Kuril Chto X Umbigo
This intimate interview with the artist using the moniker Kuril Chto, highlights his artistic practice, politics, current exhibition, forthcoming projects, and political and philosophical position on being a Russian artist working in Portugal.
Kuril Chto (b. 1989) is a trickster in the world of contemporary art. He uses irony and absurdity as the creative method with which to explore folk art, memes, and everyday life. Focusing on daily routine and DIY practices, the hallmark of his artistic approach lies in his wielding of humor as a means of addressing such big and oft-times painful sociopolitical issues as patriotism or information noise.
Kuril Chto works with various different media, from drawing and painting to applied arts, digital memes, and urban interventions. Currently, he is focused on mixed media. The intersection of contemporary folk art (memes) and DIY aesthetics (hobby practices) has now become his chief area of interest. Kuril Chto believes that this is the field where the new sincerity is hidden.
Josseline Black – How would you situate the aesthetics of your work in the context of pop art?
Kuril Chto – In contrast to mass culture and the industrial production of identical objects, I focus on the individual experience of a particular object, making it the protagonist of my work, even if that object is one of hundreds of thousands of generic, template-like, identical things, like a plastic blue monoblock chair or a clothes dryer.
JB – Would you define the difference between the artist and the activist? Is art inherently political?
KC – I think art is the result of the artist’s response to world events, external or internal, a kind of reflection of experience. Of course art and activism are two autonomous practices, which can intertwine or remain independent of one another. About politics, right now, for example, the situation in Ukraine has overturned millions of lives, the world is on the brink of nuclear war, and of course art cannot stand aside under these conditions, works are becoming more and more politicized. I am not and do not intend to be a political activist. I was interested in other subjects before the war, but now in my artistic practice I can only talk about the war. If the situation were less acute I would deal with other things, because apart from political themes there are many other subjects for artistic investigation.
JB – How is your exhibition Goods which is on view at Vokshod Gallery in Basel (until August 1st) related to the current state of events and the recent invasion of Ukraine? What is the relationship between the central image of the exhibition, the washing machine, and the ongoing war?
KC – The washing machine has become a terrible meme: a symbol of the absurdity that the Russian armed forces are putting forward. They come in tanks to peaceful cities and bomb them in the name of peace, fight non-existent fascists on the territory of a neighboring free state, killing and raping civilian residents. A war without meaning but with tragic consequences. There is a phenomenal level of looting in this war, Russian soldiers, because of their poverty, steal everything they can carry. Of particular value, it is not known why they have washing machines that they are ready to carry across the battlefields to the post office to be sent home. The Internet is littered with videos of Russian military queuing at post offices trying to send their loot home. The washing machine has become a symbol that unites Russian troops with one idea – the ability to rob.
JB – Can you define the way that your artistic practice has changed since leaving Russia? While you were based in St. Petersburg how did you relate to the European art market and trends defining contemporary art?
KC – When I was in Russia, the main theme of my work was the growing lack of freedom and repression. When I left Russia, I began to work more with the theme of beauty. Yes, of course, being in Europe, I begin to reflect more on topics relevant here. For example, now I am preparing a photo project on the topic of new masculinity.
JB – In the still relevant Relational Aesthetics from Nicolas Bourriaud, he writes on the ethical dimensions of constructing subjectivity as it relates to a work of art: “The first question we should ask ourselves when looking at a work of art is: – Does it give me the chance to exist in front of it, or, on the contrary, does it deny me as a subject, refusing the consider the Other in its structure? Does the space-time factor suggested or described by this work, together with the laws governing it, tally with my aspirations in real life? Does it criticize what is deemed to be criticizable? Could I live in a space-time structure corresponding to this reality?”
How would you answer, regarding your work, does it give the viewer a ‘chance to exist in front of it, or on the contrary, does it deny ´the subject´?
KC – My artworks allow the viewer to exist in front of them and even invite to participate in them, through reflections in the mirrors of the works present on the surface.
JB – What kind of audience do you hope to reach with your work?
KC – A project about war is painful for me, to study the topic of war is like combing a sore. I have to dive deeper and deeper into this horror, listen to the intercepts of soldiers’ conversations, how they call home and cry, watch how tanks are blown up by mines, how corpses are dug up from the rubble. And when I am filled with this pain, I look for the key to this pain or a symbol that will burst this bubble. And then I begin to repeat this symbol until the pain dries up. There is no way to think about the viewer and the audience. I don’t know who it is, my job is to do the work. If I think about the audience, it will distract me from the state of experiencing the war and it will be more difficult for me to find the right symbol. So I try to focus on the main thing, what I enjoy – my art practice.
JB – Over the years you have deviated from painting into sculpture, do you consider going further into installation making?
KC – Yes, sometimes flatness is not enough for me, volume gives me more opportunities to implement ideas. I am now working with ceramics and carbon and plan to develop in this direction. I also dream of starting to work with marble. I have experience with granite, I have carved a pattern on the surface of the stone, but never yet shaped a whole block of stone. I’m very interested in doing this. Now I am looking for opportunities to implement my ideas, as working with stone, especially marble, is an expensive business. I just returned from Carrara where I visited marble quarries and talked to several sculptors. Apparently, in the coming months I will go there to make marble sculptures.
JB – Are you influenced by artists around you or do you work privately? How would you define your community and how does this community organize itself in a more global sense philosophically?
KC – I don’t have a community and I’m allergic to collective action. I mainly create works by myself, but sometimes I recruit a team that helps me in the implementation. My studio’s director Tanya is in charge of management; she also hires specialists when needed. I rarely interact with other artists. I get inspired in museums or in nature, the party distracts me from work and my productivity drops, so I try to avoid company. I was lucky that my personal interest and appreciation for figurative painting matched what seems to be somewhat of a trend globally. Over the years while I’ve been involved in art, attending many exhibitions, fairs, biennials and other art events around the world, I always subscribe to interesting artists on Instagram, so I’ve formed an information space on my phone where I can enjoy the style and aesthetic of the work and keep up to date with current news.
JB – And finally, how does living and working in Portugal influence your artistic practice and your inner life?
KC – I’m really fond of Portugal. It is beautiful and peaceful here, it’s a perfect space for me to think over my ideas. I enjoy the sense of safety. Here I moved away from themes of oppression to the theme of beauty. For instance, my Balenciaga series was inspired by a legendary red carpet fashion show. Another example is the seats series with bright chair fabrics. However, the breaking out of war interrupted my experiments with the shape and color, making me look at the atrocities of war trying to comprehend what is happening. I hope the war will soon be over, no war.
JB – In looking to the horizon, what do you have planned for the next months, in Lisbon and beyond?
KC – Funny, I’m going to have another vitrine exhibition, this time in the window. On September 1st in Lisbon will open my mini-exhibition at the ARTNOM space. It’s a gallery-window in the Omnu Creative Houses design studio in the Belem district. I will be showing two works from the Balenciaga series – a carbon shoe box and a canvas with Marge Simpson in a Balenciaga dress) I think people passing by might think it’s a Balenciaga shop window) that would be funny. There are also plans for a second anti-war exhibition in Venice this autumn. I am now working on the content of the exhibition and looking for partners to organize it. While the war is going on I consider it my professional duty and task to express solidarity with Ukraine in word and deed.