Dubosarsky and Vinogradov have performed in an art duet since 1994. They both live and work in Moscow, Russia. In the early part of their career together, they adopted the style of socialist realism. In 2001, the main focus of their work switched from socialist fantasy to the ideals of mass media.
A DIFFERENT LEVEL
Dmitry Gutov: Tell me what is happening with you guys, and with the project you’ve been working on since 1994.
Vladimir Dubossarsky: We somehow ran out of energy for that project. It just stopped being interesting, and so we decided to turn our...
Alexander Vinogradov: Our gaze...
VD: To turn our gaze towards life, towards reality... To go out on to the streets.
DG: I assume that this didn’t just suddenly happen. As far as I remember, you always had a camera with you.
VD: We had built up a huge archive of photos, and we were thinking about what we could do with them.
AV: To pick up a paintbrush and just start painting, you need to have serious internal motivation. And we started getting interested in simple, everyday life.
DG: Which was the first time for a long time...
VD: Yes – how did we work before? We’d paint celebrities, look at glossy magazines – that was our thing. And basically we started to be interested in something else because this was, well, it just became impossible.
AV: We started to take even more photographs, we were carried along by the flow.
DG: But you’d managed to do some similar work before as well, I think?
VD: I remember Sasha [Vinogradov] painted some Zhiguli cars, in 1986, I think. We had projects called ‘Beyond the Moscow Ring Road’ and ‘Astrakhan Blues’, there was an exhibition. But these were always side projects within the main project. And at some point, we decided to move to reality, started to immerse ourselves in it, and started... we started to see a lot more.
DG: From a car window?
VD: The way this city works, you can’t take many photographs just like that, but we did start walking around, and you start to see a different kind of life; to see the nuances.
AV: ...which is the most important thing for an artist.
VD: In awful architecture, you start to notice interesting things, beauty, poetry. You see the changes occurring in nature, and in people’s outfits.
DG: Well you’ve always noticed fashion.
VD: When people choose their clothes, they always look at these magazines, and create their own look, which they somehow make up themselves, according to their budget.
AV: This individual design can be incongruous but it has a certain charm. And it is also a kind of poetry, and it’s all happening with the suburb of Khimki as background.
VD: Basically, we began to see different focal points, which might not seem that obvious to people, but we’ve changed our approach radically in the last year. We have started to see different things, and to see things differently, and this is not such a bad aim. It would be best, of course, if people themselves learned to see these changes, and this beauty. But they don’t have time. They don’t have time to appreciate it, plus their eyes are dulled by pictures from magazines and television, and nobody sees the actual reality.
DG: And I guess you could say that this is the main idea, the main thrust, behind your new project?
VD: Yes, to show a certain complexity about this world – its phantasmagoria and absurdity. Basically, all the themes that we dealt with before in a pop-culture, vulgar and eccentric way, we now want to discern in real life and extract from there. Because anything, almost anything, can be an object for study and for creating art works. The project doesn’t exist yet, it isn’t finished, it is just struggling into shape, and we understand this, which is why we are experimenting, and we acknowledge that it could end up taking a different course. But it’s important to record the fact that these changes have already taken place. I wanted to say to ‘stake out’ these changes, but I don’t think that’s the right phrase.
DG: So what have you photographed so far?
AV: On the same floor as our studio, in our building in Khimki, there is a dance school – we went there.
DG: Did you sign up for classes?
AV: No. We spoke to the manager and did a photo session there. People go there, girls, fat girls, and dance Latin American dances. They dance in such strange, well, such awful costumes, they are dancing in what is basically office space, and there aren’t enough partners for them. They asked us if we’d be their dance partners, and we had to apologise and say we didn’t have enough time. It turned out to be a fantastic photo session.
DG: What can you see out of your windows?
AV: We have a view right on to Khimki railway station. It’s a hive of activity, with all the buses and minibuses.
DG: Lucky you.
VD: I think that the life which surrounds us is worthy of attention, and it needs to be studied with a particular approach, with a particular angle of vision. It needs to be worked with.
DG: If you had been creating a Soviet-era exhibition, it would have been called’Our Contemporary’ or something like that.
VD: We are trying to do things that are representative. In some way, we are always working with archetypes, anyway. People are different now, but these are people typical of our time, they are heroes of our time, in effect.
DG: Before it was stylistic archetypes – Socialist Realism, Hollywood, glamour.
AV: And now it’s life as seen through the window.
DG: Only the girls stayed the same.
VD: No, these are already different girls. When we painted them, by the way, we remembered your work on the escalator, and also your exhibition with the dog, at Guelman Gallery.
AV: We often remember you.
DG: And I remember that for 15 years you had a book about [Soviet painter] Arkady Plastov on your table, and I enjoyed watching how it got more and more dog-eared after each of your new works was created. But I guess these days you’ve thrown it out?
VD: Yes, we have turned away from the Soviet language, or the post-Soviet one, which was also our brand. Now our style is not personalised, and neither is our painting, so everything is about nuance.
DG: Only great masters can allow themselves to do that.
VD: Well I don’t want to say here that we are great masters, I think just that one gets to an age where it’s possible to take risks and to do subtle things which might even affect the marketability of the work; these things are not fully understood even by oneself.
AV: I would add that having our personalised style was always very important for us, because there was always a strong stylistic mark, and it was immediately obvious that it was us. And now, when we’ve abandoned all these strategic moves, abandoned those constructions, refused to force ourselves, refused to be ourselves, we have become observers.
DG: This creates a phenomenal freedom, where anything can become a work of art. Anything. And you don’t have to spend a huge amount of energy to put together subject matter.
AV: Before, the way it worked was that people offered us an exhibition, and we got together and thought for a long time about what we should do. We spent ages thinking about the concept, we thought about what images we needed, and created them in two days...
VD: Who are you kidding?
DG: What do you mean ‘two days’? You did them in two hours.
AV: I don’t mean that we painted everything in two days, I mean that we finished them two days before the exhibition opened. We pulled it off, but there was always the feeling that we didn’t have quite enough time. And now we have exhibitions already prepared. It’s a different principle.
VD: It’s the principle of working not for exhibitions. We take photographs, afterwards we paint something, again we photograph, we walk around, and we’re just in the flow of things. And an exhibition simply comes about from what we have. We can put together any sort of exhibition. In principle it’s flexible. This is, in fact, a reflection of that freedom. The thing is that all of us, including you, came from the strict Moscow post-conceptualist school, where you had to explain everything, and justify every little thing. In the 1990s it was important that you were able to explain every artistic gesture, and God forbid you did it badly.
AV: On the one hand, it was a good school, on the other hand it put the brakes on personal development.
VD: What’s important for us is that this exhibition is not even a new stage, but just a record of movement in a certain direction, the final destination of which is unclear. It’s also important that we’re not only planning to make paintings and works on paper in this project, we also want to shoot video, maybe make sculptures. We want to make it more holistic.
DG: In terms of your project, I have most faith in painting, as it is freer from randomness. What you are doing is reminiscent of an amalgam of Vermeer and Hopper.
VD: We also thought of them.
DG: Also, the painting has the energy of physical contact about it...
VD: I would argue that what is important is not the painting per se but emotional feelings, because they can be transmitted not only through this medium, but through whatever you want.
DG: It won’t work the same way.
VD: We’re going to try, Dima. Unlike you, we have the illusion that it’s possible.
DG: But at the same time, you have cardinal differences with photorealism, and with photography as practised by Igor Mukhin.
VD: We had an idea to use only those photographs which a photographer would never want to exhibit. So any effective, ‘correct’ photograph (and we have plenty) we won’t use, precisely because it’s too good.
AV: In a way we are trying to take ‘incorrect’ photographs that have life in them.
DG: I see that you find the most value in the carefully defined gap between photography and painting. The photographic foundation is always felt, but at the same time it is overcome, both in the composition and in the texture. The canvas is visible, the paints have been applied with varying thicknesses. There is freedom in the brush movements. And even the photographic composition is everywhere slightly reworked.
AV: I would even compare our work to Impressionism.
VD: Sasha, what?!
AV: The Impressionists also tried to capture life.
VD: More nature than life, I would say. And the most important thing was to get the light across. And we are capturing something else. We are more [Erik Bulatov’s] Krasikov Street.
DG: I see Krasikov Street as an abandoned mine. The miners have long gone, but they should have been digging right here. You could say that you’re returning to those tunnels where there are unexplored possibilities that nobody noticed before.
VD: That’s an interesting point, actually. I’d never thought about it like that before.
G. – Zlotnikov’s Shop Window of 1956 is similar.
AV: That’s actually a really interesting thought in general.
DG: Unlike the Impressionists, you are trying to escape using a ‘randomness’ that is actually rationally organised. For example, that the edge of a nose sticks out from behind the frame.
AV: In our pictures there is an element of randomness present. We have one work where a girl is walking down the street with a dog. The girl is cut in two by a lamp post, and the lamp post is falling. As a photograph, the work is not really good enough to exhibit. Nothing was specially set up – the girl just happened to be walking, and I was driving past and took the photo. Before, we would set up compositions, sometimes with great difficulty and over a huge amount of time, choosing the people. And now there is an element of randomness in our pictures, and we are cultivating this.
VD: Sasha isn’t right that it’s random, it can’t possibly be random, because Sasha is an artist, and when he takes photographs he will always be making choices about the format.
AV: It was random.
VD: Sasha, I’m telling you. When you choose one photograph out of 200, it means you chose it according to some kind of criteria, which means that there is some kind of composition there all the same. We are making choices, in one way or another.
AV: I don’t really remember if we did or not.
VD: We did a bit, we also painted the dog in. There wasn’t a dog before.
DG: But it’s all done without being forced.
VD: We had a work where at some point we just decided to give the girl a textbook to carry, and then we changed our minds. It was too artificial – I’d even started to paint it in, and I realised it wasn’t right.
AV: And before we’d have given her a big painter’s case, and something else as well.
DG: And afterwards you’d have turned her into Schwarzenegger.
AV: And in the work where the girl with Dolce & Gabbana is walking, that I think is a random photograph. I followed that girl in the car, and shot her maybe fifteen times. I drove after her, photographed her again and again. She didn’t notice me. She was walking with this Dolce & Gabbana plastic bag. I’m just talking about what is random and what isn’t. Afterwards, Sasha took three things out of this photograph; first one thing, then another, then he decided to get rid of a car, then he found something else to cut out. It’s not quite a secret skill, but it’s very subtle – to add something here, and take it away there. It’s like doing an operation. Microsurgery. Brain surgery.
AV: Before it would have been a big scalpel to the intestines.
DG: Or a chainsaw.
AV: And now it’s laser brain surgery.
VD: It maybe doesn’t have quite the same effect, but it’s a harder task, a task on a different level. Like in a computer game. You’ve moved onto a different level, you see? And you don’t quite understand everything, and you get killed more often than you would like. But it’s a qualitatively new level, and that should be noted too.
DG: And it’s not too early?
VD: I always like to look at the intermediary works of an artist, when he is just getting started – when he hasn’t yet become Matisse, but he’s already left Impressionism. And from here everything starts. I was in Salvador Dali’s house in Spain. We aren’t big Dali fans, but the first room, of works from when he was 16 and 17, I really liked. All the rest was of no interest at all. But there I saw the development of the artist, the colossal complexes, energy, desire and potency. Everything is there and it’s a dazzling feeling. A person on the verge of a breakthrough is the most interesting for an observer, an artist or a theoretician.
DG: Your work reminds me of The Straight Story by David Lynch, a film I like a lot. In that film all of his previous techniques are pulled deep inside. I wonder, did it fail at the box office?
VD: We are counting on those people who like strange things. Not pop. In our ‘Children’s Playground’ you can see suprematism. Malevich, Mondrian, they are there. Yesterday it was the avant-garde, and today it’s just a playground, painted blue and yellow. The black square of a window, everything as it is, but at the periphery of life.
AV: Yes, it’s kind of fun but there are no people.
DG: I think your project is both ambitious and promising.
VD: Well you can’t describe promise with words anyway. You can mark it with a thick brushstroke, but it basically only starts when you are already involved, when it is no longer promise, but already becoming reality. That’s when everything happens.