Six questions for
Ksenia Galiaeva

Tique asks six questions to an artist about their work and inspiration.
This week: Ksenia Galiaeva.

Artist Ksenia Galiaeva
Lives in Antwerp, Belgium / Amsterdam, The Netherlands

How do you describe your own art practice?

My status in Belgium is that of a border worker. I commute between countries, languages and mediums I work with. My subjects stay the same, but the work develops and grows together with me, through change of perspectives, translation, access to different cultures I have through moving around and my very mixed background, non-linearity, and a sense of estrangement pared with feeling at home in several places at once.

I could say that my work is based on the idea of ‘autocommunication’, a term used by Yuri Lotman, that describes an internal dialogue during which the information changes through excessive repetition into creative force and can instigate changes in personality. I see it as a hopeful concept of multivoicedness in self-reinvention.

Which question or theme is central in your work?

I would say my work is about developing coping strategies and survival tools, to be able to find reasons to enjoy and appreciate things, get up in the morning, despite the difficulties ranging from everyday obstacles to fullblown terror.

I have just finished a big project I worked on for over twenty-seven years, under the umbrella title ‘Unreal Estate’, with a large number of photos, several films, a book with stories and an audiobook. Through this autobiographical work I tried to influence my own memory and that of my parents, to rewrite our family history, in order to create a place for us that is both real and mythical, sunny, green, safe, comforting, self-sufficient and can function as a physical and mental refuge.

What was your first experience with art?

Children’s books: when I was two and couldn’t yet read, my mother would install me on the couch with a pile of books and would find me a couple of hours later in the same position but with books in reversed order on the other side. I think, back then, while working through the books, I have developed the visual memory for image and text, attention for detail and my love for visual storytelling. The illustrations in Soviet children’s books were often made by artists, from Ivan Bilibin to the avant-gardists to Ilya Kabakov. I still remember most of the pictures; a well-known illustration of Vasilisa with a scull on a stick by Bilibin was too scary, so I focussed on the mushrooms in the ornament and could recognised each one of them when I saw the picture again years later.

On a shelf next to my bed my mother used to make ‘exhibitions’ of postcards with famous art works and would regularly change the set-up. My first celebrity crushes were Tatlin and a guy from a Holbein painting.

I knew I wanted to be a book illustrator and tried to copy the pictures while waiting to be old enough to go to children’s art school. The art school, which I started when I was nine, had only a four-year programme, so I did it twice. In the ‘real’ art school in the Netherlands I distanced myself from the classical art education I have received and started doing things I didn’t know how to do. Still, everything I make ends up being a book.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

Stories that give hope, a change of context, small things, sounds, impressions and tastes that both elevate and ground me, a lot of rest and a good shower, books, friends, real and imaginary conversations, the work of our students at the art academy, staring into space or looking out of the window, and a proven combo of art (from any part of the world or time period), nature (something green, preferably with a rustle) and a good snack.

What do you need in order to create your work?

Most of the work happens in my head, so mostly I need some brain space and losing myself in time, for a combination of day-dreaming and immersive concentration. Often, I drop a question or a task in my head and wait (for hours or days, sometimes years) until it gets resolved. Then I mess around without focussing on results. From there I select, redo, translate, reassemble, and edit. And check-off the items on my to-do list to wrap it up.

As for the work production I basically need a laptop and a camera or a phone, but I can also manage just with something to write on. Back in art school I decided to keep my work financially independent by making it low-cost and portable. I don’t need a studio and I can still carry a full exhibition in one go, by rolling, folding, making it fit in a (big) pocket or sending it per mail. Though I’ve worked with relatively large production budgets, the material costs are still minimal, and the main amount goes to people I work with.

What work or artist has most recently surprised you?

Life surprises and shocks me much more than the art, but I was very touched by the stories of communal support in difficult times, by the warmth and messiness of what looks like the very last Documenta (documenta fifteen). With, to name a few, participations of South-Korean ikkibawiKrr, Palestinian Eltiqa/the Question of Funding collectives, the Rojava Film Commune (Komîna Fîlm a Rojava), and many others. I very much like the smaller, local, and non-Western biennales, with less usual suspects, where I learn a lot. There are also some artists whose work I come across regularly but always curious to see again, like, among others, Sung Hwan Kim, Laure Prouvost (now in De Pont, NL) and Robert Zhao Renhui (Singapore Pavilion in Venice, coming up).

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