During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.
Dasha Bazanova was born in Arkhangelsk, Russia right before the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a child she spent most of her time at her grandparents’ farm in a small village called Kulikovo. In 2004 she moved to Moscow where she got her Master’s Degree in 2011 at the Moscow State University of International Relations. In 2012 she moved to New York. She earned an MFA at Long Island University in 2014, and in the intervening years she has shown extensively all across the United States.Her artwork is inspired by her childhood memories and Russian folklore, but with an ironic 21st Century twist. She lives and works in Bushwick, NY. Her work is currently featured in The Making of… at Art Port Kingston, which has just reopened again for visits during weekends.
AS: How are you coping?
DB: Pretty well. I was staying quarantined with two people that I care for greatly and who care about me as well. I’m also locked in with three cats, a chihuahua, a turtle, and a bunny rabbit so it’s hard to feel alone.
DB: I like to trust my intuition. I wouldn’t say I knew that the pandemic and huge wave of global protests were coming, but I was already giving a lot of thought to environmental destruction and making art about it when the virus struck. In my own life I went through some hard times, but I sense that this is truly an unbelievable and surreal historic moment. For the past couple of years and more recently, I’ve been living with this idea that I need to be ready for anything to happen. When adjusting to circumstances in life, I try to take a “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” attitude. To drum up inspiration I try to find something interesting in ordinary objects or tasks. I wasn’t able to go anywhere, but I enjoyed making a half-hearted attempt at gardening and now I have chamomile and sunflowers growing in the front yard. I live in a house that keeps me in direct contact with nature. The animals and plants require care and have also become subjects for my paintings.
Not being able to work in my studio at LIU Post made me discover new techniques, materials, and purpose for my work. Before the lockdown I was concentrating a lot on ceramic figurines, especially traditional Russian grandmas that I brought into the present by giving them laptops, cell phones and other comical or political twists. Humor is part of my style. The more I expand my art to new materials—like cement, paper mache and resin–the more I become open to the world and I feel more responsible for what I’m bringing into the world. This has helped me to better understand myself and my art –how it still remains an unsolved mystery. I’m grateful for my life right now.
AS: How has your routine changed?
DB: I’ve been working on different online projects, and in general a lot of my daily work and art related routines just shifted towards working from home. I’ve also used this time as an opportunity to think more about different art ideas, trying out different media and techniques that I haven’t incorporated into my work before. I’ve also been working on a cool collaboration that I’m sworn to secrecy about, but it will be coming soon.
Although I adapted to being an artist during a pandemic, and was even able to sell my art through an online auction and private studio sales, I still have a large burnt wood installation with almost all of the little ceramic ladies-sculptures in a show that opened with a reception on February 15 and was supposed to run through March 29, 2020, almost at the same time when the virus forced a lockdown. Obviously, my exhibition didn’t get the exposure it could have, but I’m sure that many artists experienced similar disappointments. We are all trying to continue in a new way, presenting work through online platforms and social media with decreased number of gallery sales.
AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?
DB: Reflecting on my work I can’t help but acknowledge that the grandmas I made holding protest signs have taken on a heavier symbolic weight in the context of the current moment than they were originally meant to bear. I’ve been pretty worried about my family back in Arkhngelsk, and I’m worried that back there they don’t have a “first amendment” (in any meaningful sense) to actually go on the street and protest, to fight for justice.
With regards to the pandemic I still don’t even know if it will be safe to go back to “life before COVID” until there is a vaccine. I love my family back home, but I haven’t seen them in years. The fact that nobody knows how long it’s going to be before a COVID vaccine will be available, and what turn the economy and social climate will take is daunting, as well. Looking on the bright side, at least the environment got a bit of a break with some factories being shut down, and less people driving around. Except for the major oil spill in Northern Russia.
And then there’s the election in November! Everything seems uncertain these days but I’m trying to stay optimistic. The future is unknown, but I want to focus on the hope that it can be bright. Maybe that is why my recent paintings are free-form in shape and very textured, almost tactile. It’s like I can “feel” nature in paint and wood the same way as in gardening. Unlike the sculptures, my paintings reflect my “feeling”. They are full of my childhood nostalgia, memories, and nature, some-what comforting and very warm.
AS: What matters most right now?
DB: Prioritizing people in life. Staying connected to family and friends. Getting outside as often as I can do so safely. And keep on making art that reflects the world around me. We are all a part of living history right now and I feel like with my work I’m writing a history book.
AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?
DB: Like many artists, I am used to being alone when I work. Artists need solitude to create. In this period of forced solitude I think artists have within their solitary nature a survival instinct. They have to go forward, to make work and put it out in the light. Art looks ahead to the future and creativity is a life force. The human spirit could not survive without creativity, not just as a survival tool to those who create, but also for the audience. People shouldn’t underestimate art – it was one of the only things that helped us through the lockdown.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org