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Anna Zvyagintseva

“How can I even make art now?”



"The Same Hair" 2022 - Designed by Irina Pereira

Over the past year, Ukrainian artist Anna Zvyaginseva has immersed herself in her creative work as an artist-in-residence at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Zvyaginseva’s practice investigates elusive, intangible moments through multimedia installations such as a simple breakfast served by her mother or a stick projecting from the earth. Halfway through her residency, the Russian invasion upended her life in Maastricht and that of her family back in Kyiv. Zvyaginsteva spoke with smART Magazine about her residency experience and the challenges of responding artistically to the trauma of the invasion while being far from home.

sM | How has the Jan van Eyck Academie residency contributed to your mission to explore "useless action, small gestures" and the "potentiality of doubt" despite the challenging circumstances?

AZ ── When I arrived at the academy, I discovered that indeed this place is full of labs and workshops: printing labs, a photo lab, new materials lab, wooden workshops, and metal workshops. So it was full of, uh, labs and workshops. I spent the first month just experimenting with these new materials and techniques. I had some projects in mind for open studios, but by that time, there was already tension between Russia and Ukraine, and we were feeling that something might happen. So I postponed my “useless”  projects because they didn’t correspond with how I was feeling now.

"Dusty Glasses" by Johan Creten, Yazan Khalili, and Anna Zvyagintseva.jpeg

The works that I realized during the residency are kind of small gestures, there’s still that potentiality of doubt present in many of my works. With the open studios, the first question I had in mind was, “How do I use some materials that can disappear later?” Then when the war started, I did, for example, a work that’s called Sustainable Costume for an Invader. It’s related to the viral videos that were posted just on the first day of the  war: a Ukrainian lady was screaming at the Russian soldier that entered the city. She was screaming at him, “You came to our land with weapons, at least put these seeds in your pockets. And when you die on our land, sunflowers will grow.”  Her words were so powerful, and I decided to do something with it. So my intention was to use some material to sow a costume that can disappear if you put it in the ground. So I used rabbit skin, glue, and seeds. It’s a small gesture but quite powerful.

From "Misplaced Touches" at the Pinchuk Art Centre, Kyiv

sM | This year has certainly been incredibly difficult for Ukrainian artists. How did the Russian invasion impact your creative drive? And how has your artist community in Kyiv contributed to this resistance at home and abroad?

AZ ── I will speak personally about myself. I can’t speak for other artists. I know that many of my friends continued their practice, doing powerful works. They also did a lot of quick works, quick replies, and they were selling things like posters to help the army and fundraise for our volunteer movements.

Anna Zvyagintseva For L'Officiel Ukraine

To speak personally about me, when the war started,  among other unexpected urgent questions, my head was blowing up with these two new questions for me. Will I be able to work? And how can I even make art now? What happened was so shocking. War catched everything. It catched my body, my mind, my time, my ability to be present in the moment. And the most urgent question for me was if my close ones were safe. I was quite paralyzed in the first days, but then I understood that I needed to find a way to oppose the war. I’m not on the frontline. I am not a physician. And I’m quite far away from my homeland. But I still want to help. And I decided that while I’m working, I’m also opposing the war. War wants everything to be dead, to paralyze life in any sense. So if not to kill a person, then war will rein them in mentally, prevent people from thinking, dreaming, walking, So I think this thought saved me because while I was working, I was in a stable position. And being stable and more or less okay also helped my close ones because if you are tired of all the news you are receiving and there is someone that can support you, then you change one another.

The Artist's Studio at the Jan van Eyck Academy

I did a lot of new work. I participated in many shows, and I have plans for future works. So with this urgency to respond to war, sometimes you just can’t find an answer, or you can’t react in any form of art. So it’s okay to just continue your daily practices. My work’s more or less now connected to what is happening, maybe not in such a direct way, but I try to reflect on my life with them.


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