Maria Gorbunova is a Russian artist of a generation that already comes with changes in the way of thinking of her country. Maria expresses with all her pain and passion in her work, both pictorial and design and performance. At the moment she works as curator of art in a modern gallery in Moscow (Smart Gallery), let’s see that she tells us in this extensive and interesting interview that she gave to Novutrefall.
By Manuel Knwell
(Q1) People from all over the world will read this interview. So, would you please to tell me – how do you live in art, and how your life in Russia – specifically, in Siberia – influenced your work? Not only to live in a place where not only it can be less than -50 C in winter – but also it is a location where Stalin’s regime murdered a lot of innocent people – how did all this energy transformed itself, going through your mind, your personality – and, therefore, had been mint into that art of yours?
(A1) I was born in Tumen, and when I was about one month old, my family moved to Nardym. At that time Nadym was absolutely out of any limits for foreigners, so-called closed city, with a very special atmosphere and way of life in it. It was pretty unusual period in Russia – during ’80 of the XX century. High level of enthusiasm, romantic fever of new-lands’ development, oil and natural-gas exploration – did exist then and there. People from all over the Soviet Union came to Nadym that time – and, of course, not all of them choose that place deliberately. Those who came to that emptiness by their own wish – did so to work hard, expecting to earn good money. First – to explore oil and gas. Then – to build small city Nadym. Only in a year 1972 this settlement officially became the city. But only twenty years – in the ’90 – the city had been opened.
Of course, climate affected me a lot – and so did my surrounding. Climate – yes, it is very tough in Nadym. First snow might fall in mid-October, and it stays until mid-May. It means that you spend a long time in silence and thoughts. There is enough time to concentrate. I may say it’s a kind of the right isolation.
My father was loved music a lot and had a great collection of vinyl-records, practically everything from The Beatles to Slayer and between; Trashmetall, and so on. I listened all this pretty often when was a kid; watched concerts by Rolling Stones and Dio; looking at disks’ covers.
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful teacher. Well-established and prominent artist, in his late sixties, graduated from Surikov’s Institute of Arts. He gave me a lot. Understanding of form, color, ability to focus on my job, concentrate and focus. His name was Stanislav Mikhailovich Laevsky. Unfortunately, he died already.
You are absolutely right: Nadym is a city built on a territory where former Stalin’s concentration camps once had stood. Exact place of death, place where political prisoners were sent. Those prisoners built great railroad – in the name of Stalin. Beyond new-built city there is a Nadym-river, and here an old Nadym stands. Also, there were settlements of traditional Northern tribes, Khanty and Mancy. When I was a child, I often saw them dressed in their exotic clothes (named malitsa); coming into city on their sledges driven by stags – they came to buy bread, salt and ammunition.
(Q2) There was a period when your paintings were significantly darker, even depressive. Had you ever been censored for this style/mood/way-to-see-the-world – and if you ever had been censored, why might be such a censorship still an issue in modern-days Russia?
(A2) Well, I can admit that in Tumen not all the works had been accepted and welcomed – and even placed in local galleries; but I think it rather has something to do with a commonly accepted understanding of artistic styles. Once my work INFERNO was covered by some paper clips – so, they will not be immediately visible from the entrance. Guess, it was done to prevent general public from imminent shock from such a strange and fearful work.
During the opening reception I asked the highest girl in a room to cut off that paper – that obstructed my work from the view of visitors.
Most recently I am working in a field of performing art, and I think this is an exact language necessary to talk about hard social problems and human relations.
(Q3) Can you tell me – what it means to be a Russian for you?
(A3) I love my culture and my motherland. This means to know Russian literature (Nikolai Gumilev, Anna Akhmatova, Vasily Rosanoff), to understand critical spots of our history – its bloody struggles; to know our past and understand our responsibility for all of it. To know about repressions in the Soviet Union, and to know the whole truth about perestroika. It also means to see limitless space of our motherland. I have a favorite place of my own; it’s Stanitsa Kurdjipska. Motherland of my ancestors, and my home. To be a Russian to me means to know Sergei Rakhmaninov, Igor Stravinsky, Modesta Musorgskogo; but also – to know works of Sergei Kurekhin, Andrew and Arsenii Tarkovsky… and many others. It means to understand that you exist in a context of culture, philosophy, and endless processes in that very spot where you had been born.
(Q4) You work in a field of performance; I’ve seen your videos and other things related to the Russian contemporary dance, to the art of mime and many other elements. What inspires you to create such a complicated and complex art?
(A4) In a year 2015 I attended Gogol-School in Moscow – there is a Gogol-Center in Moscow. Here also is a very prominent theater, modern and provocative, under tutelage and management of a great director and writer Cyrill Serebryannikov. And I feel very grateful to my teachers – Ira GA, Vitaly Borovik, Tatiana Tschizhikov. These young and energetic, strong choreographers taught me a lot things. A year before I studied in a School of Modern Arts – associated with Moscow Museum of Modern Art: Free Workshop. We attended a wonderful course of contemporary photography, of a history of performance; and, of course, absolutely genius course of history of arts – taught by A.G.Velikanov. During this course we started to work on our first performances – sometimes they were the best answers to challenging tests of this course. Then I made performances with my colleagues from the School of Modern Art. Finally, I started to work on performances with Olga Dergacheva (she also used to study there).
(Q5) You are an art-curator, and you work for a gallery in Moscow. I can imagine it wasn’t easy to reach such a position. What gallery do you work for? What artists could you recommend to the world – besides the works of your own – and why?
(A5) Yes, I work for SMART-Gallery (http://gallerysmart.ru) I like my job very much – because I can collaborate with artists not only from Moscow, but from all over Russia. There are many wonderful, talented and interesting artists here.
I like an artist whom I call Michael Caban-Petrov. His works are of unbelievable quality, and – above all – they are very metaphysical. There are many meanings – as well as a lot of philosophy in those works. I love and respect such artists.
I also like works by Victoria Nikonova, Anatoly Zverev, Eugenia Buravleva – and can think of Antonina Baever (an artist from Moscow, working in a field of video-art).
In art it’s very important to me a conflict, resistance, deepness of research and, of course, technical perfectness. It is important – how good is an artist in applying his own methods; does artist have an internal optics of his own. This process of internal-optics’ building may take an entire life of an artist. It’s important for the artist to be well-educated, would be able to get through an entire massive of world art, and would realize several levels of his own works’ incorporation into common context of world arts. And could be able to see and understand social and psychological problems with no fear, straight and with an entire power of his creativity. This is a uniqueness of an artist.
(Q6) How your normal weekday may look like? Describe, please, your routine.
(A6) First – I communicate with artists whom I consider interesting enough for our gallery. Read their letters, and answer them. Sometimes I may go into gallery’s storage, or may come to the artists’ studios – to talk to them and determine what works they would like to see in our gallery. I work in a close collaboration with my boss, Natalia Khatsela. We work on a project developing our web-site and discuss certain new ideas.
In the evening I always pick up my daughter from her school. Then – at home – we have our supper, and I control how she does her homework. Pretty often we read and memorize poetry together (for instance, Alexander Pushkin’s poems) – most recently we read Pushkin’s famous poem Ruslan and Ludmila.
(Q7) What books changed your life?
(A7) Dark Alleys by Ivan Bunin; Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde; La nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre; The Wall and Luzhin’s Defense by Vladimir Nabokov; Moscow Diary by Walter Benjamen; allmost everything ever written by Sergei Dovlatov; practically everything by Mikhail Bulgakov; Insomnia by Steven King; L’Étranger by Albert Camus; Catcher in the Ryeby J.D.Sallinger; Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind; books by Ken Kesey, Burgess, Canningham.
(Q8) What do you think of Elena Blavatsky and her teaching of Theosophy?
(A8) Some of works by Elena Blavatsky I know – but I am not ready to talk about this matter. I think, I feel closer to Rose of the World by Daniel Andreev.
(Q9) It looks like the traditions of esoterica and magic have deep roots and are very popular in Russia these days – do you believe in that? Have you ever been involved into that?
(A9) Yes, mystical tradition seems to be very strong in Russian mind. During so-called Silver Age some even considered mysticism a daily bread. Our Silver Age was Blue Epoch, epoch of mystics though. Epochs indifferent to mystics (red epochs) and mystical (blue) epochs came and go in turn. So, Renaissance, Middle-Age, and Silver Age (the last – specifically in Russia) were time of magic and mystics. Blue epoch – means time of open mind; during Red epoch nihilism, atheism and disbelieve prevail.
Prominent Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said about mysticism: This is a private passion, or a kind of religious feeling; individual experience of prepared mind that allows Myst to enter such wilderness which cannot be accessed by the mind of the day.
Another famous Russian philosopher, Vladimir Soloviev, also wrote: Mystics is an ancient Gnosys which helps to explore the world by a way of irrationality.
And finally, Daniel Andreev did say that anyone who lacks a mystical experience, cannot understand Alexander Block’s poetry.
So, my favorite poet – when I was seventeen – was Alexander Block. Should I say more than that?
Poets, writers and philosophers of the Russian Silver Age combined meanings of mystical and religious. Often they used even a term mystic-religious. For instance, even Alexander Pushkin can be considered as a poet with a certain mystical experience. Andrei Bely begun every chapter of his famous book Petersburg with a quote from Alexander Pushkin.
(Q10) Have you ever been a part of any religion or philosophical teaching which you still continue to accept?
(A10) I accept and feel close enough to an existential philosophical tradition – as well as ideas of Carl Jung and Erich Seligmann Fromm. I think I can compile different ideas and, being reborn endlessly, to build-up a world – as if it is a miniature universe, out of one small DNA. I accept also variability and reincarnation, as well as endless mental process of destruction and restoration. I feel close enough to the idea that feelings of pain and loosing – as well as non-trivial personal experience make a person to think deeper and more sophisticated. Spiritual development has no limits, and life on Earth is very difficult but highly diverse indeed.
I think the real artist shall create an optics of his own perception of the world first… such a person will not multiply the worlds – they are plenty already – but rather shall move the point of perception of the world – or an assembly spot. This idea can be formulated also as a process of formation and/or expansion of the world’s perception’s borders and limits – visible as well as invisible.
Spiritual development is one of the most important components for self-development of every artist; as well as deepening and expansion of his vision of the world. Now we’ve got all possible and some of impossible media – to form different kinds of reality’s perception by another person. An artist will emphasize certain invisible pieces of reality. On this issue I like the Paul Klee’s words: An art does not depict something visible – but makes it visible instead. And one more quote, this time from Plato: What that man creates by means of reason will pale before the art of inspired beings.
(Q11) Great Russian director Andrew Tarkovsky once said: Younger people fear silence. What do you think he meant by that?
(A11) Silence is contemplation and reflection. An ability to get deeper – as well as to see multiple meaning and details are they indeed. But youth is energetic and, because of its reckless self-confidence as well as because of its high-speed of life, it seems to be afraid of standing still, of any stop in general. Pause for them is similar to death itself. But! When we (finally!) learn to exist in loneliness and in silence, we appear different. The silence changes our mind though.
(Q12) Would you please kindly name five Russian movies one must see?
(A12) Mister Designer by Oleg Teptsov (script by Yuriy Arrabov based on original short story by Alexander Grin Grey Automobil) (1983)
Stalker by Andrew Tarkovsky (loosely based on a novel by Arkadiy and Boris Strugatsky )(1979)
Taxi Blues by Pavel Lungin (1990)
Assa by Sergey Solovev (1988)
Moloch by Aleksandr Sokurov (script by Yuriy Arabov and Marina Koreneva)(1999)
His Wife’s Diary by Aleksey Uchitel (script by Dunya Smirnova) (2000)
Home under sky full of stars (Dom pod zvyozdnym nebom) by Sergey Solovev (1991)
(Q13) If I’d name the movies The Russian Ark or Of Freaks and Men – would you feel they are a part of the new Russian cinema? What do you think of these two movies?
(A13) The Russian Ark by Aleksandr Sokurov certainly is interesting and experimental indeed. This is an example of so-called metaphysical cinema, done with a single-shot, and at the same time, closely-tied – even pressed time inside. An ark that drifts inside a stream of time. Well, I feel a lot of respect towards Aleksandr Sokurov. He is great director and a figure of cult in Russian cinema.
(Q14) Is madness a part of your life? How can you deal with it without severely damaging your beloved (those whom you love)?
(A14) I think a madness is inevitable for anyone who is able to feel sharply. At least – up to some certain level. Hidden or opened it might be. Everyone has the skeletons hidden in a locker. Usually I know how to switch a lever of my perception – so, I can get in and out of different statuses. This skill I had to learn my entire life – and, after all, who may know what else can happen down the road?
(Q15) Penderecki said once: “To reach the light you have to go through the darkness.” What do you think about that phrase?
(A15) I would agree with him. We down to the bottom, that bottom of a complete darkness; the universal unconscious Jung and Freud before him described so well. And then we return – coming back from the black box to the mindfulness. We must confront our real self – to learn a lesson how lie not, at least – not lie to ourselves. To look straight in the eyes of our fears and complexes.
(Q16) Was Leon Theremin the first who created a device able to produce an electronic music? And – therefore – was he the first electronic musician? Termenvox was its name, but this is not so widely known in the West – or isn’t it?
(A16) I am afraid I didn’t get your question. If you are asking about Lev Termen’s experiments – he made them when lived in New York, and even performed himself in front of a huge audience, in Carnegir Hall. Therefore – I assume that people of the West have a very short memory. That’s sad.
(Q17) How would you describe in short Siberia and its forrests?
(A17) Great White Silence and wilderness – all for those who would love to be left alone.
(Q18) Who are you?
(A18) I am a spirit, I am an artist, and I am a Mom. Actually – a wondering experimentator.
(Q19) Can you tag your art or you do not like labels at all?
(A19) I do not like well-established borders. But I can name expressionism, abstract art, and symbolism – sometimes.
(Q20) What are your recent plans for doing art, performances, and design projects?
(A20) Well, I must do so much – but we never know what plans for us has Universe.
(Q21) If your primary job would be a teaching – what priority would you consider for an education in lives of the people all around the world?
(A21) I think that an education is a mandatory need for everyone; and to gain new knowledge as well as learn new skills one can endlessly. New neuron connections cannot do any harm to anyone.
(Q22) Don’t you worry that all around the world hours to learn philosophy, arts, and music are deliberately decreasing in all the schools? Why do you think this may happen?
(A22) Yes, I am aware of this fact and it disturbs me very much. I know about several significant merges of universities with their following switch from a status of state universities to the private one. (Meaning – partially funded from certain paid courses and groups.)Such processes have happened since 2007 in Tumen. Music schools of that city had been privatized as well.
(Q23) Would you please to name five musical albums which at least partially changed your vision or way of life?
(A23) Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Pictures from an exhibition by Modest Musorgsky; Ballet Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky; The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by The Pink Floyd; Yellow Submarine by The Beatles; Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin; Crimson Red by King; Anthems for The Damned by Filter; Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones; Mer De Noms by A Perfect Circle.
(Q24) Does humanity have any future?
(A24) I think a humankind does have a chance – but only if certain passionate personalities will appear – and they will be able to change the way society develops: radically, from technological to nature-centered.
(Q25) How would you apply to your own life a quote from famous scientist Carl Sagan We are only a particle of dust in the Universe.”? And how would you interpret it?
(A25) I would consider this idea as a metaphor of something small being a part of something really big – or as something large consisting from something tiny. Or rather about reversing things. For instance, DNA has an entire information about chain of generations. Every human being is connected to the eternity, and at the same time, such being is also a small particle of this eternity.
(Q26) What do you think of an opinion that post-modern art is already dead?
(A26) I would say that post-modernism as a phenomenon goes down slowly but surely – but sometimes it still may shine, and very brightly indeed. Citations from the past – even certain blasts from the past – as well as many Moscow conceptualists’ appellation to the Soviet past; perhaps, even some young artists’ speculative appeals to that very past might have a reason just a wish to stay afloat, in-trend so-to-speak.
Mythologization of that Soviet past – as a tactics, and even as a strategy – is in-demand by young artists – but I think that they might not always be fully appropriate.
That’s why from my point of view I can say that post-modern practice are alive and function. Not all over the world – but nevertheless, in demand.
(Q27) Can we create some new art – or we can only merge and use certain elements that already exist?
(A27) I think new media will appear; ideas will be transmitted differently, and new – synthetic – forms of arts shall be created.
We may see already a VR-technology, which is not available yet to everybody in Russia. This is 3D drawing which can give new angles and opportunities to create 3D models in real space and time. New media, new discoveries in neurobiology and in other scientific disciplines will be followed by new forms of arts.
Interconnection of science, anthropology and culture will bring new variativity.
But also I can say that unless we are dressed in this dumb man’s clothes (loose quote from Donnie Darko) – we will suffer from the very same problems. An artist nowadays is also a philosopher. Arts instead of philosophy – well, everything runs in cycles and circles.
(Q28) Foaucault once said If a lamp can be an object of art – why your life cannot be? So, don’t you think that with this assertion you may change certain paradigms?
But of course, every artists’ life is even more than just an object of art. For instance – life of Vincent Van-Gouge or that of Marina Abramovich. Many artists, musicians, poets literally directed their own life, deliberately took that risk, and burned themselves – not down, but only up! – because their approach to the very fabric of life itself was completely distinctive from that of the standard approach to the regular existence of the normal people.
Even Diogenes’ and Socrates’ lives we may call objects of art as well. Diogenes’ search of Man – with his lantern; or Socrates’s monologues in front of his followers – after he swallowed lethal poison – are performances of the highest level, metaphor in absence of worthy interlocutor. Practical performance – or performative practice. Roots of the very same performance exist in every move of artists and philosophers.
That’s why we watch endless screen-versions of lives such artists as Vincent Van-Gouge, Jackson Pollack, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Andy Warhol.
(Q30) Is there anything you’d like to add?
I would like to thank my friend Manuel for these wonderful and carefully assembled questions – that uncovered cultural context and background; and show those exact reasons and roots of my own optics as well as my perception of life as whole. Also – I thank Boris Boer for his help with translation and necessary editing of my answers.
Of course, we absorb entire natural background where we grow-up – as well as all genetic information from blood of our ancestors.
I hope I gave answers detailed enough for readers from different continents and countries to learn many interesting and new things. I am grateful to everybody for reading. If anybody would be interested in collaboration with me – he or she can write me, on my e-mail: email@example.com