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

Natasha Cherkashin: Art to Love the World

On family creativity, underwater exhibitions, and travelling
11.22.2021
Natasha Cherkashin: Art to Love the World

Valera and Natasha Cherkashin are internationally famous artists and husband and wife who have been working together for almost 40 years. Those are two talented and distinctive authors complementing and inspiring each other harmoniously. In an interview with the Global Women Media, Natasha Cherkashin talked about the peculiarities of their family creativity, the uniqueness of the chosen style of works, and the main values of contemporary art.

t_профайл.jpg Natasha Cherkashin
artist, photographer, performance artist

Natasha Cherkashin is a wise woman and an incredibly interesting person. One can enjoy endless conversations with her. She is a travelling artist paying much attention to the beauty and meanings of the smallest details and processes of the world.

Valera and Natasha Cherkashin have featured over 170 personal exhibitions and conducted more than 270 art-focused events including actions, performances, and happenings. The couple’s works are included in major museum and corporate collections in the USA, Russia, and other countries.

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– You work in different formats related to photography, painting, and digital technologies. What does art mean to you, with all that diversity?

­– In the modern world, an artist is a very diverse concept presupposing not just someone who uses a pencil and a sheet of paper or a canvas and oil in his or her works. Today, artists have a huge variety of fields for the fulfilment of their potential. Installations, art objects, and performances all belong to art. And as a rule, creative people find it difficult to limit themselves to a single tool. It can be compared to asking a person to choose the most important one from all of his or her organs, arms and legs. All are equally important. It is foolish to give up the opportunity to use all the ‘tools’ if we have it.

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What is art? That is a serious and difficult question. Many philosophers have been trying to find an answer to it. I can consider that concept more from a practical point of view based on my personal experience. For me, art is a way of noticing and capturing interesting moments in our lives.

I think that artists are people having the ability to see the beauty and show it to others, to expand the boundaries for those who have a narrower vision of the world.

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In today’s rapidly developing world, people are immersed in their problems, cares, and businesses so much that they often forget about how multifaceted and amazing the world around us is. I am deeply convinced that a high-quality artwork irrespective of the format and tools chosen by its author can touch the finest strings of the human soul, draw attention to important topics, and teach us to notice the beauty around us.

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– Today, photography serves as the basis for your creative works. What is the most interesting thing in that form of art?

– Indeed, we work with photographic images for most of our creative life. Interestingly, for us, unlike photographers, photography is not the final result of an activity. It is more like the starting point from which the artistic process begins. Valera is always worried about the fact that the pictures might be too good and then there would be nothing to change in them. ‘Non-ideal’ photographs are especially valuable to us with their imperfections in terms of light, sharpness, or composition. That is what gives us room for creativity. We can remove something from the picture and add colour or even other elements to the image.

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For a long time, our work with photographs was purely manual. Then we attended a lecture at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1999. After the class, the director came to us expressed his astonishment about the fact that we were not using computer technologies in our work. They simplify and accelerate so many processes. He allocated a computer room and an instructor that same day to help us learn the digital imaging software. After just a few days, we managed to create our first digital works. It turned out to be really handy and interesting.

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– What topics do you most often pay attention to?

– We chose the field of photography for a reason. As contemporary artists, we are particularly interested in ‘here and now’. Photography is a tool making it possible to capture the present moment in time. Irrespective of the subject of our work, we have always found it important to reflect modernity. When we used photos from the past in our works, we did that purely to show the difference between people or events ‘then’ and ‘now’.

However, one period in our work ‘stood out’. In 2013, Valera and I consciously decided to step back and take a break. At that time, society survived a certain crisis and there was a rather difficult atmosphere related to the political tension, economic situation, and other various factors. As artists working with the topic of ‘today’ who are always very sensitive to what is happening in the world, we began to create powerful and emotional but scary works. They frightened even us. We had absolutely no desire to delve into those topics and stopped our creative process for some time.

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Like any artist, we found it difficult to do nothing. Our hearts insisted on taking some actions. Thus, during four years of our creative break, we turned our previous projects into books. That was an important work that helped us systematize the activities and see the interconnections.

Interestingly, our world is going through difficult times again today. However, Valera and I have absolutely no sense of chaos, fear, or sadness. On the contrary, many of our abstract works are associated with something light, tender, and cosmic. I consider that as a good sign. Many experts say that artists have a special intuition, the ability to sense the world and ‘predict’ the future.

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During the period after our ‘creative break’, we took an interest in the topic of sport in art. For example, we created artworks using tennis balls, footballs, or boxing gloves. We had a game turned into art and art turned into a game.

For us, creativity has always been and remains a living process requiring movement. We often do performances at the opening of exhibitions. In our performances, we invite all those wishing to take part in the creation of an artwork after showing them the principle of the technique. A festive atmosphere can be felt immediately after the start. I see that people enjoy that creative activity and I am happy to share these feelings with them.

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– One can feel immediately that you are a very positive person. You radiate amazing energy.

– Valera and I always try to be positive. I believe that people always see what they expect to see. That is how our world works. All people want the same: happiness. However, only wanting is not enough. We must shape it and then we will see it.

I have noticed that people are often dissatisfied with something or are lacking something. Few people look at what they have and value that.

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In my opinion, the ability to value what you have is one of the most important qualities bringing real happiness. Like art, it is about the ability to notice something valuable in small details.

In my opinion, it is important to always be in a state of gratitude. We should thank the world for every new day, for the home we have, for rain and sun, for success and failures that make us stronger. Our life is wonderful. Isn’t that a reason for joy? When we do not demand something but are grateful for something, we start seeing the world in a different way. It becomes brighter and more interesting.

Interestingly, I learn a lot from our son. When he was only 15 years old, he said a phrase that became a guideline for my husband and me. At that time, we came home and discussed some problems. Our son told that the world had not the problems but the tasks to be solved. Since that time, our family has been following that principle.

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– You speak with particular warmth and reverence about two things: photography and your husband. What is the value of working in team with your spouse? How do you divide roles when carrying out projects?

– The first and most important thing necessary for working together is the total absence of competition. Fortunately, we have never competed with each other.

We met each other when Valera had already become an artist. At that time, I couldn’t imagine myself in that role. However, I have always been interested in creativity. My father was an architect and we had many art albums on our bookshelves at home. I loved them very much. However, creativity was not my only hobby and I devoted my professional career to a completely different field. At school, I was fond of the exact sciences. I was trained as a Physics teacher with the knowledge of English. My language skills have turned out very useful later in our travels. The exact sciences have helped me master digital technology more quickly.

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When I met Valera, my internal ‘physicist’ and ‘lyricist’ merged into a single whole. First, I was interested in watching my husband’s activities. Then he started involving me in creative processes. Over time, we began to work together and I became a full-fledged artist with my own voice and ideas.

We have never competed because we met each other not as two artists. I immersed myself in the creative flow harmoniously.

Creating within a couple or in a group is a process giving you an inexpressible experience and resulting in unique ideas. There is only one main rule: the artists must not confront one another but rather follow the direction.

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– You have carried out a huge number of projects in different countries together with your husband. What projects are the most significant for you today?

– We have had many major and outstanding projects. Each of them is dear to us in their own way. Today, I can name perhaps two events that still echo strongly in our hearts.

In 1999, we presented a project dedicated to the disappearance of beautiful European banknotes from the market at the World Bank in Washington, DC. A few years before that, we had had a project with favourite portraits from banknotes of various nations of the world.

We came to the idea to demonstrate the value of money in terms of its aesthetics. That was especially relevant at the time when banknotes were changing and becoming more formal and duller in many countries of the world. We wanted to preserve the passing beauty.

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The European Union actively supported our ideas. It had been long looking for bright international projects able to bring countries together. Artists from all over the world proposed various projects but most of them considered issues relevant only to Northern or Southern Europe. We managed to develop an initiative with a topic important and interesting for all the countries of the European Union.

The project lasted six months and remained popular even after being completed. The World Bank bought 16 works for its collection and opened a permanent exhibition in the foyer of the building. That was our big success story that we are really proud of.

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The second project of a similar scale was launched in 2005 under the name ‘A Global Underground’. In the 1990s, we were very interested in the topic of the underground. We carried out a number of performances and actions in Russia’s Metro. Many years later, we decided to expand and transform many of our ideas. By that moment, we have visited 24 countries where we photographed and recorded videos of different underground stations. We created panoramic digital works. The project is still underway.

At first glance, it may seem that the underground is a rather boring place limited to walls and tracks. In fact, it is the underground that can tell you a lot about a country and its people. That is why we found it important to convey the atmosphere, not the accuracy of the environment, through our works. It was very interesting.

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– You work a lot with the cultures of different countries. What do you find most interesting in that activity?

Immersion in another culture, which is different from our native one, always teaches us something. Valera and I like watching how people live in different countries, how they communicate with one another, how they treat their children, friends, and colleagues, and what is important and valuable to them. Sometimes other people’s behaviour can surprise us. However, at the same time, we can discover completely new approaches and worldviews that we couldn’t even imagine just because of the peculiarities of our mentality.

The world is wonderful thanks to the fact that it is limitless and at the same time multifaceted. When we travel, we expand our consciousness. We begin to know more about ourselves by learning new things about other people and countries.

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Of course, travelling always brings amazing emotions, impressions, and inspiration. When we first arrived in the USA, we were absolutely delighted. Everything seemed so bright, new, and fascinating. We started doing happenings and artistic actions representing our reactions. For example, we were greatly inspired by the Pacific Ocean and wanted to leave it something to remember us. So we gave it one of our photographs. It may seem small and not that important but we were incredibly delighted.

Later we came to the idea not to ‘give’ our photos but to ‘bathe’ them, thus leaving a peculiar trace. Our works were ‘bathed’ in the Atlantic Ocean and fountains in different cities and countries. When we went to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to ‘bathe’ the picture, we were so impressed by the beauty and greatness of the construction that we decided to organise an entire exhibition. We had an idea to do it underwater no matter how difficult it will be.

We devoted that project to the unification of Germany. It included two subtopics: the modern people of Germany and the country’s historical architecture. First, the works were hanging in the air and then they were placed under water. The viewers swam and dived to see the pictures and we gave interviews underwater. That was our first underwater exhibition, the idea for which resulted from travelling.

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– Why did you choose these unconventional, creative, and ultramodern formats for your art? Were they closer to you than the classic approaches?

– Probably, that is thanks to Valera. He wasn’t an art school student but worked there and always took the opportunity to visit the classes by the professionals whom he particularly liked. At the same time, he was also studying in a studio where classes were taught by a contemporary master of the Russian avant-garde. Later he joined Vladimir Sterligov’s group in Saint Petersburg. However, Valera has never liked to simply repeat after someone else and to copy existing techniques. He has always believed that art must move forward and keep up with the rapidly changing world. That’s why he took useful knowledge from the masters as a foundation and took into consideration the principles of this or that school but always looked for his own ways to develop them and implement the idea.

The same approach concerned photography. We have always been fond of looking for new facets in our work and finding original methods of working with images. Repeating or copying something is not the essence of art even if you do that with very beautiful and talented works.

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The creative process is a constant movement forward, experimentation, and discovery. Contemporary art with its formats and methods offers enormous opportunities for this kind of activity.

Contemporary art is very interesting. However, its formats sometimes provoke contradictory emotions and are not yet clear to everyone. We have always felt comfortable working with museums in the USA. They are happy to buy out unusual works and collaborate with artists on projects they have never seen before. It can be more difficult to work with galleries because they have a stricter approach. At the same time, I believe that the cultural space is becoming more and more open and loyal today.

Contemporary art can often be difficult for ordinary people to understand. Do you think that it needs the author’s explanations? Does its uniqueness lie in the multitude of interpretations?

– The main value and uniqueness of contemporary art lie in its modern character. It does not matter much how people approach it and whether they like it or not. The fact is that contemporary art reflects the modern world, the state of society at the current moment in time.

I especially like the fact that today’s artists have the opportunity to use new technologies in their art. Not all people appreciate such an approach. Some see true art only in its classical forms. I believe that happens because people do not try to expand the framework of their perception and understand new trends.

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To understand art at any time, one has to feel it.

If young people today use precisely these formats and discuss these subjects, it means that they are of interest to the younger generation for some reason. They can seem strange and incomprehensible to people who grew up in another time. However, we must try to feel these trends and understand our children. Then we will discover another side of contemporary art.

New technologies and social media form a special space that inevitably affects the people involved in it. This is the reality of our children, the conditions of the modern world, in which they are born and raised.

Today, technologies develop so rapidly that the older generation can’t keep up with the times. We can compare that situation to travelling to another continent inhabited by people with a completely different culture. We can know much a lot about their history, traditions, and customs. But some nuances (jokes, metaphors, and slang) will not always be understandable for us. That doesn’t mean that the encountered culture is bad. On the opposite, that means that we can learn a lot from one another.

Do contemporary artworks need to be decoded? In my opinion, the process of merging of conceptualism with visual art is taking place today. A few decades ago, one could just look at a work of art and clearly understand the idea. However, now it’s more difficult to do that. In conceptualism, not the image but the meanings put into it on different levels are important. Many authors take the decision whether they want to add a textual explanation of the idea or let the viewer find the answer individually. I like when both the idea and the piece of art work together.

– How would you formulate your principles and social mission as an artist today?

– We rarely take on for-profit projects. Even if the work is performed following someone’s order, our genuine interest in the subject is a necessary condition.

Creativity and art are what must come from pure heart and soul. Otherwise, the artwork will simply have no value.

At the same time, when we create something not for ourselves but for somebody else but do that from pure heart, new interesting ideas always emerge in the creative process.

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Valera once made a gift for Marina Gertsovskaya, an artist and our acquaintance. That was an image depicting several windows. My husband thought it would be too boring to leave everything as it was. He thought Marina would appreciate the original approach and decided to cut out some windows. Valera used a newspaper as a subsurface of the picture and placed images from it in the resulting holes of the windows. Since that moment, we have been using the collage technique more often.

Art is an amazing activity. The more an artist gives, the more he gets in return.

What concerns the social mission, I sincerely believe that art is the soul of society. That is why I would like our artworks to give joy to people and let them feel something bright and kind.

Art can be compared to a mirror. A person sees in it the things that fill his or her internal world, mind, and consciousness. Thus, artworks are the reflection of ourselves. On the other hand, it is the art that fills, nourishes, and shapes us.

– What would you wish people of the whole world?

– Love! Love everything around us. Start with small thing: loving yourself. When we accept and understand ourselves, it becomes much more interesting for us to live and create.

Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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All rights reserved Global Women Media news agency
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