This summer, Kuzma Vostrikov and Chinese multimedia artist Ajuan Songwill are going to stage their first major UK photography exhibition at Hoxton 253 in London on 5th – 27th June, which was previously postponed due to Covid-19.
Kuzma Vostrikov (picture), who is an acclaimed artist, filmmaker, and writer based out in New York, has been diagnosed with a genetic eye disease called X-linked congenital stationary night blindness.
For an artist depending on his vision, Kuzma’s life is constantly affected by the fear of becoming blind, which has been the greatest influence on his art and world view.
Pushing all the boundaries and limitations, this summer, Kuzma along with Chinese multimedia artist Ajuan Songwill are going to stage their first major UK photography exhibition at Hoxton 253 in London on 5th – 27th June.
Showing photography as you’ve never seen it before, their theme Absolutely Augmented Reality combines fashion, cinema, theatre, and even metaphysics with fine art and photography, to create a dream world of strange and alluring portraiture, accompanied by archetypal images, hybrid creatures, quirky motifs, and canonical postures. Not to mention the clever inversions of iconic art history references, including Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Rene Magritte, Wilhelm Shenrok, Fernando Botero, Yayoi Kusama, and other artistic greats.
We were lucky to connect with Kuzma and talk to him in-depth about his life, work, and this upcoming exhibition. Here is the complete transcript from our interview.
Hi Kuzma! Thank you for talking to us. How are you holding up during the lockdown?
Conspiracy theorists don’t believe in electrons and quarks. How can you believe in something nobody has ever seen or touched? But they do believe in reptiles. Reptiles are all over the place. And your picture of the world: is that something you can touch with your hand?
The virus kills.
Knives, x-rays, street fights, hunger and war also kill.
But the rhetoric of a wilting power structure is amplified by the Internet’s flimsy megaphone. The worldwide web has weak immunity to so-called marketing cataclysms, cultivating a new virulence for cliches like that one. Viral marketing doesn’t need government ads because the centrifuge of hysteria deploys itself.
Hipsters, old folks and wimps of the world, take shelter! Soon we’ll all die from the kiss of an unlucky bat!
Put three masks on me, and a gas mask, and a condom!
The fresh air and birdsong makes me sick!
I want more shit!
Please, let me finally shut up!
New York, USA, 2021.
When your darling children get surreptitiously poked in the ass with a vaccine needle, to feel safe (S A F E!), the administrative sensibility of the urban mother will bring the people together, and schools will transform into fortified temples for the safekeeping and verification of the social protocol.
Safety must be safe!
(Poetry is the antineutrino of hypocrisy, my friends!)
Your soul will blaze with a fresh new feeling, nimbly detach from your creaking body, and whirl elegantly above Manhattan, victorious over the iron decay.
What or who inspired you to become an artist? Have you always wanted to become an artist?
Never. I avoided artists like the plague. Which would you rather be: poor, hungry, or a loser? If you’re an artist, you don’t need to choose!
An artist is a neurosis. A dramatic neural network of interwoven perceptive instruments for studying the world.
My parents are artists. And they always told me: “Son, don’t drink, don’t smoke, and never become an artist.”
An artist is a not very successful translator of the subjective into the verbal or visual.
An artist or photographer. Who Kuzma is actually?
Being a photographer is more of a profession, a routine. I’m too impatient. I always race headlong into things. For me, a camera is just a tool. Like a shovel, for example. Or a radio telescope. So you can take a look over there, farther and farther away. But my visual is always closely connected to the word.
Check out my project with Ajuan, “Just to Land in Tokyo.”
Who do you idolize as an artist/photographer?
The gelatinous analogue photographer of the 20th century is an idol by now. When you spin a developing tank, you know what kind of magic it is. For me, any master is an idol. José Raúl Capablanca, Andy Warhol, Leonardo DiCaprio, Shakira, Martin Heidegger, and Alexander Ovechkin from the NHL. If all idols are masters, does that mean that all masters are photographers?
Can you tell us something about your upcoming exhibition?
Ajuan says, “I’m tired. I want to go to London. New York is mindless, foul, dirty.”
And I also want to go to London. London is an amazing city, I think. It’s all traditions and mysteries. London is the origin. We’re terribly excited. We love London, I mean it. Maybe we should move there. Europe gives a much warmer welcome to our photography, in general.
We’ve assembled a really stunning team. We work through our masks and online over Skype. Could anything good come out of that? Go to the Hoxton 253 and find out. There’s Halime Özdemir our producer, the curator Chelsea Pettitt and the MIDAS team. We keep waiting for the problems to start, but so far there aren’t any…
If you want problems, come to Brooklyn!
Why such an offbeat (Absolutely Augmented Reality) genre?
We have to free the jacks from the jacks-in-a-box. Everyone is doing business, selling AR glasses, vaccines, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers.
We have a vaccine, too, but ours is contactless. No needles, carcinogens, chemistry, or torture. Want to go to China with me to visit Ajuan?
Western piggy that I am, she’s teaching me reconciliation and love.
Absolutely Augmented Reality is a therapeutic genre. It’s faith in the old days and horses.
What message are you trying to convey through your works? (these seem somewhat dreamy and mesmerizing)
Work peacefully with your pain, smile at it. Sharpen it a bit with a file, caress it. All the saddest things are also the most beautiful. That’s the secret to any search, no matter whether you’re looking at the stars, a canvas, or a book. We want to get rid of our past, but it pulls us back, like a nice old blankie.
The Western manner of putting ourselves out there has worked up a sense of shame inside us when we turn to sentimentality, symbolism, lyrical observation, or a dialogue with death. Modern art deals with political science and social discourses. As soon as the sponsors have had enough, the vector of public attention will raise old names from the archives. Some time travelers don’t make it to the time they deserve.
Can you throw some light on the photographs: woman on the chair, woman on the cycle, the man with cockroaches, and woman holding a TV?
The woman on the chair, from one point of view, is an image of Asia. Probably the woman is too harshly oppressed there. She is in corporate servitude and in servitude to her husband. It’s like if you serve 80 years in the army. We aren’t making a call to revolution. On the contrary, we enjoy melancholy.
On the chair is Ajuan, as if she’s in an electric chair. And Western culture is frying her. From the other point of view, the woman, as a subject of the stronger half of humankind, symbolizes our common limitations in space, in fantasy, and in freedom of choice.
Remember how annoyed you were with me when I started talking about the virus at the start of this interview?
We all want to hear what comes to us straight to our mouths on a spoon. But what if it’s a fork, and it misses your mouth?
The woman on the bicycle is overcoming the force of gravity, obviously. Remember, the Chinese landed on Mars recently – well, their robots did, anyway. One American guy basically dreams of pitching tents there and holding a barbecue.
Of course it’s easier to get to Mars on a bicycle, so Ajuan and I have dispatched our own mission there.
The woman with the television is the continuation of these space romances. In the sixties, it seemed as if everyone would soon be flying into space, it would be fun. Television, space, automobiles – it’s all the same. The romance of optimism. The girl is happy because she believes in the future. She came to us from a time when they only showed one program on TV.
The guy with the cockroaches is a shot from another project. He’s my protagonist from the novel “Just to Land in Tokyo.” He’s a pilot who has struggled with his past and believed in the design of emigration. Thanks to a series of circumstances, he wanted to fly to Tokyo, but it’s not clear if he ever could.
Read the book “Just to Land in Tokyo,” coming out with illustrations in 2022.
In this era of digitization, you’re still using film (Kodak Professional Ektar 100 color negative film)? Would you want to make any comment on that?
At first, that was all Ajuan. She loves film, all those canisters and difficulties. She said, “Let’s use film, wide-format.” I said, “Let’s do it, it won’t kill us.” In the end, we used both 120 and 35 mm. It was so great, honestly. It relaxes you.
When I was 15, I was crazy about cameras, movie cameras too. It was just like the good old days. We’d do it again any time!
Can you tell us something about your eye disorder?
What challenges are you currently facing and how is it impacting your work?
I am my deformed eyes. And they, in turn, are deforming my mind. Obviously there is some very powerful adaptation and mimicry happening.
But waging this war with my eyes my whole life, while doing visual work, that’s normal. Beethoven went deaf early in life. The director Aleksander Sokurov has terrible vision, but he’s famous worldwide.
I think that the degree of internal conflict due to my poor vision is growing, but sometimes I don’t have the organizational capacity to deal with creative work more intensively. There’s a lot of unproductive chaos inside me.
Would you like to educate our readers about your disorder since it is believed to be rare?
It’s sort of a funny story. My whole life, even the best doctors from research institutes told me, “Yeah, man, there’s something weird about your eyes, we don’t really understand what it is.”
They finally diagnosed me in America last year.
X-linked congenital stationary night blindness.
That means it’s a defect in one little gene passed down through my mother, but the illness only shows up in men.
The fear of going blind is smaller than the fear of death, but it grinds at you over a long time, slowly.
The doctor says, “Here’s my telephone number, if you start seeing little black worms, go straight to the emergency room.”
I think our fears help us focus.
How has your collaboration with Ajuan been so far during the ideation and development?
Very simple: without her, none of this would have existed, and neither would this interview. At first, she proposed doing a big project, and there was a discussion stage when we wrote down ideas. Then I used those notes to draw sketches for the photographs, we started delving into the details and discussed lots of technical aspects. After that, the preparatory work began.
Collaboration is a complicated thing. You need to know how to listen to each other, and one partner knows how to listen better. There are so many nuances, especially when you’re in the same boat, the ocean all around you. You have to make decisions, often in extreme circumstances.
We shot a huge quantity of material, made a movie, published a book.
But you should interview Ajuan and you’ll hear how that all turned out.
You call yourself a “photo-existentialist practicing anthropological symbolism”. What do you mean by that? Could you please elaborate for our readers?
The answer to that simple question can be found in the essence of the terms you used.
When we come to a department store, we touch the things on the shelf. Woolly socks, smooth teacups, slippery soap, expensive watches. Material goods have a clear shape and financial equivalent.
We’re all sick. Not with COVID, but with the senselessness of the race for materialism. With the lust for ownership which is broiling our blood.
Existentialists are the people who stop and direct their gaze at the genuine nature of things, at the question of creation. Not to amass stuff, not to build a wall, but to be and to study.
Anthropologists examine the problem of mankind from the perspective of different times.
Symbolism, to a certain extent, is also anthropological, since it emphasizes the central role of the person. In that way, through photography, we address the questions of existence through visual symbolism, the historical context, and its experimental investigation.
You say your work is “an investigation into metaphysics which creates a sense of exploration and melancholic intrigue”. Could you elaborate on that too?
The concept of metaphysics can be nebulous. It’s changed since the time of the Greek philosophers.
For us, metaphysics, obviously, is what lies beyond the borders of material objects and their formal descriptions. Metaphysics is the prime mover of existence. It is built into human nature. Melancholy is the sense of the inevitability of death, a stupor in the face of the impossibility of seizing onto any constant of experience. Melancholy intrigue is also temporary, a movable condition a person may possess, which they can enjoy in the absence of a guaranteed approach to the picture of the world.
What are your expectations out of this exhibition that’s going to held on the 5th of June in London?
To be honest, the exhibition has been rescheduled twice, and the whole team has put a lot of effort into it, starting, of course, from the concept and up to the process of organizing everything. We hope to hear some kind words. Even just one or two words. But that’s a big secret, so I’ll never admit it. Basically, we want to hook the audience. These days everyone taps their finger on Instagram, 1000 pictures a day. How to compete with that if we only have 20 photographs? An author brings himself, his background, his signature, his biography, his individuality. We also did an interview about the project, in cinematographic format, and we’ll be projecting that in the gallery. I think it turned out to be an interesting interview, and I’m going to enjoy sharing the overall results of our work.
Our sincerest wishes for your upcoming exhibition!!
Kuzma: thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!