Art of Creating an Alternative Reality
The 2072: PROGNOZ exhibition opened in Moscow. It brought together artistic and scientific statements about the future. The Global Women Media news agency prepared a series of interviews with the authors of the most interesting projects. The artist Irina Gulyakina talked about her vision of time and possible scenarios of the planet’s development. The expert shared her opinion on the role and tasks of contemporary art.
Irina Gulyakina is an artist with an interesting vision of the world and a deep understanding of the processes taking place in it. That talented young woman fascinates people with her original perception and ability to build communication with others through art on a very delicate sensual level.
Irina Gulyakina creates wonderful, mythical, and thoroughly elaborated alternate realities in her work. She invites viewers to think about things they may never have considered before.
– How did your path in contemporary art begin?
– My path turned out to be quite indirect like that of many contemporary artists. Initially, it had no connection with art at all. I got my first education at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University specializing in engineering. Later I became a programmer. However, I realized very soon that I wanted something completely different. My path has gradually shifted towards web design and then simply to design. We can say that I moved from programming to the production of visual images.
After realising that I enjoyed creative activities, I decided to get a second education in arts. I studied for four years at the British Higher School of Art and Design specializing in graphic design and visual communication.
However, my professional path in contemporary art started a bit later, in 2015. My termination was the starting point. I left my job as an art director at an advertising networking agency and thus I was set free.
At some point, I reached a new level of perception of the world. I was no longer interested in thinking in terms of how and to whom I must sell this or that product. I felt the internal demand for something more.
After my termination, I started painting and selling my pictures. That gave me real pleasure. Later, I opened a children’s art school and developed my own educational methodology. Together with the children, we not only learned to draw but also explored the world around us through creativity. The school existed for about a year and a half.
I loved those activities. However, I have always been the kind of person immersing myself fully into the things I do. Over time, it became clear to me that I must make a choice: either the development of the school or my own artistic development. That inner conflict was resolved in favour of my art. To become a serious artist with a deep immersion in what I do was my conscious choice.
In 2018, I entered the newly opened Department of Contemporary Art at the ‘Learning Environment’ Higher School. That helped me develop practical artistic skills and complement them with a strong theoretical foundation. That was my third education, thanks to which I was firmly rooted in the field of art.
– What topics do you touch upon in your works? Why are they important to you?
– The main topic in my works is the human body. I pay much attention to performative practices. I am interested in exploring the process of communication with the viewer through movement and generally in the process of the body’s movement in space.
Through body and corporality, I immerse myself in other topics as well including social and political ones. I particularly like to reflect on the issues related to memory, time, and the future.
– At the 2072: PROGNOZ exhibition, you presented a very interesting and unusual work about the future. What meanings did you put into it?
– The project is based on a peculiar myth, on my understanding of the ideal future. According to it, people will cease to eat other living beings: animals and plants. The energy of light from the sun will become the source of their nutrition.
With my own hands, I created the artefacts that seem to belong to people of the future that appeared in our time by unknown means. Those are the diaries of an autotrophic human. To be more precise, that’s a play whose characters are discussing an archaeological object found in the future. The people living in the future found the book ‘On Tasty and Healthy Food’ written in 1939. For them, many expressions seemed incomprehensible, for example, they could not even imagine ‘chopping onions’. Those people believe that any fruit is a living being capable of breathing, living, and evolving.
‘Autotrophic Human’s Diaries’ is a project that brought the present, the past, and the future together at one point.
The project is made with plant components, which is also very symbolic. I made the paper on which the text is written from recycled plants poured with resin. Here one can find a reference to the topic of time and the similarity between the life cycles of living organisms. The grass in the resin ‘capsule’, which, according to the myth, was there for many years, reminds us of the buried ashes of the dead.
The paper with the text is illuminated by ultraviolet rays. As we know, photosynthesis is possible thanks to that light. These are just some of the images and references put into the project. I think the longer the viewer watches the installation, the more connections and reasons to think he or she will find.
I wanted to create a myth with a lot of interesting details, to make it as true to life as possible.
At the same time, I decided not to write a detailed explanation of the project. I wanted my viewers to immerse themselves into that myth on a sensory level.
That is a very multi-layered project that I have been working on for two years. Everything started with my thesis at the ‘Learning Environment’ Higher School. At the defence, I presented a sketch of the installation. Later the project became more detailed, deep, and thoroughly designed.
– Is that project related to corporality?
– Yes, that myth is a kind of a possible option or an alternative future for humanity. Firstly, I think about humanity through corporeality. In my view, we cannot change society and the structure of the world without changing something within ourselves, our minds, and our bodies.
We are now at the stage of late capitalism, which is also called cognitive or creative capitalism. Many people are alienated from their own work: they don’t always know what and why they are doing. People’s needs and desires rule everything.
I believe that transition to other levels of society are possible only with a transition to other levels of human consciousness and awareness.
Autotrophy is the ability of some living organisms to produce all the substances necessary for life within themselves. Thus, they can live without harming the world around them. For example, plants are autotrophic organisms. They draw energy from sunlight by means of photosynthesis. Their way of living is fundamentally different from that of human beings.
Thinking about that led me to reflecting on how we would live if we were autotrophic. After all, hunger and the constant need to consume are the main drivers of human destructive activities. It is something that our bodies are naturally endowed with.
Moreover, the human body is organised hierarchically. We have a brain making it possible to control the body and organs necessary for life. However, we also have ‘secondary’ body parts. It is comfortable to live with them but their loss will not lead to death. Here one can draw a parallel with society. Modern society is also hierarchical. It seems to reflect the structure of corporeality that exists in humans as a species.
– The future and time are among the key topics of your works. What is most exciting about them for you personally? Why do you find it important to discuss those topics as an artist?
– I recently listened to the Not a Text podcast by Ivan Streltsov and Olga Belova. Their latest episode was just about time and the future. They also discussed a project by contemporary artist Arseny Zhilyaev. He is also very interested in such topics.
I listened to the podcast with great interest. Today, I am very familiar close to the concept of the ‘new present’ presupposing the collision of the future, the past, and the present.
I am now working on several projects. Each of them represents some kind of assemblage point in time in one way or another.
If speaking generally about the future and the present, in today’s world, people are literally trapped by the obligation to constantly think about the future, to plan something, and to look back at the past simultaneously.
As an artist, I would like to counterbalance this prevailing structure of life by creating an alternative: that very ‘new present’. On the one hand, it makes it possible for us to escape from the past and the future and the need to look forward or backwards. On the other hand, thanks to it, we do not get stuck in the moment. That is why, in my projects, I strive to depict a ‘time loop’ that makes it possible for the viewer to experience different times simultaneously.
For example, now I am actively working on the project called Before and After Chernobyl. It is related to the mythology of the future, the reassembly of the present and my personal life story because my family had to move from the Chernobyl contamination zone.
Many experts from different fields agree that time is not the line ‘from the past to the future’ but a point of connection of all times.
I am also very close to the ideas of the Austrian philosopher and art theorist Armen Avanessian. In one of his works, he expressed an opinion that, today, things that are not true become true. We are constantly dealing with a world of truthful fiction. Even a fake can turn into reality.
In reality, we can no longer be sure of the truthfulness of not only of the past or the future but also of the present. It becomes almost impossible to distinguish true news from false ones in the media space. Does that really matter? We live in a world with an enormous information flow. Irrespective of its truthfulness, any information represents our information reality, to which we react in one way or another.
As an artist, I want to contribute to shaping that informational reality. It can consist of myths, artistic images, and intertwined stories that create a sense of the ‘new present’.
– In other words, can we say that you want to bring more positivity into the world through art?
– Of course, I want to think positive. I really liked that the 2072: PROGNOZ exhibition presented many positive scenarios of the future not related to apocalypses, machine uprisings, or other challenges so often depicted in movies and books.
At the same time, I believe that art has a mission not to assess certain events positively or negatively but to help people see the world from a new perspective.
For me, creativity is a process that presupposes my observation, reasoning, and expression of thoughts in images. I invite the audience to fantasise or think about something together with me.
– What is most interesting for you in contemporary art?
– That is a rather difficult question. Today, art is my whole life. What interesting things in it can I name? I am interested in absolutely everything in my life! However, the meanings go first.
I like that contemporary art with its bright formats can ‘pull’ the viewers out of their routine and everyday life. That is exactly what I was talking about earlier. Art makes it possible for artists to ask the audience about certain things, to push them towards previously unfamiliar ideas.
In the field of art, we do everything for the viewer. We strive to make people notice something, become interested, pay attention to the piece of art, and, most importantly, think about it.
Can art change the world? I don’t know. However, I am convinced that it leads humanity forward. It fills some gaps in consciousness or, on the contrary, offers alternatives to firmly rooted beliefs.
– What trends in contemporary art have you noticed?
– Contemporary art is full of trends. From my point of view, one of the most interesting ones is about the production of meaningless projects and art objects. I don’t approach negatively to that idea. On the contrary, I like that trend.
Today’s world is overwhelmed with information, contradictory facts, fakes, meanings, and useful or useless content. That often makes people feel lost, exhausted, or even irritated. I believe that artists who are somehow involved in shaping the information space can help their viewers relax and let them stop processing the infinite flow of information for a while.
Contemporary art is very different. Some pieces of art have deep meanings and others have no meaning at all. At the same time, the lack of meaning is also an interesting concept.
I can compare it to Dadaism, a movement in art that emerged in the 20th century as a protest against rationality. Many countries were engaged in the severe First World War and humanity found it difficult to comprehend the fact that some people were killing others in too brutal and merciless ways.
The Dadaist artists rejected rationality and created works that were as absurd as possible. That was also a kind of alternative to the real information space. Art created a field making it possible to think of nothing, forget about one’s worries, and just fool around. It turned out to be very useful sometimes.
– Interestingly, as a person, you are both an engineer and an artist. More and more people from different fields now immerse themselves in contemporary art. Have you noticed that trend?
– That matter echoes in my heart greatly. I believe that art as a separate and isolated concept is gradually disappearing. It is gradually penetrating into all areas of social life.
Digitalisation and new technologies have given us many opportunities. They have contributed to the development of a certain creative culture.
If looking at modern young people, we may notice how creative and original they are. Since early childhood, young people learn to take beautiful pictures, make and edit videos, combine music with images, and create aesthetically pleasant social media accounts with interesting publications. All of that is art too. Thanks to new technologies and internet trends, people immerse themselves in creativity naturally. They develop their intuitive knowledge and skills in colour combinations, composition, and other aspects sometimes even without understanding that.
I am also very close to the philosophy of Russian cosmism. Nikolai Fyodorov, the founder of that movement, used to say that human life itself merges with art. I believe that is why now we have so many art schools, contemporary art galleries, and technical universities with a creative training focus.
Science and art are becoming closer to each other and are almost fusing into a single whole. That synthesis is becoming increasingly interesting for people over time.
I believe that scientists, engineers, and researchers are not that different from artists in a global sense. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the founder of modern astronautics, wrote that any innovation begins with a leap of imagination. The museum named after him features interesting texts in addition to the elements of cosmonauts’ equipment and mock-ups of space stations. Those texts are amusing stories about the journey of the atom and short stories written by the scientist himself.
Science is also a kind of creativity, It is impossible to discover or invent something new and to explore the world based only on samples and formulae. A playful and original approach and lightness and openness of thought are necessary for that.
– What would you wish for the people of the world?
– I would like to wish everyone to find their passion, an activity that energises and inspires them. Sometimes finding your path is a difficult process. However, it is worth doing so. If everyone spent their lives on what they truly love, humanity would become an autotrophic species.
Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov