Letting Things Work Themselves Out
December 12, 2011
Oleg Cmart Pashchenko no longer works at Art. Lebedev Studio. He is now playing the role of art director at F26, a designer company; delivering a series of lectures entitled “Digital Art”, part of the intensive program at the British Higher School of Art and Design; illustrating books, and giving performances at poetry parties. His appearances as a commercial illustrator are few and rare.
Oleg, you are not an illustrator, are you? Are you interested in commissioned work?
I’m not an illustrator. At this point requests for commissioned illustrations only upset me (because I have to reject them, which makes me uncomfortable). Among the things I used to do, I felt the most relaxed and content working on book illustration projects, non-profit or almost so (“They Talk” by Vishnevskaya, “Agatha Comes Back Home” by Goralik), and album cover art—but this culture is either dying out, or already dead.
And why do you have to refuse? Is it because things quickly go to waste, staying around for too little?
No, that’s not the reason. My work falls within a very narrow range of styles, which is hardly in demand at the moment. And the few requests I could have taken up (those cases when a client had chosen me specifically) had had absolutely peculiar specifications—let me quote this one, for instance: “A huge man with Vladislav Surkov’s head is fixing a gigantic television set. The screw drivers and soldering tools in his hands look like Prilepin, Gelman, Ernst, and Mikhalkov. Scattered around him are a bust of Pushkin, an Agatha Christie vinyl record, and lots and lots of thick books of all kinds. Above him, there’s a balloon with Medvedev’s face on it, and a shadow of an oil derrick. In front of him lies a field with tiny villages and churches falling apart, and blooming oases titled Seliger and Skolkovo. And the TV is displaying a huge zero”. Naturally, I turned it down.
As for those who actually need the very style and symbolism I have an inherent grasp on, they don’t have the money. Often enough, in case it’s for my friends or if I can spare some time, I’m glad to paint for free.
And what are your style and symbolism like? Everyone seems to want to call your work “dark”, which (judging by your interviews from before) is something you find annoying. Who is the master then, the illustrator or his style? How does it work anyway—did you all of a sudden decide one day that you should only paint characters who are washed out and bald? If your hand made a move to draw some hair, you’d go “Stop that!” And if you were to depict a hairy family having some juice, there’d be no way? Or do the techniques work themselves out and settle imperceptibly in, like handwriting?
I don’t have any reasons to deliberately change my “ways”—no commercial interest, as I’ve already mentioned, nor social motives either. Apparently, a while back it was my “style” that helped me win the reputation that I ended up using for my own good for several years. So my being annoyed with that opinion of my art being “too dark” must have been a way of showing off. But right now, I swear, about both reputation and style, and the whole visual art as a means of socialization, I don’t give a damn. Things tend to work themselves out, and I’m letting them be.
On the contrary, I tried once to leave my restricted range of mastered techniques, however I was very reluctant, and haven’t actually left it—because I see no reason, what’s in it for me? Nothing interesting. While there’s so much more in painting (I mean inner struggle, for one thing), only I don’t really want to talk about it out loud.
Being a commercial art director isn’t shameful and doesn’t frustrate you. Why is that?
This isn’t about shame or one’s ethical claims of any kind. The thing is, I find it boring to create the kind of illustrations that are usually commissioned, and I’m not good at these either. But if there’s a team working on a project under my supervision, I can control the quality of the product using explicit criteria, or, let’s say, assess whether it meets client needs. With personal arrogance and vanity of an artist (which an art director isn’t supposed to have) out of the way, it is much easier, for you can keep your composure and a clear mind.
You are delivering lectures on digital art at BHSAD. How does that relate to what you do? You are giving directions—this way, guys!—and what about yourself?
With this intensive course I meant to make students feel the tension between the two completely opposite ways of understanding the very term “digital art”.
On the one hand, it’s conventionally accepted to be a general term for a range of works and practices that use digital technology for decorative and entertainment purposes. On the other hand (with emphasis on the word “art”), it is something created when digital media are used to shock the audience, invade their comfort zone and throw them, against their will, into an abyss of new meanings—all those entities they couldn’t see before because of a screen painted by commercial illustrators blocking the view. And behind that screen we shall discover spaces we’ve yet to learn and master, while we have the tools for that, such as our bodies, senses, discursive thinking, language, and other defense mechanisms. That is, until death throws us into that abyss, stripped naked—leaving us the way we truly are.
And between these two points, there’s a high wire which I tried dancing on during the course. I hope my students at least had fun watching me dance like that. I am giving it another try in January.
Could you give an example? Where would people experience that, how does it happen? This is basically a definition of “contemporary art”, only it usually means museums and galleries, unless an artist gives performances in public spaces.
Exactly, “contemporary” is the word. It was Groys to define contemporary art as an ascetic practice, and I’ve just borrowed it from him. Let me put it this way—con-temporary are all things progressing through linear time, while beyond time there’s only God. This means that “contemporary” applies to everything ever created.
As to performances, the first example that comes to my mind is Marina Abramovic—if someone is there for her performance, whatever they do in response to it, including no reaction and escaping, will be a manifestation of their moral reflexes rather than aesthetic or emotional. It’s the smart way she makes it work. What a pity there’s nothing specifically “digital” about it.
In a queue at the soup kitchen, during a visit to an oncologist, in prison, “in a trench under heavy fire”, etc.—it is in situations like this that people arrive at the important knowledge about life, the universe and other such things one can never learn from books. The purpose of art, in Groys’s sense, is to achieve the same effect, but without causing any serious physical or financial damage (and it’s not only about the shocking and offensive—when we come across something very good, such as true human virtues, for instance, our stereotypes are too destroyed).
Obviously, things like that don’t necessarily have to happen in real life, or in an exhibition space—they can be done, for example, through social networks (which is something tried last year by Oleg Mavromatti, who let the online audience collectively give him electric shocks—only unlike the works of the regal Abramovic, this had too much talking, self-induced hysteria, which completely shattered immersion and made the whole thing inoffensive.)
It looks like the film industry could make the best of all use of this surgical vector, but for some reasons there are few such examples—the brightest assistant to discourse is, perhaps, von Trier (“Melancholia”). There might be someone else, but I can’t tell, as I very rarely watch films and don’t know much about the art. In case of pure (non-digital) painting, it’s Michael Borremans.
Strictly digital nominations include somewhat comic and toyish examples: at best, it’s user behaviour patterns that get destroyed, or just the visual interface (as in the classic net.art)—and even then it’s not for real, all in all it’s nothing but attraction and fun; well, as you sow, so shall you reap. The largest sacrifice in the digital environment is a deleted social network account, or a bunch of erased files. That’s just ridiculous.
So I must admit that I can’t give any examples of strictly digital art that would go with my theories. That of course proves that I’m ignorant rather than that they do not exist. And even if they don’t, they will, they can’t not.
You have a talent for painting, and poetry. And you write prose as well. How do you distinguish between things to paint and to write about? When you have a message, does it somehow choose the way to manifest itself? How are the subjects for painting and writing different?
It usually happens the other way around—first, I feel like painting (or writing), and then, much later, when it’s nearly finished, it becomes clear what it was all about. Or it doesn’t. I mean, in most cases I feel the urge to work with this or that media (text, or visuals, etc.)— like an itch, hunger or lust, or a tic. And the opposite, when I first have a subject and make a conscious choice of effective media, is very rarely the case. Or never at all.