What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

Contemporary art is something that wants to become art but is not quite there yet. It’s a language that we are developing and that the next generations of artists will utilize. I like Belinsky’s definition: “art is the direct contemplation of truth and thought through images.” This is the best definition of art. We, artists, create new images, texts, and symbols, but the truths behind these creations are uncovered to the culture later. As Mayakovsky said, come and visit me in 200 years.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

I am participating in the creation of an art scene in our cultural homeland, within the context of our culture which is unique given the worldwide art community.

What connects new and old art? 

Continuity. Even when Mayakovsky suggested that we would throw out Pushkin and other people from the ship of modernity, he still referred to these people by name, he knew them. And that’s the key here. Any protest is directed against those people who have already become part of history. Contemporary art is always rallying against something. Still, even though it rebels against the past, it is a continuation of the past. To create something new, you have to know the past. That is the direct link between new and old art.

What was the turning point in your career? 

I basically grew up in the world of art, but the turning point which turned me towards contemporary art occurred when I got to know artists from the Detsky Sad Group.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

My parents had a strong influence on me. My father is a most talented artist; he lives in Paris (Elguja Georgievitch Amashukeli – editor’s note). My mother was an outstanding and esteemed art critic (Lyudmila Ivanovna Ostretsova – editor’s note), but she passed away when I was 13. My background molded me as an artist. Since my childhood, I remember how my mother would take me to art studios. We even visited Alisa Ivanovna Poret, and she told me something about Kharms. I was little then and did not understand much. I realized later what kinds of places we were visiting. We’ve also visited Tatlin’s relative (I saw the famous Letatlin at her place) and Grekov’s studio. It was always a mind-blowing experience. I also remember how once an artist came to my mother, and he told her about his monumental work, a mosaic with an angled pattern. He was worried that his mosaic would crush the angle. Now I keep seeing the house at Leninsky Prospect with that mosaic. Amazing. I realize that my upbringing was unusual. Another artist presented my mother with many circus posters. These posters were all over the apartment, and it was at that moment that I realized that art could change the world: it can create a new environment, a new space. All this was rooted in my childhood. After such a start everything followed naturally! I was excited about everything. For example, Mashkov’s still life Bread. I went to the store and bought all kinds of bread. There were only a few at the time: a long loaf for 22 kopecks, a round loaf bread, sweet buns, buns for 3 kopecks, raisin bread, Orlovsky and Borodinsky bread. I brought them home and nailed them to the wall with big nails. Mother had passed away by that time, and I lived with my uncle who got scared and called the militia after hearing all the noise. The police officer came over, made me take bread off the walls, and registered me in the system. It did not break me, quite the opposite – it gave me an impulse for my further artistic life. My mother had a fantastic library of classical art albums. I was not raised as a Christian, but I would constantly flip through the pages of these albums, reading through Bible storylines and learning of the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. I was also very much impressed by the smell of the chalk-coated paper, I was soaked in it, and it turned something on in me. I started to make engravings with tormented people tied to crosses. Their legs were ripped off. My uncle got mad when he had seen those paintings. He thought that I was a part of some cult and that I had been forced to make such paintings. I went berserk, tore up my works to pieces and threw them out of the window after breaking the glass. This experience made me stronger. I was thrown out of art school right in the middle of a class. I was painting a model, spattering paint all over, and I was not able to stop! My art teacher told me to learn to make realistic paintings. In other words, he was not able to find a way to reach out to me, so he had nothing to offer; he could not teach me a thing.

Then there was a period when a person is searching for his environment. There was a certain vacuum around me, and I could not find any intellectual challenges for myself. I have been talking to the walls all the time. And then I have met Tolik Zhuravlev, entered Detsky Sad (Moscow art squat of the 1980-90s – editor’s note), met Kolya Filatov, Andryusha Royter, got to know Timur Novikov through them. That was it! I realized that life had changed, that the world became different. I had been preprogrammed as a contemporary artist from the very start. All of the above people made an excellent impression. I understood that there were ways to think differently, that you could design unique clothes for yourself: you take a T-shirt, two plastic bags, cut out some figures, iron them through the foil, and off you go to a party!

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

Many things fascinate me. That is why I don’t watch TV. It blows my mind. I see there some things that are much stronger than art. One time, the following scene left a great impression on me: Putin was sitting together with the president of Ukraine; at that time, it was Kuchma. The interesting thing was that they seemed to be levitating in the air! I looked closer and suddenly understood that they were talking on the backdrop of a flowery tapestry or wallpaper with the armchairs being made from similarly ornate material. Everything just meshed together. That was a surreal experience! Russia is currently amid a creative period, and one does not lack for amusement. I lived in France for ten years, and one would not expect such an outpouring of creativity there. In Russia, everything is a paradox. We build both a large-scale metro system and a humpback bridge. In winter we take out wooden covers for slippery surfaces. These covers will be dismantled in the spring. After one deal with the snow on the streets, one can expect a new snowfall on the next day. All this induces a specific philosophical state. Thoughts come up both in useful and frivolous activities. These thoughts form a universe which, should you get the inspiration, begs to be depicted. One cannot help but be creative. That is what keeps us busy.

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

Russian art is to the international art scene as, for example, pin-up art is to Russia. That is to say, there is no connection. This reflects something important, but no one is entirely sure about what that thing is. The doctrine within which we feel well, live, create and formulate our strange culture is difficult to understand for the international community. We are the successors of totalitarian values which are useless and meaningless to everyone. Thus, art that supports such values is just as doomed as a secluded, sealed off exotic ethnical culture. To create a new intellectual product, one must integrate and understand one’s importance. We are formulating all this, we are creating and working, but it’s an ambiguous process. Thus, we will leave it to time and specialists who have something to say on the matter. As an artist, I present myself with individualized goals.

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

The central theme of the covers was family, so I depicted my own family. During my stay in Italy, I saw some stone reliefs dating back to the Renaissance. I was very much impressed. I thought about the image of a woman-protector. Muses always accompany artists, and one cannot imagine an artist without his muse. An artist remains open to the universe, and it is often a traumatic experience. Many people perish without any protection. My wife Lyuda (editor’s note: painter Lyudmila Konstantinovna) is my protection, and I depicted her with our children who are also a part of my protective barrier. I have a secret: when I hold parties at my studio, I always ensure that the children are present. This ensures a smooth event. When the children are absent, fights break out, and people become drunk. They say that you should not take kids to events for grown-ups. Quite the contrary. Children bring clarity and preclude foolhardiness. They indicate normality.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

Everything. The State. The Vertical Line of Power. Humanity. That is why I depict a protector of the Cosmotons. Malevich painted architectons, while I create cosmotons – dwellings in outer space. We will never find a planet where everything will be the same as on Earth. Everything will be different: the atmosphere, the temperature, etc. That is why it’s simpler to create something like the International Space Station – wandering cosmic cities – rather than try to colonize another planet. We can create a comfortable environment only through artificiality. Someone has to watch over all this. This gives rise to a Goddess of the Cosmos who reflects different traditional, both Christian and non-Christian. Each one of us is responsible for the whole of humanity. And family acts as a model of this responsibility. If you can remain responsible in your family, then you can be accountable for the whole of humanity.

How did your family impact your life? 

I grew up without a father, and my mother passed away when I was 13, a family was always a dream for me. But family cannot be created merely through the power of will. Families are created by the Heavens, they are born from a particular sign of a cosmic nature. Man cannot simply create a family by himself. Many people think that their lives will change once they become family men. However, no true shift will occur in your life before you change yourself before you become connected to the cosmos and the informational space of Earth. Events of change have to be created through subtle means.

Why do people create communities? 

It’s a natural inclination of our intellectual endeavors. We have a higher calling. That is why we are drawn both to order and chaos. We grow within a cultural community, and we develop our ideas by communicating. This intellectual space defines a community. It creates fertile grounds for new ideas. Man must aspire to renewal which can only occur within a community. Socrates noted that freedom without society leads to death. That is to say that without society, his beloved followers, their favor and communication life loses its meaning.

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

With both eyes! There is no general reason why one goes to an exhibition. In most cases, watching TV could be deemed as enough stimulation. If one goes to a show, one is already prepared for the visit. I would say that the road to an exhibition with its queues, tickets is payment enough and preparation of sorts. Even when the visitor sees something that he doesn’t like and expresses his dissatisfaction, that very act brings him closer to art. I never once met a person who, after visiting an exhibition, would say “I’m never going to exhibitions again.” The same cannot be said of the public at concerts or theaters. Exhibitions are always intriguing, always surprising and always unexpected.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

Art presents an opportunity to spend your capital intelligently. That presents a specific societal problem. If an artist creates pieces for sale, he becomes a servant of the elites. The rest of society is, thus, deprived of art. Art has very heavy leanings to the left. There are public museums that are slow to react to contemporary art, and this results in that the public lacks understanding of what contemporary art is. On the other hand, members of the elite who have achieved a certain level of material wealth are unsure of what to buy next. When a football team or a place just won’t do, these people turn to art. This takes one’s capital to an entirely new level. Many people think that being part of the elite has to do with money. But no matter how much money you have, you have to obtain something special to be granted access into the intellectual business elite. God did not create money; man did. And man is different from other living creatures by virtue of art and rationality. If you understand how to spend and invest your money, then you are a man of higher standing, and one is ready to do business with you.