What constitutes contemporary art for you personally? 

To go fully against the widely accepted norms for the most topical and radical way of doing art, rather than chasing fashions. Classic art suggests the opposite: fashionable, interesting, avant-garde. We put our trust in the individual and his energy. But is it art? If you’re not sure of whether or not the piece in front of you is art, check whether or not you’re feeling a certain lack of ease. If so, then it is probably contemporary art. If everything is clear and straightforward, that means it is not contemporary art but something else. Take for example Lenin’s Mausoleum. Still, it can be suggested that the latter is a pinnacle of contemporary art, a most radical, incomprehensible coded message for future generations.

What is your role in today’s art scene? 

Not to spoil this world. I’ve already done all the bad things. I’ve bitten. I’ve punched. I’ve stolen. I’ve destroyed. I’ve corrupted. I’ve hurt. I’ve done everything possible to everybody possible. Now I want to turn a new leaf and create something beautiful, delicate and lovable. For example, I create portraits of the hooligans that I have among my friends. I can’t stand them. We’ve spent our entire lives fighting to prove who was best. Now, as if in repentance for past misdeeds, I make myself do their portraits. I try to capture them at the best moment. I treat my friends as a taxidermist treats animals. The latter hunts down an animal, painlessly kills it, guts the body, sews it up and restores the exterior to its former glory. In my case, I depict my friends against the backdrop of cultural history. This project has nothing to do with art for me. Of course, I greatly respect Ancient Greece, antiques and archives. Even the 1990s are a part of the ancient world in my eyes. And I take my time in carefully, tenderly excavating the past. Should I have enough patience (and I believe that I do), I will bring this project to completion. And I will see this as atonement for all the past pain and misery that I’ve brought to people during my early career and through my maximalist posturing.

What connects new and old art? 

Life itself. For example, nobody gives a damn about Stalinist art, salesmen, and profiteers notwithstanding. Nobody, except for four-five people, actually understands it. I am reminded of Vladimir Pozner, a very interesting, very deep man. He has an opinion about everything. One time, during a visit to the Italian Embassy, he said: “Well, Caravaggio, of course, represents fine art. They say that it is difficult to distinguish between good and bad art. Here, however, all is clear! Caravaggio can be understood by anybody.” That is when Dmitry Gutov (translator’s note: contemporary Russian artist) remarked: “Forgive me, kind sir, but until the 20th century Caravaggio was not listed in the palaces of Florence which he visited during his lifetime. He was considered to be a very mediocre painter. Completely devoid of interest. And then the avant-gardist rediscovered his work and began actively using shades of black and the master’s techniques. Pre-Raphaelites and members of other art movements continuously imposed the cult of Caravaggio on amateurs. Finally, the latter began seeing something special in his works. Nowadays, everyone says “everybody understands”.” What can one say of Rembrandt 200 years ago? Was everyone praising him? What about Van Gogh? Nobody is ever appreciated in his time.

What was the turning point in your career? 

When a curator in Sweden forcefully hit me with his large foot. He was a bit upset about the way the subject of my piece was developing. I didn’t expect to be hit, and for the first time in my life, I fell unconscious. When I came to, I was lying completely naked and was surrounded by people. The only thing that was on me – a dog collar. I could not understand what had happened. Of course! I am a human-dog. I began thinking about going to my doghouse. “Perhaps I bit someone. Heavens, what a shame…” I was downcast and felt as though I had killed someone. I hid in the doghouse, lay down. I was thinking something along the lines of «how can someone hit me with their feet, me, such a smart and deep person. Here I am, completely naked and without a clue of what to do next.” Next thing the police came and everything was cleared up. They brought me out, gave me clothes, and took me to the station. Thankfully, all ended peacefully.

Who influenced your art at different points in your life? 

My mother always exuded a marked influence on me. When she appeared, blood would stop dead in my veins. Her Zodiac signs are Scorpio and Tiger. There is only one combination that is worse – Tiger and Aries. These happen to be my daughter’s Zodiac signs. She is a delicate creature, just like her mother. I always thought that they were monsters. But I was the actual monster. They were so soft and vulnerable. But I had to learn this by myself. No one is going to give you a hint. After all is said and done, you are a small thin-skinned kid who hurts everyone but thinks that everyone is hurting him.

My teacher, the famous sculptor Boris Orlov was also a major influence. We met in 1981, before the passing of Brezhnev. I was just 19. I was very much concerned that I, a great artist who has done so much, had no exhibitions, no attention, no recognition. He was 40 and had no exhibitions but remained sunny and happy. I asked him: “Borya, why are you so optimistic?” His answer: “Art brings me joy”. After that, I learned that art must result in happiness for you yourself, even if everybody else is uninterested. I began making portraits of my friends. Take Oleg Mavromati – a real man. I spent a year shaping the material and experience such a rush of emotions! It is difficult to say what criteria to judge a work by or even if the work should be judged at all. Then you attain certain plasticity and begin to lose yourself in it. From a sculptor’s point of view, this is very much incomprehensible work.

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

I have one problem: people who like to walk along diagonal lines. I always ride my bicycle at a speed slightly faster than the walk of a pedestrian. As a Buddhist, I am always calm and imperturbable, nothing can make me lose my cool. But babushkas who go out on the open street somehow always move diagonally. I am forced to stop. Why can’t they go straight?! Some of them are rather lively and try to hit me with their bags. I am constantly trading insults with some fat old women. This is rather disheartening, even though I talk to tigers, gods, oligarchs, policemen, and bandits. But it just so happens that I can’t get along with these diagonally-walking babushkas. I finally decided to overcome myself. I stopped throwing the worst curses at them and gradually moved to less obscene profanities. That was already a great relief. And then I realized that the gods themselves are making these women stop me. To make me think of the most important things in life. Now when I see someone walking diagonally, I move especially slowly… I am waiting for the serious thoughts to come to me.

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

It holds a secondary position. Solid student-level art. I’ve always said that. It’s still better than our economy which has a severe trend towards imitation, and that is why we have so many problems here. Art perseveres in studies, everyone is studying. But Russian art does not have any basis for its existence and cannot separate itself from the past of USSR. Nobody can deal away with it, and while one is still holding one foot firmly in the past, one cannot help but be torn. Ilya Kabakov tells us about this past through a concrete concept and with much subtlety. But there is still a notable contradiction. Thus, Russian art holds no interest for anyone. People are interested in The Black Square and the episode from the film Square where the human-dog gets a thrashing. The latter was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year. Art critics hate the film. In one episode, the human-dog Oleg from Russia visits a museum in the West. The visit is concluded with obvious results. All art is nothing, only a living and breathing man holds importance. But nobody wants to present a living and breathing man.

When you look at my works, you can quickly understand the parallels. 20 years ago, I displayed photos of the eponymous human-dog. Yes, I was a bad man at that time, an uninteresting man, a man devoid of talent. Still, I am what I am and I am not ashamed of it. I know full well of my problems and difficulties. And I am not bragging, I was very much nervous about not being able to find my main theme and a connection to the culture and art at large, just as many of my friends. In a certain sense, I stopped progressing with my career. I decided that I am a Russian artist and that I don’t want to go beyond the borders of my country. If I am at a loss here, in Russia, then what can I possibly offer there, in other countries? I represent Russian art, I am a Russian artist with Ukrainian roots.

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

The GUM is an excellent shopping center which boast unbelievable decorative domes and railings. The latter remind me of bars behind which I have to work. I am always under the impression that I am behind bars which constitute my very being. I see myself as a small living thing that is forced to fight for its survival and is trying so hard to grab hold of the bars in the hope of holding on to them. When I first saw that dome, I immediately felt as though it was familiar to me. Naturally, I decided to present pieces of a family, the very bodies of the family members on that background. There you have it.

What does the word “family” mean to you? 

I know the general answer to this question but I am still looking for a personal answer. I will provide the answer given to me by another person, however. Family offers you the opportunity to become a complete person. In a family, you can see what you should be as if you’re looking at yourself from the outside. Family is you by yourself. Two become one. After you experience this, family loses its importance. It still remains in your life just as friends always will be your friends. Few people actually feel this tantalizing moment. A family cannot be divided, karmic marriages notwithstanding. Family is an important tool in self-discovery. I’ve experienced all this twice. The first time I filed for divorce, the second time I was brought out of it by faith. It was gratifying and beautiful. Seven happy years... Our wonderful child remains.

Creating a family is a real job, a process of creating a cast mold. You create something special, but the process is difficult, as one has to deal with all types of fallout, everything can be destroyed in a few seconds. One has to exercise a sure touch to create a truly breathtaking piece. People who haven’t been a part of a family rarely reach enlightenment, even if they are Buddhists. Osho noted that impotence has not resulted in enlightenment as of yet. Everything is going up in flames, one should lock oneself in a monastery… Sorry, I’m getting off track. One should be able to work with the available energy flow. Sometimes fervent abstinence does not result in saintliness but in prostatitis.

How did your family impact your life? 

My family first gave me everything and then took everything away. First – a blaze of fire, then – icy water. But between these two extremes, we had some remarkable moments. I still have the wine bottle that was issued in France on the day when we conceived my daughter. It was something of a moment of inspiration. We planned the pregnancy and specifically went to Lake Teletskoye in Altay. That day a heavy rain-pour began. My wife told me that nature has presented its will to us. Family is a wonderful thing. The nation as a family, the family of people – this is the most potent source of devilishly powerful energy that there ever was. Nothing goes as deep as family. Not the KGB, not society, not the people in power but family. One has to experience this disease. Get it, live with it, transform yourself and then leave it behind. Afterwards, you become an enlightened and free man. A free man must be married. For a certain time.

Why do people create communities? 

To exchange blows, pillage, and rape. Or to gain capital. Artists create communities because they are either backstabbing assholes, fools or Russian. Perhaps they still lack experience. It is easier to confront the powers of the world together. There are no other reasons behind communities. Even sleeping together in one bed is dangerous (sex, on the other hand, is OK).

How should a neophyte approach contemporary art? 

If my audience asks me, I will provide an answer. Good pieces have to be seen directly, bad pieces can be viewed from the side. Everything depends on our understanding. Before looking at an artwork one should learn about it. If you go to the opera unprepared, you will probably find it dull and even duller the second time. But the next time you’ll take your painkillers and watch the whole thing with no problem. You have to make a habit out of it.

Imagine that a village bumpkin visits the GUM for the first time. He sees the numerous brands and goes into the Gucci Boutique. But what should he choose? He dresses up in a monstrous get-up and is bound to scare all people around him. I still remember how people would laugh out loud at the way Russians looked when they began going to Western fairs and exhibitions. But contemporary art does not allow one to become accustomed to anything, everything is constantly changing. The art of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons seems to me a true slap-in-the-face, it is much worse than The Black Square, a complete travesty. Still, it is art. A lie but a seductive lie.

Why and how should one buy contemporary artworks? 

Young artists and collectors are among the unhappiest people in art. Nobody needs them. They understand little but still hold themselves in great esteem. “We are collectors, so do explain to us why you charge such high prices?” The problem is that it is difficult for an artist to explain why one should buy art. Everything is simple in the West. The French gallery with which I work has 3-4 good artists. And that gallery has been doing fine for 40 years! In Russia, each gallery works with 20-30 artists! And yet it is easy to find design projects. True art demands personality, but many artists have either left the country or choose not to exhibit their work. Many of them simply don’t want to show their pieces.

I don’t create art that will shake or overthrow the current order. Nothing comes fast, and I am fully aware of existing problems. The most important thing is to remain happy and in love with your work. I have experienced hardships and I have understood much. Only true art brings me joy. But what is true art? I am bothered by this question daily. A collector should not expect an immediate answer. Imagine that you have bought a pair of sneakers after having worn boots for a long time. When you tried your sneakers on for the first time, you probably didn’t like them. But after some time, you come to a realization of just how good they actually are. After that one does not question the need to wear sneakers, one begins to learn more about them and try other options. Contemporary art is one of the only things on interest in our world, self-development notwithstanding. It is the penultimate truth faith being the ultimate truth. But before attaining faith, one should prepare to become religious through experiencing contemporary art. One has to question himself: how should I live? what is going on? who am I? who are you? My dear collectors, if you are fond of meeting people and learning new things, then contemporary art is open to you. But should you present yourself as a highly moral, closed up know-it-all, then you will probably have more luck with a bottle of vodka or a portrait of Lenin.