Sergei Sviatchenko by Sergei Sviatchenko.

The asymmetrical kaleidoscope of Sergei Sviatchenko

On the occasion of the launch of a new book, written by Rick Poynor, published by SCHLEBRÜGGE.EDITOR

Veerle Devos May 2015
Ukraine-born artist Sergei Sviatchenko was trained as an architect but transformed into an artist (to the tunes of the Beatles) – “I loved architecture, but wanted to realise my own projects, and being an artist gives me this possibility”, he says. In 1990 he emigrated to Viborg, a small city in Jutland, Denmark. Thus far, the art world hadn’t embraced him, but, thanks to the Internet, his work has since become better known. If anything characterises Sviatchenko, it’s that he has an unerring sense of style. Whether in his odd photo-collages, paintings, films, or fashion projects: it’s always unmistakably him. There’s now an interesting new book out about his collages by prominent British writer Rick Poynor, who is specialised in visual culture. “Is a diverse, late-blooming, increasingly international career such as Sviatchenko’s an encouraging sign that the old, art world-serving art and applied art divisions are being eroded, and that thanks to new means of digital publicity and distribution, a fundamental change in the ecology of the art life is irrevocably underway?”, the author asks. DAMnº had an online conversation with Sergei Sviatchenko about his work.
DAMnº: In the book, Rick Poynor mentions that your collages are “a reflection of your thinking and living”. How is that?
Sergei Sviatchenko:
I see the world as an asymmetrical kaleidoscope of emotions and events. The same happens when I work with collage: the elements I use are associations of half-remembered dreams, which I ‘dislocate’ in time and place. I can’t give you a concrete idea of how I work; it is very random. For instance… When I was in my 20s I watched the film Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky. It changed my life. (I didn’t think so at the time, but I now realise very well that it did.) When I immigrated to Denmark, my professor, knowing of my passion for movies, gave me a few frames of the film, which I kept in a small envelope for many years. Only in 2008 did I decide to make a series of collages based on those, which I called Mirror by Mirror. I had the opportunity to show them to Andrei Tarkovsky’s sister Marina and her husband, who studied with Tarkovsky –wonderful people, who have devoted their lives to keeping the legacy alive, not only that of Andrei Tarkovsky, but also of his father Arsenij – a poet on the level of Brodsky. I brought the exhibition to different places, each time adding a series of new collages. Last year, we also made a short experimental film called Mirror by Mirror, which won a price at the Lucca International Film Festival in Italy. You know, I’ve been working with collage for more than 30 years now and have used different approaches: different grades of filling the composition, limiting myself by using fewer elements, and even ripping them out of context by placing the finished works on colourful backgrounds. In my most recent series Slept On The Top Of The Eiffel Tower, I try to merge aspects of both my collage and painting practices.
DAMnº: Today we live in the image era. Images are potentially highly political, carrying power, directing our emotions, making us buy things we don’t need, having the ability of bringing happiness and insight. How do you reflect on the current importance and omnipresence of images, and how do you deal with this reality as an image-maker?
I think it’s all about the focus. We are able to maintain a focus on the topics that we are interested in, and are limited by time as to how many topics we choose to work with. The messages in my work purposely delete or leave out information, but I put it to the viewers to make associations or to question. I have the same feeling about the things I cannot comprehend or change, like politics or human tragedy, but I try to learn. I take a topic and study it, in order to form my own opinion on the subject and to know the chronology of events or processes.
DAMnº: You’re quite active in the world of fashion through your on-going blog project CLOSE UP AND PRIVATE, which focuses on modern style.
I started CUAP in April 2009, when I noticed the culture of blogging – I wanted to participate. Since I’m not a writer, and am far too focused on myself to post the works of others, I came up with the idea to post details of men’s clothing. I love photography as an artistic medium, and I wanted to have a go using the images as you see them in a big city while you’re sitting at a pavement café. The images had to be less styled, calmer in their expression. ‘Close up’ means that we get to the point, so much so that everything is cut off, even the face. ‘Private’ because it’s a very private thing to suddenly share with other people. You’re not buying – you become inspired. You don’t have to know that I used various items of clothing, just like I use various elements in my collages or create various perspectives in my paintings. The project started as a one-way communication – at least that’s how I thought about it in the beginning. I did not expect to get such a large audience through the Internet – also a very different one from the people I meet at my exhibition openings. I started to post my collages and photography rather randomly, and only after a while decided to paint a few images for CUAP, under the alias of Sergey Nielsen – just to separate this work from my classical paintings. Consequently I’ve been approached by various fashion brands to make an editorial in CUAP style. And I was invited to create The Rock Rebel Classic and Contemporary Kit (in collaboration with fashion brand PREMIUM by JACK & JONES). I wrote CLOSE UP AND PRIVATE's etiquette for the modern classicist, a loosely compiled list of scrupulous style cues for gentlemen. And now I’m working on a small collection of items for this list. This is always done in collaboration with craftsmen who share my love of quality and detail.”