplying objects that barricade your studio space in a way of unwanted occupants at a time when it is so crucial on creating a new work.

What was the last music/book you bought or received/downloaded/read?

I have ordered loads [literally loads – they invade all my long orange table in a bed room] books to put my brain into different spheres I have never touched before the beginning of this installation. However, I read the only one from this pile: Hans Ulrich Obrist ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Curating’. I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to know e v e r y t h i n g about curating, but the book had a bright orange colour of my favourite hue and I decided to open it. Well, I was very much impressed by the personality of Hans Ulrich Obrist energetically pulsating out of this book. It feels that he is my kind of a person who wouldn’t ask why there is so many me inside me or why am I doing so many different things at a time, or why am I bothering myself with this cross-medium-disciplinary cut at all. And put so much passion in everything I do. However, I actually have never met him in a reality of life, who knows might be it will be a first question he will ask. That would be funny.

Anyway, a book happened to be a very inspirational for me in a way that I found there a solid support of the ideas I constantly have to fight for with everyone else. Thank you, Hans Ulrich Obrist.

I do not read during a construction process. It eats me all to the extent that I do not have even a tiny space for anything else in my life. Neither mentally or intellectually, nor emotionally or physically. At that very moment all my life is happening at the installation site.

If you could live anywhere apart from where you are now, where would it be?

The idea is that the way I work in-between mediums, I would prefer to live in-between places, or spaces, or continents. Not really belonging to anywhere. Building art all over the world. Or in-between the worlds, if such a thing could exist. But alongside this intention, I would love to experience New York on a such deep level I am experiencing London now.

What skill would you most like to learn?

I used to be very much skill-obsessed –  trying to learn everything I need and do not need. Luckily, I had enough curiosity to dive into all those spheres. But music is the thing I have never really touched. So, I would definitely love to learn to play a musical instrument.

So, on what side is real?

It is a very thin line in-between real and imaginary worlds. Sometimes, I confuse them so much that do not know what is really real any-longer.



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