Building connection one heart at a time
Building connection one heart at a time

Art Tells Us About Ourselves

On personal mythology, awareness, and contemporary artists
01.10.2022
Art Tells Us About Ourselves

Vasilisa Lebedeva is a contemporary artist and co-founder of the Art.boloto creative community. Today, the expert carries our multidisciplinary work on such topics as awareness, self-cognition, and interaction with other people and the world around. She is interested in issues related to the world order and personal mythology. Vasilisa Lebedeva’s creativity is a big research work expressed in bright artistic images.

Василиса-Лебедева_0T.jpg Vasilisa Lebedeva
contemporary artist, designer, co-founder of the Art.boloto community

The majority of works by Vasilisa Lebedeva are immersive. Their essence is revealed when the viewer interacts with the works. As emphasized by the artist, it is important for her to offer the viewer new sensations, feelings, emotions, and a unique experience.

In her interview with the Global Women Media news agency, Vasilisa Lebedeva told about her new research activities and projects. The expert shared her vision of art’s influence on people and the development trends of contemporary art space.

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– In our previous interview with you, you told us about working on a series of ‘game’ installations. What projects and issues are relevant to you today in terms of art?

– Yes, my art has undergone a certain transformation in the last few months and it continues to do so. Previously, many of my projects were implemented in parallel to one another. I focused on several different topics at once. Today, my project practice has turned into a single overall process, the elements of which are closely interrelated. I continue to work in different media and directions. However, in general, I am doing one big study related to awareness and personal mythology. Today, I’m interested in not just individual projects but the direct development of an overall artistic concept. I will continue to ask myself questions and set goals in accordance with that concept.

The topic of human interaction with the external and internal world has always found its reflection in my creativity. Today, I have decided to take an even deeper and broader look at it. I find that important because the understanding of oneself gives one real life, an opportunity not to exist but to live each moment fully. It is interesting for me to seek an answer about how to come to that awareness using not only the tools of psychology and spiritual development but also art.

For me, the ability of art to help people understand themselves is the most interesting mystery.

In our childhood, we begin to be formed as individuals: for example, we have our favourite or unloved fairy tales and characters. In the process of growing up, we survive a huge number of events. They cause bright positive and negative emotions in us. That inevitably affects ourselves with our future identity and uniqueness. A unique inner world develops within us. However, sometimes we can’t understand why it has formed that way.

As an artist and researcher, through my projects, I try to learn about what exactly shapes our identity, what makes us who we are, and how each person’s view of the world can be visually embodied in art.

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– The search for identity and awareness are very serious topics. It’s difficult to explore them without turning to the scientific aspects. How is your work process organised?

– I use self-analysis techniques. For example, I really like a tool called ‘three morning pages’. The pages are a diary entry, a flow of thoughts, which is important to write without relying on logical thinking. Writing gives us the opportunity to trace exactly how our thinking is structured. That is very interesting because our thoughts often disappear from our minds quite quickly and we don’t have enough time to catch and develop them. When we take a pen and paper and write down everything that comes to mind without thinking about what is going on in our head, we can return to these thoughts after a while. In my opinion, such an exercise not only shows how we think but can also tell us a lot about our inner world.

Moreover, I practice meditations, read books on psychology, neuropsychology, spiritual development, and the inner world. I also listen to the lectures by professor Andrey Zubov from the Moscow State University. He has a course on the history of religion, which is interesting to me from the point of view of myths. I have recently started mastering a programme at the 25 Kadr gallery. My mentor’s name is Evgenia Suslova. She is an artist working with words and text and researching language and media. Interaction with her is very valuable for me because her practices and artistic methods help me find answers to the necessary questions.

In my creative research, I turn not only to scientific information but also to the works of artists related to the topic of awareness. I am interested in seeing how they manifest themselves through art and how art manifests itself in them.

Communication with other people plays a huge role in the process of self-cognition. The human being can’t see him- or herself objectively from outside: the psyche hides some features of his or her personality, thus creating a ‘blind spot’ of perception. That is why it is so important to learn about yourself from other people and be able to perceive that information correctly. I try to use that tool in my research.

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– You mentioned the expression ‘personal mythology’. What is it?

– When we create or just remember something, generate an image in our mind, that is a reflection of ourselves even if it is based on something existing that we have seen before. There is a whole world of such ‘mythical’ characters within us. It would be wrong to identify them with some external images because they are different. There is always a piece of our perception in what we replay in our minds. When thinking about that, I had the desire to visualize the thought. Thus, Cheburashka was born and was unique despite resembling a well-known fairy tale character: for example, according to my own feeling, Cheburashka should be a girl.

A project related to personal mythology is currently just beginning to develop. Like in a computer game, I choose characters, create heroes, and, probably, the plot will be developed after that.

The work is carried out not logically but rather intuitively. That is the only way for the project to get deep true meaning and be not just a pretty picture. That is how the project is able to tell us about ourselves.

My subconsciousness stores images and phrases that I have seen and heard, memories, and vivid emotions. At some moment, they are joined together like jigsaw puzzles and give birth to a clear image. Then I try to understand what that image meant to me personally. I determine its character and mood and visualize it in the form of a ‘doll’. Probably, after creating the characters, I will begin to develop plots and stories with their participation. At least, now I see that as a possible option for the project’s continuation.

– You raise deep topics of human perception through your art. Do they require an explanation or is it up to the viewer to draw conclusions from interacting with the artwork?

– On the one hand, conceptualism has long been part of contemporary art. It is often difficult for the viewer to understand the artist’s work without knowing the context, when there are no explications or some other ‘hints’.

On the other hand, there is an increasing number of works, in which one needs to know the historical and personal context related to the author’s creative background. However, is not necessary to make the artwork function. Sometimes the viewer can intuitively sense meaning and experience feelings and emotions just by looking at an art object. In my opinion, there are almost no projects in contemporary art with the artist’s idea as the only true interpretation of the work.

Contemporary philosophy, which is also reflected in contemporary art, continues the idea that there is no single objective reality. Reality is subjective and multi-faceted: everyone sees it in his or her own way. What seems right to some people may be perceived as wrong by others. Objective reality lies somewhere in between different visions. The same principle can be applied to pieces of contemporary art.

We can say that the viewer is the bearer of unique optics, which helps the artist to create the most interesting and multifaceted picture.

I believe that installations and performances that not only express the artist’s thought but also involve the viewer in a certain action are the most promising formats. When surviving a certain situation thanks to art, a person is able to get the experience, memories, and emotions available only to him or her and draw his or her own unique parallels. Thus, art is really capable of telling the viewer something interesting about him- or herself. It can reveal him or her in such a way that no one else can see or perceive. That is definitely not the point the author wanted to convey. The author couldn’t even imagine what kind of sensory experience the viewer would lean on. However, this does not make the work wrongly perceived.

That is the philosophy that I adhere to in my projects. I can give the viewer hints and explain the concept of the project. However, for me, it’s much more important to make sure that the person feels him- or herself through the art and cognizes the images in his or her mind. That kind of mythmaking is relevant today not only in my work but also in the work of many other artists.

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– In addition to implementing artistic and research creative projects, you are a co-founder of the Art.boloto community. What can you tell us about that community and its mission?

– The Art.boloto community was my joint initiative with the artist Olga Tumanova.  I studied together with her at the free workshops of MOMMA. During our studies, we decided to organize an independent exhibition with other young artists. When preparing it, we discussed the problem of the detachment of the contemporary art market from the general context of world art. We saw a certain gap between established institutions (galleries and museums) and young artists. Such organisations have not always been open and accessible for the exhibition of works by contemporary artists.

Unfortunately, Russia still has a wide gap between the art that most of the audience is ready to accept and the art that is relevant (or that reflects the actual time). As noted by the art historian Olga Sviblova in her lectures, earlier, the gap had been about 40 years. However, then it grew up to 70 years. I believe that the situation is changing. The Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin Museum, and a number of other recognized institutions regularly hold exhibitions of contemporary artists. However, these exhibitions do not always receive positive feedback from viewers. We can still feel the lack of understanding from the main audience.

I believe that the problem is that the viewer is not used to that kind of art. For a long time, it wasn’t shown to masses of people. Artists simply didn’t have the opportunities to do that or the right venues willing to collaborate with them.

Contemporary artists were displaced from the cultural life of the professional community. Commercial galleries eagerly sell art that is ‘understandable’ to the viewer and the majority of museums focus on already successful artists. Even those exhibitions that could harmoniously include the works of young contemporary artists in their expositions tend to take place in closed formats because the main pool of authors has already been formed. At the very beginning of our artistic path, we had no idea where to go and how to gain experience in that kind of isolation.

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The first project called ‘How Old Is the Stone?’ was an exhibition in the swamp near the city of Istra. The idea was to create a project independent of exhibition spaces. At first, that was a kind of ‘protest action’ with a specially announced dress code for all participants. At the same time, we were wearing rubber boots and installed our facilities in a swamp on an inflatable boat.

To emphasize the absurdity taking place in the art environment, we held a pathos-filled and beautiful opening exhibition in a swamp and then drowned our works in it. Of course, they were made of eco-friendly materials.

Olga Tumanova and I were in the organising committee. During the preparation of the project, we talked a lot with the artists, discussed the problems that concerned us, shared our ideas, and exchanged opinions about art. We found that kind of communication especially valuable. That’s why we decided not to limit ourselves to just one project. The idea behind our action was deeper and more serious than just a topic for an exhibition. That is how the Art.boloto (also translated as Art.swamp) community appeared.

Today, we see our mission in forming and developing further an art community that unites young artists for whom contemporary art is a way of life. We strive to provide them with a platform for the fulfilment of their ideas, free exhibition activities, discussions on professional subjects, and exchange of opinions.

Each of the Art.boloto participants has their own creative plans and ambitions. We also invite artists to enter into a collaboration to implement joint projects. We like these formats because they become an impetus for interaction and building horizontal communication. I am very happy that, over the past year, after our 8 exhibitions and two residencies, we have turned into a group of like-minders and real friends. We enjoy spending time together, going to galleries, and developing jointly.

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That kind of interaction is very important for artists because it helps us develop. After all, new ideas are always born when we communicate.

Moscow has art communities but they seem to us to be quite disparate. We would like to become an environment that really brings artists together. Metaphorically speaking, we see a harmonious cultural environment not as a cake divided into parts, but as a soup, in which all of the ‘ingredients’ are combined with one another, thus supplementing one another’s qualities of taste. They ‘boil’ and develop together.

I consider it a great achievement that we already have representatives from different schools among our community members. In my opinion, we are one of the few communities promoting communication among graduates and students from different art schools.

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– Do you form a space where artists can not only communicate and interact but also exhibit their works?

– Yes, we do. We have a great exhibition concept making it possible for young artists to present their works to the public and fulfil any ideas they may have. They can include that experience in their portfolio in order to move forward with the existing professional luggage. Galleries and museums are more welcoming to artists who already have an exhibition background.

We mainly host outdoor exhibitions. That is a feature of our community making it possible to be independent and creating interesting opportunities for artists who work with land art and performance art. We can exhibit works of any size, even installations and sculptures which do not have the right space for them in ordinary galleries or museum. Fortunately, the swamps, forests, and fields have no boundaries.  Thanks to that, we can fulfil even the craziest ideas.

Recently, I took part in a portfolio review of the famous artist Nikolay Polessky together with several artists from our community. I found it incredibly nice that many of the works were created within the exhibitions for the Art.boloto project.

We are very happy that this initiative has found a positive response in the professional environment. The project really helps young authors develop and feel being part of the big artistic community. These are the meanings we put into the formulation of our social mission.

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– When will the next Art.boloto exhibition take place?

­­­­– In autumn, we celebrated the first anniversary of our community existence. Over that time, we have realized 8 exhibition projects. About 30-40 artists took part in each of them.

We also had a winter residency and opened the White on White exhibition in Aptekarsky Garden of the MSU. That is our second experiment with the residency. We not only organized an exhibition but also provided artists with the opportunity to create works during a week directly on the site. At the same time, we organised an interesting and rich programme with a portfolio review by museum curators, lectures on current topics, and a workshop by community organisers.

The White on White exhibition was opened on December 23 and will work till February 23. For the first time, we will present the work not outside the Moscow Automobile Ring Road but in Aptekarsky Garden, one of the most beautiful parks in the centre of Moscow.

Another success is that Aleksandr Burganov, art historian and professor of Museum Management at the Philosophy Department of the Moscow State University, has agreed to be our guest curator for the project. His support is very valuable and pleasant for us.

We invite everyone to the exhibition. Our guests will see not only sculptures and installations but also sound-art, land-art, and VR art objects.

Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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