artist spotlight: Irina Skornyakova
fields is proud to pair with Austin’s Little Pink Monster Gallery to bring you the artist spotlight series, a collection of interviews conducted by the folks at Little Pink Monster, working in tandem with our editors to showcase some of the most interesting visual artists here in Austin and beyond. Some of these artists have exhibited with Little Pink Monster, and as fans of the wonderful women behind the LPM Gallery, we are excited to be able to provide a platform to introduce them to a wider audience. For this interview, Lyndsie DeCologero spoke with the artist Irina Skornyakova.
untitled work (2015)
Irina Skornyakova is a digital collage artist living in Portland, Maine.
Portland seems to have the best art scene in Maine. Are there any other cities in Maine that you would say are “artsy”?
IS: I don’t know about cities, but I do know there’s a lot of hidden talent, and I would say Maine probably has a little bit more to offer in a musical realm, too. There are a lot of interesting weirdos hanging out and being reclusive, but I don’t know if they are concentrated near cities. The Beehive Collective is here in Maine, if you know who they are? They’re an activist artist group. Artistic talent isn’t as concentrated in areas here—it’s kind of dispersed and hidden, but Portland definitely has a lot to offer.
It’s weird, you could be living right next door to someone, or be in the same friend group as somebody, and just not meet them for years, then meet them one day and be like "Wait, you do all this awesome stuff and I don’t even know you?" I think that happens a lot in Portland. Everyone sees each other on the streets and recognizes faces, so you get to this point where you’re like, "Oh, I know you, I’ll see you around, we don’t need to get contact information, we don’t need to actually talk, I’ll just see you at this thing, sometime…” There can be this very laissez-faire attitude toward staying in touch, so because of that meeting people can be very tricky.
How did you become an artist?
IS: Umm… I don’t know that I was ever not an artist, but for a long time I did not call myself an artist. I think I was always into creative things and places, and when I was a kid my mom took me to all sorts of painting and drawing courses and dancing classes and like every friggin’ museum ever, so I’ve always seen a lot of art and always drawn. But for a long time I did not think I’m an artist, when I ended up in art school, I thought I was a print maker, a craftsman, and there was this really clear distinction. Then, when I finished school and took off on my own, there was a lack of accessibility to facilities for high-tech printmaking that I was used to having around all the time. I became very frustrated and began to do a lot of weirder stuff, experiment and let loose. When I was hired for a large format digital printing company and was around bigger printers, machines that cut almost anything to shape and mounting presses, and utilizing the equipment, I realized Oh wait, I’m an artist now, and that’s okay, I don’t have to be a print maker, I can just be a person who makes anything they want.
A creative being?
IS: Right, and now I’m even starting to think of what that means, that sometimes having less definition is better than having more.
How would you describe your work?
IS: I kind of float around, so… many different things. I think, right now, I would think sci-fi and maybe a little ethereal, I guess. I don’t know how I would describe it. I think if I were talking to somebody I would probably describe the projects I were working on, but I wouldn’t have an overarching These are five words who are me, you know?
Are there recurring themes?
IS: Yeah, I’m obsessed with the Internet and technology, and how we think of it as this lightweight thing that exists and floats around, this network of connecting information. We forget as to how physical it is, the fact that you have to literally dig a hole across the entire ocean and draw the line to connect one continent to the other, and the fact that like everything in our laptops comes from a mineral, so I think my work is really interested in how we think of technology, and then how technology interacts with the natural environment, like rocks and landscapes, and where it comes from, like mining—just texturally and visually, how those can be linked together.
And then I think the other main thing that I always keep coming back to is dreamscapes. Theoretical spaces, in the sense that mental spaces are not physical, they’re not tactile, but—What does that mean? What does that look like? And I’m a little bit of a sucker for landscape, so thinking about the spatial environment interacting with things in your dreams and how it has tactility, but you can’t really describe it.
Do think that that’s maybe part of the reason you were drawn to Portland? Wilderness and rocky, natural landscapes?
IS: Yeah, totally. One of the reasons I moved here, besides the fact that I had not a lot of things I was thinking of doing at the time, was… I took a trip to the White Sea when I was a teenager in Russia, and it has a really dramatic, rocky coastline, it’s really beautiful, and I know that some of my ancestors come from there. I was really, really, really awed by it, and when I came to Maine, I was like Wow, this looks exactly the same. And then for a really long time I was doing these more traditional landscapes with words floating in them, and that’s how I started getting into the more dreamscape-y stuff. The landscape fell out, and it’s became a lot more abstracted at this point. Mentally, I still think of it as a landscape, but it doesn’t really look like a landscape anymore, so when I came here and I saw the coastline, I was like Oh, I just need to be here. I was drawn into the landscape and couldn’t resist being near it.
So you were born in Russia. Which part of Russia were you born in?
IS: I was born in Moscow. We were in Moscow ’til I was about 10. My parents were both in the science field and science jobs kind of dried up, so they were both searching for work in other locations. Then my father took a position at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. So at 10 I went from Russia to Japan, and then after Tsukuba we went to St. Louis, and after St. Louis we went to Buffalo, New York, and then to Connecticut, which created a lot of culture shock.
Do you have vivid memories of Moscow and Japan? How would you describe living in Moscow as a child?
IS: I liked it. My grandmother is still there, and we go back occasionally. I miss parts of living in a bigger city, a big metropolis, and being able to sneak off and go do your own thing, I like having kiosks on the streets you can buy random stuff from, and all the people-watching, watching others lives evolve.
Do you think there are any Japanese or Russian influences in your work?
IS: I think definitely both. Solaris had a giant impact on me—you know, the work of Tarkovsky. I mean, just the way he films things, they’re so dreamy, and the characters interactions. I think the nature versus nurture thing is a question I always ask myself, like What is really ingrained in my DNA? Is the fact that I love birch trees something that is cultural or something that is genetic? I don’t know.
I think Japan had a giant influence on me, and still does. I’m maybe a little bit obsessed with their food and their culture. I love anime and sci-fi; how they have so many characters that are giant machines with artificial intelligence.
What role did film and television play in shaping your creative sense? Because your work seems so digital to me, and because I feel like film and television is a huge part of my creative sense, growing up in the ’90s.
IS: I'm not sure how much influence it had on me as a child, but as a teenager,I think music videos did. Discovering music through visual aesthetic was pretty important. As far as what I do now, when I started out making art, it was a little bit more rooted in where I come from, and now it’s a lot more removed. I also don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere as specific anymore. Most of my discoveries like punk music and art came from sitting at a computer when I was stuck in the burbs, I see myself more from the culture of the Internet.
Which is everywhere.
IS: Yeah, which is everywhere, rather than the world of TV. The stuff I watch on TV isn’t very similar, visually, to my work at all… I do really like to watch Swedish crime shows. I guess I watch them and I’m like Oh, why aren’t I over there? That seems to be the right place for me, culturally.
untitled work (2015)
You touched a little bit on some of your Russian influences. Are there any other art movements you would maybe associate your work with or that you were influenced by?
IS: I think as far as art-making goes, and going kind of back to that, I was first really influenced by installation artists. There’s this guy, Ilya Kabakov (and his wife Emila), who do some really interesting Soviet-specific art installations.
I think I saw one on your Tumblr. It was pretty cool, it was like this landscape with a creek running though, inside of a white building. Do you know what I’m talking about? It was like pebbles, dirt, ground.
IS: Oh, yeah. Olafur Eliasson definitely influenced me a lot, and I think that may be one of his.
How do you think your process has changed over time?
IS: Oh, it’s gotten really digital and definitely a lot more synthetic. I used to stick so much to traditional means of making, and then I threw that all out the window and was like Well, what new really weird thing can I try? I think I’ve always thought abstractly even when I did more pictorial scenes, and now I’ve just completely given into it. I’ve also given in to not having a specific direction, or specific body of work anymore. I used to be really tied to having a preconceived idea of how things were going to pan out and how to explore an idea. Now I just throw all the rules out the window and I think Well, my time is limited, so if I’m going to work on something I need results really quickly, so I’m just going to try this thing that only takes a very little amount of time. I realized that toiling away, and spending a lot of physical energy on one little thing isn't necessary, time should come from the evolution of a simple idea that initially comes easily. My scans don't take very long. The way that I do these [pointing to one of her digital collages, laying out on her desk in front of us] is I draw on the scanner with my nice pile of dead stuff over there [pointing to a pile of dead flowers and other scavenged items]. It allows me to go and spend more time outdoors, to wander around and explore nature, forage, and really learn more about what is growing in Maine. I flip open the top of my scanner and literally just set it to scan at 1200 dpi, so it moves really, really slowly across the screen. I take the plants or objects and move them across the screen, and pour water on it, and sand.
While it’s scanning slowly?
That’s awesome! I had no idea.
IS: So these aren’t Photoshopped in any kind of way. I mean, I color-corrected them like I would a photograph, but then I found coding and glitching on the Internet to take them further. Some brainy coding people wrote the glitches, but I hope at some point I could also move in that direction, writing my own code, as well as creating sound, and would be creating full rooms that are a full environment. And I’m thinking about how can become really tactile even though it’s really digital and kind of poetic. I’ll do lots of scans and that’s when I’ll probably be listening to music and, you know, you just have to be in the in the zone. Afterwards, my steps are a lot more technical and more research-based. If I have more time, this is where I’ll be heading, figuring out how to make them even bigger, full walls of these images and sound and other objects in the space, both synthetic and natural and weird, clicky sounds, so when you walk in you’re not sure if you’re underground or in outer space.
I also saw on your Instagram this video of you emerging out of the water in this very creepy fashion.
IS: With a stick? [laughing]
I really enjoyed it. That was strange and fantastic. Anything weird to add to that?
IS: Well, I like to have fun… I like to have a good time. Yeah, we just went to the beach with a group of friends and I found this stick, this historic caveman stick, and was like, “I’m going to start acting like a caveman! Huh, huh, huh, huh.” I just spent the next hour throwing rocks, and my friends were like, “Irina you’re still going at it?” And I’m just running around. I like to play. I like to go back to my child-ness. It’s good to be outdoors and do silly things.
Interview by Lyndsie DeCologero.
For more examples of Irina's artwork, please visit her website.