‘It is important for me to understand how the reality in which I find myself is formed’

Why did you become an artist?

I grew up in a family where the national issue has always been very acute. I fell in love with Belarus with all my heart as a very small person. It happened thanks to our travels around the country: our parents showed us numerous Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, castles, manors, monasteries and nunneries. Most of them were in ruins and desolation. Dad told us stories about them, described in detail the architectural features, spoke about the outstanding people who were involved in their creation, about how big and rich the villages and towns where these monuments were erected used to be back then. When I went to school, I noticed that almost none of my peers have any idea where they live and what Belarus actually is. As I was growing up, this fact was increasingly disheartening me. And was completely natural for me to realize at some point that I wanted to engage in educational activities, to work in order to preserve the elusive, to talk about it. I studied at a music school, drew a lot. I have always enjoyed creating things and fantasizing. And I imagined that I would somehow use this to popularize the Belarusian ethnic culture. In high school, folk costume and textiles got into my immediate field of interest, so I got an education as a costume designer at the Academy of Arts. Working with clothes exclusively was never my intention; it interested me rather as a way of broadcasting certain messages, a way of communicating with the world.

<2020.04>. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. Illustration to the text by Katya Ruskevich for the project of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow, Russia) within the framework of the “Reflections” project. 2020.
<2020.01>. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. Illustration to the text by Katya Ruskevich for the project of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow, Russia) within the framework of the “Reflections” project. 2020.

Your first solo exhibition, The Long Way Home (Доўгая дарога дамоў/Долгая дорога домой) was presented in one of the government agencies. And, which is emblematic, it was closed immediately after the presidential elections on August 9, 2020 had passed…

A few days after the elections, I myself removed the exposition to indicate my protest, to support those workers who began to strike. This was one of the few actions available to me, by means of which I could express my solidarity with the factory workers. I did not want the exhibition to coincide with the events in the political arena, despite the fact that its content is directly related to the all-destructive 26-year-old regime. It was impossible to predict the development of events of the past summer. It was important for me to make visible those observations and thoughts that had been accumulating for a long time inside, for my own sake first and foremost. And due to the extremely scanty number of exhibition spaces in Minsk, the choice fell on a free and accessible state-owned one. Although, of course, the site in its current state is very far from ideal in many parameters.

Where did the name The Long Way Home come from?

This was the name that has always referred to an archive with experiences ‘about the fates of the motherland’ in my head. The inevitable fixation of the realization that, despite the fact that I live here, in Belarus, this is not at all the version of the country in which I dream of being, and where I could have been living. As well as millions of other Belarusians. Numerous collective actions and decisions bring us one step closer to returning ourselves to our real home, free and abundant. A home in which there is no duality, artificially created separations. I would like to stay in a country in which the practice of presence no longer needs to be turned into a process of transformation of permanent systemic failures, into the energy of life potential. The Long Way Home — the long in this name can be interpreted both as a measure of space or time, it is a reference to both these categories. This is also important for me, being an artist who uses a certain language for explication.

The installation looks like an interior that we can encounter practically in every village house in Belarus. This is an altar, these are folded pillows covered with a towel… 

I chose the allusion to the interior of a traditional Polesie hut as a prism through which I saw it possible to show that matrix scrapping, in which not only the folk culture itself, but its subject — the people — have found themselves. Due to the fact that it is unwritten, tradition is of great importance in it as a way of transmitting information of vital importance to society. I sought to create a multi-layered space, or, rather, multidimensional would be the right way to put it, filling it with codes and symbols belonging to parallel realities, with dimensions which don’t intersect with each other (in the normal course of events). We all became hostages of the regime, and we live in at least two dimensions at the same time. The cyclical repetition of the five-year plans of the collective farm chairman ‘dehydrated’ the present, the authentic, on all levels, turning the naïve (ethnic) into the primitive, dry, into a cardboard cutout of life. The use of the interior helped me to touch not only the visual component of folk culture, but also a section of tradition, mythology, ritual; that is, the section of sacred knowledge that our ancestors integrated into the attributes of the interior decoration of the hut, into their everyday life, materializing the philosophy of creating a home, creating space for life.

The Long Way Home, a fragment of the installation. 3D printing, wood, banner, digital printing. National Center for Contemporary Arts (Belarus, Minsk), 2020.
The Long Way Home, a fragment of the installation. 3D printing, wood, banner, digital printing. National Center for Contemporary Arts (Belarus, Minsk), 2020.
Self-portrait. Digital graphics from the Long Way Home project. 2020.
Untitled. Poster for collective meditation practice Sun looks through our window as part of the Long Way Home. National Center for Contemporary Arts (Minsk, BY), 2020.

Is this the research you’re doing?

Yes, at this stage my focus is mainly on these issues. It is important for me to understand how the reality in which I find myself is formed. But more than that, it is necessary to discover and master the tools of its qualitative and effective transformation. I am studying the influence of the archaic on the development of the future. The present, in the context of local culture, which now occupies the central place in my research, has acquired the status of taken by force, and, one might say, lost. Only through a few holes in the fabric of today’s social (= political) is it possible to gain access to the resources and energy of life’s potential, which I seek to release by referring to the past.

One of the cornerstones in this study is a conscious-life-long ethnographic research. Since I have always been passionate about Belarusian traditional culture, I have collected various materials on the topic: books, textiles, photographic heritage. At some point, I felt the need to structure and share the materials I found in order to contribute to the formation of an authentic and truthful image of ethnic Belarus. A couple of years ago I created the Past Perfect online platform, started showing rare materials that I find absolutely special and little-known to a wide range of Belarusians. Polesie occupies an important place among them. For the last few years I have been going there on expeditions and noting things that are of interest to me, trying to see and feel more. I am inspired by objects of sacred and everyday culture, decorative and applied art, arts and crafts. Before the outbreak of the pandemic and other things, I had a plan to expand the activity and transfer it to offline, in the format of meetings with people who preserve and develop the tradition, doing so with a special taste, approach, and style.

Untitled. Past Perfect project. Polesie, Brest region, Belarus. 2019-2020.
Untitled. Past Perfect project. Polesie, Brest region, Belarus. 2019-2020.
Untitled. Photo from the series The emptiest set. The photo was taken during one of the expeditions to Polesie (Brest region, Pinsk district, Bobrovichi village). 2019.

Why Polesie?

First of all, due to my personal background. I think that, in general, everything that is important and weighty in the world is tied to the cordial. Sincere mental impulses are a tremendous power, they allow you to accomplish insurmountable tasks. My great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers are from Polesie, as well as my parents, and I myself was born there. Therefore, it is there that my places of power are located, staying in which allows me to see my path more clearly, to replenish my internal resource, to feel the energy of my ancestry. But, of course, I find this region very special in terms of the preservation and richness of its cultural heritage, the nature, and the sense of place in general. 

How would you describe, based on your research, what the Belarusian culture is? At least on the local level, using Polesie as an example.

This is a set of manifestations of life, which are capacious and deep to the uttermost, the very embodiment of sincerity. Through these manifestations, a person has the opportunity to approach some knowledge of how the universe is arranged, to get closer the Source, has the opportunity to remember their true nature. These are codes that, to a certain extent, allow you to read the matrix of the Universe and, perhaps, get rid of mental obscurations. In principle, this applies to any ethnic culture. But I would characterize Polesie as that stronghold where many contradictions, for example, the struggle between mythological and rational, Christianity and paganism, cease to conflict with each other, and great beauty is manifested in this. 

This resonates with what we see today in the protest movement — solidarity. And the impossibility of dividing the people into two flags. That the territory of Belarus by some strange but beautiful coincidences of history has a great power to unite, to find points of convergence.

I did not correlate these things in this way, but it seems to be so. The processes that are taking place in Belarus are unfolding in different forms all over the world. And Belarus now seems to have become a point of release of transforming energies, of shifting poles of power. I think the whole future, and not only in Belarus, will be in the hands of women. Humanity has reached the point where the patriarchal model is outdated in every sense. And not just outdated, it is no longer appropriate in any way. The rise of women to power is irreversible, creative energy should replace the dominance of the warlike and destructive male energy as soon as possible, and this will become a true salvation for all of humanity. Our civilization has reached an impasse, and if we do not radically change our views, directing them towards things like light, love, and peace, then one day there may not be any people to speak of any more. And I am glad that qualitative changes are taking place in Belarus precisely through the means of a peaceful protest. I am proud of Belarusians with all my heart! We are a unique case, and we are now an example for the whole planet! And changes are approaching, after which nothing will ever be the same as before. I sincerely believe in it. I think that for the female part of the nation, what is happening is like treating historical traumas. All the powerlessness that women faced after finding themselves after the wars of the 20th century without their husbands, fathers, brothers, alone with their grief and troubles, is looking for a way out. Not through some pleasant events, but through a moment of albeit wounding, but transformation, a painful growth, of consciously taking responsibility for oneself and, as a result, of liberation from suffering.

When night comes. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. From the graphic series Time to Be Human. 2018.
Human. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. From the graphic series Time to Be Human. 2017.

How mature the society turned out to be and how immature the powers that be turned out to be… Outdated in the rhetoric of dealing with the people and using forceful methods to “calm down” the crowd. And it’s also of note that the president regularly appears together with his son, but there is no woman nearby — after all, if the patriarchy advocates gender division of roles, then even that cannot be seen there. 

Yes, it looks like some kind of reverse perspective. It’s amazing that our society has accepted the fact that a woman can be the leader of a nation. In general, in many areas it is ready to be quite progressive. And after all, with each new generation, the collective consciousness expands. When we find ourselves in a safe environment, even with today’s basic composition, the energy of creation that is hidden within us will finally be released. This will allow for a rapid leap forward. How many fantastically successful Belarusians around the world are people who just happened to be in a normal environment, where they don’t have to be concerned with bare survival, where they can live and develop themselves, realize their birth-given talents. 

On your platform, there is an audio recording that can be heard in the city center: a man plays it on his reed pipe at the exit of a metro station. Why did you put it in your research?

It is like one of the breaks in the pattern of our area, from which something sincere breaks out, which is difficult to identify. In fact, this is a very simple act of a street musician, but, at the same moment, it is perceived differently, as something deep and mystical, that is touching to the core. What has been happening in our country for the last 26 years is aimed at unifying and erasing differences, destroying life and creating a canvas, a layout in which everything is soulless, dryly drawn, which makes it more understandable for a limited mind, and therefore more manageable. And only thanks to some such failures in the matrix life is able to break out. Life survives, manifesting itself in spite of all this.

Shavasana. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. From the graphic series Time to Be Human. 2018.
<2020.03>. Colored pencils on paper. 21 x 29.7 cm. Illustration to the text by Katya Ruskevich for the project of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow, Russia) within the framework of the “Reflections” project. 2020.

Who had the most influence in shaping you as an artist?

Different authors have influenced me at different periods throughout my life. It all depends on what internal issues are most acute for me, where my gaze is directed. I can say for sure that those artists whose work I highly value greatly increase the amount of love, light, and beauty in this world. Of course, it sometimes happens in very peculiar and even veiled ways, but intuitively you can always feel the type of vibrations that come from a given artwork.
The works of Brenna Murphy, for example, have been provoking a great emotional response in me for a long time now. If we talk about Belarus, I love what Dasha Golova (Даша Голова) does, the works of Jura Shust (Юра Шуст), and I’m also inspired by everything that has something to do with the Work Hard! Play Hard! festival in Minsk — it’s just amazing that this is happening in my country. But of course, there are a lot of names and personalities, whose work energizes. Another very special figure for me is Mikola Tarasyuk (Микола Тарасюк), a woodcarver from Polesie, who lived in the village of Stoyly. I was lucky to meet him in 2014, before he left this world. He was a self-taught primitivist and definitely a genius who will hopefully someday be as famous as Pirosmani or Russo. His art is naïve, extremely vibrant and authentically indigenous.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by a great variety of things! But in all of them, the common thing is probably that there is a living and obvious embodiment of the idea of evolution present in them — a discovery of latent potentiality. The forms of these sources of inspiration can, of course, be vastly different, and there is no point in even starting to list them. This is everything that happens around you and inside of you. Finding inspiration is not a problem, what’s important is to enjoy being in this state, or the process of transforming it into something material.

20.02.2020. Masha Maroz by Ivan Grechishchev