“Switch off the internet and there will be nothing left from my works”

Oleg Elagin – “Switch off the internet and there will be nothing left from my works”.

This Wednesday, on the 6th of May, Oleg Elagin, an artist from Samara, Russia, will present his film “A death among us” at the festival of one-reeler films in Oberhausen, Germany.

Earlier, in April 2014, the predemonstration of that film was held in the Samara Museum of Literature. Olga Sluzhaeva, the observer journalist of “Zasekin.ru” had an interview with an artist where they discussed his life, his past, his present and his native city.

 OlegElagin Zasekin collage


–                           Oleg, nowadays everyone is talking about the “protest art”. What do you think about it? Is it possible? Do we need it? Because there exists an alternative point – an escape from all these actual motives because we’ve had enough of them in all those Facebooks so the art has to relax us and accommodate us with the reality.

–                           The protest itself is an archaic term. Nowadays we’ve got the protest against protest. I consider some kind of manipulative points in protest art though I can’t deny that there are many really talented works.

–                           You mean, in Russia?

–                           I’d like to say, there were some. And everyone who did that are now trying not to talk about it.

–                           What’s the reason? Fear?

–                           I don’t think so. This matter is really ambiguous. It’s impossible to size up the situation the right way. Now you are talking about one thing and a few months left you’ll realize that you’ve been captured by the illusion. You can’t turn back time. Nobody tells anything and seriously now and we’re not allowed to do it, are we?

–                           You’re rather right. So, it turns out that if your works don’t accord the existing conjuncture, you won’t get access to galleries, museums and other institutions? Does it really work?

–                           Of course it does. Everything works, actually.

–                           And what artist can stir some extra interest? In Europe, for example? Or just nobody pays attention to modern art?

–                           Of course, it’s not interesting any more. I think, we live here like in Africa. I’m really surprised that practically everyone thinks that we are developed due to the bought iphones. In fact it doesn’t matter at all.

–                           I’ve just read that Americans are not interested in modern Russian literature. There is a sluggish demand on it though in many decades a great interest to Russian culture has been growing, the faculties have been opening…

–                           While my Russian girlfriend has been in the USA, Americans asked her:“Where are you from?” She answered: “From Russia” And then they asked: “How many kilometers does it take to get to Russia by car?”These are the questions. The fact is that an average American doesn’t care of anything that happens in Russia. Here the mass media define everything – that is like an information war where people think the way the media tells them.

–                           And my friend, while being in France, was asked such a question: “Is it really true that it’s very cold in Russia and the trains go very slowly? And then you take a train to Siberia, your trip lasts very-very long and when you get off the train you see nothing around you…”

–                           Well, it may happen so.

–                           And we drink vodka to make ourselves warm and wear fur coats.

–                           Actually, the situation here is like in hell. Olya, can’t you see it?

–                           How does it have to do with me? I just think that it’s strange that the Europeans think so, even if they’ve never been in Russia.

–                           For civilized world Russia is a system of cruelty. When we’ve got capitalism, everything begins with business. But how can we male any business here? I can’t understand it.

–                           But many people come here and get surprised that it’s not so bad.

–                           Well, they might have visited some cafés but haven’t made up their minds to make business here. Look, the manager of IKEA has published a book about it. About all their afflictions in Samara. Haven’t you heard about it? By the way, it is forbidden in Russia now. But you can buy it on Amazon.

–                           Have you read it?

–                           No, I’m not ready to be absorbed in this problem. It’s hard to live for everyone now. But no matter how strongly you regret doing something you need to live, work; improve your progress and so on.



–                           Is the concept of your work important for you as an artist? Do you create a global multi-aspect idea and then bring it to life using visual art or the idea is not necessary and you just want to try new methods and techniques?

–                           It always happens differently. The musicians often say: “First I made the rhythm.” I often do something like that. I can see the sunset in some interesting place and the work can originate from it. Or it may not coincide with the moment of that sunset, it can come from the thoughts, schemes and sketches that are being developed now. Some of my projects just stay incomplete for years, and then I get back to them and create something new on their basis. Other projects are forgotten and then disappear forever. And sometimes I can create something in one night.

–                           Like a film “Death among us”? What was that story with a skeleton?

–                           Oh, this story turned out to be very serious. I’ve shot a lot of material, did a lot of video editing. The sound and the video were edited separately. I’d like to call the final result an experimental documentary. All the special effects in that film were made at once, and that’s why it’s a documentary.

–                           At first it seems to be some funny, curious thing but after watching it you find numerous meanings.

–                           They really are there. And the reaction of the audience is interesting, too. Generally, it turned into some kind of research. Look, I couldn’t even imagine that it can amaze so many people nowadays. Someone even get frightened. They see this area and understand that quite a different essence lives in it. The modus of death is an archetype that influences humans’ existence but I haven’t thought that it affects modern people in such a way. The society is too archaic.

–                           So, you just shot some short stories about people’s real lives where a skeleton appeared and then combined them in a film “Death among us”?

–                           Yes.

–                           And what was the reaction of people that took part in episodes when they watched the whole film?

–                           Actually, there was no presentation of it. There was a predemonstration in the samara museum of literature, but it was without discussion. 2015 was very rich for me because I’ve shot 3 films.

–                           You are going to Oberhausen. Who are your competitors and are there any?

–                           Alice’s in the city: “First we’ll go to Oberhausen”. Oh, there are many of them. The whole world, I think.

–                           Is it the first time your works are presented at the international festivals or not?

–                           I’m having exhibitions at some small festivals. But there I keep a distance. I send my films by internet. If it’s really a great festival, it can be connected with a birthday of a gallery or some lectures. Sometimes I don’t know if it was shown there or not. The reply is: “We have selected your film to be the part of our exhibition” and that’s all. European festivals differ from the domestic ones in the fact that they give you not only the reply but thank you for presenting your work. But it is not clear for me where they showed it. I don’t even write it in my portfolio. But this is based on my own attitude to portfolio itself.

–                           And have you got it?

–                           Yes, I do, because everyone asks me to show it. But I’m not sure if my work was selected due to the portfolio.

–                           It may work when you deal with some serious festival like a Biennale in Venice.

–                           Maybe. They say all our life we work for the future.



–                           Have your got any future plans? Are you going to live and worl in Samara?

–                           The situation is flexible. A few months ago I didn’t know that I’ll go to Oberhausen. Now I live here, in Samara, I’m “stuck” here.

–                           Does the background influence the artist? If you lived in Moscow, could your works be different?

–                           I don’t think that it could change the quality of my works but the career could turn out quite a different way.

–                           Though there many people who decide to stay in Samara.

–                           Everyone needs his home. If I get into an unbearable situation I’ll live for any place in the world. Now I consider Samara my home. Here I’ve got an art studio, some space where I feel comfortable, special equipment, a little sound recording studio. It’ll be very hard to integrate all of this into some other place and there’s no need for it. Well, what are you talking about? Now I see myself in underground, real deep underground.

–                           Do you really feel it?

–                           And what about you? Just come to our bar “Party Hard” and you’ll see the underground itself.

–                           Once I went there…

–                           And that’s it. Don’t you understand where we are? We exist beyond the boundaries of any system.

–                           If we talk about “Party Hard”, tell me, what are the public places where you feel good?

–                           Oh, there are many of them. All of us visit those places. They are spread through the centre of Samara. Look at this drift motion through “Bridge ID”, “All of your friends” and so on. Everyone circulates like that. In my opinion, it will be more noticeable when it gets warmer. Some of my friends tell me that by morning they’ve got several glasses taken from various bars. One of these bars was for buying beer, one for dancing, so next day the guys just exchange glasses.

–                           Does it mean that finally the “bar street” will form in Samara?

–                           Well, now it’s too early to talk about that, if it were at least ten of them, it would be worth thinking about. It is just the right direction so far, like some movement that is interesting from the point of development of local context.

–                           Do you like to be an artist? Can you feel a bohemian veil around you?

–                           Of course not, just what bohemian veil can be felt in Samara? What are you talking about? It’snothere! I realized how it’s thought about in Europe. Of cause, it was interesting. But here many people don’t know what I am at because I just don’t tell them.

–                           And how can you explain that?

–                           In no way. No one cares, everyone goes about his business. Dominantly, no one’s interested in anything. And we know practically everyone who is.

–                           But have you at least got a sense that you’re a man of art profession? And how did you start your way in art? As far as I remember, according to your diploma you are an engineer.

–                           For me work is on the first place, but I do feel like a man of art profession. Art is what I’ve been always interested in. I came to visual art through audial. I’ve been a musician for a long time: first I played jazz, then started to write noise and perform experiments with digital sound, and one day I started to make visual imagery of my tracks and through this experience I began to communicate with visual art. Now I’m trying to keep it in that very state because I’m interested in both kinds of art and transition of one to another. I suppose that finally it will turn into some kind of a fusion.



–                           There was a film from Samara “Made in Kuybyshev” that made much noise in our city. I know you concerned to it. How did it influence your fate including that of your art?

–                           I’ve written a soundtrack to it but it hasn’t influenced me. My creative work started when I’d made my first video with my own soundtrack. It was a black-and-white video “D Time”. I think, you’ve already seen it. That was the moment I began to dig into that all. Vova Logutov was a curator of an exhibition “Brak”[1] in Moscow gallery “M’ARS”, so he offered mw to participate. It turned out that I’m closely connected to that sphere, that I’m already working with such a material. It is the esthetics of a mistake. So, that was my start. I haven’t switched the channel, I’ve just broadened it. Just like that.

–                           Haveyougotyourfavoritework? What is it?

–                           Of course, it’s the first one. “D Time”.

dv / loop /4:3 / 2007
dv / loop /4:3 / 2007

–                           Being an established artist, do you feel like a guru? Do you have any followers, maybe second- or third-year students that regard you as OLEG ELAGIN and ask you how you’ve made this or that work or ask to teach them how to render this artistical device? Have you ever thought about opening some workshop or school of video art?

–                           Well, there’s no particular demand. Sometimes someone calls me and says: “We’ve got a video projector, so we want to show someone a video”. Usually it’s something like that. People call me for technical reasons but as for influencing the society… It may happen. Oh. I’ve just remembered my exhibition in “Fabrika-Kuhnya”[2]. When I saw that 70 or 80 people came to watch my works even though it was -20C outside, it was something really amazing for me.

–                           And they stood for about 40 minutes in an unheated room! I was surprised, too.

–                           “For about” means “Yes”. Look, everything here is scattered in some way. While we are sitting here and wondering where the community is, whom we influence and who knows us, everything is scattered, incomprehensible. So, the exhibition was a rate. But as for the workshop – no, not now.

–                           And what about young interesting artists in Samara? Is there any new generation?

–                           Ilya Samorukov tried to curate this young generation. But generally, there are none of them. You know, there are some young film directors that have watched too much advertisement and Tarantino, have got some role models but have never watched Wim Wenders.

–                           Do you think that’s lack of education? Remember the exhibition “Volga. Nol’”[3]. Therewerethesamepeopleasfiveyearsago. There was a feeling that nothing had changed and no one had come.

–                           Right. Nothing new.

–                           Why does it happen so?

–                           Olya, you know the answer.

–                           Are they not interested?

–                           Ofcoursethey’renot! First, it is an echo of that infernal capitalistic period. In fact, this work doesn’t bring any income, moreover, it requires new expenses.

–                           And what about a hobby for students?

–                           Well, everyone sits and plays games. There’s a lot of information. Everyone watches TV or plays games.

–                           But it’s fashionable to visit exhibitions in Moscow. Don’t we have it in Samara?

–                           Here we have 200 people on exhibition and there those 200 turn to 1500-2000. That’s the only difference.

–                           So, can the art really influence the social environment?

–                           I think it can. If we hadn’t been developing everything here, there could have been nothing. I think that the situation in Samara is amazing. We have this really actual art sphere. That’s not some virtual commonwealth of artists with its landscapes, it’s a sphere that can speak the language of art that the whole world understands. Using it we talk about everything we want while we’re living here. That doesn’t mean that we do some kind of global art that is usual in the world, the points for the world artists are: feminism, oppressions, domestic violence, postcolonial discourse. Everyone talks about that. Though Samara is getting to be a centre of postcolonial discourse. Now we’re learning the culture of Mordovia. Therecouldbesomeculturalenvironmentthere, youknow. Well, it’sajoke. The atmosphere is clear, but it still exists.

–                           So, do these processes really influence something globally in spite of the fact that 150 people visit our exhibitions?

–                           Why not? Vova Logutov has left for Moscow to teach art for young painters. Of course, he influences them. Then he comes to Samara, we meet with our creative group “Laboratory”, discuss our internal projects and show each other our sketches. So we influence each other and in a delicate way someone else. For example, I’ve found out that on Oberhausen there will be 3 Russian artists including myself. I know one of the rest, her name is Alena Tereshko, she is from St. Petersburgh. We got along well when we were al “Manifesta”. Everything happens through these delicate things. Now everything is really global, and we are closer to each other due to Facebook and so on.



–                           Everything begins with just one handshake.

–                           That’sright. You just up and write anyone. If you write abroad, people are ready to communicate with you in some way. And when they’re not, they’d tell you: “We’re not interested”. It’s harder in Russia. And I tend to connect this situation to some kind of a trauma that the society hasn’t overcome yet.

–                           What can it be?

–                           Socialism, Communism, war. There’s an opinion that the society hasn’t recovered even from the First World War.

–                           But Europe has. In Germany there were two wars but they have got rehabilitated somehow.

–                           Well, in Germany everyone apologizes for the Second World War. Every “Documenta” bristles with apologies. There are numerous projects connected with it. At first I couldn’t understand it, I just thought: it was so long ago, guys, talking about it makes no sense. Butwhataboutmodelingthesituation? Here’sa Germanpainter. When there was a war, he wasn’t born. He’s an educated, humanistic man, and suddenly he finds out that many years ago a Jewish family lived in this house and everyone was shot up by his own grandfather. And that is the moment when he gets this trauma. And from that point, all this situation turns out to be closer that we think.

–                           Is it a real story?

–                           Certainly. Many of the Germans have such stories. And how can you go through it? That is the reason for making those works where we find so many regrets…

–                           But why don’t Russian painters apologize for anything?

–                           And what should I apologize for?

–                           For military interventions. There was something strange about Chekhoslovakia, Afganistan and so on.

–                           It will be strange because no one will tell us the truth. I talk about more specific things. You, your grandfather, this situation. How can I speculate of Afganistan being so dissociated from it? The Archives of KGB are not declassified even from the time of Lenin’s communist party. As Egor Letov sang: “The same people are in command”

–                           Can a piece of video art be sold in Europe as a complete object?

–                           Yes, of course. First, every small town with 10000 people has its own adequate art museum and several galleries that try to support local art: classic/traditional art and those artists that work with modern media. There are grant systems and many workshops. The painters have doors open days when students of arts faculties come to their workshops. The galleries can bye the works of local artists, how can’t they do different way?

–                           What about video art? Do galleries bye such works?

–                           They do, but the system is different. You sign a copyright, then an amount of copies is defined according to your author’s rights. Usually there are five of them plus the artistic copy. And all of them are sold.

–                           And what about Samara or Russia?

–                           I don’t know, in this case I’m in underground.

–                           Does the Samara State Art Museum buy video art?

–                           It doesn’t.

–                           Does it mean that in the holdings of Samara museums there are no works of modern Samara painters?

–                           There aren’t. As for my works, you can switch off the Internet and there will be nothing left from them.


[1] A Russian homonym. The spelling and the phonetics is the same but the meanings are: “marriage”, “flaw”.

[2] “Factory Kitchen” – a monument of architecture that is built in the form of a Soviet symbol “hammer and sickle” that was planned to work as a canteen for the workers in the Soviet period.

[3] Volga. Zero

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