Interview with the most highly paid Ukrainian photographers about modern art and their project “Apocalypse in Art”

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva – a family couple of artists brought up by Kharkov photography school and shooting for Vogue, Stern and Spiegel, established several Ukrainian records last year. In February at Phillips auction their diptych ‘Neo’ was bought for $63 400. In March at the same auction Vasiliev’s work ‘Ice’ was sold for $106 900, that three times exceeded its estimated price. Elena and Vitaly are currently the most expensive Ukrainian photographers.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. From the private archive

Bleek Magazine: Tell us about your project ‘Apocalypse in Art’. What gave you a prod to create it? What have become the source of inspiration?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: A museum of contemporary art is modeling relations within reality, setting and reflecting the hierarchy of values and thus affecting the unconscious, to a great extent forming its ‘angle of perception’. In general, it can be called one of the historical aspects of the use of art, which is the reason of its government support throughout the history from the times of ancient Egypt to the present.

Our project develops the theme of contemporary art, or rather, the processes that have been going on in the aesthetic consciousness and artistic culture since the beginning of the 20th century. The boundaries and criteria of art (and the main criterion has always been an aesthetic one) are entirely blurred today. Any object that has nothing to do with art can become an artwork today – one has only to bring it out and declare it as such, and it is already beginning to be taken for a piece of art. Many contemporary artists have lost their autonomy as unique creative personalities. Nowadays a mere trash is tending to be called a piece of art. And museums of contemporary art are giving shelter to such trash, thus becoming complicit in the process of art degradation in the society.

To become an artist today you do not have to work hard – the main thing, again, is to declare yourself as an artist and present something like a tree or a single tone colored canvas as your work. That is why we depict five museums, located on different continents, in an environment that has nothing to do with their actual location, thus trying to demonstrate all the today’s decay of art in general. Tell an ‘average’ person that he is standing in front of an object or a painting of some well-known, universally esteemed artist, and he instantly begins to treat this piece of art with attention and respect, recognizing its significance. In a broader sense, such fakes represent the phenomenon that facts do not exist objectively, and their appraisal is based not on one’s comprehension, but on some invented, imaginary status.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The photo from “Apocalypse in Art” project

Bleek Magazine: How has your project been created? Tell us about the main stages of its realization.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We have constructed five accurate models of museums, invented the plot of the story and selected special locations for shooting. The result you can see in the pictures. Creation of a project is essentially a dialogue between a percipient and an idea gradually shaped into a particular form in one or another artistic medium. Meanwhile, such process can never be presented as a simple projection of any preformed ideas. Art always awakens associations of various kinds and affects the viewer, and therefore, an artist’s creation is not so much an exact copy of his mental images as an extension of his concept and implementation of those forms that emerge in his brain.

Nowadays a mere trash is tending to be called a piece of art. And museums of contemporary art are giving shelter to such trash, thus becoming complicit in the process of art degradation in the society.

Bleek Magazine: In your project, you put those models of museums into a completely alien environment, and the emerging visual impression is that this environment is quite unfriendly. This suggests that contemporary art, in your opinion, also dwells in some alien environment, somehow being out of place. Is that right? How would you define the place of art in the modern world?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: Throughout the history of civilization, art has accompanied humanity having a great impact on its development. Due to works of art of the past centuries, we can get an idea of what was happening before us. Art plays an important role in the modern world too, but today we can only dimly imagine what contemporary art will leave for the future generations. In our project, museums are presented in the unusual, oppressive environment, but at the same time, they do not lose their shape, as if to show that art keeps on living in spite of everything. In today’s art, it seems, ugliness is gradually replacing beauty. Today’s slogan – art is always a provocation. Art has to provoke just to draw attention to itself.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The process of making “Apocalypse in Art” project

Bleek Magazine: What do you think makes an art project successful from an artist’s point of view? In this context, do you consider ‘Apocalypse’ successful? Are you satisfied with the results?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: Probably every artist has his own criterion of success. Is our project successful or not? We suppose it is successful. It attracts attention of both art experts and ordinary people who are open-minded in their appreciation of art, guided by their own perception and taste. Success of our project is also indicated by its participation in Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014.

Photography is a territory of freedom and creativity, which is documenting our life as well. We are sure, that our descendants will know much more about the 20th and 21st centuries than, say, we know about the 18th and 19th.

Bleek Magazine: How do you get along with curators, gallery owners and other art institutions? Tell us about the rules of this market. Do you play them?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: One should understand that an artist is an important part of the entire artistic process, and, of course, he has to operate in a certain field and follow the rules of the game. Our relations with those people who are directly involved in the process may vary. There are negative and positive moments, as, probably, it is supposed to be. It is impossible to follow your path and not to meet any difficulties or obstacles. We feel that positive factors are in plenty in the world of art and around it; they benefit the development of our career and affect all our creative work in general. At the same time, of course, there are very unpleasant moments that are impossible to avoid not only for an artist.

We are trying not to get distracted by all these undercurrents and just doing our work, as we understand it and are able to. Fortunately, there are our collectors and investors to help us to implement our fantasies in projects that have already been presented to the public or are going to be. We consider it very important for an artist to be able to work freely and calmly.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The photo from “Apocalypse in Art” project

Bleek Magazine: What role, in your opinion, does sincerity and openness of an artist play in his creative work? Does an artist have a right to drift?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: Sincerity is essential in art; openness – we do not think so. According to our personal experience, we suppose that the more artists are reserved, the more effective is their work. Drifting is impossible for an artist, because if he drifts without making any effort in order to popularize his work, he has hardly any chance to make himself and his work known on a more serious level.

People will finally understand that photo schools created by all sorts of profaners and frauds are just crematoriums where creativity is burned down in exchange for craft and involvement into a professional environment. One can smolder here slowly, but cannot be.

Bleek Magazine: Is it easy for you to work in pair? Has there been any desire to create individual projects? What project are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We have come to the world of art together and cannot even imagine how we begin to work separately. Working in tandem expands the boundaries of our imagination and everything is happening on a purely visceral level now. Currently we are working on the completion of the project ‘Apocalypse in Art’, because, according to the initial concept, we intended to create eight museums, not five – so now we are working on the final stage. Concerning our plans for the future – they are very big, if not to say grandiose. Now we are thinking and working out a very interesting project, which in its essence and supposed perception can become unique and at the same time fantastically technological. But that is another story, and we hope that the time will come when we will be able to present it in reality.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The process of making “Apocalypse in Art” project

Bleek Magazine: How do you see the future of photography?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We see the future of photography bright. We are sure that photography is standing on high positions in visual art now and is attracting more and more interest to itself year after year.

People will finally understand that photo schools created by all sorts of profaners and frauds are just crematoriums where creativity is burned down in exchange for craft and involvement into a professional environment. One can smolder here slowly, but cannot be. They will just start shooting, ignoring the surrounding fuss and all sorts of criticism. Photography is a territory of freedom and creativity, which is documenting our life as well. We are sure, that our descendants will know much more about the 20th and 21st centuries than, say, we know about the 18th and 19th.

Tell an ‘average’ person that he is standing in front of an object or a painting of some well-known, universally esteemed artist, and he instantly begins to treat this piece of art with attention and respect, recognizing its significance.

Bleek Magazine: Will digital representation ever prevail over one on paper and in galleries?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We do not think that it will happen soon. And digital representation doesn’t come within miles of one on paper and in galleries. Modern technologies can replace many things, but to see an image, mounted and integrated into space, is much better than just to see a dead image on a computer monitor.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The photo from “Apocalypse in Art” project

Bleek Magazine: Will apocalypse truly happen and the era of galleries and museums come to an end?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We’d like to repeat: museums have been and will be at all times, in spite of everything. This is proved by the fact that they have been existing for a long time already and have survived already several apocalypses that occurred at different times in our history.

We are sure that photography is standing on high positions in visual art now and is attracting more and more interest to itself year after year.

Bleek Magazine: What rules do you play?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: We are trying to play the rules that we have stated for ourselves.

Bleek Magazine: What is the difference between an artist and an ordinary man?

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva: An ordinary man looks, but an artist sees.

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva

Vitaliy and Elena Vasilieva. The photo from “Apocalypse in Art” project

© Bleek Magazine. Translation: Darya Kuznetsova.