By Elaine Tam
Anna Belozerova is an artist: a visionary, a question, a maker of worlds. Her meticulous work traverses sculpture, installation, video and studio photography, all of which confess private moments of other-worldly beauty. But this beauty is not that age-old aesthetic totem, which confers upon a recognizable unity before being relegated to convention or stereotype. Hers is a beauty of discord and surprise— an effect of Belozerova’s instinct and spontaneity — which discloses the unconscious at work. As colours and forms enter into recomposition with each other, objects or situations are given anew. It is for this reason that her work resists total interpretation; interpretation here is instead a reflexive parse through fields of contiguities. If these assemblages are incantations for untold meanings, their images speak to our intuition from the secret place of a dream.
What was your first art experience, and did you go to art school?
No. While I did have several lessons at an art school, it all seemed terribly boring to me. I decided that I didn’t want to go there. But at home my parents allowed me to do anything that came to my mind. I mean, I was allowed to paint on the walls in my room, or even paint the furniture different colours — I felt at total liberty with my ideas. From early childhood, I was passionate about drawing and crafting things from paper, wire, fabric. I could have done it all day. But no, I did not go to art school; I studied at the Institute of Architecture, and I am an architect by education.
That freedom to create the place you inhabit is so vital at a young age. These early considerations of space are somehow resounded in your choice to study architecture too. I wonder if you feel that architecture, or are architectural ideas, persist in your artistic work. Do you see your work in the studio as an act of world-building, can it be likened to your creative activities as a child?
Of course, I adapt the architect's skills in creating models and layouts for the artistic work I do now. But the important difference is that art allows me to create without thinking about calculations and diagrams. About my studio — it is, in fact, one of the rooms in my apartment. I think photography is where I go to retreat from reality, this is where I feel free: an arena in which I can experiment without restriction, and combine all my creative skills. It's all highly personal to the extent that I actually avoid commercial projects, by which I mean all my projects are made solely for myself.
Are there themes or symbols, autobiographical or otherwise? I noticed a few repeating elements, like fruit, flowers, glass, objects delicately balanced. Or at times, breaks and spills.
You know, I go through different periods. It all depends on what I'm passionate about and inspired by at that moment. It could be, for example, the philosophy of creative cinema, the carrying of a certain dialogue. In general, anything can inspire me — music, the work of other artists, vintage tableware, even a flower or fruit I have seen in a store. But I often try to create something that exists outside the expected framework. It is more interesting to complicate the task of building a composition, than to make something simple and obvious. I periodically have a craving for complex combinations and urges to destroy the composition. And yet, all of the broken lines will possess their own visual harmony. I am also interested in capturing the movement of light or liquid, as you can see in my work. It’s a thought running through my practice; I don’t wed myself to one particular style, I am a believer of trying different directions, combinations and manners.
I would love it if you could name some of your inspirations.
If we are talking about experimental photography, then my long-standing inspirations are Nico Krijno and Lucas Blalock. Especially Nico, I believe that he is a real genius. In cinema, directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, Luis Buñuel, Roy Andersson, Aki Kaurismäki and Béla Tarr. As for music, my picks of the day are Autechre, Aphex Twin, Meat Beat Manifesto, Kangding Ray, but my all-time favourite is undoubtedly Pink Floyd. I also work as a tattoo artist, and there is one tattoo artist whose work especially delights me; his name is Ilya Zharkov.
Thank you very much for that wildly generous list! Could you please elaborate on "the philosophy of creative cinema"? I feel there is a sort of "staging" here — perhaps this is an insinuation of studio photography — which also makes your process films feel like performance. This is why, for me, your scenes invoked tableaux vivants, Vanitas still life paintings, which may also explain why I asked so boldly about symbolism.
I think I would call such films existential, insofar as they all touch upon the search for the meaning of life. The issue of fragility and human consciousness, the influence society has on the individual, on behaviour, absurdity, and of course love, goodness, things like that. Each director has their own signature; any notion is always revealed from their point of view, thinking and experience. Through cinema we can observe life and its pseudo-mundane current. This, in my understanding, is the poetic essence of cinema.
To answer your question about symbolism, I maintain that what viewers see in my works are moments part-conscious and part-unconscious. Surrealism consists of symbolism; a departure from real images and forms towards new iterations that are combined with fantasy. Sometimes, I just create a composition on the basis of my aesthetic opinions, not thinking at all about the objects in terms of their usual or readily available functions. I look at them as simple forms. It is only after that I then find the composition filled with symbolism.
I am aware that your practice crosses many mediums like film, and this is evident in the highly sculptural scenes or sets. Do you consider yourself only as a photographer, or something more?
To be honest, I do not consider myself a photographer. I consider myself an artist. While photography is a way to capture the scene and moment, I do not limit myself to some kind of framework. I believe that contemporary art involves experimentation with different mediums and material resources; video is only one of the possibilities to convey a certain image and idea.
Do you know of Thomas Demand? He creates scenes out of paper and photographs them, but I believe the final realisation of the artwork is in the destruction of the paper, so that only the photographic record exists. And still, I would not only call him a photographer, though it is the only part of the work that exists, it is by no means the entire work. There is an interplay between the image, the "event" and ideas of absence, memory, the irretrievable and the ephemeral.
I am not familiar with his work, but I completely agree with you. Destruction is also an interesting point by the way, because I must always disassemble my scenes, even throw some of them away, as they are impossible to store.
You mentioned complexity earlier — we discussed this with regards to broken glass and liquid — which, as I understood it, you might satisfy by introducing destruction and chance into the work. So destruction appears in two senses.
Yes, I was talking about destruction as part of a complex composition in the frame itself. Then there is also the destruction of the composition after I take the photo. This is also quite a creative process, you destroy what you spent hours or days making. But you free up internal space which allows new ideas and constructions to arise.
It seems very cathartic.
Art modifies a person, releases spiritual energy. A true artistic image will reflect the mutability of the world, the pathway from humanity towards self-knowledge.
How long does it take you to make a work? And do you start with some idea of colour and image, before going off to find the elements...?
Composition creation can take from several hours to a week, or more. Sometimes I start from a set of objects, or a new object appears in the collection around which a composition will revolve. On some occasions, I make all the elements of the composition myself; I'll draw some kind of abstraction and use it as a background, or create objects from paper or polymer clay, or with building materials such as metal, wires, malleable insulating materials. That usually takes a lot of time. Even the texture of the paper might reminisce something that can lend itself to an idea. I have series where, for example, shapes I have made from paper are combined with the snow forms created by the wind.
This is a wonderful instance of "mutability", and again refers to a surrealistic mode of engagement, as you alluded to earlier. It reminds me of free association — as it is known in psychoanalysis — as well as The Interpretation of Dreams. Do you ever "read" meaning in your images after creating them?
It has happened many times that I see the finished image and discover the presence of new meanings. It is always stunning. When I share my work on Instagram, each person sees their own meanings through their prism or perception, and in the comments section many interesting dialogues about this unfold! The photograph carries a strong sense of contact with the mind and soul of the author. Actually, this is why I try not to title my photos.
I understand that your work has some affective, unnameable qualities, an experience you may decisively not want to foreclose or structure. This said, I hope you don't mind telling me more about this recent image fo yours?
This image began with the idea of a cake of lilac flowers. I decided that for this composition I needed some special kind of background so I went to the fabric store for this reason, and when I saw these I just fell in love. They influenced the formation of the composition as a whole. I usually avoid symmetry, but that day everything was very spontaneous, and I decided to succumb to the flow. I was surprised with how it turned out in the end: it really looks like an altar, and even looks like a female silhouette, but it all happened by chance, with what I had on hand at the time. I also used a tea set that I recently found in my grandfather’s house, which also came through quite symbolically. This is exactly the kind of tea set that I often used in imaginary and real tea parties during childhood.
So what is the most radical discovery you've made about yourself through this process of creating assemblages and images? And to which work does it relate?
I can't decide on one. They are all part of a continuous exploration of myself. The most powerful discovery for me is probably that I am getting further and further from people. I am completely subsumed by my projects in which there is almost no place for people, except for portraits of my boyfriend or self-portraits.
Since you expressed an interest in hearing the connections viewers make in your work, may I tell you one that I had made? It's about this image. When I was young, I was aware of an article in the news that described the case of a schizophrenic man. He locked himself in his house, and covered all its surfaces in foil to deflect alien signals or rays. He was very paranoid and did not go outside, so for food he caught a pigeon at his window to cook in his oven. Foil-covered objects always invoke a vivid mental image of it for me. I have described it to some people, and tried searching for the article online, but to no avail. So until this day, I feel it might have been a figment of my imagination.
Yes, I also remember this story. The foil has a curious effect, metal or pure white surfaces imply sterility to me. And I like that monochrome can be created by using this one material. By doing this I can make the scene look completely different, like it's a picnic from the cosmos.