What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

For me, contemporary art is constant emotional renewal and a piece of unexpected knowledge that is sent to me from the future. I am not interested in the things that fall into my lap. I am much more attracted to sudden surprises. Contemporary art is one of those blasts from the future. This is why I work a lot with young artists, I have lots of students. I try to live each year differently. I do not like to repeat myself.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

I see myself as a vast dark hole which is completely indifferent to everything that is absorbed by its emptiness.

What connects new and old art? 

They are linked by tradition. There are basic laws, basic rules. If you follow them, you can achieve reliable results. These laws and rules have been evolving from the beginning of time. The talents and the skills of each artist define the way he copes with these historical facts, these traditions.

What was the turning point in your career? 

There are two moments in my life that were important for me. I was born in Norilsk, and when I was in the 3rd grade, I once skipped school and went to the movies. At the Lenin Movie Theater there were two screenings: Eldar Ryazanov’s Office Affair and Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Stalker was a science fiction feature. So, I bought a ticket to the latter. For me it was a very intricate, complicated movie, and I was shaken by it. It turned my world upside down. These changes and a flow of new knowledge made me focus on the diversities in our reality. All this formed me as an artist, molded my character and my interests. For those parents who care about ethics, my advice is to make sure that their children never see Stalker. And if your goal is to raise a selfish and charismatic individual, go ahead and make them watch Stalker when they are still very young.

The second turning point for me was my discovery of the power of nature in the Extreme North. These forces have been nourishing me my whole life. It is the source that I can turn to in any situation: good or bad, it is always uplifting for me.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

There were a lot of influences in my life. I am happy that I have learned from the best, the example set by my great teachers helped me to be comfortable with who I am. The people who have influenced me include Andrew Logan, the British sculptor, Paco Rabanne, whom I met in Latvia, and Slava Polunin, whom I dearly love, and Bob Wilson, whom I met in 2001 (I worked for him for 6 years), and many other mentors who became my role models. They taught me how to make my life more interesting. There is also another very special person in my life: the daughter of the great American painter de Kooning – Lisa de Kooning, whom I met at Bob Wilson’s. At the time when I still believed that there were limits to insanity and creativity, she taught me a valuable lesson. She said that insanity had no limits whatsoever, it had no boundaries, the sky was the limit. Those years that Lisa de Kooning remained in my life, until her death, became for me a mind-blowing emotional escape. Just like the nature of Extreme North, it often tells me what path to follow. There are still many joys to cherish in the future!

What subject matter in the outer world inspires you, fascinates you and unleashes your creativity? 

For the last 23 years I have taken part in the British project Alternative Miss Universe Festival dedicated to performance and other visual arts. Last year I won the title, I am the crowned winner and the title holder for four years. Though I have been taking part in the festival since 1995, it still keeps surprising me. The festival will turn 50 years soon (editor’s note: the festival was established by British sculpture and jeweler Andrew Logan in 1972), so you have an idea about what it is going to be, but every single time amazing artists participating in this madness blow my mind. One of the participants who came from South America wore a costume that bedazzled me. There is a character in the Nutcracker that I was staging together with Nina Chusova and Anna Abalikhina at Zaryadye – the Spanish Doll. And I realized that the look of that South American artist was perfect for the Spanish Doll in our production. So, I straight up copied her costume, changing just a few details. This is another reason why I love this project. It brings me hope that visual arts are a never-ending cognitive process.

How would you describe the contemporary art of Russia within the wider context of international art? 

Here I have no illusions. We are certainly in the backwoods. Despite our ambitious attempts and artistic procrastinations, we fall far behind London, Tokyo, and New York. Even Miami’s Art-Basel is as unreachable for us as the Eiffel Tower. Nevertheless, I have adopted the following strategy: I save those who can still be saved. I am a private tutor, and it is my fourth year as director of the Here, at Taganka Gallery. I provide a venue for any person who tries to realize his or her potential through their positive attitude regarding art and the world in general. I do not care how old the artist is: 3, 6, 70 or 90 years old. In the last four years, this “raw material” helped me to create a group of wonderful new Russian artists. Vova Perkin is the brightest star of them all, he is listed in the Top 10 bestselling artists of the last Cosmoscow Fair, and his story has been covered by Forbes. Despite the fact that Perkin is only 23, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art is discussing an option for his solo exhibition in 2020. Among my most prominent students are Gosha Rubchinsky, Sasha Frolova, Ksenia Petrukhina, Masha Smirnova, the founder of the Inshade brand and an outstanding tutor of the Higher School of Economics, Department of Fashion and Design. My students work with Bob Wilson, teach at theater academies all over Europe. I embrace quite a few different areas of visual arts, and I know exactly what is happening on the Russian art scene, and where it stands internationally. This understanding allows me to guide artists and students. If they have ears, and they listen to what I have to tell them and follow my recommendations, they have a chance to become somebody, to secure their special place and become prominent international artists. If their ears are clogged – they are just shit out of luck.

Tell us a few words about the piece on the cover of Boscomagazine. 

I believe that family is the source of happiness for people. If a man and a woman meet and they discover that they are soul mates and complete each other, if they are ready to build a family and have kids, it is an incredible adventure that was sent to them from the Heavens above as some special reward. Though there are also some people, like me, who are not a part of this master plan. I feel how significant this is. Of course, I do. That is what I wanted to present on the cover of the BoscoMagazine. 

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

The story of my family is complicated, my relatives were victims of all Stalinist repressions. My parents were charged as “children of the enemies of the people”, so this is why they were present for the most challenging Komsomol projects: Virgin Lands, Chukotka, the Taymir Peninsula.

How did your family impact your life? 

Since my parents were “children of enemies of the people”, they had no chance to get a higher education, no matter how smart they were. I was brought up in austere conditions, we were very poor, though our family traditions were quite well structured. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. My parents perfectly understood that they had survived through sheer luck, so they spoiled me as much as they could.

Why do people create communities? 

To implement those strategic ideas that they feel inside more comfortably and precisely. Let us suppose that I hear a voice, and it tells me what to do, and I follow its instructions. The more precisely I follow the instructions given to me by that voice, the louder it sounds next time. If I deviate from the task, it is lower and less discernible in the hustle and bustle of city life. That is when I leave Moscow, and travel to some ocean island, and there the voice becomes more distinctive. Once again, I know how to live, and what to do.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

I consider myself unversed, I can feel contemporary art only with my heart and soul. My heart can touch everything, it is a sort of landscape sensor. If my heart feels that it is touched by something like a vast snow plain, I understand that I came across the subject that I was looking for and longing for.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

If I were a rich man, I would be buying lots of contemporary art pieces. Recently I organized Roman Manikhin exhibition. I would have been on cloud number nine if I could obtain just five pieces from this collection. I have a dream that one day some of my well-off friends will open a museum of contemporary art, appoint me principal curator, and I will put together an amazing, happy, incredible, joyful collection depicting life in Russia from the beginning of the 2000s. And I am telling you – life is really great! Culture and art are luxuries. These are luxuries that are affordable for extremely rich people, for not so very rich people, and not at all rich people. Art and culture bring an emotional boost that no money can buy. Art cheers us up, makes us sad, or detaches us from reality. It is so subtle yet enriches our life immeasurably…

A true collector gathers emotional experiences and cares about the cost – whether it is a ruble or a hundred million euros! Life is full of manifestations that are hard to imagine, and art is one of those manifestations. Theater, music, fine arts, opera, even chess and sports are all art as well. When we encounter art, we get a cocktail of hope and bliss, it rejuvenates us, gives us perspective on all that we want. It helps to bring up our kids and find the right words to tell them, to interact with our students and friends. It is great to have a friend by your side and know that his reaction to a painting can be quite different. These are some emotional connections that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. It takes two people to create new life, and art has the same effect. It also has some magical properties. Art is not a direct and confrontational encounter with your audience. It occurs on the subconscious level. As an artist, I am extremely emotional. I am not good at remembering names, dates – nada. What I do keep in mind are combinations of colors, arrangements of characters, shapes in sculptures or paintings. If I am awed by them, they will enter my subconsciousness so deeply, that even five years after seeing them I will be able to repeat them in the slightest details. Something happened to me a week ago. I was visiting Spain. Together with my director and Sasha Frolova, we came across an enormous garage where you could buy furniture and interior items. Literally millions of objects. I was there for hours until I noticed a varnished coat-rack of yellow wood, made around the 1950s. I kept walking about but I was still thinking about the coat-rack. I inquired about the price. Everybody kept asking me, why would I need this coat-rack. But I did want it, and that was that. So, I bought it. We put it in the car, went to the studio, put it there, and I hung my emerald-green Japanese jacket on it, and it seemed to me that it was a match made in heaven. In a couple of days, I realized why I bought it: there is a scene with a coat-rack in Slava Polunin’s Snow Show, and Slava is one of my favorite people on Earth. Do you understand now how it works? The awareness of these circumstances can give you goosebumps. How does art predict your fate? How art creates a desire that you can’t get over until you make it is fully satisfied? That is why I love art and culture. They are able to change us, make people better, richer, kinder, and happier.